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The holiness of God and three great events of history 


Published: 28 September 2020 (GMT+10)

What is the supreme attribute of God?

Answer: His holiness. The word for ‘holy’, (Hebrew qadosh, kadesh, and Greek hagios) not only means perfectly good, but also perfectly separated from everything evil. This does not mean that God is subject to some law external to Himself, which He manages to keep. Rather, it means that God’s holiness is what God is Himself, and nobody else is. He Himself is the absolute standard of moral perfection and the absence of all moral evil, infinitely separated from and exalted above every other being in the universe.

Everything about God is holy. His love is holy love; His forgiveness is holy forgiveness; His wrath is holy wrath; His justice is holy justice. However, the holiness of God is mentioned in a very unique way in Scripture. In the Old Testament we read: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts” (Isaiah 6:3), and in the New Testament: “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty” (Revelation 4:8). Other attributes of God are mentioned in the singular, e.g. “God is love” (1 John 4:8), not ‘love, love, love’; and “God is light” (1 John 1:5), not ‘light, light, light’. Holiness is thus not just one attribute of God among many, but is rather the perfection of all God’s attributes.

There are three occasions in the Bible when this holiness of God is of particular significance to us human beings. These occasions are three great events in human history.

1. At the Fall

The first great event when we see God’s holiness is at the beginning of human history, when Adam and Eve chose to disobey God, and as a result the penalty of death was decreed upon mankind (Genesis 3:17–19).

God commanded Adam not to eat the fruit from one particular tree in the Garden of Eden, with a strict warning that if he did eat the proscribed fruit he would die (Genesis 2:17). Satan denied this and said (to Eve), “You will not surely die” (Genesis 3:4). Thus Almighty God and Satan were saying totally irreconcilable things. One was speaking the truth, and one was lying. Once the fruit was eaten, if the penalty had not been carried out, Satan would have been the one speaking the truth and God would have been the one lying!

But why should there have been such a huge penalty for something so small as eating a piece of fruit?

Answer: The measure of the penalty was the measure of the affront it was to God’s holiness for His created beings, Adam and Eve, to defy Him by disobeying His specific command to them. Many today have a very hazy idea (if any) of what sin is, and not surprisingly, these same people tend to have a very hazy idea (if any) of the holiness of God. Conversely an appropriate view of the holiness of God will result in people having an appropriate understanding of the sinfulness of deliberately disobeying God.


2. At the Crucifixion of Jesus


The second great event in the Bible and in history that demonstrates the holiness of God was the Crucifixion of Jesus, when the penalty for sin was paid by the Son of God (1 Peter 2:24; 3:18). This is often referred to as the supreme example of the love of God. While this is true, it should not be overlooked that what took place at the Cross is also the supreme example of the holiness of God.

If God, who is holy, is going to forgive people for their sins, He can do so only in a way that is holy or morally perfect. He cannot do so in a way that is unholy or unjust.1

1 John 1:9 says: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Notice the word ‘just’ in this verse. God can justly forgive people for their sins because the penalty for their sin has been paid by Christ when He died on the Cross and rose again (I Corinthians 15:3–4).

God is entitled to set whatever condition He chooses on His forgiveness of sin, and the condition He has chosen is: “If we confess our sins” (1 John 1:9). Another way of saying this is: those people for whom their sin penalty has been paid are those who show they wish to accept it by repentance (in NT Greek, μετάνοια, metanoia = ‘change of mind’), and by their requesting God’s forgiveness.

In the Old Testament, the Mosaic Law provided a sacrificial system whereby God’s people could demonstrate their repentance for sin. These Old Testament sacrifices had a ‘typical’ significance, meaning that they were a ‘type’ of Christ’s perfect future sacrifice, or a foreshadowing of it (Hebrews 10:1). They served as a ‘covering’ of sins (Psalm 32:1), until Christ’s perfect sacrifice for the removal of sins (1 John 3:5) took place and was completed in His Resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:17, 20).


Of course, if the historical Fall recorded in Genesis (and affirmed by Jesus and the New Testament writers), did not occur as stated, this whole foundational reason for Christ’s death on the Cross becomes irrelevant. The evolution/creation issue is far more than some fuss about how and when God may have created; it is ultimately about the authority of the Bible as God’s inspired Word, and the credibility of the Gospel itself.


3. At the last Judgment


The third great event when the holiness of God will be evident to all is at the last Judgment. This is a future event, described in Revelation 20:11–15. Revelation is the Apostle John’s written record of a vision he received (Revelation 1:1, 10–11), in which God enabled John to see spiritual truth in material terms, which he could explain to his readers (who now include us) in terminology that we can understand. Much of this is expressed metaphorically, e.g. in the first chapter, God in the person of the Son of Man tells John that the seven stars that he saw “are the angels of the seven churches” and the seven lampstands that he saw “are the seven churches” (Revelation 1:20).

Here is John’s description of what he saw in his vision regarding the last Judgment.

“Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:11–15).

So how does all this relate to the holiness of God?

God has both promised and warned that a future Judgment that is both holy and just will take place beyond the event horizon of death, i.e. within the dimensions of eternity. See The Gospel in time and space. This event is described as being in the form of a law court, with God as the presiding Judge. Evidence is presented, and there is a decisive penalty involving a destination called “the lake of fire”. The meaning of this term—whether a metaphor or something more literal—is not revealed in these verses, but that is not a reason to diminish the reality of it. If it is a metaphor, the reality must be something even more to be eschewed.

Evil will not triumph over God’s holiness. Those who have rejected God’s offer of forgiveness for sin in this life and of becoming members of God’s family (John 1:12) will be separated from God for ever. See Why would a loving God send people to Hell?

