Thursday, November 28, 2013

What is holiness?

I am aware of some teachers holding out holiness to include every excellent virtue, making holiness equivalent to godliness.  To me, I don’t equate holiness to godliness; the end-goal of our pursuit is godliness; the greatest honour we can receive from the Lord, I reckon, is when we are said to be godly.  To reach that end-goal, we need to perfect the many excellent virtues such as holiness, love, forgiveness, meekness, faithfulness, etc.  In any case, Scripture does point to viewing holiness and godliness as NOT identical – 2 Pet 3:11 – “Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives”.  If holiness and godliness are identical, then we would NOT be using “and” would we?

So, I am NOT including other virtues such as love in holiness, although of course, we know that “to NOT love” is wicked in God’s eye, and so, one who does NOT love is NOT holy (wicked) {We ought to know that even “to NOT forgive” is wicked, in the eyes of God}.  But the more fundamental reason why one who does NOT love is said to be NOT holy is because “to love” is commanded by God, and disobeying God is NOT righteous (it is a sin), and so, NOT holy.  

It is best we discuss such other virtues, such as love, separately, although I must make it clear though, that all other virtues, including love, are subjugated to the holiness of God (or we say, it, His holiness, shapes all His other attributes; so, for example, we speak of His holy anger!), as holiness is the most fundamental nature-attribute of God.

Holiness, the most fundamental nature-attribute of God?
I believe it so.  The holiness of God pervades His entire being.

In the Book of Revelation, the last book of the Bible, John, the author, was taken up and brought before God in His throne room in Heaven.  This is what he said he saw, “In the center, around the throne, were four living creatures, and they were covered with eyes, in front and in back. The first living creature was like a lion, the second was like an ox, the third had a face like a man, the fourth was like a flying eagle” (Rev 4:6b-7).

What were the creatures doing, day and night, before God? In verse 8, we read, each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under his wings. Day and night they never stop saying: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come.

To me, this painted to us, holiness is the most fundamental nature-attribute of God.  Just imagine, day and night, the creatures never stop saying the words, Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty.

Isaiah Chapter 6, we read this:

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple.  Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying.  And they were calling to one another:

Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty;

the whole earth is full of his glory.” (Isaiah 6:1-3)”

Although, in this case, it might not be in Heaven, all the same, when God was on His throne, the creatures were there saying the same thing, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord [God] Almighty”.  Holiness is the most fundamental nature-attribute of God.

Fundamentally, what is holiness about?
Isaiah’s cry and what the seraph did, afterward, gave us the clue as to what holiness concerns, when men are referenced.  This is his cry, Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.” (Isaiah 6:5) “Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar.  With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.” (Isaiah 6:7)”

When men are referenced, holiness is absence of that which defiles.  And “defile” means, chiefly, this: “To debase the pureness or excellence of another”.  A man is holy or NOT, is NOT measured from within himself, but measured against the purity of another, who is God.  A man is holy only when in him is absence of that which defiles/debases the purity of God.

What is purity of God [hognos – G53]?  It is His holiness.  There is only one who was absolutely holy and has remained holy, God; there is no other.  Rev 15:4 reads: “Who shall not fear thee, O Lord, and glorify thy name? for thou only art holy: for all nations shall come and worship before thee; for thy judgments are made manifest.” 1 Sam 2:2 (KJV) - There is none holy as the Lord: for there is none beside thee: neither is there any rock like our God.

Isaiah knew he was full of that which would defile God or would debase the purity of God; and he said “Woe to me”, but what is the holiness or purity of God? What we can possibly infer from the Isaiah’s account is this:  Metaphorically speaking, it is that God is clean (He is the Clean), and Isaiah was unclean; and that unclean would debase or offend the Clean.

This, I believe, was the background to Isaiah’s exclamation of “unclean lips”:  In those days, leprosy was NOT uncommon, and men with leprosy were cast off from the clean community, and they were NOT allowed to come into the clean community, for the contagious nature of the illness would debase the clean community.  And so, the clean community and the unclean community (making up of men with leprosy), they were separate.  When an unclean (or leprous) man happened to come near to a clean man or community, he must, with his lips, warn that he was unclean (or leprous) by covering his lips and shouting, “Unclean, unclean”.  Unclean lips symbolises, NOT only the being {person} is being unclean, but also that, what comes forth (with the speech and breath) from the lips could defile.  Isaiah understood without holiness no one could see God (Heb 12:14) and NOT suffer any ill consequence from it; and in humility and contrite of heart, quickly likened himself as one who was leprous coming near to the Clean One.

