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It’s a word that gets thrown around a lot in our Christian culture. Our hymns and songs on Sunday mornings praise God for his holiness while Scripture references it constantly. But despite the term’s prominence in our faith, it often goes undefined for many people.

What does ‘Holy’ mean?

When we sing, “Holy, Holy Holy, is the Lord God Almighty,” we are recognizing the most crucial component to God’s character – his otherness. When we claim that he is holy, we are saying that he is set apart, unblemished, and uncompromised. Another way of looking at it is to say that God is pure.

When sin entered the world through Adam and Eve, it didn’t just contaminate the souls of mankind but also compromised the integrity of all God’s creation. Suddenly, everything he spoke into existence became a lesser version of itself. But only one thing remains pure, blameless, and undiluted by this tragedy – our Almighty God.

So why is God’s holiness so important? Well, it’s significant for three reasons.

1. God’s holiness makes him bigger than our sin.

If our sin was big enough to take down God’s character and thus compromising his integrity, it definitely wouldn’t say anything good about his sovereignty. How can we trust a God who could be unwillingly weakened by his creation? Our hope is placed in a God who is bigger than our failures and the brokenness that bleeds from them. He is the only one we can trust because he is the one who stands outside of our situation.

2. God’s holiness is the reason we can’t be reconciled with him by our own doing.

Our unholiness compromises God’s holiness. Purity is an absolute thing. There are no varying degrees of it. Either something is pure or it isn’t. If we, as an unholy and sinful people, approach our holy God, we compromise his purity.

The entire Jewish Law centered around this idea that God’s holiness must be respected and that mankind must be protected from it. His holiness is not just something we stand in awe of. Its raw power should be feared. From rules about ceremonial cleanliness to the condition of the animal sacrifices given to God, every word of the Law speaks to this idea that his holiness should be taken seriously.

Just a glimpse of God’s holiness caused Moses’ face to shine in such a way that others were afraid to come near him (Ex. 34:29-30). It caused Isaiah to drop to the floor in fear, declaring, “Woe is me!” Or another way to paraphrase that might be, “Im gonna die, I’m gonna die, I’m gonna die…”

Jewish priests would approach the Holy of Holies, the center of the Temple where the Ark of the Covenant resided, with ropes around their feet. In the event a priest was struck dead by God’s holiness while standing in his presence, the other priests could pull out his body without risking their own lives. (You just know they were clamoring to be that guy.)

God’s holiness is a danger to anything that isn’t holy and that includes us.

3. God’s holiness is a gift to us.

Since we’ve all sinned, obviously we can’t attain holiness. No amount of cleansing will do the trick. It takes someone who is holy coming and making us holy. This is where Jesus comes in. Even though he lived with us, he never succumbed to our sinful condition. He remained pure. When he faced death, a punishment reserved for sinners, he did so for us. For those who have received the gift of his death and resurrection, we have been declared holy again. In fact, the Greek word for “church” even means “the holy ones.”

With this gift, we approach God freely and vulnerably. He has removed the sacrifices and religious games that stand between him and us. This is an idea we can easily get used to as Christians but it helps to remember that he isn’t the God next door. He is the holy, sovereign, almighty, God of wrath who chose to save us from our ourselves and declare us one with him. So next time you’re in church singing one of those great hymns or reading through a passage, never forget how important this aspect of God really is.

Discuss: Why do you think we often ignore this important characteristic of God?

Posted in: Theology

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