The holiness of God and three great events of history
Published: 28 September 2020 (GMT+10)
What is the supreme attribute of God?
Answer: His holiness. The word for ‘holy’, (Hebrew qadosh, kadesh, and Greek hagios) not only means perfectly good, but also perfectly separated from everything evil. This does not mean that God is subject to some law external to Himself, which He manages to keep. Rather, it means that God’s holiness is what God is Himself, and nobody else is. He Himself is the absolute standard of moral perfection and the absence of all moral evil, infinitely separated from and exalted above every other being in the universe.
Everything about God is holy. His love is holy love; His forgiveness is holy forgiveness; His wrath is holy wrath; His justice is holy justice. However, the holiness of God is mentioned in a very unique way in Scripture. In the Old Testament we read: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts” (Isaiah 6:3), and in the New Testament: “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty” (Revelation 4:8). Other attributes of God are mentioned in the singular, e.g. “God is love” (1 John 4:8), not ‘love, love, love’; and “God is light” (1 John 1:5), not ‘light, light, light’. Holiness is thus not just one attribute of God among many, but is rather the perfection of all God’s attributes.
There are three occasions in the Bible when this holiness of God is of particular significance to us human beings. These occasions are three great events in human history.
1. At the Fall
The first great event when we see God’s holiness is at the beginning of human history, when Adam and Eve chose to disobey God, and as a result the penalty of death was decreed upon mankind (Genesis 3:17–19).
God commanded Adam not to eat the fruit from one particular tree in the Garden of Eden, with a strict warning that if he did eat the proscribed fruit he would die (Genesis 2:17). Satan denied this and said (to Eve), “You will not surely die” (Genesis 3:4). Thus Almighty God and Satan were saying totally irreconcilable things. One was speaking the truth, and one was lying. Once the fruit was eaten, if the penalty had not been carried out, Satan would have been the one speaking the truth and God would have been the one lying!
But why should there have been such a huge penalty for something so small as eating a piece of fruit?
Answer: The measure of the penalty was the measure of the affront it was to God’s holiness for His created beings, Adam and Eve, to defy Him by disobeying His specific command to them. Many today have a very hazy idea (if any) of what sin is, and not surprisingly, these same people tend to have a very hazy idea (if any) of the holiness of God. Conversely an appropriate view of the holiness of God will result in people having an appropriate understanding of the sinfulness of deliberately disobeying God.
2. At the Crucifixion of Jesus
The second great event in the Bible and in history that demonstrates the holiness of God was the Crucifixion of Jesus, when the penalty for sin was paid by the Son of God (1 Peter 2:24; 3:18). This is often referred to as the supreme example of the love of God. While this is true, it should not be overlooked that what took place at the Cross is also the supreme example of the holiness of God.
If God, who is holy, is going to forgive people for their sins, He can do so only in a way that is holy or morally perfect. He cannot do so in a way that is unholy or unjust.1
1 John 1:9 says: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Notice the word ‘just’ in this verse. God can justly forgive people for their sins because the penalty for their sin has been paid by Christ when He died on the Cross and rose again (I Corinthians 15:3–4).
God is entitled to set whatever condition He chooses on His forgiveness of sin, and the condition He has chosen is: “If we confess our sins” (1 John 1:9). Another way of saying this is: those people for whom their sin penalty has been paid are those who show they wish to accept it by repentance (in NT Greek, μετάνοια, metanoia = ‘change of mind’), and by their requesting God’s forgiveness.
In the Old Testament, the Mosaic Law provided a sacrificial system whereby God’s people could demonstrate their repentance for sin. These Old Testament sacrifices had a ‘typical’ significance, meaning that they were a ‘type’ of Christ’s perfect future sacrifice, or a foreshadowing of it (Hebrews 10:1). They served as a ‘covering’ of sins (Psalm 32:1), until Christ’s perfect sacrifice for the removal of sins (1 John 3:5) took place and was completed in His Resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:17, 20).
- The Incarnation: why did God become man?
- The Importance of the Resurrection of Christ to our Salvation
- How do people come into a right relationship with God?
Of course, if the historical Fall recorded in Genesis (and affirmed by Jesus and the New Testament writers), did not occur as stated, this whole foundational reason for Christ’s death on the Cross becomes irrelevant. The evolution/creation issue is far more than some fuss about how and when God may have created; it is ultimately about the authority of the Bible as God’s inspired Word, and the credibility of the Gospel itself.
- The good news without the bad news is no news at all
- Why Bible history matters
- Is Genesis poetry / figurative, a theological argument (polemic) and thus not history?
3. At the last Judgment
The third great event when the holiness of God will be evident to all is at the last Judgment. This is a future event, described in Revelation 20:11–15. Revelation is the Apostle John’s written record of a vision he received (Revelation 1:1, 10–11), in which God enabled John to see spiritual truth in material terms, which he could explain to his readers (who now include us) in terminology that we can understand. Much of this is expressed metaphorically, e.g. in the first chapter, God in the person of the Son of Man tells John that the seven stars that he saw “are the angels of the seven churches” and the seven lampstands that he saw “are the seven churches” (Revelation 1:20).
Here is John’s description of what he saw in his vision regarding the last Judgment.
“Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:11–15).
So how does all this relate to the holiness of God?
God has both promised and warned that a future Judgment that is both holy and just will take place beyond the event horizon of death, i.e. within the dimensions of eternity. See The Gospel in time and space. This event is described as being in the form of a law court, with God as the presiding Judge. Evidence is presented, and there is a decisive penalty involving a destination called “the lake of fire”. The meaning of this term—whether a metaphor or something more literal—is not revealed in these verses, but that is not a reason to diminish the reality of it. If it is a metaphor, the reality must be something even more to be eschewed.
Evil will not triumph over God’s holiness. Those who have rejected God’s offer of forgiveness for sin in this life and of becoming members of God’s family (John 1:12) will be separated from God for ever. See Why would a loving God send people to Hell?
The converse is true for those whose names are written in the book of life. These are they who have by God’s grace responded to His offer of forgiveness via repentance and confession of sin in this present life. They have accepted this offer by faith, by believing in God’s Son, Jesus Christ, and His death and Resurrection on their behalf. And they look forward to the wonderful experience of seeing God face to face and of reigning forever with Him (Revelation 22:4–5). This will also be a fulfillment of Christ’s high-priestly prayer before the Cross: “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world” (John 17:24).
What should our response be?
Answer: To obey God in three fundamental aspects of our life.
- To “repent, because He has fixed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed [i.e. Jesus]; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:31).
- To be holy in all our conduct, since it is written: “You shall be holy for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:15–16).
- To rejoice because, as followers of Jesus, our names are “written in heaven” (Luke 10:20).