What do you think of when you hear the word holy? We like to throw the word around these days, especially in phrases as innocent as “holy cow” or “holy moley” and even a few choice words I will refrain from writing in this post. What comes to mind when you think of the holiness of God?
Holiness is something we are told to strive for, but as an attribute of God we seldom understand. Holiness is the chief attribute of God and something that is a quality His people should develop. The word holy appears over 900 times in the Bible. To understand what holy means, we must first look at the definition.
The Hebrew word for holy is “quadosh”, and the Greek is “haigos”. While many think of holiness as perfection, the actual definition is “unique” or set apart. Holiness as God is holy is something we cannot attain, but to understand it brings such an awe and reverence to the character of who God is.
In the Old Testament, we begin to see a picture of Holiness as set apart in two instances: the Sabbath and the Holy Ground around the burning bush of God’s presence. In Genesis 2:3, God sets apart the Sabbath day, so we may not only rest, but enjoy God and his goodness.
In Exodus 3:1-6, we see Moses encountering the holiness of God, as the ground is a demonstration that even the area surrounding God’s presence is set apart. God tells Moses, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground” (Exodus 3:5).
When we begin to understand that God is so magnificent, so overwhelming and so awe-inspiring, it changes our worship and reverence of Him. In the Old Testament, holiness was applied to God signifies His transcendence over the creation and the moral perfection of His character. God is holy in that He is utterly distinct from His creation and exercises sovereign majesty and power over it. We see this example in book of Ezekiel: “And my holy name I will make known in the midst of my people Israel, and I will not let my holy name be profaned anymore. And the nations shall know that I am the Lord, the Holy One in Israel (Ezekiel 39:7).
God’s holiness denotes that the Lord is separate from all that is evil and defiled (Job 34:10). His holy character is the standard of absolute moral perfection (Isaiah 5:16). When we speak of a holy God, we speak of His character and His nature. He is the most powerful, amazing, unique, good, and loving being in all the universe. His holiness is mentioned for the first time in Exodus 15:11.
To know God’s holiness exposes how wretched we are. When we understand the magnificence of God and His goodness, it shows us our need for a Savior. Holiness isn’t just a suggestion by God but a command.
There are several ways holiness is applied in the Bible. A person can be holy (Leviticus 8:1-10), places can be holy (Ezekiel 42:13), things can be holy(Exodus 40:1-10), and even time (Leviticus 23:1-2). How can these things be holy if they aren’t God? What sets apart these things from God?
These things are considered “holy” because they have a close relationship to God, who is the source and definition of holiness. This can bring some confusion when it comes to mortal holiness, because we associate it with perfection. We read verses such as Leviticus 11:44 where God says, “For I am the LORD your God; consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, because I am holy”, and we put an unnecessary expectation on ourselves.
We are not to be perfect because perfection only rests on what Christ did on the cross, but we are to be set apart, in reverence and respect for a Holy God. We are to live God-honoring lifestyles which point people to Christ, not to the world. We learn importance of this in the book of Hebrews where the writer tells us to strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14).
I don’t know if there is a word that really encapsulates what holiness means, but an understanding of the word helps us to know our creator. God is holy, which means God is pure, undefiled, and set apart. God is good, and God is perfect, and because of His Son, we get to experience that holiness for all of eternity.
This is something to be excited about. I would encourage you to continue to seek to live and strive to be set apart, and to worship our creator for being beyond perfect. We serve a good, holy, amazing God. What a privilege to be called His children.