Are You Intrigued by God’s Holiness, or Are You Terrified?

from Mar 05, 2009 Category: Articles


I had a consultant come to our ministry many, many years ago and say, ‘What’s the most important thing you can teach non-Christians that they don’t know?’ And I said, ‘That’s easy. They don’t know who God is. They know that God is, but they don’t know who He is. His nature and character have been completely obscured and eclipsed in our day.’ Next he said, ‘Ok. Let’s get back to the church. What’s the most important thing Christians don’t know that they need to know?’ And I said, ‘That’s easy too. They don’t know who God is.’ // In my own background studies, there was a big difference between Augustine and Aquinas, Aquinas and Luther, Luther and Calvin, and Calvin and Edwards. But like C.S. Lewis, there’s a certain sameness there. When you read those guys, every one of them has been wiped out by their sense of the transcendent majesty and holiness of God. I think as soon as we lose that, theology becomes religion. I think the single most important thing we need to have is an awakening to the character of God.” - R.C. Sproul 

This classic can help you better understand the biblical picture of God’s awesome holiness and why it is so foundational to God-centered, God-honoring theology and Christian living. In The Holiness of God, R.C. Sproul demonstrates that encountering God’s holy presence is a terrifying experience. Dr. Sproul argues that this struggle is nonetheless necessary because it is the only way to cure our propensity to trust in ourselves and our own righteousness for salvation.


Pages 12-13 - My “conversion” to God the Father was not without its attending difficulties. Though I was deeply impressed by the notion of a God who created a whole universe from nothing, I was troubled by the fact that the world we live in is a place filled with sorrows. It is a world riddled and bespoiled with evil. My question was how could a good and holy God create a world that is in such a mess? As I studied the Old Testament, I was also bothered by the stories there about God’s ordering the slaughter of women and children, of God’s killing Uzzah instantly for touching the ark of the covenant, and by other narratives that seemed to reveal a brutal side to the character of God. How could I ever come to love such a God?

The one concept, the central idea I kept meeting in Scripture, was the idea that God is holy. The word was foreign to me. I wasn’t sure what it meant. I made the question a matter of diligent and persistent search. Today I am still absorbed with the question of the holiness of God. I am convinced that it is one of the most important ideas that a Christian can ever grapple with. It is basic to our whole understanding of God and of Christianity. 

The idea of holiness is so central to biblical teaching that it is said of God, “Holy is His name.” His name is holy because He is holy. He is not always treated with holy reverence. His name is trampled through the dirt of this world. It functions as a curse word, a platform for the obscene. That the world has little respect for God is vividly seen by the way the world regards His name. No honor. No reverence. No awe before Him.

Pages 13-14 - How we understand the person and character of God the Father affects every aspect of our lives. It affects far more than what we normally call the “religious” aspects of our lives. If God is the Creator of the entire universe, then it must follow that He is the Lord of the whole universe. There is no part of the world that is outside of His Lordship. His holy character has something to say about economics, politics, athletics, romance - everything that we are involved with.

God is inescapable. There is no place we can hide from Him. Not only does He penetrate every aspect of our lives, but He penetrates it in his majestic holiness. Therefore we must seek to understand what the holy is. We dare not seek to avoid it. There can be no worship, no spiritual growth, no true obedience without it. It defines our goal as Christians. God has declared, “Be ye holy, for I am holy.”

Page 26 - Only once in sacred Scripture is an attribute of God elevated to the third degree. Only once is a characteristic of God mentioned three times in succession. The Bible says that God is holy, holy, holy. Not that He is merely holy, or even holy, holy. His is holy, holy, holy. The Bible never says that God is love, love, love, or mercy, mercy, mercy, or wrath, wrath, wrath, or justice, justice, justice. It does say that he is holy, holy, holy, the whole earth is full of His glory.

Pages 28-30 - If ever there was a man of integrity it was Isaiah Ben Amoz. He was a whole man, a together type of fellow. He was considered by his contemporaries as the most righteous man in the nation. He was respected as a paragon of virtue. Then he caught one sudden glimpse of a holy God. In that single moment all of his self-esteem was shattered. In a brief second he was exposed, made naked beneath the gaze of the absolute standard of holiness. As long as Isaiah could compare himself to other mortals, he was able to sustain a lofty opinion of his own character. The instant he measured himself by the ultimate standard, he was destroyed - morally and spiritually annihilated. He was undone. He came apart. His sense of integrity collapsed.

