What Is Holiness? How Can We Be Holy?

Discover the meaning of holiness and what can be Holy looking to the Bible for reference and insight.
Christianity.com Editorial Staff
What Is Holiness? How Can We Be Holy?

What Is Holiness?

Holiness is a word that can make us feel uneasy.  It seems lofty, threatening, alien.  We instinctively sense that God’s holiness has dangerous overtones. His purity calls our sinful attachments into question, demanding that we forsake them in order to enjoy the greatest of all goods—belonging to a God of infinite love and power. To come casually with our hearts grasping tightly to the sins we cherish or to come lightly as though they are no big deal, might be like throwing ourselves onto a roaring fire with the expectation we will not perish. How, then, can we—sinful and broken human beings—hope to come into the presence of a holy God and survive the experience?

When God was forging a relationship with the Israelites, he told Moses to "Give the following instructions to the entire community of Israel. You must be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy” (Leviticus 19:2). God was calling his people into relationship with himself and he wanted his people not only to survive the experience but to be nourished by it. But for that to happen, they needed to know the ground rules, needed to come to him on his terms not theirs.

The Hebrew word for “holiness” is qōdes, a word that highlights the realm of the sacred in contrast to everything common and profane. The adjective qādôš, “holy,” refers to God and what belongs to him. In various places in the Hebrew Scriptures, God is called by the title the “Holy One of Israel.”

What Can Be Holy?

Time, space, objects, and people—all can become holy if they belong to God. The temple in Jerusalem was considered holy space, and the objects used in worship holy objects. The Sabbaths and feasts of Israel were considered holy days or seasons. And the Israelites were called God’s holy people by virtue of belonging to him.

The New Testament uses the words hagiazo, to “make holy” and hagio “holy” or “sacred.” Jesus is called “the Holy One of God.” And those who acclaim Jesus as Lord are called hagioi, or “saints.” As believers, we are literally set apart, made holy, because of our relationship with the one who bridges the gap between a holy God and sinful human beings. But how does Jesus do this?

Remember the story of King Midas? Everything he touched turned to gold. Something like that happens when we come into relationship with Christ, the one who entered the holy of holies in heaven to heal the rift that sin had created in our relationship with God. Jesus is the one who makes us holy, enabling us to stand in God’s presence and join the angels as they sing “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord.”

Excerpt from What's the Big Deal about Holiness? by Ann Spangler

5 Threats to Your Holiness

God is perfect; he lacks nothing. God is holy; he is set apart and wholly separate from sin. As with many of God’s attributes, he desires to communicate perfection and holiness to his creation. So he did.

Lucifer, an angel of God’s, did not get enough of God’s perfection and holiness. He wanted it all. He rebelled against God and lost all of what God gave him. He became God’s nemesis – renamed Satan. Ever since, Satan wishes for holiness’s ruin. He elicited the fall of Adam and Eve, depriving them of holiness. He continues on his rampage against holiness. He wants our help; he wants co-conspirators. And humanity is altogether too quick to comply, but that’s our nature.

God’s enemy employs five methods to ruin holiness: relativism, tolerance, contextualization, liberty and legalism.

Relativism

Relativism conveys that there are no absolutes. This perspective legitimizes innumerable truths contradicting one another.

Relativism ruins holiness because there is no longer a supreme authority. One is not wholly other. Satan deceives people into thinking multiple acceptable authorities exist. Ironically, all options outside of God point to Satan. He is the only other authority people submit. 

God rescues holiness from relativism’s ruin. John 14:6 says, “…I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the father except through me.”

Tolerance

Relativism leads to tolerance. If you do not accept multiple worldviews, you must be intolerant, leading to the intolerance of intolerance. If you tolerate multiple worldviews and authorities, holiness is diluted as God’s glory is shared. God cannot be altogether wholly other because he shares his holiness with other worldviews and authorities, diminishing his glory.

God rescues holiness from tolerance’s ruin. Isaiah 48:11 says, “My glory I will not give to another.”

Contextualization

In God’s quest to rescue holiness, he selected Israel as a light to the nations. He made this people holy. God gave Israel a charge to be separate from other nations. By doing so, other nations would look to Israel and find God attractive. Israel failed.

This rescue initiative continues with the Church. The Church is meant to be a wholly set apart people testifying to God’s holiness. This is accomplished through the church’s union to Christ, who fulfilled all Israel ought to be.

Contextualization is when God’s holy people relate to their context. They connect to their context in meaningful ways. Contextualization is tricky. God’s people should contextualize without jeopardizing holiness. Our enemy wishes to see contextualization abused.

1 Corinthians 9:22 says, “…I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.” Unfortunately, false teachers use this text to abuse contextualization, giving license to liberty.

God rescues holiness from contextualization’s ruin. Earlier in 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 he says, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.” Our union with Christ gifts us with the Holy Spirit making us God’s temple. False teachers abusing contextualization beware.

Liberty

Liberty, otherwise known as antinomianism (against law), says that God’s law is entirely abolished by grace. Humanity is no longer expected to cherish and keep God’s law. This makes way for license to abuse grace. Our enemy would like to see grace abused. Where relativism dilutes holiness, liberty dirties holiness. Liberty is fostered by foolishness.

God rescues holiness from liberty’s ruin. Romans 7:12 says, “So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.” Though we are incapable of keeping God’s law, it does not mean that we should not long to keep it. Here we are prone to ruin holiness with another abuse.

Legalism

The flip side of liberty is legalism. Legalism has two parts. Legalism is not attempting to keep the law of God. It’s assuming we can keep it. Furthermore, legalism says God’s acceptance if found in keeping God’s law. Impossible! If that were the case, God’s grace in Christ’s death, resurrection and all the implications is nullified (Gal. 2:19-21).

Legalism is also when people make new laws, parade them as God’s law and expect others to keep those laws. Often these new laws are conceived to protect from sin’s temptation or affect. Legalism is often sown from fear. Worse, people believe that God’s acceptance depends on these fabricated laws of men. Legalism restricts faith.

Legalism is a tragic ruin to holiness because it restricts other attributes of God like beauty, creativity or power. Legalism restricts love.

God rescues holiness from legalism’s ruin with faith and love. This is accomplished by God’s faithfulness and God’s love through Jesus Christ (Rev. 1:4-6).

As holy people we respond to God’s faithfulness and love in kind. Galatians 3:11 says, “Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for the righteous shall live by faith.” And Galatians 5:14 says, “For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Excerpt from 5 Threats to Your Holiness by Joey Cochran


Originally published May 03, 2019.