None Like Him

God is Unchanging, 27 May 2018

God is Unchanging
D6 Series—
None Like Him
Numbers 23:19; Malachi 3:6; James 1:17

Series Overview:
This topical series focuses on the attributes of God.

Big Idea: God does not change…and that’s a wonderful thing!


In 1789, Benjamin Franklin wrote, “Our new Constitution is now established, and has an appearance that promises permanency; but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except…death and taxes.”

There’s actually one more than that is certain in this world. It’s a word that
will trouble some of you. It’s a word that will terrify some of you. It’s a four-letter word that actually has six letters, but it can disrupt like few words can do. It’s…


You may think I’m being a bit facetious, but I’m quite serious. Many people hate change…of any kind. Sure, nobody likes change if it means a salary reduction, decline of health, or loss of a loved one. But even so-called good changes can be unwelcome or have negative consequences.

Would you want a winning lottery ticket if I had one to offer you? You might be surprised at how many lottery winners later file for bankruptcy…or worse!

I used to think stress only applied to bad change, but any change can be stressful. It can be disruptive to our lives. Many people tolerate miserable work conditions, unhealthy relationships, or even abuse because they’re simply accustomed to it and afraid of how even a change for the better may cause them a loss of the known.

Since some of you are already uncomfortable at the mere mention of the word change, take a moment and think of the things that have changed in the past twenty years. Actually, let’s only say eighteen. We are approaching graduation season and these are a few things that can be said about the Class of 2018.

1. They’ve never lived in a world with monthly texting limits.
2. They might not understand if you say, “You sound like a broken record.”
3. They’ve always had GPS.
4. “Roll down your window” has no meaning.
5. They’ve never untangled a phone cord or straightened an antenna for TV reception.

Change. Personally, I love change…except when I don’t! I love changes I make, but not necessarily those imposed upon me.

Whether you like it or not, this world is full of change.

Our presidents change.
Our weather changes.
Fashion changes.
Music changes.
Our bodies change.
Maps of the world change.
Children change.
Relationships change.
Our favorite sports teams change.

Fortunately, there’s one thing that never changes…or should I say one Person: God.

We’ve been devoting several Sundays this month talking about the attributes of God. There is None Like Him. Amen? First, we looked at the holiness of God. We said God is holy, set apart, and we are to be holy, too, fully devoted to God while being present in the world, bearing witness to God’s presence, power, love, and glory.

Last Sunday we looked at God’s sovereignty. Whether it feels like it or not, God is in control…and we’re usually not! In fact, control is just an illusion, a temporary state, but God is in control…and that’s a wonderful thing!

Today we are looking at how God is unchanging—the technical word is He is immutable—and why that’s also a wonderful thing.

“In a world of change and decay not even the man of faith can be completely happy. Instinctively he seeks the unchanging and is bereaved at the passing of dear familiar things.” - A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy

That’s the bad news, family. We live in a world of change and decay where not even followers of Jesus can be completely happy. And you thought you were the only one!

But here’s the good news: God is unchanging.

Charles Wesley wrote, “And all things as they change proclaim
The Lord eternally the same.”

But how do we know? The Bible declares it repeatedly. God declares it repeatedly.

Our scripture reading for today featured not one, but three passages from various parts of the Bible.
Moses wrote in the book of Numbers:

God is not human, that he should lie,
not a human being, that he should change his mind.
Does he speak and then not act?
Does he promise and not fulfill? (Numbers 23:19)

Humans can lie. Have you noticed?
Humans can change their minds.
Humans can be hypocritical, saying one thing and doing another.
Humans can break their promises.

But not God! If we stopped with this one verse, we would know enough about God to worship and adore Him for eternity.

God cannot lie.
God is consistent.
God is trustworthy.
God is unchanging!

One of the frustrating things about change is when it wreaks havoc with our expectations. Have you ever gone to get gas for your car expecting one price, only to find the price went up? How does that make you feel?

Have you ever had your heart set on food at a particular restaurant, only to arrive and find them closed?

Have you ever waited for someone to arrive at an appointment, only to discover they forgot?

God never does this! Although we were created in God’s image, He is not human! He is dependable. He is unchanging.

