Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Holiness and the Cross

Leslie Basham: Here’s Nancy Leigh DeMoss.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: Trying to look at the holiness of God is like trying to go outside and stare into the sun. You can’t do it; it will blind you.

That’s what the holiness of God is like. In the Scripture, when people came into the presence of God, they did something. They fell on the ground as dead men; they sang; they danced. But nobody came into the presence of God and yawned.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Tuesday, August 28.

Today Nancy explains why holiness is never boring. She’s in part one of a four-day series called, Why Be Holy?

Nancy: Do you ever feel like it’s just really too hard to be holy? That being spiritual requires making tough choices all the time? I have to be honest and confess that there are moments, many moments, when I’m thinking, “It’s just too hard to be godly all the time. Why can’t I just take it easy, relax, and do what comes naturally to my flesh?”

I’ll tell you, what comes naturally to my flesh is not what’s holy. Sometimes those natural desires, those sinful desires . . . their pull is so strong. I understand that when we talk about holiness, we’re not just talking about sheer human effort or self-striving. We’re talking about letting the Holy Spirit do His work within us.

We’re talking about letting Jesus live His holy life in and through us. We’re talking about God’s enabling grace making us holy. But be honest. Don’t you sometimes find it is really hard to keep going against the flow all the time? Not only the flow of our sinful culture, but just going against the tide of our own natural flesh.

So why should we “swim upstream” against the culture and against our flesh all the time? What can motivate us to do that? Why should we make the tough daily choices that being holy requires? Why admit that you’ve sinned and seek forgiveness from your child that you yelled at or falsely accused or somebody that you spoke evil of, or for lying to your boss or being critical of that fellow church member?

Why would you go against your flesh to admit that you did all those things and confess and seek forgiveness? Why go to all the trouble of restraining your tongue from saying whatever you feel like saying? Why would you eat and sleep and dress and go to church and go to work and mother and give and pray and play and do all that you do for the glory of God, when it sometimes seems so hard?

I want to give you eight powerful, biblical incentives for holy living over these next several sessions . . . motivations that have helped me in my own personal pursuit of holiness. I want to tell us “why.” There are many reasons in Scripture, but I want to highlight these eight.


The first one we’re going to actually spend a few sessions on, because it is the one that is mentioned more often than any other one in Scripture. Number one, above all other reasons we’re to be holy, because God is holy. That’s the motivation that we find more often and more explicitly stated in Scripture than any other, because God is holy.

First Peter 1:15-16, “Just as he who called you is holy, so you be holy in all you do; for it is written: 'Be holy, because I am holy.'" (NIV) Now, Peter’s quoting from the book of Leviticus where that motto, “Be holy for I am holy,” is stated over and over again. It’s found in the midst of hundreds, maybe thousands of detailed, practical regulations regarding every aspect of life: worship, dietary habits, sexual relations, childbirth.

There are all these rules and regulations found in the book of Leviticus, and then you have this recurring theme, “Be holy because I am holy.” God wanted His people to understand that the heart of the matter when it came to all those rules and regulations wasn’t all the do’s and the don’ts. Those laws were simply applying and fleshing out the single bottom line, “You are to be holy because I am holy.”

“You are to be holy.” What was the fundamental reason they were to be holy? Because God is holy. And so Peter says, “He who called you is holy.” That becomes our primary motivation for being holy ourselves, for choosing the pathway of holiness, for resisting our flesh, resisting the tide of the culture, choosing holiness, is because God is holy.

I want us to pause and do something that we don’t do often enough, and that is just to think about what it means that God is holy. Holiness is, I think, the fundamental, defining attribute of God. Every one of His other attributes is also holy. His justice is a holy justice. His love is a holy love. His wisdom is a holy wisdom.

All that God is is holy. All that God does is holy. In fact, as I’ve meditated over the last year or so on this subject in particular, as I was writing a book on the subject of holiness, and just trying to step into what this means, and ponder it . . . the image I have is that of a puny, tiny little bug sitting at the bottom of the mighty snowcapped Himalayas that are towering over the earth. You have this huge, grand, majestic being and this little, itsy-bitsy thing at the bottom trying to take it all in.

You can’t take in the holiness of God. We can’t comprehend it. We can study it, we can talk about it, we can ponder it from different angles, but we can never fully grasp its greatness or scale its heights this side of eternity.

