STUDY ONE: WORSHIP AND THE HOLINESS OF GOD
Copyright Rosemary Bardsley 2007,2013
A. UNDERSTANDING THE HOLINESS OF GOD
We commonly think of the holiness of God as referring to his moral purity and perfection. The concept of holiness, however, has a broader and more impactive meaning.
When the Old Testament teaches us that God is holy, his moral goodness is only a part of that description. More specifically and more importantly the holiness of God speaks of his absolute otherness, his total uniqueness, his complete disassociation and difference from all else that might call itself ‘god’ and from everything else that exists. He is the only one of his kind: he is holy: he is totally set apart. He has no equal. His beauty, his goodness, his perfection, his power, his majesty are all unequalled and unparalleled. He cannot be likened to anything or anyone, for there is nothing and no one like him – there is nothing up there on the same level as he is to which he can be compared. Everything falls far short of this unique, one-of-a-kind, ‘holy’ God.
How is God’s holiness portrayed in these verses?''
The fact that God is ‘holy’ means that he is no common, ordinary ‘god’; he is not such a ‘god’ that one can swap and change for another; he is not such a ‘god’ to whom one can display only a fickle, half-hearted allegiance; he is not such a ‘god’ who is willing to share worship and honour with other ‘gods’ or with other powers, including human powers. As Isaiah 40 graphically points out, this ‘Holy One’ is beyond comparison. Totally unique. Totally other. Totally awesome. Not just in his purity but in all that he is.
The fact of God’s holiness also contains his distinction from us. He is not one of us. He is not human. He cannot be adequately described or defined in human terms, even though these are the only terms by which we can attempt to describe or define him. Although in our minds we might think of him in human terms, yet when confronted by him, as we will see in the next section, human terms are found to be totally inadequate.
This concept of God’s holiness provides the foundational reason and the foundational necessity for worship:
That we worship God because he is worthy of worship. Not only this, but he is the only one worthy of worship as God. To think that any other god is worthy of worship, or that anything else is worthy of ultimate worship, is clear evidence that a person simply does not know God. Thus valid worship can only be practised by people who truly know God.
This truth of the awesome uniqueness and otherness of God, is the reason for the first command:
‘You shall have no other Gods besides me. You shall not make … an idol … You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God’ [Exodus 20:4-5].
And of the greatest command:
‘Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength’ [Deuteronomy 6:4,5]
It is also the focus for the first concern in prayer:
‘Hallowed be your name’ [Matthew 6:9].
B. HUMAN MEETINGS WITH THIS HOLY GOD
After his confrontation with God in the temple Isaiah had no difficulty grasping hold of the concept of the holiness of God. Nor did others who had similar meetings. Study the following and note what is revealed about God in each of them:
What is revealed about God’s holiness in these verses?
Acts 9:1-23; 22:6; 26:19
These were all rather frightening and awesome personal encounters with God, and from them we can understand a foundational concept of worship:
That worship is the only appropriate human response in the presence of this holy God. To meet with this holy God is to be instantly aware of his greatness and our smallness, of his majesty and our insignificance, of his otherness and our ordinariness, of his perfection and our sinfulness, of his worth and our unworthiness, of his authority and our dependence.
C. HUMAN WORSHIP IN THE PRESENCE OF THE HOLY GOD
In the above encounters we find a particular expression of worship.
- Moses had to take off his shoes; he hid his face because he was afraid to look at God
- Isaiah was instantly aware of his unworthiness and sinfulness
- Ezekiel fell face down, overawed by the splendour and brilliance of even ‘the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD.’
- Daniel was totally overwhelmed: he had no strength left, his face turned deathly pale, and he was helpless [10:8]; he fell into a deep sleep with his face to the ground [10:9]; he trembled [10:10]; he bowed his face toward the ground and was speechless [10:15]; he was overcome with anguish and helplessness [10:16]; his strength was gone and he could hardly breathe [10:17].
- Saul/Paul fell to the ground, and experienced instant repentance.
- John fell at the feet of Christ as though dead. He was afraid.
This initial expression of worship is essential if the sinful human is to enter into other expressions of worship. It is only when this personal awareness of unworthiness and sinfulness is generated and acknowledged that forgiveness of sin can be granted by God’s grace and the other dimensions of worship entered and expressed. Thus we find another principle of true worship:
Worship can occur only when God’s gracious forgiveness makes existence/survival in his presence possible. Our access to God does not consist in our goodness, or our spirituality, or our performance of ritual. It depends totally on Jesus Christ through whom and only through whom we gain access to God:
- Romans 5:2: ‘… through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand’.
- Ephesians 2:18: ‘For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit’.
- Ephesians 3:12: ‘In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.’
When we come to God in prayer, when we stand before God in worship, when we offer our time or our talents or our money to God … our only right of access to God is Jesus Christ, through whom the sin barrier that cut us off from God has been permanently and completely dealt with.
This attitude of worship is beautifully expressed in the Order for the Administration of the Lord’s Supper in the Book of Common Prayer:
‘We do not presume to come to this thy Table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table. But thou are the same Lord whose property is always to have mercy …’
This is the worship described in Philippians 3:3: ‘we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus and who put no confidence in the flesh’.
D. WORDS THAT EXPRESS THIS CONCEPT
The two most common words for worship express this aspect of worship in which the human is overawed by the utter holiness of God and his/her own smallness and unworthiness.
[Note: these words are commonly used of the attitude of respect of a person towards someone who is in a position of authority over him/her.]
D.1 Hebrew: shaha [sometimes transliterated as shaw khaw or sahah] – bow down
- Concept of ‘bowing down in homage … before a superior or a ruler’ [Vines]
- Prostrate (especially reflexively in homage to royalty or God): - bow (self) down, crouch, fall down (flat), humbly beseech, do (make) obeisance, do reverence, make to stoop, worship. [Strong]
- ‘to prostrate oneself or to worship’ [TWOT]
D.2 Greek: proskuneo [pros – towards + kuneo – to kiss]
- To make obeisance, do reverence to. Used as an act of homage or reverence. [Vines]
- To kiss, like a dog licking its masters hand. To fawn or crouch to, that is, (literally or figuratively) prostrate oneself in homage (do reverence to, adore): - worship. [Strong]
E. SOME SCRIPTURES CONTAINING WORSHIP CONCEPTS FROM THIS STUDY
E.1 God alone to be worshipped because he alone is God
Study these verses. What reason do they give for worshipping God?
The above scriptures exhort us to worship God alone because he alone is God. They also give us evidence of his unique power and majesty
E.2 Awareness of personal unworthiness, insignificance or sinfulness in the presence of this holy, awesome God that causes one to bow down or fall prostrate before him.
The following scriptures give us insight into our own unworthiness and insignificance in the presence of this holy, majestic and all-powerful God, and our acute need for forgiveness before we are permitted to come into his presence. Study these scriptures and note what they say about this.