When we are asked by our leaders to do something or to believe something in regards to matters of our faith, we should always be like the Bereans and test everything against Scripture (Acts 17:11)... the whole of Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16-17). If a person feels "led by the spirit" to speak, behave, or believe a certain way, they should test that spirit (1 John 4:1) to see if what that spirit is telling them agrees or disagrees with Scripture.
Let's take a journey together through Scripture and see what it says about holiness... a "walk in the Word". As we go, may we say, believe, and do what is right, be merciful in our speech and actions, and walk humbly with the Lord (Micah 6:8).
Bolded text or other emphases in the Scriptural references are ours.
Sometimes in order to understand what something is we have to first understand what it is not. Let's begin there...
What Holiness is Not
Webster's 1828 Dictionary1 defines salvation as:
1. The act of saving; preservation from destruction, danger or great calamity.
2. Appropriately in theology, the redemption of man from the bondage of sin and liability to eternal death, and the conferring on him everlasting happiness. This is the great salvation.
Godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation. 2 Cor 7.
3. Deliverance from enemies; victory. Exo 14.
4. Remission of sins, or saving graces. Luke 19.
5. The author of man's salvation. Psa 27.
6. A term of praise or benediction. Rev 19.
To what can salvation be compared? Perhaps it can be compared to being pregnant.
Either a woman is pregnant or she is not pregnant. There is no such thing as being only "partially pregnant". It is a "true" or "false" condition. Similarly we find that either a person is saved or not. There is no middle ground in this matter.
It is not in the scope of this article to delve deeply into the concept of salvation, however, it is interesting to note that in the traditional daily prayers of the early believers it is written "Blessed are you, Lord our G-d, King of All, who has implanted eternal life within us." Eternal life is planted within us just as the seeds of life are planted within a mother's womb.
Salvation is not holiness.
Sanctification is very closely related to holiness but it is not holiness itself. Webster2 again provides a definition:
1. The act of making holy. In an evangelical sense, the act of G-d's grace by which the affections of men are purified or alienated from sin and the world, and exalted to a supreme love to G-d.
G-d hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation, through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth. 2 Thes 2, 1 Peter 1
2. The act of consecrating or of setting apart for a sacred purpose; consecration.
Sanctification is the process of making something holy. To what can this be compared? Perhaps this can be compared to the process of making a cake.
A person can perform acts that look like sanctification but if the end goal is not holiness then the work is without the same value.
There are many ingredients and many steps in the process of making a cake. The ingredients individually do not make a cake nor are they as valuable until they are assembled into the final product. The steps in the process (e.g. cracking eggs, measuring butter, sifting flour) have no intrinsic worth apart from the goal. They are simply the effort involved in putting the ingredients together to accomplish the goal.
In a similar manner a person can perform acts that look like the process of sanctification but if the end goal is not holiness then the work is without the same value. In Acts 26:18 the Master tells Sha'ul that believers are sanctified by faith in Him. Romans 15:16 tells us that the Gentiles are "sanctified by the Holy Spirit". The writer to the Hebrews comforts his readers (who had been denied access to the Temple rituals) that they "will have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all."
It appears from Scripture that G-d does the sanctifying in every case. G-d does the work of sancitfication... not us. When Scripture tells us that something is "sanctified" we see that it has gone through some process to be made holy. Using our cake analogy this is akin to saying "it is baked"... it is finished. If we were to perform similar tasks (sifting, measuring, pouring, baking) with the goal of making a ceramic coaster rather than making a cake then we'll have finished the process ("it is baked") but the result is not the same or of the same value. A coaster was not the right goal nor can it be used for the same purposes.
Sanctification is not holiness.
What Holiness Is
Using Webster's again (as a start) we find that holiness is defined as "the state of being holy". Borrowing from our previous analogy we cannot take any one ingredient from our cake (flour, a stick of butter, an egg) and declare "this is a cake". It is simply one ingredient that can be used to create the cake. Similarly, we cannot take all the ingredients and simply add them together and say "this is a cake". Like a cake, holiness is a finished product. The sanctification process is finished and the item is now "done". It is holy.
All of this begs the question: "what does 'holy' mean?" It is on this point that we will delve into Scripture.
The word we see translated into English as "holy" from the Hebrew Scriptures is קדשׁ (qodesh- Strong's #6944). It is translated in the NASB in 304 verses as "holy" or "holiness". It is used in another 77 verses (in the NASB) to describe the sanctuary (the tabernacle) or the sanctuary shekel.
The very first place in Scripture where qadosh is used is in Exodus 19:
'Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.' These are the words that you shall speak to the sons of Israel."
