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God is Holy

Who is the God I Know?  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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God is holy, but his holiness is like a consuming fire, which leads to his mercy.

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Characters

Over the years I’ve watched my share of children’s television.
What you notice with kids TV is that the characters are very simple. The good guys are good, and the bad guys are bad. You can always tell who is who, because the good guys look good, and the bad guys are usually ugly and disfigured.
Now as TV shows and movies start to aim at older audiences, the characters will start to get a bit more complicated, as in, the good guys will have a bit of bad, and the bad guys will have a bit of good, but I find we still like to box each character into a certain category.
I think we do this because life is so much easier when things are simple. If we can box people into certain categories, then we know how to deal with them.
For anyone that’s had or looked after young children in the last decade or so, I’m sure you’ll be aware that the ABC has two channels for kids.
The first one, originally just called ABC2 but since re-branded to ABC for Kids, is aimed at preschool aged and early primary school. The other, is aimed at upper primary and into high school age.
Unfortunately, this is usually how racism starts. That is, we’ll box a whole race of people into certain characteristics, then we can deal with the entire race in a particular way.
Now, what I love about the shows aimed at the really young kids, is that everything is so simple. There is usually a parent figure who is always good and reliable. Then there is a child figure, who usually tries very hard, makes a few mistakes but with the apr
The reason this is so wrong is because everyone is an individual, and as individuals we don’t neatly fit in a these boxes we create.
For t
Now there are lots of different types of boxes we might have for people. Boxes like - one for nice people, one for funny people, another for organised people, and then of course the box for weird people.
When we box people like this, we lose the uniqueness that makes them who they are.
Interestingly, we also do this for historical people as well. Sometimes this is necessary because for some figures we only know a certain amount of information so it’s hard to figure out too much.
But often we’ll box historical people in, to either make them an ally to our contemporary cause, or an enemy of that cause.
The same is true with Jesus and God in the bible.
You see, we gain a certain worldview, and then we will fit Jesus and God into that worldview of ours.
The problem is, we’ll emphasise certain attributes and downplay others.

Two boxes for God

So I want to suggest two boxes that we usually place God in.

Box of love and mercy

The first box is a box of love and mercy.
Now this box is filled with some solid truths of the bible. God is love - in fact that is exactly what we looked at last week.
From his love comes mercy. This was most powerfully demonstrated when God sent his one and only son to earth, to become one of us, so that he could take the punishment that we deserve.
As a result of this mercy, we no longer get the punishment that we deserve for our sin.
As I described last week, without the unconditional love of the Father we have nothing. So this is certainly an important aspect.

Holy Box

The other box however is a what I’ll call the holy box. This is the box where we focus on God’s purity, which also means his hatred for sin.
Now this is actually also based on solid biblical truths. You see, God does hate sin. Sin is completely detestable to God and consequently he can’t let it go unpunished.
In the Old Testament this is made very clear. We see God’s righteous anger flare up on numerous occasions, and when it does the results are significant.
In my Bible reading plan I’ve recently read through some passages in the book of Numbers where in the 40 year period of Israel wandering after coming out of Egypt, God wiped out large swathes of them for sinful behaviour.
But while it might be more in-your-face in the Old Testament, the New Testament is not a stranger to a God that hates sin.

The problem

So we’ve got these two boxes which we can categorise God, and as I’ve shown, they are actually based on some important truths, but what will hopefully become apparent, is that when we try to put God in one of these boxes, we end up with deep problems.
You see, just like when we place a person into the - ‘oh, he’s the funny guy’ box, we lose sight of all the other aspects that make up that person.
You see, God is full of love and mercy, but he also detests sin.
But let me show you what happens when we lose sight of this more complete picture.
When we set up this box of love and mercy, God’s hatred for sin begins to fade to the point that we start to see God as not being bothered at all how we live.
As a result, we sadly see many Christians living lives that look remarkably similar to the non-Christian.
And so, while this box may be formed from some solid biblical truths, the box sadly pulls us away from who God is.
But, the other box is just as troubling.
You see, I showed how the understanding of a wrathful God is based on biblical truths, however, it fails to see that God has a plan for us. It ignores the fact that God sent Jesus to pay the price for our sin.
As a result, people who have placed God in this box won’t live with the peace God provided, but instead will be constantly fearful of a God that is going to punish them every time they put a foot out of line.
So the question for us this morning is: how do we sort through this mess and ensure we have a biblical balanced view of who God is?

