Holiness: The Hardness of Holiness.

“Sin is cosmic treason. Sin is treason against a perfectly pure Sovereign. It is an act of supreme ingratitude toward the One to whom we owe everything, to the One who has given us life itself. That I am drawing breath this morning is an act of divine mercy. God owes me nothing. I owe Him everything. I have never suffered the slightest injustice from God.”  R. C. Sproul

There are times when the subject of holiness is refreshingly sweet. I love those times in my walk with the LORD. During those moments, it seems to me that He is speaking directly to me as I read His Word with every sentence jumping off the page and right into my collect consciousness. It is also during those moments that I sense my desire for Him and my obedience unto Him to be most fervent.

However, there are also times when the subject of holiness, particularly the holiness of God and my lack thereof, is troubling and confusing. Much like Isaiah (Isaiah 6:1-7) and Peter (Luke 5:1-11), I come to a place of undoneness wishing God would depart from me because I am a sinful man. It is then that I need to ask Him to touch me again with the hot coal of His atoning restoration from the power of sin in my life based upon His prior deliverance of me from the penalty of sin.

Then there are those moments when the LORD’s holiness seems difficult to understand and overwhelming when it is. Much like the four biblical examples, two from each Testament, that portray instances in which God’s holiness wasn’t kind and gentle but severe and harsh. These are four examples in which the LORD’s divine otherness and separateness from sin is most striking. I refer to it as the hardness of holiness. I am glad that His holiness is not this way towards me, though but for His grace, it could be and honestly should be.

Let’s first examine the two examples from the Old Testament in which God intervened and drastically asserted His rightful and holy authority and sovereignty. The first example involves the two sons of Aaron. The story is found in Leviticus 10:1-3.

“Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, which he had not commanded them. And fire came out from before the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord. Then Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the Lord has said: ‘Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.’ ” And Aaron held his peace.”

 We do not know what kind of fire these two priests offered before the LORD. The word “unauthorized” means illicit, strange, different, or that which is not allowed according to a standard. In other words, these two men sinned before the LORD by offering that which God had not commanded. God’s response was to send fire which consumed Nadab and Abihu. They died. The LORD literally destroyed them.

Dr. R.C. Sproul explains that, “Nadab and Abihu were sons of Aaron and thus part of the old covenant priesthood tasked with leading the worship of God’s people. Sadly for them, on one occasion they offered “unauthorized fire” before the Lord (Lev. 10:1). In recounting this story, Moses does not tell us of what this unauthorized fire consisted. It could have been fire offered at the wrong time, fire made with the wrong combination of spices, or something else. What is most important about this unapproved fire is that it was fire that God “had not commanded them” (v. 1). Nadab and Abihu took it upon themselves to worship our Creator in a way that was against what He commanded, and the result was their deaths (v. 2).

With the principle of Scripture interpreting Scripture, we see that the LORD is to be worshiped in spirit and in truth (John 4:24). While it is possible that Nadab and Abihu were fervent in spirit in offering unauthorized fire before the LORD, it is evident that they were not obedient to the LORD in doing so.

That begs a question. Am I always obedient in my worship before the LORD? Is my worship always containing my whole heart and a commitment to biblical truth? I must admit that is not always the case. Then why doesn’t the LORD consume me as He did Nadab and Abihu? The only answer I can biblically find is that He is gracious towards me when in His same holiness He could be just and physically destroy me.

What Moses says to his brother Aaron, the two deceased men’s father, was that “This is what the Lord has said: ‘Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.’ ”

For God to be sanctified means to be regarded as holy and set apart from the common. It seems that Nadab and Abihu approached the LORD with an offering of fire that God found common and not uncommon. Additionally, when approaching the LORD in worship, it is He who is to be honored and praised, no one else. That which the two men offered was more in keeping with honoring themselves rather than in honoring the LORD.

Leviticus 10:3 concludes with this sentence: “And Aaron held his peace.” Aaron’s response was to stand still and keep quiet.

Dr. Sproul concludes by saying, Leviticus 10:3 captures the importance of reverence in thought and action in our worship. God must be sanctified before His people by those who lead in the worship of the Creator. John Calvin, in his commentary on today’s passage, stresses the importance of worshiping rightly in thought and deed. He suggests that Nadab and Abihu did not intend to be irreverent, but they actually were irreverent by not worshiping according to God’s prescriptions. We may think we are doing well, but if a particular worship practice is contrary to biblical principles, we are in danger of offending the Lord and reaping disastrous consequences. Irreverent worship can lead to death even under the new covenant (1 Cor. 11:27–30), so we must take care to worship God reverently according to His Word.”

What a humbling and thought provoking text to consider when next I approach the LORD in personal, and especially public, worship. What a humbling and thought provoking text to consider when I am in a position of leading God’s people in worship. Dear LORD, search my heart and see, and reveal to me, if there is any wicked way within me. Thank you so much for your holy grace instead of your holy justice.

Soli deo Gloria!   


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