If someone called you "holy" would you consider it to be a compliment? It would probably depend on two things.
First, it would depend on whether another word was attached to the word holy, such as, "a holy roller" or "holier than thou" or a "Holy Joe". In these cases the term would be considered derisive . . .a negative connotation. And secondly it would depend on the person's definition of holiness. In the mind of many, "holy" means; narrow-minded, uptight, judgmental, detached, Victorian and other negative words. In this case being called holy would not be a compliment. But if you were called holy in the Biblical sense, it would be a great compliment . . . one we might be very uncomfortable with.
Of all the attributes of God . . . holiness is the one that seems to take center stage. Most of you know that in the Hebrew language to repeat a word is to emphasize it. For example if you said a stone was big it would mean one thing. If you said the stone was big big . . . you would mean it was a really big stone. If it was big, big, big, it would mean that it was a gigantic boulder.
In Isaiah 6 and in Revelation 4 the angels declare that God is "holy, holy, holy". This is the only attribute of God that is emphasized in this way. God is never called "Love, love, love," or "mercy, mercy, mercy". Therefore, if we want to know God we must understand the idea of God's holiness.
R.C. Sproul gives us a simple way to remember the definition of holiness,
The first prayer I learned as a child was the simple table grace: "God is great, God is good, and we thank Him for this food." The two virtues assigned to God in this prayer, greatness and goodness, may be captured by the one biblical word, holy. [Essential Truths p. 47]
So, there are two ideas to holiness. The first is the idea of greatness. One of the meanings of holiness is the idea of being "set apart". God is apart from us . . . He is in a class by Himself. "There is a profound difference between Him and those He has created. When the Bible speaks of holy objects or holy people or holy time, it refers to things that have been set apart, consecrated, or made different by the touch of God upon them. It was the nearness of the divine that made the ordinary suddenly extraordinary and the common, uncommon." [Sproul ibid.] Holiness means that God is transcendent (or unique and superior) in His greatness.
The second aspect of holiness (and the one we generally think of first) is the idea of purity. God is good. He does what is right and never does what is wrong. God is unstained by, and uncompromising with sin. God does not "bend a little" when it comes to wrong-doing. God always acts in a righteous manner because His nature is holiness. He is both great and good.
A CASE STUDY IN HOLINESS
The best way to understand Holiness is to look at a case study in Isaiah 6:1-8. The setting is sometime after the death of King Uzziah. Most of Uzziah's story can be found in 2 Chronicles 26. He was for the most part a successful King. We do know that Isaiah ministered during part of Uzziah's reign but we don't know what kind of relationship they had. We can only speculate on what Isaiah's state of mind was when he received the vision recorded in chapter 6.
Perhaps Isaiah was concerned what would happen next in Israel. Maybe the vision had nothing to do with Uzziah at all.
Anyway, Isaiah has a vision. And there are several things that happen in this vision. The first thing we notice is GOD'S GREATNESS.
I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.” At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.
Notice the details of Isaiah's vision: God was on the throne. Uzziah may have died, but God was still on the throne. The throne was high and exalted which means that it is greater and exceeded all other thrones. The train (just the train) of His robe filled the temple. I don't know why it is but when a bride walks down an aisle her dress often has a long "train". Some of you remember the wedding of Diana and Prince Charles. Diana's train was so long that there were people there to carry the train of her dress! Why? It is a symbol of royalty. The train of God filled the entire temple! His royalty far surpasses anything we have known or can imagine.