Holiness: What is Holiness?

What exactly is meant by the word “holiness” or “holy?” What does it mean when the Scriptures say God is holy? What do we mean when we say we are striving to be holy? Is it impossible to be holy or are there moments when a believer in Christ can indeed be holy as Jesus is holy?

Is holiness a state of mind? Or rather, is it being in the right place at the right time? Is a person holy when they go to church and unholy when they do not? Is it possible for an individual who misses a Sunday worship service to be more holy than another individual who attends?

Granted, these are difficult questions to immediately answer. They will require thoughtful exposition from God’s Word. They will also require an understanding that the subject of holiness, and the Christian’s pursuit of the same, has to be biblically evaluated in each circumstance a person finds themselves experiencing. There is not a set rule from Scripture that says “take this pill and you’ll be holy for the rest of your life.” Confusion and varied opinions abound regarding the meaning of, and the extent of, the believer’s ability to be holy.

One pastor comments by saying, “Of all the Christian subjects available I believe holiness is the most talked about. It is a subject upon which some Christians disagree. Some believe that we must be completely holy here on earth to merit a place in Heaven. Others believe that holiness is not at all necessary in our Christian walk, they believe that all of our sins, past, present and future are forgiven so we can live however we like. And still others believe that once we come to know Jesus as Savior that we will spend the rest of our earthly life desiring to follow the Holy Spirit Who leads us to be holy, in fact that true and complete holiness is progressive and only complete when we are in Heaven.”

Holiness is synonymous with the biblical doctrine of sanctification. Sanctification is often defined as pursuing a life of holiness. While justification is a sovereign act by God which occurs at a particular point in time, sanctification is a pursued process for a lifetime. We do not stop the pursuit of holiness until we arrive in heaven. Until then, the battle for holiness is just that, a battle.

Holiness is the chief attribute of God and a quality to be developed in his people. “Holiness” and the adjective “holy” occur more than 900 times in the Bible. The primary OT word for holiness means “to cut” or “to separate.” Fundamentally, holiness is a cutting off or separation from what is unclean and a consecration to what is pure.

The Hebrew word translated “holy,” qadash and its derivatives, carry the meaning of “set apart”—sanctified, consecrated, hallowed. The Greek words translated “holy,” hagios and its derivatives, imply an absence of fault or impurity. In other words, to be holy means to be cleansed of faults and set apart by God, who is Himself faultless and pure.

Dr. R. C. Sproul, in his classic work entitled The Holiness of God, writes, “The primary meaning of holy is “separate.” It comes from the ancient word that means “to cut,” or “to separate.” To translate this basic meaning into contemporary language would be to use the phrase “a cut apart.” When the Bible calls God holy, it means primarily that God is transcendently separate. He is so far above and beyond us that He seems almost totally foreign to us. To be holy is to be “other” and to be different in a special way.”

What thoughts come you your mind when you think of holiness? How do your thoughts and ideas concerning holiness compare to the biblical definition? Resolve to reflect the biblical definition of holiness beginning today.

Soli deo Gloria!






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