A Generation Passionate for God’s Holiness

Passion OneDay | Sherman, Texas


The following is a lightly edited transcript

The aim of OneDay is to be a gathering and an awakening of a generation passionate for God’s renown. That was two, three years ago and it’s true today, only the words have changed a little bit today. He read into the material that you see, you hear on the CDs the words are words like sacred and holy and his and so I’m going to change it just slightly and say that the aim of our OneDay is the gathering and the awakening of a generation passionate for the holiness of God.

If this generation were to become passionate for the holiness of God, then all the campuses in America — campuses in Oregon and Washington and Idaho, campuses in Maine and New Hampshire and Connecticut and Massachusetts — and all the peoples — in China and North Korea and Vietnam, in Iraq and Afghanistan, in Algeria and Tunisia. I mean all the peoples in the world will say in response to a God that is here today and beyond today. They will say there is none holy like the Lord, there is no rock like our God.

Holiness Lifted Up

Twenty years ago I decided to make an experiment on a Sunday morning. I decided that I would preach from Isaiah 6. You’re very familiar with that great text and I would not make any practical application at all. I just wanted to see what happened to a few hundred people if they just saw as best as I can paint it, the holiness of God lifted up without any application of their lives whatsoever. So I simply read the text:

In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”

And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke.

“Let your heart tremble at what is really big what is really amazing — Jesus Christ.”

And all I did was point to the throne. There would be one leg of the throne back over on that side of the hill and another leg on that side of the hill and another leg way over there as far as you can see and another leg over there and it will be about eight hundred feet high and Jesus Christ and God Almighty would be sitting upon that throne.

And these seraphim are not what you see in Peter Paul Rubin’s paintings — little fat cupid-like dolls. These seraphim, if they stretch forth their wings disappear into the clouds that way and that way and the reason I know that is because it says when one of them shook the whole foundation of heaven, which is not easy to shake. The whole foundation of heaven is shaken and so the scene that you have is supposed to silence us, frighten us, humble us, terrify as, expose us, lay us bare and all of that did was talk about that scene. And I didn’t say anything about your daily life, your marriage, children. We’re supposed to be moved.

What’s Truly Amazing

Well it’s strange what moves people today. Last December I did what almost all of you did and I went and watched The Two Towers, the second in the trilogy of The Lord of the Rings. And I was undone by the sequence of events with big, great, triumphant walking trees and boulders being lobbed out of the castle and smashing Sauron’s hordes to pieces and Legolas skateboarding down the castle shooting as he went and the great perfect, white horse arrival is charging into the hordes of Sauron. I loved it! It was my anniversary — number 34

And we went out to dinner afterwards, and I said to Noël, “You know what I like about that movie most? It made me admire and tremble at Jesus Christ more.” And she said, “Why is that?” I said, “Because as I sat there watching, I thought, ‘Now even if these events were true they took place on earth or the middle of earth, and earth is a small planet in a solar system about seven billion miles across. And the solar system is just a small little system in the Milky Way galaxy which is about 600,000 trillion miles across and the galaxy that we live in is a modest, relatively large size galaxy in a universe that probably has about one hundred million such galaxies in it, and Jesus Christ put this in place with the flick of his little finger.’”

So, next time you sit in a theater and you’re amazed, do some translation. Let your heart tremble at what is really big what is really amazing — Jesus Christ.

In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. All things were made through him and without him was not anything made that was made. (John 1:1–3)

He flung it out with a flick of his little finger. If you’re going to be amazed at cinematography, look around or get a telescope.

The Rock in Our Lives

Now I finished my sermon without a word of application. Little did I know that in the audience that day was a couple — a husband and a wife — who had just that their daughter had been sexually molested for the last three years by trusted relatives. They were now all under medical care, he was now under arrest, there were venereal warts. It was the most horrible thing of their lives and they sat there under the preaching of no application and Isaiah 6 and the holiness of God. Just the holiness of God.

Three months later the husband came to me and said something I will never forget. It has a lot to do with what I’m saying today and how I’m saying it. He said, “John, these have been the worst months of our lives. You know what’s gotten us through? The vision of God’s holiness from last January. It’s been the only rock in our lives.”

Your generation can get it and I pray that you will become passionate for the holiness of God. That you would live in the brightness of his blazing holiness. That you would feel in your life the weight of the rock of his holiness. Could it be that your struggle with pornography, masturbation, fornication might find the liberty that you’ve been aching for in the rock of God’s holiness? Pure and simple. I’ve seen it before.

Could it be that your struggle with an eating disorder or with food from morning to night might find the liberty and the freedom that you’ve been aching for in the sheer weight of the rock of God’s holiness? Could it be that when you wake up some day — as happened to one man recently — to the sound of his wife bludgeoning his children to death on the front lawn? One rock will get you through those days — namely the rock of God’s sovereign gracious holiness.

What Stands in the Way?

And could it be that the 200,000 that I so ache for and long for, pray for, reach for in this generation might rise if their hearts were impassioned by a glimpse of the holiness of God? And that’s my assumption: that those kinds of things could happen if this generation became passionate for the holiness of God. So I ask “What stands in the way?” And I only have two things to mention.

