When we try to describe God there are many words that come to mind like God is loving, merciful, kind, righteous, patient, caring, faithful, everlasting, and many many others; but they all fall under the umbrella of “Holiness!” But, when we say God is holy…what do we mean? Also, are we able to be holy like God?
In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word for holy is quadosh, and means sacred, selected and pure. It appears 116 times. The equivalent Greek word in the New Testament is hagios. It is mentioned less often than the Hebrew word and means set apart, sanctified, or consecrated.
Isaiah 6:3 says: “Holy, holy, holy is The Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” The fact that the word “holy” is repeated in succession means that God is not merely holy – he is uniquely holy. When something is repeated in the Bible like the word “holy” is, it is meant for emphasis and should cause the reader to take special notice. Nowhere in the Bible do we read that God is love, love, love; mercy, mercy, mercy; or wrath, wrath, wrath. But, He is holy, holy, holy…a “cut above” the rest!
Moses provides another example in Exodus 15:11, in the midst of the song of Moses after he and all Israel crossed the Red Sea on dry ground, when her proclaimed, “Who among the gods is like you, O Lord? Who is like you – majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders?” Moses announces that God’s holiness is majestic! Most references in the Bible of anything being “majestic” refers to some aspect of God. Examples include Exodus 15:6: “Your right hand, O Lord, was majestic in power.” Psalm 8:1: “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” Psalm 29:4: “The voice of The Lord is powerful; the voice of The Lord is majestic.” Finally, 2 Peter 1:17 states of Jesus: “For he received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”” The incident refered to above occurred on the Mount of Transfiguration. The Majestic Glory seems is a reference to Heaven where God dwells. Of the Christ, who is also God, Peter tells us through a quote from Isaiah that “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth. (1 Peter 2:22)” He was sinless. He preceded this statement in verse 21 by telling us that “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.” We are encouraged several times in the New Testament to become like Christ. He is sinless (blameless), so also should we.
The Hebrews writer states in chapter 7 verse 26, “Such a high priest meets our need – one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens.” This verse completely sums up all the definitions of God’s holiness in the person of the Christ, but what does God say about His holiness? “You shall have no other gods before me. (Exodus 20:3)” That is the very first command given to Moses when he was on top of Mount Sinai in the desert. God gave this plus 9 other commands in an attempt to begin to teach the Israelites to be obedient and follow Him and Him only. Unfortunately, they weren’t able to follow these 10 let alone the other 603 commands which were part of the Law of Moses. Throughout the history of the Israelite nation God’s commands became less and less important until finally God had enough and sent them off into exile. In Isaiah 45:5-6, God tells Isaiah to tell the people: “I am the Lord, and there is no other; apart from me there is no God. I will strengthen you, though you have not acknowledged me, so that from the rising of the sun to the place of its setting men may know there is none besides me. I am the Lord, and there is no other.” God continues in chapter 46 verses 8-9: “Remember this, fix it in mind, take it to heart, you rebels. Remember the former things, those of long ago; I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me.” God emphasized the fact that He is the only living God. All other gods are useless. God doesn’t only comment on His separateness, but He tells us how He is blameless, perfect and spiritually pure, as well. In Psalm 89:34-35, God proclaims his holiness in regards to King David when He says, “I will not violate my covenant or alter what my lips have uttered. Once for all, I have sworn by my holiness – and I will not lie to David.” God stood by His promises to David. He states that He would not “violate,” “alter,” nor “lie.” He stands blameless in regards to His promise regarding the line of David, and the moon is witness of His faithfulness.
We have talked about what holiness is and the fact that God is holy, but what about us? Can we really be holy? As His children, God makes us holy by setting us apart for Himself. The Israelite people were given many instructions for purifying themselves. An example of one of these instructions dealt with clean and unclean food. In Leviticus 11:41-45, The Lord explains to the people that they are not to make themselves unclean by creatures that crawl on the ground. Verse 44 gives the directive for how they were to avoid this. He stated, “I am the Lord your God; consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy.” Consecrating themselves purified and set them apart from people of the surrounding nations who were not considered God’s people.
Under the Old Covenant, consecration and purification was achieved by washing of the body and being pronounced clean by the High Priest. So how is this consecration and purification achieved under the New Covenant? Through a process called Sanctification. Part of this process includes putting sin to death. In Colossians 3:5 Paul tells the Believers in Colossae, “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolotry.” In other words, Paul is telling them to die to their old self. Then in just a few verses later, he gives them another step in the sanctification process which is to take off ungodliness. In verses 8-10, Paul states: “But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.” We are to no longer live in sin. After taking off ungodliness, we must then put on godliness and live in righteousness. Still in Colossians 3, verses 12-14 tell us: “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” Die to self, no longer live in sin, but live in righteousness.
Sanctification makes one holy and pure. It also provides other blessings, as well. One of those blessings is joy which is a profound sense of excitement that results from knowing and serving God. Those who live holy lives experience true joy. They also receive wisdom, which comes from accumulated learning, discernment, or good sense. Biblical wisdom comes from God. Proverbs tells us the beginning of wisdom is fear of the Lord, which would make sense since God is omniscient or all-knowing. In other words – wise. James 3:13 says, “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in humility that comes from wisdom.” A believer’s holiness is a sign of wisdom. Freedom is another benefit and is the absence of bondage. We are no longer enslaved to sin but free in Christ. Paul stated in Romans 6:22, “But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life.” Understand that becoming enslaved to God ultimately means freedom from Satan, guilt and shame.
The holiness of God is a far-reaching goal for all of us, but one that He calls us to. God is set apart and perfect. Because of the love and sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, we are now set apart to God and made perfect in His sight. We are made holy as God is holy by Jesus’ cleansing blood. We need to let our holiness be seen by all through our joyful lives, the wisdom we display through our good deeds, and the freedom we have from the sin of this world. May we keep our eyes on our heavenly goal when we will get to see and hear the four living creatures proclaim: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come. (Rev. 4:8)”
The NIV Study Bible, Zondervan Bible Publishers, 1985.
A Woman’s Guide to Personal Holiness: A Biblical Study for Developing a Holy Lifestyle, Rhonda H. Kelley, New Hope Publishers, 2000.
The Holiness of God, Study by Bob Deffinbaugh, http://www.bible.org.