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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: The Attributes of God That Belong to Him Alone

Don Stewart :: What Does It Mean, "God Is Holy?"

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What Does It Mean, “God Is Holy?”

The Attributes of God That Belong to Him Alone – Question 14

The Bible teaches that God is a holy God. What does this mean? How are we to understand the word “holy?” There are a number of important things which we must understand.

Holiness Defined: God Is Unique from All Beings and Separate from All Sin

The idea behind the concept of holiness is “separation.” It comes from a word meaning “to separate or cut off.” There are two aspects to God’s holiness.

First, God is separate, or different, from all other beings. He is unique, one of a kind. He has no like or equal.

Second, God is separate, or cut off, from everything that is sinful and evil. Indeed, He cannot tolerate sin. John illustrated this truth in figurative language.

This is the message he has given us to announce to you: God is light and there is no darkness in him at all. (1 John 1:5 NLT)

To say that God is holy means there is no trace of evil in His character. He is completely pure and perfect.

The Bible says the following about the holiness of God.

1. Only God Is Holy

We find that only the God of the Bible is holy. The Bible describes Him this way.

For the High and Exalted One who lives forever, whose name is Holy says this: “I live in a high and holy place, and with the oppressed and lowly of spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and revive the heart of the oppressed.” (Isaiah 57:15 HCSB)

His name or character is holy.

In the Book of Revelation, we read that the Lord alone is holy.

“Lord, who won’t fear and praise your name? You are the only holy one, and all the nations will come to worship you because they know about your fair judgments.” (Revelation 15:4 God’s Word)

The Bible testifies that He is the “Holy One.” There are no others.

The demonic spirits acknowledged Jesus Christ, God the Son, as being holy. When Jesus was about to expel these demons they said to Him.

“Let us alone! What have we to do with You, Jesus of Nazareth? Did You come to destroy us? I know who You are—the Holy One of God!” (Mark 1:24 NKJV)

They recognized that Jesus is the Holy One of God. They knew who He was.

Because only God is holy, any people or objects that are said to be holy are described in this manner because God has made them holy, or set them apart. Therefore, the term holy is applied to persons or objects that have some type of relationship with the Lord; they are specially set apart for His service.

2. Each Member of the Trinity Is Called Holy

Since God is holy, it follows that each member of the Trinity, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, are holy beings. The Bible emphasizes this truth.

We find the Scripture saying that God the Father is holy. On the night of His betrayal, Jesus addressed Him in this manner.

“And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.” (John 17:11 NRSV)

Jesus called Him “Holy Father.”

The Son is also called holy. On the Day of Pentecost, Peter described Jesus to the crowd that had gathered as the “holy one.”

“‘For you will not leave my soul among the dead or allow your Holy One to rot in the grave.’” (Acts 2:27 NLT)

The innocent One whom they crucified was the Holy One.

The Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit, is also holy. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians with this description of the third Person of the Trinity.

Therefore he who rejects this does not reject man, but God, who has also given us His Holy Spirit. (1 Thessalonians 4:8 NKJV)

Therefore, it is important that we understand God’s holiness in light of His nature as a Trinity.

3. The Holy God Is Separate from Humanity in Many Ways

As we can imagine, God, being holy, is separate from humanity in a number of ways.

For one thing, He is separated spatially. He is in heaven while humans live upon the earth. This is one of the ways in which He is separated from us.

We also find that God is also separate to us in His nature and character. Indeed, God is perfect, while we humans are, of course, imperfect.

Holiness is an attribute of God that distinguishes Himself and His creation.

4. There Are Positive and Negative Aspects to God’s Holiness

With respect to God’s character, holiness has both positive and negative aspects to it. It consists of what God does as well as what He does not do.

On the negative side, holiness consists of what God does not do. He does not look upon or participate in any sin. This is one aspect of His holiness.

On the positive side, the God of the Bible always does that which is right. This separates Him from all other beings.

5. Related Terms to God’s Holiness: Righteousness, Justice, Wrath

When we speak of the holiness of the Lord, there are three closely related terms that must be understood. They are God’s righteousness, justice, and wrath. We can summarize these important terms as follows.

God Acts Righteously

God acts righteously, or always does what is right, because He is holy. The Bible says that He acts righteously toward His creation. The psalmist wrote,

The LORD is righteous in all His ways, gracious in all His works. (Psalm 145:17 NKJV)

Notice that He is righteous in all of His way. He always does the right thing.

