Holiness of God
Updated: Apr 28
The holiness of God a topic is as vast as the sky and as deep as the sea, beyond the power of human thought to conceive or human speech to utter.
“We cannot grasp the true meaning of the divine holiness by thinking of someone or something very pure and then raising the concept to the highest degree we are capable of. God’s holiness is not simply the best we know infinitely bettered. We know nothing like the divine holiness. It stands apart, unique, unapproachable, incomprehensible, and unattainable. That natural man is blind to it. He may fear God’s power and admire His wisdom, but His holiness he cannot even imagine.” (An excerpt from the book, The knowledge of the Holy by A.W. Tozer)
Meaning of Holiness
In Christian theology, the word holy has two meanings. The holiness of God refers to the unparalleled majesty of His incomparable being and His blameless, faultless, unblemished moral purity (Isaiah 6:1–5; Revelation 4:1–8). Holy also refers to something or someone that has been separated from the common or set aside for God’s use. As an example, Belshazzar profaned the holy temple vessels—those set aside for use by God’s priests—by drinking toasts to his idols (Daniel 5:2–4).
The holiness of God presents something of a dilemma in the hearts and minds of mortal man. We are drawn to Him, for it is He who has made us (Genesis 1:27; Psalm 100:3), but as inherently flawed creatures, we also cower in the all-revealing light of His majestic glory. Just as the Israelites trembled in fear when God appeared to Moses on the mountain of Sinai, we prefer keeping God safely at arm’s length (Exodus 20:18–21). These ambivalent feelings of attraction and dread brought about by the holiness of God are illustrated in the following passage:
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke. “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” (Isaiah 6:1-5 NIV)
Isaiah may have been depressed or discouraged because a great leader of Judah was no longer on the throne. God in heaven now shows Isaiah, “Don’t worry about it, Isaiah. Uzziah may not be on his throne, but I am on My throne.”
Kings of that time would wear robes with long trains because they were difficult to maneuver and work in. Wearing a long train meant, “I am important enough that I don’t have to work. I am a person of honor and dignity. Others must serve me and wait upon me.” Essentially, the same is said when a bride wears a dress with a long train today. God is so honored, so important, so dignified, that the train of His robe filled the temple. That’s a long train.
In Revelation 4:8, the Apostle John also mentions seraphim of six wings. They need the six wings, so each can cover his face (to show they are too lowly to look upon the LORD), so each can cover his feet (to hide this “humble” area of the body, so nothing even possibly deficient is seen in the LORD’s presence), and so each can fly.
But why do they repeat “holy” three times? Wasn’t it enough to simply say that the LORD was “holy” once? It wasn’t enough. In the Hebrew language, intensity is communicated by repetition. To say the LORD is holy says something. To say the LORD is holy, holy, says far more. To say, holy, holy, holy is the LORD is to declare His holiness in the highest possible degree.
In the numinous presence of the Lord, the prophet Isaiah stood in awestruck wonder, yet the holiness of God caused him to recoil in reverential fear. The sudden realization of his personal depravity came like a stroke from heaven upon the trembling heart of Isaiah at the moment when he had this revolutionary vision of the holiness of God. His pain-filled cry, “Woe is me! For I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts,” expresses the feeling of every man who has discovered himself under his disguises and has been confronted with an inward sight of the holy whiteness that is God. Such an experience cannot but be emotionally violent.
It is impossible to stand in the presence of God and not feel the unworthiness and sinful nature of ourselves. Standing in the presence of God is our greatest honor.
But the dilemma that the holiness of God creates is that, “how can a sinful man can be right with a Holy God?”
Though God is worthy of our highest respect and reverential fear, He is neither distant nor aloof (James 2:23). He desires intimacy with us. Despite the sins we have committed, the frequent folly of our thinking, the bouts of pride that stain our character, and the shameful lapses in our faith, God welcomes us with open arms through the redemptive work of His Son, Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:21; Ephesians 2:8–9). Remarkably, we may approach God as a friend, but we are never to consider Him as our equal.
