What is Holiness? - By Peter Norris

In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3 And one called to another and said:
“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!”
4 And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. 5 And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”
6 Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” – Isaiah 6:1-7


Holiness is something we often read about in the Bible, but what does it actually mean and why does it matter?

This record of the prophet Isaiah’s encounter with God’s holiness gives us some answers.


You can tell a lot about God’s holiness by the way people react when He approaches them. 

One theologian talks about the ‘creature-feeling’ that God’s holiness evokes in people – a sudden awareness that their existence depends on something other than themselves; a sense of fear, vulnerability and danger.  You can see it here in Isaiah’s cry: “Woe is me! For I am lost” (or “undone”) (verse 5).

When we encounter God in His holiness, we’re reminded that He’s the Creator. He’s not dependent on anything else for His existence. He’s completely self-sufficient. And He’s His own master. No one can tell Him what to do. He is Sovereign.

These truths make us feel very small.

We like to think we don’t depend on anything else for our existence.  We like to think no one can tell us what to do. But an encounter with God’s holiness reminds us how wrong we are.

We’re completely dependent on God to keep us alive and He has every right to tell us what to do because He made us.

God draws near

Now, this might all seem a bit stern, especially when people often say God’s holiness refers to his “separateness”. But that’s not the whole picture.

You see, we only get to encounter God’s holiness when he draws near. God always wants to be close to His people. Whether that’s with Adam and Eve in the garden, with the people of Israel in the tabernacle, or with all believers in the New Jerusalem.

God knows that we’re not pure enough to be in His presence but He makes a way for it to happen. He took Isaiah’s guilt away with a burning coal from the altar (verses 6-7). He takes away our guilt by sending His Son from heaven to bear our guilt on the cross.

We’re cleansed so that we can draw near to God and enjoy Him in His awesome holiness. The Creator. The Sovereign One.