Holiness is important to God, and should be to us, because without it we will never see God (Heb. 12:14)! But what is holiness?
Before we can understand the Bible teaching on the subject, we must understand what the word means. Some who talk a lot about it do not know. The world holiness is a noun that means “state or character of being holy.” Holy is an adjective that means “belonging to, derived from or associated with a divine power,” and also “set apart to the service of God.” In other words, that which is holy belongs to God. Conversely, whatever belongs to God is holy. It is sanctified, meaning “set apart for a holy use or purpose.”
God can make an item or person holy when He claims it or becomes its owner. When an individual devotes or gives an object to God, the ownership passes to God and, since He is now the owner, the object becomes holy.
Why does God make an object or a person holy? He makes it holy so that He may use that object or that person to achieve His divine purpose, fulfill a specific function or accomplish a specific task.
Whatever is holy is not only set apart by or for God, but God will not use it if it does not meet the standards He sets. He selects the tools that can fulfill His purpose, and if they don’t, He will select another tool instead.
The great God of the entire universe expects the very best for His use. The sacrifices commanded under the Levitical priesthood were to be perfect and without blemish. Only the highest quality materials were to be used in the tabernacle and in the Temple. Anything dedicated or devoted to God was to be the best. When anyone gave an inferior gift to God, it was not acceptable (Mal. 1:13-14). All of these physical items pictured the spiritual perfection that would come later. That spiritual perfection should be evident when we realize that one of the synonyms for holiness is godliness.
These quotes from various dictionaries relate to English words. We also need to understand a little about the Hebrew and Greek words from which they were translated. In the Hebrew, the word for holiness is godesh, which is taken from a similar but different primitive root word gadash. These two Hebrew words are translated “holiness,” “holy” and “sanctify (or sanctified).” These English and Hebrew words mean essentially the same thing, except some are used differently in sentences and therefore are translated differently.
In the New Testament Greek we discover a similar situation. The Greek word is hagios, with it variations. “You shall be holy; for I am holy,” said God to ancient Israel (Lev. 11:44). Not only did God expect holiness of those people, but He expects it of Christians, too. Peter repeated God’s command: “Be holy, for I am holy” (I Peter 1:16).
That implies more than just being set apart. In the context of both Leviticus and I Peter, it includes living in a special way that is different from the rest of the world.
To live that special way, we need to be and can be partakers of God’s holiness (Heb. 12:10). Christians should be more like God from day to day, and then in the first resurrection be literally like Him (I John 34:2).
God has selected His servants and called them to come out of this world, to be different and separate from the rest of the world. Christ said, “I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world” (John 17:14-16).
A Christian must live in this present evil world, but his life must be different from the lives of other people in the world. He or she must come out from any of this world’s ways that are sinful or evil, out from the religious and spiritual “Babylon” that is this whole world (Rev. 18:4).
Christians should be different because, as Paul said, “You were bought at a price” (I Cor. 6:20). That price, Christ’s sacrifice, makes it possible for us to be forgiven of our past sins and to receive the Holy Spirit. But, “If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His” (Rom. 8:9). When a person receives the Holy Spirit, he or she becomes a holy temple; “Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you” (I Cor. 3:16).
We receive the Holy Spirit after repentance and baptism (Acts 2:38). But what does it mean to repent? It means to be deeply and sincerely sorry for past sins, to ask God’s forgiveness and to turn around and determine to quit sinning. When we quit sinning, we begin to obey God’s spiritual law, as sin is the transgression of that law (I John 3:4). God will only give His “Holy Spirit to those who obey Him” Acts 5:32.
Some believe that all they need is love to be pleasing to God. That is true, but only if you understand what that kind of love is, what it means and how it is expressed. Most people don’t.
The love required is much more than affection or fondness for others. Love is even more than worship of God. Jesus Christ said that many worshiped Him in vain, teaching and following the commandments of men rather than God’s commandments (Mark 7:6-7).
John also emphasized this point: “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments” (I John 5:3). The right kind of love includes obedience to God and His commands.
When God calls us, we are 100% carnal, unconverted and imperfect. But God wants perfection: “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matt. 5:48). “Walk before Me and be blameless” (Gen. 178:1).
God wants a glorious Church, not having spot or wrinkle (Eph. 5:27). He wants perfection. He wants us to change, to live holy lives. That means a new way of living, which every day is more the kind of life that Jesus Christ lived. We need to walk in holiness, not just talk holiness.
“Hallowed be Your name,” Jesus said (Matt. 6:9). To hallow means to make holy. The word hallow is actually from the same Greek root hagios, translated “holy” elsewhere. We should hallow God’s name in all our thoughts, words and deeds. Living a life of holiness, coming out of this world and being separate from the world involves every aspect of life (II Cor. 6:14-17).
