The holiness of God is the most prominent of all His divine nature which represents His inherent and incomprehensible character. Holiness belongs exclusively to God alone (1 Samuel 2:2). No human is able to meet His standard of perfection (Romans 3:23).
The root word for holyis qadosh (Hebrew) and hagios (Greek), which mean “set apart, sacred, sanctified.” God’s holiness includes His two essential qualities: absolute transcendence and infinite purity.
The following commentaries on God’s holiness from the notable Christian authors may help us better understand what it means that God is holy.
God Is Holy: Commentaries on the Holiness of God
Henry C. Thiessen: “God is holy means that He is absolutely separate from and exalted above all His creatures and creation, and He is entirely separate from all moral evil and sin.”
Harold L. Willmington: “God’s holiness is a single perfection that would perhaps come closer to describing the eternal Creator than any characteristic He possesses. It is the union of all other attributes, as pure white light is the union of all the colored rays of the spectrum.”
Elmer Towns: “Holiness is the first description that comes to our mind when we think of God and may be one of the most difficult attributes to completely understand and define. God is holy and apart from everything that is sinful. Sin is anything outside the nature of God.”
A. W. Tozer: “Holy is the way God is. To be holy He does not conform to a standard. He is that standard. Because He is holy, all His attributes are holy; that is, whatever we think of as belonging to God must be thought of as holy. God has made holiness the moral condition necessary to the health of His universe.”
R. C. Sproul: “God alone is holy in Himself. The word holy is used as a synonym for His deity and calls attention to all that God is. It reminds us that His love is holy love, His justice is holy justice, His mercy is holy mercy, His knowledge is holy knowledge, and His spirit is holy spirit.”
God Is Holy, Holy, Holy: Meaning and Applications
Interestingly, the Scripture mentions not only that God is holy, but also that God is holy, holy, holy. The fact that holy is the only attribute repeated thrice in the Bible, which signifies its predominance in God’s nature.
The phrase holy, holy, holy appears twice: once in the Old Testament account of Isaiah’s vision of God (Isaiah 6:1-4) and once in the New Testament account of John’s vision of Christ (Revelation 4:8). This is attributed to three aspects of God’s divinity:
1. God’s Eternal Nature
The deity of Christ is also proven by a simple reason: He is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). He does not need to change because He is already perfect. There is a parallel in what Jesus said about perfection (Matthew 5:48) and what God said about holiness (Leviticus 20:26). It is the same direction for us to aim for the highest standard, to be like God, as he instructed: “Be holy, for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16).
2. God’s Divine Perfection
In Jewish tradition, the number “three” means completeness and stability. The hymn holy, holy, holy is known as Trisagion (Greek, meaning: Thrice Holy) referring to the triune nature of God. The message was conveyed to Isaiah by seraphim (angelic beings associated with light and purity, whose name means “burning ones”) and to John by cherubim (angelic beings with four faces like lion, ox, man, and eagle, who also appeared to Ezekiel).
In Revelation 4, the cherubim were described as four living creatures which are believed to represent four pictures of Christ: King (lion-like), Servant (ox-like), Perfect Man (man-like), and Mighty God (eagle-like). They are portrait of Christ in the Gospel of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, according to Willmington’s Guide to the Bible.
- The Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20)
- The baptism of Jesus (Mark 1:9-11)
- The angel’s visitation to Mary (Luke 1:30-35)
- The conversation of Jesus with His disciples (John 14)
3. God’s Supreme Holiness
Repetition is a common way to indicate emphasis. In Trisagion, the holiness of God was strongly declared with passion and affirmation. Nothing and no one can compare to the Holy One. This realization should lead us to worship God alone – neither humans nor any other creation deserve to be exalted or adored.
Knowing that only God is perfect in His holiness, there is no reason for us not to live in reverence and humility before Him. We must admit that no amount of good work would be sufficient to attain His holiness. Therefore, we can only become holy by the work of God in the first place – it is the work of sanctification that has been done by the Holy and Righteous One (Acts 3:14-15). Our part is to accept it by faith and abide in His holiness.
The author believes it was not a coincidence that the vision of Thrice Holy God was revealed to Isaiah and John. The Hebrew name for Isaiah is Yesha’yahu (“YAHWEH is salvation”) and for John is Yochanan (“YAHWEH is gracious”). The integration of the two definitions manifests the greatest gift for humanity toward holiness: “God’s saving grace.”
Holiness is absolutely important in God’s sight that He never tolerates any tiny little sins in His presence. God never compromises His standard. He deserves the best from us, and He desires the best for us. The ultimate goal of every man is to see the face of his Creator. It is God’s promise that when we see Him face-to-face, we will be like Him, we will see all He is, in His pure and divine essence (1 John 3:2). That is why, this utmost goal is impossible to reach by human efforts – we all need the saving grace of God through the work of Christ that purifies our hearts (Matthew 5:8, Hebrews 12:14) and disciplines us that we may share in His holiness (Hebrews 12:10).
The truth that God is holy, holy, holy reflects His eternal nature, divine perfection in the Trinity, and supreme holiness. God is perfect in all His ways in eternity past, present, and future. His perfection is revealed in three Persons: Father, Son (Jesus Christ), and Holy Spirit, who share the equal divine attributes. No one is holy like God, and therefore He alone is worthy of our worship.
Philip Wijaya is presently a graduate research student at the University of British Columbia living in Vancouver, Canada with his wife, Sandra. His interest in science and faith in God has encouraged him to write in a blog (philipwijaya.com), with a hope of better understanding the truths in the Bible in relation to scientific views and discoveries. Besides research and study, he also enjoys sports, music, and traveling.
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