relational holinessThe very issue of morality demands a personal counterpart. A relationship must exist in order for morality (or immorality) to exist. A being can only be moral and express morality in relation to another being. This is why it is necessary and how it is possible for us to clarify that holiness existed as an intrinsic aspect of God’s nature prior to creation or man’s sin.

In the previous post, we discovered that holiness is not just descriptive of what God does, or even how He chooses to do it; instead, holiness describes who God is at His core. Holiness is descriptive of His being – of His essence. In today’s post, we will see that God was holy before man ever existed, and that His holiness was not just in what He did, but in who He was. There is an inseparable connection between God’s being holy and His doing holy things.

The Triune Godhead of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit all existed together in perfect interpersonal unity before the creation. Their perfect relationships were characterized by such moral attributes as “righteousness, justice, moral purity, veracity, and faithfulness”.[1] These attributes are all very closely linked with God’s holiness all throughout the Bible. Thus, we can see that holiness, as embodied and exhibited by God, is intrinsically relational.

Looking at the moral attributes of holiness, then, we can see how deeply personal and relational they are: justice, for instance, is something that can only exist between personal beings. Righteousness, faithfulness, even moral goodness itself – these are all things that can only be demonstrated from one person or being toward another. The only real holiness is relational holiness. Thus, to be holy is to be completely pure and good in one’s relationships with others.

Take justice, for example, as one of the relational attributes of holiness. Aquinas wrote, “justice is the perpetual and constant will to render to each his or her due or right”.[2] Thus, God exhibits justice even within His own Trinity, as each Person of the Godhead “renders to each” Other their “due or right”. God exalts the Son; the Son exalts God; the Spirit exalts them both and is exalted by both! To join in God’s holiness is to participate in just living, “constant rendering of due,” towards Him, ourselves, and others – in the context of relationship.

As in this example of justice, there is clearly an inseparable connection between being holy and doing holy things. God’s doing flows out of God’s being. As Gregory of Nyssa wrote, “God is perfect in goodness, both in God’s essential nature and in every act or energy, or operation that proceeds out of that nature”.[3]

Thomas Oden, summarizing Aquinas, agreed with Gregory:

Holiness summarizes, unifies, and integrates all the other incomparably good characteristics of the divine life…. The divine holiness is conveyed in everything God does, for there is no inconsistency between God’s being and God’s activity. The constant excellence of God’s acts expresses the perfection of God’s being.[4]

The definition of holiness is found in the essence of God’s being: He is pure, undefiled, self-giving relationality, and His holy character is exhibited in every holy activity that He does within Himself and throughout creation.

In the next post, we will see that holiness is not something that God wants FROM us, but it is something He wants FOR us! Jesus didn’t die just so we could “be really good” all the time. His sacrifice secured for us SO MUCH MORE – read on in the next post!


[1] Thomas C. Oden, Classic Christianity: A Systematic Theology (HarperOne, 1992), 63.

[2] Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae 1 Q58.1.

[3] Gregory of Nyssa, Answer to Eunomius’ Second Book [Kindle Edition] (Fig, 2013), 19.

[4] Oden, Classic Christianity, p. 64, summarizing Thomas Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles 1.40, 41.