Throughout the Scripture, the holiness of God inspires those who encounter it, but it also terrifies them. Trying to look at the holiness of God is like trying to go outside and stare into the sun. You can’t do it; it will blind you.

That’s what the holiness of God is like. In the Scripture, when people came into the presence of God, they did something. They fell on the ground as dead men, they sang, they danced. But nobody came into the presence of God and yawned. There’s nothing boring about God’s presence.

And, by the way, if churches become boring, it may be because we’ve lost a sense of the holiness of God.

A. W Tozer was a writer in the last century who grasped something of the grandeur of God’s holiness. In his book, The Knowledge of the Holy, he said this:

We cannot grasp the true meaning of the Divine Holiness by thinking of someone or something very pure, and then raising the concept to the highest degree we’re capable of.

God’s holiness is not simply the best we know, infinitely better. We know nothing like divine holiness. It stands apart, unique, unapproachable, incomprehensible, and unattainable. The natural man is blind to it. He may fear God’s power and admire His wisdom, but His holiness, he cannot even imagine.

Scripture tells us in multiple places, one of them is Isaiah 57:15, that God’s Name is holy, with a capital “H” . . . His name is holy. That’s what you call Him . . . Holy Father, Holy God.

That same verse in Isaiah 57 tells us that God dwells in a high and holy place. So Holy is His Name, and where does He live? In holiness . . . that’s His address. God’s holiness means that He is the great set-apart One. He is separate from sinners. He is transcendent above all His creation.

He is absolutely “other than” us, distinct, different, separated from sinfulness. Exodus chapter 15:11, “Who is like You, O Lord, among the gods? Who is like You, glorious in holiness?” First Samual chapter 2:2, “There is none holy as the Lord.” 

And then in the last book of the Bible, Revelation 15:4, “Who shall not fear You, O Lord, and glorify Your Name? For You alone are holy.” There is no taint, no hint, no touch, no shadow of sinfulness or deception or anything evil in God. Not a hint! Not a shadow of turning.

Psalm 92:15, “The Lord is upright . . . there is no unrighteousness in Him.” Psalm 145:17, “The Lord is righteous in all His ways.” All God’s ways are holy, everything He does is holy. He is holy; His Name is holy; His dwelling place is holy. He is the only One Who is holy. There is none holy like Him.

He is absolutely holy in all His ways. Everything God does is good which, by the way, tells you that when God makes choices for your life, when God brings circumstances into your life, God has acted in accordance with His holiness.

Do not ever charge God with wrongdoing, and if something has gone wrong in your life, rather than blaming God, say, “There may be something I didn’t see, something I missed, something I did wrong, but God is absolutely holy in all His ways.”

The Scripture says we are to be holy because God is holy. Having just described what God’s holiness is like, we think, “How can we possibly be holy? That’s overwhelming! How can we be pure as He is pure?”

The joy is that, because He is holy, we can be holy. It’s that Holy One who lives in us. We belong to Him; we are His children. He wants to bring about His likeness in us. He is our righteousness. Our flesh will never be holy, but the Holy One lives in us, and He wants to express His holy life in and through us. He is the source of all holiness.

The very thing that terrifies us in the holiness of God also gives us hope that we can be holy, because He’s a personal God. He’s made Himself known to us. He lives in us, if we are His children, and He lives in us to make His holiness known through us.

Leslie:  Nancy Leigh DeMoss will be right back with the second half of today’s program. The message you’ve been hearing could be a launching point for a new passion for holiness in your life. Would you follow up and study more on this topic with Nancy? She’s written a book called Holiness: The Heart God Purifies. We’ll send you a copy when you donate any amount to Revive Our Hearts. Just visit ReviveOurHearts.com, or call 1-800-569-5959.

Now here’s Nancy with part two of today’s message.

Nancy: I think one of the most important things that defines a culture or an individual is its attitude toward sin. In the evangelical world today, we have redefined sin. We’ve come to view it as normal, acceptable behavior, in many ways, and sunk to such lows that many of us cannot only sin thoughtlessly, but can even laugh at and be entertained by sin.

It’s amazing how so many things on television today that we would never have allowed to be done in our homes—those thoughts, those actions—now, we turn on the television or go to see a movie and are entertained by and laugh at things that we once would have thought are unthinkable.