First, most Christians today don’t know what the holiness of God is. I doubt that you could give a five-minute talk right now about the biblical meaning of the holiness of God. There’s a reason for that and it isn’t all your fault.

Definitions when it comes to God are hard to come by. Definitions all depend on putting things in classes using analogies. If I ask you what’s a rabbit? I’ve never seen a rabbit. You say, “Well, it’s a small, furry mammal that has long ears and chews a cud.”

Now my mind at that point would say small, under with small is, I’ve seen small things. Furry, I’ve seen cats I know what that is. Mammal, I know what that is. I had a hamster one time. Ears, I’ve got one and if it’s long I can imagine that. Chews a cud, I’ve seen a cow. Okay I think I’ve got a little composite rabbit in my head.

“God is definer, we are defined. If we try to move from us to God instead of from God to us, you will skew him badly”

You know what? You can’t do that with God. There’s a reason. If you say “What is God?” Or “What is holy God?” There aren’t any classes to point to. There aren’t any categories. He is absolutely one-of-a-kind, which makes definitions almost impossible with God.

Defining God, who has no analogies, is very difficult. You might say, “Well we are sort of in his image and sort of have some righteousness and some power and some intelligence and some morality and so you point to us and then back to God.” The problem with that is God defines you; you don’t define him.

God is definer, we are defined. If we try to move from us to God instead of from God to us, you will skew him badly, which is one of the great errors of our generation — inferring from our imperfections what God is like.

Inability to Define

So, what can we say about the holiness of God? Let me try, let me at least try. I think it would be biblical to say that the holiness of God is rooted exactly in God’s inability to be defined. It’s paradoxical but let me say like this. God’s holiness is his absolute uniqueness. God’s holiness is his incomparableness.

God’s holiness is precisely the fact that there is none other, that’s what you read in Isaiah 40:25. “To whom will you compare me that I should be like him says the holy one?” Or consider his words in 1 Samuel 2:2 — “There is none holy like the Lord. There is no God besides you; there is no rock like our God.

Many of you have heard holy means separate. Yes, in this sense when you talk about God being separate in a class by himself — utterly separated from all of that is not God constitutes him as absolutely unique, incomparable and thus holy. But that’s not enough, that’s not enough.

Here’s the problem with that definition. There’s no qualitative content to it. There’s no moral quality. You say unique in what? Incomparable in what? Now the biblical answer to that question is going to be incomparable in absolute moral perfection. Moral perfection is what he’s incomparable in. He’s incomparable in every other good way, but incomparable in unique incomparable, divine, moral perfection.

So his grace is holy, his love is holy, this was the most holy to the degree that grace, that love and all of his other attributes are unique in the universe and incomparable in the universe in their divine, moral perfection. And that’s not enough of a definition either. We need to take it one more step.

Infinitely Valuable

When something is unique, it’s really rare. It’s absolutely rare. So I asked my wife, Noël, on Friday night, “Why is gold used as the standard of our money? Why do we prize gold so highly?” And she said accurately, “Because it’s rare.” I said, “Yeah, but there are fish that are really rare.” And she said, “Gold has some permanence, but fish rot and get smelly. They can’t be the standard of anything no matter how rare they are.” I said, “That’s right.”

So you got rare and you got permanence and I would add accessibility. There are rocks probably under this field so far down way more rare than gold, but you can’t get at some and so they’re useless. They’re no help to being the monetary standard at all. And there are fish at the bottom of the sea nobody has ever caught or even classified and they’re no use either.

So you’ve got rare, you’ve got permanence, and you’ve got accessibility, and I think the uniqueness of God is all of that. He’s the rarest of all beings, he has absolute permanence in Jesus Christ, he’s made himself accessible, and therefore, I draw this as my concluding definition if you allow me a definition of the indefinable, God is infinitely valuable.

So here’s my total definition: God’s holiness is his infinite value as the absolutely unique, morally perfect, permanent person that he is and who by grace made himself accessible — his infinite value as the absolutely unique, morally perfect, permanent person that he is.

And now my prayer for the generation becomes not simply that you become a generation impassionate for God’s holiness, but that you become a generation passionate for God’s supreme infinite value. And that will sever the root of all Judith’s joys.

The Radiance of His Holiness

One last obstacle I would mention to becoming a generation like this — and I feel bad about this one because it’s my generation’s fault. We have not served you well. I’m 57. I’m old enough to your grandfather probably and definitely your father. I think in terms of these generations not only do you have a hard time living with a passion for the glory of God because you don’t know what it is because it’s so hard to define.

But also because we have taught you so wrongly about the gospel. We have made the gospel in my generation, the generation of the self and the me have made you the center of the gospel. We’ve made you the center of God’s saving and redeeming work, not a display of his glory for the nations.

And if you wonder what’s the relationship between glory and holiness I’ll put it in a little easy phrase. The glory of God is the radiance, the streaming forth of his intrinsic holiness. Holiness is the infinite value and his moral perfection as a unique and incomparable person that he is. His glory is when that goes public for people to see and fall down before.

