Monday, March 19, 2018

The Holiness of God

July 31, 2016 by  
Filed under Monthly Articles

For countless generations, people have used the term, “Holiness,” to both describe God and as a standard for His believers to follow in life. Unfortunately, the definition of Holiness has come to mean innumerable things—not all of which find their basis in scripture. Too often, Holiness has centered more around human priorities and actions (a.k.a. works-righteousness) rather than Godly ones, as seen in the bible.

Yet, despite the variegated interpretations and approaches to the idea of Holiness, Leviticus 11:44 clearly states, “For I am the LORD who brought you out of the land of Egypt, to be your God; you shall, therefore, be holy, as I am holy.” As delivered, Holiness is not just a suggestion; it is a commandment from God, and because of that reality, it is incumbent upon all believers to seek a truer understanding of what it means to be holy today, especially in the new dangerous era of Postmodernism.

Reading through the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures, it is impossible to ignore how often Holiness is referenced, promoted, and/or mandated for God’s followers. As previously mentioned, Israel, God’s chosen people, were instructed time and time again to be holy as God is holy. In fact, the Hebrew word for holy is “Qadosh,” which means radiance, separation, or purity. Thus, Holiness is not just a legal matter; it also contains attributes of action, protection, righteousness, and exclusivity—all characteristics of God, as described in the Scriptures.

Not just an Old Testament tenet, the New Testament writers also admonish Christians to adhere to the biblical standard of Holiness. 1 Peter 1:15 states, “But as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in ALL your conduct.” In their writings, these men directly and indirectly pushed for Holiness as they discussed being set apart from the world—morally, ethically, and spiritually. Moreover, for the Disciples and Apostles, being holy also means being faithful, blameless, loving, and obedient to God, qualities they observed in Jesus Christ during His ministry on earth.

Not surprisingly, with all these notions embedded in the concept of Holiness, it is easy to become overwhelmed with trying to conform all activities and attitudes to God’s standard of holiness. All of the aforementioned requirements of Holiness are an important part of its definition, but none alone are sufficient to define what it means to be holy. Thus, it is advisable to approach Holiness in a holistic way (ironically) in order to gain a fuller and more productive understanding of Holiness.

The most dangerous tactic that some followers have embraced throughout history is to myopically promote one aspect of Holiness as THE quintessential manifestation of Holiness while ignoring all the other characteristics of Holiness. By making the part the whole (also known as “synechdoche”), the balance of understanding Holiness is lost. Moreover, too often, Holiness is narrowly defined merely in terms of behavior alone, when it should also focus on believers’ relationships with each other and the lost.

In reality, a person is not holy because of his or her actions; people are holy because of their relationship with God through Jesus Christ. As one of my former Seminary professors put it, Holiness (or sanctification) is “the dynamic relationship between God and His followers” (Dr. Larry Shelton, 2002). It is a recognition that humanity is flawed, but God is not. It is a desire to separate from the evil of the world to the good of the divine in order to find true peace, true purification of the heart, mind, and soul. Finally, it is a synthesis of belief and action in the life of the believer that leads to a deeper, more meaningful reconciliation with God.

This understanding may sound complicated, but it is not. Ultimately, Holiness comes down to a character transformation wherein the believer is no longer serving sin but embracing God and His ways. It is being lovingly obedient to Yahweh—not only because it is “commanded,” but because it is a good, healthy, and wise way to maintain and cultivate one’s relationship with the Creator/Redeemer. All believers are adopted children of God through our brotherhood with Jesus Christ. Striving for Holiness, then, is just a healthy expression of appreciation for our Father, and a request to get as close to God as possible—just like His Son.

To put it in simpler terms, Holiness is moving closer to God through a covenantal relationship in Jesus Christ. Outside of this concept or relationship, being holy has little meaning. Therefore, reading the biblical exhortation to “be holy for I am holy,” a fuller understanding can be observed. Being holy is not just an obscure list of do’s and don’ts; being holy removes the stumbling blocks that prevent us from moving closer to the divine source of love, power, and salvation in our relationship with God.

Still, Holiness has come to have some bad connotations in the postmodern era. In many circles (Christian and non-believer alike), piety and Holiness are synonymous with snobbery and elitism. In reality, though, Holiness is the humble admission that our sinful ways are not His good ways; therefore, we need to reflect Him more. With that healthy attitude, believers can experience and share their deep affection with God, each other, and to the world who needs love now more than ever.

We are called to be holy as God is holy. Yet, making the part the whole and picking one aspect of Holiness to focus on might be a practical and efficient way of exercising one’s faith, but Christianity is not about pragmatism or expediency. It is about shining in the darkness; it is about discarding all that hurts our relationship with God; it is about submitting to the Lordship of Jesus Christ and rejecting our own self-righteousness and self-deification.

Holiness needs to be sought after in its entirety, and the why of being holy is just as important (if not more) than the how, because striving for Holiness allows a closer and less encumbered communion with God, the Father—and truly, nothing else in life is as important as our relationship with Him who created and saved us.


J.S. Knox has taught Bible, history, and religion for over a decade at several Christian universities in the Pacific Northwest and the East Coast, utilizing his PhD in Theology & Religion, a MATS in Christian History & Thought, and a BA in History and English to help his students more fully understand what it meant to be a Christian in the past—and why it is still relevant in the present. He currently lives in Idaho with his family.

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