My Joy and God’s Holiness: Friends or Foes?

Happiness and holiness are inseparable. True holiness is unattainable without true happiness. Happiness is part of holiness — even the essence of holiness.

But there’s an even deeper connection between our happiness and holiness, and it’s rooted in God’s holy character.

Holy, Holy, Holy!

Many times, a sermon on the holiness of God will start with Isaiah 6:1–5, with a dramatic recounting of Isaiah, the priest, entering the temple in the presence of God’s flowing holiness. Angels cover their faces as Isaiah falls on his face and the temple shakes and tremors in the presence of the almighty, holy God.

The account is frightening, and the sermon is appropriately solemn and serious. It often ends with a grave prayer and silence. Such a sermon is vital for the health of the Church, and we need more of them.

But it also compels a follow-up sermon.

Joy, Joy, Joy!

The awesome holiness of God that put Isaiah on his face becomes the holiness of God that puts the people of God on their feet — with hands raised in joyful praise.

This is an important connection to see as Isaiah unfolds, and Isaiah 12:6 is one good example: “Shout, and sing for joy, O inhabitant of Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.”

The majestic holiness of God evokes in God’s people a holy fear, yes. But it also evokes joy and happy confidence in God to overcome the greatest challenges of this world, a theme that echoes throughout the rest of the book (Isaiah 29:19, 41:14–16, 56:7).

Exceeding Joy in the Holy One

The holiness of God generates happiness in God’s people, and this point echoes beyond Isaiah and throughout the Old Testament. Psalm 96 is entirely devoted to making this point, as are passages like 1 Chronicles 16:25–33, 1 Samuel 2:1–2, Nehemiah 8:10, Psalms 30:4–5, 33:21, 43:3–4, 46:4, 48:1–2, 65:4, 68:1–6, 71:22–23, 89:15–18, 97:12.

Here are a couple of brief examples:

  • “Rejoice in the Lord, O you righteous, and give thanks to his holy name!” (Psalm 97:12)

  • “Our soul waits for the Lord; he is our help and our shield. For our heart is glad in him, because we trust in his holy name.” (Psalm 33:20–21)

God’s holiness is his awesome strength and his unique beauty, his unwavering dependability and his reigning power. Only a holy God like this can ensure the safety of his people. Only a holy God can promise that all things will be put in order. Only a holy God can assure us every evil and sadness will be defeated in the end.

And so the people of God are glad and filled with exceeding joy, in the Holy One.

From Great Fear to Great Joy

Succinctly put, here’s the point. The vision of God’s majestic holiness in Isaiah 6 provides the foundation for the happiness of believers in Isaiah 12:6 and elsewhere. The tremors of God’s holiness shake us to the core to unsettle everything false and fake and trivial in our lives in order for us to find genuine gladness in God’s Holy Name.

We do live in holy fear, but we don’t live facedown in the temple. We fear God in a way that leads us to raise our hands in joyful praise and glad confidence.

Holiness Made Human

And yet just when we think we have a grasp of God’s holiness in the Old Testament, something stunning happens on the opening pages of the New Testament.

The Holy One emerges from the temple, implants in a virgin’s womb, and surfaces one dark night in history as an infant.

A child, called “holy,” the Son of God, is born in a dirty Bethlehem barn (Luke 1:35).

Immanuel — Holy God with us — an infant, a child, and later a man, of infinite holiness — has tabernacled among us (John 1:14).

The “Holy One of God” draws close, and brings with himself joy to the world.