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Wednesday, July 26, 2006

The Foundation For Considering Modesty

Psalms 99:5 - Exalt ye the LORD our God, and worship at his footstool; for he is holy.

I think the holiness of God is an area that is not fully considered or taken into account when issues of modesty, virtue, separation, nakedness and the like are discussed. At the same time I believe that if we do not start here then we will have trouble examining practical issues in the proper light. I also am persuaded that everyone’s conclusions in the practical areas of life are a reflection of their view of God. When we see how people live and the decisions they make we can gain some understanding of their conception of God.

The statement, “God is holy” is on the surface simple enough. But if we think it is a simple statement then we have not exercised ourselves to understand what those three words mean. As a statement of fact it is rather simple. As a practical reality it is as boundless as the universe around us. We can investigate, ponder, reflect, and muse and still feel inadequate in understanding the holiness of God.

Do we even really know what holiness is? I have come to doubt that we do. We can study the topic, which is the best we can do here but we cannot experience what God is, always has been, and always will be.

One of the challenging things about God is that he can never be fully comprehended by men. His immensity in every area is beyond our ability to grasp. This is why we cannot really understand holiness as it is manifested in God. As men we cannot break free from the necessity of making comparison and acknowledging degrees. Yet, when we speak of the holiness of God there is no comparison to be made and no degrees to be noted.

Our tendency is to see God as just much better then us, even perfect. While perfection seems to be an elusive quality I seriously doubt that it adequately expresses the reality of God’s holiness. Perfection itself is determined by degrees and comparison and contrasts. Even in precision work there is tolerances that are allowed. Where there is tolerance you do not have absolute perfection. With God there are no tolerance specifications.

God is infinite in holiness!

God’s holiness cannot be grasped by human intellect because it is lost in infinity. God is more holy than it is possible to fathom by the human mind. We simply cannot conceive of holiness without degrees. It is a place where our minds are not equipped to go. In seeking to stretch them to that point we may achieve a greater understanding. If we do the benefit will be ours. If it causes us to fall back in awe of a holiness that is beyond our ability to conceptualize then we have benefited.

As men we must have a reference point, in order for us to have any understanding of holiness we are obliged to start somewhere. The Bible provides that starting point for us.

Genesis 1:1 - In the beginning God . . .

What an awesome starting point. When God commenced to give us a written record of himself and his plan of redemption in Christ Jesus he started with the words, “In the beginning God.” It may not be much and it may leave many questions but at least we are started. But, it is simply a starting point. It is not a final declaration of God’s essence for such a thing cannot possibly be made. With God there are no final declarations concerning any of his attributes. Infinity has no finality.

Romans 11:33-36 - O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor? Or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen.

From this passage in Romans we learn that all things begin, are sustained, and will culminate in Him. God encompasses all that there is. Because God is holy that necessitates that holiness encompasses all that is. This is the very reason why no final declaration can be made concerning God’s holiness. We are within looking out. We cannot move beyond God to see him from the outside!

The prophet Jeremiah expresses the immensity of God when he writes in

Jeremiah 23:24 - Can any hide himself in secret places that I shall not see him? saith the LORD. Do not I fill heaven and earth? saith the LORD.

If he fills heaven and earth then so does holiness, for God is holy. Consequently we can never witness the extremity of his holiness for it has no limit. We are rendered incapable of grasping either the end or beginning of God’s holiness. Both vanish into the vastness of infinity.

From the starting point all we can hope to do is expand our ability to see more of the holiness of God, to increase our ability to fathom. While granting we have limited capacity to fathom I feel certain that most of us can stretch our capacity beyond its present ability. The more we stretch our ability to conceive of God’s holiness the darker our world will seem. Why? The Scripture answers that.

1 John 1:5 - This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.

The more we conceive of the light the darker the world will seem.

Let me just give you the facts concerning the word holy by defining it.

1. Webster’s Dictionary – 1. Set apart to the service or worship of God; hallowed; sacred; as, the holy Sabbath; holy oil; holy vessels; a holy nation; the holy temple; a holy priesthood. 2. Worthy to be employed in the service of God; acceptable to God; commanded by God; hence, free from sinful affections; characterized by religious principle; pure; irreproachable; guiltless.

2. Webster’s Thesaurus
a. Synonyms – Blessed, consecrated, hallowed, sacred, sanctified, unprofaned, saintly, angelic, godly, devout, pietistic, pious, prayerful, religious.
b. Related words – Adored, glorified, revered, reverenced, venerated, worshipped, divine, religious, spiritual.
c. Antonyms – Unholy.

3. Dictionary of Word Origins, “Holy originated as a derivative of the prehistoric Germanic adjective which produced modern English “whole,” and so its etymological meaning is perhaps unimpaired, inviolate.