Finding a holy God

Well, as we’ve gone through this series of ‘Who is the God I Know?’, we’ve explored a number of different attributes of God. Today’s attribute is God is holy.
Each week I’ve given a false narrative which leads us away from a true understanding of God. Well today, we actually get two false narratives.
You see, these two boxes that I’ve just been talking about actually lead to two false narratives.
The first being that God doesn’t care about sin. And the second that God is just pure wrath, ready to punish any false move you make.
Now, unlike in my other messages where I then turn to a teaching of Jesus that corrects the false narrative and instead shows us the God Jesus knows, this time it is a little trickier because to correct these two narratives, what we need to do is consider the whole sweep of what he has to say.

Jesus and sin

Well, last week I covered the theme of God is love, and Jesus’ ministry is often characterised by his mercy and compassion, so I won’t just repeat a lot of what I’ve already said. But it’s interesting to consider the some other aspects of what Jesus said, which shows his disdain for sin.
Let’s start with where we see Jesus having one of his little stoushes with the Pharisees. Jesus is essentially calling them out for their hypocrisy, but then adds:
Matthew 12:36–37 NIV (Anglicised, 2011)
But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.’
Matt 12:
If I can paraphrase Jesus, he’s saying, the sin in your heart is expressed through your words, and this matters!
Let’s jump a few chapters and get to the end of chapter 16. This places us just after the episode when Peter makes the great confession the Jesus is the Messiah. Jesus then gives some teaching about what they can expect next stating:
Matt 16:
Matthew 16:27 NIV (Anglicised, 2011)
For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.
In the NIV we get the word reward, which seems to emphasise the positive aspects of this end time judgement, but the word translated as reward more generally means, paying back. In other words, Jesus is saying, what you do, that is, your actions, have eternal significance.
And on a number of occasions Jesus speaks about enduring God’s wrath. He often used the phrase “they will throw them… where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth”.
The reasons I’m pulling out some of these references is to show that this idea that Jesus loves us somehow means he doesn’t care about sin is just not true.
Jesus instead was keen to move us towards a place of holiness.
One of the stories I love about Jesus which illustrates this point is the story of the woman caught in adultery when Jesus says the famous line ‘let him who is without sin cast the first stone”.
Now that set up a really powerful moment, but it is the last line of that story that we can easily leave out.
You see, when Jesus concludes, neither do I condemn you, he then adds “Go now and leave you life of sin”.
What I love about this is that while this is a beautiful picture of mercy, there is a clear direction to it, and that is to move away from sinfulness.
Jesus was not apathetic to sin. In fact quite the opposite. Jesus was very concerned about the way people lived.

God is Holy

Well what I want to do now is to show that this correction is essential as we come to the understanding that God is Holy.

What is holiness

But first, it’s worth considering what we mean by holiness.
You see, I think over time we have somehow skewed the meaning of holiness. The word holy has somehow taken on almost the meaning of religious. There is almost a sense in which being “holy” is almost akin to being so disconnected from the world, that you have no worldly value.
Holiness has come to mean this mysterious, other worldly quality.
It’s not a word I use very frequently outside the church as I feel there is a lack of understanding of what it would mean.
Now in some ways, that idea of holiness meaning disconnection from the world, and even having this other worldly quality, is actually not inaccurate. Certainly there is an aspect of holiness meaning being set apart.
But if you look at how the word is used in the Bible, what you quickly will see is that it has to do with purity. We move towards holiness as we move closer to the character of God.
Being holy means moving away from sin and closer to God.
In this way, God essentially defines holiness. Holiness is the essence of God.
The God who has provided order in a created world, who has made all things beautiful, who has shown what love is and how we should get along. This is the God who has defined holiness for us.

Jesus and holiness

Now Jesus, the second member of the Trinity, also shows us this holiness.
Jesus was without sin and lived a life that was essentially a demonstration of how we should live.
Now an interesting observation is that Jesus actually very rarely used the word holy. Perhaps the most memorable was in the Lord’s prayer when he starts “Our Father in Heaven, hallowed be your name” or essentially “holy is your name”.
But as I tried to argue, his whole life was a demonstration of a holy life. Even without using the word “holy”, he is leading us to a holy life.

