I wanted to do a study on holiness, and what it really meant. I decided to try and throw out everything I knew about the word and start from scratch. I did a word search through the Bible, and found 699 matches. Yep, I looked through them all. I came up with four different aspects of holiness through my study in the Old and New Testament.
The first two, dealing with the Holiness of God. The last two, the Holiness of believers.
The Holiness of God:
The Hebrew word for holy is “qadesh” and it means “pure and devoted”, or “the most pure.” The first thing I found was that where God is, that place is holy. One of our early experiences with this is Exodus 3:5, when Moses has his first encounter with the Almighty. “Do not come any closer,” God told him. “Take off your sandals, for you are standing on holy ground.” This was just the first of many encounters this man had with the holiness of God. Exodus 33:11 says “Inside the Tent of Meeting, the Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend.” But later in that chapter, Moses so boldly asks God to see His “glorious presence.” God answers him by saying He would allow his goodness to pass before him, but that “…you may not look directly at my face, for no one may see me and live.” (verse 20.) Pretty awe-inspiring…to be in the presence of God. So holy a God that anyone who actually saw his face would not live to tell about it. After meeting with God for forty days and nights, Moses returned with a strange glow about his face. Initially, the people were a bit frightened by this, until they realized he was actually glowing from being in the presence of the Lord!
In the Old Testament, God’s presence was found in certain places that were, subsequently, considered very holy. God’s presence would be so close to the Israelites, yet they could not get too close to our Holy God. For example, the Tent of Meeting, then the Tabernacle, and within it, the Most Holy Place, as well as the Ark of the Covenant. These things were so holy that if anyone defiled them in any way, they were instantly killed. The Ark of the Covenant was so holy, that when transporting it, a man stumbled, touched the Ark, and instantly died! When the Philistines captured it in 1 Samuel 4, they had no idea what they were getting themselves into. They took it to the temple of one of their gods, Dagon. The most hilarious thing is, the next morning, they found their statue god, Dagon, bowed down before the Ark. They set him upright again, confused by this. The next morning, they found him again prostrate before the Lord, with his hands and feet broken off. The priests of that temple would no longer set foot in there, as you can imagine. But that was only a start. God sent a plague of tumors and death on the Philistines, until they could take it no longer. We read in chapter six, seven months later, they eagerly returned the Ark to Beth-Shemesh. The Israelites had been in such despair over the loss of the Ark, that when the old prophet Eli was told of its capture, he fell back, broke his neck, and died. His daughter-in-law, who was very pregnant, went immediately into labor, and died, feeling utterly hopeless, saying “The glory has departed from Israel, the ark has been captured.” You can imagine the rejoicing at its return! However 70 men died because they tried to look inside the Ark. Holy.
The Most Holy Place, inside the Tabernacle, was much the same way. When the priest went inside, they would tie a rope around his foot with a bell on it. He could easily be struck dead if he entered God’s presence with any disobedience at all. If that indeed happened, you can bet no one was going in to drag him out. So they tied the rope around him so they could pull him out without risking their own lives. Holy.
Secondly, anything God deemed to be holy, was holy. He set aside certain things, places, and people as sacred. The first would be the Sabbath day. Upon its creation, in Genesis 2:3, it says “And God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, because it was the day when he rested from his work of creation.” Is it strange to think that God needed rest? Or perhaps he just knew that we did. He declared it holy, therefore this day was holy, and still should be today. Isaiah 58:13 says “Keep the Sabbath day holy. Don’t pursue your own interests on that day, but enjoy the Sabbath and speak of it with delight as the Lord’s holy day.” I wonder why today we don’t give a flip about keeping the Sabbath holy? One thing I learned in this study, God’s people should take seriously what he deems to be holy, and keep it so. God takes it seriously.
Also, God’s name was holy. The Israelites didn’t even say his name. It was far too holy to utter on their lips. Can you imagine that, in a day when his name is used for cursing so commonly, we hardly flinch anymore? How blatently disrespectful are we? That didn’t fly in the Old Testament. We continue to see instances where people did not take God’s holiness seriously. Big mistake.