4. Old Testament – Three Hebrew words
a. qodesh, ko'-desh; A sacred place or thing; rarely abstract, sanctity: — consecrated (thing), dedicated (thing), hallowed (thing), holiness, (X most) holy (X day, portion, thing), saint, sanctuary.
b. qadowsh, kaw-doshe'; sacred (ceremonially or morally); (as noun) God (by eminence), an angel, a saint, a sanctuary: — holy (One), saint.
c. qadash, kaw-dash'; a primitive root; to be (causatively, make, pronounce or observe as) clean (ceremonially or morally): — appoint, bid, consecrate, dedicate, defile, hallow, (be, keep) holy(- er, place), keep, prepare, proclaim, purify, sanctify(-ied one, self), X wholly.

5. New Testament – Five Greek words.
a. hagiasmos hag-ee-as-mos’; from 37; properly, purification, i.e. (the state) purity; a purifier: holiness, sanctification.
b. hagiazo hag-ee-ad’-zo; from 40; to make holy, i.e. (ceremonially) purify or consecrate; (mentally) to venerate: hallow, be holy, sanctify.
c. hagiotes hag-ee-ot’-ace; from 40; sanctity (i.e. properly, the state): holiness.
d. hagiosune hag-ee-o-soo’-nay; from 40; sacredness (i.e. properly, the quality): holiness.
e. hagios hag’-ee-os; from agov hagos (an awful thing) [compare 53, 2282]; sacred (physically, pure, morally blameless or religious, ceremonially, consecrated): (most) holy (one, thing), saint.

Armed with the above information I developed this working definition: Holiness is a state of purity in which the possessor is free from sin and thus exists in a consecrated state and found suitable for divine purposes and worthy of veneration.

Having established this let us consider in relation to a God who is infinite in holiness.

I think the first thing we must ponder is that God is without comparison in holiness. We labor under the difficulty of having only experienced holiness in degrees, and usually not a very high degree. To examine this consider the following: we have the following words in our English language, Holy (nominative), holier (comparative), holiest (superlative). Something or someone is said to be the holiest by comparison to the other two degrees. God knows no degrees in holiness. He is not more holy; he is not even the holiest. He is simply holy. Any other expression does this attribute as it is revealed in God a disservice.

To say that he is the holiest is to create a mental image of him simply being more holy than we are. I do not believe it is as simple as that. He is holy. We sully his holiness when we begin to make comparisons.

Psalms 89:6 - For who in the heaven can be compared unto the LORD? who among the sons of the mighty can be likened unto the LORD?
Isaiah 40:18 - To whom then will ye liken God? or what likeness will ye compare unto him?

Our God, the great God of heaven has no likeness. No one, or anything is even worthy to be compared to him.

If you have followed me this far consider this. Holiness as it exists in God makes everything else unholy.

1 Samuel 2:2 - There is none holy as the LORD: for there is none beside thee: neither is there any rock like our God.

The holiness of God causes all other expressions of holiness to be non-existent. What do I mean by that you may ask? Well, compared to God nothing is holy. We are all impure and defiled. God is the only thing in the entire universe of which it can be said in and of itself it is holy. Everything and everyone that has any holiness has derived that holiness from God. If I think I am holy then that is only as compared to someone else, compared to God I am not holy.

If we could take the smallest sub-atomic particle known to man and place it outside the expanse of the universe and compare the two it would be as though the sub-atomic particle did not exist. Such is the comparison between God being holy and our attempts at holiness. Yet even this illustration fails to paint the proper picture for the sub-atomic particle is still known.

If I seem to be laboring under a difficulty here, I am. My point is to get us to ponder God specifically in relation to his holiness. When you do that you will feel less and less significant and worthy. In turn you will be singing the praises of his grace and mercy to such a vile, worthless, undone sinner. There is a reason we are only made accepted in the beloved.

Isaiah 44:6 - Thus saith the LORD the King of Israel, and his redeemer the LORD of hosts; I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me there is no God. He is the first and last in holiness.

Isaiah 57:15 - For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.

Holy is one of the personal names of God. Just as his name is Jealous, it is also Holy. His is an exalted and eternal holiness. God does not simply possess holiness he is holiness.

Exodus 15:11 - Who is like unto thee, O LORD, among the gods? who is like thee, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders? Even before he has done any wonders he is worthy. Why? Because he is glorious in holiness. The more we learn to think about God, reflect on his person, stand in awe of his being we will find his holiness glorious. It will be an expanding holiness. Not because he is becoming more holy for that is an impossibility, but because we fathom more of his holiness. His is a holiness that demands an ever-expanding intellect and spiritual understanding.