In the last book of the Old Testament, God declares:

“I the LORD do not change. So you, the descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed. (Malachi 3:6)

God is speaking about His judgment of those who do not fear and revere Him, but God made a covenant with the nation of Israel…and that covenant will not change. They will be delivered in the day of the LORD. God is saying, “I keep my promises. My Word does not change. I do not change.”

We also heard Jesus’ half brother, James, who wrote:

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. (James 1:17)

Our God who created the starry universe—the heavenly lights—gives good gifts to His children, including salvation and life. He is also unchanging. Because of the movement of our planet with relation to the sun, shadows move and shift…but not the One who created earth and the sun!

Throughout the Bible we see evidence that God is unchanging.

So What?

OK, so God is unchanging, but what difference does that make? Let me count the ways!

God cannot improve.

He’s as good as He’s going to get. He is perfectly holy. He will never get stronger, wiser, or more perfect. He is the zenith of holiness, knowledge, and love.

Most of us are seeking to grow and develop. Some of you spend time at the gym, seeking to improve your figure, reduce your waistline, or build your muscles. Others of you are in school, expanding your knowledge and understanding of the world and prepare for a career. The simple fact you are listening to me says you want to grow spiritually and improve your relationship with God and others. This past Wednesday I was honored to be in the company of courageous men and women who are committed to enhancing their mental and emotional health, attending Celebrate Recovery and dealing with their hurts, hang ups, and habits. I believe every one of us could benefit from Celebrate Recovery because we’ve all got stuff. We’re all messed up. We all face grief, loss, and/or addictions because of sin and living in a broken world.

But not God! He’s not messed up! He doesn’t have room to grow. God cannot improve. As the saying goes, you can’t improve on perfection!

Second, not only can God not get better,
God cannot decline. He will never lose His mind, His love, His power. He won’t get Alzheimer’s, cancer, or the flu. He won’t stop being in control or begin to forget things. It’s impossible for God to get better—or worse—because God is unchanging.

God is reliable. He doesn’t change His mind. He is consistent and reliable. If He says something, it’s true now and it will be true tomorrow.

Since I got my driver’s license, I’ve studied the annual April car issue of
Consumer Reports magazine. The top thing I look for in a vehicle report is reliability. I don’t really care how fast it goes, how comfortable the seats, or even how good the stereo sounds…if it’s going to break down, leave me stranded at the side of the road, and cost me a fortune to repair. I want a dependable vehicle, one I can trust with no surprises.

That’s like God…except the brakes will never wear thin, the oil doesn’t need to be changed…He doesn’t even need gas or insurance!

One reason I love the Bible is it is God’s Word and what God said and did in the Old Testament is true in the New Testament and is true today…because God is unchanging.

If you were to read a biography on Bill Gates, you would learn about the founder of Microsoft, but no matter what you thought of him, it’s possible that if you were to meet him, he’d be different than you expected. In fact, it’s possible that he has changed since the book was published. People change, but God is unchanging and reliable.

Perhaps you’re thinking, “But didn’t God change His mind when Moses asked Him to spare the people of Israel?” There are times it appears God changes, but I believe it’s a matter of perspective. Let me explain.

When my children were little, I insisted they use manners when they spoke, especially when they asked for something. One of them might ask, “Dad, can I have some ice cream?” to which I would reply, “No.” Then if they said, “Please” I would say, “Absolutely!” Did I change my mind? No. Did I know what they wanted and what they would do in that situation? Yes.

Because God is God and we’re not, it may appear that He changes, but in reality His character, His attributes, His Word, His promises never change. He is reliable. He doesn’t play guessing games or surprise us. He is consistent. He is unchanging.

There’s another thing that doesn’t change about God that we should all find sobering.

God’s justice and His hatred of sin never change. Have you ever been pulled over by a police officer, begging to be let off the hook? Did you ever try to weasel out of a punishment as a child? Have you ever bargained with someone, compromised, negotiated?

God is always just. He always does the right thing. Always.
God always hates sin. Public and private, big and little, He always hates sin.

He doesn’t make exceptions.
He can’t be bought or bribed.
He doesn’t show favoritism.

God always has and always will be just and He always has and always will hate sin.

Is this a good thing? Yes.
Is this a good thing for you? Maybe.

