Holiness means to be “set apart”, to possess “otherness”, or to be “different”. It’s been said that “it’s much more popular to speak of a loving God than a holy God”, but it’s important to understand all of God’s characteristics (to the best of our ability) rather than just imagining Him how we want to Him to be. God is holy in that He is completely separate from everything and everyone else. How is this separateness revealed? He is self-existent while all else is contingent (i.e. we need water, oxygen, etc. to exist). He is infinite, while all else is finite. He is perfect, and two or more perfect beings cannot exist simultaneously and be different without one being “less perfect” than the other. Therefore, only one perfect being can exist. In each case, God is in a category of His own, differentiated from all else, and therefore holy. However, what about where God tells us to “be holy, because I am holy”? This doesn’t mean God expects us to be perfect like He is, but rather that He wants us to be set apart, different from the world. For example, furniture and utensils in the Jewish temple of the Old Testament were considered holy not because they were made of gold or of a certain design but because they were devoted exclusively to God’s service. Likewise for us, to be holy is to be dedicated to serving God, abstaining from anything that would taint that.
Related to holiness is the term “righteousness”, which is simply the quality of being “just” or “right”. For example, our justice system tries to punish the unjust. In fact, one definition of justice is: (n) “the quality of being just; righteousness; moral rightness.” That doesn’t always happen with human justice, but it is our goal. One thing that differentiates God from us is His perfect justice. Looking at opposing conceptions of deity, the Greek or Roman “gods”, for example, were just as petty, manipulative and dishonest as we are. God, however, is perfectly righteous, for it is an intrinsic moral attribute for Him, a part of His inherent character. His righteousness then provides a set standard of justice that doesn’t change with the latest ideas or fads. We can build on that standard and describe human righteousness as conformance to God’s ethical and moral standards. The Christian view of humanity, on the other hand, is that we are most definitely not righteous. The apostle Paul writes “as it is written, ‘There is none righteous, not even one'”. That may sound harsh and too much of a generalization, but is it really? Have you always been perfectly just in all of your dealings your whole life? If we’re honest, none of us can make that claim. Again, Paul writes, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Generalization? Not really. If the world wasn’t such a messed up place, the nightly news would be a very different broadcast. Evil, malice, ill will, wrongdoing, bad blood – whatever you call it, it’s all sin. We see it the world over. But when the standard is perfection, then it suddenly becomes very personal. It’s not just the serial killers, the rapists, the terrorists, the brutal dictators and warlords – it’s you and me. It’s the “white lie”, the pirated software, the “padded” résumé, the angry response in traffic, and a thousand other ways we all fall short of the mark of perfection and find ourselves condemned, unrighteous and without any way to fix it.
Last week, we looked at what sin means. This week, we’ve seen what God’s holiness and righteousness means and how we are unrighteous in our sinful condition. This then leads us to a dilemma: how, in our guilty condition, can we approach a just and impartial judge who uses a standard of perfection? What good deeds could we ever do to satisfy that standard? There aren’t any. Justice demands not lowering the bar, yet we can never reach the bar on our own. Understanding the utter hopelessness of this situation is critical to understanding the importance of the next week’s terms: grace and atonement.
 ἅγιος (Hagios), www.BibleHub.com Greek Concordance, accessed 2015/01/24.
Norman Geisler, Systematic Theology in One Volume (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2002), p. 568.
 Leviticus 11:45 & 1 Peter 1:16
 “Justice”, definition 1, www.dictionary.com, accessed 2015/01/15.
 Geisler, p. 569.
 “Righteousness”, Nelson’s Foundational Bible Dictionary, 1st Ed. (2004).
 Romans 3:10, paraphrasing Psalm 14:3.
 Romans 3:23.