Exodus 15:6 - Thy right hand, O LORD, is become glorious in power: thy right hand, O LORD, hath dashed in pieces the enemy.

His power becomes glorious as it is manifested. In contrast holiness is his state and condition and thus in holiness he is glorious. He does not become glorious in holiness. Holiness is not what he is but who he is. Holiness is the hallmark of God’s nature. It is his defining attribute. If he had any imperfection nothing else would matter.

God’s holiness cannot be completely visualized.

1 Timothy 6:16 - Who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; whom no man hath seen, nor can see: to whom be honour and power everlasting. Amen.

No man can approach unto God. No man hath seen, nor can see God and live.

Psalms 104:2 - Who coverest thyself with light as with a garment: who stretchest out the heavens like a curtain: . . . .

Holiness is physically identified with light.

1 John 1:5 - This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.

His is a holiness that has not the slightest hint of darkness. In all physical light there are shades of darkness. The sun has spots where it is darker than other places. The moon has dark spots. The light bulb over my desk has different shades of light. All of this indicates that all light has some degree of darkness except the light of God’s holiness. God is incomprehensibly bright. His brightness or glory is a physical manifestation of his holiness.

John 1:18 - No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.
John 6:46 - Not that any man hath seen the Father, save he which is of God, he hath seen the Father.

Exodus 33:18-23 - And he said, I beseech thee, shew me thy glory. And he said, I will make all my goodness pass before thee, and I will proclaim the name of the LORD before thee; and will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will shew mercy on whom I will shew mercy. And he said, Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live. And the LORD said, Behold, there is a place by me, and thou shalt stand upon a rock: And it shall come to pass, while my glory passeth by, that I will put thee in a clift of the rock, and will cover thee with my hand while I pass by: And I will take away mine hand, and thou shalt see my back parts: but my face shall not be seen.

When Moses asked to see God’s glory he was asking to see that which gave him weight, splendor. He wanted to see that which made him weighty. It is the holiness of God that gives him weight that makes him weighty. Remember Exodus 15:11 said God was glorious in holiness. To see the glory of God is to see the physical expression of his holiness.

What did God tell Moses in response to his inquiry? “I will make all my goodness to pass before thee.” Goodness is the practical expression of holiness. Holiness is the condition, goodness is the fruit. God is good because he his holy. The more holy we are the “gooder” we will be. God was basically telling Moses he was going to cause the fruit of his holiness to pass before him. You will notice in verse 20,23 the special precaution that had to be taken for Moses to have even a veiled glimpse of the glorious holiness of God as revealed in his goodness.

We are handicapped. Consider the following verses that explain the nature of that handicap.

Genesis 1:26,27 - And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.
Genesis 5:1 - This is the book of the generations of Adam. In the day that God created man, in the likeness of God made he him;
Luke 3:38 - Which was the son of Enos, which was the son of Seth, which was the son of Adam, which was the son of God.
Genesis 5:3 - And Adam lived an hundred and thirty years, and begat a son in his own likeness, after his image; and called his name Seth:

To summarize, we are informed that Adam was made in the image of God. Adam was referred to as the son of God. Adam, when he begin to begat children he begat them in his own image. Adam, through his sin, marred the image of God in all of us. It is through the second Adam that we have the potential to have that restored. Thus the Bibles says, when we see him we shall be like him for we shall see him as he is. We have been rendered incapable of visualizing undiminished holiness. It is beyond our ability to grasp what unadulterated holiness looks like. The songwriter put it aptly when he wrote, “Though the eye of sinful man thy glory may not see.”

Because of our condition we can only see holiness in degrees.

Job 15:15 - Behold, he putteth no trust in his saints; yea, the heavens are not clean in his sight.

When we have stretched our minds to conceive of the greatest degree of holiness possible we have not even moved off the starting mark in being able to identify the truth contained in the simple words, “God is Holy.” His holiness is so transcendent.

God is holy. As much as we believe we have seen God, there is so much more to see, most of which we will never lay eyes on in this life.

This whole discussion has a direct bearing on our view of modesty, and apparel, and for that matter our areas of entertainment, our speech, our attitudes, our choice of companions, our use of time and on and on it goes.

While there are times myself, and people like me are reproached for certain standards that we observe those standards are rooted in a preoccupation with the holiness of God. It really does not matter how holy I am in relation to anyone else. In relation to God I am unholy. I have vast areas of need in my life, some I know, and most I do not. My positions on dress, entertainment, and other areas of contention are simply a reflection of my view of God. I only bemoan the fact that I have not been able to more fully appreciate and fathom a holiness that is brighter than the sun and broader than the universe consequently I tend to languish in carnality and unholiness.

God help me to see more of you, and less of myself and those around me. To see you and only you is my ardent prayer.
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