God also declared other things holy for his peoples’ benefit; altars, sacrifices, offerings, festivals, and covenants he made with them. These things were consecrated, set apart, as holy and pure. Again and again, His people would do a very unwise thing, and mess with the holy things of God. For instance, in 1 Samuel, we find the faithful priest, Eli. Eli served the Lord, but he had two very rebellious sons. They served as priests in the temple, but had no regard for what was holy. When people brought their holy sacrifices, they would take the meat for their own enjoyment, right off the altar! Not only that, but they were seducing the young women who assisted at the Temple. They were using God’s Holy Place to feed all of their fleshly desires. How brazen, and stupid these boys were! They were spitting in the face of a Holy God, whose presence these people had seen with their own eyes! God’s presence had moved with them, and visibly hovered over the Temple, as a cloud, and a fire by night. They had seen amazing things happen. But I suppose they were unimpressed, and they served themselves. God did not take it lightly. 1 Samuel 2:17 says “So the sin of these young men was very serious in the Lord’s sight, for they treated the Lord’s offering with contempt.” Eli was aware of this, and warned them. But though Eli was distraught over this, he continued to allow them to defile everything holy! Because of this, as you can guess, God’s judgment fell on his family, and fell hard. And you can probably also guess, his two sons were killed on the same day, as He told Eli they would be, in battle with the Philistines. God is holy, and he wouldn’t allow them to mess with His Holiness.
The People of God were also considered holy. Not because the Holy Spirit lived in them, because this was the OT, Pre-Jesus; but because of their relationship with a Holy God. It was God’s plan for the Israelites to be his own special, holy people, set apart from all other nations. Exodus 19:3-6 says “Then Moses climbed the mountain to appear before God. The Lord called out to him from the mountain and said “Give these instructions to the descendants of Jacob, the people of Israel: ’You have seen what I did to the Egyptians. You know how I brought you to myself and carried you on eagle’s wings. Now if you will obey me and keep my covenant, you will be my own special treasure from among all the nations of the earth; for all the earth belongs to me. And you will be to me a kingdom of priests, my holy nation.’ Give this message to the Israelites.” Leviticus 20:26 says “You must be holy because I, the Lord, am holy. I have set you apart from all other people to be my very own.” There is much affection in the way God spoke to the people. Again and again, he refers to them as His own special treasure, these stubborn, rebellious, complaining people. He called them out as holy and special, because He wanted a relationship with them, as He wants with us today.
Mary Farrar, in her book Choices, says that God’s most foundational attribute is Holiness. All of God’s other attributes flow forth from and are filled with His Holiness. She points out that the scripture gives us a picture of God, sitting on His throne, with the train of His robe filling the Temple, and the angels and creatures are gathered around Him crying “HOLY, HOLY, HOLY IS THE LORD GOD ALMIGHTY, WHO WAS, AND IS, AND IS TO COME.” (Rev. 4:8) This is an awe-inspiring picture, and it gives me chills to think about being in the presence of His Holiness. Mary Farrar says “They do not cry “Love, Love, Love!” or “Mighty, Mighty, Mighty!” No. They cry out continually “Holy, Holy, Holy!” she also says “Holiness is the key. There is no mercy, no justice, no wisdom, no act of power which emanates from God that is not filled with His perfect holiness and used for His holy purposes.” I think she is absolutely right! Before God is anything else, He is Holy! If we don’t get that about God, we just don’t get him! We can’t comprehend God’s love without His holiness. Without it, it is just a brand of the world’s love that fails. We would have no fear of the Lord, no awe of God without a concept of His holiness. Any man who encountered God’s presence in the Bible, or has encountered him today, knows that their first instinct was to fall on their face before Him. Why? Ezekiel had an encounter with God that was so real, it says “I sat there among them for seven days, overwhelmed.” He couldn’t move for seven days. He had encountered the holiness of God. That should change us. If we don’t know God’s holiness, then we just don’t know God. We have made Him to be a God with no wrath, with no regard for sin, and no concern for holiness. This truly is NOT the God of the scriptures. He not only is holy, but he wants us to share in His holiness. Be holy as I am holy.
