If we were to put together a list of God’s attributes certainly Holiness would rank amongst the top. This is good as it is very important that we understand that God is a Holy God. It is even more important however that we understand what exactly Holiness means, and what it means to say that God is Holy, and how that relates to each of us as Christians.
The first time we see the word Holy used in Scripture is in Genesis 2:3. In this verse Holy is used to describe the Sabbath. The Sabbath was a day set apart and blessed by God. Blessed by God for the purpose of rest. The next instance we see the word Holy used is in Exodus 3:5 to describe the ground on which Moses stood as he spoke with God at the burning bush. Moses was commanded, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” Moses was so afraid to look at God that the scriptures tell us, he hid his face. Moses had good reason of course, for we find out in Exodus 33:20 that no man can see the face of God and live. Then, in Leviticus 11:43-45 God commands his people, “You shall not make yourselves detestable with any swarming thing that swarms, and you shall not defile yourselves with them and become unclean through them. For I am the LORD your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy.” In 19:2 he says, “You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy.”
In just a few verses we can gather rather quickly that the word Holy as it relates to God means, set apart, sacred, undefiled, and pure. To say that something is Holy is also to say that it is perfect in every way. Certainly this definition can be applied to God.
God does not just say that he is Holy though. God also commands his people to be Holy. Anyone with eyes to see can see that there is a problem here. Ever since that fateful day in the Garden in which Adam and his wife Eve partook of the forbidden fruit, holiness has not been a word that can be used to describe humanity. Certainly the Prophet Isaiah saw a problem:
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!” And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts! (Isaiah 6:1-5).
As Isaiah was confronted with the unimaginable holiness of God, all he could do was shout out, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips…”.
Isaiah was stunned by the awesome Holiness of God, as he should have been. Isaiah’s response is the correct response to the God who is perfect and holy in every way. The fact that God is so holy, and we are so unholy means that there is a problem. We as unholy people cannot approach this perfectly holy God. Since Adam and Eve were cast from the garden, holiness has not been able to dwell in the midst of unholiness. That is of course, unless God does something.
“Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with thongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for” (Isaiah 6:6-7).
In order for Isaiah to stand in the presence of God, his guilt had to be taken away, and his sin had to be atoned for by God. You and I are no different.
This same holiness that we have been talking about that is attributed to God here in the Old Testament is also applied to Jesus in the New. Let’s look at just a few verses to illustrate this point.
In Mark 1:24 even the unclean Spirit cries out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.”
Hebrews 7:26 uses the following words to describe Jesus, “holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens.”
1 John 3:5 says, “…in him there is no sin.”
In Luke 5:8, Simon Peter takes our minds back to our Isaiah 6 passage earlier as he responds to Jesus with these words, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” Again, as we are confronted with holiness, we shrink back in fear, for we know deep in our hearts that unholiness cannot dwell in the same place as holiness.
Now some folks see an issue with this. They think that yes, God is Holy, but he is also love. Therefore, if God loves us, then he can just look past our sins. This attitude however is a mistake. When we take this line of thinking, what we are actually doing is elevating God’s attribute of love above his attribute of Holiness. God is love, perfect love in fact. God is also holy, perfect holiness. To think that God simply looks past sin is a dangerous mistake. It leads straight to a path of licentiousness because we begin to think that sin is not a big deal. But the bible tells a much different story. Sin is a really big deal. So big in fact that God had to send his son to die on a Roman cross for it. The love of God and the holiness of God are not in opposition. Within God, and within Christ who is the “image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15). Holiness and Love dwells perfectly together. At the cross of Christ we see love and Holiness at work all at once. Certainly love put Christ on the cross, but if it were not for the Holiness of God, there would have been no need for him to be there. The Holiness of God demands Holiness in return from his people (1 Peter 1:15-16). Yet, we cannot attain that Holiness on our own. Therefore, Christ had to attain it for us. That was the purpose for which he died. 2 Corinthians 5:21,
“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” The entire purpose of Jesus’ ministry is that, “…he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she (the Church) might be holy and without blemish.”
It is here that we find peace and rest. Often as we are confronted with the Holiness of God, we respond in ways similar to that of Moses, Isaiah, and Peter. We cower in fear. We hide our face from God. We ask Him to flee from us, for we are sinful people indeed. But in Jesus, these sins are removed from us. In Jesus, we are holy and without blemish. In Jesus, we are the righteousness of God. We no longer need to be fearful of the Holiness of God. Now, we get to embrace it, for it is ours.