A lot of people think, “I’m not perfect, but I’m a pretty good person. God will let me into heaven.” This kind of thinking reminds me of the Esurance commercial where the woman says, “That’s not how it works; that’s not how any of this works!”
According to the Bible, getting into heaven by our own good deeds is “not how it works.” God is holy, which means that he is pure goodness, and he made human beings to be in a loving relationship with him. Because of the fall of man in the garden of Eden, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23).
Learning what it means that God is holy helps us to understand why the only way we can come to the Father is through Jesus. Here are seven essential things every person needs to know about the holiness of God:
1. God is different from his creation.
While humans have certain attributes that image their Creator, they are different kinds of beings than God. For starters, humans are created beings (finite), while God is spirit (infinite)—he has no beginning and no end:
“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” (Rev. 1:8)
In his classic book The Holiness of God, theologian R. C. Sproul writes,
When the Bible calls God holy, it means primarily that God is transcendentally separate. He is so far above and beyond us that He seems almost totally foreign to us. To be holy is to be ‘other,’ to be different in a special way” (p. 38). “And one called to another and said: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!’” (Isa. 6:3)
2. God must uphold all his attributes.
Because he is spirit, God is always purely all of his attributes in complete perfection and unity. It is impossible for God to allow his mercy to override his justice. His holiness never conflicts with his love.
God must be true to all his attributes, because to do otherwise would be to deny his own self. As theologian Michael Horton so aptly states in his book The Christian Faith, ‘God would not be God if he did not possess all his attributes in the simplicity and perfection of his essence” (p. 229).
3. God’s holiness reveals our utter sinfulness.
We think God won’t mind a few sins here and there. The problem with this thinking is that we don’t get it. We don’t get how holy God is, and we don’t get how sinful we are. Isaiah understood it when he saw a vision of the Lord in his glory. He cried out,
And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” (Isa. 6:5)
Isaiah saw his own sinfulness. He saw his total inadequacy to stand before God. He understood that he needed to be cleansed so he would not be destroyed by God’s utter goodness and purity.
We find another such example in the Gospel of Luke. When Peter witnessed the miracle of the great catch of fish:
But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” (Luke 5:8)
And when we get it—when we realize that there is nothing about us that is untouched by our depraved nature and how impossible it is for us to stand in righteousness before God on our own merits—this is when we must run to the foot of the cross and cling to Christ, our only hope.
4. We must be pure in heart to see our holy God.
The Psalmist writes about his longing to see the beatific vision—to see God in all his perfections in his dwelling place:
One thing have I asked of the Lord,
that will I seek after:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord
and to inquire in his temple. (Ps. 27:4)
According to Sproul, “Right now it is impossible for us to see God in His pure essence. Before that can ever happen, we must be purified” (The Holiness of God, p. 23). And without this purification, we cannot have eternal fellowship with God:
Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins. (Eccles. 7:20)
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” (Matt. 5:8)
Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned. (Rom. 5:12)
But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. (1 John 1:7-8)
5. God must judge sin and uphold justice and righteousness.
In this world we cry out against injustice. We are outraged over incidences where people hurt others and don’t bear the consequences of their wrongdoing. How much more is this the case when God sees his righteous law violated? He cannot look the other way. In order to uphold his attributes of holiness, righteousness, and justice, God must judge and punish sin (Num. 14:18; Nah. 1:3).
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. (Rom. 1:18)
But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. (Rom. 2:5)
Because God is holy, he must uphold his law and pour out his wrath against all evil. He must judge the wicked. It is human nature to want mercy for ourselves but justice for those who have wronged us; yet, God shows no partiality (Acts. 10:34-35):
You shall therefore keep my statutes and my rules; if a person does them, he shall live by them: I am the Lord. (Lev. 18:5; see also Luke 10:28)
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom. 6:23)
Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. (Gal. 6:7)
6. God became the solution to the problem of sin because only the God-man could save us.
Since there was no way for sinful humans to keep God’s law perfectly or completely atone for their sins, Jesus was born in the flesh so he could fulfill the whole law and be the perfect sacrifice on behalf of all who put their faith in him:
And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. (Heb. 10:11–14)
At Golgotha, we see the God who is both “just and the justifier” (Matt. 27:33–35; Rom. 3:26). Horton points out that it is at the cross where “we see how far God is willing to go in order to uphold all of his attributes in the simplicity of his being” (p. 266).
For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Cor. 5:21)
He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. (1 Pet. 2:24)
7. The holiness of God means that we can trust God to always do what is good, right, and just.
God always has been and always will be holy. According to theologian R. Scott Clark, “Christians may rest safely in God’s promises because he is faithful not only in his intentions but in his nature. By nature he is unchangeable. God swore by himself. He is immutable. Therefore his oath/promise is immutable and therefore reliable” (“Does God Change?”).
“God is not man, that he should lie,
or a son of man, that he should change his mind.
Has he said, and will he not do it?
Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?” (Num. 23:19)
That’s how it actually works—salvation comes through Christ alone.
One of the most loving things we can ever do is to help people understand that they cannot create their own reality of the afterlife. Thinking something is true does not make it so. Good people do go to heaven, but they are only judged by God to be good based on the finished work of Christ counted to them through faith alone, by God’s grace alone, in Christ alone. People need the truth about God, themselves, and what is going to happen after they die. In short, they need the gospel.
It is far better for Jesus to pay for your sins on your behalf so you don’t have to spend eternity doing so. Let the perfect righteousness of Jesus, the God-man, be your righteousness, because it is something you can never attain on your own. Don’t wait to trust in Christ for your salvation, for he is your one and only hope.
- 8 Attributes of God We Encounter at the Cross
- If God Is Loving, Why Doesn’t He Just Forgive People?
- What Is Good Friday All About?
- 10 Facts about Jesus’ Resurrection You Need to Know
- 7 Things You Need to Know about the Silence of Jesus
- 10 Words Every Christian Should Know (and Be Able to Explain)
The Holiness of God by R. C. Sproul