You might be interested to know that the holiness of God is referred to more often than any other attribute in the Bible. Thomas Watson once said, “Holiness is the most sparkling jewel of his crown; it is the name by which God is known.” God’s holiness is arguably one of the most foundational attributes of His person.
When you see angels worshiping in heaven, they are not crying, “Mighty, mighty, mighty” or “Omniscient, omniscient, omniscient” or “Loving, loving, loving.” They are saying, “Holy, holy, holy” (Isa 6:3; Rev 4:8).
So what exactly is holiness? The word “holiness” comes from the Hebrew word qadas meaning “to separate” or “to cut” (the Greek equivalent of hagios). The idea is that God is separated or cut off from sin and evil; He is a cut above all unrighteousness and a cut above everything He created. Charles Hodge gives this definition in his Systematic Theology:
“Holiness, on the one hand, implies entire freedom from moral evil and, on the other, absolute moral perfection. Freedom from purity is the primary idea of the word. To sanctify is to cleanse; to be holy is to be clean. Infinite purity, even more than infinite knowledge or infinite power, is the object of reverence.”
It means simply that God is without sin and is separated from all evil. He doesn’t see the holy standard and than meet it; He is the standard. In his very short but profound work The Knowledge of the Holy, A.W. Tozer writes,
“Holy is the way God is. To be holy He does not conform to a standard. He is that standard. He is absolutely holy with an infinite, incomprehensible fullness of purity that is incapable of being other than it is. 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.”
He doesn’t need to change, because he is already perfectly holy. He does not do any wrongdoing. God’s holiness means that He is separated from sin and devoted to being the standard of all holiness for all.
This was what Moses was confronted with at the burning bush. When he approached this theophany, the Lord warned him “Do not draw near this place. Take your sandals off your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground” (Exod 3:5). He told Moses, “You are coming to a place void of sin and you are a sinner. Be warned!”
Isaiah had a similar confrontation when he had a vision of God in Isaiah 6. He had a vision of God sitting on his throne surrounded by cherubim, angels and other sentient beings. He saw them saying “Holy, holy, holy” and telling him the entire earth was filled with His glory (Isa 6:3). The foundation shook, smoke filled the room and Isaiah proclaimed, “Woe is me, for I am undone! Because 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” (Isa 6:4). He was utterly humbled with being in the presence of the holy standard as an unholy man. Men like Moses and Isaiah demonstrate how we are to react to God’s holiness.
Unfortunately, there is too much sinful reaction to the reality of God’s holiness. When confronted with God’s holiness, some people grow in bitterness; others resent His holiness; some just get enraged; some just trivialize God’s attributes all together. The godly reaction to God’s holiness is really thanksgiving and trembling. For more help, read Psalm 99:
“The LORD reigns; let the peoples tremble! He sits enthroned upon the cherubim; let the earth quake!The LORD is great in Zion; he is exalted over all the peoples. Let them praise your great and awesome name! Holy is he! The King in his might loves justice. You have established equity; you have executed justice and righteousness in Jacob. Exalt the LORD our God; worship at his footstool! Holy is he! Moses and Aaron were among his priests, Samuel also was among those who called upon his name. They called to the LORD, and he answered them. In the pillar of the cloud he spoke to them; they kept his testimonies and the statute that he gave them. O LORD our God, you answered them; you were a forgiving God to them, but an avenger of their wrongdoings. Exalt the LORD our God, and worship at his holy mountain; for the LORD our God is holy!“