The Lord, because He is holy, acts in righteous ways toward humanity. The psalmist asked the Lord for His help.

In you, O LORD, I have taken refuge; let me never be put to shame; deliver me in your righteousness. (Psalm 31:1 NIV)

We can rest assured that He acts righteously toward us.

The prophet Jeremiah trusted that the Lord would act righteously toward Him. We read his words spoken to the Lord.

But, O LORD Almighty, you who judge righteously and test the heart and mind, let me see your vengeance upon them, for to you I have committed my cause. (Jeremiah 11:20 NIV)

Jeremiah knew the God whom he served. He knew that He would be the “righteous Judge.”

The Lord always acts in a manner that is consistent with His holy character.

6. God Holiness Is Seen in His Justice

Another aspect of God’s holiness in action is His justice. As a just God, He vindicates the innocent and exposes the guilty. The psalmist wrote,

Hear, O LORD, my righteous plea; listen to my cry. Give ear to my prayer—it does not rise from deceitful lips. May my vindication come from you; may your eyes see what is right. (Psalm 17:1-2 NIV)

His holiness vindicates those who are innocent.

7. God’s Holiness Is Seen in His Wrath

There is a “Day of Judgment” coming when God’s wrath will be upon unbelievers. Paul wrote about this to the Thessalonians.

And they speak of how you are looking forward to the coming of God’s Son from heaven—Jesus, whom God raised from the dead. He is the one who has rescued us from the terrors of the coming judgment. (1 Thessalonians 1:10 NLT)

God holiness is expressed in His wrath.

These three related terms must be understood in the light of God’s holiness. God’s holiness can never be separated from everything that we know about Him. This includes His judgments.

8. There Is a Tension between God’s Love and God’s Holiness

Sometimes there is an unresolved tension between the holiness of God and the love of God. God is both holy and loving. We should not allow ourselves to overstress either of these attributes. If we put too much emphasis on God’s holiness, we may see Him as a cold, uncaring Being.

On the other hand, if we overemphasize the love of God, we run the risk of assuming He is soft on sin and would never judge anyone. Both of the extremes are wrong. Therefore, a proper balance is needed.

9. The Old Testament and the Holiness of God

During the Old Testament period, God often emphasized His holiness to the nation of Israel. When the Lord spoke to Moses through a burning bush He made it clear that He is a holy God and that Moses was on holy ground.

“Do not come closer,” He said. “Take your sandals off your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” Then He continued, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” Moses hid his face because he was afraid to look at God. (Exodus 3:5, 6 HCSB)

The fact that a Holy God personally revealed Himself to Moses, an unholy human, revealed the holiness of the episode. Indeed, Moses was told that He was standing upon holy ground.

The Lord reminded the people of His holiness in the entire sacrificial system. We read the following in the Book of Leviticus.

“After all, I, the LORD, am your God. You must be holy because I am holy. So do not defile yourselves by touching any of these animals that scurry along the ground. I, the LORD, am the one who brought you up from the land of Egypt to be your God. You must therefore be holy because I am holy.” (Leviticus 11:44, 45 NLT)

Twice in these verses the Lord tells the people to be holy because He Himself is holy.

The Lord is called the Holy One of Israel. The psalmist wrote,

I will praise you with the harp for your faithfulness, O my God; I will sing praise to you with the lyre, O Holy One of Israel. (Psalm 71:22 NIV)

This is one of the most frequently designations of God.

From the Old Testament, we find the following things about the holiness of God.

The Nation Israel Was to Be Holy or Set Apart to God

The nation of Israel was to be holy, or set apart, because the Lord is holy. The Lord said the following to the people.

“‘Thus you are to be holy to Me, for I the LORD am holy; and I have set you apart from the peoples to be Mine.’” (Leviticus 20:26 NASB)

They are to be holy, or set apart, because He is holy.

The leader Joshua told the people that they were to be holy, or set apart in their conduct.

Joshua said to the people, “You are not able to serve the LORD. He is a holy God; he is a jealous God. He will not forgive your rebellion and your sins.” (Joshua 24:19 NIV)

In this instance, their sin was in contrast to the holiness of God. The nation of Israel was to act in a proper way because had a special calling to the world, to be holy as God is holy.

