Holy, Holy, Holy
Monday: Undone before the Holy
And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory ~ Isaiah 6:3
Say “God is holy,” and you give in a word the only justification required for the worldwide Flood, the annihilation of Sodom and Gomorrah, the commanded Canaanite genocide, and the gradual judgment that fell upon the entire world before Christ. Men reject God’s judgements and hate Scripture because they hate his holiness. They would rather slit their wrists than be faced with him.
To say that God is holy means that he is separate from all sin and unrelentingly opposes sin. But his holiness is more than a negation. It is a positive, beautiful, blinding purity that evokes the seraphim’s ceaseless cry and rattles the pillars of the heavenly temple.
Do the angels not weary of their vigil? Has not the thought sometime crossed their minds in the last six thousand years that there must be something else worth doing? Never. God’s holiness has a weight of glory that the seraphim must die for grief were their cry to end. Nothing more satisfies and settles in its unsettling wonder than God’s purity. It was our Savior’s anchor on the cross (Ps. 22:3).
For Isaiah, holiness evoked a self-curse – Woe is me. My lips – and he was a prophet – are unclean. I speak the words of the HOLY ONE with filthy lips. My contamination is my woe. My problem is not my circumstances; it is my filth. In his presence, my posture must either be the most sincere self-abnegation, repentance, and humility, or death. God’s holiness cleanses the repentant and kills the proud.
Isaiah must be broken by holiness before he can be a truly useful vessel. He must feel the danger of sin before he will speak courageously God’s truth to a hard-hearted people. God cleansed Isaiah with a coal from the altar. His lips were purified by searing them, staunching the flow of corruption and burning it away. We must similarly feel our woe before God’s holiness. Forget all your excuses: WOE IS ME. Forget what others have done to you: WOE IS ME. Forget what others think of you: WOE IS ME. Think only: God is holy. Then ask humbly: Holy Father, cleanse my filth. Take a coal, holy Savior, from the heavenly altar at which you minister, a drop of your precious blood, and purify me.
Tuesday: The Holy One Became Sin
For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him ~ 2 Corinthians 5:21
Most remarkable of all about Isaiah’s vision is that he saw the glory of the Son of God (John 12:41). The Son was preexistent; the Son was HOLY; the Son was the song of angels. They do not worship creatures. The Son is fully God, equal with the Father in eternity, holiness, and power.
As God’s revelation to Isaiah progressed, he learned some of the HOLY ONE’S specific names and works: Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God (Isa. 9:6). He would become incarnate and be born of a virgin (Isa. 7:14). He would have the fullness of the Spirit (Isa. 11:2-9). In his hand, the kingdom of God would flourish and conquer all (Isa. 9:7; Isa. 42:4).
Still higher, as we and the angels bow heart and mind to consider it, the HOLY, HOLY, HOLY God was destined to become filthy. This HOLY ONE would give his back to the smiters and be spat upon by sinners (Isa. 50:6). There was no other way for us to enter into life but for the sinless Son of God to become sin itself. Not that he had our sin nature, for that was a deformity of nature. He would enter into our sinful condition and state, face temptation, and be subject to our weakness. Only he could remove the offense of sin by becoming the offense in our place.
This is the glory at the center of Isaiah, sometimes called the fifth Gospel: that the incarnate HOLY ONE would take upon himself our sins, make his soul an offering for sin, and heal us by his stripes. How can it be that God’s holy Son should become sin for us? How could it please the Father to crush his holy Servant for unholy sinners? It is no wonder that the angels never stop singing “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain.” We shall find it harder to stop singing as we understand that they crucified the Lord of glory for the sons of filth.
Can this be the only way of salvation? See yourself standing before the HOLY ONE: no hiding, no excuses. The seraphim are confessing loudly; the pillars shake; your soul shrinks. He sees me. Terror grips you. I am undone. Woe is me. The stroke of doom. It is hell for me – except – there is a Lamb in the midst of the throne. He bears the wounds of his agony. Holiness has suffered in my place. Holiness became unholy through Jesus Christ. I am saved. Holiness saved me.
As glaring as God’s holiness is, we must look at it, think about it, try to take into our souls. The pillars of our soul must be shaken by it, by him. Carelessness about holiness always, always leads to indifference to the cross. Then, love for Christ suffers. The world takes his place in our hearts. This is because we forgot holiness and lost wonder at the HOLY ONE hanging on the cross for our filth.
Wednesday: Sealed with the Holy Spirit
In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise ~ Ephesians 1:13
Lack of holiness is the most basic explanation for the church’s failed witness and loss of influence. Christian influence, boldness, and power all come from holiness, but most in the church do not want to separate from the world, or do not understand what that separation means. Separation is the definition of holiness. “Come out from them, and be separate” (2 Cor. 6:17).
Quickly the caveat comes. “Yes, but we are in the world and must be relevant.” What if, after all, a more thoroughgoing separation is really the most relevant thing the Christian individually and the church collectively can do in the world? What if Christians repented of their gossiping ways, stopped looking at anything on the internet that displeases God, and refused to treat his Sabbath as a market day?
What if we immediately began thinking the best of other believers, preferred others to ourselves, and refused to believe anything bad about another believer unless with indisputable, multiple witnesses, and then only with fasting and weeping for their recovery? What if, in short, each one of us practiced daily and sincere repentance, mourned over our sins and the sins of others, and sought through private and corporate prayer the grace to be God’s obedient children?
