Delighting in God’s holiness leads to unsurpassed enjoyment of Him, and growth in holiness as His disciples, His children, His beloved. How can we delight in holiness, a word currently “out of fashion” with many? And does God really call us to holiness, or that “Old Testament” law that has no bearing on us today?
Before we discuss the call to grow in holiness, we have to accept that God uses this word, and that He desires us to understand what He means by it. There is no one verse to sum it up, no trite IG worthy catch phrases. Only the Spirit guiding you through Scripture can lead you to love this holiness as God does, and in so doing He will grant you the desire to “be holy as I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16; Leviticus 19-20; Exodus 19:6; 1 Thessalonians 4:7). This will be a two part post, so bear with me.
Very briefly, what is holiness? How will I be using this word? God is Holy, that is to say, set apart, vastly different, especially as He is the One Being that is the source of all that is created, He alone having no source. It is His Supremacy in everything, as well as His purity in everything. Our holiness comes from Him, it is to be set apart by Him for Him; having our hearts roused to be in awe of Him, and our hearts made alive, purified by Him and for Him. For a succinct chapter on holiness, see Beeke and Smalley, Reformed Systematic Theology Volume 1, (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2019), pages 566-583.
So, a little Old Testament background, before we ponder the New Testament reiteration. The New Testament does not do away with the call to holiness, but shows us how this call can only be fulfilled by us as we find our life in Christ. This call is indeed intensified, as we no longer walk under the Law, but in the Spirit Who leads us into deeper, fuller, richer obedience and into Christ-likness! In the Old Testament…
They were learning.
Moses was told by God that he was standing on holy ground while in God’s presence; and this is the first Scriptural mention of God’s holiness (see Beeke, 566). The Israelites were supposed to be learning what holiness meant as they traveled across the wilderness listening to God’s prophet. They were called to be His people, called to worship the One True God alone, and to live like those who knew they were created in His image. But, the Israelites found it difficult to leave their idols, they found it easy when filled with anxiety to seek solace in a golden calf. And like all of us they grumbled rather than praying.
God’s prophet was not perfected in holiness though; Moses is told that his sin was that he did not treat God as holy. The man chosen by God, spoken to by God, shown great and marvelous miracles still struggled to treat God as holy. Think about all the wonders Moses witnessed: burning bush, Knowing God’s covenant Name, for the first time–can you imagine being the first man to hear that He is the “I Am”? How about seeing all the plagues? The parting of the Red Sea. Looking back and realizing he was the only baby boy in his years of life to survive the death sentence pronounced by Pharoah. Manna. Time on the mountain alone with YHWH? Seeing Aaron’s rod bud. Seeing God’s judgment on others’ sins, like the earth swallowing all those who rebelled with Korah. Hearing God’s answer to Aaron and Miriam when they grumbled against him…oh so many more.
If this man could struggle with belief, and fail to treat God as holy, surely we must admit we all have struggled.
11 Then Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock twice with his rod; and water came forth abundantly, and the congregation and their beasts drank. 12 But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you have not believed Me, to treat Me as holy in the sight of the sons of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them.” 13 Those were the waters of [a]Meribah, [b]because the sons of Israel contended with the Lord, and He proved Himself holy among them.Numbers 20
What was Moses not believing in that moment?
If we back up a bit, we see God speaks to Moses about His power (see Numbers 11). Everything Moses saw of God’s power displayed, and this reminder in face to face speech: Is YHWH’s power limited? Now you shall see whether My word will come true for you or not.” It could be God’s power.
Think for a moment about the Ten Commandments; remember how God commanded His people to love Him? They were told to love the God Who had hesed for them–hesed, steadfast love, covenant-keeping love, pursuing and keeping love, not fickle-never ending-not earned but freely given love, love not tied to our actions or to ‘feelings’ but to truth and goodness and delight and the Source of Life! Hesed. Could it be that Moses was not believing the full extent of His mercy and love?
That the “I Am” really is all of Who He says He is. So often this “not believed Me” boils down to basic, not very mysterious, unbelief. Not taking God at His Word, not remembering Him or taking thought of Him, or trusting Him to fulfill His promises. Reacting, rather than intentionally living.
Now that we’ve briefly considered ‘holiness’ and believing, we can ask: What does it mean for us today to believe God and treat Him as holy? We believe truly when we hear and read His Word, and take heed. Like Abraham, we believe He is able to fulfill what He has promised (Romans 4 is so helpful here, especially vs 20-25).
Once we’ve pondered that question, we are ready to ask: what does it mean to treat God as holy in all my callings? As a wife, a mama, an educator, a sister-in-Christ, a neighbor, a steward of the manifold grace of God and of all that He has blessed me with (time, possessions, home…)? If He calls you to speak to a rock, do you strike it?
If He calls you to make disciples, do you mock the world, stand aloof and “strike” rather than speaking?
If He calls you to serve, do you do so begrudgingly? If He calls you to speak, do you yell, criticize, pull out your well seasoned sarcasm?
If He calls you to reprove someone in sin, how can you do it while treating God as holy? If He calls you to live a quiet life (1 Thess 4) and to pray that we would all be able to live in godliness and dignity (1 Timothy 2), how can we do this–treating God as holy, rather than “striking the rock”?
How often in my day-to-day do I assume that the incarnation did away with the need to treat God as Holy? I cringe to think about how my generation has contempt for Jesus, treating Him as merely man, rather than the God-Man, the Christ, the Redeemer, and the Lion of the Tribe of Judah. We do an either/or, and choose the parts of Jesus that allow us to mistakenly think He does not care about us following Him in holiness.
To Grow in This:
Ponder His Majesty, His Beauty, His goodness… Let yourself be in awe of Who He is, take the time necessary to seek His face. In every generation, there is something that makes it so easy to dismiss the call to ‘be holy as I am holy;’ currently it is focus on “deconstructing” and on human leaders that have been unfaithful to the Word as they shepherded the flock. Look away from these stumbling blocks, and gaze at Your Saviour. The heavens declare His glory, are you listening? His Word restores our souls, are you listening?
In every generation, it can be a mixture of both shame and fear that hold us back from growing in holiness; not trusting God to cover us in Christ’s righteousness. For me it is often the neglect to gaze upon His Beauty, neglect to pause and delight in His nearness. And when I do not crucify my self-pity and fretting (Psalm 37:8) I turn quickly from experiencing the some of the suffering we all face in this world, and let the suffering become a focus. Yet even in these times, He does not quench the smoking flax (Isaiah 42) but is still Light to me, and filled with compassion He leads me. We must continue pray, and not lose heart, in these times!
To counter this…to ‘believe Him, and therefore be able to treat Him as holy…” We remind ourselves and one another of the unfathomable riches of His grace, or of the incomprehensibility of the Trinity, of His unfailing love, of His power and gentleness, of all of Who He Is!
Sometime this week, seek His face (Psalm 27) and search the Scriptures, asking Him to awaken in you the desire to grow in grace and knowledge (2 Peter 3:18), that you may more firmly believe Him. Consider 2 Peter 1, and Revelation 1 as you ponder this growth. Next week, we move from “you did not believe” into discussing more of what our New Testament call to holiness.