The Meaning of Holiness

Pray then like this: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name’” (v. 9).

- Matthew 6:9-13

For the past few days, we have seen just how important God’s attribute of holiness is and what happens when sinners stand before Him in all His purity and glory (Lev. 10:1–3; 2 Sam. 6:5–7; Isa. 6:1–7). However, we still need to consider exactly what Scripture means by the terms holy and holiness. Given that it is such an important concept, we must understand exactly what it is to be holy.

Typically, most Christians think of righteousness and ethical purity when they hear the term holy. After all, God’s Word in many passages associates holiness with righteous living and being cleansed from sin (2 Cor. 7:1; 1 Peter 1:14–16). Nevertheless, holiness in Scripture, while associated with moral uprightness, is not chiefly about doing the right things; rather, to be holy is, first and foremost, to be set apart from what is common. It is to be different or unique in comparison to this world. Consequently, holiness is not a quality that people alone can possess, but time and objects can also be holy. For example, Aaron was “set apart,” separated from the other Israelites, to offer sacrifices in behalf of God’s people and mediate between them and their Lord (1 Chron. 23:13). When our Creator met Moses in the burning bush, the ground on which the encounter took place became holy ground (Ex. 3:1–6). The room in which the ark of the covenant was located in the tabernacle was the “Holy Place” (Lev. 16:1–2), and old covenant feasts and festivals made time itself holy to the Lord (chap. 23).

Something or someone is made holy when the Almighty, who is Himself set apart from all creation, sets it apart for a special use or purpose. God is holy because He is more “set apart” from His creation than anything or anyone else. Basically, God’s holiness is a function of His transcendence. Because He is high and exalted, nothing in creation can match the Lord in His glory, power, and purity (Ex. 15:11; Isa. 33:5).

The Ten Commandments and the Lord’s Prayer communicate God’s holiness in their treatment of His name. Fallen creatures instinctively forbid murder, but it takes special revelation to tell us that profaning God’s holy, set-apart name is illegal (Ex. 20:7). Jesus tells us that the very first thing we should ask for in prayer is for God’s name to be regarded as holy in this world (Matt. 6:9). The distinction between the Lord and His creation is so great that even His name must be respected as holy.

Coram Deo

In Christ we become friends of God (John 15:12–15; James 2:23), but this is no casual friendship like we have with other human beings. The Lord is to be treated reverently by His friends, and if we do not regard His dignity and majesty, then we are not truly His friends. God is our friend, but He is not our pal, and we must take care in how we approach Him. He is worthy of all honor and glory, so may we never forget that.

Passages for Further Study

Leviticus 24:16
Deuteronomy 5:11
Luke 12:8–10
1 Timothy 1:1–11

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