The holiness of God isn’t something we talk about too often, but it’s apparently a significant theme, historically evidenced in some famous hymns (“Holy, Holy, Holy,” etc.), in the frequent usage of the word in the worship going on in heaven (Rev. 4:8) and in the Psalms (Psalm 103:1), and in the sheer quantity of the word’s occurrence in the Bible. It seems to be a word we often cower under as we recognize our own sinfulness in comparison to God’s “holiness,” understood as His lack of and hatred toward sin.
When the “Holy, Holy …” type songs come along in the worship set, it’s not uncommon to see some if not many fall to their knees or make some alternative physical expression of contrition. I would be willing to wager however, that such responses are frequently not as much a response of awe and wonder to the intrinsic holiness of God, but rather a somewhat guilt and shame laden acknowledgment of one’s own shortcomings.
And while this is just my experience, I think nearly everything on the subject of holiness I’ve ever read, heard preached or discussed concerns the holiness we are commanded to have, which eventually spirals to a spirituality dominated by “should” and “must,” and their counterparts guilt and regret. Regardless of any absence of grace and failure to adequately portray the heart of Jesus, isn’t such an understanding of holiness man-centered as opposed to God-centered? When we think of, sing about, write on or discuss the topic of holiness, shouldn’t the holiness of God be both our point of commencement and our final goal? The Scriptures say, “Be holy as I am holy,” so shouldn’t an in-depth understanding and experience of God’s own holiness be the foundational groundwork for any attempt at holiness in our own lives?
In the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament), the word translated “holy” basically means “set apart,” expressing the ideas of uniqueness or something that is totally other than anything else. The opposite of holy is not unclean (whose opposite is clean), but common, or normal. It points not so much to the fact that God is devoid of and diametrically opposed to sin (which He is, by the way) but to His incomparability, to His infinite and unmatched superiority, that there is no one or nothing else like Him, that He is utterly magnificent in beauty and in all His ways. It is a kind of summary attribute for God describing all of His attributes.
Micah 7:18 is very illuminating concerning the holiness of God: “Who is a God like you, pardoning sin and forgiving transgression … You do not stay angry forever but delight in showing mercy.” When Micah says, “Who is like you?” this rhetorical question is the language of incomparability; He is giving us insight into what exactly it is that makes God holy. While there could potentially be many answers to this question, Micah’s discussion of God’s holiness is so remarkable that it is unmatched in any other religious document in the world. What makes God holy, what sets Him apart from all other people and things, the center of His uniqueness, is His profound ability in and enjoyment of forgiving us even when we come woefully short of His standards.
God’s holiness is not just about His separation from sin, but His unique expertise in taking weak and broken people like ourselves—who love doing things our own way, when we struggle and stumble and even willingly choose what is wrong—and drawing us back to His side. It says that He “delights in showing mercy.” He doesn’t forgive us because He has to—He wants to; He enjoys it. His heart radiates with joy and a smile comes to His face whenever He removes any and all hindrances in our relationship with Him; He wipes the proverbial slate clean, gives us a new beginning and then relates to us as though we had never even sinned (2 Cor. 5:19), so He can eternally embrace us as His precious children.
Next time you think about holiness or your journey into holiness, try looking at it from that perspective. God’s holiness does mean He hates sin, but it also means that when we do struggle, what makes Him the happiest is simply to forgive, embrace and restore us.[Stories on RELEVANTmagazine.com are user-submitted. The viewpoints expressed are the opinions of the author and do not necessary reflect the opinion of RELEVANT magazine. For exclusive in-depth stories, subscribe now to RELEVANT magazine. If you are interested in submitting an article, please check out our writers guidelines.]