By Simon Presland
As I sit at my computer, hands poised over the keyboard, I’m ready to write something profound. Something revelatory. Something that will offer insight and understanding. But I’m struggling to do so. The reason? I’m writing about God’s holiness.
It is one thing to explain how a Christian becomes holy by drawing near to God. I can identify with the process of holiness and how we are completely dependent upon God to make us holy. However, God is already holy. In fact, he is holiness personified.
How does someone like me, sinful yet sanctified by God, write about the One who is the embodiment of holiness? Although I cannot fully grasp God’s holiness, I write the following in reverence and awe of my Maker and yours.
The Meaning of Holiness
Holiness is commonly defined as that which is apart, sacred, and separate. It can apply to God, places, things, and people.
The word holy conjures up images of hushed reverence and silent awe. It is a word so pure and so deep that to describe it would be like peering down into the waters of the Pacific Ocean and seeing all the way to the bottom. Only a word such as this could begin to describe God. When the seraphim of Isaiah 6:3 and the four living creatures of Revelation 4:8 worshipped God, they never ceased to cry out a one-word
description of him: “Holy, holy, holy.”
While we think of something that is holy as being separated from the common and set apart for sacred purposes, God is not separated from anyone or anything. He is separated unto himself. God’s holiness brings complete conformity to his own character and being; holiness is who he is and what he does. In his thoughts and actions, God not only knows what is right, he also does what is right—every time, all the time.
Holiness describes God’s majesty and moral perfection. He is described in the Old Testament as “too pure to behold evil” and intolerant of evil (Habakkuk 1:12, 13). God is reverently called “the Holy One” (Job 6:10; Isaiah 40:25; 43:15; Ezekiel 39:7); “the Holy One of Israel” (2 Kings 19:22; Isaiah 1:4; 43:3 and Jeremiah 50:29; 51:5); and “the High and Lofty One who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy” (Isaiah 57:15, New King James Version).
Conformed to Himself
God’s holiness means that he is in perfect conformity to his divine nature. Thus, he cannot think, act, or tolerate sin in any form or way. His thoughts are pure, his acts are righteous, and he cannot allow anything that is sinful to enter his presence.
At times I may think I’m holy because I act or think in a particular way. However, many times I know the right thing to think or do, but I hesitate or agonize over it because it might not be what I really want to do. God never entertains such thoughts or actions: everything emanates from his holiness. Therefore God’s decisions, plans, and purposes are perfect in all cases, and in every situation.
Because of his holiness, God is free from impurity. 1 John 1:5 tells us, “God is light; in Him there is no darkness at all.” John is stating that God is completely free from evil in any form, the essence of moral purity. God’s holy nature should be very comforting for Christians. We can be confident that his thoughts and actions toward us are pure and just. He does not “gossip” to the angels in Heaven about us, nor is he passively aggressive in dealing with us. We may accuse him of being unfair or biased, but our holy God cannot act in these ways. In fact, holiness is so much a part of God that Amos says, “The Lord God has sworn by himself” (6:8,) because there is no one higher or more just than he.
The Holiness of Christ
In the Old Testament, God’s holiness demanded a blood sacrifice for the remission of sins. No one was allowed into the most holy place, the inner sanctuary of the tabernacle, “But only the high priest entered the inner room, and that only once a year, and never without blood, which he offered for himself and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance” (Hebrews 9:7, NIV).
In the New Testament, however, Christ is presented as our holy high priest, one who is morally, spiritually, and physically pure and righteous, and in right standing with God. “He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption” (v. 12). Why was Jesus’ blood pure enough to satisfy a holy God? Hebrews 4:15 tells us Jesus was without sin. First Peter 2:22 states that he committed no sin. First John 3:5 explains that in him was no sin. In John 8:46 Jesus himself challenged the Pharisees, saying, “Can any of you prove me guilty of sin?”
Although these verses assure us Jesus was holy in nature, his actions also exemplified his holiness. In Philippians 2:6, 7 the apostle Paul tells us Jesus was in nature fully God. However, he chose to take on the very nature of a servant, humbling himself to do only the will of God. He stated, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me” (John 4:34). Perhaps his greatest testimony to his own holiness are the words, “I always do what please him” (John 8:29).
The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus prove his holiness. It is because of Jesus’ holiness that Christians everywhere can “approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).
“But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy.’” The words of 1 Peter 1:15, 16 have caused me to waver in the faith from time to time. When I think I’m being holy, my pride rises up. When I think I’m acting in a holy way, I soon do something that shames me. When I try to keep my thoughts pure, I quickly despair as sinful thoughts begin to ambush my mind. But a holy God must demand holiness from his children. How, then, can I be holy?
I must first realize that there is nothing I can do, nothing I can say, that can make me holy. I must completely abandon myself to the saving grace and holiness of my Lord Jesus Christ. As the psalmist says, “I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord; apart from you I have no good thing” (Psalm 16:2). I must also realize that I am a Christian because the Holy Spirit of God lives inside of me (See John 3). It is God himself who works in me to will and to act to fulfill his good pleasure (Philippians 2:13). My job is to yield to his work in me; to align my thinking to his; to do what he says, when he says.
In other words, I must continually line up my will with his will. By saying yes to God and no to my flesh, I put the principle of Amos 3:3 into practice: “Do two walk together unless they have agreed to do so?”
I must also learn to hate sin in me. My sin distances me from God; therefore, I must abhor my lustful thoughts, my jealousy, my rationalization, and more. In every instance of my life, I must decide if my relationship with my Father is more important to me than “feeding my flesh.”
God holds me to a perfect standard, a standard that has been met in Jesus Christ. If I love my Father enough, then fear and reverence for him will determine my will. In this way, I will become holy on this earth, even as he is holy.
Simon Presland is a freelance writer in Clinton Township, Michigan.
How I Know Who God Is
1. Make a list of things you know about God: his truths, characteristics, and actions.
2. Write down how you know this to be true about God. Draw from personal experience or from Scripture.
3. When you run out of ideas, open up the Word and find more truths about God.
4. Keep this list to encourage yourself when life feels uncertain.