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Encouraging, comforting, and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory. (1 Thess. 2:12 NIV)

Holiness: Being Holy. And Being Made Holy.

Holiness is a difficult topic for many people. I think mostly because we have a distorted view of what it means to be holy. It often carries with it the connotation of sinlessness, never doing, saying, or even thinking anything wrong. Being labeled as “holier than thou.” Being a professional Christian or living off in a monastery separated from the world. While there may be a part of us that knows we should be holy, when it gets right down to it, the thought of being holy is frightening.

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

The Call to Be Holy

But the call to be holy is clear in the Scripture. And nowhere more explicitly than in 1 Peter 1:15-16 where we are told, “But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy.’” Peter is quoting from several passages in Leviticus (Lev. 11:44,45; 19:2), and he makes it clear that being holy is something that God expects from each of us. Holiness is not just for the elite Christian (whatever that is) but is for all of us.

But somehow, we have managed to convince ourselves that it is OK not to be holy. It is good enough to live a decent life, hang out with other Christians sometimes, be a part of a church, read the Bible, and put some money into the offering plate. But is that enough? Is God satisfied with me just dipping my toe into the pool? Or does he really want, and expect, me to plunge into the deep end of the pool?

What Is Holiness?

The Greek word hagios is translated as holy and means separated. I believe that the best place to understand what this means in the Bible is to look at the book of Leviticus. Leviticus is a challenging read for many today. It is filled with descriptions of sacrifices and a host of laws that sometimes leave us scratching our heads. But a primary emphasis of Leviticus is holiness.

Leviticus illustrates very well what it means to be holy. It contains instructions for the dedication of the Tabernacle and all of its furnishings. It also gives directions for consecrating the priests and their clothing. And, finally, instructions for handling the offerings made by the people. It is easy for us today to hurry through all of this instruction. Especially since we may view it as irrelevant to us today.

But, while the specific instructions may not directly apply to us today, they do have a lot to say about being holy. When the tabernacle, and its furnishing, and the priests, with their garments, were sprinkled with blood, they became dedicated to, or set apart for, God. They were made holy. And that is really what this word means; set apart for God’s use. These things that had been sprinkled with blood were no longer to be used for everyday purposes.

We Are Holy

There are two different ways that holy is used in the Bible. The first relates to our position before God. He views us as being holy (Eph. 1:4). This is the usage of the word in Leviticus. We are holy because we have been sprinkled with the blood of Jesus.

Now, if I am set apart for God’s use, then it would make sense that I will avoid sin in my life. But that is only a side effect of being holy. Its primary meaning is that I am available for whatever God wants to use me for.

Today we are often guilty of dividing Christians into two camps. Those who make a living from some kind of “Christian” ministry, and those who don’t, the laypeople. And we might understand the professionals as being holy, set apart for God’s use. After all, he is said to have called them into full-time Christian service. But the rest of us are not called to full-time Christian service. Are we?

Sprinkled by Blood

Look back at Leviticus for a moment. What is it that sets people and things aside for God? It was the sprinkling of the blood of an animal on that person or thing. So how much more would it be true that those people who are sprinkled with the blood of Jesus would be set apart? Would be made holy. And who has been sprinkled with Jesus’ blood? According to 1 Peter 1:2, all who have been chosen by God. All true believers have been set apart. We are all holy before God.

We Are to Be Holy

The other usage of this word has to do with our day-to-day life. We are holy, but also called to be holy. To live our lives in a way that reflects the positional holiness that is ours. We might call this practical holiness. Romans 6:11, while not using the word holy, reflects this well. We have been crucified, buried, and resurrected with Christ. So “In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” Let your practical life reflect your position in Christ.

As mentioned at the beginning, practical holiness is not a matter of doing good, of being a goody-two-shoes. Instead, it refers to us being where God wants us to be, doing what he wants us to do. You may be a firefighter, a doctor, a computer programmer, a grocery clerk, or flipping burgers at a fast-food joint. If that is where God wants you, and you are doing it for his glory, that is being holy.

