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God is holy, what does holy mean?

Updated on April 24, 2012

what is the definition of holiness?

The Bible has much to say about God’s holiness. Throughout the Old Testament and the New Testament, the Bible speaks of God’s holiness. The Bible mentions God’s holiness forty-three times. The word “holy” appears in five hundred forty-four verses. Holiness, however, is not God’s only attribute. His love, justice, goodness, righteousness, and truth are also important moral attributes. The holiness of God, however, “occupies the foremost rank among the attributes of God.”[1] The other attributes of God stem from His holiness. The Bible records in Isaiah 6:3 that God is “holy,holy,holy.” The song is called a trishagion, which simply means “three times holy.”[2] The Bible never records God as being “just, just, just” or “love, love, love.” The Bible never even says God is “holy, holy.” The Bible says God is “holy,holy,holy.” The fact that it is stated three times in succession is important, but easily overlooked. This is a tool the Hebrews used to show special emphasis.[3] The holiness of God is one of a few terms given this superlative action in the Bible, and it is the only attribute given this importance.[4] It is easy to see that God’s holiness is important to God, and must be important to the believer. The study of the holiness of God will reveal His holiness to be exclusive, explained, executing, and expected.

The holiness of God is exclusive. Only God is completely Holy in all that He does. Holiness is a quality only found in God. Justice, love, goodness can be seen to some extent here on earth. However, Holiness can be seen in its truest form only in one place-God. The unique quality in God, known nowhere else is holiness.[5] In I Samuel 2:2 Hannah prays a prayer to God. In this prayer she says, “There is none holy as the LORD: for there is none beside thee: neither is there any rock like our God.” It is in this text that one finds that truly none can compare with the holiness of God. “Holiness is peculiar to the God of Israel; no false god ever claimed to have holiness; it was no attribute of heathenism, or of any religion ever professed in the world before or since the true revelation of the one true God.”[6] Isaiah called God “The holy One” some thirty times, in order to show that God’s holiness impressed the prophet the most in his visions.[7]

God is holy above all other creatures. He created everything, therefore nothing can compare to Him in any way. Holiness, above all else, creates a gulf between God and man. God is a being of infinite holiness.[8] Man neither possesses nor is able to acquire the sinlessness required to access God.[9] Men are not alone in a state of incomplete holiness. The angels are not even as holy as God. The angels were created perfect just as man was.[10] However, they had a free will just as man had also. Their perfection was changeable, if they so chose. The only Being Who will never change in Holiness, nor any other attribute, is God alone. Complete holiness is a quality attributed only to God. Holiness is ascribed to each of the three Persons of the Trinity. God the Father is called the holy One of Israel in Isaiah 41:14. God the Son is called the holy One in Acts 3:14. God the Spirit is called the Holy Spirit in Ephesians 4:30.[11]

The holiness of God is also explained. In His Word, God told believers that He was holy. He also told believers to “be holy.” If one’s goal is to be holy, he must first define what holiness is. Holiness is defined in two ways. The Hebrew word for holiness is kadosh. It means, “Separated.”[12]God is separate, distinct. He is separated from everything and everyone else. None can compare to God. The second idea in the word holiness is a “cut above.” God is not just separate. He is separated to a higher level. He doesn’t seek to merely be separated away from man. He is separated above man. It is His nature. This is not an optional or arbitrary matter. It is the way He is by nature.[13] He is above everything else by nature. He has always been holy.[14] His holiness is a separation, as well as a cut above. When those two ideas merge it becomes clear that God is different from everything, as well as above everything.

God’s holiness is also demonstrated. It is demonstrated in two ways. First, holiness is demonstrated to the sinner by the chasm between himself and God. In the beginning God and man had perfect fellowship.[15] Man’s sin changed all of that. The chasm between the sinner and God shows mankind two things. The chasm shows how wicked and sinful man is. At the other end of the spectrum, the chasm shows how infinitely holy God is. This gulf demonstrates to man that God is holy above all else.