The very last place in Scripture where qadosh is used is in Zechariah 14:
You will flee by the valley of My mountains, for the valley of the mountains will reach to Azel; yes, you will flee just as you fled before the earthquake in the days of Uzziah king of Judah. Then the LORD, my G-d, will come, and all the holy ones [qedoshim- plural] with Him!
There is another word derived from the same shoresh [root word] as qodesh: קדוֹשׁ (qadosh- Strong's #6918). It is translated 58 times in the NASB as "holy", 44 times as "Holy One", and 11 times as "holy one(s)" or "saints".
The very first place in Scripture where qodesh is used is in Exodus 3:5 when Moshe approaches the burning bush and G-d speaks to him:
Then He said, "Do not come near here; remove your sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground."
The very last place in Scripture where qodesh is used is in Malachi 2:
"Judah has dealt treacherously, and an abomination has been committed in Israel and in Jerusalem; for Judah has profaned the sanctuary [qodesh- literally "the holy"] of the LORD which He loves and has married the daughter of a foreign god.
Reflecting on these passages can help to form our understanding of the Scriptural sense of "holy". We should consider what is happening and what is being described.
In the Greek Scriptures the word we see translated into English as "holy" is αγιος (hagios -Strong's #40). It is translated in the NASB in 164 verses as "holy" or "holiness". It is also translated in another 61 verses as "saints".
The first use of this word in Scripture is used is in Matthew 1:
Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: when His mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit.
This is interesting because here in the the beginning of the Gospels we find a reference to the Holy Spirit. In the beginning of the Torah (Genesis 1:2) we see a reference to the Holy Spirit as well.
The very last place in Scripture where hagios is found is in Revelation 22 at the end of the chapter:
and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, G-d will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book.
Holiness- A Definition
You may have heard it said that "holy" means "to be set apart". Using this definition a person could own a motor home and have it "set apart" for family vacations. They would not use it to drive to and from work or for any other purpose. Does that make the motor home "holy"? In a sense, yes: it is "holy" to family vacations.
Most Americans have a brush that is "holy" in this sense of the word. We only use it for our teeth. We do not use it to brush our hair, clean the bathroom floor, or for our pets' teeth. The brush is holy (set apart) for brushing our teeth.
This definition is a good start but falls short in the most important aspect: holy does mean "set apart" but for Who or for what?
When we see Scripture referring to holiness it is almost always in the context of "set apart for G-d" or "set apart for G-d's purposes". Holiness means set apart for G-d's purposes. This is the definition we find in Exodus 3 and Exodus 19 above. G-d tells Moshe that the ground he stands on is set apart for G-d's purposes. Wearing shoes on that ground is apparently not in line with G-d's purposes. G-d delivers a message to the Israelites through Moshe that they will be "a kingdom of priests and a holy [i.e. set apart for G-d] nation".
Taking this view of "holy" we can see that the very first thing G-d made holy [set apart for Himself and His purposes] in Scripture is the Shabbat:
Then G-d blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which G-d had created and made.
Sanctification was defined above as "the act of making holy". G-d blessed and "made holy" the seventh day. It is the first such reference in Scripture and should give us pause if we were to consider any attempt to change the seventh day Sabbath. Are we to disregard what G-d has made holy and instead honor what man has attempted to sanctify for man's purposes?
When the commandment regarding the Sabbath day is given (Exodus 20:8-11) Isra'el is told to keep it holy. G-d has already made it holy when He ceased from the work of creation (Exodus 20:11). It is the job of the Isra'elites to cause it to remain holy (set apart for G-d and His purposes). G-d cautions us to "turn your foot from doing your own pleasure on My holy day and call the Sabbath a delight" (Isaiah 58:13).
Holiness is a serious matter.
Peter refers to Yeshua as the "Holy and Righteous One" in Acts 3:14.
Yeshua declares that He is "Lord of the Sabbath" in the parallel passages of Matthew 12:8, Mark 2:28, and Luke 6:5. Messiah is declaring Himself to be the One who made and is over the holy Sabbath day. He is claiming an even greater level of holiness because He is the One who gave the Sabbath its holiness.
Acts 6:13 records that false witnesses were put forward against Stephen claiming he was speaking against "this holy place" (the Temple) and the Law. Since the witnesses were false Stephen had not been speaking against the Temple or the Law.
Acts 10:22 refers to a "holy angel" that came to Cornelius and directed him to send for Peter.
Paul informs us in Romans 7:12 that the Torah is holy and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.
An Exhortation to Holiness
1 Peter 1:14-16
One of the author's favorite passages of exhortation from Scripture comes from Peter's first letter:
1 Peter 1:14-16
As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, "YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY."
