An Introduction to the Attribute of Holiness
Published August 14, 2023
In looking over the landscape of the church today, many people have noticed that the holiness of God has largely been forgotten, overlooked, and ignored.
The late J.I. Packer claimed that the contemporary Christian finds holiness to be outdated and irrelevant. Kevin DeYoung wrote, “Shouldn’t those most passionate about the gospel and God’s glory also be those most dedicated to the pursuit of godliness? I worry that there is an enthusiasm gap and no one seems to mind.” John MacArthur put it like this: “The doctrine of sanctification has become unpopular in our time. There has been much talk about the doctrine of election, of justification, of glorification… But the doctrine that has fallen into the greatest disuse is this doctrine of sanctification.”
MacArthur, Packer, and DeYoung all rightly point out that too few Christians seem to care about sanctification or about pursuing holiness in their personal lives; and too few churches seem to preach anything that resembles a call for believers to be holy.
The failure of the church and the Christian to pursue holiness has everything to do with the holiness of God because the chief reason why the church today fails to pursue holiness is because the church has forgotten that our God is a holy God. Many churches fail to recognize that we serve a God who is absolutely, unchangeably, and eternally holy. Churches have trivialized God and ignored certain attributes of God that we don’t like or that seem out of step with the times. The evangelical church, in its never-ending quest to be cool, to be relevant, to be accessible, to be unoffensive, to be relatable, to be thought well of by the world, has jettisoned the holiness of God because it has no place in a church that wants a seat at the world’s table or a church that wants to be attractive to ungodly, unholy people.
Calling attention to this problem is vital because the failure to appreciate, love, and proclaim the holiness of God has disastrous consequences.
It results in worship that is frivolous and trivial.
When we walk into church, we should almost feel like we are leaving this present world and stepping into the presence of God in heaven. Heaven is a holy place, where God dwells and where His holiness is worshipped and adored. Heaven is not a place for trifles, for silliness, for trivialities. There should be a reverence and a fear and awe of God in worship.
Many churches have abandoned any sense of the holiness of God or any element of reverence or awe before God. These churches seem to have an overwhelming desire to minimize the holiness of God to ensure the comfort of the sinner. Attendees are left with the impression that it doesn’t really matter how they live, or maybe even what they believe – because “God loves them and so do we,” and “God accepts us all and isn’t really that concerned about holiness.”
This kind of worship service presents a god that is totally foreign to the God of the Bible. It takes what should be a transcendent, awe-inspiring encounter with a holy God who transforms us, turning it into something trivial and meaningless. It also centers worship on the felt needs of sinners instead of something that is supposed to be about the glory of God. This is the greatest crime in neglecting the holiness of God because such an approach robs God of the worship He rightly deserves from His people.
When we forget about the holiness of God, serious consequences result, and trivializing the worship of God is at the top of the list.
Another consequence of forgetting the holiness of God is having churches that have lost the Great Commission.
The goal of the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20 is the holiness of God’s people. We cannot fulfill the Great Commission unless Jesus’ disciples are being taught to obey all that He commanded us.
One of the key marks of a spiritually mature church is its obedience to Christ. In Romans 1:8, Paul highlights the faith of the Roman church and the fact they had turned from idols to trust in the living and holy God. Paul bookends that commendation in Romans 16:19, noting the Roman’s obedience and holiness due to their sincere faith in Christ. The Romans did not have a faith in name only, a nominal faith, a worldly faith, or a faith that made little difference. Their faith was so strong and sincere that, when people talked about the faith of the Romans, the report about their obedience and holiness accompanied it.
If we are not worshipping, serving, and trusting in the true God, who is the holy God, we will not be a Great Commission church because we will not lead people to holiness. And if holiness is distasteful, irrelevant, or offensive, we cannot fulfill the Great Commission.
A third consequence of forgetting the holiness of God is exhibiting lives that are worldly and ungodly.
In 1 Peter 1:15-16, Peter writes that what sets the standard of holiness in the life of the believer is his view of God and God’s holiness. We are to be holy as God is holy. However, if we have forgotten or neglected the holiness of God, what will our standard be? If we serve a god who accepts everyone, who is unconcerned about holiness, who is devoid of wrath and judgment against sin because his holiness is not offended by sin, we will become just like that unholy god.
This neglect of God’s holiness results in believers who have no real pursuit of holiness at all or who are unconcerned to be holy because they don’t understand the holiness of God; or in believers who think they are pursuing holiness but who are defining it by the world’s definition of holiness rather than by conforming themselves to God and His holiness. Both paths lead to ungodly living.
If we would live godly lives, if we would seek to be obedient to Christ, if we would put to death the deeds of the flesh and seek to walk in the Spirit, we must first understand the holiness of God.
One final consequence of forgetting the holiness of God is this: countless false believers who think they know God, but who serve an idol.
In Luke 6:46, Jesus asked this powerful question: “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?”
To put Jesus’ words another way, all true believers and followers of Christ will pursue holiness and seek to obey Jesus’ commands. The reason why people call Jesus ‘Lord’ but do not do what He commands is because they don’t know Him. They miss that He is holy. They have trivialized Jesus; they have created a Jesus in their own image; they have invented their own savior and rejected the Jesus who is the Holy One of God.
This is a tragedy of monumental proportions because it results in eternal destruction. Many people on the final day will call Jesus ‘Lord, Lord,’ and yet they will be condemned because they did not do the will of the Father, but instead practiced wickedness. They had no regard for holiness, and that manifested the reality that they did not know God.
These are the disastrous consequences of forgetting the holiness of God.
There is a remedy, however, for us who live in a time when the holiness of God has been so neglected and forgotten. We will unpack that remedy over the course of this series as we uncover the holiness of God and discover what our response to that holiness should be in our lives and in our churches.