What do we mean by “holiness”? What does it say about who God is, and how should this affect the way we understand Him and approach Him? As fallen and wholly unholy people, how can we have any hope for relating to God properly—and practically? In this feature on holiness, Decision explores answers to these questions.
Holiness is God’s plan for our “fullness of life.” In fact, God is our fullness of life! He is holy and He wants to be actively present in our lives both personally and corporately. He has created us for an intimate and personal love relationship with Himself. Jesus said, “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (John 17:3). So, we come to know God in all His holiness when we experience the love relationship for which we were created.
But sin has so affected the people of God today that we neither see the need for holiness nor do we desire it. Our hearts have turned away from Him, and we’ve lost the fear of Him and His judgment. As we turn from God, we choose to disobey God and we replace Him, His purposes and His ways with something of the world. We substitute work, recreation, relationships and a love of worldly things for our love relationship with God.
Of course, this is not new, as God’s people have always had the tendency to depart from Him. The Bible is filled with examples of people who turned, lived in disobedience and chose substitutes for God. He knew His people would shift, so He warned them: “If your heart turns away so that you do not hear, and are drawn away, and worship other gods and serve them, I announce to you today that you shall surely perish …” (Deuteronomy 30:17-18).
In love, God wants us to choose life and prosperity, not death and destruction. His command is that we love Him with all our heart, obey Him fully and release our lives to Him so that He can take up residence in us and express Himself through us to a watching world. But if we fail to heed God’s warning and continue in sin, then His judgment is certain. We either repent and accept salvation through Jesus Christ or we perish. According to the Scriptures, there are never alternatives to these two actions. In repentance our right relationship with God is restored. Without it, we experience God’s judgment.
History reveals how severe that judgment can be. When God judged Israel, the Northern Kingdom, He annihilated them. Likewise, His judgment on Judah, the Southern Kingdom, was thorough. He destroyed both Jerusalem and the Temple and kept the people in bondage for 70 years. And in the first century, He dealt with His people so completely that they remained scattered for 1,900 years.
While the history of God’s judgment should cause any of us to tremble, it is the loss of the fear of God that characterizes the people of God. We no longer believe that God disciplines and judges His people. We have become complacent, and we feel that we have no need to tremble. It sounds strange to this generation of believers because we only see God as our friend.
But hear the grieving heart of God: “Will you not tremble at My presence … ?” (Jeremiah 5:22). The Scriptures tell us that He looks upon those who tremble at His Word (Isaiah 66:2). So why does God expect us to tremble? Because of His holiness! When we’re truly in God’s presence and we experience His holiness, our sin is radically exposed.
Isaiah experienced the holiness of God. And when he suddenly found himself in the presence of God, Isaiah trembled in fear. He suddenly realized that there was much in his life and in the lives of his people that was full of sin.
After God cleansed Isaiah of his sin, he had an ear to hear God asking for someone to give everything he or she had for what was on the heart of God. He heard God saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And Isaiah responded, “Here am I! Send me” (Isaiah 6:8). Thus, out of an encounter with the holy God, Isaiah entered into the fullness of life that God had prepared him for.
Many others in the Bible experienced the holiness of God, which ushered in a fear of God. You can read of Peter’s experience in Luke 5, Paul’s encounter on the Damascus road in Acts 9 and John’s encounter in the Book of Revelation. In each instance they found themselves trembling before the Lord. So, we really do not “know God” if we have never trembled in His presence or trembled at His Word.
A picture of corporate trembling before God in His presence is expressed in Deuteronomy 5:22-33. God expected His people to tremble and fear Him when He was present and when He spoke to them, for He was always “setting before them life and blessing, death and cursing” (Deuteronomy 30:11-20). For God’s people to ignore His presence, or His spoken Word, could be fatal (Deuteronomy 30:17-18), but for them to heed and obey God would mean the fullness of life.
This was also expressed in the New Testament at Pentecost (Acts 2:36-39). The people, when they heard God’s Word, “were cut to the heart.” And then we read in Acts 5 where Ananias and Sapphira ignored the presence of God and He struck them dead. And “great fear came upon all the church and upon all who heard these things” (Acts 5:11).
God’s presence and Word today ought to, and must, bring a trembling fear of God among His people. His holy presence should expose our sin, causing us to tremble and cry out in repentance that brings holiness into our lives. Only then will we be ready to experience the fullness of God. Without our repentance of sin there will never be revival. And without a true encounter with God in His holiness there will be no true repentance.
Without repentance—that is, God’s people turning around and returning to Him—the world doesn’t stand a chance. God continues to call His people to a life of holiness. He’s looking for us to humble ourselves, pray, seek His face and turn from our wicked ways (2 Chronicles 7:14). Then, when we truly encounter Him with fear and trembling, we will know Him, know what He’s saying, and we will spontaneously remove anything that will hinder the kind of relationship with us that God wants. We will release our lives completely into the purposes of God and experience His fullness of life.
Henry Blackaby teaches seminars at the Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove. For more information, visit billygraham.org/TheCove or call 1-800-950-2092.