Our leisure time should reflect holiness as well. If I want to be holy, then everything I do should reflect my having been set apart for God’s service. I am not my own. I was bought with a price (1 Cor. 6:20). So serving God with all I am is my reasonable response.

Holiness Is Essential

We are holy. But we are also called to be holy. To live practical lives of holiness that mirror our position as holy in God’s sight. Holiness is not just for the select few. It is for all believers, as Hebrews 12:14 points out, “Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness, no one will see the Lord.


The views expressed here are solely mine and do not necessarily reflect those of any other person, group, or organization. While I believe they reflect the teachings of the Bible, I am a fallible human and subject to misunderstanding. Please feel free to leave any comments or questions about this post in the comments section below. I am always interested in your feedback.

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8 thoughts on “Holiness: Being Holy. And Being Made Holy.”

  1. I must surrender my sin nature will to Jesus to be sprinkled by His blood so that Christ can abide and dwell in my heart. He is holy and surrendering my life to be sprinkled with His blood makes me holy so that the holiness of Christ abides and dwells in me. As long as the flesh is placed on the cross every day, the holy presence of Christ dwelling in me, continually makes me holy.

    • We are indeed holy because of what Christ has done for us. But we are also called to practical holiness, working to bring our lives into alignment with what Christ has done for us.

      • Ed, I respect your thoughts, however for me, if I try to practice holiness work and efforts take over. If I try to bring my life into alignment with what Christ has done it is work and efforts on my part and I can never align my life with the righteousness of Christ. I see living by faith as surrendering over my will and efforts to death, just like the flesh of Christ, so the holy life of Christ comes in and dwells in me and He is my righteousness. I just rest from all my works in His righteousness. If the flesh ever raises his ugly head, the same power that raised Christ from the dead dwells in me and will quickly and effectively destroy any works of the flesh as I repent for anything that might taint the image of Christ in me. It turns out to be a life of obedience.

        • In 1 Peter 1:14-16, we are told, “As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy.'” This is the call to practical holiness. It is, as your last sentence expressed, a life of obedience. I seek holiness, not in order to be saved. But because I am in relationship with the Lord and want to honor him with my life.

          • Thanks, Ed for your interaction. I found your site when I was searching for more information on holiness. I don’t think we are missing by much the unity that God wants us to walk in together, but what do we mean when you and I say “practice” holiness? Practice means, “To do or perform habitually or customarily.”

            If that is what we mean when we say practice holiness then praise the Lord, we will be reflecting the holiness of God as we live, practicing holiness. My concern is more with the evangelical understanding of practice. I think our culture thinks of practice as getting better or improving. As I spend time with God’s people, I hear them express that they were justified and made holy. Yet, they don’t have victory over the flesh and are not practicing holiness. Their response is I’m trying to do better and be more holy, and their excuse is “I will always live with the flesh.” Only death will set me free, they say.

            I understand practicing holiness differently than the evangelical understanding. My faith has brought me to a point where I, like Paul, cannot practice holiness, sin dwells in me. Like Paul’s faith declared, Christ delivered him when he surrendered his fleshly sin-stained life over to God and he no longer practiced holiness, but the holy nature of Christ is practiced in his life by the power of God’s Spirit. Paul lived an obedient life by the power of God’s Spirit via faith.

            If I could give a word picture, one who practices holiness is a person that is constantly aware of his flesh and always trying or wishing he was better or closer to God. The person that is born again is one that lives in holiness and is constantly aware of God’s words of life and close to Jesus because He is righteous. It is not practicing holiness as much as it is abiding righteousness.

          • I do understand practicing holiness to mean a way of life, a life lived in dedication and obedience to my Lord. It is true that I am growing in my faith and walk with the Lord over time. But that is a natural part of maturity in the faith.

  2. I like it. I appreciate the simplicity of this article- putting something easily misunderstood into language that is easy to understand.
    God sees His work as complete- I am holy. Now I have to become what he sees me to be.
    Ed, thanks for this labour of love. It’s so appreciated

    • Yes, I believe holiness is greatly misunderstood in much of the church today. It is both a completed work and a work in progress.


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