What Is the Holiness of God?

One of God's Most Important Attributes

African Americans looking at bibles in church

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The holiness of God is one of his attributes that carries monumental consequences for every person on earth.

In ancient Hebrew, the word translated as "holy" (qodeish) meant "set apart" or "separate from." God's absolute moral and ethical purity set him apart from every other being in the universe.

The Bible says, "There is no one holy like the Lord." (1 Samuel 2:2, NIV)

The prophet Isaiah saw a vision of God in which seraphim, winged heavenly beings, called to each other, "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty." (Isaiah 6:3, NIV) The use of "holy" three times stresses God's unique holiness, but some Bible scholars also believe there is one "holy" for each member of the Trinity: God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Each Person of the Godhead is equal in holiness to the others.

For human beings, holiness generally means obeying God's law, but for God, the law is not external—it is part of his essence. God is the law. He is incapable of contradicting himself because moral goodness is his very nature.

God's Holiness Is a Recurring Theme in the Bible

Throughout Scripture, the holiness of God is a recurring theme. The Bible writers draw a sharp contrast between the Lord's character and that of humankind. God's sacredness was so high that writers of the Old Testament even avoided using the personal name of God, which God revealed to Moses from the burning bush on Mount Sinai.

The earliest patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, had referred to God as "El Shaddai," meaning The Almighty. When God told Moses his name is "I AM WHO I AM," translated as YAHWEH in Hebrew, it revealed him as the Uncreated Being, the Self-Existing One. Ancient Jews considered that name so holy they would not pronounce it aloud, substituting "Lord" instead.

When God gave Moses the Ten Commandments, he expressly forbid using the name of God disrespectfully. An attack on God's name was an attack on God's holiness, a matter of grave contempt.

Ignoring God's holiness brought deadly consequences. Aaron's sons Nadab and Abihu, acted contrary to God's commands in their priestly duties and he killed them with fire. Many years later, when King David was having the ark of the covenant moved on a cart—in violation of God's commands—it tipped when the oxen stumbled, and a man named Uzzah touched it to steady it. God immediately struck Uzzah dead.

The Holiness of God Is the Basis for Salvation

Ironically, the plan of salvation was based on the very thing that separated the Lord from mankind: the holiness of God. For hundreds of years, the Old Testament people of Israel were bound to a system of animal sacrifices to atone for their sins. However, that solution was only temporary. As far back as Adam, God had promised the people a Messiah.

A Savior was necessary for three reasons. First, God knew human beings could never meet his standards of perfect holiness by their own behavior or good works. Second, he required a spotless sacrifice to pay the debt for humanity's sins. And third, God would use Messiah to transfer holiness to sinful men and women.

To satisfy his need for a faultless sacrifice, God himself had to become that Savior. Jesus, the Son of God, was incarnated as a human being, born of a woman but retaining his holiness because he was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit. That virgin birth prevented the passing of Adam's sin on to the Christ child. When Jesus died on the cross, he became the fitting sacrifice, punished for all the sins of the human race, past, present, and future.

God the Father raised Jesus from the dead to show that he accepted Christ's perfect offering. Then to guarantee humans meet his standards, God imputes, or credits Christ's holiness to every person who receives Jesus as Savior. This free gift, called grace, justifies or makes holy every Christ follower. Bearing Jesus' righteousness, they are then qualified to enter heaven.

But none of this would have been possible without God's tremendous love, another of his perfect attributes. Through love God believed the world was worth saving. That same love led him to sacrifice his beloved Son, then apply Christ's righteousness to redeemed human beings. Because of love, the very holiness that seemed to be an insurmountable obstacle became God's way to grant eternal life to everyone who seeks him.

Resources and Further Reading

  • New Bible Commentary, G.J. Wenham, J.A. Motyer, D.A. Carson, R.T. France, editors;
  • New Compact Bible Dictionary, T. Alton Bryant, editor
  • The New Unger's Bible Dictionary, R.K. Harrison, editor; Systematic Theology, Charles Hodge;
  • gotquestions.org.
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Your Citation
Fairchild, Mary. "What Is the Holiness of God?" Learn Religions, Feb. 8, 2021, learnreligions.com/holiness-of-god-4142304. Fairchild, Mary. (2021, February 8). What Is the Holiness of God? Retrieved from https://www.learnreligions.com/holiness-of-god-4142304 Fairchild, Mary. "What Is the Holiness of God?" Learn Religions. https://www.learnreligions.com/holiness-of-god-4142304 (accessed May 30, 2023).