“It is God who saved us and chose us to live a holy life. He did this not because we deserved it, but because that was his plan long before the world began- to show his love and kindness to us through Christ Jesus.” 2 Timothy 1:9
The Holiness of Believers:
As believers, we are holy because of Jesus. Period. I found this over and over again in the Word. This is the Good News of the Gospel in the New Testament. Once we believe in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and accept salvation, we are holy. We go from Sinner to Saint. Our old sinful nature is crucified on the cross with Jesus, and we become holy in his sight. That does not mean that we never sin again. I wish! But we have victory over sin because of what Christ did for us! Hallelujah! Even though this is very plain in the scriptures, I think so many Christians are still living life as if we are defeated. First, I want you as a believer today, to know that you are holy and clean because of what Jesus did for you. Secondly, I want us to know what it means to live lives of holiness. We still have to battle with our flesh, and the Word gives us very specific instructions on how to live lives of victory and holiness.
Holy Because of Jesus
Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 1:2, “We are writing to the church of God in Corinth, you who have been called by God to be his own holy people. He made you holy by means of Christ Jesus, just as he did all Christians everywhere- whoever calls upon the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and theirs.” We need to know that our salvation and holiness has absolutely nothing to do with us! In 1:30-31, Paul continues “God alone made it possible for you to be in Christ Jesus. For our benefit God made Christ to be wisdom itself. He is the one who made us acceptable to God. He made us pure and holy, and he gave himself to purchase our freedom. As the Scriptures say, “The person who wishes to boast should boast only of what the Lord has done.” We need to know that there is nothing we have done, are doing, or could ever do to make us acceptable to God. It is only by receiving what Jesus did for us. If we want to understand the shift between the Old Testament and the New Testament, we need only read Hebrews 9 and 10. We know that in the OT, the people made atonements for their sin by bringing holy offerings to the Temple priests for their sins, with repentant hearts. (He has always cared more about what was in our hearts than our outward actions.) But in Hebrews 9, it says (verse 12) “Once for all time he took blood into that Most Holy Place, but not the blood of goats and calves. He took his own blood, and with it he secured our salvation forever.” Verse 25 says “Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, like the earthly high priest who enters the Most Holy Place year after year to offer the blood of an animal. If that had been necessary, he would have had to die again and again, ever since the world began. But no! he came once for all time, at the end of the age, to remove the power of sin forever by his sacrificial death for us.” This is such amazing news! The work for our salvation is finished! He died once, and that is all it took! Subsequently, what does God want for us? Hebrews 10:10 says “And what God wants is for us to be made holy by the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all time.” Verse 14 says “For by that one offering he perfected forever all those whom he is making holy.” The gift, the payment for our freedom, is complete and perfect, lacking nothing. It was not a lay-a-way plan. There are no monthly installments. It is done. It is called the New Covenant God made with us. Verses 16-18 says “This is the new covenant I will make with my people on that day, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their hearts so they will understand them, and I will write them on their minds so they will obey them” Then he adds, “I will never again remember their sins and lawless deeds.” Never again remember!
This was His redemptive plan for us from the beginning of time. Ephesians 1:4 says “Long ago, even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. His unchanging plan has always been to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. And this gave his great pleasure.” This pleases God greatly! Bringing us to himself through the painful death of His Son was His provisional plan for us all along.
Thank you God, that you are a God who will never again remember our sins, and throw them to the depths of the sea. Thank you that You give us Your laws in our hearts, and the ability and desire to obey them. They are precious to us! Plant the truth of the finished work of our salvation on the cross so that we will stop trying to work for it. Just make us holy and pleasing in your sight. Amen.
“Try to live at peace with everyone, and seek to live a clean and holy life, for those who are not holy will not see the Lord.” Hebrews 12:14
Instructions for Holy Living:
In John 17, Jesus’ prayer in the Garden just before he was arrested and betrayed, was for us, believers in Christ. He was praying specifically for his disciples whom he loved, but says in verse 20 “I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me…” This is an amazing chapter that each of us should study carefully. But one thing he prays for us is “Make them pure and holy by teaching them your words of truth.” (John 17:17) The only way for us to lead pure and holy lives is by studying the Word of God. So let’s do just that. We have looked at the holiness of God, and the fact that we are holy, not because of anything we have done, but because of Christ Jesus’ finished work on the cross. What does the Word say about instructions for living a holy life?