Rather than blunt God’s call to holy separation from all sin with our concerns about relevance, let us instead consider the one overriding reason to desire and pursue holiness. We are sealed with the Holy Spirit. Isaiah’s HOLY, HOLY, HOLY includes the Holy Spirit, and he indwells us. He is called the seal, because he is a downpayment or pledge of our full redemption. His presence and power in our lives are God’s promise of heaven, a heaven begun in the soul now that grows in us as we walk in the Spirit.
The presence and power of the Spirit are also the bond of our union with Jesus Christ. By the Spirit the Lord Jesus applies his accomplished redemption to our lives. By his Spirit, we are made partakers of Christ himself, baptized into his mystical body, and made co-heirs with him. “The Lord is the Spirit,” meaning that we cannot have one without the other. If we have any regard for Christ, any desire to be found in him, we shall earnestly inquire whether or not we are possessors of the Spirit of holiness.
Do we look for an explanation for miserable Christians, powerless Christians, Christians who look very much at home in the world and very little at home being quiet before God? The reason is that we have grieved the Spirit and quenched him. Perhaps in our desire to be relevant, to know what is going on in the world, and not to feel too estranged from life here and now, we have pushed the Spirit away. If he goes, we are lost. If he withdraws his gracious influence, we cannot but be powerless, hopeless, and feel ourselves somewhat estranged from God in Christ.
For the sake of God’s glory and of our enjoyment of Christ, let each of us be more mindful that we are God’s temple. The Spirit of truth and holiness dwells in us. “But ye know him, for he dwells with you, and shall be in you” (John 14:17). Let us not offend him by allowing the world’s trash to fill our lives. Use this coming Sabbath to take out the trash through repentance and prayer for the Spirit of Christ to transform you by his power.
Thursday: Holiness Provoked
Ah sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a seed of evildoers, children that are corrupters: they have forsaken the LORD, they have provoked the Holy One of Israel unto anger, they are gone away backward ~ Isaiah 1:4
It is an alarming possibility. God can be angry with you. David and all the saints have at times felt this (Ps. 6:1). God’s anger is not like ours. He can be righteously provoked and yet love us and intend good, even as he is chastening us. Israel provoked the HOLY ONE to anger. By their habitual sinning and refusal to repent when God sent his servants the prophets, his holy nation had become a sinful nation.
Is this kind of scenario possible in the new covenant? God’s holy nation is now the church of the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Pet. 2:9). We are indwelled by the Holy Spirit so that we are God’s holy temple. We are warned not to grieve or sadden him (Eph. 4:30). Paul asked the Corinthians: “Do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he” (1 Cor. 10:22)?
We do this by sinning. The Corinthians’ sins were pride, worldliness, sexual impurity, and selfish ambition. They did not maintain holy separation from the world. Some did not see a problem eating at the Lord’s Table then going to worship in an idol’s temple. I am not sure we see the disconnect between worshipping the Lord and then going shopping on the Sabbath, or eating at the Lord’s Table without serious resolve to forsake our sins and love God with all our hearts. Do we watch and hear filth, but then expect the Holy Spirit to help us?
If we are not confessing our sins, we become laden with iniquity. Now that the HOLY ONE has been crucified for us and raised for our justification, such a life is the antithesis of the gospel. This is the reason that no one will see the Lord without holiness (Heb. 12:14). It is impossible to be in union with the HOLY ONE and sealed with the HOLY SPIRIT and not partake of holiness, to be hating sin and hungering and thirsting after righteousness.
Let us not go backward from God but forward into the blazing light of his holiness. He will forgive our provocations against his holiness. He is faithful and just to do so (1 John 2:9). We must keep heading to the light. It hurts. Holiness is too high for us, but this is the reason Jesus Christ sank so low. He raises us up, blots out our curse, and ushers us into the presence of the HOLY.
Friday: Cleanse Me
Who can understand his errors? cleanse thou me from secret faults ~ Psalm 19:12
Let us face honestly that despite the Lord’s constant encouragement and warnings and promises of help, we must often return to David’s pleading question: “Who can understand his errors?” I cannot, and neither can you. It is the most astounding fact in the universe, I believe, that the Holy God dwells with sinners.
This is a bit of a conundrum, and it is resolved only in Jesus. By his blood, we are cleansed. By his imputed obedience, we are righteous. By his heavenly intercession, we are admitted to God’s courts and assured of his favor. By his royal power, we are sealed with the Holy Spirit, who intercedes, sanctifies, and encourages.
God’s consuming holiness and our fatal lack of it are bridged only in the HOLY ONE, Jesus Christ. Thus, we love him who became sin for us that we might be righteous in him. We never trust our own progress or feelings or resolutions; we always look to him. More of our sinfulness is exposed, and we return to his wounds for cleansing. The longer you are a Christian, the more consuming Christ and him crucified will be.
This assumes you are hungering for him. This was Paul’s hunger: that I may know him. It was our Savior’s description of his disciples: hungering and thirsting after righteousness. It was David’s cry in this psalm. Lord, I cannot understand my errors, my sins. Cleanse me. I want holiness, to be separate from sin and in perfect union with you and holiness. I want to be a lover of truth and a hater of everything that opposes your purity. I am drowning in my sins. Cleanse me.
Holiness, its beauty and its pursuit, must always bring us back here. Cleanse me. If it does not bring us here, it will throw us into the abyss of hell. The HOLY ONE will not be mocked. He offers to blot out our sins. He bruised his Son to open fountains of living, cleansing waters. Go and wash. He will cleanse and receive you. One day soon, he will receive you into his kingdom and purify you. He will grant your desire for holiness – to see him and to be like him. Seeing his face, holiness will be your eternal happiness. The Holy God will be your reward.