There’s a significant difference between my 2-year-old granddaughter and me. Yes, I’m taller and older and able to support myself, but it’s something more profound. She demonstrates this difference every time we’re together.
My granddaughter will make me sit down in a chair so she can serve me tea and a sandwich. When she delivers my order, the cup is empty and the plate has no food on it. But here’s the amazing thing: My granddaughter has the ability to see both the tea in the cup and the sandwich on the plate. Of course, I play along, and she’s delighted when I tell her what an excellent cook she is!
All children have this powerful capacity to imagine. It’s what makes their early years so interesting, surprising, delightful, captivating, innocent and wonderful. Sadly, as we grow into adulthood and the real concerns of life—like relationships, employment, finances, diet and so forth—fill our minds and control our hearts, our ability to imagine dims.
IMAGINATION AND FAITH
When it comes to the Christian faith, a religious system centered on surrendering your life to a God whom you cannot see, touch or hear, imagination becomes a vital element.
Let me give you a brief definition of imagination as it pertains to faith: Imagination is not the ability to conjure up what is unreal, but the capacity to see what is real but unseen.
To enable us to imagine, God has given us a dual sight system. We not only see physical things with our physical eyes, but we have another set of eyes: the eyes of the heart. God has given us this set of eyes so we can “see” the unseen world of spiritual reality.
The problem, though, is that the sin that infects our heart also renders us spiritually blind. What the eyes of our hearts need to see they cannot see, so God blesses us with the light-shining, sight-giving, eye-opening ministry of the Holy Spirit so we can “see” what cannot be seen with the physical eyes, but is every bit as real.
All of this is critical to understand before I begin to unpack the doctrine of holiness. Why? Because I’m very aware that what we’re about to consider is dependent upon the illumining ministry of the Spirit of God to open the eyes of our heart to see.
The doctrine of holiness is so far beyond anything in our ordinary experience that we have no comparisons or categories to help us understand it.
HOLY, HOLY, HOLY
If you’re a Christian and at all biblically literate, you will know that the Bible, without equivocation, claims that God is holy. Isaiah 6:3 provides the most potent declaration. The prophet Isaiah, at the moment of his calling, received of vision of the Lord sitting on his throne with seraphim on either side, and one seraph called to the other seraph and said, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” (ESV)
Don’t cruise past the repetitive emphasis made in this declaration. It wasn’t enough for the seraph to say, “God is holy.” No, the seraph had to employ the word “holy” three times to capture the depth and breadth of God’s holiness.
It’s as if I were to say to you, “I saw this guy at the ballgame who was huge, huge, huge!” You would know right away that this was not an average big guy. Because of my repetitive emphasis on the word “huge” you would be forced to imagine that this guy was the biggest guy I ever saw in my life!
In the same way, “holy, holy, holy” is meant to stretch the boundaries of your imagination. Whatever you think of when you hear that God is holy, you need to know that God is in an entirely different category of holiness; he is much holier than you ever thought holiness could be.
But even “holy, holy, holy” was not enough for the seraph as he tried to capture God’s holiness. He had to add, “The whole earth is filled with his glory.”
How great is the holiness of this Lord of hosts? Great enough to fill the whole earth! Again, these words are crafted under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to take your imagination where it has never gone. They’re meant to blow your mind with the thought that God is unlike anything you have ever encountered. They’re meant to humble you with the realization that God is fundamentally different from you. They’re intended to help you understand that who you’re dealing with is Someone greater than anyone and everyone you have ever dealt with before.
The Lord of hosts is holy, holy, holy, earth-filling and gloriously holy. He is holy, holy, holy.
I want you to stop reading for a moment. Pray right now that the eyes of your heart would open, and that somehow, someway you would get even a little glimpse of the mind-blowing grandeur of his holiness.
Seeing his holiness will change you and the way you live forever. I’ll explain how in a minute, but we still have some doctrine left to unpack.
WHAT IS HOLINESS?
Our translation for holiness comes from the Hebrew word qadowsh which means “to cut.” To be holy means to be cut off, or separate, from everything else. It means to be in a class of your own, distinct from anything that has ever existed or will ever exist. Qadowsh means a second thing: To be holy means to be entirely morally pure, all the time and in every way possible.
When you put these two elements of holiness together, you’re left with only one conclusion: that the Lord of hosts is the sum and definition of what it means to be holy. He occupies a moral space that no one has ever occupied before, and as such, we have no experience or frame of reference to understand what he is like because there’s nothing like him.
Exodus 15:11 asks, “Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?” (ESV) 1 Samuel 2:2 declares, “There is none holy like the Lord: for there is none besides you; there is no rock like our God.” (ESV)
There’s even more to be said. God’s holiness is not an aspect of who he is or what he does; no, God’s holiness is the essence of who he is. If you were to ask, “How is the holiness of God revealed?” the only right answer would be, “In everything he does.” Everything God thinks, desires, speaks and does is utterly holy in every way.