God’s desire for intimacy with us is not a point to be overlooked. Those who have placed their faith in Christ Jesus as Savior He lovingly adopts as sons and daughters (Ephesians 1:5) and encourages them to call Him “Father” (Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:6). That a holy and blameless God could cherish such dirty-faced orphans, “children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3), is nearly unimaginable, yet through the cleansing blood of Jesus Christ, the vile and profane are transformed into beloved children and the cherished objects of His most tender affections (1 John 1:7).
We must hide our unholiness in the wounds of Christ as Moses hid himself in the cleft of the rock while the glory of God passed by. We must take refuge from God in God.
Dr. R.C. Sproul experience
The presence of God made Dr. R.C. Sproul, one of the greatest preachers and teachers, get up in the middle of the night and get down to the chapel to pray but with no words coming out and there he came to know something, in his own words he says, “I was in a posture of prayer, but I had nothing to say. I knelt there quietly, allowing the sense of the presence of a holy God to fill me. The beat of my heart was telltale, a thump-thump against my chest. An icy chill started at the base of my spine and crept up my neck. Fear swept over me. I fought the impulse to run from the foreboding presence that gripped me. The terror passed, but soon it was followed by another wave. This wave was different. It flooded my soul with unspeakable peace, a peace that brought instant rest and repose to my troubled spirit. At once I was comfortable. I wanted to linger there. To say nothing. To do nothing. Simply to bask in the presence of God. That moment was life-transforming. Something deep in my spirit was being settled once and for all. From this moment there could be no turning back; there could be no erasure of the indelible imprint of its power. I was alone with God. A holy God. An awesome God. A God who could fill me with terror in one second and with peace in the next. I knew in that hour that I had tasted the Holy Grail. Within me was born a new thirst that could never be fully satisfied in this world. I resolved to learn more, to pursue this God who lived in dark Gothic cathedrals and who invaded my dormitory room to rouse me from complacent slumber.” (An excerpt from the book, The Holiness of God by R.C. Sproul)
When we come into the presence of God we should come with respect and adoration because it is not a place to be taken lightly. As we call Him, Father Abba, we should also be honest as sons and daughters, and at the same time come with reverential fear to Him and get awestruck in wonder just like Isaiah.
The holiness of God should stir our hearts to continual praise and adoration. We delight in Him, for in Him is our ultimate purpose and reason for being (Jeremiah 29:11). No one living apart from God is truly whole.
God says, “Be holy, for I am Holy.” He did not say “Be Holy, as I am Holy,” for that would be to demand absolute holiness, something that only belongs to God alone. We will not achieve holiness or sinless perfection on this side of eternity, but our lives should reflect the immaculate purity of God.
God is holy. In Him, there is not even the faintest trace of evil. He is impeccably pure, wholly without fault, and uncompromisingly just. God cannot lie. He cannot make wrong decisions. He is blameless, timeless, and sinless. By contrast, we are flawed beings tainted by sin (Isaiah 53:6; 1 John 1:8). Thankfully, through the person and works of Christ, we are being forgiven and saved.
All the attributes are so amazing and at the same time mind-bending. The study of the attributes of God is something that can make someone so humble and make one feels the greatness of God. It can be difficult to comprehend but knowing God through the Bible is the highest honor we humans have.
Neither the writer nor the reader of these words is qualified to appreciate the holiness of God. Quite literally a new channel must be cut through the desert of our minds to allow the sweet waters of truth that will heal our great sickness to flow in. Only the Spirit of the Holy One can impart to the human spirit the knowledge of the Holy.
By prostrate spirits day and night
How beautiful, how beautiful The sight of Thee must be, Thine endless wisdom,
And awful purity!
Oh how I fear Thee, living God! With deepest tenderest fears, And worship Thee with trembling hope,
And penitential tears.
—Fredrick W. Faber