What is Holiness?
One of the most important thing you need to know about the Christian God is that he is holy. But for many this is a fuzzy and loosely-defined concept. What does Scripture mean when it says that God is holy? Here is the full discussion found in Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology:
“God’s holiness means that he is separated from sin and devoted to seeking his own honor. This definition contains both a relational quality (separation from) and a moral quality (the separation is from sin or evil, and the devotion is to the good of God’s own honor or glory). The idea of holiness as including both separation from evil and devotion to God’s own glory is found in a number of Old Testament passages. The word holy is used to describe both parts of the tabernacle, for example. The tabernacle itself was a place separate from the evil and sin of the world, and the first room in it was called the “holy place.” It was dedicated to God’s service. But then God commanded that there be a veil, “and the veil shall separate for you the holy place from the most holy” (Ex. 26:33). The most holy place, where the ark of the covenant was kept, was the place most separated from evil and sin and most fully devoted to God’s service.
The place where God himself dwelt was itself holy: “Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD? And who shall stand in his holy place?” (Ps. 24:3). The element of dedication to God’s service is seen in the holiness of the sabbath day: “the LORD blessed the sabbath day and made it holy” (or “hallowed it”; the verb is a Piel form of H7727, and means “to make holy”) (Ex. 20:11; cf. Gen. 2:3). The sabbath day , ָק ַדשׁ
was made holy because it was set apart from the ordinary activities of the world and dedicated to God’s service. In the same way the tabernacle and the altar, as well as Aaron and his sons, were to be “made holy” (Ex. 29:44), that is, set apart from ordinary tasks and from the evil and sin of the world and dedicated to God’s service (cf. Ex. 30:25–33).
God himself is the Most Holy One. He is called the “Holy One of Israel” (Pss. 71:22; 78:41; 89:18; Isa. 1:4; 5:19, 24; et al.). The seraphim around God’s throne cry, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory” (Isa. 6:3). “The LORD our God is holy!” exclaims the psalmist (Ps. 99:9; cf. 99:3, 5; 22:3).
God’s holiness provides the pattern for his people to imitate. He commands them, “You shall be holy; for I the LORD your God am holy” (Lev. 19:2; cf. 11:44–45; 20:26; 1 Peter 1:16). When God called his people out of Egypt and brought them to himself and commanded them to obey his voice, then he said, “You shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Ex. 19:4–6). In this case the idea of separation from evil and sin (which here included in a very striking way separation from life in Egypt) and the idea of devotion to God (in serving him and in obeying his statutes) are both seen in the example of a “holy nation.”
New covenant believers are also to “strive…for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14) and to know that God’s discipline is given to us “that we may share his holiness” (Heb. 12:10). Paul encourages Christians to be separate from the dominating influence that comes from close association with unbelievers (2
Cor. 6:14–18) and then encourages them, “Let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, and make holiness perfect in the fear of God” (2 Cor. 7:1; cf. Rom. 12:1). The church itself is intended by God to grow “into a holy temple in the Lord” (Eph. 2:21), and Christ’s present work for the church is “that he might sanctify her…that he might present the church to himself in splendor…that she might be holy and without blemish” (Eph. 5:26–27). Not only individuals but also the church itself must grow in holiness!
Zechariah prophesies a day when everything on earth will be “holy to the LORD.” He says:
And on that day there shall be inscribed on the bells of the horses, “Holy to the LORD.” And the pots in the house of the LORD shall be as the bowls before the altar; and every pot in Jerusalem and Judah shall be sacred to the LORD of hosts. (Zech. 14:20–21) At that time, everything on earth will be separated from evil, purified from sin, and devoted to the service of God in true moral purity.”