Notes for Foundations: Holy is the Real Name of God

Presented by Sarah Colyn

This teaching points to the holiness of God as the central understanding of the Christian faith. Through Christ God imparts His holiness to us, granting us all we need to grow in wholeness. These notes outline the basic flow of the teaching and contain the full text and reference for each scripture and quotation shared. At the bottom of the notes are resources for further exploration of this topic.

“’Holy’ is the real name of God, of the God ‘not of scholars and philosophers,’ but of the living God of faith. The knowledge ​about​ God results in definitions and distinctions. The knowledge of​ God leads to this one, incomprehensible, yet obvious and inescapable word: ​holy​. And in this word we express ​both​ that God is the Absolutely Other, the One about whom we know nothing, ​and​ that He is the end of all our hunger, all our desires, the inaccessible One who mobilizes our wills, the mysterious treasure that attracts us, and there is really nothing to know but Him. ‘Holy’ is the word, the song, the ‘reaction’ of the Church as [she] enters into heaven, as [she] stands before the heavenly glory of God.” (emphasis mine, “it” edited to “she” by me, Alexander Schmemann, ​For the Life of the World​. Crestwood, NY: SVS Press, 1963, p. 32)

Praise the Lord! For it is good to sing praises to our God; for it is pleasant, and a song of praise is fitting. He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. He determines the number of the stars; He gives to all of them their names. Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; his understanding is beyond measure. Psalm 147:2-5

“If God’s will is to be done on earth as it is in heaven, prayer begins with ​adoration​.” (P.T. Forsyth, ​The Soul of Prayer​, 2012, p. 34)

O my strength, I will watch for you; for you, O God, are my fortress. My God in his steadfast love will meet me. Psalm 59:9-10

God’s holiness is the “ruling interest” of Christian faith

“Our Father, who art in heaven, ​hallowed be thy name.​ ”

“If we take the Lord’s Prayer alone, God’s holiness is the interest which all the rest of it serves. Neither love, grace, faith, nor sin have any but a passing meaning except as they rest on the holiness of God, except as they arise from it, and return to it, except as they satisfy it, show it forth, set it up, and secure it everywhere and forever. Love is but its outgoing; sin is but its defiance; grace is but its action on sin; the cross is but its victory; faith is but its worship.” (Forsyth, ​Cruciality of the Cross,​ p. 39, New York : Eaton and Mains ; Cincinnati : Jennings and Graham, 19–).

The loss of knowledge of the Holy = loss of identity, meaning, and truth

Three consequences of loss of knowledge of the Holy: narcissism, meaninglessness, and lies, corresponding to Christ’s three offices of priest, king, and prophet.

(drawing on John Coutts’s study of Karl Barth’s theology in ​A Shared Mercy)​

Dr. Victor Frankyl says that we live in an “existential vacuum,” caught up in “a private and personal form of nihilism… the contention that ​being​ has no meaning.” (​Man’s Search for Meaning,​ 1946, pp. 152)

“As the privation of truth, falsehood provides nothing of its own, but only utilizes truth in order to evade it… If we usurp ‘the truth in the name of truisms,’ we reduce the living Christ to an overseer of principles that we can harness in a self-serving system.” (Coutts, ​A Shared Mercy​, IVP Academic, 2016, p. 41)

And you shall say to them, ‘This is the nation that did not accept discipline; truth has perished; it is cut off from their lips.’ Jeremiah 7:28

Save us, O Lord, from lying lips. Psalm 120:2

Keep watch over the door of my lips. Psalm 141:3

The Lord detests lying lips. Proverbs 12:22

He who guards his lips guards his soul. Proverbs 13:3

Do not use your lips to deceive. Proverbs 24:28


They shall teach my people the difference between the holy and the common, and show them how to distinguish between the unclean and the clean. Ezekiel 44:23

You yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. I Peter 2:5

For us

“Why are you cast down, my soul? And so disquieted within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him, for my God is the salvation of my being.” Psalm 42:11 (translated by Fr Patrick Henry Reardon, ​Christ in the Psalms)​

The life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. Galatians 2:20

Resources on this topic:

The Knowledge of the Holy,​ A.W. Tozer,​ ​The Healing Presence​, part 1, Leanne Payne.