See, we all want to see justice served. We want Hitler to be condemned. We want sex traffickers punished. We want murderers to be sentenced. One day, God will exercise the ultimate justice. On Judgment Day, all wrongs will be righted, all sins will be penalized, all of the guilty will pay.

But where does that leave us? Sure, we want corrupt politicians and bank robbers to be served justice, but since all of us sin and all of us fail God’s standard of perfection, is God’s ultimate justice good…for us?

This is where the gospel comes in. The gospel, or good news, is Jesus. Jesus is LORD. God sent His perfect Son, Jesus, to our planet to pay for our sin, to receive the punishment we deserve. Since God couldn’t bend the rules and make exceptions, He had to create an alternative to eternally separating sinful humans from His presence. His plan was Jesus. Grace. Unmerited favor.

Today, every man, woman and child on our planet is given a choice to receive or reject Jesus Christ. Because God is just and hates sin, somebody has to pay the penalty of sin, which is death. We can accept Jesus’s payment or bear it ourselves.

But make no mistake, you’re not good enough. You can’t buy it. You can’t negotiate it. You can’t achieve it by trying harder. Either you pay or you let Jesus pay. But God’s unchanging justice must be satisfied.

This leads to my final point: because God is unchanging,
God’s love is unchanging. Earlier we sang “One Thing Remains.” I love those lyrics:

Your love never fails
It never gives up
It never runs out on me

The Newsboys have a song with a similar message entitled, “Your Love Never Fails.” They sing:

Nothing can separate Even if I run away Your love never fails I know I still make mistakes You have new mercy for me everyday Cause your love never fails
You stay the same through the ages Your love never changes

Paul wrote to the church in Rome:

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39)

God’s love is unchanging, leading Philip Yancey to famously write,

“There is nothing we can do to make God love us more and there is nothing we can do to make God love us less.”

Why? Because God is unchanging. God’s love is unchanging. And that’s truly good news!

some ideas from D6, Robert Saucy, John Ortberg, A.W. Tozer

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • God is Sovereign, 20 May 2018

    God is Sovereign
    D6 Series—
    None Like Him
    Romans 8:28-30

    Series Overview: This topical series focuses on the attributes of God.

    Big Idea: God is sovereign and in control…but we also must be responsible with our free will.

    We are spending several weeks this month talking about the attributes of God. There is
    None Like Him. Amen?

    Two weeks ago, we looked at the holiness of God. We said God is holy, set apart, and we are to be holy, too, fully devoted to God while being present in the world bearing witness to God’s presence, power, love, and glory.

    Today we look at another word frequently used in church but less often in the culture—sovereign. God is sovereign. Great, but what does that mean? Some dictionaries may use words like ruler, supreme in power and authority, or greatest. I’m going to suggest the best way think about God’s sovereignty is to say, “God is in control.” This is great news, but it can be difficult to understand. Hopefully our time together will engage your mind and heart and cause you to grow deeper in love with Jesus.

    True or false: God is in control of everything?

    True or false: God’s will is always accomplished?

    True or false: God controls history down to every detail, micromanaging individuals’ lives?

    The Bible is clear about many things, yet others are difficult to discern. We’re talking about God, after all, and while we can know God and know Him personally, we can’t fully grasp everything about God.

    Is God really sovereign? Is God in control? If so, why are children killed by shooters at school? How can sex trafficking thrive not only around the world but right here in Toledo? What about those victims of drunk drivers?

    I’m fascinated by people who will blame God for the sins and stupidity of people. After all, God has given us freedom. We have free will. We were not created as robots, but rather we have the capacity to love…and hate. Relationships cannot be authentic without choice. So God can be in control, yet allow humans the opportunity to do good or bad. Most of our suffering stems not from God, but the sins of others—or ourselves. God is in control, but He has also given us responsibility. Can you really blame God for an unwanted pregnancy? Is it His fault you failed the exam you never studied for?

