The Holiness of God

“Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty,
    who was and is and is to come!”

Revelation 4:8 ESV

There is only one attribute of God that is declared around the throne day and night. The angels are not declaring “Love, Love, Love” or “Truth, Truth, Truth”. In the throne room scene in Revelation 4:8, it is His absolute holiness that the four creatures are proclaiming. In Isaiah’s vision in Isaiah 6:3 the angels are praising Him for His holiness. Yes God is love (1 John 4:8) and God is righteous and true (Revelation 15:8). But is is because of His holiness that He is perfectly loving, perfectly righteous, and the perfect truth.

His holiness is elevated to the superlative degree. God is not just holy but holy, holy, holy. Holy, holy means that God would be holier but holy, holy, holy means that God is holy, holier, holiest. He is the single most holy being in the entire universe. And there is no attribute with which God is more identified. His Son is the Holy One of Israel. The Spirit is the Holy Spirit. The Bible is the Holy Word of God. The temple is the Holy temple. The land is the Holy land.

What does it mean for God to be holy? In his book The Attributes of God, A.W. Pink says that God is absolute purity, the sum of all moral excellence. God’s holiness is tje veru excellency of the Divine nature; His holiness is the antithesis of all moral blemish or defilement.

Primarily it means that God is separate. He is vastly separate from us because of His moral perfection. God is absolutely holy and we are radically corrupt. The idea is God’s transcendence and His supreme greatness compared to His creation. There is a sense which all of His attributes come together to comprise His holiness. We could even say that His holiness is in His wholeness.

Here are two practical applications from this post. The first is that this understanding of God’s holiness magnifies the grace of God. God has spanned the vast chasm separating us and Him through the cross of Jesus Christ. And the higher we understand God to be and the lower we see ourselves, the more we magnify grace. But the more we elevate ourselves and if we bring down God we trivialize the cross. And it is grace that is the very backbone of everything we do as Christians. It is God’s grace that we are saved. It is God’s grace to His chosen that gives us confidence in evangelism. It is God’s grace that we may approach the throne with confidence. To say that our understanding of grace is very important is a huge understatement.

The second application is a key verse that is Leviticus 20:26: “You shall be holy to me, for I the LORD am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine.”

Holiness is what we call an incommunicable attribute. This means that we are called to emulate it. As Christians we strive to be holy just as we strive to be righteous, truthful, and loving. So the second application is that we should be striving for holiness. Holiness is what we should be longing for. But at the same time this requires a discipline in our lives. So strive for holiness. Strive to be holy as your Heavenly Father is holy.

The Daily Duty of the Mortification of Sin

“The root of an unmortified course is the digestion of sin without bitterness in the heart. When a man has confirmed his imagination to such an apprehension of grace and mercy as to be able, without bitterness, to swallow and digest daily sins, that man is at the very brink of turning the grace of God into lasciviousness, and being hardened by the deceitfullness of sin.”

That’s a quote from John Owen’s Of the Mortification of Sin in Believers. I’ve been reading it recently and I find myself amazed not only at his insights into the life-long battle Christians wage but at his articulation of those insights. I’m going through the abridged version but the above quote is from his original writings, the second chapter to be exact. In fact that’s how far I am into the book but I was so struck by this quote that I had to share.

Basically what he’s saying is this: believers who aren’t mortifying (killing) sin will find themselves peering into sin, partaking in its temporary satisfactions and not feel anything at all. In contrast, mature believers are called to hate their sin. “O you who love the LORD, hate evil! He preserves the lives of his saints; he delivers them from the hand of the wicked.”  Psalm 97:10 ESV

So for this particular test it isn’t if you are able to avoid sinning or seeing sin. But it’s that when you do sin, do you find yourself filled with a hatred toward it? The second sentence from the quote describes it well. When you are in such a state that you “swallow and digest daily sins” without bitterness or conviction that leads to repentance, you are right on the line of being hardened by sin’s deceit. Take heed unless you cross it. In fact you should put as much distance as possible from it. How? The daily duty of mortifying your sin. Yes that’s right. It’s a duty. As slaves to the King it is our literal job. And daily speaks to the frequency of performing this duty. It probably would have been more apt for him to say every-minute-of-every-day duty but that would have been too long. Plus I think he was going for that alliteration.

 

For the Purpose of Godliness (1 Timothy)

 “if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth.”

1 Timothy 3:15 ESV

Primarily Paul addresses two things in this letter: what is and isn’t sound doctrine and what godliness looks like in the church. 1 Timothy is a letter from Paul to his young protege Timothy sent as a follow-up after leaving him in Ephesus to “charge some that they teach no other doctrine.” (1 Timothy 1:3)

The letter addresses a young church leader who may be looked down upon for his youth but must continue to “fight the good fight.” (1 Timothy 6:12)

Usually Paul’s letters were written to entire congregations but here we get the first of the pastoral epistles, letters addressed to church leaders he knew. While the book of Ephesians deals primarily with general ways Christians should be walking in a manner worthy of the Lord, 1 Timothy is very specific in its instruction. The reason is simple. Paul was writing to a specific church leader and friend rather than to a church. Timothy had also accompanied him on some of his journeys so they were both very familiar with each others’ challenges.

