But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy. (1 Peter 1:15)
Oh boy. If only I could see the various wrong images that run through our minds as we think of the word “holy”. We might think of elaborate, intimidating church buildings, guys wearing really big and lofty robes, monks detaching themselves from the material world to find enlightenment, so on and so forth. The world has taught us to associate the world “holiness” with a sense of religion or spiritual perfection, and what a shame that is! According to God’s Word, the word “holy” is rich in meaning and application for us. So let’s get into it!
God is Holy….
There is no other attribute of God more important in the Bible than His holiness. In Isaiah 6, the prophet Isaiah has a vision of the LORD sitting on His Throne in all His glory, and around Him were seraphim, angelic beings who covered themselves with their wings in God’s presence, and cried out “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of Heaven’s Armies!”. And Isaiah instantly is filled with fear and sorrow, because he realizes just how sinful and unworthy he is to even be seeing this! And again all the way at the end of the Bible, in Revelation 4, the apostle John sees a vision of the Heavenly Throne Room, and sees God on His Throne, surrounded by living creatures who’re crying out “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty!”
So, what does this mean? In short, saying God is holy means that He is completely unique and set apart from everything else in existence; God exists in a league of His own, by a long shot! Before there was anything, there was God, Father Son and Holy Spirit, who has always been and will always be. Everything that exists was created by Him, and therefore He is higher than everything and anything else there is. Even the most exalted angel in Heaven is nothing compared to God! There is no one and no thing like Him.
…and He calls us to be too.
So how does this relate to us? Well, this also means God is completely and utterly set apart from sin and evil; there is no hint of it anywhere in Him. When God created Adam and Eve, He created them to be the same way! Mankind was set apart from the rest of creation to be His representatives in ruling and stewarding the beautiful world we’d been given. We were also set apart from sin and evil, but we all know that didn’t last long. Because Adam and Eve listened to the lies of Satan and chose to disobey God, they introduced sin into world. That sin separated them and everyone born to them from God. So now we have a dilemma: we have a holy God that loves His creation, and a sinful creation that can’t be in His presence. And that’s not even the worst of it: we’re running out of time. When we die in our sin, apart from God, we spend eternity separated from His all goodness and love and glory. This is the definition of Hell.
Enter the Gospel.
At that very moment, God sets into motion His rescue operation for His beloved creation, promising that a Man would come to crush Satan’s head, and Satan would strike Him. Then, we get the story of Israel in the Old Testament, the nation from which this Man would arise. God brings the nation into existence through Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, then calls Israel to be His special people; to be holy. He gives Israel His Law, which is meant to set them apart from the other nations of the world in order to show them a picture of what He’s like. This is where we see what it means for people to be holy: being holy means being called out and set apart by God for a special mission or purpose! Unfortunately, Israel fails this mission hard, and continues to look like all the other nations around them, much to God’s dismay. Prophet after prophet is sent to Israel to turn her back to God and warn her of the judgement coming because of her disobedience. No dice.
So let’s fast forward to the coming of that promised Man, Jesus Christ, in the New Testament. He lives a holy life in perfect obedience to the Law, set apart from sin and disobedience), allows Himself to suffer and be crucified, and is raised from the dead the third day! And here’s the kicker, He’s God Himself incarnate! Yup, Jesus is that holy God in human flesh and blood, and He makes an astounding claim about Himself that changes everything: because of His perfect life, His death on our behalf, and His resurrection, whoever comes to God through Him will be forgiven of their sins completely and justified (declared to be righteous and holy).
Living It Out
Now the picture’s starting to come together, right? So let’s bring it home. If you’ve placed your faith in the cross, and chosen to give your life to the Lord Jesus, you are now holy and righteous before God! Nice. But, He calls us to take it a step further by living a life that manifests that truth into the way we act, speak, and interact with others. This is what it means for us to be holy in everything we do; it means living as a people who have been called out from the world, ruled by Satan and sin, and called into the Kingdom of light, for the purpose of pointing others to the truth and reality of King Jesus and His Gospel.
This isn’t something that happens instantly, and it’s not something that you’re expected to do alone. It’s a lifelong process that’s driven by the Holy Spirit working in us and through us as we choose to live in union with Him. This is called sanctification, the step beyond justification. If justification is God saying you’re holy, sanctification is God working to make that a reality in your life.