After Jesus had died, resurrected, spent time among them, and then ascended, the believers then received the Holy Spirit. The book of Acts is all about the spectacular appearance of the Holy Spirit. This should not have surprised the apostles, because Jesus told them He was coming many times. In John 16:13 he says “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth…” He also refers to the Holy Spirit as the Counselor, and talks about his other functions for us as believers. But it’s important for us to know that post-Jesus, the Holy Spirit dwells in believers and is guiding and directing us into Truth. He is the power source behind a holy life.
In Romans 6:19, Paul says “I speak this way, using the illustration of slaves and masters, because it is easy to understand. Before, you let yourselves be slaves to impurity and lawlessness. Now you must choose to be slaves of righteousness so that you will become holy.” Leading a life of holiness is our choice. Paul is right. We are all slaves to something. When we were lost, we were slaves to sin. But now, we must choose to be slaves of, to set our minds on, to put into action in our lives, righteousness. Receiving Christ requires very little of us really. Just like when you accept a gift from someone, all we have to do is accept the life-giving gift of salvation from Him and give Him control of our lives. But to live a pure, clean, holy life that is pleasing to the Lord, this requires much deliberate action on our part. We must become slaves to righteousness.
However, you can hardly compare being a slave to sin and being a slave to righteousness! Being a slave to sin is defeating, debilitating, and will just make you tired. You can never win. Romans 8:6 says “If your sinful nature controls your mind, there is death. But if the Holy Spirit controls your mind, there is life and peace.” In Romans 12:1, Paul urges us to give our bodies as living and holy sacrifices to the Lord. Just as the people of God used to offer sacrifices on an altar, now all we have to do is offer ourselves. Lord take me, use me, change me! Then we will have life and peace. In fact, 1 Corinthians even says that after we accept Christ, and the Spirit lives in us, our body is the temple of God! “Or don’t you know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body.” (1 Cor. 6:19-20) In light of that fact, the scripture is very clear about the sin of sexual immorality among God’s people. Ephesians 5:3 says “Let there be no sexual immorality, impurity, or greed among you. Such sins have no place among God’s holy people.” Verse 6 says “Don’t be fooled by those who try to excuse these sins, for the terrible anger of God comes upon all those who disobey him.” The NIV version says there should be not even a hint of sexual immorality! In 1 Thessalonians 4, Paul writes “God wants you to be holy, so you should keep clear of all sexual sin. Then each of you will control you body and live in holiness and honor- not in lustful passion as the pagans do, in their ignorance of God and his ways.” He also says “God has called us to be holy, not to live impure lives.” He makes it very clear that you are NOT living in holiness if you are allowing sexual sin in your life. In fact, we would look just like the unsaved people who live in ignorance to God and His ways, and that is not what God intended for us as believers! He called us to be holy! It’s obvious that this area of sin will take us down harder and faster than any other. It’s also clear that Satan is no dummy. He has infiltrated our world with sexual sin every where we turn. I can’t even allow my kids to watch commercials on TV between cartoons because sex is blatantly splashed on the screen, even selling rice or shampoo! (What these products have to do with sex is beyond me.) We know it’s everywhere. We know pornography has never been more accessible, even to children, and pornography addiction is out-of-control. We know that to abstain from sexual sin in this culture makes you a freak. What can we do? In 1 Corinthians, just before he talks about our bodies being the temple, he says “Run away from sexual sin! No other sin so clearly affects the body as this one does.” (1 Cor. 6:18) Almost always when the scripture is talking specifically about sexual sin, it says Run! Flee! Get away as fast as you can! We know for sure that sexual sin has no place among the Godly and holy people of God. You might feel a sense of relief right now, because you are not physically participating in sexual sin presently. But Colossians 3:5 says “…Have nothing to do with sexual sin, impurity, lust, and shameful desires.” Some of these are sins that take place in our thought life. We know that every sin originates in our mind. We have never committed a sin that we did not think about first, even if just for a split-second. How can we protect ourselves? We have to go out of our way, WAY out of our way, to avoid this infiltrating our minds. This means that we don’t watch the same movies as the world does! (I didn’t hear an Amen.) It’s true. God is not honored when we laugh and enjoy the trash that we pay $10 to see, and sit in a