In this letter we get to see some of the challenges pastors face. We also see how Paul instructs Timothy to deal with those problems. Here’s the breakdown:

  1. 1 Timothy 1 warns against false teachings and emphasizes correct beliefs
  2. 1 Timothy 2-4 describe living in godliness and dignity. We also see some specific ways he does so.
    • Through prayer (1 Timothy 2:1–8)
    • Women in the Church (1 Timothy 2:9–15)
    • The overseers (1 Timothy 3:1–7)
    • The deacons (1 Timothy 3:8–13)
  3. 1 Timothy 5-6 are guidelines for relationships within the church
    • Caring for widows (1 Timothy 5:1–16)
    • Honoring elders (1 Timothy 5:17–25)
    • Identifying false teachers (1 Timothy 6:1–10)
  4. 1 Timothy 6:11-21 is Paul’s final charge to godliness

As a final challenge to us reading this letter today, I will say this. Consider those who God has raised up to lead your church. Do they fit those characteristics in 1 Timothy 3:1-7? If so then trust them; and trust that God will in turn lead them.

That We May Know Wisdom (Proverbs)

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge;
    fools despise wisdom and instruction.
Proverbs 1:7 ESV

Proverbs is the third of the books of poetry after Job and Psalms. It’s author King Solomon, commonly called the wisest of all kings, led the nation of Israel to prosperity as we read in 1 Kings 4:20, 25. Elsewhere we also get a description of how wise King Solomon really is (1 Kings 4:30, 32-34). So here we have a collection of sayings from the wisest king who ever lived and in Proverbs 1:3 we get the purpose of the book: instructions to the reader on how to make decisions based on wisdom, justice, and righteousness.

Poetry in Proverbs comes in a variety of forms. The majority of the book is dominated by two-liners: short sayings that are easy to remember and apply such as Proverbs 25:17 and Proverbs 26:17. Next we have ones that supply a list of things such as Proverbs 6:16 and Proverbs 30:29-31. For those of you who’ve been at RGC in the earlier years, you’ll be familiar with this next one that’s called a Chiasm. A chiasm uses parallel lines that have corresponding themes but instead of being one after another, the parallel lines are first and last, the second and the second to last, and so on and so forth. There are a couple more but instead of describing them all, let’s get right into the overall structure of the book.

  • Chapters 1-9 are a discourse on the advantages of wisdom. Here wisdom is personified as a female.
  • Chapters 10-18 are two-liners that contrast wisdom and folly.
  • Chapters 19-24 are two-liners that give some principles to follow in life.
  • Chapters 25-29 are two-liners that talk about wickedness and righteousness.
  • Chapter 30 are the words of Agur son of Jakeh.
  • Chapter 31 is describes the women who fears the Lord.

Providentially, there are 31 chapters of Proverbs so it should be simple enough to go through a chapter a day for a month every month. Happy reading!

For Love’s Sake (Philemon)

The background of Philemon is fairly simple. Philemon owned a slaved named Onesimus. Onesimus ran away but somehow met Paul. And Paul, being Paul, shared the gospel with him. Through it Onesimus was saved, then staying with and ministering to Paul while he was in prison. However Paul sends this runaway slave back to his old master with a letter.

That’s how we get Paul’s epistle to Philemon. The letter urges Philemon to do something absolutely unheard of. Paul asks him to forgive Onesimus as a fellow brother and not as a slave. This isn’t a biblical argument against slavery. Not in the least. Although the relationship seen here is that of a master and a slave, Paul purpose isn’t to condemn slavery. Here he presents Onesimus as a Christian brother instead of a slave.

“For this perhaps is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever no longer as a bondservant but more than a bondservant, as a beloved brother—especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.” Philemon 15-16 ESV

From verse 2 we know that Philemon’s house serves as the church building so Philemon is a church leader. We also know that this was not a private letter to Philemon, since in the same verse Paul also addresses Apphia and Archippus. However Philemon is definitely a departure from Paul’s usual writing which are addressed to either whole congregations or pastors.

Here’s the basic structure for the short letter:

  • Verses 1-3 are Paul’s opening salutation. Paul introduces himself as “a prisoner for Christ Jesus”. He also mentions Timothy who probably co-wrote the letter with him. It’s important not to gloss over Paul’s greetings even if they are oftentimes very similar because they set the tone for the rest of the letter. For example in Galatians he doesn’t just call himself an apostle but seems to feel the need to defend his office of apostleship. Here in Philemon we get a sense of togetherness by using the possessive pronoun “our”.
  • Verses 4-7 are Paul’s thanksgiving and intercession. This is also a common thing Paul does. Before getting into the main topic of a letter, Paul gives thanks to God for Philemon while at the same time affirming him.
  • Verse 9-19 are Paul’s request to Philemon to take back Onesimus not as a slave but as a brother.
  • Verse 20-25 are Paul’s conclusion and greetings from five others. Here he also expresses full confidence that Philemon will do even more than what he requested.

The last thing I’ll say about Philemon is that it’s a wonderful example of how Paul’s teachings play out it real life. I’ll give you a couple of examples. The book of Philippians tells us to emulate Christ by putting others’ interests above our own. In Philemon, we see what this looks like practically in Christian relationships. The letters addressed to Timothy list the qualifications and duties of church leaders. And of course there are more. See if you can figure them out! Happy reading.

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