Of course, the “unclean” and “clean” were metaphorical to sinful {men, sinful} and sinless {God, sinless}, evil and good (absolute) {only God is good – Mark 10:18}, wickedness and goodness absolute, completely virtuous. 

In this connection, it is to be noted that strictly speaking, it is, one or the other; for example, it is unclean or clean, or sinful or sinless; and NOT, “quite clean” and clean, or  “with a little sin” and sinless.  Back to the metaphor of leprosy, then in those times, an unclean (or leprous one), he did NOT get back into the clean community unless he was checked and declared “clean” by the high priest.  So long as he was still with a little leprosy, he did NOT get back in, and it was NOT possible for him to get back in, except having been declared clean once again by the high priest.  It is that distinct, one or the other, unclean or clean, or sinful or sinless, no shades or in-betweens.  So, what were unclean and clean, as used by Isaiah, to be understood as? State of being sinful (or evil), and sinless (or holy).

Another verse of Isaiah confirms my understanding:

Isaiah 64:6 (Amplified Bible): For we have all become like one who is unclean [ceremonially, like a leper], and all our righteousness (our best deeds of rightness and justice) is like filthy rags or a polluted garment; we all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away [far from God’s favor, hurrying us toward destruction].

And that understanding is that, clean is referring to sinless, and unclean, sinful (And so, too, I believe we can see that leprosy was used in Scripture as a metaphor for sin).  In other words, when we picture God as holy, we are to be getting this picture that God is with a state of without sin – sinless always.  And so, as said by Rev 15:4, God is the only one who is holy (was and is holy), God is sinless always, and so, also without evil always, and without wickedness always.  God is set apart from evil, meaning evil, wickedness or sinfulness cannot be found in God.  In fact, purity or holiness of God, complete absence of evil or wickedness, or being sinless, is opposed to evil, wickedness or sin.  In love-hate terminology, it is God hates evil.

If God does NOT hate evil, then “the fear of the LORD {/God/the Lord}” would NOT be defined the way it was defined in Scripture.   How was the fear of the Lord defined?  The definition was given us in Pro 8:13 and understood and psalmed by David in his Ps 34:11-14.

Pro 8:13 (KJV) - The fear of the Lord is to hate evil: pride, and arrogancy, and the evil way, and the froward mouth, do I hate.

Ps 34:11-14 – 11 Come, my children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord. 12 Whoever of you loves life and desires to see many good days, 13 keep your tongue from evil and your lips from telling lies. 14 Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.

We are exhorted to have the fear of the Lord, and that means to hate evil. It is clear God hates evil, otherwise, His Word would NOT be exhorting us to hate evil, too.

By the way, if you are still thinking that it is inappropriate for us to say that God does hate, Pro 6:16-19 reads:

16 There are six things the LORD hates, seven that are detestable to him:  17 haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, 18 a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, 19 a false witness who pours out lies and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers.

All of the above things said to be hated by God can be summed by the same words of they being sins, evil or wickedness.

Apart from Isaiah’s words, as discussed above, that we know that holiness of God is about Him being sinless, without evil, without wickedness always, there is a New Testament text, by the Apostle John, that pointed to the same.

1 John 1:5-10 - 5 This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.  6 If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth.  7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.  8 If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.  9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.  10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.

The metaphor of God is light, the light there, is NOT love, as is taught by some teachers/preachers; it is referring to holy or holiness.  If you just think back to what have been touched on, in connection with Isaiah’s words above, the same items were present there, in the John’s text – light (equivalent to holy, holiness, clean), darkness (evil, wickedness, sin, unclean-ness), and sin that needed to be forgiven (live coal touching Isaiah’s lips, by the seraph). 