    But why does God allow evil? Why did God create satan in the first place? Did He know Lucifer, the once-mighty angel, would rebel against God and be cast from heaven (Ezekiel 28:12-19; Isaiah 14:12-14)? These are great questions I’m not fully able to answer. Again, there are things we simply cannot know—yet—about God. But there’s one thing of which I am sure:

    God is sovereign and in control, He can be trusted, and He is working for the good of those who love Him. His plans and purposes are in process. It might not seem like it today, but just wait. God is not surprised by anything in today’s
    Toledo Blade. He’s not asleep or aloof, but there is a tension between His sovereignty and our responsibility. If we seek first His Kingdom and His glory—not merely our own pleasures—we will discover true meaning and purpose. Jesus said,

    So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matthew 6:31-34)

    God is in the process of working out His plans and purposes—not necessarily ours. He loves us, but His highest priority is our holiness, not our happiness; His glory, not our gratification. But let me say again God loves us. As His children, He has our best interest at heart…even when it doesn’t feel like it.

    All parents understand the tension of discipline. We’d love for our kids to always do the right thing, but when they don’t, we must punish…out of love, not hate.

    When I was a young boy, I was so frustrated with my parents. I wanted to have total freedom to play with my friends as long as I wanted and mom said I needed to be home by dark. “My friends can stay out as long as they want!” I said. My mom replied, “Because I love you, I want you home.” I didn’t understand the boundaries at the time, but I sure do now!

    It feels great to say God is in control…until we encounter trouble in life and we ask God, “Why?” or “Where are you?”

    I must say (again) there are many things I don’t understand. I have plenty of questions for God. But I’ve also learned as I read the Bible and get to know God personally He is good. His ways are not like my ways. His wisdom far exceeds mine. He is God and I’m not. He can be trusted. That has been true when I’ve unexpectedly lost my job, when my dad died after years of battling Alzheimer’s, when my daughter was hospitalized for months, when my son struggled through the teen years, when our daughter’s leg was amputated, when our family faced an array of mental illnesses, when friends have abandoned us, …do you want more?

    Oh sure, let me throw this one in…when your airplane fills with smoke and you have an emergency evacuation, climbing out the window onto the wing, and then jumping to the tarmac! Yes, that happened…to begin our vacation in Colorado. Fortunately, the plane had landed and nobody was seriously hurt, praise God!

    But what if the cabin filled with smoke midair? What if my mom, step dad, Heather and I all perished? Would we still praise God? Would He still be trustworthy? What about those families this morning in Texas planning funerals for their children? Are they singing “Great is Thy Faithfulness” this morning?

    I want to encourage you an oft-abused passage of scripture, but one which is nevertheless true. Romans 8 says,

    And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. (Romans 8:28-30)

    Family, please think twice about quoting these verses when someone is in the midst of a sudden crisis. Timing is everything. The passage is always true, yet often people need to grieve. Quick answers are not adequate when someone is dealing with intense suffering. Job’s friends demonstrate often the best thing we can do when a loved one suffers is be present and quiet. But let’s look at this text.

    And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)

    God is in control. He is at work, and because He loves us, He is working for our good. But there’s a condition. The condition is that we love him and have been called according to his purpose. Sometimes things take time. Tomorrow you might understand that which you cannot begin to fathom today. Your story is not over. You’re not abandoned, even if it feels like it. This too will pass. God sees you. God knows. God is with you. God loves you. And as we’ve learned from David in the Psalms, it’s ok to let Him know how you feel. He can handle your anger, questions, doubts, and even rage. But let me declare God is at work…accomplishing His purpose.

    Now this text raises one of the most hotly debated questions in theology, the study of God. Look at the rest of the passage:

    And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. (Romans 8:28-30)

    The Message translation declares

    God knew what he was doing from the very beginning. He decided from the outset to shape the lives of those who love him along the same lines as the life of his Son. The Son stands first in the line of humanity he restored. We see the original and intended shape of our lives there in him. After God made that decision of what his children should be like, he followed it up by calling people by name. After he called them by name, he set them on a solid basis with himself. And then, after getting them established, he stayed with them to the end, gloriously completing what he had begun. (Romans 8:29-30,
    The Message)

    God foreknew us. He predestined us to follow Jesus. He calls, justifies, and glorifies. Now here’s the question:
    does God choose us or do we choose God? If God is in control, does that mean we have no choice, no options? When God hardened Pharaoh’s heart in Exodus, was it God’s fault the people of Israel remained in slavery throughout the plagues (Exodus 9:12)?

