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The Nature of God: Holiness

February 15, 2024
By Dr. Laws Rushing II

When Queen Elizabeth passed in 2022, she had reigned for a staggering 70 years. Her monarchy had survived many prime ministers, wars, weddings, children, grandchildren, scandals, and changes. Her place in English society felt almost absolute until she wasn’t anymore. It may have been “much the same” when Uzziah died after 52 years as king in Judah. Suddenly, the successful yet tragic leader was gone, and Isaiah was given a breathless vision of the throne room of God which revealed God’s holy and eternal nature.

“In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple. Above it stood seraphim; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one cried to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; The whole earth is full of His glory!” (Isaiah 6:1, 2).

The strange heavenly creature called a seraphim cried, “Holy, holy, holy” in reference to the Lord. The word holy means “set apart” or “separate.” Wayne Grudem explains, “God’s holiness means that He is separated from sin and devoted to seeking His own honor” (Grudem 1994). God’s holiness entails that God is incomparable to any other thing. It is only in association or sanction with God that something can be called holy. (Hosea 11:9) “For I am God, and not man,
The Holy One in your midst.” (I Samuel 2:2) “No one is holy like the Lord, For there is none besides You, Nor is there any rock like our God.”

The holiness of God is a fundamental moral attribute of character that springs metaphysically from the absolute perfection discussed earlier as the ground of being itself. The perfection of God relates to His transcendence, pure actuality, and utter goodness. The self-existence of God indicates that God is entirely different from anything else because He is uncreated, unconditioned, perfect in being, and ontological prior to everything.

God’s ontological status as holy must be recognized and reverenced by humanity as spiritual creatures. The Bible gives us a clear picture of God’s distinct position as holy is the basis for worship. “Oh, worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness!
Tremble before Him, all the earth” (Psalms 96:9). The book or Revelation echoes Isaiah, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!” And whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to him who is seated on the throne, who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever. They cast their crowns before the throne, saying, “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created” (Revelation 4: 8-11).

God’s holiness is the foundation of His righteousness and goodness manifested in creation. “According to Your name, O God, So is Your praise to the ends of the earth; Your right hand is full of righteousness” (Psalms 48:10). Our lives are moved to thanksgiving for God’s mercy and goodness. “Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever” (Psalms 107:1).

God’s holiness makes Him in some sense unapproachable because of humanity’s sinfulness and finiteness. (Exodus 33: 19-23) Then He said, “I will make all My goodness pass before you, and I will proclaim the name of the Lord before you. I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.”  But He said, “You cannot see My face; for no man shall see Me, and live.” And the Lord said, “Here is a place by Me, and you shall stand on the rock. So it shall be, while My glory passes by, that I will put you in the cleft of the rock, and will cover you with My hand while I pass by. Then I will take away My hand, and you shall see My back; but My face shall not be seen.” The Apostle Paul told Timothy, “He who is the blessed and only Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, dwelling in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see, to whom be honor and everlasting power” (I Timothy 6:16).

God has called His people to reflect His holy nature through worship and transformed living. The Scriptures state, “He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, “Be holy, for I am holy” (I Peter 1:15, 16). God has prescribed how His people are to conduct themselves which is motivated by His love and holy nature. This will be in contrast and distinctive from the world. The Apostle Paul writes, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:1,2).