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THEOLOGY > God > God's Essence > God is Holy    


God is holy (Ex. 15:11; Lev. 11:44-45; I Sam. 2:2; Job 6:10; Ps. 5:4; 99:3, 9; 111:9; 145:17; Isa. 6:3; 10:17; 57:15; Hos. 11:9; Jam. 1:13-14; I Pet. 1:16; Rev. 4:8; 15:4). Untainted by sin and separate from all sin, God is absolute purity. With the expression “God is light” (I Jo. 1:5) John affirms the holiness of God. In both Testaments the united testimony is that “God is holy” (Lev. 11:44-45; I Pet. 1:16) and that He is the thrice holy God (Isa. 6:3; Rev. 4:8).

God is said to be “glorious in holiness” (Ex. 15:11). Imperfection is inconsistent with God, for perfection is what God is; if God were not perfect, then He would not be God. “Holiness in God must be defined as conformity to his own perfect nature” (Shedd, DT, I, 362). Hannah prayed: “No one is holy like the Lord” (I Sam. 2:2). God is not holy because He wills to be holy, rather, holiness is His essence. With God holiness is not arbitrary, that is, it is not dependent upon His will, meaning holiness is not optional with God (Hab. 1:13; II Tim. 2:13; Heb. 6:18). God is “Holy, Holy, Holy” (Isa. 6:3; Rev. 4:8). He cannot sin.

God’s holiness has been viewed in three ways.

One, some consider His holiness to be simply one of His attributes, equal to and alongside the other attributes.

Two, His holiness has been viewed as the main attribute; Strong called it “the fundamental attribute” (ST, 296), the one which governs all the other attributes. For instance, His love is a holy love and His omnipresence is a holy presence.

Three, His holiness is interpreted as the sum of all the attributes; “holy” is a word that refers to all that God is and speaks of “the full summation of God’s perfections” (Roy Beaman, unpublished manuscript).

Two essential concepts are inherent in God’s holiness: uniqueness and perfection. “Holy” in the Old Testament is the translation of the Hebrew quadash, meaning “to cut” or “to separate,” with the same idea in the New Testament words hagiazo and hagios.  The word “holy” speaks of the position of someone or something, standing apart or separate from other people or things. In connection with the Hebrew religious life there were holy vessels, holy garments, and holy days—these were “separate” or “set apart” from other vessels, other garments, and other days. They occupied a special position, separate from all others. When used of God “holy” speaks of His distinctness, His uniqueness, His separateness, the fact that God is set apart from all of creation (Isa. 40:25). God is “absolutely distinct from all His creatures” (Berkhof, ST, 73), being “high and lifted up” (Isa. 6:1).

This majestic transcendence of God confronts man with His creatureliness. Before the holy God, man feels undone; before the holy God, man cannot stand. To even begin to sense His gloriousness is to become aware that the Lord is high and lifted up. The only acceptable response before such uniqueness is self-abasement, total humiliation, and absolute submission before the Almighty. God is God and beside Him there is no other.
From the believer this holiness evokes praise and worship; the psalmist admonishes the people of God: “Give thanks at the remembrance of His holy name” (Ps. 30:4), and “Glory in his holy name” (Ps. 105:3). Referring to the nations the psalmist declares: “Let them praise Your great and awesome name—He is holy” (99:3), and “Exalt the Lord our God and worship at His footstool—He is holy” (99:5). Man’s place is at “His footstool,” and when approaching God man must remove his shoes (Ex. 3:5).

Inherent also in the concept of “holy” is the idea of perfection. God’s holiness involves the moral, the ethical, indicating His moral excellence, His ethical perfection. He is separate or apart from sin (Hab. 1:13; Job 34:10; Ps. 25:8), and in reaction to sin God is a “consuming fire” (Deut. 4:24; Heb. 12:29). God cannot be guilty of evil acts or evil attitudes. His desires are holy; His will is holy; His ways are holy; His revelation is holy—He is morally upright in character and conduct.

God is not only not guilty of evil, He cannot become guilty of evil—God cannot sin. Sin is not a potential within the essence of God. Sin is not only inconsistent with Deity, it is an impossibility of Deity. To sin would mean that God would no longer be God. Holiness is the immutable state of God’s existence.

Man can contemplate perfection, but he cannot comprehend perfection. All that we know is imperfect. The creation around man is flawed, and man himself is depraved. Perfection is a revelation to us about God, not an understanding by us of God, who has revealed Himself to us as Light, in whom is no darkness at all. We cannot understand perfection. We wonder!  And we worship!

There are two engaging manifestations of God’s holiness: the Law and Jesus. In the revealed Law of God man has a basis for human morals, for the Law is a reflection of God’s ethical perfection, instructing man in what is acceptable conduct and in what is prohibited conduct. From the Law man knows what He is to do and what He is not to do. Since the Law is only a reflection of the essential purity of God and the purity He requires of His creation, it is obvious that the ultimate basis for right and wrong is the character or nature of God Himself—God is Law.

Right is not determined by consensus or decree, but by the thrice holy God. It must be emphasized that holiness is not what God wills but what God is. An act or attitude is not holy because God determines that the act or attitude will be holy for man but because the act or attitude is consistent with what or who God is. In other words, right and wrong are determined by God’s essence not by His will. Again, God is Law. But it must be observed that in the most profound sense God’s will is part of His essence, not something that is external to His essence. The will is part of God; the essence is all that God is.

God’s holiness is also revealed in Jesus, who is called “the Holy One of God” (Mk. 1:24) and in Acts 3:14 simply “the Holy One.” Of all men, He alone has exhibited true holiness, the holiness of God. No fault could or can be found in Him because no fault is in Him, neither in thought, deed, nor word. He “committed no sin, nor was deceit found in His mouth” (I Pet. 2:22). His life, His teachings, and His works were all personifications of holiness; in flesh He manifested God’s holiness perfectly.

Because God is holy, man is to be holy. Man’s responsibility is anchored in who God is. The command is “You shall be holy, for I YHWH your God am holy” (Lev. 19:2; 11:44; 20:26; I Pet. 1:16), and “you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matt. 5:48). God is both the standard and the motivation. Ultimately it is not the written Law that is man’s standard but God’s unchanging holiness, God Himself in His eternal essence.

Sin, therefore, though it is the breaking of the Law is more profoundly an attack upon the very person of God. Sin is properly evaluated when it is compared to God’s holiness; it is seen to be what it really is when God is seen to be who He really is. The sinfulness of sin is apparent when the holiness of Deity is revealed. Sin is sin because God is holy, for sin is that which is inconsistent and incompatible with who God is. Because of this man should flee sin and pursue holiness. We are not told to be omnipotent, omniscient, or immutable, but we are instructed by Scripture, without equivocation, to be holy. This is the only attribute that we are commanded to emulate. In this way God is honored; we are to be “perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (II Cor. 7:1). “You who love the Lord, hate evil” (Ps. 97:10).

Not only is the individual believer to be holy but the corporate group of believers is to be holy; in both Testaments this responsibility is stated: “You shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Ex. 19:6), and the “household of God” is to grow “into a holy temple in the Lord” (Eph. 2:19-20). We are made holy, and we are to practice holiness. The revelation of God today is to be heard by the world in the word the Church speaks but also that revelation is to be seen in the life the Church lives.

Holy, holy, holy is YHWH of hosts;
the whole earth is full of His glory.
Isa. 6:3

Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty.
Rev. 4:8

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