The holiness of God is a part of His character we often misunderstand. Rev Ngo teaches this hard truth.
In almost every religion, there exists a distinction between what is holy and what is profane. A distinction that separates what is right and what is wrong, what is good and what is bad, what is hallowed and what is reviled, and what is acceptable and what is not.
To be “holy” is to “be distinct, separate, in a class by oneself”.
“The primary meaning of holy is ‘separate’. It comes from an ancient word that means ‘to cut’ or ‘to separate’. Perhaps even more accurate would be the phrase ‘a cut above something’. When we find a garment or another piece of merchandise that is outstanding, that has a superior excellence, we use the expression that it is ‘a cut above the rest’.”1
- When we say God is holy, we are saying God is “separate” from us.
This is the first notion when the term “holiness” is applied to God. God is separate, set above all which is created.
“When the Bible calls God holy, it means primarily that He is transcendentally separate. He is so far above and beyond us that He seems almost totally foreign to us.”2
In Exodus 15:11, Moses declares,“Who among the gods is like you, LORD? Who is like you—majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders?”
“Among the gods there is none like you, Lord; no deeds can compare with yours. All the nations you have made will come and worship before you, Lord; they will bring glory to your name. For you are great and do marvellous deeds; you alone are God.” (Psalms 86:8-10, 99:1-3; Isaiah 40:25; 57:15)
Theologian R C Sproul makes this insightful observation from Isaiah 6:1-3: “The Bible says that God is holy, holy, holy. Not that He is merely holy, or even holy, holy. He is holy, holy, holy. The Bible never says that God is love, love, love, or mercy, mercy, mercy, or wrath, wrath, wrath, or justice, justice, justice. It does say that He is holy, holy, holy, the whole earth is full of His glory.”3
- When we say we are holy it means we are called to “be separated to God”.
“To be holy is to be ‘other’, to be different in a special way. The same basic meaning is used when the word holy is applied to earthly things.”4
Things are regarded holy because of their connection with God.
Like “Holy ground” (Exodus 3:5; Acts 7:33), “Holy Sabbath” (Exodus 16:23, 20:8; Nehemiah 9:14; Ezekiel 20:20), “Holy day” (Exodus 35:2; Nehemiah 10:31), “Holy Place” (Exodus 26:33; Joshua 24:26; 1 Kings 8:10) and “Holy people” (Exodus 22:31; Deuteronomy 7:6; 1 Corinthians 1:2; Jude 1:3).
In addition, we were given a command by God to “Be holy because I am holy.” This is found on eight separate occasions in Leviticus 11:44, 11:45, 16:16, 19:2, 20:7, 20:26, 21:8, and 21:23.
And 1 Peter 1:15-16 repeats what was found in Leviticus: “But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: Be holy, because I am holy.”
Because God is holy, we, who are His people are called to holiness. (Ephesians 1:4; 1 Thessalonians 4:3)
- The holiness of God calls us to be set apart from the world
At the birth of the nation of Israel, God set His people apart from the rest of the world with a moral code (Exodus 20), sacrificial laws (Leviticus 1-7), a list of dietary laws (Leviticus 11, 17), and even a call to have holiness as a personal conduct (Leviticus 18-19).
The psalmist reminds us in chapter 24: “Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord? Who may stand in His holy place? The one who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not trust in an idol or swear by a false god.”
“When things are made holy, when they are consecrated, they are set apart unto purity. They are to be used in a pure way. They are to reflect purity as well as simple apartness. Purity is not excluded from the idea of the holy; it is contained within it.”5
To be holy is to be morally pure.
In Ephesians 5:3 Paul reminds Christians: “But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people.”
The holiness of God is not simply a doctrine to which we give assent. Rather, it should govern our lives.
Holiness must influence our thinking, speech, deeds and lifestyle. It must impact our interests, pursuits and even recreation. So we need to embrace and exhibit a state of “separateness” from the world in terms of the way we think, speak, dress, behave, and live.
1 Peter 1:14-19 says: “As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as He who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy.’ Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear. For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.”
The appropriate response to understanding the holiness of God is fear (reverence). And the working out of this fear is obedience. So if we really understand God’s holiness, we will live pure and obedient lives.
Probably the most important reason for holiness in our lives is found in Hebrew 12:14 which states that “without holiness no one will see God.”
Source: 1-5 R C Sproul, The Holiness of God (Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1985), p40, 54-56.
About Rev Alvin Ngo
Rev Alvin Ngo currently serves as the Deputy Senior Pastor and Missions Director of Eternal Life Assembly. He answered God’s call to full-time ministry in 1983. Spending the first two years in Pakistan with Operation Mobilisation, he has since been in the pastoral ministry for the past 35 years. He is a graduate of both Singapore Bible College and Trinity Theological College. His lovely wife of 33 years is Wai Leng and they have three children, Isaac, Ivan and Isabel.