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.
The Call to Be Holy
But the call to be holy is clear in the Scripture. And nowhere more explicitly that 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 to not 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 by 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 us lay folks are not called to full-time Christian service. Are we?
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 for 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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