    Christianity is divided in many ways. For example, there are Catholics and Orthodox and Protestants and Messianic Jews, all deeply committed to following Jesus and the Bible, but doing so with differences in worship style, tradition, and sometimes even beliefs. There are charismatic Christians who are very demonstrative in their worship while others are very reserved.

    Another division in Christianity involves
    Calvinism and Arminianism. Have you ever heard of Calvinism? Arminianism? The issues behind the debate between the two began in the 5th century, but it wasn’t until the 17th century when it took its current form.

    Calvinism is named for John Calvin, a French theologian who lived from 1509-1564.
    Calvinism has at its core the belief that God chooses us to be saved. We really have no choice in the matter. Reformed, and Presbyterian churches generally follow Calvinism.

    Arminianism—which is not the same as being Armenian, which I am by my family of origin—places the emphasis on human choice. We can choose to accept or reject Jesus Christ as LORD and Savior. Jacobus Arminius gave his name to Arminianism. He was a Dutch theologian who lived from 1560-1609.

    Who’s right, Calvinists or Arminians? It depends upon who you ask! In case you’re wondering, the Christian & Missionary Alliance does not take a position on the matter. You will find those in the Alliance who are Calvinists and others who are Arminians—and some who are something of a hybrid!

    A.W. Tozer, in his classic book
    The Pursuit of God, began by saying,

    Christian theology teaches the doctrine of prevenient grace, which briefly stated means this, that before a man can seek God, God must first have sought the man.

    Before a sinful man can think a right thought of God, there must have been a work of enlightenment done within him; imperfect it may be, but a true work nonetheless, and the secret cause of all desiring and seeking and praying which may follow.

    We pursue God because, and only because, He has first put an urge within us that spurs us to the pursuit. "No man can come to me," said our Lord, "except the Father which hath sent me draw him," and it is by this very prevenient drawing that God takes from us every vestige of credit for the act of coming. The impulse to pursue God originates with God, but the out working of that impulse is our following hard after Him; and all the time we are pursuing Him we are already in His hand: "Thy right hand upholdeth me."

    Does God pursue us? Yes.
    Do we pursue God? Yes.

    I actually believe it’s not an either/or but a both/and scenario. It’s two sides of the same coin. Like a dance, God leads, and we join Him…or not!

    Why am I married? Is it because I asked Heather to be my wife, or because she said yes?

    Since the Alliance refuses to take a position toward Calvinism or Arminianism, it behooves us to follow their example and say there’s room for both at First Alliance Church. God is in control. God can be trusted. Even if it doesn’t feel like it today.

    D6: The fact that God’s authority supersedes all other authority demonstrates that He is the Sovereign Lord of all.

    D6: God’s actions and characteristics in Exodus 15* illustrate that He is the Sovereign Lord of all.

    (*look it up!)

    We can rest in the fact that God is in control. He knows and understands all things and has the power to make all things work out for His glory.

    I know many of you at this moment are questioning God. Life is not what you expected. You can’t harmonize God’s goodness and sovereignty. If He’s really in control, why is He allowing my life to be such a mess—or maybe even causing my life to be such a mess? I get it. Really. I’ve asked God questions through tears. I’ve cried out to Him so many times, failing to understand Romans 8:28…or much of the Bible. At this moment I still have questions for Him…but I’ve learned He can be trusted. The things He allows today will not be permitted forever. Judgment Day is coming—for all of us—and I urge you to repent and trust Jesus Christ to be your Savior and LORD if you have not yet done so.

    If there’s any injustice, any scandal, anything that doesn’t make sense, it’s why God would send His only Son, Jesus, to live and die and receive the punishment for our sins. If anyone had reason to question God’s sovereignty, it was Jesus on the cross! But praise God the story of Jesus didn’t end on the cross…He rose from the dead and is alive today!

    Likewise, your story is not over. As Laura Story sings in her song

    Cause what if your blessings come through raindrops What if Your healing comes through tears What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You're near What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise

    I started to cry just reading those lyrics again as I reflected upon God’s faithfulness.

    Recently Pastor Soper in Mission 119 stated regarding Numbers 22-24:

    When God has determined to bless a people, nothing but nothing but nothing is ever going to interfere or block that plan.

