The trait of holiness, though absent from much modern preaching and writing, is a central character trait of God in the Bible. It may even be the central essential facet of God. Holiness virtually defines God. How can I say that?

The prophet Isaiah writes “thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy” (Isa. 57:15).

When Isaiah says that God’s “name is Holy,” he is saying that holiness is a fundamental defining trait of God. It is essential to His moral existence. And well might Isaiah say that!

When he was commissioned as a prophet in chapter six of his book, Isaiah finds himself in the heavenly throne room, and he sees the Lord God Himself, lofty and exalted. The very air creaks and groans, the atmosphere trembles with the immense presence of God. Before this great King are seraphim—bright, burning angelic creatures, creatures without sin or shame or guilt.

Yet even these radiant beings cover their eyes and feet with their wings, overawed by the sight of God, crying out again and again, saying . . . “Loving, loving, loving is the LORD of hosts”? “Gracious, gracious, gracious is the LORD of hosts”? “Merciful, merciful, merciful”? “Forgiving, forgiving, forgiving”? No, though all these things are true, those are not the traits that overwhelm these luminous entities.

“Holy! Holy! Holy!” They cry out “Holy!”—but once is not enough, so they say a second time “Holy!” Yet even twice does not catch it, so they shout a third time—befitting the triunity of this God—“holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” (Isa. 6:3). In all the Bible, holiness is the only attribute of God that is marked by a threefold repetition.

Holiness is an overwhelming and all-encompassing trait of God. We cannot understand the first thing about God unless we have some glimmer of His holiness. What is more, this truth about God will never change. In his prophecy, the apostle John sees other angelic creatures in heaven, and “day and night they never cease to say, ‘Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!’” (Rev. 4:8).

Think of it: God has beings whose whole ministry forever is to shout out the praise of His attribute of holiness! God was holy. God is holy. God will always be holy. Many verses resound with this truth. The book of Leviticus contains frequent assertions of Yahweh’s holiness, with phrases to the effect of “you shall be holy, because I, Yahweh your God, am holy” occurring over and over again (Lev. 11:44, 45; 19:2; 20:26; 21:8; 22:2).

The anonymous and undated Psalm 99 echoes Isaiah 6 (or is it the reverse?), by saying three times that the majestic King Yahweh is holy (vv. 3, 5, 9). Clearly, a conscious awareness of this truth must control the way we understand everything else that can be said about God. If we do not see everything about God in the light of His holiness, we do not see God as He is. [1]

Dan Phillips

End notes:

[1] Phillips, Dan (2011-07-14). The World-Tilting Gospel (pp. 80-82). Kregel Publications. Kindle Edition.

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