The Holiness of God

Who is like unto thee, O LORD, among the gods? who is like thee, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders?” (Exo 15:11).[1]

There are many notable statements that attest the essential nature and awe-inspiring holiness of God. The quotation cited above is one of those. Its passion is magnified by the fact that the people who were singing these words had just seen the manifestation of God’s power and noted the holiness of His person in redemption.

The Intimation of the Holiness of God

While the root, etymology and derivatives from which the Hebrew word “holy” comes are still unresolved, its meaning stands in direct contrast to that which is secular. The word clearly indicates something that is separate; to be “holy” marks out and denotes separation from all that is unclean.

This contrast is seen when we consider the revelation of God; He has revealed Himself as the one “who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy” (Isa 57:15 NKJV). The angelic beings that move in His presence recognize this, crying “Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory” (Isa 6:3). One of the ways that God describes Himself to His people is as the “Holy One of Israel” (2Ki 19:22; Isa 1:4). When this title is used of the Lord, particularly in the book of Isaiah, it indicates a startling contrast to the sinful condition of Israel. It manifests His perfection and His absolute separation from evil (Hab 1:13). God’s holiness will also be exhibited on a universal scale in a day to come: “Who shall not fear thee, O Lord, and glorify thy name? for thou only art holy: for all nations shall come and worship before thee; for thy judgments are made manifest” (Rev 15:4).

The Intrinsic Holiness of God

As the Lord’s name is holy, so is His nature. He is morally perfect in every way: in His thoughts, deeds, motives and movements. He is and always has been and ever will be holy. The New Testament revelation of God is in agreement with its Old Testament counterpart: “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1Jn 1:5). All three persons of the Godhead are described as being holy: God the Father (Joh 17:11), the Lord Jesus (Mar 1:24; Luk 1:35) and the Holy Spirit (Eph 1:13). The nature and character of the holiness of God were manifested in the perfect life and sacrificial death of the Lord Jesus (Heb 7:26). Christ’s purity was attested to by demons (Luk 4:34); His impeccability was acknowledged by those who were saved (Luk 5:8), and He was also declared faultless by sinners (Luk 23:14).

The Impact of the Holiness of God

The realization of the essential holiness of God had a lasting impact and left an indelible mark on those to whom it was revealed. Moses was looking after sheep in the wilderness when God revealed Himself in a thorn bush. At the close of his life, the impression of the one who “dwelt in the bush” (Deu 33:16) was still vibrant in his memory. He was told to remove his shoes, as the place whereon he was standing was holy ground (Exo 3:5). The mountain and place where he was standing were consecrated and sanctified by God’s presence, and Moses willingly renounced any claim to its possession (cf. Deu 25:9).

In a similar way, Isaiah, who had been moving and ministering among an unclean people and had been strident in his condemnation of their sinful ways, was awestruck at the holiness of God. He received a heavenly vista of the Lord’s person, and upon seeing the majesty and superlative glory of the Almighty, exclaimed, “Woe is me … I am a man of unclean lips” (Isa 6:5). This undoubtedly impacted his ministry among such a rebellious nation.

The nation of Israel was affected by God’s holiness. At Sinai (the mountain of God) the Lord descended in fire. The people saw the smoke and heard the noise of thunder from the top of the mountain. They dared not approach and were warned of the consequences of doing so. In those circumstances they were commissioned as a holy people, to be separate and distinct; they were associated with the name of this awe-inspiring God (Exo 19:6).

The consequences of this marked every aspect of their national life. It was confirmed to them every week by the sabbath day, which was sanctified to the Lord (Exo 16:23). Such was the holiness of God’s presence that a particular tribe from that nation was set apart to minister to Him. As has been often noted, this allowed one man, from one race, of one nation and one tribe, who belonged to one family, to enter the presence of God on one day in one year. This fact alone should impress us with the reality of the holiness of God.

God’s holiness was also exhibited to believers at the beginning of this era. Peter, James and John were privileged to accompany Christ onto a mountain top; Peter never lost sight of the transfigured glory of Christ and the wonder of that experience. He wrote at the end of his life, “We were with him in the holy mount” (2Pe 1:18).

The Implications of the Holiness of God

The challenge to our generation is this: What does the holiness of God mean to us? We are told, “Be ye holy; for I am holy” (1Pe 1:16). Peter, in this passage, is quoting from Leviticus (11:44; 19:2; 20:7). The holiness of God distinguished His people; they were separate in their diet, dress and distinctiveness. We are also a distinct people who have been sanctified, and as such are identified and associated with this holy God.

We are commanded to pursue “peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord” (Heb 12:14).

[1] Scripture quotations in this article are from the KJV unless otherwise noted.