Holy, Holy, Holy

Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
Early in the morning our song shall rise to thee.
Holy, holy, holy! Merciful and mighty,
God in three persons, blessed Trinity!

God is holy, but what does it mean to be holy?

Holiness is a “chief attribute of God and a quality to be developed in his people. ‘Holiness’ and the adjective “holy” occur more than 900 times in the Bible. The primary OT word for holiness means “to cut” or “to separate.” Fundamentally, holiness is a cutting off or separation from what is unclean, and consecration to what is pure.” Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988), 984.

The Hebrew word קֹ֫דֶשׁ most often translated “holy” is defined as apartness or sacredness (BDB, 871). It is used in Exodus 3:5 when God said, “take off your sandals from off your feet for the place you are standing is holy ground.” The Greek word most often translated “holy” is found 230 times in the New Testament. 90 of those instances are in reference to the Holy Spirit. The concept of apartness or sacredness is carried over into the New Testament usage as it refers to God himself and the people, places, and things connected with God. J. I. Packer said, “the word signifies everything about God that sets him apart from us and makes him an object of awe, adoration, and dread to us” (Concise Theology, 43).

We are called to be holy in response to God’s holiness. Peter wrote, “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance,  but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct,  since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy'” (1 Peter 1:14–16). Without personal “holiness” cultivated in our lives, we will not see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14).

When you look at your Bible you likely see the words, “Holy Bible.” When you speak of Jerusalem, perhaps you have called it “The Holy Land.” Why? Because God is so closely associated with those things. Now when we look at ourselves, can we use the same word?

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