What Does It Mean To Be ‘Holy’?
First, let us consider what is NOT evidence of being holy.
Some confuse ‘holiness’ with a superficial piousness or with a sanctimonious behavior of superiority above others.
Some synonyms for pious are: sanctimonious · self-righteous · holier-than-thou · pietistic · churchy · religiose · Pharisaic.
You note that Pharisaic is often used instead of the term pious. The Pharisees were religious bullies known for self-righteous behavior and a condemning attitude toward those who would not follow their notion of what ‘holiness’ is. This behavior is not scriptural holiness.
You may have also noticed the term ‘churchy’ which describes a person who conforms or adheres rigorously to the practices or creeds of a particular denomination group while condemning everyone else who doesn’t. This too is not a mark of true holiness.
False piety makes a person think they are better than other people according to their own set of rules; therefore, they believe, ‘God loves and accepts us while rejecting anyone who doesn’t agree with or obey our set of rules’. This is nothing more than self-righteousness…one having declared themselves righteous.
This is often accompanied by grandiose acts like holding one’s head aloof or perhaps even the way a person may walk along; gliding with an air of regality (high and mighty). An air of superiority is not holiness. Real holiness is not a performance!
So what did God mean when he said concerning His chosen nation, “You are to be holy to Me because I, Yahweh, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be Mine”? (Leviticus 20:26)
In three words: separate, pure, and clean. The next logical question would be “How”?
We get an idea from the words of Peter found at 1Peter 1:15,16:
“But as the One who called you is holy, you also are to be holy in all your conduct; for it is written, Be holy, because I am holy.”
What did Peter mean?
Holiness is not merely a spiritual state. The fact of the matter is that often spirituality can be rooted in un-holiness. As you continue to read, you will find examples of un-holy spirituality among God’s chosen people.
Holiness Involves Keeping Separate
Holiness is to keep ones self separate and morally clean in order to serve in behalf of other. It was God’s plan that the nation of Israel was to be a “kingdom of priest” separated from the rest of the nations.
5 Now, if you will obey me and keep my covenant, you will be my own people. The whole earth is mine, but you will be my chosen people,
6 a people dedicated to me alone, and you will serve me as priests.”
Further, God told Moses to give this instruction to the people of Israel:
“Speak to the whole Israelite community and say to them: You shall be holy, for I, the LORD your God, am holy”.
In the Law, God gave the command not to intermingle with foreign nations and even told them why.
2 When the Lord your God places these people in your power and you defeat them, you must put them all to death. Do not make an alliance with them or show them any mercy.
3 Do not marry any of them, and do not let your children marry any of them,
4 because then they would lead your children away from the Lord to worship other gods. If that happens, the Lord will be angry with you and destroy you at once.
History shows that they did not keep God’s commandment and kept mixing with the nations God had told them they must not mix with.
As a result they kept making themselves unclean with the corruption of foreign nations. They assimilated these foreign nation’s practices; often which involved immorality and pagan worship. Over the history of ancient Israel, they would never keep clean. Yet they kept up a superficial pretense that they were holy. God stated this was the case to the prophet Isaiah:
13 The Lord said, “These people claim to worship me, but their words are meaningless, and their hearts are somewhere else. Their religion is nothing but human rules and traditions, which they have simply memorized”.
This was the behavior in the days of the reign of King Josiah. While there was a priesthood going about the daily ritual duties of the Temple, they and the majority of the Judean two-tribe kingdom were in no sense keeping themselves clean and holy. It was in this time of idolatry and spiritual adultery with other gods when Josiah came to power in Judah.
The split away ten tribe kingdom to the north had already had fallen into captivity due to its sins against Almighty God. God had used mighty Assyria as an instrument of correction to punish Israel and they already had been taken into captivity.
This is how the prophet Jeremiah described the situation:
8 “observed that it was because unfaithful Israel had committed adultery that I had sent her away and had given her a certificate of divorce. Nevertheless, her treacherous sister Judah was not afraid but also went and prostituted herself.
9 Indifferent to her prostitution, she defiled the land and committed adultery with stones and trees.
10 Yet in spite of all this, her treacherous sister Judah didn’t return to Me with all her heart—only in pretense.”
They only maintained a pretense of faithfulness and holiness, Again true holiness is not an act.
