Posted by: Jonathan Stepp | November 9, 2008


If understood properly, holiness really is the most important character trait of the Father, Son, and Spirit.

In my post last Saturday I said that holiness is not the most important description we can know about God, but commented instead that relationship is the most important aspect of God’s character.

An astute critic pointed out to me that what I was really trying to do is explain the true meaning of the term “holy”. I think he was right.

So, here’s another try at talking about the holiness of the Trinity.

For modern American Christianity “holiness” is a reference to moral purity and ethical perfection. In that sense of the word it is not the most important thing we can know about the Father, Son, and Spirit.

In scripture, however, holiness is really about relationship. When the law of Moses emphasized holiness it was really emphasizing how we are to relate to God and other people in whole, peaceful, healthy relationships. Whole, peaceful, and healthy is a perfect description of how the Father, Son, and Spirit relate to each other. What makes them holy is not – primarily – the fact that their behavior is morally perfect. They are holy because of the fact that their relationship to each other and to humanity is whole and healthy.

Right moral behavior is the product of their right relationship. And it is the same in our lives. We have been made holy in Christ because, in and through him, we have been placed into right relationship with the Father (Rom. 5:18). We belong to the Father, in the Son, by the Spirit, and our right behavior flows from believing  that we belong.

A correct, relational definition of holiness – rooted in the life of the Trinity – says to humanity: in Christ you are rightly related to the Father. So let the Holy Spirit convict you of this truth and follow his lead as he shows you how to live as the person you really are: a beloved child of the Father.



  1. I’ve been struggling with a good concise definition for holiness and so far the best I can do is “the relational purity of love”.

    Too bad we so easliy misunderstand by placing legal requirements on the end user, in a “if you love me keep my commandments” sense . Then commandment keeping becomes the payments to buy love and sin becomes revolving debt compounding interest we will never be able to pay off.

  2. Well said, Tim. “Revolving debt”! That’s great imagery.

    Jesus doesn’t say “I will love you if you keep my commandments” he says that our living in harmony with his life will be evidence that we have finally known and believed that we are loved, liked, and included in him.

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