We are fortunate in one respect: God does not appear to us in the way He appeared to Isaiah. Who could stand it? God normally reveals our sinfulness to us a bit at a time. We experience a gradual recognition of our own corruption. God showed Isaiah his corruption all at once. No wonder that he was ruined.

Isaiah explained it this way: “My eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty” (Isaiah 6:5, NIV). He saw the holiness of God. For the first time in his life Isaiah really understood who God was. At the same instant, for the first time Isaiah really understood who Isaiah was.

Pages 39-40 - When we use the word holy to describe God, we face a problem. We often describe God by compiling a list of qualities or characteristics that we call attributes. We say that God is a spirit, that He knows everything, that He is loving, just, merciful, gracious, and so on. The tendency is to add the idea of the holy to this long list of attributes as one attribute among many. But when the word holy is applied to God, it does not signify one single attribute. On the contrary, God is called holy in a general sense. The word is used as a synonym for his deity. That is, the word holy calls attention to all that God is. It reminds us that His love is holy love, his justice is holy justice, his mercy is holy mercy, his knowledge is holy knowledge, his spirit is holy spirit.

Page 45 - We fear God because He is holy. Our fear is not the fear of the Lord the Bible enjoins. It is a servile fear, a fear born of dread. God is too great for us; He is too awesome. He makes difficult demands on us. He is the Mysterious Stranger who threatens our security. In His presence we quake and tremble. Meeting Him personally may be our greatest trauma.

Page 158 - The call to holiness was first give to Adam and Eve. This was the original assignment of the human race. We were created in the image of God. To be God’s image meant, among other things, that we were made to mirror and reflect the character of God. We were created to shine forth to the world the holiness of God. This was the chief end of man, the very reason for his existence.

Pages 183-184 - If we are in Christ, we have been awakened already. We have been raised from spiritual death unto spiritual life. But we still have “sleepers” in our eyes, and at times we walk about like zombies. We retain a certain fear of drawing near to God. We still tremble at the foot of His holy mountain.

Yet as we grow in our knowledge of Him, we gain a deeper love for His purity and sense a deeper dependence upon His grace. We learn that He is altogether worthy of our adoration. The fruit of our growing love for Him is the increase of reverence for His name. We love Him now because we see His loveliness. We adore Him now because we see His majesty. We obey Him now because His Holy Spirit dwells within us. He is holy, holy, holy….


“Before I read The Holiness of God I always had a difficult time accepting the wrathful God of the Old Testament. I prayed about this for months and asked God to help me to understand his Word. After reading the sixth chapter of The Holiness of God, I wept in the presence of God and found peace with God’s Word I never knew before. It is a must read for any college student going into ministry or philosophy, after reading the book I have not wrestled with Gods word and all that is in it.”
— Online Customer Review

“The material in this book drove me to my knees and dramatically changed my Christian life. Written by one of the most brilliant thinkers of our day, it is absolutely urgent reading for every Christian.”
— Chuck Colson, author of How Now Shall We Live?

“Every Christian who is serious about his or her growth needs to read The Holiness of God. I profited greatly from this book.”
— Jerry Bridges, author of The Pursuit of Holiness and The Discipline of Grace

“It may be a bit early to call R.C. Sproul’s The Holiness of God one of the classic theological works of our time. But if it does not have that status yet, it is well on the way to achieving it.”
— James Montgomery Boice, deceased, former senior minister, Tenth Presbyterian Church, Philadelphia

About the Author
Dr. R.C. Sproul, theologian, pastor, and teacher, is the founder of Ligonier Ministries, an international teaching ministry based in Orlando, Florida. He is the author of more than sixty books, the general editor of The Reformation Study Bible, and the executive editor of Tabletalk magazine. He can be heard daily on the radio broadcast Renewing Your Mind. He is also the senior minister of preaching and teaching at Saint Andrew’s in the Orlando area.

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