Holiness in an Unholy World

The holiness of God is a fundamental conviction of the Bible. “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts,” the prophet Isaiah heard angelic beings proclaiming in a vision of God that he had (Isaiah 6). The holiness of God first of all means that God is completely different from his creation. He is the Creator, unique and in total control of all that he has made. Human beings—like every other creature in this universe, from galaxies to gnats, from mountains to moles—are limited in what we can do. Our knowledge is finite, never exhaustive. And our lives on this earth are relatively short in duration and often dogged by painful experiences—“nasty, brutish, and short,” is the way that one philosopher once described them. Not so God. He is immortal, can do all that his good pleasure decides, and has absolutely no limitations. To say God is holy is then to speak of his uniqueness and his otherness from his creation.

By extension, God’s holiness means that God is without any moral blemish. He, unlike humanity, has never erred, can never err, and will never err. Whether it has to do with matters of knowledge or moral issues, God is splendidly flawless. By contrast, human beings are not. We are flawed—far more flawed than most of us would like to admit. We tend to think of ourselves as “good” people. As Jesus Christ once said, though, there is none good but God alone. At the centre of what makes us who we are—what makes us tick, as it were—there is a “bentness,” a crookedness that makes us fail each other, hurt each other, and even hate each other. And only in the brilliant light of the moral perfection of God, do we see ourselves clearly for what we are: marred and broken creatures—yes, sinful creatures.

There is hope, though. And that is the gospel. We can find healing for our souls through the Lord Jesus Christ and his death on the cross for all the wrong that we have thought, said or done. Now, when we become followers of the Lord Jesus Christ (who, while fully sharing our humanity, never did, said, or thought anything wrong) and enter into a living relationship with the God who made the heavens and the earth and all that are in them, we discover that we have been given a passion to be morally pure like God. We hunger to be holy as he is holy. We desire to know what it is like to live in total harmony with ourselves and our fellow human beings. And we come to realize that holiness is a necessary pathway to true happiness. In fact, if anyone claims to know God, who is holy, and that person has no interest in living a life marked by holiness, there is something seriously wrong in their claim.

Trying to live in a holy way—to order everything we do or think or say from the point of view of God—and to do this from the core of our lives is not easy, for human societies are anything but holy. There is much that is beautiful in human culture and life, for which we thank God. But there is also much that is ugly and sinful. Not surprisingly, followers of Jesus Christ often find themselves at odds with their culture. Thus, there are constant temptations to give up living in a holy way. But God’s command to be holy as he is holy never ceases to resound in the hearts and minds of Christians. And the deep attractiveness of his total purity and utterly untainted character beckons us on along holiness’ pathway to heaven.