I want to speak to you on the subject of the holiness of God. Last weekend I spoke at a conference and one of the talks I gave there was on this subject; it pricked my heart deeply and I continued to study because I know in some ways this is a subject I need to wrestle with. I want to share with you some insights, for clarity. I have touched upon it before in my teaching, but it is something that is so incredibly important, and so incredibly misunderstood and superficially treated by Christians in our world today. We tend to just disregard the whole issue of the holiness of God. The world at large has humanized God and deified man to such an extent that there is no longer any distinction between the two, no distinction between the holy and the profane. But we, the people of God (I believe) need to be and shall be restored to a fuller understanding that our God is a holy God. And in that restoration there will be transformation. When we speak of holiness a lot of people immediately pull in their soul, because they are afraid you are going to start talking about moral purity, sinlessness in your life—how long your hair can or can’t be, or if you can wear make-up, short-sleeved shirts, if you can go to movies on Sunday, whether you can drink wine or just grape juice, etc. I am not going to talk about any of that because that is not the issue of biblical holiness. It is far deeper than that, and it is far more radical than that.
Holiness isn’t an issue that is defined in terms of ethical categories, it is an issue that is defined in terms of ontological categories. I am saying to you that it is not a matter of morality, it is a matter of being–of God’s very being, his very existence. That is what holiness refers to. The heart of holiness doesn’t deal with what we do, so much as it deal with who God is. Isaiah records a vision in chapter 6 in which he describes the seraphim. The word seraphim in Hebrew literally means the ‘burning ones’. I think these are angelic forces that are passionate and are burning with the zeal for the Lord of Hosts. What is it they proclaim? Kadosh, kadosh, kadosh: Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth is full of his glory. There is a kind of antiphony going on, a kind of echo effect ... holy, holy, holy. And the heavens roar with this declaration as to who God is, as to what his very essence is, as to what cannot be described with words. The only word that can begin to approach it is the word God uses of himself. He defines himself as holy. He says, "be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy’."
What is it the seraphim are saying when they say, "holy, holy, holy?" What does it mean? Are they speaking of some attribute of God, like his omniscience, his omnipotence, maybe his omnipresence? Or are they speaking of some character virtue of God like his love, his mercy, his faithfulness, his grace? If that is so, why is holiness the only term that is repeated three times? We have many instances in the Bible of two repetitions, just as Jesus would say, "verily, verily I say to you" which is repetition done for emphasis. When we try to emphasize something today in our writing we use italics or bold letters. When we speak, we speak more forcefully when in order to emphasize something. In Hebrew you create emphasis by repeating something. This is intensified to the third level with the declaration, holy, holy, holy is the LORD. This thrice repetition occurs in both the Hebrew Bible (Isaiah 6) and in the NT (Rev 4). Why?
* This is an audio transcript, listen to the original message here.