God’s Holiness. I: Defining Holiness

“Speak to all the congregation of the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy’” (Leviticus 19:2; all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible).

Image created using the YouVersion Bible app.

What do you think of when you hear the word “holy”? Most people immediately associate the word with God. We immediately guess that it has something to do with God or Jesus. “Holy” is one of those religious-sounding words that we might throw around without knowing exactly what it means.

Some churches will claim to be Holiness churches, with an emphasis on holiness or entire sanctification. Many in such churches will be adamant about wearing the right clothing (women always wearing dresses, for example) or listening to the right kind of music (it must mention Jesus by name, and it cannot sound like rock!). They have other rules: no dancing, no alcohol, no cigarettes, etc. If you feel that God is leading you to live such a lifestyle, please continue to do so; even if these rules are not explicitly biblical, they can protect you from certain excesses that can lead to sin. However, rules do not make a person holy.

The Hebrew word “qadosh” is usually translated as “holy, sanctified, or consecrated” in the Old Testament. It describes God as exalted above His creation, set apart from infirmity, impurity, and sin. People (priests, Nazirites, prophets, etc.), objects (oil, priestly garments, etc.), places (tabernacle, temple), and even times (the Sabbath, Passover, Day of Atonement) can be set apart for God’s worship, service, or glory.

The New Testament uses the Greek word “hagios.” Thayer’s Greek Lexicon says that it comes from a word meaning “religious awe or reverence,” so “hagios” describes something as “worthy of veneration.” However, most New Testament writers use the term in the same way as the Hebrew word “qadosh.” Biblehub describes it like this:

“The fundamental (core) meaning … is ‘different’–thus a temple in the 1st century was hagios (‘holy’) because different from other buildings (Wm. Barclay). In the NT, hágios (‘holy’) has the ‘technical’ meaning ‘different from the world’ because ‘like the Lord.’”

The opposite of “holy” might be “common or ordinary.” God is holy; we approach Him with respect and awe (the Bible uses the term “fear of the Lord”). We should not think of Him as “the man upstairs” or as someone we can treat lightly and bring down to our level.

A church building is holy because we set it apart for God’s worship. Photo by Adrien Olichon on Pexels.com

As mentioned earlier, we may ascribe holiness to people or things that have been consecrated to God’s use and glory. Considering these objects might help us understand what it would mean for a Christian to be holy.

Think of some of the objects that might be considered “holy” by different Christians. Some churches have holy water, which church members might anoint themselves with before entering the church. Chemically speaking, it is just ordinary H2O. It is not “magic water.” However, it has been set apart as “holy.” We use it for worship; we do not use it to make coffee.

I have a small vial of “holy oil” that I might place on a person’s forehead while praying for them. There is nothing special or magical about that oil. I could probably refill the vial with extra-virgin olive oil from the grocery store, set it aside, and consider it “holy” because I use it only for prayer ministry, and have the same results. My church uses wine for communion; even though it is ordinary wine, and you might be able to buy it in any liquor store, we do not pop open the bottle to enjoy it with dinner. A church building is constructed with ordinary materials and may not look impressive or imposing; however, if it has been set apart for God’s worship and glory, it is holy and should be treated differently.

Each of these objects is holy, not because they are chemically unique, but because we set them apart to worship God, and He receives them. Thus, they can communicate God’s holiness to people.

It should be like that with us as followers of Jesus. God has received us into His family. He has set us apart to worship and glorify Him. We are declared holy by Him. We should participate in His holiness and communicate it to those around us.

Perhaps many of us pray, “Jesus, make me holy.” Instead, may our prayer and heart’s desire be, “Jesus, you have already made me holy. Reveal Your holiness in me.”

Where do you most see God’s holiness revealed? Feel free to share by clicking the “Leave a comment” link below.

Copyright © 2020 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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