We also find that the Lord was to be their standard of holiness. The prophet Isaiah wrote about this. He put it in this manner.

But the LORD of hosts is exalted in justice, and the Holy God shows himself holy in righteousness. (Isaiah 5:16 RSV)

He alone is that standard for holiness. We are to follow that standard.

God Is Unique in His Holiness

No one can be compared to the Holy God of Scripture. We read the following in the Book of Exodus.

“Who among the gods is like you, O LORD? Who is like you—majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders?” (Exodus 15:11 NIV)

There is none among the so-called gods like the Lord, the God of Israel. He is unique in His character as well as majestic in His holiness.

In First Samuel, we find the following direct statement about the holiness of the Lord.

“There is no one holy like the LORD; there is no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God.” (1 Samuel 2:2 NIV)

Again we find the statement that the God of the Bible is unique in His holiness. There is nobody like Him anywhere.

God Is Unable to Look at Sin

Because He is holy, God is unable to look at sin. We read about this in the writings of the prophet Isaiah. It says,

But your iniquities have built barriers between you and your God, and your sins have made Him hide His face from you so that He does not listen. (Isaiah 59:2 HCSB)

The Lord turns away from those who are sinning. His holiness will not allow Him to look at sin or listen to their prayers.

The psalmist emphasized that God cannot put up with any sin. He stated the matter clearly.

O God, you take no pleasure in wickedness; you cannot tolerate the slightest sin. (Psalm 5:4 NLT)

Indeed, the Lord will not tolerate even the slightest of sins from any of us.

Personal Sin Must Be Dealt With

In another place in the psalms, the psalmist wrote about the necessity of dealing with personal sin before approaching God.

If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me. (Psalm 66:18 KJV)

Sin in our hearts will cause our prayers to remain unanswered.

We Are to Hate Evil

God’s holiness demands that sinners are separated from Him. He cannot tolerate the practice of any evil in His presence. Believers are to be like God in His hated of evil. The psalmist wrote about this. He said,

Let those who love the LORD hate evil, for he guards the lives of his faithful ones and delivers them from the hand of the wicked. (Psalm 97:10 NIV)

This passage should be the meditated upon by all those who believe in the Lord. The Lord loves those who hate evil. We then, should ask ourselves, “Do we really hate evil?”

Believers Are to Worship in Holiness

The believer is to worship the Lord in holiness. The psalmist wrote,

Give unto the LORD the glory due to His name; worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness. (Psalm 29:2 NKJV)

We do indeed worship a “Holy God.”

The Old Testament, therefore, has much to say about the holiness of the Lord. We should pay attention as to what it teaches us.

10. The Testimony of the New Testament about God’s Holiness

In the New Testament, we find the holiness of God also being emphasized. We can make the following observations.

There Are Direct Statements about God’s Holiness in the New Testament

The New Testament directly speaks about the subject of God’s holiness. Jesus addressed His Father as “Holy” when He addressed Him in prayer. We read the following words of our Lord on the night of His betrayal.

And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one (John 17:11 NRSV).

The Father is indeed “holy.”

Because God is holy, we too are to be holy. Peter emphasized this important truth. He said that our conduct should be characterized by holiness.

Instead, as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct... (1 Peter 1:15 NRSV)

We are to be like God in our attitude toward sin. Indeed, we should hate it. On the other hand, we are to love that which is good. Therefore, if we really love God we will seek to be holy in our thoughts and actions.

There Are Figurative Uses of God’s Holiness

The holiness of God is also used figuratively in the New Testament. In his letter, John compared God’s holiness to light.

This is the message he has given us to announce to you: God is light and there is no darkness in him at all. (1 John 1:5 NLT)

Light and darkness are compared. God is light without the slightest hint of darkness. We are to mimic God in our behavior and be children of the light.

As a Holy God, He Can Only Do Good

Because God is holy, He can only do that which is true and good. He is absolutely pure and sinless. God, therefore, hates sin and loves the good. It is impossible for Him to sin. He always tells the truth. Jesus prayed the following prayer to God the Father concerning His followers.

Make them pure and holy by teaching them your words of truth. (John 17:17 NLT)

There is nothing in the character of God that would have Him act in an unholy manner. Believers are supposed to follow His example.

