All of the attributes of God taken together tell us who He is. They are all there in perfection and in harmony with each other. However, there is something different, not more important but different, about His holiness:
Holiness is the only attribute of God that is raised to the third degree. He is “holy, holy, holy” (Isa. 6:3; Rev. 4:8). Some apply this to the three persons of the Trinity but the ESV Study Bible suggests that “the threefold repetition intensifies the superlative. Holiness implies absolute purity and separateness above the creation.”
Six times in Scripture God says, “I am holy” (Lev. 11:44-45; 19:2; 20:26; 21:8; 1 Pet. 1:16).
Twice we read that “His name is holy” (Isa. 57:15; Luke 1:49) and 21 times reference is made to “His holy name.” His name is not simply what identifies Him; it is what characterizes His person and describes who He is.
Forty-three times (31 times in Isaiah) God is referred to as “the holy one,” and usually the speaker is God Himself.
The verb form of the word ‘holy’ is first found in Genesis 2:3: “God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it” or “made it holy” (ESV). Six days of the week belong together but the 7th day stands by itself. And so “holy” refers to something that is set apart and different. Often in Scripture it has a moral significance with respect to people, signifying separation from sin and consecration to God. But it has a broader application. The Bible uses the term to describe the Sabbath, the land of Israel, the tabernacle, the various vessels within the tabernacle, etc. As applied to God it describes not only His essential purity and intolerance of sin but His being set apart from everything and everyone else by virtue of His perfections. Isaiah accused the people of Israel of following the idolatrous ways of pagan people. They cut down a tree and used part of it to make some furniture, another part to kindle a fire to warm themselves or to cook their food. And then they took another part of that same tree, shaped it, propped it up and bowed down and worshipped it. How absurd! “To whom, then, will ye liken Me, that I should be equal to him? says the Holy One.” (Isa. 40:25). The living and true God stands alone, apart from all others, infinitely above all others, the first and the last, transcendent over all creation, incomparable in His wisdom, love, power, righteousness, goodness, etc. He is holy! We should respond to this truth in three ways.
In Revelation 4, in the midst of the throne and around the throne are four living creatures. They are a high order of angelic beings, similar to the seraphim that Isaiah saw and to the living creatures that Ezekiel saw. Each had six wings; each had the appearance of a different earthly creature. After the flood, God made His covenant with mankind, fowls, cattle, and wild beasts (Gen. 9:8-13) and these four categories are represented in these creatures which would suggest that they represent all of creation. These living creatures unceasingly participate in the worship of the one who is “holy, holy, holy” and joining in their worship are the twenty-four elders. All creation and all the people of God ascribe to Him glory and honor and power.
In Isaiah 6 we have another throne scene in which the Lord is seen to be high and lifted up. Above the throne are the seraphim. This is the only reference to them in the Bible. They are celestial beings like the cherubim and the living creatures in Revelation 4 and they are involved in humble, unceasing worship. With two wings they cover their faces, possibly signifying that they cannot look upon the divine glory. And with two wings they cover their feet, possibly meaning that they do not go off of their own accord and act independently. Or it may simply be that in the presence of the Lord they conceal themselves as much as possible in token of their unworthiness. They are not worthy to be seen but all the attention and worship should be directed to the one on the throne. And so they cry out, “Holy, holy, holy…” These are two examples of worship, involving a recognition of who God is. Thanksgiving responds to God’s actions and thanks Him for what He has done; worship responds to God’s attributes and worships Him for who He is.
Isaiah has a sight of the glory of the Lord high and lifted up and the seraphim crying “Holy, holy, holy.” Six times in the previous chapter he has pronounced woe on different groups, but confronted with the holiness of God, inevitably he is convicted of his own unworthiness and cries out, “Woe is me, for I am undone (or “I am lost”, ESV)! Because I am a man of uncleans lips and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts” (Isa. 6:5). It is impossible to have any contact with a holy God without being aware that we come far short of the glory of God.
But it doesn’t end there. One seraph took a live coal from the altar and flew to Isaiah and touched his lips with the coal saying, “Behold, this has touched your lips; your iniquity is taken away, and your sin is purged” (Isa. 6:7). There is no mention of a victim slain or of blood shed but the altar was the place of sacrifice and surely points to the cross of Christ and to the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus which fully met the holy requirements of a holy God. The result is that, notwithstanding His holiness and our unworthiness, we can be forgiven, and God can say to us, “Your sins and iniquities I will remember no more.”
Five times in the book of Leviticus, God says “I am holy.” In four of these five verses and in one other verse in that book, God commands the Israelites, “You shall be holy” (11:44-45; 19:2; 20:7, 26). In one sense they already were holy in terms of their being set apart to a relationship with God. God described them as “a special treasure to me above all people…a holy nation” (Ex. 19:5-6). In a similar way, 61 times in the New Testament we are described as saints (or holy ones), a term that applies in the first instance to our being set apart to a special relationship with God and to special service for God. But God’s desire is that we be holy not only as to our standing but as to our behavior. And so, Peter applies these words from Leviticus to us. “As He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct; because it is written, ‘Be holy, for I am holy’” (1 Pet. 1:14-15).
In summary we should pray: “Lord, show me Yourself” that we might grow in our knowledge of the God who is holy and worship Him for who He is. At the same time, we should pray: “Lord, show me myself” that we might see ourselves in our unworthiness and “cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Cor. 7:1).