This the 8th installment of a review of RA Torrey’s 1898 publication What The Bible Teaches. See all of Lex’s posts here. A PDF copy of the book can be downloaded here. You are welcome and encouraged to join the discussion.
Chapter 8. THE HOLINESS OF GOD
Torrey now covers the topic of the holiness of God. Wow! No wonder it takes six pages, more pages than the previous chapters; he could have taken sixty. There are a lot of Scriptures that detail God’s holiness in its many facets. So with a required brevity so you don’t abandon me I’ll summarize: God’s holiness is “absolute,” there is no mixture of darkness in His light. This means He hates sin (but fortunately loves the sinner), He delights in righteousness and purity (yes, delight and good times can be had in purity–the sinner is not the only one who can have fun). God never thinks or acts in any way sinful or impure. Man’s sinfulness has created an immense gulf between himself and the Lord, and this sin must be punished. But the punishment due can be substituted if man will surrender and accept the free gift in His Son’s atonement on the cross.
The practical effects of God’s holiness are: mankind now can truly devote himself to service to God and can behave toward God in genuine reverence and in subservience; even the angels exhibit deference to God’s holiness. And His holiness puts our human condition in perspective.
That’s the summary of Torrey’s outline, now some thoughts.
That God is holy is without question, after all He is called the Holy One of Israel throughout the Old Testament (32 times from 2 Kings to Ezekiel). Torrey lists a lot of verses in support, I’m sure you can recall some off the top of your head. But from the first page of Genesis to the last page of Revelation, paramount to everything that is written is God’s holiness, in His behavior, in His creation, in His plans and His will. When man in a moment of weakness deviated from his initial state of purity that decision threw into the most stark relief the resulting gulf between God’s goodness and what now passed for man’s goodness.
That God must be absolutely holy is of supreme importance to humanity, since should there be no such thing as an immutably holy God there can be no such thing as morality, right or wrong, or justice, for lack of foundation. These concepts would then be defined however each individual desired, just as in the days of the Judges when “everyone did what was right in their own eyes.” An orderly society would be an impossibility collapsing in chaos; I could poke your eye out, pillage your possessions, ravish your women, torch your village, whatever I thought was good for me. There could be no such thing as truth, everyone would decide his own truth. But it is impossible for humanity to prosper that way. And so we find a significant percentage of humanity currently living inside each his own bubble of morality to the detriment of the health and safety of his neighbor. And society today continues to crumble, just as civilizations have come and gone throughout history. When push comes to shove we all would admit there has to be some final arbiter of right and wrong, of justice and truth. And this can only come outside and independent of mankind. And that requires a God who must be holy in the absolute.
So it is the impact of God’s holiness that is of consequence to all of His creation, as evidenced in the Fall. The first example is Adam and Eve making what would at first blush seem like a simple dietary decision, “Let’s eat fruit.” (Gen. 3) How could a seemingly innocuous act of eating a piece of fruit have cataclysmic consequences? But when Eve, against her better judgment, took a bite and shared with her husband all creation was altered in the most dreadful and destructive way. God said “do not eat,” and told them what would happen if they did, but in a moment of weakness they disregarded His Holiness and disobeyed and we continue to pay the price.
For another example, Genesis 6:5-7 describes the decision God made when the people of the earth just got too carried away in their evil. Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. The LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart. The LORD said, “I will blot out man whom I have created from the face of the land, from man to animals to creeping things and to birds of the sky; for I am sorry that I have made them.” So He sent a flood to wash away the desecration that mankind had become, saving only the tiniest remnant to start fresh. One can look at the world today and wonder just how sickening their evil must have been as opposed to the disgust that you’d think He’d feel now over what this world has become. But in contrast to those times there is His Church that today ameliorates somewhat the level of evil on earth. So at least we’ve got that going for us. At least to the degree that those in His Church are worth their salt (Matt. 5:13 – “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men.”)
Which brings me to the sensitivity of man of truly understanding God’s holiness and His intolerance of sin and rebellion. We seem to suppress to an amazing degree this comprehension in our day to day lives by living as if His holiness matters little evidenced by the things that fill our waking hours. The story of Moses on Mount Sinai is a perfect example. The short version: while Moses was 40 days on the mountain with God (Exodus chapter 32) Israel got impatient and gave up on them both deciding to create their own “gods” they could follow, and this right after they were given the Ten Commandments (Exodus chapter 20). God sees what they’ve done and tells Moses that He is going to destroy them all and will make from him a new nation–a most tempting offer to a lesser man. Moses doesn’t seem to comprehend the sin that could make the Lord say such a thing and pleads with God for restraint, and he returns to the foot of the mountain only to see for himself just how badly the people have strayed. So in a rage he smashes the tablets and grinds up the idols and makes the people drink it–so now he understands a bit better that God’s holiness must be taken seriously. It is quite a revelation to Moses, one of those “ah-hah!” moments. It should teach us that we need to be vigilant; that if we aren’t careful, little by little the unholy and profane will creep into our lives and will have a detrimental effect on our relationship and walk with God. We need to be sensitive to just how holy God really is. The indwelling Holy Spirit is what assists.
So how should God’s holiness influence our daily decisions and choices? How about the TV shows we watch, the books and magazines we read, the jokes we share, the web sites we visit, the thoughts on which we dwell, the attitudes we manifest? Paul gives a hint in Colossians chapter 3: Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. . . . Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry. . . . put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him[.] These are all actions we perform when we determine that it is important to be like Christ.
There is supposed to be a difference in behavior of the one who has been born of His spirit and the one who is still enslaved to sin. It’s a matter of perspective, and of truly seeing God in the beauty of His holiness, and emulating Him because we love Him. Paul’s words from Philippians should help, Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. (Phil. 4:8) The reasons we should dwell on these things is obvious. Because He wants us to be holy since He is holy. (Cf. 1 Peter 1:15-16 quoting Lev 11:44.)
[Scriptures taken from the New American Standard Bible © 1995]