    Nothing will ever thwart God’s purposes and plans. He may use a talking donkey, a pillar of fire, plagues, the changed heart of a leader, miraculous healing, …but God is ultimately in control.

    My friend Lewis Winkler writes in his blog

    Herein lies the secret to finding real safety, in the arms of a good and loving God.  But being in His arms is not actually intended to make us feel safe.  Sometimes it does, but at other times it feels like the most dangerous place on earth.  That’s because His goal is to make us more like Jesus, and that’s often an uncomfortable and unpleasant process.  It doesn’t necessarily feel fun or safe.

    It might not look or feel like God is in control today, but whatever we experience is shaping us—it is for our good if we are truly following God.

    So What?

    Because God is sovereign, we don’t have to be! I often say, “God is in control…and I’m not!” I don’t always appreciate that in the moment, but I’m certain it’s good.

    And God is good…even when it doesn’t feel like it. Sometimes we must simply wait.

    We wait in hope for the LORD; he is our help and our shield. In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name. (Psalms 33:20-21)

    God and His plans and purposes are worth the wait. I have many questions for God and I bet you do, too. There are some things we simply won’t understand today—or maybe in this life. That’s where trust comes in. That’s where faith comes in—not a blind faith, a leap of faith, but rather a step of faith which trusts God above our limited understanding.

    Still, there are other times when our questions
    are answered and we get glimpses of God’s will, His plan, His purposes in the midst of what appears to us to be anything but good.

    Here’s a great example:

    Alliance Video

    Credits: some ideas from D6, Robert Saucy

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
  • God is Holy, 6 May 2018

    God Is Holy
    D6 Series—
    None Like Him
    Psalm 99:1-5

    Series Overview: This topical series focuses on the attributes of God.

    Big Idea: We are to be holy…because God is holy.

    We will be spending several weeks this month talking about the attributes of God. There is None Like Him. Amen?

    God is holy. Have you ever heard that before? What does it mean for God to be holy…and what difference does it make in our lives? That’s our focus this morning. If your small group is using D6, you’ll note we’re skipping ahead one week. Our scheduled message is on God’s love, a topic we have covered extensively in recent days, so we’re covering next week’s topic, the holiness of God.

    What comes to mind when you hear the word “holy?”

    Holy Bible
    Holy Spirit
    Holy Rollers
    Holy Cow!
    Holy, Holy, Holy
    Holy of holies

    Webster’s dictionary defines holy as

    1: exalted or worthy of complete devotion as one perfect in goodness and righteousness 

    2: divine • for the Lord our God is holy —Psalms 99:9 (King James Version)

    3: devoted entirely to the deity or the work of the deity • a holy temple • holy prophets

    4 a : having a divine quality • holy love
    b : venerated as or as if sacred • holy scriptureholy relic

    5 —used as an intensive • this is a holy mess
    —often used in combination as a mild oath • holy smoke

    Often, it’s difficult to merely look at an English dictionary to understand a biblical word. In our scripture reading passage, the word “holy” is qadosh, to be sacred, consecrated, dedicated, set apart.

    The Holy Bible is sacred, set apart from all other works of literature.

    God is holy, sacred, set apart. Jesus invites us to call the Father “Abba” or “Daddy” or “Papa,” but that doesn’t mean we are to ever be disrespectful or flippant. I’m afraid sometimes we treat God too casually. It’s been said that we take ourselves too seriously and we don’t take God seriously enough.

    Our scripture reading from Psalm 99 says

    The LORD reigns,
    let the nations tremble;
    he sits enthroned between the cherubim,
    let the earth shake.
    Great is the LORD in Zion;
    he is exalted over all the nations.
    Let them praise your great and awesome name—
    he is holy.
    The King is mighty, he loves justice—
    you have established equity;
    in Jacob you have done
    what is just and right.
    Exalt the LORD our God
    and worship at his footstool;
    he is holy. (Psalms 99:1-5)

    These are powerful depictions of God. He reigns. Let the nations tremble and the earth shake. He is exalted over all the nations. His name is great and awesome. He is mighty. Exalt the LORD. Worship Him. He is holy.