room full of unsaved people, and look just as entertained as they do. This means you are not SET APART. This means sometimes I have to give up a show that I really like because the storylines are fraught with sexual sin. Boo-hoo for me. Y’all, this is not suffering for Jesus. We are so lax with what we see, laugh at, and invite into our homes, we don’t even see the red flashing danger lights going off right in front of our faces. I feel like Satan is winning the battle with sexual sin, even in our church, and until we get serious about it, we will not experience victory over this. People might find you extreme. I don’t think it is extreme. I think it’s simple obedience to the Word, and we don’t get any special gold stars for that. God is continuing to show me how to make wise choices in this area, and I am far from there yet. But what would happen if we really submitted everything we allowed our minds to take in to the Lord? You may be ashamed to find, as I was, that you are debating God on a stupid TV show. We make lofty promises to the Lord, that we would give up everything for Him. But when it comes to giving up some of your entertainment, you might find yourself playing tug-of-war with Him. If we aren’t faithful with the little things, we certainly aren’t faithful with the big ones. I believe this is truly a mark of maturity. I pray God will continue to convict me of what is infiltrating the minds of my family, and that I will honor Him with our obedience.
What other sin areas does the Word say to avoid for God’s holy people? Colossians 3 is a pretty nice collection. It starts with “Don’t be greedy for the good things of this life, for that is idolatry. God‘s terrible anger will come upon those who do such things.” He is talking about a preoccupation with “stuff” . How preoccupied are we in America with stuff? This may be one of the most accepted sins among us today, and yet the Lord calls it idolatry! If we took some time to read through the Old Testament and see how God felt about idolatry, and what his “terrible anger” felt like for the Israelites, we might be very afraid. I know that in America, we have far more than most countries in the world. I don’t believe it is wrong for us to be blessed with abundance. The sin is not in the “stuff”, it is in our hearts. Greed is defined by Webster as “an excessive desire to acquire more than one needs or deserves.” Do we focus on, desire, or think about material things too much? Does it take up energy or thought that could be considered excessive? The Lord has been often reminding me that there is a big difference between NEED and WANT. I use the word NEED flippantly, and this is where the sin is born.
Colossians 3 goes on to say in verses 8-10 “But now is the time to get rid of anger, rage, malicious behavior, slander, and dirty language. Don’t lie to each other, for you have stripped off your old evil nature and all its wicked deeds. In its place you have clothes yourselves with a brand-new nature that is continually being renewed as you learn more and more about Christ, who created this new nature within you.” This is a lot to swallow at once. Anger and rage… I perceive anger to be the angry thoughts we mull over in our mind, and rage to be the manifested behavior of them. (Remember, sin always originates in our thoughts.) Malicious behavior…Webster says malicious means “deliberately harmful or spiteful.” Malice is characterized by “enjoying seeing someone suffer.” This does not sound like us, surely! But sadly, I think about someone who is generally not liked or is the focus of much disdain, and if they were to suffer in some way, we would all cheer. That is malicious. Malicious behavior would be any action we might take toward them out of spite. Slander…defined as “a false and injurious statement or report about someone.” Again, none of us would like to think we would say something false about someone else. However, when we talk about someone else, and we got our information from one person, who got it from their aunt, who heard it from their best friend’s neighbor, etc. You get the point. What are the odds that ANY of it is true. We have no business in other people’s business. (In fact the Bible says to literally mind your own business! 1 Thess. 4:11) Not only speaking it, but listening to it. We have to learn to politely shut down others who are participating in gossip or slander. My Pastor recently defined gossip as anything you wouldn’t say in front of the person you are talking about. (Hopefully you wouldn’t, that would make you quite malicious.) Dirty language…Obviously, actually using the kind of words that you might not say in front of your grandmother (unless your grandmother happens to cuss like a sailor or something…mine doesn’t.) But I have to go back to the kind of language we hear in the context of entertainment, and are totally desensitized to and okay with. You might not say it, but you don’t even flinch when you hear it. Our minds and mouths should be pure, according to the Word of God. This is a daunting task in our world today, but I know we can do a lot better job than we are presently doing.
