What does it mean that God is holy?

Often when we hear that God is holy, we think of His greatness and goodness. These are surely part of God’s holiness, but not the primary meaning. The biblical use of the word holy has two distinct meanings. The primary meaning is “set apart” or “otherness”. God is profoundly different from His creation, and is a higher order of being than all creatures He has made. When the Bible speaks of holy objects, or people or times, it is referring to things that have been set apart, consecrated or made different by the touch of God upon them.

The secondary meaning of holy refers to His righteousness (moral purity). He is morally without any fault, in His nature and His actions. God’s internal nature is righteous and so His external actions display His righteousness. God does what is right. He never does what is wrong. There is no evil mixed in with His goodness. 

One way the Bible uses language to stress the importance of something is through repetition. Jesus, before teaching important truths to the disciples, would say, “Amen, amen”, which is often translated as, “Truly, truly.” The repetition was used to signal the importance of what Jesus was saying. There is only one characteristic of God that is repeated three times, and is found in Isaiah 6:3: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” The angels proclaim His holiness not once, not twice, but three times. God’s other attributes are never emphasized in such a way compared to His holiness.

God alone is holy. As fallen human beings, we have transgressed and rebelled against our holy Creator. None of us has kept God’s holy laws, and we are unable to match the standard of His holiness. We have not loved God and we have not loved our neighbour as we ought. In short, we have sinned, and our sin separates us from our righteous and holy God.

How then are we to be reconciled with God?

God, in his great love, has provided righteousness for us in Jesus Christ. The righteousness of Christ is freely offered if you will submit to Him. In taking Jesus as your Lord and Saviour, all that He is and has done become yours. God then calls us to be holy as He is holy (1 Peter 1:16). The Christian is being made holy, set apart, and sanctified. Romans 6:11 tells us that we are “...dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions.” We are to flee from sin, growing in holiness by the power of the Holy Spirit, furthering communion with our heavenly maker.


For further study:

RC Sproul -  Essential Truths of the Christian Faith


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