“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!” (Isaiah 6:1-3).
Thus far in our study of Knowing God, we have stipulated that to know God is to know His attributes, which are His personal characteristics. They are those qualities which make God, God. Some of God’s attributes He has chosen to share with His creation. Some of His attributes, He alone possesses.
Thus far we have seen that God is self-existent, He makes decisions, He is glorious, omniscient, omnipresent and sovereign. Today, we briefly begin to look at one of the most significant attributes God has: holiness.
To truly know God is to know that He is, according to Isaiah 6:1-3, holy, holy, holy. I Peter 1:15-16 says, “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.” Peter refers us to Leviticus 11:44.
What does it mean when the Bible says that God is holy? Holy, or holiness, is defined as being set-apart. The word is found in Scripture to refer to a variety of people, places and things, but the word holy ultimately points to God as the one who is qualitatively different or set apart from creation. Holy may also be used to describe someone or something that God has “set apart” for special purposes. In the NT holiness takes on the sense of ethical purity or freedom from sin. Holiness is God’s “otherness” and “purity”, as well as to God’s prerogative to set people and things apart for God’s own purposes.
Holiness is the only attribute God possesses which is repeated to the third degree. God is never described as love, love, love. Neither is He mentioned as just, just, just. However, He is stated as being holy, holy, holy. This indicates a possible reference to the Trinity, but it also may mean that all of God’s other attributes are shaped and influenced by His holiness. Therefore, His love is a holy love. His justice is a holy justice. And so on.
David Wells, in his book No Place for Truth, Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology, writes, “The loss of the traditional vision of God as holy is now manifested everywhere in the evangelical world. It is the key to understanding why sin and grace have become such empty terms. What depth or meaning, P.T. Forsyth asked, can these terms have except in relation to the holiness of God? Divorced from the holiness of God, sin is merely self-defeating behavior or a breach in etiquette. Divorced from the holiness of God, grace is merely empty rhetoric, pious window dressing for the modern technique by which sinners work out their own salvation. Divorced from the holiness of God, our gospel becomes indistinguishable from any of a host of alternative self-help doctrines. Divorced from the holiness of God, our public morality is reduced to little more than an accumulation of trade-offs between competing private interests. Divorced from the holiness of God, our worship becomes mere entertainment. The holiness of God is the [foundation of reality]. Sin is defiance of God’s holiness, the Cross is the outworking and victory of God’s holiness, and faith is the recognition of God’s holiness. Knowing that God is holy is therefore the key to knowing life as it truly is, knowing Christ as he truly is, knowing why he came, and knowing how life will end.
Two magnificent books on the holiness of God are Holiness by J.C. Ryle and The Holiness of God by R.C. Sproul.
How can you today worship and serve God in the splendor of His holiness? How can you be holy and He is holy?
Soli deo Gloria!