Once we have taken off these yucky sins in our lives, then what does the Word tell us to do? My friend Heather Hendrick writes about this: “It’s like we have on our old ugly sinful clothes…and every day, we pray that God would help us get rid of that behavior…so, we take them off…we strip down naked and take those ugly, sinful clothes off…BUT WE NEVER PUT ON CLEAN CLOTHES…we never put on the right behavior! So, we start to get cold standing there naked and so our dirty clothes begin to look appealing again…we do what we know. God is telling us to not only take off the ugly clothes…and BURN THEM, but then, we have to put on the right, new, clean clothes!” Verse 10 tells us to clothe ourselves, in its place, with the brand new nature that is continually being renewed as you learn more and more about Christ. What does this mean? Two things. (They sound pretty basic, but stick with me.) As Christians, once we have accepted Christ, we are to be learning more and more about Christ. We are to constantly be growing in “knowledge and depth of insight” (Phil. 1:9 NIV) Our goal should be continual growth, never to stand still. We ought to be hungry for that. If we are not, there is a serious spiritual issue we need to deal with. Each New Year, I ask myself, do I know the Lord better this year than I did last year? And there were several years in there I had to say “NO!” These were my most selfish, self-focused, and needy times. I missed out on the growth that God had for me in that time. I was definitely not experiencing God’s best for me because of it, and neither were my husband and children.
What is the result of our constantly seeking to know the Lord better? He will constantly be renewing us, getting rid of the old yucky stuff, and replacing it with Godly, holy attributes, so that we are looking more and more like Him! How exciting is that? Ephesians 4:22-23 says “…throw off your old evil nature and your former way of life, which is rotten through and through, full of lust and deception. Instead, there must be a spiritual renewal of your thoughts and attitudes.” Again, it all starts with our thoughts and attitudes. Romans 12 says to “be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (NIV) The NLT says “…let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think.” Why do we continue in the same sin patterns as we always have? Because we have not changed the way we think. We have not allowed the Word to penetrate our minds and change us from the inside out. We are like that stupid person described in James 1 that looks at herself in the mirror, walks away, makes no improvements, and immediately forgets what she looks like. (We wouldn’t do that literally, would we?) We hear the Word of God, and then walk away, eventually forgetting altogether what we heard. We might hear a great sermon on Sunday, and by Tuesday, we can’t remember what it was about. James says, don’t just be hearers of the Word! Be doers! Every Word we hear is for a reason. It probably just wasn’t for someone else. (How prideful are we?) God wants to see it fleshed out in our lives. What is He trying to teach us right now that we are not hearing?
Whatever we are holding on to, we can know for sure that it is “rotten through and through.” It’s not worth holding on to! It stinks! People around us can smell it. It doesn’t smell good. You can spray as much Febreze as you want, or put on some lovely body spray, but it just smells like stink and body spray, you know what I’m saying? Letting God renew us, learning, re-training our minds, exercising spiritual discipline, until we replace it with the shiny, pretty, smells-so-good new stuff feels so good. He longs to renew us and draw us closer to Himself than ever before. The result will be beyond what our little minds can imagine. 2 Timothy says “If you keep yourself pure, you will be a utensil God can use for his purpose. Your life will be clean, and you will be ready for the Master to use you for every good work.” That’s what it’s all about, right? We know, as Christians, that our purpose in this life is not to be entertained, wealthy, pretty, or popular. Our purpose is to glorify the Father. Period. The bonus to that is when we are right where He wants us, and we are being used for His glory, we will never be happier. It’s only when we let go of all that smelly stuff, surrendering it all, little to big, that we will know true peace and contentment. Thank You God that you are always revealing Yourself to us, renewing us, making us shinier and more dazzling in Your sight, and all the while, hold every detail of our lives in Your hand. You never cease to amaze me Lord! We want to be holy, as You are holy. Amen.
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