God is utterly other, absolutely exalted, totally pure.
God is the Holy One
God is called “The Holy One” 55 times in Scripture (29 times in Isaiah). The Hebrew word for holy, qadosh probably comes from the root “separation”, “cutting off.” God is the Holy. As someone said: “Holiness is the pure white light formed out of the blending of the whole spectrum of God’s attributes.”
Isaiah describes his great vision: “I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphs, 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.’” (Isa 6:1-3).
John’s vision is similar: “Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under his wings. Day and night they never stop saying: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come.” (Rev 4:8).
Jesus is called the Holy One in Luke 4:34 and John 6:69; cf. Luke 1:35; Acts 2:27; 13:35.
God is awesome in holiness
The Song of Moses asks: “Who among the gods is like you, O LORD. Who is like you— majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders.” (Ex 15:11). Job 37:22 describes the awesomeness of God: “Out of the north he comes in golden splendour; God comes in awesome majesty.” God is the high and lofty one who inhabits eternity: “For this is what the high and lofty One says—he who lives forever, whose name is holy: ‘I live in a high and holy place…’” (Isa 57:15).
At its inauguration “Moses could not enter the Tent of Meeting because the cloud had settled upon it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.” (Ex 40:35). Similarly, when the temple was dedicated, it: “was filled with a cloud, and the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the LORD filled the temple of God.” (2 Chron 5:14). The awesome presence of God was so overpowering that no-one could enter the building.
God is the source of all holiness
People and objects dedicated to God become holy. The Lord says: “You are to be holy to me because I, the LORD, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be my own.” (Lev 20:26). “You are a people holy to the LORD your God. Out of all the peoples on the face of the earth, the LORD has chosen you to be his treasured possession.” (Deut 14:2). He says: “You must observe my Sabbaths. This will be a sign between me and you for the generations to come, so you may know that I am the LORD, who makes you holy.” (Ex 31:13 cf. Lev 20:8; 22:32).
Scripture specifies that:
- The Sabbath is holy because it is set apart to God (Gen 2:3)
- The people are holy because the sanctuary is in their midst (Ezek 37:28)
- The priests are holy because they are set apart to God (Lev 21:7-8)
- The temple vessels are holy because they are set apart to God (Ex 30:29)
- The children of believers are holy because they are set apart to God ( 1 Cor 7:14).
God is too pure to look on evil
Habakkuk says of God: “Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrong.” (Hab 1:13). Hence Isaiah warns: “But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear.” (Isa 59:2).
God is righteous in holiness
God shows his holiness in ethical and moral qualities: “The LORD Almighty will be exalted by his justice, and the holy God will show himself holy by his righteousness.” (Isa 5:16). Everything he does and says is perfect: “As for God, his way is perfect; the word of the LORD is flawless.” (Psa 18:30 cf. Matt 5:48).
However, this brings us to what is an unpopular area of teaching today: the wrath of God. As it was overemphasised, even misused, in the past, it is seriously neglected in the present. So God is made out to be not the utterly other, absolutely exalted, totally pure One, but a sort of indulgent celestial grandfather figure. God is love and he is merciful. He is compassionate and kind. Those qualities must be firmly held alongside the concept of his wrath. But they don’t replace it. God’s wrath is not a bad-temper or uncontrolled rage. Rather it is the reaction of his utter holiness to persistent sin. He is too pure to look on evil and his holiness repels sin as light repels darkness.
One thing is quite certain: this is no purely Old Testament concept. It is clearly stated in the New Testament. The writer to the Hebrews says: “Our God is a consuming fire.” (Heb 12:29 cf. Psa 50:3; 97:3). This speaks of purifying and judgement.
Paul says that: “….when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power.” (2 Thess 1:7-9).
Elsewhere he writes: “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord.” (Rom 12:19). Cf Heb 10:30 “We know him who said, ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ and again, ‘The Lord will judge his people.’”
John warns: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.” (John 3:36).
Paul warns: “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness”…. “There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil.” … “No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a man is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. (Rom 1:18; 2:8; Eph 5:6).
(cf. Deut 37:25; Psa 7:11; 94:1; Ezek 25:17; Mic 5:15; Nah 1:3).
OUR RESPONSE TO THE HOLINESS OF GOD
- We should praise him in his holiness
“Jehoshaphat appointed men to sing to the LORD and to praise him for the splendour of his holiness.” (2 Chron 20:21). The writer to the Hebrews urges us to follow their example: “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe.” (Heb 12:28).
See also Psa 99:1-3, 5, 9 “The LORD reigns, let the nations tremble; he sits enthroned between the cherubim, let the earth shake. Great is the LORD in Zion; he is exalted over all the nations. Let them praise your great and awesome name— he is ….. Exalt the LORD our God and worship at his footstool; he is ….. Exalt the LORD our God and worship at his holy mountain, for the LORD our God is holy.” Isaiah writes: “Shout aloud and sing for joy, people of Zion, or great is the Holy One of Israel among you.” (Isa 12:6).
We should live in his holiness
1 Peter 1:16 “It is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy.’” cf. Ex 22:31; Lev 19:2; 11:44
God will vindicate his holiness to a world which ignores it and a church which often dishonours it. “I will make known my holy name among my people Israel. I will no longer let my holy name be profaned, and the nations will know that I the LORD am the Holy One in Israel.” (Ezek 39:7). “Therefore say to the house of Israel, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am going to do these things, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you have gone.” (Ezek 36:22).
Scriptures taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version® NIV®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984 by Biblica, Inc.™ . Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide
© Tony Higton: see conditions for reproduction