One thing I have desired of the Lord, that will I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in His temple.
Holiness is not a popular teaching in the church today. Our ears itch for powerful promises, personal prophecies, and protection from anything that would add to our already stressful lives!
To be holy - well, that seems almost impossible, doesn’t it? Since we live in a New Covenant age of grace, why focus on holiness at all? Isn’t holiness just the doctrine of legalism and works in disguise? We want to think about nicer things than dealing with sin: lovely and beautiful things, like Paul describes in Philippians 4:8!
What is holiness, and why do we need it at all?
Holy, n. - exalted or worthy of complete devotion as one perfect in goodness and righteousness.
HOLINESS IS NOT SOMETHING YOU DO
David’s life is a wonderful illustration of someone who walks in a spirit of holiness.
David’s most important life-goal is revealed to us in Psalm 27. Above all else, David says, his desire is to “behold the beauty of God constantly” within His temple. He commands the priests to “worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.” David, it seems, found God worthy of complete devotion because He was righteous.
This is a far cry from the Jews of Moses’ time, who were so afraid God’s holiness that they stayed as far away as possible!
Similarly, Isaiah prophesied (and the New Testament confirms) that Jesus had “no form or comeliness; and when we saw Him, there was no beauty that we should desire Him…and we hid…our faces from Him.” (Isaiah 53:2-3). At Jesus’ death, He was literally marred beyond recognition.
How, then, can David say he longs to “behold the beauty of God” if God appears to be so… well, unapproachable?
David’s secret is found in the revelation of God’s inner nature - His holy character - as he seeks Him. David operates in the fear of the Lord, repenting for mistakes as he makes them because He knows a holy God will not tolerate sin. Yet David also becomes deeply aware of the great love of the Lord for him.
Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, and John all describe experiences like this, where they encounter a holy God but realize simultaneously the depth of their sins and the amazing grace of the Lord. David, Moses, and the prophets discovered a healthy fear of the Lord as they prayed and encountered God’s awesome Presence.
HOLINESS IS SOMETHING YOU ARE
Holiness, biblically speaking, is not something we do; it is something God imparts. More specifically, holiness is imparted to us by the Holy Spirit, who IS the Spirit of Holiness (see Romans 1:4 and Isaiah 11:2).
When we as believers are able, through the empowering of the Holy Spirit, to see the love and mercy of God towards us, we are no longer afraid of His holiness. When we realize just how unholy our nature is and how much God loves us despite our sin, we are compelled to live a holy life! Overcome by God’s love, we now yearn to please Him and to eradicate all that is unholy in ourselves. We long to purify spirit, soul, and body and become “noble vessels, fit for the Master’s use.”
Sinful man cannot stand in the presence of holiness! Yet through Christ’s blood sacrifice, redeemed men and women can not only approach God’s throne but can also abide and dwell with Him, and He with us. (John 14:23). The Spirit of God imparts the nature of God to us, and that nature IS holiness! Oh, happy day!
Why do we still need preaching on holiness? So that we have an accurate picture of who God is, which includes His holy character. So that the Holy Spirit can convict us of the places where we fall short - and we can then receive mercy upon mercy for those fallen places, which results in a great outpouring of obedience and love for our Savior! (“It is the goodness of God that leads you to repentance.” -Romans 2:4)
David came to know the Father-heart of God, and it was his awareness of God’s love that enabled him to say he desired above all things to “dwell in the house of the Lord” and “behold the beauty of the Lord.”
In an age when most people were afraid of God, David pressed in boldly to God’s heart and found that holiness and love were not incompatible; in fact, they were the same. Abiding in the place of holy respect and the fear of the Lord delivered David from death multiple times, and it will do the same for us.
"BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY"
When God calls us to “be holy,” it is not so much a call to action as it is an invitation to impartation. Just as we cannot “earn” the gift of the Spirit through works of the flesh, so we cannot “be holy” until we encounter God through Christ and the Spirit of Holiness.
“Be holy” is a divine call to deeper relationship, a personal encounter with God who is at once utterly sinless and pure yet also completely forgiving and merciful. God knows that our desire to change will arise not from legalistic obedience but from wholehearted devotion. God is even more interested than we are in revealing His love so that we eagerly pursue and obey Him!
David’s beautiful songs of praise arise from seeing the compassionate character of God manifest in his life. Worship and prayer were his keys to intimacy with a holy God. 2 Chronicles 20:21 tells us that the temple priests were to worship the Lord “in the beauty of holiness.” In Psalms 29:2 and 96:9, David commands us to do the same.
These Psalms speak not only of worshiping God in His holiness but of praising God for the transformation of our own sinful natures into holy saints! Our outward nature is perishing, but our inward man is being renewed day by day; we are changing from glory to glory. How? By the Spirit of the Lord, who is the Spirit of holiness! (See 2 Cor 4:16 & 3:18).
As we gaze on the glory of Jesus’s face as revealed in His Word, we become changed ourselves. We are transformed from selfish, prideful beings into holy ones who desire God’s glory more than our own.
In short, we still need holiness because we still need God. God is holy, and “without holiness, no one will see the Lord.” (Hebrews 12:14) Our personal encounters with a holy God will so change us that we will look remarkably different from the world: different enough to make people stop and think!
Holiness will cause me to return something that was stolen because I don’t want to offend God (see 1 Samuel 24).
Holiness means I will worship passionately when all those around me are distracted by lesser things.
Holiness means I will value seeking God first before doing my own will.
Holiness means I will listen and obey the first time, knowing that every command of the Lord is spoken out of pure love and devotion for me.
Holiness means I will honor His Word as true, turning my back on sin, perversion, compromise, corruption, and deceit, and recognizing those things for what they are: offensive to God.
Holiness will not judge or tolerate sin but will overcome it with love.
What has the Lord revealed to you about holiness?
I believe it is possible to live a holy life even as the world seeks to remove the standards of holiness from every sector. The answer, however, is not in forcing others to conform to rules and regulations, but in seeking to encounter God more deeply ourselves, so that we are changed into His holy image! May the earth be filled with the knowledge of the character, nature, and glory of the Lord so that heaven and earth together cry “Holy is the Lord!”
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A severe hearing loss from childhood caused Deborah Perkins to develop what she now calls her secret weapon: tuning in to God's voice. A Wellesley College graduate and an award-winning writer, Deborah is now a wife and mother of 3 boys. Deborah has devoted over 25 years to professional and lay Christian ministry in New England and beyond. Her passion is inspiring people to cultivate greater intimacy with God.