God Always Keeps His Holy Word

The God of the Bible, the Holy One, has promised that He will not go back on His Holy Word. Paul wrote,

...in hope of eternal life which God, who cannot lie, promised before time began... (Titus 1:2 NKJV)

God’s revealed Word, the Bible, tells us that He is perfect in all that He is. There is nothing morally lacking in His character. Indeed the God of Scripture is the God of perfection. This means He cannot lie about anything but rather He always tells the truth about all things.

The Church, the True Believers Are to Be Holy

The church is made up of the true believers in Jesus. It is to be holy. Paul compared it to a building, a holy temple. He wrote the following to the church at Ephesus.

You are like a building with the apostles and prophets as the foundation and with Christ as the most important stone. Christ is the one who holds the building together and makes it grow into a holy temple for the Lord. And you are part of that building Christ has built as a place for God’s own Spirit to live. (Ephesians 2:20-22 CEV)

We are to be a holy people, a group of people which are set apart for the work of the Lord. This is the calling of the church.

Holiness Causes Believers to Be Sensitive to Sin

The holiness of God causes believers to be sensitive to their own sinful ways. We read the following account about Simon Peter.

When Simon Peter saw this happen, he knelt down in front of Jesus and said, “Lord, don’t come near me! I am a sinner.” Peter and everyone with him were completely surprised at all the fish they had caught. (Luke 5:8 CEV)

Peter recognized his sinful condition in the presence of the Lord. He knew that he had failed the Lord. Like Peter, we too should be sensitive to the sins which we commit.

We Have a Holy Standard to Live By

Believers should act in a holy manner because the God of the Bible is holy. John the Apostle wrote of the necessity of believers to walk in the light.

...but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. (1 John 1:7 NASB)

This means that believers are to be separate from evil and devoted to God alone.

The writer to the Hebrews also spoke of the necessity of living a clean and holy life. He put it this way.

Try to live in peace with everyone, and seek to live a clean and holy life, for those who are not holy will not see the Lord. (Hebrews 12:14 NLT)

We are to conduct our lives as those who are pleasing to the Lord, in holiness.

His Holiness Is Acknowledged in Praise

We find the holiness of God being acknowledged in praise. In the Book of Revelation, we read the following.

Each of the four living creatures had six wings, and their bodies were covered with eyes. Day and night they never stopped singing, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord, the all-powerful God, who was and is and is coming!” (Revelation 4:8 CEV)

We praise the Lord because of His holiness.

Like the Old Testament, the New Testament has a number of truths to teach us about the holiness of the Lord as well as how we should act in a holy manner.

11. Everything Will Eventually Be Holy

There is one final thing which we should emphasize. When the Lord returns to the earth and sets up His kingdom everything will be holy. The Old Testament prophet Zechariah wrote about this coming day.

And on that day there shall be inscribed on the bells of the horses, “Holy to the LORD.” And the pots in the house of the LORD shall be as the bowls before the altar. And every pot in Jerusalem and Judah shall be holy to the LORD of hosts, so that all who sacrifice may come and take of them and boil the meat of the sacrifice in them. And there shall no longer be a trader in the house of the LORD of hosts on that day. (Zechariah 14:20, 21 ESV)

Holiness will someday be the standard. What a wonderful day to look forward to!

Summary – Question 14
What Does It Mean: God Is Holy?

Scripture speaks of the holiness of God. There are two basic ideas behind the word. First God is unique, one a kind. He is different from all other beings. Second, He is separate from sin. Thus, we find that God alone is holy. He is perfect in His nature. His character is one of flawless moral perfection. As a holy God, He is unable to look upon sin. Because God is holy He can only do good, never evil.

We find that holiness has a positive and negative side. On the positive side, He always does what is right. On the negative side, He is separate from all sin.

The Old Testament tells us much about God’s holiness. The Israel was to be a holy nation unto the Lord. Indeed, they were to be separate from the pagan nations. This would set them apart from all other people.

The New Testament also stresses the holiness of God. He wants His people, the church, to be holy. Indeed, those who believe in Jesus have a holy standard to live by.

Eventually everything will be holy when the Lord returns. Until that time we live in an unholy world. Yet, in doing so, we should do our best by the power of the Holy Spirit to live a life of holiness as unto the Lord.

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