What does it mean that God is holy?

Last updated on February 23, 2022

Many Bible verses speak about God as being holy. Let’s read some:

  • Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, Who was and is and is to come!” (Revelation 4:8).
  • Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify Your name? For You alone are holy. All nations will come and worship You, for Your righteous acts have been revealed” (Revelation 15:4).
  • Who is like You, O Lord, among the gods? Who is like You, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?” (Exodus 15:11).
  • There is none holy like the Lord: for there is none besides You; there is no rock like our God” (1 Samuel 2:2).

God is separate

These verses make clear that God’s holiness distinguishes Him from everybody else. Only God is perfectly holy. The primary meaning of the word “holy” is “separate”. God is transcendentally separate from His creation, He is a class by Himself. This should fill us with reverence and awe – as expressed by the Bible verses cited above.

When Isaiah saw a vision of God, he even exclaimed: “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 6:5).

God is perfect

Another important aspect of God’s holiness is that He is sinless, separate from evil. He is absolutely and purely good. Therefore, His nature and His character are different from ours. He is the moral standard for what is “good”, what is  “love”, and what is “righteous”, to name a few. Metaphorically, John expresses this as follows: “God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5).

Sinful people can’t come close to a holy God

God is entirely separate from sin and evil, and therefore He is also separate from us sinful human beings. God’s holiness makes it impossible for us to approach Him. This was for example expressed in God’s laws concerning the build of a tabernacle by the Israelites. God wanted to dwell among them, but since He is holy, the Israelites couldn’t just come into His presence. There was a need for separation and for atonement, worked out in prescriptions regarding the religious duties of the priests and the various types of sacrifices.

The earthly dwelling place of God in the tabernacle was called the “holy of holies”. The space before it was called the “holy place”, and could only be entered by consecrated priests. Everything that belongs to God, is holy, set apart from ordinary, sinful life.

God’s holiness requires people to be holy as well

In the Old Testament, we read how God set the people of Israel apart from the other nations, and required them to be holy as well. “I am the Lord your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy” (Leviticus 11:44). “You shall be holy to Me, for I the Lord am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be Mine” (Leviticus 20:26). The same goes for Christians nowadays: “As He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct” (1 Peter 1:15).

How can we become holy?

We saw how God’s holiness contrasts with our sinfulness, and thus creates separation between the Lord and us. We can’t solve that problem ourselves. Only through Jesus’ atoning death can our sins be “washed away” so that we become clean again and can stand before God.

Through faith, we can “put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:24). The Holy Spirit, who dwells in the hearts of believers, changes our lives. He transforms us so that we “might serve Him without fear, in holiness and righteousness” (Luke 1:74-75).

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