    The book of Isaiah has an incredible scene we’ll briefly examine. In chapter six, the prophet Isaiah writes,

    In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. (Isaiah 6:1-2)

    And they were calling to one another:

    “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty;
    the whole earth is full of his glory.” (Isaiah 6:3)

    At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. (Isaiah 6:4)

    “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.” (Isaiah 6:5)

    That should be our reaction to the holiness of God—woe, awe, reverence.

    A.W. Tozer, in his classic
    Knowledge of the Holy, said,

    “God is not now any holier than He ever was. And He never was holier than now. He did not get His holiness from anyone nor from anywhere. He is Himself the Holiness. 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 to our unholiness. If He were to tell us how white He is, we would understand it in terms of only dingy gray.

    It was a common thing in olden days, when God was the center of Human worship, to kneel at an altar and shake, tremble, weep and perspire in an agony of conviction.

    He continues…

    We come into the presence of God with tainted souls. We come with our own concept of morality, having learned it from books, from newspapers and from school. We come to God dirty; our whitest white is dirty, our churches are dirty and our thoughts are dirty and we do nothing about it!

    If we came to God dirty, but trembling and shocked and awestruck in His presence, if we knelt at His feet and cried with Isaiah, I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips (Isaiah 6:5), then I could understand. But we skip into His awful presence. We’re forgetting holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14).

    Then Tozer prays…

    O God, soon every person must appear before you to give an account for the deeds done in the body. Father, keep upon us a sense of holiness so that we can’t sin and excuse it, but that repentance will be as deep as our lives. This we ask in Christ’s name. Amen.” 

    Oh, that we would get a glimpse of the holiness of God—and be transformed as a result.

    Echoing the Isaiah text is a famous passage in the book of Revelation.

    Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under its wings. Day and night they never stop saying:

    “ ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty,’ who was, and is, and is to come.” (Revelation 4:8)

    What an image! Day and night the holiness of God is declared. It seems like the only appropriate response is for us to pause, meditate on God’s holiness, and declare it with the angels.

    “Holy, Holy, Holy”
    “Holy is the LORD”

    So What?

    I suppose we could go home now with the knowledge of God’s holiness in our heads, but I think God wants more. Sure, He wants our worship and adoration. He wants our respect and praise. But He also wants our hearts. He wants us. He wants our obedience. He wants us to be holy. God told Moses in the wilderness,

    “Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: ‘Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy. (Leviticus 19:2)

    Scot McKnight, in his new book
    Open to the Spirit, writes,

    Holiness is first and foremost devotion to God.

    We could translate the word holy as “devout” and we would be accurate. So we see that separation from the world is the impact or result, not the source, of holiness. Devotion to God doesn’t mean isolation or withdrawal, as one finds among some sects. Rather, holiness means that in this world one listens and dances to the music of the Holy Spirit instead of the music of the world.

    I love that! We are to be holy, not holier than thou! We are to be in the world—loving and serving our neighbors—but not of the world.

    McKnight suggests three dimensions to growing into holiness:

    1. Practicing spiritual disciplines or practices. These help us turn our eyes off of ourselves and focus on God. Spiritual disciplines include prayer, Bible reading, fasting, meditation and contemplation on God, and silence. In a world where we typically seek pleasure and comfort, the disciplines are often sacrificial activities not done to earn God’s favor, but rather to acknowledge it.

    2. Discipline ourselves to practice acts of goodness, holiness, justice, love, compassion, and beauty. This includes being mindful of what we consume—food, entertainment, social media, the news—and engaging in healthy friendships and activities.

    3. Remembering we do not make ourselves holy. We grow into holiness through the grace of the Holy Spirit in us, repenting of our sins and being filled with the Holy Spirit.

    As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:14-16)

    Sound familiar? Holiness is primarily about being devoted to God. Not just for an hour on Sunday, but daily…always. And it means following Jesus in the world, not escaping from it. In the next chapter, Peter writes…

    Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. (1 Peter 2:12)

    To be holy means to be separate, to cut, or to separate. God is a cut above the rest, and He invites us to be the other, to be outstanding, to be morally pure, and to be devoted to Him. Every act of loving God, others, self, or creation is holiness. To quote Scot McKnight, holiness is “love done well.”

    To be holy is to be devoted, and this morning we close with a song of devotion, of surrender, of awe and reverence, of worship to the holy One who gave it all for us.

    Credits: some ideas from D6

  • You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.
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