What Does it Mean that God is Holy?

God is holy.

“Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them. You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy …,” Leviticus 19:2, ESV

What is God’s holiness? Often we tend to limit holiness to God’s moral perfection or perfect purity – his absolute goodness. But many Christian thinkers conclude that the meaning of holiness is deeper and wider than that. Holiness, they say, is the core of God’s essential nature – the internal law by which God’s will and all other attributes are expressed as pure and perfect and God is revealed as splendid, majestic, beautiful, glorious – wholly different from any created thing.

This conclusion comes from Scripture that declares God’s name is Holy, and God is holiness through and through. God is holy because it is who he is and he cannot be otherwise. Likewise, all God’s attributes and acts are wholly holy – his justice, goodness, truth, strength, faithfulness, righteousness, kindness, compassion, love, mercy, protectiveness, anger, jealousy, destruction etc. – is always holy. Because all God’s attributes are made perfect and beautiful by his holiness, God is infinitely pure, perfect, splendid, good, majestic, excellent, and beautiful – glorious beyond description.

Because God is Holy, his appearance evokes awe, praise, and self-assessment.

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 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 6:1-3, 5.

Because God is majestic, beautiful, and glorious beyond description, his revelation of himself always evokes awe and praise from those who see his glory. Even before angels, God’s holiness reveals their utter unworthiness, wickedness, and dependence on him.

Because God is holy, he must remain holy.

Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Lord God, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes,” Ezekiel 36-22-23, ESV.

Another reason many Christian thinkers believe holiness is the essence of God’s nature is the truth that God cannot will to be anything other than holy. Follow their argument. God’s holiness precedes his will so that he only and always wills out of his holiness. Therefore his will is utter moral rightness and goodness. Thus, if God willed himself to be unholy that would mean his rightness and goodness are flawed and that he was never holy to begin with. Therefore, if God is at all holy, he must remain holy, for holiness always wills to continue holiness.

God's Holiness

Because God is holy, he must hate sin.

I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God. And I will deliver you from all your uncleannesses. …,” Ezekiel 36:24-29.

Holiness is often explained in terms of God being set apart or separate. God’s holiness totally separates him from evil, sin uncleanness, and imperfection.

Because God’s holiness is the exact opposite of sin, it is directly contrary and opposed to wickedness. (Wickedness is the complete lack and destitution of holiness.) Thus God’s holiness is incapable of tolerating the wickedness of sin. Sin is described as a foul stench in God’s nostrils which enrages him. Therefore, to remain holy and true to himself, God must necessarily be a wrathful God, hating sin. Those in communion with God must be purified and perfected. Their sins must be “propitiated” (punished) and “expiated” (removed or purged.)

The Gospel

Christ’s shed blood makes ultimate and final atonement for all the sins of his people, past, and present, who believe and rely on God.

“at-one-ment” or reconciliation.
To make atonement is to bring about
our reconciliation with God.

Jesus’ atoning work appeases God’s justice and, through faith in Jesus, covers and cleanses us from all our sins, so we can be united to him. We, who are in union with Christ, have been set apart for Christ and from our sins; our bodies are dedicated to worship of God – God makes us holy.

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The above are excerpts from Lesson 1 of the Creating Art from Theology, Artist’s Guide. Other parts of the lesson consider: Where does holiness come from? How are we made holy? Why must holiness affect us? The entire lesson and curriculum is free in pdf form from our website or you can order from any major online book seller.

Some of the endnotes for this lesson are below. All the endnotes can be found in the free pdf version of this lesson.

  • S.M. Jackson, ed., “Holiness of God,” in New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religions Knowledge, (New York; London: Funk and Wagnalls, 1909; reprinted by Grand Rapids, Baker Book House, 1953), 5:318.
  • Andrew Murray, (1828-1917), A New Life: Words of God for Young Disciples of Christ, trans. by J.P. Lilley, (New York: Urst & Co. Pub.), 68-72.
  • John Owen, The Works of John Owen, D.D., ed. by T. Tussell, (London, 1826), 9:494-502.
  • R.C. Sproul, The Holiness of God, (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publisher, 1998), 2nd ed., 178.
  • Tilloson, The Works of Dr. John Tillotson, Late Archbishop of Canterbury, 521-522.
  • Thomas Watson, “The Holiness of God,” in Body of Divinity, in a Series of Lectures on the Shorter Catechism, and Various Sermons and Treaties, (New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1855), 59-60.

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