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White Horse Inn: Conversational Theology

The Holiness & Transcendence of God

We no longer live in a world in which God is conceived as being transcendent and holy. When people think about God today, they rarely conceive of him as “the Holy One of Israel,” but are more likely to think of him as a kind of buddy or friend. Though we are sometimes inspired in our worship to say “Wow!,” we are seldom induced to cry “Woe!” On this edition of White Horse Inn, the hosts will explore the Bible’s teaching on this crucial topic of the holiness and transcendence of God.


“‘Maybe the most tragic indictment of fallen humanity in the Apostle Paul’s litany is that ‘there is no fear of God before their eyes.’ Humanity was made to glorify and enjoy God forever, to turn to him in praise and thanksgiving. But ever since the fall, we’ve been curved in on ourselves. The apex of this sinful condition isn’t merely particular acts of wickedness like idolatry and immorality. The real measure of how far it’s gone is that ‘there is no fear of God before their eyes.’

“In sharp contrast is Isaiah’s vision: ‘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. Above him stood the seraphim and one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts. The whole earth is full of his glory.” And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke 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 the people of unclean lips. For my eyes have seen the king, the Lord of Hosts.” Then one of the seraphim flew to me having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar and he touched my mouth and said, “Behold. This has touched your lips. Your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”’ Notice the progression in this episode. It’s only when we behold God in his majestic holiness that we really feel our unworthiness to stand in his presence until he acts in mercy to forgive all our sin. It begins with the holiness of God.”

Michael Horton


“The Holiness of God”

In general terms, holiness underscores the Creator-creature distinction. God is majestic, glorious, beyond reproach. In a certain sense, holiness characterizes all of God’s attributes. Yet, holiness typically refers in Scripture to God’s ethical purity, which is especially evident against the backdrop of human sinfulness. However, because of God’s mercy, God’s holiness not only highlights his difference from us; it also includes his movement toward us, binding us to him in covenant love. In this way, God makes us holy. Nevertheless, only in Christ can God’s holiness be for us a source of delight rather than of fear of judgment.

Therefore, God’s holiness is a marker not only of God’s distinction from the creation, but also God’s driving passion to make the whole earth his holy dwelling. Although God alone is essentially holy, he does not keep holiness to himself but spreads his fragrance throughout creation. God is holy in his essence; people, places, and things are made holy by God’s energies.

(Adapted from Michael Horton, The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way, pp 268–69)

More from this Series: The Attributes of God

  1. The Mystery of the Holy Trinity Listen Now ›
  2. The Holiness & Transcendence of God Listen Now ›
  3. The Sovereignty of God Listen Now ›
  4. The Justice & Mercy of God Listen Now ›