This is a two-year-old article of mine that I hope will help somebody today understand a little more about what the Bible says of holiness and how we are to please God.
In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple. Above it stood the seraphims: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly. And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory. —Isaiah 6:1-3
What an awesome sight! Awesome in the truest sense of the word—filling us with awe, with reverential fear. Isaiah saw God! High and lifted up! On the throne of eternal, transcendent majesty, attended by angelic beings of immense power who, nonetheless, worshipped the Eternal Creator and Judge with profound respect. And, as elsewhere in the Bible, they cry “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God!"
I have been asked whether the triple repetition of “Holy” in this verse is a veiled reference to the Trinity located in the Old Testament. Some believe it to be. And maybe it is. However, that is more eisegesis than exegesis. Most theologians believe it to be merely (odd word to use in this context) an intensive ... a poetic means of emphasis. I am in no way a follower of reformed theology, but I do like what RC Sproul says in this regard:
"On a handful of occasions the Bible repeats something to the third degree. To mention something three times in succession is to elevate it to the superlative degree, to attach to it emphasis of super-importance. For example, the dreadful judgment of God is declared in the book of Revelation by the eagle who cried in midair with a loud voice: 'Woe! Woe! Woe to the inhabitants of the earth' (Revelation 8:13). Or we hear it in the mocking sarcasm of Jeremiah's temple speech when he chided the people for calling out in hypocrisy, 'This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD!' (Jeremiah 7:4)
"Only once in sacred scripture is an attribute of God elevated to a third degree. Only once is a characteristic of God mentioned three times in succession. The Bible says that God is holy, holy, holy. Not that He is merely holy, or even holy, holy. He is holy, holy, holy. The Bible never says that God is love, love, love, or mercy, mercy, mercy, or wrath, wrath, wrath, or justice, justice, justice. It does say that He is holy, holy, holy, the whole earth is full of His glory.”
As Dr. Sproul points out, in this way the holiness of God is emphasized ... not just the reality of His holiness but its extent. Here and in Revelation 4:8 the repetition of "holy" is clearly emphasizing that He is holy in every aspect, in every dimension.
A good question, though, is what is meant by "holy"? What is holiness?
The first idea of "holy" is to be sacred and pure, without any hint of defilement. That is the meaning of קָדֹ֛ושׁ (kadosh) in Hebrew. In Greek the word ἅγιος (hagios) means something similar, but by way of a different etymology.
Hagios was used in pagan religions to denote something that was separate from day-to-day life, separate from human defilement. Thus hagios is common in the title of the various Greek gods. And, in the "Canopus" inscription—a 239 BC decree by Egyptian priests honoring Pharaoh Ptolemy III Euergetes and Queen Berenice, his wife—the words "the temple" are written in Greek as τὸ ἅγιον (to hagion) meaning "the holy", thus indicating that it was a place set apart for worship. And that is where the second meaning of "holy" derived. Greek pagans set apart their gods for veneration and thus the word "holy" came to mean "set apart" as well as "veneration" and "worship".
To avoid any confusion among pagans, the Jews, needing a Greek word to represent their own "kadosh", coined a factitive derivative of hagios. The verb form of this derivative was ἁγιάζω (hagiadzo) "to hallow, to sanctify, to make holy, to set apart for reasons of holiness". The noun is ἁγιασμός (hagiasmos), "one who was (thus) sanctified". By creating a new word from the old, the Jews made sure that Greeks would not confuse their pagan words for "holy" and "holiness" with the words reserved for the One True God.
The Christian writers then appropriated these words to apply to those in whom Christ dwelt. Based on Messiah giving His attributes to those whom He purchased and who are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, the writers of the NT then applied hagios to believers. The word is translated "saints" and also appears in slightly different form in the words "to sanctify" and "sanctified".
So God is "pure", "sacred", "set apart from man" and thus "undefiled". And Christians are "set apart from the world" and "set apart unto God". Thus, by our new nature, we also are regarded as "pure" and "undefiled". And that is where the process of sanctification comes in.