Today there are many devout people who don’t see any difference or make any distinction between what is profane and what is holy. One example that some have either not seen or have simply rejected is found in I Tim. 4:5. In this place we see that God created certain foods to be received with thanksgiving. They are sanctified by God’s Word for that purpose.
The word sanctified comes from the same root Greek word hagios, which, as we have seen, is elsewhere translated “holy” and “sacred.” What food has God’s Word sanctified, or set apart for human consumption? The answer is found in Leviticus 11, where God told Moses the difference between the holy and the profane, the acceptable and the abominable. It is in that context that God said, “You shall be holy; for I am holy” (v. 44).
This distinction, made personally by God, has never been changed, contrary to what some people try to read into the New Testament scriptures. Making such a distinction and living by it is one of the many ways that God’s true servants are different from the rest of the world.
Instead of being immersed in the lawless and sinful ways of the world, we should put our thoughts on better things: “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, what ever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy, meditate on these things” (Phil. 4:8).
From the way some people live, one would think this verse should read: “Whatever things are false, whatever things are ignoble, whatever things are unjust, whatever things are impure, whatever things are unlovely, whatever things are of bad report, if there is any evil and if there is anything despicable, meditate on these things.”
This scripture should clarify that we should avoid filling our minds with entertainment that is sinful, lustful, and sexually illicit or that is filled with murder, hatred or evil. Some may say, “It’s only a song, it’s only make-believe, it’s only a movie.” On the contrary, Paul said we should be “casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” (II Cor. 10:5).
Christians need to be different from the rest of this world, to avoid sin, evil and all wrong things. “Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (II Cor. 7:1).
We will continue to be holy as long as we live a life of holiness. That is the way of obedience and conformity with God’s ways and spiritual laws.
Here are some examples of what was holy in the past but is no longer holy today, because of failure to measure up to God’s standards.
Ancient Israel was a chosen and holy nation, but they rebelled against God and His laws, turning to idolatry and sin. God cut them off, and they are not now His chosen and holy people. Instead God has called out His Church, which is a holy nation (I Peter 2:9).
The Levites were holy, but they failed in what God assigned them to do, so they are no longer holy and have been replaced by the priesthood of Melchizedek.
The Temple was holy, but Israel and Judah polluted it by their sins and wickedness, so it was destroyed. It no longer exists. It has now been replaced by a new and holy spiritual Temple, which is the Church (I Cor. 3:16-17).
Other biblical examples show what was holy in the past is still holy today:
The tithe was and is still holy to God (Lev. 27:32, Mal. 3:8-12) It belongs to Him, and He has never made it unholy.
The weekly Sabbath was and is still holy to God (Lev. 23:3, Mark 2:28, Acts 17:2). Will we remember and keep it holy, or forget what almighty God commanded forever” It is holy time, and we should keep it that way.
Many other scriptures relate to true holiness. To live a life of holiness, we must continue to learn from the Scriptures about the nature and way of our great God. As we learn, we must changer to those better ways of God.
From all these scriptures it should be plain that holiness is not a sentiment or a feeling “in your heart.” It is not following the religious traditions of men. To walk in holiness, a person must first be called of God, or set apart from the world. He or she must then repent, be baptized and received the Holy Spirit. Following this, the person must be obedient to the commandments and ways of almighty God. Then and only then does he or she begin to fulfill the holy use and purpose for which God called him or her.
The Bible mentions saints many times, but there are many misconceptions about what saints are. Do you know what a saint is? The Bible nowhere says or even implies that a saint is a good religious person who died many years ago and who is now canonized by a church. It is not a person who has a halo around his head, or God’s Word would have said so.
A saint is a person who is holy to God. It is a person who is sanctified or set apart by God and lives a life of holiness. In the New Testament the Greek word for “saint” is the same word that is translated “holy.” In the Old Testament it is sometimes the same word, or a derivative of the same word.
God’s servants are “called to be saints” (Rom. 1:7).They are sanctified (I Cor. 1:2) but not yet perfect, as they still need to be perfected (Eph. 4:12).Saints are described by the apostle John in Rev. 14:12: “Here is the patience of the saints; here are those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus.”
The saints have been set apart for God’s holy use and purpose. We had better be fulfilling that purpose. If we do, we will meet Christ in the air at His Second Coming (I Thess. 4:17), then return with Him to the earth (Zech. 14:4), at which time the saints will possess God’s Kingdom, under Jesus Christ, so that they may rule all the nations on this earth (Dan. 7:18, 22; Rev. 5:10).
That is the glorious future that awaits the saint who truly walks in holiness, who is truly sanctified and made holy!
It should now be evident that there is a lot more to holiness than most people realize, including those who may talk a lot about it. Don’t have a counterfeit “holiness.” Have the real thing. Give your life to God as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to Him and do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind (Rom 12:1-2).