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What does God mean when he says he is holy?

What does God mean when he says he is holy?

God’s holiness is a central aspect of His nature and character. When God says He is holy, it means that He is set apart from all other beings, perfectly pure, righteous and just. God’s holiness is intrinsic to who He is and is the source of all goodness. Understanding what it means when God says He is holy helps us grasp the awe-inspiring nature of who God is.

God’s Holiness Sets Him Apart

The word “holy” has its origins in an old Anglo-Saxon word meaning “whole” or “complete.” This points to the fact that God lacks nothing and has no impurities or imperfections. He possesses every good quality perfectly with nothing missing. God declares in Scripture, “I am the Lord your God; consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy” (Leviticus 11:44). His holiness sets Him completely apart from all other beings. There is no one like the Lord in His flawless holiness.

God’s holiness is what separates Him from all He has made. As Creator, He transcends the universe and is exalted over it. Everything else derives existence from Him, but He alone is self-existent. God told Moses, “I am who I am” (Exodus 3:14), underscoring His self-existent eternal nature in contrast to all dependent created things. God’s holiness places Him in a class all His own, far above any person, angel, or god invented by man.

God’s Holiness Means He is Perfectly Pure

Not only is God separate from all He has made, but as a holy being His nature is utterly pure and untainted by any impurity or evil. When the Bible depicts God on His throne in heaven, He is surrounded by pure white light, radiance, and glory (Daniel 7:9; Revelation 4:2-6). White represents purity and the unblemished, stainless holiness of God’s essence. The prophet Habakkuk described the splendor of God’s holiness: “Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrong” (Habakkuk 1:13).

Because God is perfectly holy, He cannot tolerate anything or anyone tainted by sin entering His presence. Evil cannot survive near the brilliant light of His untarnished glory. When Isaiah encountered the holiness of God in a vision, he cried out, “Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty” (Isaiah 6:5). Isaiah sensed his own sinfulness and that of all people in comparison to the spotless purity and holiness of God.

God’s Holiness Means He is Perfectly Righteous

Not only is God completely separate from all imperfection, but His nature is also utterly righteous and just. He embodies perfect virtue, integrity, goodness, morality, and justice. The psalmist described God by saying, “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne” (Psalm 89:14). Deuteronomy 32:4 declares, “He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he.” Everything God does reflects His flawless righteousness.

Out of His holy righteousness, God defines what is good, upright, and moral for humanity. Leviticus 19:2 instructs, “Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy.” God designed human conscience and morality to reflect His holy standards. He expects righteousness from humanity because we are made in His image, although all people fall short due to sin.

God’s Holiness Means He is Perfectly Just

Flowing out of God’s moral purity is His commitment to perfect justice. He holds all people accountable to His righteous standards. No injustice escapes His notice. Deuteronomy 32:4 says, “All his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he.” The Bible warns that God will ultimately judge all people in perfect justice and righteousness (Psalm 9:7-8; Acts 17:30-31).

Though God is patient and slow to anger, He will not leave sin unpunished forever. His holy justice requires that He deal with sin. God declared, “I will not leave the guilty unpunished” (Exodus 34:7). That is why Jesus had to take the punishment for sinners upon Himself to satisfy the demands of God’s justice. The cross of Christ supremely displays how serious God is about justice and the high cost of providing redemption from sin (Romans 3:25-26).

God’s Holiness Required Sacrifice Under the Old Covenant

Under the Old Testament law, the holiness of God required blood sacrifice for atonement when God’s holy standards were violated. Sacrifices had to be offered to cover over sins so that sinful people could approach a holy God. When Moses splashed blood on the altar and on the people, he said, “This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words” (Exodus 24:8). Without the shedding of blood, there could be no forgiveness (Hebrews 9:22).

Old Testament Sacrifice Purpose
Burnt offering General atonement for sin
Grain offering Tribute to God’s goodness
Peace offering Thanksgiving and fellowship
Sin offering Atonement for specific sins
Guilt offering Restitution for sins against others

God provided these sacrifices as temporary covering for sins until the coming of Christ, the Lamb of God, whose death would fully atone for all sins (Hebrews 10:1-4). The repetitive sacrifices showed the inability of animal blood to permanently deal with human sinfulness (Hebrews 10:11). Only the divine Son of God could offer the perfect, complete sacrifice to satisfy God’s holy justice once for all.

God’s Holiness Was Satisfied by Christ’s Sacrifice

The sacrifice of Jesus on the cross fully displayed God’s holiness, justice, and grace. God’s holiness requires punishment for sin. His grace offers undeserved forgiveness and cleansing. Christ’s substitutionary death upheld God’s just standard by paying sin’s penalty so God could pardon sinners who trust in Jesus (Romans 3:25-26; 2 Corinthians 5:21). Unlike OT sacrifices, Jesus’ once-for-all sacrifice fully satisfied God’s justice by bearing all the punishment for sin (Hebrews 10:14).

The sinless life of Christ and His willing self-sacrifice demonstrated His divine holiness and worthiness to pay for the sins of others (2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 4:15; 7:26-28). No other sacrifice could meet the demands of God’s holiness. The cross of Christ supremely displays how seriously God takes His holiness, justice, and grace. It offers hope that human beings can be cleansed from sin and restored to fellowship with a holy God.

Believers Are Declared Holy in Christ

Amazingly, through their union with Christ in salvation, believers are declared righteous and holy in God’s sight. Jesus “became for us wisdom from God – that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption” (1 Corinthians 1:30). When God looks at born-again Christians, He does not see their sin because they are clothed in the righteousness of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21). Believers become saints, which literally means “holy ones” (1 Corinthians 1:2).

However, believers are not yet fully holy in moral character and conduct. They still struggle with committing sins. But they are declared positionally holy “in Christ” and are called to grow in practical holiness as they mature spiritually (Hebrews 12:10, 14). One day when Jesus returns, Christians will be fully transformed into perfect moral holiness like Christ (1 John 3:2). Even now they aim to live holy lives out of reverence for God’s holiness (1 Peter 1:15-16).

God’s Holiness Should Inspire Reverent Worship

Because God’s holiness is so lofty and transcendent, the appropriate response is profound awe, admiration, worship, and obedience. His holiness should inspire reverent fear of offending Him. The prophet Isaiah fell face down before the throne of the holy Lord, convinced of his guilt (Isaiah 6:5). John fell down as though dead before the glorified Christ (Revelation 1:17). Peter showed holy fear when He realized Jesus’ divine identity, falling down and saying, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man” (Luke 5:8).

God’s holiness should inspire passionate worship, heartfelt praise, and joyful obedience. The angels surrounding God’s throne cry out, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty” (Revelation 4:8). Revelation 15:4 says that all nations will come and worship before the holy Lord. God’s people are to “worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness” (1 Chronicles 16:29; Psalm 29:2). His flawless purity sets Him apart as the only One worthy of our highest veneration and wholehearted service.


God’s claim to be holy means that He is set apart from all creation as a perfect, pure, righteous, just Being worthy of reverent worship. His holiness sets the standard for morality and requires justice that was ultimately satisfied through Christ’s sacrifice. Jesus’ blood fully paid sin’s penalty so that unholy people could be declared holy in right standing before God. Believers now strive to grow in holiness out of reverence for the God who called them to reflect His holy character. The holy Lord invites people to know Him and worship Him in spirit and in truth.