Here Peter exhorts his listeners to "be holy yourselves in all your behavior" for the purposes of being like G-d. He references Scripture that reads "YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY."
Where is this written?
This phrase is only found in 3 places in the whole of Scripture:
- Leviticus 11:44-45
- Leviticus 19:2
- Leviticus 20:26
Leviticus chapters 19 and 20 form the weekly parashah called Kedoshim [holy ones]. These two chapters are G-d's specific instructions to His people regarding matters of holiness. All together these three chapters provide clear insight into G-d's expectation of his people regarding matters of holiness. Let's examine these chapters where it is commanded for us to "be holy as G-d is Holy".
Leviticus 11 is the first place where "it is written" that we are to be holy because G-d is Holy. G-d provides instruction on how we are to be set apart and made distinct from the world for Him. What is it that G-d has placed first in Scripture that identifies holiness?
Everybody eats food. It is something most people do two or three times a day. G-d provides practical instructions on how we are to be set apart even in this common activity. Leviticus 11 speaks exclusively about tahor [clean] and tamei [unclean] animals and informs us which may be eaten. The chapter addresses:
- Mammals which must:
- have split hoofs
- chew the cud
- not walk on paws
Pigs, camels, rabbits, mice, and moles are specifically excluded.
- Aquatic animals which must:
- have fins
- have scales
This leaves out shrimp, squid, catfish and the like that do not have scales.
- Birds that are prohibited are specifically enumerated including:
The general gist of birds seems to be meat-eating or carrion-eating birds are prohibited but grain eating birds (chickens, turkeys, quail, etc) are permitted.
- Insects which must:
- have jointed rear legs (e.g. grasshoppers and crickets)
This chapter in Leviticus closes out with the exhortation borrowed by Peter: "Thus you shall be holy for I am holy" (Leviticus 11:44-45).
Leviticus 19 contains a number of commands including:
- Reverence of parents (verse 3)
- Prohibition of idolatry (v 4)
- Instruction for peace offerings(v 5-8)
- Providing for the poor by leaving corners of a field or a vineyard unharvested (v 9-10)
- Prohibition of theft (v 11)
- Prohibition of swearing falsely by G-d's name (v 12)
- Being considerate of the handicapped by not cursing a deaf man or putting a stumbling block before a blind man (v 14)
- Many others...
This chapter covers many matters of varying scope dealing primarily with acting with honor and properly addressing matters of morality... for the purpose of being holy.
Leviticus 20 begins with a prohibition from anyone offering their children as sacrifices to Molech or from turning to mediums and spiritists. It goes on to state "You shall keep My statutes and practice them; I am the Lord who sanctifies you [emphasis added]."
G-d further identifies matters of holiness in this chapter to include:
- Honoring father and mother (verse 9)
- Forbidding adultery (v 10)
- Forbidding sexual immorality including:
- Sexual relations between a man and his step-mother (v 11)
- Sexual relations between a man and his daughter-in-law (v 12)
- Homosexuality (v 13)
- Marrying both a woman and her daughter (v 14)
- Beastiality (v 15-16)
- Sexual relations between a man and his sister (v 17)
- Sexual relations between a man and a menstruating woman (v 18)
- Prohibiting adherence to the customs of the Canaanites (v 23)
The chapter closes out with a repeated warning against making oneself "detestable" [NASB], "defiled" [LITV], "abominable" [KJV] by unclean animals and the exhortation "Thus you are to be holy to Me, for I the LORD am holy".
How do these things make someone holy?
Matters of holiness run contrary to our fleshly nature and to the ways of this world.
If we examine all of these things that G-d has commanded regarding holiness we find a common thread: matters of holiness run contrary to our fleshly nature and to the ways of this world.
In following these commandments (by the Spirit of G-d and not the flesh) we see evidence within ourselves that we are, indeed, children of G-d. As Paul puts it in Romans 8:4 it is the work of Messiah condemning sin in the flesh "so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit." The Spirit will never lead us in a way that violates G-d's commands. The Spirit will never lead us to commit murder, adultery, sexual immorality, or any other violation of G-d's Torah. If we find that we are violating G-d's commands then we are acting out of our flesh rather than obeying the Spirit.
As we pursue holiness by the Spirit of G-d we should closely consider all that we do. Not only what we are doing but how we are doing it and especially why we are doing it. Are we simply following by rote the traditions we have learned or are we seeking to follow G-d and honor Him according to His plans and purposes?
May we all follow the instruction of Scripture provided in Romans 12:
And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of G-d is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.
Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen. (1 Timothy 1:17)
Footnotes1. Noah Webster's 1828 Dictionary of American English- via eSword at http://www.e-sword.net [back]
2. ibid. [back]