Light there, was NOT love, for if it were so, then darkness in the same verse would be hatred, and 1 John 1:5 would read “…God is love; in Him there is no hatred at all”.  This, we know, as I have pointed out above, it is NOT that there is no hatred at all in God; God hates evil, and some of the specifics have been given us in Pro 6:16-19.  When we replace light with holy (or holiness), and so, darkness, with evil, it would read just right – “… God is holy; in Him there is no evil at all”.

Some other NT scriptures about holiness
1 Pet 1:14-16
As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he [the Lord] who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written {Lev 11:44; 19:2}: “Be holy, because I am holy.”

This text said these important things: 1. The Lord (or God) is holy; 2. Evil is antonymic {opposite} to holy; 3. We are to be holy in all we do (in all we do, we are to be without sin); 4. Be holy is imperative because God is holy; and 5. Even as children of God, it is possible for us to go back to our vomit (2 Pet 2:22), and be still be led by evil (desires) common to those who are NOT yet children of God.

2 Cor 6:16-18 – 2 Cor 7:1 (KJV)
16 And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.  17 Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you,  18 And will be  a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.

1 Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.

We can see God promised to be our God and Father, and be with us, and we, be His people and children on the conditions (v17) that we stay off being unclean (be separate from the unbelievers or be no longer of the world, and “touch” no unclean thing), and to have ourselves cleansed of contamination (all filthiness) to the body and spirited soul, in our perfecting of holiness in the fear of God (KJV uses "fear of God", instead of {NIV’s} "reverence for God").  We need to stay off being unclean, and we need to have ourselves cleansed of contamination to our body and spirited soul.

The Apostle Paul was urging us to perfect holiness.  So, we need to work on our holiness (as measured against God’s standard of holiness).  When we falter, we need to ask Jesus for forgiveness; and try again and try harder, with the help of, or working with the Holy Spirit. 

The phrase, “perfecting holiness in the fear of God” {KJ version} is just right, and it means “perfecting holiness in hating what God hates - evil”.

Heb 12:14, Matt 5:8 & Rev 21:27 (KJV)
Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord (Heb 12:14). Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God (Matt 5:8). And there shall in no wise enter into it {the Heavenly City} any thing that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie: but they which are written in the Lamb's book of life. (Rev 21:27, KJV)

Do you want to see God? Do you want to go to Heaven to live with God? In Heaven, would you be seeing God?  So, do we need to be perfecting holiness or NOT?  The answer is clear.

1 John 3:2-3
2 Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.  3 Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure.

The Apostle John too, underscored the need to be holy.  Why did he say what he said in verse 3?  Because he said, when the Holy One, our Lord, comes back, we want to see Him; and if you and I want that, that is our hope is that NOT, to see Him, we have to purify ourselves, for the Lord is holy.  It is the same, said a bit differently, by John, of “Without holiness, no one sees God (Heb 12:14)” or “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God (Matt 5:8).  The style of John’s emphasis is like that -  “must be, no other way, impossible to be NOT so {he could go to the extent of using “one (a believer) CANNOT sin” [1 John 3:9]}”, even when it is his way of expressing there must NOT be incongruency; in this case, if you has this hope, hope of seeing the holy Lord when He comes back, you have to, it will be incongruent for you to be NOT doing it, purifying yourself or perfecting holiness, as Christ Jesus is pure or holy.

Heb 12:10
Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness.

We have seen from the 2 Cor 6:16 – 2 Cor 7:1 text that God promised to be our God and Father.  Fathers discipline their children, and God is no different.  We are being worked on by God, and being refined so that we may share in His holiness.  Why?  It is so that, we, ultimately, are NOT prevented from seeing Him (and living with Him, too) due to our lack of holiness.  God chastises in love, and His love for men is love unto righteousness (`ahab love).  God loves you and wants you to see Him, and live with Him in Heaven, eventually, and so, prescribes that we have to perfect holiness.

I hope the above gives us, a good idea of what holiness is about, and from it, we would come to the position that we cannot do without (holiness), and there are things we have to do, concerning it, and NOT nothing as taught by some, arguing incorrectly that we are already perfect in holiness or everything is God’s part, none ours.

Watch out for 2 more articles following this: one on “Holiness and righteousness” to help people to see the 2 are NOT exactly identical; and another on “What we are to do, concerning holiness?”

Anthony Chia, high.expressions

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