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Holier Than Thou

Today we are going to be in Isaiah 65:1-5.  This passage is the source of a phrase that many will recognize, but perhaps not know exactly where it came from.  This is the phrase, “Holier than Thou.”  We would be inclined to think that it was coined by an irreligious person who was sick of a certain kind of attitude put off by religious people.  But the truth of the matter is that it is religious people who coined the term and it was God who was the first to refer to it as a bad thing. 

As much as God is merciful, he does have a boiling point that requires him to hold mankind accountable.  God opened Isaiah’s eyes to the actions and words of Israel in the midst of God’s long and patient mercy.  Let’s look at the passage.

God’s Mercy is Given to Those Who Never Had a Part in Israel

In verse 1 you might not catch what God is saying.  It is clear from the passage that he is not happy with Israel.  In Romans 10:20, Paul makes it clearer that this passage is God talking about the coming Church.  Don’t confuse this with any institution.  But rather that group of people among all earthly institutions who truly have put their faith in Jesus as God’s Son.  God had given Israel mercy over and over for centuries, but now he contrasts them with another “nation.” 

The Church is not a nation like any nation in the world.  It does not have an earthly headquarters in Rome, or Springfield, or any other city that men have set up.  Its headquarters is the very throne of God where Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father.  It is a nation without boundaries, without a particular race, and without particular social customs.  God tells Israel that he is going to pour out his mercy in three ways to this new nation.  He will reveal himself, He will be found, and He will offer himself.  God in his mercy steps forward and manifests his glory at the same time he draws them near.  The interesting thing is that God says this nation of people weren’t looking for him.  They were lost without any idea of where to turn.  This is in contrast to Israel who had the truth of God.  No matter how much mercy he gave, though, Israel continued to rebel.  Thus the heart of God is seen as he turns and pours out his grace on those who weren’t even looking for it, those who never had a part in God’s special people Israel. 

Peter points this out in 1 Peter 2:9.

“But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that  you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;” (NKJV).

Although Isaiah does not refer to it here, I should mention that elsewhere he notes that God is faithful to save a remnant of Israel.  He takes that believing part of Israel that had not spurned his mercy and makes them to be the foundation of this new nation that he is making, the Church.  Thus the Church is built upon the foundation of Jesus and his apostles, all of whom are Israelites.

Now notice that God does not save the “cream of the crop,” as Israel would have judged it.  Not many great priests and rulers of Israel were saved.  But many “unconnected to power” and “rejected of society” were saved.  God is not impressed with our pomp and greatness.  He is looking for those who have a great trust in Him.  So if you feel like you have no place with the religious and thus with God, think again.  He is not looking for those who have it all together.  We all receive God’s grace and mercy when we are undeserving of it.  In fact this is a hallmark of God’s Grace.

God’s Mercy is Given Long After it is Undeserved

In Verse 2 God points out that he had offered himself and his mercy to Israel in the face of rejection and rebellion.  The picture of open arms is an offer of intimacy.  Instead they followed a way that wasn’t good, that is, a way of their own devising.  In fact not only did their “thoughts” lead them away from God’s offer of intimacy, but it led them to do things that they knew were a provocation to him.  This insolence or arrogance makes the matter worse.  Thus verses 3-5 list some examples of their sins.  They openly embraced idols and false religions when God had clearly commanded them to not do so.  They followed occult rituals in order to obtain power and wealth, rather than turn to God.  The last thing on the list, and perhaps the worst, is their attitude.  These rebels who were openly and flagrantly rebelling against God were abusing God’s stuff to pretend like they were better or “holier” than others.  God says that this attitude was like the smoke of a fire in his nose.  Now God does not have a nose, but uses a metaphor for us to understand.  It doesn’t take long for the smoke of a fire to bring your eyes to tears and your lungs to coughing.  But God says that they were a fire that burned all day long.  This puts God’s mercy in a clearer light.  In fact when we truthfully understand the situation we will not question the righteousness of God’s judgment.  Rather we will question whether or not it is right and wise to offer grace and mercy in the face of such obstinacy.

The problem with a holier-than-thou attitude is that only God is holy by definition.  That is God is the only thing that is holy by nature.  We are holy only because God makes us holy.  We cannot make ourselves holy by certain actions other than fully trusting in God himself.  If they were truly holy they would not be pushing people out of their way in self protection.  Rather they would be laying down their life in order to save the unholy.  God rebukes those who take great pride in their “position” with him over those who do not have such.  This pride itself is unholy.  True holiness is willing to be hurt, cursed, provoked, and spit upon in order to try and awaken faith in the unholy.

In many ways the Church of Jesus Christ has come full circle.  We in many ways are like Israel of old.  We do things that are in direct disobedience to God’s Word.  We mix in beliefs and practices from false religions.  We arrogantly make others aware of our special status in God’s eyes.  Paul warns Christians in Romans chapter 9-11 that we need to be careful of our attitude.  God in his mercy will once again save the people of natural Israel, not because it deserves it, but because it is his nature to give mercy to the outcasts and the rejects of this earth.  At the same time he will cleanse his church of all that is not of faith in him and humble before him.  Let us be careful of our attitude in this day.  Let us reject the attitude of entitlement and embrace the attitude of humble gratefulness.

Holier Than Thou Audio