We might be like God in some ways. After all, God made us in his image (Genesis 1:26-27).
But God is most certainly not like us. God is more than us. He is greater than us. God transcends us.
The meaning of transcendence is that God is not merely a quality of nature or of humanity; he is not simply the highest human being. He is not limited to our ability to understand him. His holiness and goodness go far beyond, infinitely beyond ours, and this is true of his knowledge and power as well.
It is the supremacy of God’s otherness, holiness, greatness, glory that should drive us to humility and worship.
God is not the “man upstairs,” or the “eye in the sky.” That God transcends us points to God as Creator, Lord, and Sovereign.
Scripture affirms the idea of transcendence.
God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
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. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”
“As I looked, thrones were placed, and the Ancient of Days took his seat; his clothing was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool; his throne was fiery flames; its wheels were burning fire. A stream of fire issued and came out from before him; a thousand thousands served him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him; the court sat in judgment, and the books were opened.
These passages are just a sampling of the biblical affirmation of God’s transcendence. God is above and beyond us in every way imaginable.
The fact of God’s transcendence should humble us. If you’ve been reading these word of the week posts for any length of time, you may have noticed a theme. Theology that gives us an accurate picture of God and of ourselves rightly humbles us.
The fact of God’s transcendence should lead us to worship. God is great, other, glorious. The more we recognize and reflect on the transcendent God of the Bible, the more we will sense the need to worship and adore God in our attitudes and actions.
So, pause a moment (or more) and consider the greatness and glory of the transcendent God of the Bible. Join us next week as we reflect on the complimentary theme of God’s immanence.
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!”
One Seraph to another in Isaiah 6:8
“Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!”
The four living creatures in Revelation 4:8
The thrice holy declaration of God’s otherness from these two passages of Scripture remind us that God is set apart in a way unique only to him. There is no one like him. The thrice holy declaration is also unique to God’s attributes. No other attribute (love, power, glory, justice, etc.) is designated in Scripture by stating it three times. God’s holiness is gloriously, eternally unique.
God’s holiness is moral purity, but it is more than moral purity. Jerry Bridges in his book The Joy of Fearing God, describes God’s holiness as transcendent majesty (67).
In this sense, God is so much more than we are and he is truly OTHER. God is full of holy majesty and glory in a way that we cannot fully comprehend.
Yet the wonder of our salvation is that God in his holiness reached down to man in his sinfulness. Through Christ, who is God and is the fullness of God enfleshed with holiness and love, God entered into his creation. Christ experienced God’s holy wrath and displayed God’s glorious love on the cross. Jesus is the very image of God’s holiness and love.
In a most glorious realization, God redeems us in order to make us holy. This is the part of salvation called sanctification.
Let’s take a moment to review salvation in three basic parts. (There are more aspects to salvation than these three. See the previous word of the week posts. But these three parts provide a helpful framework).
Salvation as justification: God declares us righteous. This is salvation in the past tense. God declared us righteous by the gracious work of Christ on the cross and through our faith in him.
Salvation as sanctification: God makes us holy. This is salvation in the present tense. God does save us from our sin, but being made holy is a process of God removing sin from our lives and making us into Christlikeness (Romans 8:29).
Salvation as glorification: God glorifies us. This is salvation in the future tense. God will give us glorified bodies and allow us to experience life as he originally intended.
We explored justification in a previous post. We will explore glorification in a future post. In this post, we are going explore salvation as sanctification.
Sanctification is an aspect of salvation that can be controversial.
Does sanctification mean that God does all the work, and we can behave any way we choose? This would be antinomianism (or anti-law).
Does sanctification mean that we can become sinlessly perfect this side of heaven? This would be perfectionism.
Let’s try to answer these questions by offering just a few observations on the doctrine of sanctification.
Sanctification has at least two aspects. First, positional sanctification is the concept that God makes us holy through the work of Christ. In essence, we are sanctified through the work of Christ (see Romans 15:16; 1 Corinthians 1:2; 6:11). Nothing sinful will enter into God’s presence in heaven. So the work of Christ in justifying us and sanctifying us will completely cleanse our sin away.
Second, practical sanctification is how we partner with God to be holy in our character and conduct. Practical sanctification recognizes the reality that we still live in a sinful human body in a sinful world with an enemy who tempts us to sin. While we are sanctified positionally, we must partner with God to be set apart or holy in our behavior.
To answer question #1 above, sanctification does not imply that it is ok to live in sin after conversion (Romans 6:1-2). To answer question #2 move, sanctification does imply we will be perfectly holy, but not until heaven. We cannot be sinlessly perfect this side of eternity though holiness is to be our aim.
For the rest of this post, we are going to explore some practical ways that we can partner with God to be holy.
It is important to note that God expects holiness of his people.
Peter quotes this passage in the New Testament and adds additional explanations in 1 Peter 1:14-16.
14 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, 15 but as he who called you isholy, you also beholy in all your conduct, 16 since it is written, “You shall beholy, for I amholy.
God’s holiness is the primary reason that he expects us to be holy and set apart. God has given us the HolySpirit to indwell us and strengthen us to experience sanctification (Ephesians 5:18).
We participate in our sanctification when we do the following things:
Confess and repent of our sins. We cannot expect to be holy in our conduct if we tolerate sin in our lives. When Peter reflects on the command to be holy, he reminds his readers to reject their former passions. Regular confession and repentance are means of pursuing holiness in our daily lives.
Reject and remove temptations. God commands us to resist the devil (James 4:7) and flee temptations (2 Timothy 2:2). We cannot expect to be holy if we are inviting sin into our lives. Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount that we are to do whatever it takes to remove sin from us (Matthew 5:29-30). If you have a struggle with a particular sin, you must remove that temptation from your life. Here are two examples. If you struggle with drunkenness, you cannot sit in the parking lot of the ABC store. You must avoid (flee) temptation. If you struggle with pornography or lust, you cannot be awake at 1 am with your smart phone in hand. You must avoid (flee) temptation. To reject and remove temptations may mean that you act drastically (cut out TV or internet, not go to restaurants that serve alcohol, stop surfing FaceBook, etc.). But remember we are not called to be like everyone else. We are called to be holy.
Replace temptations with virtues and pursue righteousness. Being holy is not just about the negative (rejecting sin). It is about being set apart. In the Old Testament, priests were set apart as holy by their cleansing rituals, dress, and conduct. While we don’t have to emulate their rituals, the imagery is instructive. Replacing a temptation like wasted time on a smart phone with reading the Bible or a good book is conduct conducive of holiness. Likewise, we should pursue righteous behaviors (faith, love, peace, purity 2 Timothy 2:2). Spiritual disciplines like Bible reading, prayer, sharing the gospel, serving others, and meditating and memorizing the Bible are spiritually formative and helpful in pursuing holiness.
Here are some practical action items as you finish reading this post:
Thank God that he has set you apart to be holy through Christ.
Take a moment to confess and repent of your sins today asking God’s forgiveness and cleansing.
Remove a temptation from your life today.
Practice a spiritual discipline today (read, pray, study, memorize, share, serve).
When we pursue sanctification, we embrace the salvation that God has graciously given us.