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What does it mean that God is a holy God? What is the holiness of God?

holy God, holiness of God

In Christian theology, the word holy has two meanings. The holiness of God refers to the unparalleled majesty of His incomparable being and His blameless, faultless, unblemished moral purity (Isaiah 6:1–5; Revelation 4:1–8). Holy also refers to something or someone that has been separated from the common or set aside for God’s use. As an example, Belshazzar profaned the holy temple vessels—those set aside for use by God’s priests—by drinking toasts to his idols (Daniel 5:2–4). Belshazzar’s abuse of these holy artifacts made him guilty of sacrilege.

Unlike His created beings, God is eternal, preeminent, omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent. He was, is, and will be before all things. He is ageless, tireless, and faultless. He is beyond full human comprehension. Indeed, our language lacks the superlatives necessary to justly describe Him. Drawn to Him for His unequaled goodness and majesty, the psalmist wrote, “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God” (Psalm 42:1, ESV). Nothing or no one satisfies like God, for He is altogether lovely to behold. Earthly treasures will pass away, but the Lord is our great reward and inheritance (Joshua 13:33).

And yet the holiness of God presents something of a dilemma in the hearts and minds of mortal man. We are drawn to Him, for it is He who has made us (Genesis 1:27; Psalm 100:3), but as inherently flawed creatures, we also cower in the all-revealing light of His majestic glory. Just as the Israelites trembled in fear when God appeared to Moses on the mountain in Sinai, we prefer keeping God safely at arm’s length (Exodus 20:18–21). These ambivalent feelings of attraction and dread brought about by the holiness of God are illustrated in the following passage:

“In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said:
Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!’
And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: ‘Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!’” (Isaiah 6:1–5, ESV).

In the numinous presence of the Lord, the prophet Isaiah stood in awestruck wonder, yet the holiness of God caused him to recoil in reverential fear. Similarly, the prophet Daniel and the apostle John demonstrated the same emotional mixture of attraction and dread when ushered into the presence of their majestic Creator (Daniel 8:17; Revelation 1:17).

John wrote, “And I saw what appeared to be a sea of glass mingled with fire—and also those who had conquered the beast and its image and the number of its name, standing beside the sea of glass with harps of God in their hands. And they sing the song of Moses, the servant of God, and the song of the Lamb, saying,
‘Great and amazing are your deeds,
O Lord God the Almighty!
Just and true are your ways,
O King of the nations!
Who will not fear, O Lord,
and glorify your name?
For you alone are holy.
All nations will come
and worship you,
for your righteous acts have been revealed’” (Revelation 15:2–4, ESV).

To the redeemed in heaven, the holiness of God is no longer a mystery. In a unified voice of praise, the citizens of heaven declare in Revelation 15 that

• God is the author of great and mighty deeds
• God is just and true in His ways
• God is the King of all nations
• God is deserving of our reverential fear and innermost respect
• God is to be glorified
• God alone is holy
• God will not be denied worldwide worship and adoration
• God’s ultimate righteousness will be made manifest

While the holiness of God is much too broad a topic for a single article, below are some key verses that will aid the reader’s understanding:

“You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain” (Exodus 20:7, ESV).

“And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then like this:
‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name’” (Matthew 6:7–9, ESV).

“For thus says the One who is high and lifted up,
who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy:
‘I dwell in the high and holy place,
and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit,
to revive the spirit of the lowly,
and to revive the heart of the contrite’” (Isaiah 57:15, ESV).

“There is none holy like the Lord:
for there is none besides you;
there is no rock like our God.
Talk no more so very proudly,
let not arrogance come from your mouth;
for the Lord is a God of knowledge,
and by him actions are weighed” (1 Samuel 2:2–3, ESV).

“Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:13–16, ESV).

“I will also praise you with the harp
for your faithfulness, O my God;
I will sing praises to you with the lyre,
O Holy One of Israel.
My lips will shout for joy,
when I sing praises to you;
my soul also, which you have redeemed” (Psalm 71:22–23, ESV).

The holiness of God should stir our hearts to continual praise and adoration. We delight in Him, for in Him is our ultimate purpose and reason for being (Jeremiah 29:11). No one living apart from God is truly whole. To those who believe, He gives Himself. God is more than a means of achieving a transitory desire or worldly goal, for He is our greatest good. God is an end in Himself.

Though God is worthy of our highest respect and reverential fear, He is neither distant nor aloof (James 2:23). He desires intimacy with us. Despite the sins we have committed, the frequent folly of our thinking, the bouts of pride that stain our character, and the shameful lapses in our faith, God welcomes us with open arms through the redemptive work of His Son, Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:21; Ephesians 2:8–9). It is remarkable that we may approach God as a friend, but we are never to consider Him as our equal.

God’s desire for intimacy with us is not a point to be overlooked. Those who have placed their faith in Christ Jesus as Savior He lovingly adopts as sons and daughters (Ephesians 1:5) and encourages them to call Him “Father” (Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:6). That a holy and blameless God could cherish such dirty-faced orphans, “children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3), is nearly unimaginable, yet through the cleansing blood of Jesus Christ, the vile and profane are transformed into beloved children and the cherished objects of His most tender affections (1 John 1:7).

We will not achieve holiness or sinless perfection on this side of eternity, but our lives should reflect the immaculate purity of God. The Lord Jesus called us to be “the salt of the earth” (Matthew 5:13). Salt is a preservative, and in these days of moral degradation, may we not be conformed to the behavior and thinking of this decaying planet; rather, may we be ambassadors of Christ and agents of transformation and renewal (2 Corinthians 5:20; Romans 12:2). By imitating the holiness of God, we bring honor to Him and comfort to others.

God is holy. In Him, there is not even the faintest trace of evil. He is impeccably pure, wholly without fault, and uncompromisingly just. God cannot lie. He cannot make wrong decisions. He is blameless, timeless, and sinless. By contrast, we are flawed beings tainted by sin (Isaiah 53:6; 1 John 1:8). By all rights, a holy and righteous God must judge sinners, and the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23); thankfully, we can escape the wrath of God by placing our trust in Christ Jesus as Savior (Hebrews 2:3). Were it not for the gospel of Jesus Christ, the holiness of God would be mankind’s greatest fear, for no sinner can stand in the presence of His blinding glory. But, through a simple act of faith, those who believe in Jesus as Savior have been pardoned (Matthew 9:6). To the lost the holiness of God is a dreadful matter, but to the redeemed the holiness of God is our greatest good.

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This page last updated: January 4, 2022