Giving Thanks for God’s Holiness (Psalm 97:12)


Jonathan Edward’s The Religious Affections, John Piper’s lecture on Preaching as Worship (TrinJ 16) and my study of holiness in the OT converged in a sermon this morning on Psalm 97.

I’ve been listening to The Religious Affections in spare moments for nearly a year. At times it is brilliant. At others monotonously stuporific. His thesis is that true religion, in great part, consists in holy affections. His biblical-theological support for his thesis is unassailable. (A PDF copy of Religious Affections is available here.)

Edwards defines the affections as “the more vigorous and sensible exercises of the inclinations and the will.” He clarifies this by noting that the inclinations and the will are actually the same thing, just viewed from two different perspectives. It is called “inclination” when viewed from the angle of desire; it is called “will” when viewed from the angle of decision and action.

Edwards asserts, rightly I believe, that “there never was any thing considerable brought to pass in the heart or life of any man, by the things of religion, until the mind was deeply affected by those things.” Therefore, one of the chief aims of preaching is to stir up the affections so that the will is vigorously and sensibly active in responding to God’s truth.

In Piper’s language, preaching should “bring into sharp focus God as the all-satisfying Treasure of our lives.” Our aim should be “that God would become so gloriously all-satisfying in our lives that nothing can lure us away from him.”

What holy affections should God’s holiness stir in me? How does God’s holiness contribute to His being the “all-satisfying Treasure” of my life? In the Psalms alone I found the following:

Inspired responses to God’s holiness:

  • give thanks for it (Psa 30:4; 97:12)
  • worship Him for it (Psa. 29:2; 96:9; 99:5, 9)
  • praise Him because of it (Psa. 99:3)
  • exalt Him for it (Psa. 99:5, 9)

Inspired responses to God’s holy name:

  • it is the object of our trust (Psa 33:21)
  • bless it (Psa. 103:1; 145:21)
  • glory or boast in it (Psa. 105:3)
  • give thanks to it (Psa. 106:47)

Most of these responses made immediate sense to me. However, giving thanks at the remembrance of God’s holiness did not. Why is thankfulness or gratitude the response to God’s holiness? I can’t honestly say that my previous understanding of God’s holiness has ever moved me to be thankful. What is it about God’s holiness that should move me to thankfulness?

The answer to that question depends upon my understanding of what God’s holiness is. Based on my study so far, here’s my best understanding.

Holiness, when used in reference to God, normally denotes God’s separateness from all things due to the unique excellence of His being and character. In this sense, God’s holiness is not one moral attribute among His many. His holiness is not equal to His moral excellence. His holiness is a consequence of His moral excellence. He is separate from all things because He is superior in both His being and His character.

I conclude that separateness is the essential component of holiness, whether in reference to things, human persons, or God, for the following reasons:

1. With reference to things and human persons, all examples from Scripture involve the person or thing being separated from ordinary use, service, or purpose unto God for His possession, use, service, or purpose. For a fairly comprehensive list of the referents of holy and holiness, click here.

  • Things: 7th day (Gen. 2:3); ground (Exod. 3:5), assemblies (Exod. 13:2), war (Jer. 6:4), a fast (Joel 2:5).
  • Persons: 1st born (Exod. 13:2), Israelites (Exod. 19:10), Jesse and sons (1 Sam. 16:5), Jeremiah (Jer. 1:5).

2. Since God teaches us about His holiness by first acquainting us with holiness applied to things and persons, His holiness must be essentially analogous to the holiness of things and persons. Since separateness is the essential component of holiness with person and things, I assume it is the essential component with God.

3. My assumption that separateness is the essential component of divine holiness appears to be substantiated by texts that connect God’s holiness with his incomparableness (Exod. 15:11; Isa. 40:25) and his transcendence (Psa. 97:9, 12; Isa. 57:15).

If God’s holiness is His separateness from all things, what is it that makes Him separate? As I read the OT data, it is the unique excellence of God’s being and character that separates him from all things.

The unique excellence of His being involves His attributes of omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence, eternality, immutability, self-existence, self-sufficiency, infinity, and sovereignty. The unique excellence of His character involves His love, righteousness, justice, mercy, wisdom, goodness, wrathfulness, truthfulness, and jealousy.

Originally posted at Exegetical Thoughts and Biblical Theology.

Philip Brown
Philip Brown
Dr. Philip Brown is Graduate Program Director and Professor at God's Bible School & College. He holds a PhD in Old Testament Interpretation from Bob Jones University and is the author of A Reader's Hebrew Bible (Zondervan Academic, 2008).