King Josiah- An Example of Holy Conduct
2 Kings 22:1, 2 tells us:
1 Josiah was eight years old when he became king of Judah, and he ruled in Jerusalem for thirty-one years. His mother was Jedidah, the daughter of Adaiah from the town of Bozkath.
2 Josiah did what was pleasing to the Lord; he followed the example of his ancestor King David, strictly obeying all the laws of God.
King Josiah did not follow the course of disobedience that previous kings had followed. His father, King Amon and his grandfather King Manasseh both committed evil sins. Manasseh, was responsible for rebuilding the pagan high places that King Hezekiah had torn down. Amon worshiped and offered sacrifices to all the idols Manasseh had made.
Manasseh and Amon did not follow the instructions God gave concerning the king:
18 When he becomes king, he is to have a copy of the book of God’s laws and teachings made from the original copy kept by the Levitical priests.
19 He is to keep this book near him and read from it all his life, so that he will learn to honor the Lord and to obey faithfully everything that is commanded in it.
20 This will keep him from thinking that he is better than other Israelites and from disobeying the Lord‘s commands in any way. Then he will reign for many years, and his descendants will rule Israel for many generations.
Deuteronomy 17:20 talks about the ideal king: “that his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers, and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, either to the right hand or to the left, so that he may continue long in his kingdom, he and his children, in Israel.” King Josiah met God’s righteous standards.
The Second Book of Kings informs us that he went on on campaign to restore pure worship and make the nation holy again.
1 King Josiah summoned all the leaders of Judah and Jerusalem,
2 and together they went to the Temple, accompanied by the priests and the prophets and all the rest of the people, rich and poor alike. Before them all the king read aloud the whole book of the covenant which had been found in the Temple.
3 He stood by the royal column and made a covenant with the Lord to obey him, to keep his laws and commands with all his heart and soul, and to put into practice the demands attached to the covenant, as written in the book. And all the people promised to keep the covenant.
4 Then Josiah ordered the High Priest Hilkiah, his assistant priests, and the guards on duty at the entrance to the Temple to bring out of the Temple all the objects used in the worship of Baal, of the goddess Asherah, and of the stars. The king burned all these objects outside the city near Kidron Valley and then had the ashes taken to Bethel.
5 He removed from office the priests that the kings of Judah had ordained to offer sacrifices on the pagan altars in the cities of Judah and in places near Jerusalem—all the priests who offered sacrifices to Baal, to the sun, the moon, the planets, and the stars.
6 He removed from the Temple the symbol of the goddess Asherah, took it out of the city to Kidron Valley, burned it, pounded its ashes to dust, and scattered it over the public burying ground.
7 He destroyed the living quarters in the Temple occupied by the temple prostitutes. (It was there that women wove robes used in the worship of Asherah.)
8 He brought to Jerusalem the priests who were in the cities of Judah, and throughout the whole country he desecrated the altars where they had offered sacrifices. He also tore down the altars dedicated to the goat demons near the gate built by Joshua, the city governor, which was to the left of the main gate as one enters the city.
9 Those priests were not allowed to serve in the Temple, but they could eat the unleavened bread provided for their fellow priests.
King Josiah’s example is a fine example for us to follow because it is an example of true holy conduct. Do you feel as Josiah felt?
Separation of the Servants of the House of God
Within the nation itself, the priest were to further separate themselves as a group from those Israelites who were not of the priesthood.
The separation and standard of cleanliness of the priesthood is perhaps the best example to examine what is required to keep clean and holy in God’s sight.
Throughout the Old Testament, the term priest (kōhēn) is commonly used to refer to an official who was set apart from the rest of the community in order to carry out certain duties associated with worship and sacrifice. The fact that they served in the Holy Temple of God, their sacred duties, and the fact that they were responsible for handling the Temple utensils which were considered “holy vessels” made cleanliness on the part of the priesthood extremely important. They were required to obey certain restriction and were required to preform certain acts that the common people were not required to do.
While serving in the Temple, priest were required to literally wash themselves before coming near the alter or the Tabernacle.
“Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying: You shall also make a laver of bronze, with its base also of bronze, for washing. You shall put it between the tabernacle of meeting and the altar. And you shall put water in it, for Aaron and his sons shall wash their hands and their feet in water from it. When they go into the tabernacle of meeting, or when they come near the altar to minister, to burn an offering made by fire to the LORD, they shall wash with water, lest they die. So they shall wash their hands and their feet, lest they die. And it shall be a statute forever to them– to him and his descendants throughout their generations.” (Exodus 30:17-21)
As “ministers of the LORD” (Joel 1:9; 2:17), priests functioned as mediators in God’s presence and were responsible for the day-to-day operation in the Temple.
The priests had to be ritually clean (tahor) in order to serve at the Temple, and if he had somehow had become ritually unclean (tamay), he would have restore himself with the passing of time and by bathing his whole body in fresh, ritually clean (tahor) water, according to Leviticus 15.
From the physical standpoint, a priest was considered clean when any obvious indications of dirt or similar defilement have been removed. A clean priest was also one who habitually maintains a pattern of personal cleanliness and hygiene, while at the same time taking care to ensure that his habitat was in a clean condition.
Most important however were matters concerning moral cleanness. For the Hebrews, holiness demanded that they should reflect in their living and thinking the exalted moral and spiritual qualities of God had revealed in His laws.
Cleanness was fundamental to the establishing and preservation of holiness in the Israelite community. As distinct from any other nation, the Hebrews were provided with specific instructions concerning cleanness and how to recover it when it had been lost through carelessness or disobedience. The Hebrew people were to manifest their moral cleanness by demonstrating it in daily life, giving proof that they were living by God’s high moral standards and His high ethical qualities of absolute purity, mercy, justice, and grace.
Not being perfect, they had to avail themselves to God’s provisions for them to be cleansed and to remain clean.
One provision to remain clean has was mentioned previously and that was the commandment not to mix with foreign nations. These nations did not worship Jehovah. They did follow His commandments. They could only serve to corrupt His people.
Jesus Unique and Separate-How?
Christ is uniquely set apart and separate from all other creation as the only begotten child of God. He, like God his Father is peerless. He was individually singled out and remained separate from the angels.
A reading of Revelation chapter 5 indicates that the angels were not familiar with the Lord until he was introduced to them at the time he was led in and entered the Sanctuary.
If you reason on the matter, why would the “strong angel” spoken of in Revelation 5:2 ask “Who is worthy” to enter the Most Holy and receive the scroll”, if everyone present knew of Christ?
5 And I saw in the right hand of him that sat on the throne a book written within and on the backside, sealed with seven seals.
2 And I saw a strong angel proclaiming with a loud voice, Who is worthy to open the book, and to loose the seals thereof?
3 And no man in heaven, nor in earth, neither under the earth, was able to open the book, neither to look thereon.
4 And I wept much, because no man was found worthy to open and to read the book, neither to look thereon.
5 And one of the elders saith unto me, Weep not: behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, hath prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof.
6 And I beheld, and, lo, in the midst of the throne and of the four beasts, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent forth into all the earth.
7 And he came and took the book out of the right hand of him that sat upon the throne.
Jesus had lived a separate existence until that time. He was also separate and unique as he is the only begotten son of God.
This separation is part of the Biblical view of holiness. This is why the opposite of something holy is said to be mundane or profane; ordinary. To be holy is to be removed from the realm of the ordinary.
The Hebrews lived lives separately, according to the Torah’s commandments, precisely because God is separate. The highest form of worship is to imitate what is Divine. Man must strive to be a reflection of his Creator and His holiness.
Following the example of the past, if Christian life is to be holy for the assembly, then the elect brothers of Christ must take care to be especially holy.
They have been distinctively sanctified by the Creator Himself for all time and singled out for a life dedicated to Him. The vehicle that accomplishes this sanctification is the commandments found in His word the Bible, which obligate them to their Creator in service to High Priest Jesus Christ.
As Christian disciples of Christ, we have been given a similar command that was given to the ancient Hebrew nation.
2 Corinthians 6:14-18
14 Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?
15 What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? Or what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever?