And I have to say that I have heard virtually every conceivable sin rationalized and defended by professing Christians.

We’ve been talking about the holiness of God, and one of the things that defines God’s holiness is His view toward sin. How does God see sin? God’s attitude toward sin is very different from our culture’s attitude, and very different from what we see in much of the evangelical church today.

God’s holiness means not only is He holy, but He can’t look upon sin without deep grief and hatred. God hates sin. God’s strongest negative emotion, if you will, is reserved for sin.

I want to share with you some biblical “snapshots,” just go through the Scripture here very quickly, to help us understand how God feels about sin. Going back to the book of Genesis, in the early chapters there, when Adam and Eve committed one single act of disobedience, God cast them out of the garden. He posted cherubim and a flaming sword to keep them from coming back in the garden again.

Why? Well, in a way it was an act of mercy, to keep them from living forever in their sinful condition, but the essential reason was because that God is holy, and sin separates us from a holy God. Not too many chapters later, when one of the earliest civilizations became morally impure and violent, the Scripture says that God was grieved. It says that “His heart was filled with pain.”

And then that grieving, heartbroken holy God sent a great flood to destroy virtually the entire civilization. Why did God go to such lengths to deal with that sin? Because God is holy.

God set aside a sacred place in the tabernacle, a place where people were to come and meet with God and worship Him. It was a place where His holy presence, His glory, was to dwell. That holiest place, that sacred, inner sanctuary could not be seen or entered by any sinful human being. It was off limits.

That’s where the Shekinah glory of God rested over the Ark of the covenant. Just once a year, on the Day of Atonement, the High Priest was permitted to enter that holy, holy place to offer a sacrifice for the sin of the people. But because he was sinful, he was in danger when he went into that place, so he had to wear bells on the hem of his priestly robe and a rope tied around his ankle . . . why?

So that if he were to sin in the presence of that Holy God and he were to die, the people couldn’t go in to get him or they’d all die. They would hear him by the bells tinkling, and they could drag his body out of that holy place.

Why? Why did they have to go to all that trouble? Because God is holy.

Do you remember the story of the Ark of the covenant being transported on the Philistine oxcart one day? And Uzzah, well-meaning perhaps, reached out his hand to steady the Ark to keep it from falling over. Remember how God became angry and struck him dead on the spot for daring to touch that holy Ark where God’s glory dwelt?

So why did God act so severely in that case? Because God is holy.

Nowhere is the holiness of God more evident than at the cross. If you want to know how God feels about sin, take a trip to Calvary, to that hill called Golgotha. Why did God give up His holy, only, beloved Son, to be put to death by wicked men?

Why did God stand silently by while His Son cried out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?” The Scripture tells us the answer in Psalm 22, which is where we first read that cry, “Why have You forsaken me?” The answer is, because God is holy.

On that day, the darkest day in the history of the universe, Jesus the blameless, sinless, undefiled, perfect Lamb of God, the Son of God, became sin. He took upon Himself every sin of every human being that every man, woman, or child who has ever walked or ever would walk on this planet, had ever committed. All of that sin He took on Himself.

Habbakuk tells us in the Old Testament that “God is of purer eyes than to behold evil, and He cannot look on iniquity.” So what happened when Jesus became sin for us? God had to turn His back on the Lord Jesus. At that moment, all the fury of Hell, which is the ultimate separation from God, was unleashed on God’s holy Son, when God turned His face away from His beloved Son. Because God is holy.

If we don’t see the holiness of God, we will never see the sinfulness of sin. Sin will never seem to be really sinful to us if we don’t have a growing vision of how holy God is. If we don’t see the holiness of God, if we don’t comprehend something of His holiness, limited as our comprehension can be, there’s no absolute standards for our lives.

Why would anything be wrong—I mean, anything?—and this is exactly where our culture has problems, because it doesn’t have a concept of the holiness of God; therefore, “anything goes.” There’s no right and wrong. It may be right for you, it may be wrong for somebody else, but there’s no absolute standard for right and wrong if there isn’t a holy God.

If we don’t see the holiness of God, we’ll never realize how much we need a Savior. The cross won’t mean anything to us. I was talking with a friend last week who took a neighbor to see Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. Afterward, my friend said to her neighbor—who she knew really didn’t know the Lord—“What did you think about that?”

