Attributes that Anchor Us: God is Holy

Importance of God’s Holiness

In the Lord’s pattern for prayer, we learn the order of Christian priorities. The matter foremost in the Lord’s mind was the holiness of God: “After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name” (Mat 6:9 KJV). Would that be the first and foremost concern in our prayers?

As we search the OT and the NT, we see the primacy of God’s holiness elevated above all other attributes, so much so that no other attribute of God is repeated three times (Isa 6:2-3; Rev 4:8).

The study of and meditation upon the holiness of God should evince a response similar to Isaiah’s, “Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts” (Isa 6:5 KJV). Like Job, an encounter with God ought to elevate both our reverence for God and a sense of our utter sinfulness: “I had only heard about you before, but now I have seen you with my own eyes. I take back everything I said, and I sit in dust and ashes to show my repentance” (Job 42:5-6 NLT).

Holiness: Definition

The secular meaning of “holy” in society equates to “righteous.” However, the biblical definition of the term is different. The law of first mention teaches us much about the meaning of a particular truth. The first time the word “holy” is mentioned is in Genesis 2:3 (KJV): “And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it.” The primary meaning of the word “holy” is “to be set apart.” Notice that to be holy has nothing to do particularly with “righteousness” or “morality”; a day certainly cannot be “righteous.” In fact, the OT is replete with examples of things (“holy garments,” “holy vessels,” “holy temple”), places (“my holy hill”) and times (“holy convocation,” regarding the feasts) referred to as holy. These are holy because they are set apart to God for His purposes.

Similarly, when the Scriptures say God is holy, it means God is completely and utterly unique, distinct, and set apart from all creation. Transcendentally separate and different, there is nothing and no one that compares to Him. God Himself declared, “To whom then will ye liken me, or shall I be equal? saith the Holy One” (Isa 40:25 KJV). Many OT believers recognized this aspect of God as well. When God answered Hannah’s prayer, she praised God, saying, “There is none holy as the LORD: for there is none beside thee: neither is there any rock like our God” (1Sam 2:2 KJV).

One can learn much about the meaning of a word from its antonym; the opposite of holy is “profane” or “common” (Heb 10:29b). In light of this, how fearful it is in modern Christianity to trivialize God and treat Him as “common” or “ordinary.” God is often portrayed as “the man upstairs” or someone who helps win ball games – attempting to make God like one of us! While Scripture portrays God as loving and gracious, such a low view of God is the furthest thing from what was known by the prophet Isaiah and the Apostle John in Revelation. God Himself does not take kindly to profaning His holiness: “These things you have done, and I have been silent; you thought that I was one like yourself. But now I rebuke you and lay the charge before you” (Psa 50:21 ESV). God is not like any one of us or anything we know; He is utterly distinct and different.

The secondary meaning of holiness derives from its primary sense. Since God is unlike anything in creation (we are sinful and He is impeccably sinless), all that is set apart for God is expected to reflect His character, mainly His absolute purity (e.g., 1Th 4:3-5; 2Co 7:1; Titus 2:14). The Scriptures also convey absolute moral purity of God when addressing His holiness.

“Be ye holy, as I am holy”

In the OT, things and people were considered holy because of their connection with God (Exo 3:5; 15:13; 28:4). In the same way, we as believers are called a holy people because of our connection with God through the Holy Spirit (Rom 15:16; 1Co 6:19). We are made holy as a result of the work of the Lord Jesus: “And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Heb 10:10 ESV).

Although we are already set apart positionally, God wants us to daily strive for personal holiness in our lives. “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’” (1Pe 1:14-16 ESV).

Living a holy life means to be set apart from this world and sin, and to be set apart to God. God uses His Word to sanctify us; the Word sets us apart from the world (Psa 119:9; Joh 17:16-17). Therefore, we must allow the Word of God to rule our lives through daily meditation and prayer. In addition to being in the Word of God, we must keep ourselves from allowing the world to intrude and harm our spiritual life; we are to “come out … and be ye separate” and “touch not the unclean thing” (2Co 6:17 KJV). While the NT does not legislate holiness by rules and regulations, it certainly provides four basic guidelines[1] that each believer can follow as to behavior: 1) Is it helpful – physically, spiritually, mentally (1Co 6:12a)? 2) Does it bring me under its power (1Co 6:12b)? 3) Does it hurt others (1Co 8:13)? 4) Does it glorify God (1Co 10:31)? Let us then examine ourselves carefully so that we may lead holy lives for God. That is our reasonable service in light of all He has done for us.

[1] The Pursuit of Holiness. Jerry Bridges. NavPress 2016.