God’s holiness is also demonstrated by the atonement of sins. It would seem easier to simply forgive mankind on his own merit, but God chose to use the merit of Christ. The reason He chose to use the merit of Christ is His holiness. Man could never reach God on his own merit. Man must approach God through the merits of another.[16] God is holy, and holiness requires judgment. God’s love provided the sacrifice, that His standard of holiness might be met. The standard of holiness can’t be overlooked. Holiness required a sacrifice for sins.[17] God gave Christ to save believers with His merit. Anything less would be unacceptable before a holy God.

The Holiness of God is also executing. Two aspects of God’s holiness include righteousness and judgment. These two aspects deal with God’s treatment of the creature.[18] These two aspects require God’s holiness to execute judgment and wrath. God’s holiness demands righteousness and justice. Justice must be served to those creatures that do not meet his standard of holiness (redemption of sins). This is only right. His holiness executes judgment due to a hatred of sin. God hates sin and is sin’s uncompromising foe. It is a detestable thing in His sight.[19] He is entirely separate from all that is evil and defiles both Himself and His creation. The sinner and God are at opposite poles of the moral universe.[20] Sin has corrupted mankind. All men have sinned. This creates the gulf earlier spoken of. God’s holiness thus requires atonement for sin if man is ever to come back to God. Justice demands a punishment, but it may accept the vicarious sacrifice of another.[21] The answer is Jesus Christ. The atonement had to be sinless. Jesus is the only One to live a life without one sin. The atonement also had to be man. Jesus was the God-man. He was God incarnate. He had the desires and flesh of a man, yet He overcame the power of the flesh and in doing so opened the gateway for all mankind. God’s holiness can’t accept anything else. Man’s merit falls so far short of God’s holiness. Only Christ has the merits wherewith all might come to God and avoid judgment. Christ did for man what man could not do for himself.[22]

God’s holiness executes judgment upon sin. Some men will inevitably try to make it on their own merit. Philosophers, scientists, and teachers alike have tried to explain away the need for atonement. When atonement is not present in the life of a man, all that remains is sin. When sin comes before God, His holiness must judge the sin. His eyes are too pure to let evil dwell in front of them.[23] Many think God is mean because He sends sinners to hell. They might say they don’t believe in a God mean enough to send a person to hell. These people have the wrong concept of judgment. God doesn’t judge the people and send them to hell because He wants to. His will has always been that all would be saved. However, when sin comes into His presence He must judge it. He doesn’t send the person to hell because He hates that person. He judges them because He hates sin. Holiness demands holiness, and anything less requires judgment.

Finally, the Holiness of God is expected. God expects His people to be holy. He makes this clear in the Bible in both the Old and New Testaments. In Leviticus 20:7 God commands His children to, “Sanctify yourselves therefore, and be ye holy: for I am the LORD your God.” He says almost the same thing in I Peter 1:15, “But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation.” In both instances God expects holiness from His children.

His holiness expects Christians to be separated from the world. In I Peter 1:15, God commands the believer to e holy in “all manner of conversation.” The Christian’s goal is to be completely holy.[24]Holiness is to be strived for in every aspect of life whether civil or religious. The Christian’s life is to be separate from the world around them. In II Corinthians 6:17 God commands the believers to, “…come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you.” It is clear that God is serious about His children being separate. He has always desired for His children to be separate. In the Old Testament He warned the Hebrews over and over about being separated. In Exodus 33:16 Moses prayed to God and dedicated the people of God to be a separate people saying, “…so shall we be separated, I and thy people, from all the people that are upon the face of the earth.” God did not separate the Hebrews just for the sake of separation. He had a purpose. He wanted to bless the nation of Israel. The influx of non-believers into the population of Israel would have hindered their growth. In Leviticus 20 God had to deal with the problem of false gods and idols in the camp. His remedy for their problem was simple. In verse seven He commandd them to, “Sanctify yourselves therefore, and be ye holy: for I am the LORD your God.” The remedy was for them to be wholly consecrated to God and His statutes.[25] The same is true in the life of the New Testament believer. God longs for the believer to grow, but the weeds of this world are choking too many believers. The point of separation is not to keep the believer from having a good time, but to keep the believer unspotted and able to grow in the fullness of God’s grace. God’s people are and must be people of distinction.[26] The believer must cleanse himself from all pollution of this world in order to consecrate himself for the service of the Lord.

