Theme: Four Contributing Elements
In this week’s lessons, we learn of God’s holiness, and of what our response ought to be in light of it.
Scripture: Psalm 99:1-9
As we saw in yesterday’s study, holiness is the characteristic of God that sets him apart from his creation. It has at least four contributing elements:
1. Majesty. Majesty means “dignity,” “authority of sovereign power,” “stateliness” or “grandeur.” It is the characteristic of strong rulers and of God who is ruler over all. Majesty links holiness to sovereignty, which is why in Psalm 99 the stanza that begins with a statement about God’s rule (“The LORD reigns”) ends with a reference to his holiness (“he is holy”).
2. Will. A second element in holiness is will, that of a sovereign personality. This makes holiness personal and active, rather than abstract and passive. Moreover, if we ask what the will of God is primarily set on, the answer is in showing himself to be the “Wholly Other,” the one whose glory must not be tarnished by the wickedness of men. This element of holiness comes close to what the Bible speaks of when it refers to God’s “jealousy.” It means that God is not indifferent to how we regard him.
3. Wrath. Wrath is part of holiness, because it is the natural and proper stance of the holy God against all that opposes him. It means that God takes the business of being God so seriously that he will permit no one else to usurp his place. When Satan tried to do it he was judged (and will yet be judged). When men and women refuse to take the place God has given them, they will suffer the outpouring of God’s righteous wrath also.
4. Righteousness. This is the matter mentioned earlier. It is involved in holiness not because it is the term by which holiness may best be understood, but because it is what the holy God wills in moral areas. What is right? What is moral? We can answer that not by appealing to some abstract, independent moral standard, but by appealing to the character and will of God himself. The right is what God is and reveals to us.
But here is our problem. We are not holy, even in the strictly moral sense. Therefore, and precisely because holiness is not an abstract or passive concept but is instead the active, dynamic will of God at work to punish rebellion and establish righteousness, the experience of confronting the holy God is profoundly threatening to us. Holiness intrigues us, as the unknown always does. We are drawn to it. But at the same time we are in danger of being undone, and fear being undone, by the confrontation. When Isaiah had his encounter with the holy God in the chapter referred to above, he reacted in terror, saying, “Woe to me!… I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty” (Isa. 6:5).
Similarly, when God revealed himself to Habakkuk, the prophet described the experience by saying, “I heard and my heart pounded, my lips quivered at the sound; decay crept into my bones, and my legs trembled” (Hab.3:16). Job said, “I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:6).
Peter caught only a brief glimpse of Jesus’ holiness, but he cried out, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man” (Luke 5:8)! These encounters show that the experience of confronting the holy God is awe-inspiring, even life threatening, which is exactly what the psalmist is indicating in verses 1-3.
What attributes does majesty link? How is holiness made personal and active?
When does God show wrath?
What is righteousness?
How do you judge when something is right and moral?
What emotions do you feel when you anticipate the experience of confronting God?
Review: What are the four contributing elements of holiness, and how does each relate to it?