Two things stand out from reading chapter 3 of R.C. Sproul's The Holiness of God this week. The first was the helpful reminder that the holiness of God is not simply one among many of His attributes...it is the defining characteristic of who He is. Sproul writes, "The tendency is to add the idea of 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 attribute among many. 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" (pp. 39-40).
Some theologians divide God's attributes into two categories - communicable and incommunicable. Those that are incommunicable belong only to God (e.g. - God is eternal, God is unchangeable, etc.). The ones that are communicable are those that He can choose to share with creatures. So, human beings can be described as faithful, gracious, or just (just to name a few).
While we might exhibit some form of these attributes, we never display them in the same way as God. God's justice is holy justice, where humans may accept a bribe or pervert justice for other reasons. God's faithfulness is holy faithfulness, while we our faithfulness is often fickle and based on our feelings at any given moment. What separates God from human beings in these communicable attributes is that He is holy...He is altogether separate, He is far above and beyond us in grace, faithfulness, wisdom, justice, etc. As Sproul would say, He is "a cut above."
The second thing that stuck is closely related to this first one. One can easily feel puffed up in displaying God's attributes through his life. I might feel like a better human being when I am just. I may feel myself 'a cut above' when I display wisdom in one situation or another. Yet, it is crucial to maintain a firm grip on the holiness of God if I am to avoid slipping into pride. How quickly I would forget that He is God, and I am not...how quick I am to believe the lie that when I am ___________, I "will be like God, knowing good and evil" (Genesis 3:5b). Even in seeking to be an imitator of God (Eph. 5:1), I must beware of the slippery slope of pride and self-idolatry and remember that any holiness...and separateness...displayed in my life is a result of the gracious work of a holy God. Only "His touch on the common makes the common suddenly uncommon" (p. 40).
Sproul reminds me that "when we are aware of the presence of God, we become most aware of ourselves as creatures" (p. 44). His holiness should strike a chord of sobriety in my soul. Even when God is described as greatly immanent, we can never forget that He is greatly transcendent. Even when we sense His closeness, we cannot forget just how far we are from His holy perfection. Of course, we must be holy because He is holy, but we must always remember that the only reason we can be holy is because He is holy. The holy One has touched the unholy ones and made us holy....we have a derived holines...He is inherently holy!