16 What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.”
17 Therefore, “Come out from them and be separate, says the LORD. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you.”
18 And, “I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the LORD Almighty.”
We are given this commandment for all the same reasons God gave this commandment to the ancient Hebrews. If we disregard it we become unclean by being corrupted by practices which unbelievers consider to be acceptable, but the Bible condemns.
As a Christian brotherhood, we are not curtained off like the Hebrew nation was, living in one central places within designated geographical boundaries. No, we are mixed among all types of people and spread throughout the whole world. All the more so we must be just as careful about whom we have association with. This is particularly true within the Christian body because that is the most likely place one may be corrupted. Note Paul’s words of counsel:
1 Corinthians 5:9-10:
9 In the letter that I wrote you I told you not to associate with immoral people.
10 Now I did not mean pagans who are immoral or greedy or are thieves, or who worship idols. To avoid them you would have to get out of the world completely.
Because of where we live, because of where we work, go to school, shop it is impossible not to have some contact with immoral people. But that is not true when it comes to association with those who professed be Christian disciples.
Whether professed Christian believer or an unbeliever, we have an obligation to God and Christ to avoid people with unclean practices. We must be holy.
Paul also gave this admonition:
2 Corinthians 6:17
17 Therefore, “Come out from them and be separate, says the LORD. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you.”
If we unintentionally become unclean, we must avail ourselves to God’s means to be cleansed. There was such a provision for the Hebrews with the Law given to Moses by God.
Leviticus 5:2-3, 5
2 “‘If anyone becomes aware that they are guilty-if they unwittingly touch anything ceremonially unclean (whether the carcass of an unclean animal, wild or domestic, or of any unclean creature that moves along the ground) and they are unaware that they have become unclean, but then they come to realize their guilt;
3 or if they touch human uncleanness (anything that would make them unclean) even though they are unaware of it, but then they learn of it and realize their guilt;
5 When you are guilty, you must confess the sin,
Just as it was necessary to appear before the high priest and confess their sin to be forgiven and then be prescribe the necessary course of action to be cleansed, it is also true today. Otherwise we will remain unclean. Today, the High Priest exist in the Heavenly Temple and we must confess our sins to him. If we sincerely are repentant, he will forgive us an prescribe the necessary course we need to submit our selves to in order to be cleansed.
1 John 2:1
1 My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father-Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.
But we will never receive that help if we do not present ourselves before the High Priest.
God has commanded His people, “You are to be holy to Me because I, Yahweh, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be Mine”. (Leviticus 20:26)
God Himself is called holy because He is completely separate; unique and unequaled in all of His creation as is His son our Lord and High Priest Jesus Christ. Nothing can be compared to Him because He is peerless; He is the Creator of the universe and all existence, and absolutely different from anything or anyone else that exists. It is in this light that His obedient children can be collectively called a “holy nation”. We are to be a nation set apart from all others, completely different from any other, whose Divinely-mandated lifestyle serves as living proof that God is walking in our in its midst.
For us to remain holy, we must reject all ungodly thinking and behavior. We cannot allow ourselves to socially mix with those who defy God and His commandments. Their thinking and behaviors will eventually corrupt us.
We must reject all apostasy against God, even by those in positions of leadership like the examples from the Bible we considered that included kings and priests.
We learn what is means to be holy and how to conduct ourselves in holiness by examining God’s written word just as faithful King Josiah did.
Holiness is not self-righteous piety like that the Pharisees demonstrated. It is not churchy, holier-than-thou behavior. It is not a false-front. Jesus described people like this best:
27 “How terrible for you, teachers of the Law and Pharisees! You hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look fine on the outside but are full of bones and decaying corpses on the inside”.
Be not like this.
In order to be holy, God has command that we listen to and follow His son, the Christ as our Master (Matthew 17:5). We do not exist in a holy state if we reject Christ.
Jesus serves as High Priest in the Heavenly Temple and now as in the past, when we somehow become unclean we must present ourselves before the High Priest in order to be forgiven our sins and to be cleansed in order to stay holy.
Holiness involves pure worship of God on His terms and according to His commandments. If we worship God in this way, we will keep ourselves holy in His sight.