The believer is also expected to be a cut above. Christians are not to be separated from the world only. They are to be separated from the world to God. A cut above indicates that separation is not just to separate from the world, but that separation is to separate to something higher. True holiness will appeal to others. Mere separation from the world to oneself will not. If a believer only separates from the world, but not to God, they have missed the point. It is one thing to stop going to certain places and doing certain things just to be different. It is something else when one decides to avoid those actions in order to please God and grow spiritually. This action will show a genuine change in a believer’s life.

The reason God gives His people for personal holiness is His holiness. He is not asking the Christian to do anything He won’t do Himself. He commands the believer to be holy, because He is holy. He not only wants the believer to do it, He helps the believer to do it. The Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are working together to help the believer live a holy Christian life. The Trinity has individual methods and reasons for helping the believer live a holy life. The Father wants to see the believer live a holy life because it is the reason He sent His Son for the believer. Christ’s purpose was to make holiness available to the believer. The Son wants the believer to live a holy life because He died on a cross for him. Lastly, the Holy Spirit longs for the believer to live a holy life, and helps him to live a holy life through His influence and power.[27] God desires for the believer to live a holy life, separated, and a cut above. The reason is not to make life hard or boring. God knows that a holy life is necessary. His holiness expects holiness in the life of believers. Holiness must be present in every area of the believer’s life.

It is evident that the holiness of God is exclusive, explained, executing, and expected. The question is, “Why?” Why is it so important? Holiness seems to be an outlandish thought today. Holiness is not seen in most Christian lives, homes, or churches. Many have wondered why holiness should even be an issue today. The answer lies in the future. To some holiness may seem trivial today, but one day all will stand before God. He has commanded it in His Word. God doesn’t command something He doesn’t expect a believer to obey. Though it may seem unpopular and on the decline, holiness is a command of God. God’s holiness should result in personal holiness in the life of the believer.

[1] Henry C. Thiessen, Lectures in Systematic Theology. (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1949), 84.

[2] R.C. Sproul, The Holiness of God. (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers Inc, 1993), 36-37.

[3] Sproul, 37.

[4] Sproul, 38-39.

[5] Morris Ashcroft, Christian Faith and Beliefs. (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1973), 109.

[6] Adam Clarke, Adam Clarke’s Commentary on Power BibleCD. (Bronson, Missouri: Online Publishing, 1999), 1.

[7] William Evans, The Great Doctrines of the Bible. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1974), 37-38.

[8] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology Volume Two. (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1984), 816.

[9] Thiessen, 84.

[10] Thiessen, 136.

[11] Evans, 38.

[12] John D. Davis, Illustrated Davis Dictionary of the Bible. (Nashville: Royal Publishers, 1973), 334.

[13] Erickson, 802.

[14] Erickson, 816.

[15] Thiessen, 84.

[16] Thiessen, 84.

[17] Evans, 40.

[18] Thiessen, 84.

[19] Evans, 39.

[20] Evans, 39-40.

[21] Thiessen, 85.

[22] Erickson, 804.

[23] Evans, 38.

[24] Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary Volume Six: Acts to Revelation. (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1991), 814.

[25] Jerry Falwell, Liberty Bible Commentary. (Lynchburg: Old Time Gospel Hour Press, 1982), 231.

[26] Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary Volume One: Genesis to Deuteronomy. (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1991), 412.

[27] F. Leroy Forlines, Biblical Systematics. (Nashville: Randall House Publications, 1975), 44.


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      3 years ago

      Great work


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