Summary: God is separate from all that is sinful; He is the perfect measure of goodness. He is holiness itself--the source and standard of moral absolutes. Do we have a sense of God's holiness?
Everything begins with God. He is at the center of our faith. Yet we don’t get out of bed each morning and mindlessly repeat “I believe” three times. We need to ask ourselves: “In whom do I believe?” We were made to know God. Do we? I’m not talking about seeing a vision or hearing a voice. We know God by knowing His word, in which He reveals Himself and His purpose for us, His creation. So we begin a study of God’s character, His attributes.
At an Army chapel in Germany where I served, we would begin our worship by declaring: “God is good…all the time!”…because He is holy. To be holy means to be set apart, unique. God is separate from all that is sinful; He is the perfect measure of goodness. He is holiness itself--the source and standard of moral absolutes. God’s holiness extends to all He is (His nature) and all His actions (works). God swears by His holiness (Heb 6:13/Ps 89:35) because He can swear by no greater. His infinite holiness permeates all He does. Thomas Watson stated, “Holiness is the most sparkling jewel of God’s crown; it is the name by which He is known.”
In Isaiah 6, the prophet had a vision of God in all His transcendent majesty. Before God’s exalted throne, angels declared that God is “Holy, Holy, Holy.” In Jewish thought, for something to be repeated three times, indicated its perfection. To call God “Holy, Holy, Holy” is to say that He is perfectly pure, with nothing and no one to compare Him to. “There is no one holy like the Lord,” I Samuel 2:2. Nothing could be added to God’s goodness. He is distinct, with no comparisons, no peers. So we could get out of bed and declare, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty.”
Encountering God’s holiness, Isaiah was awestruck, overwhelmed…and he fully realized his profane sinfulness. Trembling, he cried out, “Woe is me!” Isaiah felt exposed, naked under the gaze of absolute holiness. He was profoundly confronted with his moral inadequacy. R.C. Sproul writes, “For the first time in his life Isaiah understood who God was. At the same instant, for the first time Isaiah understood who Isaiah was.” We may think, “Hey, I’m not so bad; I haven’t killed anyone or robbed any banks,” yet we are debased and defiled when compared to the Standard.
With God so holy and pure, how can we ever hope to be acceptable in His sight? Sin is an affront to the holiness of God. The prophet Habakkuk writes that God’s “eyes are too pure to look on evil” (1:13). Yet there is hope for us; God declares in Isaiah 57:15, “I live in a high and holy place, but also with those who are contrite and humble.” God takes us who grieve over our sinfulness and He makes us holy and acceptable. Isaiah stood trembling before the throne, lamenting “I am a man of unclean lips.” Then an angel took a burning coal and touched his lips, a symbolic act of purification and pardon. The angel assured the prophet, “Your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for” (6:5-6).