As we celebrate the New Year—the last of 2012, and the coming of 2013—what should we be doing? Should we make resolutions, as many do? Or is there, perhaps, something much more important we should focus on instead which will help us align our lives properly in the coming year?
“And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers.” (Ephesians 4:11)
After Jesus ascended back to the Father, He sent His Spirit to indwell his followers, and He sent gifts to the church. The gifts mentioned here are those of apostle, prophet, evangelist, and pastor and teacher. While there is disagreement among Biblical scholars as to whether some of these gifts—notably apostles and/or prophets—are still given today, there is no question as to their purpose. They are for the building up of the body—for causing everyone who will, to come to Christ and grow in their knowledge of Him to salvation. So what is the responsibility of these individuals toward the church?
Apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastors and teachers are to be passing on to the church what God has already said in His Word. They are to be teaching the Gospel—the message that God is holy, that in his natural sinful condition man is an abomination to Him, and yet, that because of Christ we can be forgiven and accepted, and given the power to be saved from our sins. But none of what follows makes any sense if we do not first properly understand THE HOLINESS OF GOD. Theologian A.W. Tozer attempted to explain it like this:
“When Leonardo Da Vinci painted his famous Last Supper he had little difficulty with any of it except the faces. Then he painted the faces in without too much trouble except one. He did not feel himself worthy to paint the face of Jesus. He held off and kept holding off, unwilling to approach it but knowing he must. Then in the impulsive carelessness of despair, he just painted it quickly and let it go. “There is no use,” he said. “I can’t paint Him.” I feel very much the same way about explaining the holiness of God. I think that same sense of despair is on my heart. There isn’t any use for anybody to try to explain holiness. The greatest speakers on this subject can play their oratorical harps, but it sounds tinny and unreal, and when they are through you’ve listened to music but you haven’t seen God…when you talk about the holiness of God, you have not only the problem of an intellectual grasp, but also a sense of personal vileness, which is almost too much to bear…Each one of us is born into a tainted world, and we learn impurity from our cradles. We nurse it in with our mother’s milk, we breathe it in the very air. Our education deepens it and our experience confirms it—evil impurities everywhere. Everything is dirty; even our whitest white is dingy gray…This kind of world gets into our pores, into our nerves, until we have lost the ability to conceive of the holy…He is the All-Holy, the Holy One; He is holiness itself, beyond the power of thought to grasp or of word to express, beyond the power of all praise. Language cannot express the holy, so God resorts to association and suggestion. He cannot say it outright because He would have to use words for which we know no meaning. He would have to translate it down into our unholiness. If He were to tell us how white He is, we would understand it in terms of only dingy gray. God cannot tell us by language, so He uses association and suggestion and shows how holiness affects the unholy. He shows Moses at the burning bush before the holy, fiery Presence, kneeling down to take his shoes from his feet, hiding his face, for he was afraid to look upon God.” (Ex 19:9, 10, 11f) All the trumpeting and the voice and the fire and smoke and shaking of the mount—this was God saying by suggestion and association what we couldn’t understand in words… (The Holiness of God)
Because we are human and live in a world tainted by sin, our understanding of God’s holiness is affected by the pervasive experience of our reality. We struggle to even glimpse what holiness means. Yet it is of utmost importance that we do, because without understanding it we will not recognize either our need for Christ or why we should stop sinning.
The Bible gives us several clues to help us understand. The Old Testament prophet Isaiah was one of the few individuals ever to experience God’s holiness directly, and it is recorded here:
“…I saw the Master sitting on a throne—high, exalted!—and the train of his robes filled the Temple. Angel-seraphs hovered above him, each with six wings. With two wings they covered their faces, with two their feet, and with two they flew. And they called back and forth one to the other,
Holy, Holy, Holy is God-of-the-Angel-Armies. His bright glory fills the whole earth.
The foundations trembled at the sound of the angel voices, and then the whole house filled with smoke. I said,
‘Doom! It’s Doomsday! I’m as good as dead! Every word I’ve ever spoken is tainted— blasphemous even! And the people I live with talk the same way, using words that corrupt and desecrate. And here I’ve looked God in the face! The King! God-of-the-Angel-Armies!’” (Isaiah 6:1-6, The Message)
The traditional translation of Isaiah’s reaction upon being confronted by the holiness of God, “woe is me,” is meaningless to us today, because we don’t speak that way anymore. “It’s Doomsday! I’m as good as dead!” does a better job of conveying Isaiah’s reaction, because this more correctly reflects the human response of an essentially complete breakdown. Sin cannot stand in the presence of God’s holiness.
Revelations 6:12-17 describes God’s final judgment on people who will refuse to stop sinning, and this account gives us further insight into the human reaction to the holiness of God:
“…there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moonbecame like blood. And the stars of heaven fell to the earth, as a fig tree drops its late figs when it is shaken by a mighty wind. Then the sky receded as a scroll when it is rolled up, and every mountain and island was moved out of its place. And the kings of the earth, the great men, the rich men, the commanders, the mighty men, every slave and every free man, hid themselves in the caves and in the rocks of the mountains, and said to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand?”
As terrifying as the judgments themselves are, the response of the guilty is not a reflection of their terror toward what has already occurred, but of what is about to occur—of being unable to avoid facing the One who is utterly holy. This is to to be expected, because Hebrews 10:31 tells us, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”
Resolutions are our efforts to do better. As we usher in the New Year, it is the holiness of God that we should focus on instead. With a proper understanding of this, everything else will fall into place. With a proper understanding of God’s holiness we will recognize the utter vileness of our innate sin nature and dirtiness of any attempts to please God on our own. We will cling to the substitutionary death of Christ on our behalf, recognizing that it is the only hope we have of standing before a holy God. We will refuse to sin, because we will rightly understand that Christ’s redeemed avoid sin at all costs. And we will persevere to the end, because our focus will be where it should be.
Thank You that You are beyond anything we can comprehend, and that yet, You have provided a way for us to approach You through Christ, and that in Him it is His holiness You see in us. Yet You detest sin and tell us that whoever sins has neither seen You nor known You (I John 3:6b). Cover us through Your blood. Help us see Your holiness, that we may be holy, as You, the LORD our God, are holy. Amen.