Back in December of last year I started to post a series of short articles dealing with some of the basic theological concepts that underlie our understanding of the gospel. Due to illness and a couple of other pressing issues, I have gotten away from posting these articles. This morning I would like to come back to that series and mention one of the key attributes of God — He is Holy. Take a look at the following verses from Isaiah 6:1-8:
In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings; with two he covered his face and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” Then one of the Seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said, “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away; and your sin atoned for.”
One of the most important habits to develop in Bible study is to look for repeated words. Ancient writers did not have things like bold print, underlining or italics to capture their reader’s attention, so when they wanted to emphasize an idea they would repeat it. In this passage, we see the word Holy repeated three times. Some Bible teachers have suggested that the threefold repetition of the word “Holy” is a reference to the trinity. However, a more likely reason is that Isaiah wants us to recognize that the central attribute of God is that He is Holy.
The word translated Holy means “to be set apart.” Wayne Grudem says, “God’s holiness means that he is separated from sin and devoted to seeking his own honor.” (Systematic Theology, p.201) When we say that God is Holy, we mean that He is set apart from everything and everyone else in the Universe because He created and rules over it. The word Holy refers to the perfection and absolute moral purity of God. Standing in the light of God’s Holiness, Isaiah immediately recognized his own sin and depravity and cried out “Woe is me, for I am undone.” No one can understand the Holiness of God and not become aware of his or her own sin.
The word Holy can also be understood as a description of all the other attributes of God. For instance, Exodus 34:6 says that God is merciful and kind. This does not mean that God is merely more merciful or more kind than the best person we know. Instead, the word Holy is used to set God’s attributes apart from everyone else in the universe. Therefore, God displays a Holy mercy and a Holy kindness. His mercy and kindness are set apart and unique. In other words, God is kind and merciful in ways that no other being in the universe can match. The greatest display of His Holy love, mercy and kindness is the cross upon which He sacrificed His own Son in order to save sinners like you and me.
Allow me to close this post with the words of A.W. Tozer who said, ““We cannot grasp the true meaning of the divine holiness by thinking of someone or something very purse and then raising the concept to the highest degree we are capable of. God’s holiness is not simply the best we know infinitely bettered. We know nothing like the divine holiness. It stands apart, unique, unapproachable, incomprehensible and unattainable. The natural man is blind to it. He may fear God’s power and admire His wisdom, but His holiness he cannot even imagine…Only the Spirit of the Holy One can impart to the human spirit the knowledge of the holy.” (Knowledge of the Holy, p.111)