Best of Daily Reflections: Holy Ground, Part 1 - What Is Holiness?
“Do not come any closer,” the LORD warned. “Take off your sandals, for you are standing on holy ground."
Moses, exiled from Egypt, was tending his father-in-law’s sheep in Midian. He led them far into the wilderness, to the place we know as Sinai. There he encountered a bush that kept on burning without being consumed. As he approached the bush to investigate, God called to him from the bush. “Do not come any closer,” the voice said, “Take off your sandals, for you are standing on holy ground” (v. 5).
For the first time in Scripture we encounter the noun “holy” as in “holy thing.” Here we begin to learn what holiness is all about and how we are to live in response to a holy God. Since holiness is so crucial to our understanding of Scripture and to our discipleship, I’m going to spend several days reflecting on this passage and its meaning for us.
What is holiness? When Christians hear the word holiness, many of us immediately think about things we’re not supposed to do: drink, smoke, have sex outside of marriage, dance, swear, etc. Holiness, from this point of view, has to do with avoiding certain kinds of behavior that we associate with the fallen world. To an extent, this notion of holiness is not altogether wrong, though it is inadequate and potentially misleading. At the core, holiness does have to do with being set apart from that which is profane, worldly, or common. But it’s not limited to a few taboo behaviors. Rather, holiness means being distinct from the world in essential and profound ways.
When we say God is holy, we're not saying simply that he frowns on certain questionable behaviors or that he doesn’t want us to engage in them or that God himself doesn’t do these things. Rather, God’s holiness has to do with his profound otherness from this world. Though God created the world and the world bears the stamp of his nature, God is not the same as the world. God is so much bigger and better than the biggest and best in creation. In him there is no hint of evil, no compromise of righteousness, no slackening of justice, no confusion of truth, no limitation of love. He is a holy God: set apart, special, unique.
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION: When you hear the word “holiness,” what springs to mind? When you think of God as holy, what thoughts or images appear?
PRAYER: Holy God, what an extraordinary privilege it is to come before you in prayer. How gracious you are to allow me to draw near to you in spite of my shortcomings, failures, and lack of intrinsic holiness.
Today, O God, I honor you as holy. I recognize that you are so much greater than anything I can comprehend. Though you have graciously made yourself known in this world, you are so much more than this world. And though you have revealed yourself to me, you are so much more than my notion of you.
Help me to grow in my understanding of your holiness. Help me to grow in my reverence as I come before you, a holy God. Amen.