The converse is true for those whose names are written in the book of life. These are they who have by God’s grace responded to His offer of forgiveness via repentance and confession of sin in this present life. They have accepted this offer by faith, by believing in God’s Son, Jesus Christ, and His death and Resurrection on their behalf. And they look forward to the wonderful experience of seeing God face to face and of reigning forever with Him (Revelation 22:4–5). This will also be a fulfillment of Christ’s high-priestly prayer before the Cross: “Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world” (John 17:24).


What should our response be?

Answer: To obey God in three fundamental aspects of our life.

  1. To “repent, because He has fixed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed [i.e. Jesus]; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:31).
  2. To be holy in all our conduct, since it is written: “You shall be holy for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:15–16).
  3. To rejoice because, as followers of Jesus, our names are “written in heaven” (Luke 10:20).

References and notes

  1. As atheist Richard Dawkins seems to have so much trouble in understanding; see Dawkins’ Dilemma, and Dawkins and divine forgivenessReturn to text.

Helpful Resources

Readers’ comments

Nichola W.
This is a wonderful explanation of God, his creation and the gospel.
Thank you.
Wayne O.
It is worthy of serious contemplation that Adam's failure to obey God in the garden also brought his and Eve's exile from the garden and consequent separation from God's presence and His holiness. In Numbers 20:1-13 the account of Moses' failure to obey God is regarded as demeaning God's holiness and caused Moses to be excluded from entering the promised land.

Many who profess Jesus Christ in Western Culture today, sadly, fail to take God's word seriously in Genesis 1. In so doing, they demean God's holiness in His creative acts. I am not surprised that God, who alone builds His church, is allowing the enemies of God e.g. Atheists, Marxists etc, to be on the ascendancy and replacing Christians in positions/places of influence formerly occupied by Christians in Western Culture.
Norman P.
Even though we see many sad things going on around us, we know from Scripture that all these things were foretold. We identify with Jesus in being a man or sorrows, and acquainted with grief. [Isaiah 53] Yet we know for the joy that was set before him, he endured the cross, is now exalted above every name, and will see the travail of his soul. What a miracle of mercy and grace that we may be part of that great victory, stand in the evil day and even rejoice! Hebrews 12:1–3.
Alf F.
Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other. (Psalm 85:10 KJV)

The wonder of God’s love is couched in His holiness, and vice versa. Love can never endure to see the corruption of sin, and holiness cannot stand by and do nothing, and vice versa. The unsearchable riches of His grace and mercy has overcome judgement, but not without judgement being fulfilled. So it is that our sins are forgiven us, but they did not go unpunished. The Judge took off His robe, and came down and stood in the dock in our place, and took our punishment. Unchanging holiness, all-conquering love.
To not take anything away from what you said, Russell, I suggest two more event which should be included are Creation and the Flood. Creation because it shows the adequacy of God's love for us in providing for man in the context of finiteness for man's experience with our infinite God. Love and Holiness are qualities that time never reaches. Creation provided the tools that we needed, where the day-to-day grind of our lives could meet the infinite experience of God who does not experience time. He provided work, fellowship, and companionship.
At the Flood He did likewise. We think of the Flood as roughly a year event of destruction. Genesis 6:13, “I will destroy them [all flesh] and the earth.” But, I would suggest 40 days of destruction; God doesn't need a lot of time for that. And the rest for returning the earth to adequacy for man's experience with God. I fear we tend to diminish the difference in a destroyed world as the result of man's failure to meet God's holiness, and the world He provided.
Jonathan Sarfati
Our website specializes in Creation and the Flood, so I think we have these covered somewhere in our other ~14k articles ;)
Michael B.
In the garden He came and found us hiding in fear and shame.
He came again and took away our fear and shame.
Let us live in such a manner as to not be found hiding in fear and shame when He returns the third time.
Therefore, since all these things will be dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness (2 Peter 3:11).

Thank you for your continued faithfulness to the perfect Truth of God's Word.
Your Brother in Christ,
Gilbert B.
I really appreciate the balanced emphasis on the Holiness of God. Mention is made of the resurrection of Christ, and I would stress it even more.
And declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead. (Romans 1:4)

Christ’s death on the cross, when He made His soul an offering for sin, was complete. He said, “it is finished.” In the resurrection and ascension we see that God the Father was satisfied with Christ’s death. The Holy Spirit wants us to trust Christ as Savior. So does the rich man in torment, who does not desire his brothers to be with him.
We need to trust Christ for ourselves. Are we satisfied with Christ’s death for us?
For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness. (Romans 4:3–5)

We have a great Creator and a loving Savior, who saves all who come to Him in faith.
Thank you for this reminder of God’s holiness in creation, salvation, and future judgment.
There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus … (Romans 8:1)
Victor S.
If self-existence is an attribute then I would put that at the top. Eternal, everlasting, unchangingness blows me away. It is His name, “I Am”, meaning becoming or self-existent one. I get holiness but how could anything always have ever been?

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit eternally existing in a loving relationship forever before anything was ever made, which of course requires God’s triune nature because in order to love there must be an object of love.

From everlasting to everlasting does not mean a lot of time, totally outside of time space matter and anything we can perceive and always was. Wow!
Jonathan Sarfati
The technical term for the attribute you mention is aseity.

Indeed, a God of love requires a triune nature, as explained in the section The God of Love in The Incarnation: Why did God become Man?
Nigel B.
It is significant that God uses the creation (as recounted in Genesis 1) as the ‘credential’ for our worship of him in a number of passages in the Bible. The creation is done in a series of days, God showing that he is present and active in the world we experience, the world we worship him and know him in.

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