And we have said to you the gospel is about you and your work. The cross is about you and your work. That’s what my generation has delivered and 10,000 ways to you and I would be surprised today apart from a marvelous grace in your home church that you don’t believe that.

God Is No Idolater

Have you ever heard of a sequence of thought like this? Before you ever came on the scene, before this universe ever existed, God was holy — infinitely valuable, incomparable, and absolutely unique — and he knew it. And he loved it, and he treasured it because he’s wise and righteous and a righteous person always values what is most valuable, therefore before you ever came on the scene God valued God above all things.

He saw the perfection of himself shining out of his own infinitely glorious divine Son. And he loves his Son, and the Son loved the father, and the Holy Spirit powerfully, personally radiate between the Father and the Son before you were ever on the scene. And then you came. And I’ll tell you something: Nothing changed.

God did not suddenly become an idolater when he created man, putting man where God belongs him. God is not a man-worshiper. God is a God worshiper. Or would you deny him the highest joys of the universe? But we did not tell you that. We bred you on your self-centeredness. We taught you a gospel of self-esteem that heals all diseases, and we put God on the periphery as a means to your self-exaltation.

And so there is a great barrier, there’s a great barrier here. My generation has failed itself and you in so many ways. You’re not the center of God’s values; the glory of God is the center of his value. You’re not the center of his redeeming work; the magnifying of Christ in your life is the center of his redeeming work. You are not the treasure of the gospel; God is the treasure of the gospel.

Make Much of Him

Here’s a test. Are you ready? Just a one question test to see whether or not you know what it is to be loved by God, whether or not you know what it is to experience the love of God in your life because my generation has sold you a bill of goods on what that means. We have told you in a thousand ways to be loved by God is to be made much of.

Some of you can’t even conceive of another definition of love than to be made much of. God loves me? He makes much of me. Now here’s the test. Do you feel more loved by God when he makes much of you, or when he at the cost of his son’s life gives you the ability to enjoy making much of him forever?

I’m going to state the test question again, you do the answering in your heart. And then you know whether you have to experience a Copernican revolution at OneDay 2003.

Do you feel more loved by God when he makes much of you or do you feel more loved by God when he undertakes through the cross in the Holy Spirit to enable you to experience a kind of inner revolution that you enjoy making much of them forever? That’s the test question for this generation, my generation failed it. We still do.

We’re still delivering the wrong books, the wrong sermons, the wrong message to this generation. “It’s all about me, all about my value.” They stand before the Holy Cross of God Almighty and take it as an echo of my worth instead of as an echo of the horror of demeaning the word of God which is what sin is and which is why the cross was necessary.

“God’s holiness is his infinite value as the absolutely unique, morally perfect, permanent person that he is.”

I count everything as a loss for the passing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. Jesus is the holy one, that’s what the devil has recognized. What do you have to do with us holy one of God? Jesus is the holiness of God made accessible, Jesus is the holiness of God made tolerable. Indeed, Jesus is the holiness of God made enjoyable if we can get low enough and tremble hard enough and rend our souls deeply enough that we understand what holiness is and required of Jesus.

Feast on Jesus

You were made to feast on Jesus. You were made to feast on holiness found in Jesus. If somebody asks you “What is the love of God? What is it to be loved by God?” The answer is that God sustains and exults his holiness for your enjoyment forever. That’s the love of God.

I’ll say it again. The love of God is his passion to sustain and uphold and exult his holiness and his Son for your everlasting enjoyment. If you put yourself at the center, you’re suicidal. Because it robs you of the very glory of God and his enjoyment.

Now in closing, if this happens and I pray it happens that God would turn this generation into a generation passionate for the holiness of God, everything would change. Everything would change. Your view of sin would change if he gave you a passion for the holiness of God.

You would no longer think in terms of sin as the damaging of man, but as the dishonoring of God. You would no longer think of sin as the choice of pleasure, but the lust of pleasure. It would change the way you view the righteousness of God, you would no longer think of the righteousness of God as simply doing what is right by you. You would think the righteousness of God is his unswerving allegiance to always be right by himself, that is to exalt what is definitively worthy, namely his holiness and his glory.

It would change the way you look at the cross. Oh, it will be precious. You would think I love the cross, all of the cross, but you would think about your love for the cross not like you’re told in so many these books and so many sermons that there you can see how much you are valuable to God.

But rather the stand at the cross and see two things. You would see how infinitely valuable the holiness, the righteousness and honor of God is that when you trample it under foot by your sins God knew the only way to vindicate his righteousness was to slay his own Son. That’s how serious your sin is. It’s not about your worth. And the other thing that you will see at the cross is that this is how much he was willing to pay to make you happy in his holiness — if you will be changed.

To the Nations

I close with one last implication: missions. If you fall in love with the holiness of God trembling, it’s a dangerous place to be. Your attitude towards the nations, the unreached peoples of the world will undergo profound change.

In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”

The missionary phrase is “the whole earth is full of his glory.” Do you see the connection between the intrinsic, holy, holy, holy and then the public fullness of glory? If you become a generation and I pray that this number will be the tie of the 200,000, you will lay down your lives — unlike radical Islam that take lives to spread their religion. You will not kill to spread Christianity, you will die to spread Christianity.