The neighbor said, “I don’t see why He had to go through all that.” It wasn’t as if she really wanted to know, as much as it just seemed senseless to her. You know why? Because she has no concept of how holy God is.

My friend began to talk with her friend about, “Haven’t you ever realized yourself to be a sinner? Haven’t you ever done things that were really wrong?” She tried to help her see that Jesus was taking her sin. And this neighbor woman said, “I’ve never done anything that bad.”

Our sin is minimized, is trivialized, if we don’t see the holiness of God. If God isn’t really, really holy, then Calvary seems like a colossal waste. You’ll never appreciate the cross until you know the holiness of God.

The problem is that our generation has developed a warped view of God that emphasizes His love and His grace and His mercy but has largely lost sight of His holiness. And yes, God is infinitely loving and merciful and gracious, but His love and His grace are stripped of their meaning if they’re not seen in light of His holiness.

They don’t mean anything if there’s nothing for God to love you through, or there’s no reason for God to gracious or merciful to you. If we don’t see ourselves as sinners, in light of God’s holiness, then what’s the big deal about God’s love and His mercy and His grace?

And so, today, we have so little awe in the presence of God. I’m amazed in my own life, and as I think about the condition of the church in general today, how we stroll into the presence of God with less respect and reverence and awe than we would show to a house guest.

We treat company better, we treat our bosses better, than we treat God, when it comes to respect. We’ve lost our sense of wonder at His holiness. We’ve forgotten Who He is. We’ve forgotten that we stand and live and walk and serve and breathe before a holy God.

The God that Isaiah saw in Isaiah chapter 6 was seated on a throne in His holy temple. He was high; He was lifted up. His majesty was so great that it caused the pillars of the temple to shake. His radiance was so dazzling and so blinding that the seraphim who attended Him had to cover their faces and their bodies.

What were they crying out to one another? “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, the Lord of hosts.”  They didn’t chant, “Mercy, mercy, mercy,” or “Love, love, love.” It was, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty.”

That scene took place over 2,700 years ago, and those strains of “Holy, holy, holy” have never stopped resounding through the throne room of Heaven. It has just gone on and on and on. Those angelic hosts have never changed their tune. They never get tired or bored of singing the same chorus over and over and over again.

That same message will be heard tomorrow and the next day and the next and the next. One day when you and I finally stand in His awesome, holy presence, the saints and the angels will still be singing that same song, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord.”

Leslie: That’s Nancy Leigh DeMoss in a series called, Why Be Holy? At Revive Our Hearts, we like to bring you topics that sometimes seem more practical, like raising kids, or staying faithful in marriage, but there is nothing more practical than focusing on the holiness of God. When we do, it affects our marriages, families, and . . . everything.

Nancy received an email about the way God has used Revive Our Hearts to encourage young women to pursue holiness in their appearance. Here’s Nancy to explain.

Nancy: When the team at Revive Our Hearts was developing programs and resources on modesty, we had no idea how far that message would spread. So it was really exciting to get an email from a woman in Uganda who used material developed by Revive Our Hearts to teach modesty to a group of girls in a Ugandan orphanage.

She taught a six-week class and told us about the special interaction that she and the girls had. She sent us a picture of these girls in the orphanage holding modesty pledges that they had signed. In fact, that picture is so precious, you’ve got to see it for yourself. Go to ReviveOurHearts.com, and we’ve posted the picture of those sweet Ugandan girls on our website.

Uganda study group

Only the Lord knows what kind of impact that class will have on those Ugandan girls, and then the kind of influence that they will have on others for generations to come. Let me remind you that when you support Revive Our Hearts financially, you’re making an investment that the Lord will multiply around the world.

During the summer months, our giving typically decreases, so your donation this month is really important to us. Would you ask the Lord to show you what He might want you to give to help us multiply this message? It’s an investment that could pay off in ways that you can’t predict, this side of eternity.

Leslie: When you make a donation of any amount to Revive Our Hearts, we’ll say “thanks” by sending Nancy’s book Holiness: The Heart God Purifies. It will show you what holiness is, why it matters, and how you can pursue it in your life. Ask for Holiness when you donate any amount by calling 1-800-569-5959. Or, again, you can visit ReviveOurHearts.com.

When you focus on the holiness of God, the commands of God don’t seem restrictive. Nancy will explain tomorrow on Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts, with Nancy Leigh DeMoss, is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

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