The Bible says we are sanctified (1 Corinthians 1:2 etc) ; but it also says we are being sanctified (Hebrews 10:14). The former is our position, the latter our condition. The process of sanctification involves our practice conforming to our position. In other words, our daily way of thinking and doing (that is to say, our manner of life) will more and more come into conformity to the nature of Christ implanted in us.
The "Holiness" movements attempt to do this by re-imposing external law— "You must not do x, y, and z." Many Christians do this to themselves— "If I do a, b, and c, and stop doing x, y, and z, I will be pleasing to God". As a result, they make great personal effort to do so. Unfortunately, all they will succeed in doing is bring themselves into bondage. As Paul told the Galatians, "Are you so foolish ... having begun in the Spirit are you now made perfect by the flesh?" All things in God's economy, in other words in Christianity, are— in His wisdom—elliptical. In other words, they run counter to man's wisdom.
In man's wisdom the shortest distance between "a" (what I am) and "b" (what I want to be) is a straight line. If I want to be something then I must work and make effort to bring it to be. But nothing in God's wisdom is like that. Jesus said to be chief you must be servant (Mark 10:44); to be first you must be last (Mark 9:35) to be the leader you must be the follower (Luke 22:26); for the greatest is the least among you (Luke 9:48). See? It is elliptical. In Christianity, the route to one's destination is not a linear vector one. Rather the route to one's goal must be through Christ. Always and only ... "through Christ".
We can do nothing of eternal value outside of Jesus Christ. And that includes pleasing the Father. Yes, to become more like Jesus, we must put to death the works of the flesh. but how do we do that? By self effort? No. That is just attempting to use the flesh to kill the flesh. It cannot be done. What does scripture say is the way to put to death the flesh? Certainly not by using the flesh. Romans 8:13 tells us that it is by (or through) the Holy Spirit that we put to death the works of the flesh. The secret is that we cannot do it, but He can. And will.
Philippians 2:13 tells us that it is God who is working in you both to will and to do that which delights and pleases Him. And what pleases Him? That Christ should be formed in us. That is the purpose of our Christian walk. (Galatians 4:19)
Unfortunately some take that latter to mean that somehow we need to be made better for Heaven, that somehow we need to be cleaned up in order to be able to enter God's Presence. Well, it is true that no unclean thing can enter His Presence or dwell in His light. But in Christ we ARE clean ... not by our own efforts or our own will, but by His. The very split second we truly repented in our heart, recognized and agreed who Jesus is and accepted Him, we were as fit for Heaven as the thief on the Cross. Salvation is ALL of Christ. Nothing of us. NOTHING. Except accepting the gift given us.
So, then, why is God working in us to clean us up on this earth?
The Bible says we are to be His "witnesses" (Acts 1:8). In fact in Matthew 10:18 where Jesus says, "You will be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles", the word "testimony" is "marturion" which means "witness". (Incidentally, the KJV "testimony against them" is a grammatically erroneous translation. The Greek uses the simple dative of benefit—"to them"—not a construction meaning "against them". ) No, we shall be witnesses to all unbelievers, from the greatest to the least. And being a witness requires credibility.
In a courtroom, credibility is a witness's crucial characteristic. That is why attorneys go to such lengths to try and destroy the reputation of an opposing witness. Destroy their reputation and it doesn't matter what they say, the jury won't believe them. So God wants to form us into the image of Christ in order that what we say about Christ will be believed by others because of who we are. Our LIVES are to be our witness, not just our words. The two must be in consort. I am reminded of a challenge I heard many years ago: "If you were arrested and charged with being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?"
The only way to get there is not by redoubling your efforts to make yourself act like a Christian. As we have seen above that is a failing effort. The only thing you will ever achieve from that, beside ultimate failure and frustration, is the development of a form of hypocrisy: an outer appearance at variance with your inner desires. And, in those things you succeed in conquering by your own efforts, you will have something whereof to boast. Thus you will slide into the self-righteousness that springs from self-effort. But the true righteousness that comes from Christ can be experienced ONLY as daily we allow ourselves to be changed by Him; as daily we surrender our own wants, ways, and wills to His; as daily we recognize that we are no longer our own ... but His, and therefore all that matters is what He wants. Being willing to give up to God all rights to oneself is the “secret” of the successful Christian life.
Falling in love with Jesus over and over and over will bring the honest heart to that place.