God’s characteristics or attributes include holiness, righteousness, and truth. Many cannot get past the self-righteousness of Christians they know in order to learn about truth and God’s holiness. Their friends’ attitudes or behavior block their vision of what God is. Holiness is confusing enough. God encouraged his people from early on to “be holy, for I the Lord am holy” (Leviticus 20:26). 1 Peter 1:14-16 says to Christians, “As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy.”
Holiness includes the concepts of “being set apart” and “otherness.” In parts of American Evangelical Culture, it has become common to stress the familiarity of God, as in the praise song “I Am a Friend of God,” which besides the oft-repeated title line, includes the phrase “He calls me friend.” In contrast to this warm and neighborly picture of God is Moses’ hiding his face because he was afraid to look at God (Exodus 3:6) and Isaiah’s words in his vision of God on his throne: “Woe to me!… I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty“(Isaiah 6:5).
The New Testament Book of Revelation addresses the threat of Christians’ assimilating to the culture around them by focusing on the holiness and power of God. Two people are identified by the term “faithful witness:” Jesus and a man named Antipas. Both had died because of their devotion to God. Living lives of holiness invites hostility from those who fear loss of control and boundaries to their desires. That hostility in turn drives some Christians to compromise convictions so that they will not be identified as intolerant. The intolerance of the opposition drives them to assimilate so that they will not be seen as intolerant by their intolerant enemies. John, the author of Revelation, proclaims the power of God to overcome the enemies of His people. Throughout the book, prayers and hymns proclaim his love, his holiness, and his ultimate victory.
It is hard to anticipate victory when the enemy is winning. Christians in Revelation faced this dilemma. Their own churches weakened as false teachers encouraged assimilation and immorality. John reveals a vision of God that calls disciples of Jesus to imitate God’s holiness, to live righteous lives, and to pursue God’s truth. He describes God’s punishment of evil and judgment of unbelievers in vivid imagery.
As God prepares to unleash his vengeance, those who had already won victory sang a prayer of praise to him,
“Great and Marvelous are your deeds, Lord God Almighty. Just and true are your ways, King of the ages. Who will not fear you, O Lord, and bring glory to your name? For you are alone are holy. All nations will come and worship before you, for your righteous acts have been revealed” (Revelation 15:1-4).
We, like those first century Christians, worship in imperfect churches in the midst of societies that often do not share our values and beliefs. In parts of the world today, hostility to Christianity erupts in violent intolerance. In the midst of pain, fear, and confusion, we forget that someday all will bow to the God of holiness and truth. Our challenge is to live lives that show the love of Jesus reflected in the holiness of our ethical behavior. When we answer challenges to our faith, we must defeat the urge to respond with bitterness and hate. We don’t want our weakness to turn others away from their hope for salvation. In answer to persecution, we serve, we love, we sing, we study, and we pray. We pray to a holy God in an intolerant world.