“And one cried to another, and said, ‘Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts: the earth is full of his glory.’”
The above passage comes from a transformative event in the life of the prophet Isaiah in which he sees a magnificent vision of God’s glory (Isaiah 6:1-3). As a result Isaiah becomes keenly aware of his own sinfulness and cries out for cleansing (v5), which comes in the form of one of the angels touching a hot coal to his lips (v 6-7). He then receives his commission to call the wayward nation back to God (v 8-13). While countless sermons and teachings could be taken from this passage, the focus of this study is the song of the angels: Holy, holy, holy.
The significance of the repetition of the word holy can be easily missed. Repetition was a form of emphasis in the Hebrew language, similar to how we would highlight, underline, or use boldface or italics. We see Jesus’ use of repetition with the words, “Truly, truly, I say unto you…” Here the double use of the word truly was a sign that He was about to say was of crucial importance. The word translated “truly” is the ancient word amen. Amen isn’t just something said at the end of a prayer, it simply means, “It is true.”
In his classic book The Holiness of God (a book that truly changed my life), theologian R.C. Sproul observes that:
On a handful of occasions the Bible repeats something to the third degree. To mention something three times in succession is to elevate it to the superlative degree. Only once in Scripture is an attribute of God elevated to the third degree. The Bible says that God is holy, holy, holy. The Bible never says that God is love, love, love or mercy, mercy, mercy or justice, justice, justice. ¹
Sproul goes on to explain how every aspect of God’s being flows from His holiness. His love is holy love. His mercy is holy mercy, etc. This revelation is key to understanding how to properly relate to God. God’s holiness should be the lens through which we see all of His other attributes.
For example, the Bible tells us that God is love ( John 4:8,16). Unfortunately, we westerners tend to have a very superficial, “warm and fuzzy” idea of the word “love” and when we try to superimpose it onto a holy God, we run into problems.
The word “holiness” comes from the Greek word hagiósuné, which means “a holy or sanctified state.” It describes the complete “otherness” of God. He is completely separate and distinct from sinful humanity. The following video gives an excellent explanation of this:
What’s more, God calls us to be holy as He is holy. In fact, He says that no one can see
Him without holiness (Hebrews 12:14). Blatant, continual living in sin is reason to question if a person has been truly converted:
- Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.1 Corinthians 6:9-10 ESV
- Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. Galatians 5:19-21 ESV
- But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.” Revelation 21:8 ESV
Sobering words indeed. They vividly remind us how we can never take God’s grace for granted. This is why the first word Jesus uttered in His public ministry was “repent (Mark 1:15).”
We tend to think of the word “repent” as simply meaning to stop sinning. While that is the ultimate goal, it is an over simplification. The Greek word is metanoia which means “to change your mind.” Repentance is a change of mind about sin which certainly should lead to a change of behavior.
That is why, in the lists of sins listed above, we may still see things that we still struggle with, even as Christians. When you repent before God, your mind now recognizes that these things, are wrong. However, your flesh still wants to do them. This struggle us an important part of spiritual growth.
As difficult as it may be at times, the struggle shows that you have not been defeated. The sin you struggle with can never defeat you. Rather, the sin we justify, rationalize and make excuses for is what will get us into trouble. No matter how much he or she might struggle or stumble, a true Christian’s heart will always have a longing to grow in holiness. A pig wallows in the mud and enjoys it. A sheep might stumble into the mud, but his first reaction will be “get me out of here and get me cleaned up!”
Please don’t be intimidated. The call to holy living is a truly beautiful thing. It is an ever unfolding journey in understanding God’s character. This includes:
The heart of God: Things that hurt us also hurt God. Anytime we sin, we are grieving the heart of someone who loves us perfectly, passionately, an unconditionally. We are ignoring His love for us and serving our own selfishness instead. Remember: The middle letter of sin is “I”.
The wisdom of God: Living a holy life is much more than just empty piety. It is realizing that God, in His perfect love and wisdom, knows what is best for us and gives us a map to help us avoid the pitfalls of life. If you go against the owner’s manual of your car, let’s say, you put water into your gas tank, you obviously can’t expect your car to work properly. Similarly, God gives us His Word, the Bible, as the owner’s manual for the lives He has entrusted us with. Take
away the boundaries from a river, and it will quickly become a swamp.
The glory of God: This is where it all begins and ends. Just as in Isaiah’s vision described above, holiness is ultimately an expression of worship to God. This worship in turn becomes an outlet for God’s blessings to flow back into our lives. When you water your garden, the hose gets wet, too!
The best part of it is that it does not all depend on you! The Christian life is God’s grace from start to finish. This happens through a wonderful process known as sanctification, which we will discuss in part 2 of this study.
These are some of the most liberating truths you will ever learn. They are key to living a joyful, fruitful Christian
life without falling into the traps of prudishness or legalism. As you grow in these truths, you will learn to look past the stereotypes of dour, gloomy Christians and discover that biblical holiness is immensely practical and radically life affirming. In other words, it’s just a better way to live!
Keep It Real,
NOTES AND BIBLIOGRAPHY:
1. Sproul, Robert Charles (RC). The Holiness of God, second edition. © 1998, Tyndale House Publishers Wheaton Ill. P 36.
James H Boyd Gospel Ministries:
The Best of James and Dave’s Bible Page:
“Keeping It Real” with James H Boyd
“THE LEGACY” AUDIO PODCAST:
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