Isaiah and Jesus

Now, into this conversation, I want to bring the vision I read earlier that we found in . This is perhaps one of the most profound representations of the holiness of God that we read in our bible.
But, not only do we get the visual representation, we also see what happens when this holiness meets the sinfulness of Isaiah. And then at the end of the chapter we see how we get a little pointer towards Jesus.
So my plan for the remainder of this message, is to bring together the things I’ve just spoken about together with this powerful chapter.

A view of Holiness

So let me first go over some of these words from the start of . Now my intention is not to try and explain every term. Somehow, I think digging too deep can almost lose the majesty of it all.
So instead, let me just re-read the first four verse slowly and just let it sink in a little more.
Isaiah 6:1–4 NIV (Anglicised, 2011)
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, 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.’ At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.
I don’t know about you, but I just find that description incredible.

Isaiah’s response

But after this awesome description, we then see Isaiah’s response.
It’s a response which recognises the significance of what he has just seen. You see, he knows that this sort of holiness is about purity. He understands that there is an incompatibility with his sinful life and the holiness he has just seen.
So he cried out: “Woe to me!… I am ruined!”
But look at his explanation: “For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips”

When Holiness meets sin

In verse 6 and 7 we see something that is perhaps even more remarkable.
You see, we have this holiness that was represented for us in the first 4 verse, and then we get a dilemma when a sinful man can witness it. By rights, they should be completely incompatible.
But this holiness from God has another feature.
This is represented for us in this account with a seraphim taking a live coal - direct from the place that represents the holiest point: the altar.
The seraphim then takes this live coal, and touches the lips of Isaiah.
The result: Isaiah sinful lips are atoned for.
What we are seeing in these very verses are the truths from the two boxes I spoke about before coming together.
God is pure holiness and for this reason he hates sin. But his holiness is also purifying. And so we can have a God that hates sin and a God that loves mercy.

Analogy of Fire

We can begin to understand this with the analogy of fire.
Fire can be a beautiful thing, but it is also very powerful.
Last year our area witnessed two bushfires. While they are very powerful and at times even scary, they also allow for renewal.
Fire is able to burn away impurities and leave the pure good substances.
God’s holiness can act like fire in this way. Although by rights his holiness should be completely incompatible, because of his love, his holiness becomes like fire which burn away our sin and leaves something pure.

The Seed of Jesus

Now, then proceeds with the commissioning of Isaiah. Now I’m going to jump over this because it doesn’t add much to the topic today, but I want to jump down to the very last verse of the chapter.
Here we read the words: “but as the terebinth and oak leaves stumps when they are cut down, so the holy seed will be the stump in the land”.
Now this is a bit of an enigmatic statement, made at the end of an enigmatic few verses, but essentially this is pointing us towards Jesus - the Holy Seed that will truly brings this holiness and mercy together for all people for all time.
The chapter starts with a beautiful picture of holiness, but then moves to show when holiness and sin meet, only to end with an allusion to Jesus who will bring the two together

Application

While it is great to talk about the love and mercy of Jesus, I would urge you to never lose sight of God’s holiness.
Part of the reason we like to focus on God’s mercy is because it’s easier to think about our own sinfulness.
And so we are left with the great task of working on our purity while not losing sight of God’s grace.
It’s a struggle because we naturally focus on one or the other. Either on working really hard to get rid of all sin, or just relaxing in the knowledge that Jesus has done it all for us.
But it is not one or the other. God calls us to purity. And God is merciful to us in our sinfulness. These are not contradictory statements, but rather work themselves out in the life of Jesus.
There is no simple answer to keeping these balanced, but we will begin to hold both together as we meditate on God’s word. In particular, as we dwell on the life of Jesus we see how this comes together.
In Jesus we find mercy, but we also find a path to purity and holiness.

Conclusion

As I started, the great temptation for us is to place God is a nice simple box. It’s tempting, because life is much more straight forward when it is easy to understand.
But the problem is, focusing on one aspect of God leads to a very poor understanding of who he is.
So we need to look to Jesus. The only man who we truly can call holy.
Because in him we see what it looks like when sin and holiness meet.
Just like in that picture in where we saw a coal from the holy of holies purify Isaiah, on a much grander scale we find Jesus who is able to purify our sinfulness.
In this way, we find God’s holiness and mercy coming together.
It is a beautiful thing, and something we need to work hard at to keep it all in view.
Let’s pray...
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