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God Is Holy



“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth is full of his glory!”

The Seraphim
, Isaiah 6:3

At one time or another, we’ve all wondered what it would be like to be God, to have all His attributes. It’s a natural fantasy for us feeble creatures. How else do you explain the success of the film Bruce Almighty? By the same token, have you ever considered what it would be like for God to be us? That’s not a crazy thought, mainly because God has already done it in the person of Jesus, who was God in human form. 

As incredible and amazing as this thought is (we’ll talk more about it in Part 3), imagining God walking the earth in the person of Jesus doesn’t quite capture what it took for God to become one of us. In his description of the incarnation (the word that describes the act of God becoming human), C. S. Lewis compares the process to something we can easily imagine—probably with disgust. Lewis writes, “If you want to get the hang of it, think how you would like to become a slug or a crab.”

Slugs or crabs may not be the most disgusting creatures you could think of, but they come pretty close. Slugs in particular are slimy and creepy and just plain awful. Crabs may not look as repulsive, but they dwell on the bottom of the sea and basically eat garbage. The point of Lewis’s comparison is that God becoming us was just plain awful, at least from our perspective. From God’s perspective, of course, it’s a very different story, because He did not become one of us against His will. Because of His amazing love for us, He willingly became a lowly human.

We need to keep something very important in mind: just because God became like us doesn’t mean He is like us. We may share some of His qualities, and He may generously make them available to us, but there is one quality that makes God utterly unlike us: His holiness.

We think of the word holiness as that quality of God that makes Him better than us by degrees—as in we are imperfect and He is perfect, as if we’re both on some kind of holiness scale. In truth, God is on an entirely different plane. When it comes to His holiness, He lives in another dimension.

The very definition of the word holy gives us a clue. The Hebrew word for the English word holy means “to cut or separate.” More than any other, this characteristic separates us from God. God isn’t just different from us in the way He is; He is also wholly different from us in the way He acts. That’s why there is such a great gulf separating us from God. We are sinners, and God is holy. Holiness can never interact with anything unholy.

There’s a remarkable passage in the Bible that describes the prophet Isaiah and his terrifying vision of the Most Holy God sitting upon His heavenly throne. You can read it for yourself in Isaiah 6:1–7. What you will find is an astonishing picture of a mortal who is confronted with the holiness of God. “Woe to me!” he says. “I am ruined!” The chasm between him and a holy God fills him with despair. Isaiah recognizes his vast imperfection and cries out, “I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”

The implication of these dramatic statements should not be lost on us. Holy isn’t just another attribute of God. Holy is what God is. It isn’t a standard He must conform to, because He is the standard. At the same time, because God is merciful (He doesn’t give us what we deserve), His holiness isn’t just about Him being different from us. As Michael Horton writes, “It also includes His movement toward us.”

Because God is wholly holy, He can’t share His holiness with us. He is still “other” than we are. But because God became a human being in the form of Jesus, He identifies with us and calls us to separate ourselves from sin and death and be joined to Him— which we can do when we put our faith in Jesus rather than our own abilities.

The story of Isaiah’s vision of the holy God continues as one of the seraphim (winged angelic beings at the scene who call out “Holy, holy, holy”) flies to the prophet with a burning coal taken with tongs from the altar. The seraph touches Isaiah’s unclean mouth, thereby taking away Isaiah’s guilt and atoning for his sin. It is the grace of God dramatically illustrated— God giving Isaiah what he doesn’t deserve.

We may not experience Isaiah’s excruciating pain when he was confronted with God’s holiness, but we should think about it the same way Isaiah did—and worship the Lord for the holy God He is.

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Stan's entire life has been wrapped in content: selling, writing and publishing books and resources that help ordinary people capture a glimpse of extraordinary things.