What does it mean to be holy?

The word holy is frequently and rightly used to refer to God (Isa 6:3), but it the Bible also uses the word to refer to believers. In fact, believers are called saints, which is a translation of the Greek word for holy. Paul begins his letter to the Romans referring to those he was writing to as people who God “called as saints,” or more literally called as holy ones. We see this language all through the Bible, so what does it mean to be holy?

Called Holy

In one sense, holiness has the idea of being right, and this is something God declares us to be in Christ. However, holiness is not merely something that Christians are declared to be regardless of the practical reality in their lives. Though holiness certainly includes justification and we are declared to be holy in Christ. Yet holiness is also something every Christian is growing in.

Set apart to the Lord in all of life

I’ve mentioned previously that the notion of “a relationship” with God is unhelpful and that we should be striving for holiness. Part of the reason is that our morality is the defining paradigm of the relationship between every human being and the Lord. Our morality is a direct reflection of our relationship with the Lord. If we go on sinning, after receiving knowledge of the truth, there is no sacrifice left for our sin (Heb 10:26). On the other hand, if we belong to Christ we are under obligation to live according to the Spirit (Rom 8:12-14). God also works in us for His good purpose (Phil 2:12-13) which means walking in the good works He has appointed for us (Eph 2:10).
If we belong to Christ we are under obligation to live according to the Spirit (Rom 8:12-14)

Not just the sacred

The problem is that for many the idea of holiness conjures images of people praying in church or some other “sacred” activity that is divorced from everyday life. But holiness just means setting ourselves apart for God in every aspect of our lives. Holiness means we are to extend God’s influence over us beyond our quiet time and church. A relationship with God is more than just knowing about God. A saving relationship with God is every part of your life lived according to His will. Therefore, personal holiness, or being set apart to the Lord affects every aspect of our lives. Peter exhorted the recipients of his first letter, like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior. If we are to be holy people, we are to be set apart for the Lord in the mundane as well as the “sacred.” In fact, it is better to say that for someone who is holy, every part of their life is sacred because every part of their life is set apart for the Lord.

Set apart in your work

If we are serious about pursuing the Lord, it will be evident in the way we engage in business and perform our jobs. First, someone who is determined to please the Lord in all they do will be recognized for their integrity. Integrity is the alignment of our self-perception with external reality and what God says. Integrity means doing what we say by the time we commit to doing it. We cannot overemphasize the importance of keeping commitments in the workplace. Integrity builds trust and reflects the faithfulness of God in the public square. Second, we will work as for the Lord and not for men (Col 3:23). Working as for the Lord means we have a clear conscience and with maximum efficiency and effectiveness.
Integrity is the alignment of our self-perception with external reality and what God says.

Set apart in your marriage

Being set apart to the Lord means setting His priorities for you as your priority for yourself. Therefore, marriage is more than a pursuit that leads to a wedding day. Pursuing holiness in marriage means being set apart for your spouse above all other people and things. While we all need to do things that take our attention away from our spouse, we need to continue to devote regular time and attention to serving and loving them. To be set apart in marriage means to be a positive, Christ-exalting influence in their lives.

Set apart in your friendships

Just like marriage and our occupation, friendship challenges us to constant growth in integrity and service. The more we love others, the greater our service, affection, and integrity will become, and the more our character will draw people to us. If we’re prickly and abrasive (I put my hand up here), we have some growing to do in our quest to be holy.

Set apart in your church life

Your pursuit of holiness is perhaps most evident in your church life. It is contradictory to say that we love the Lord but reject His church. Abandoning meeting with other believers or submitting to the authority of church leaders is destructive to personal holiness. If we don’t meet with other believers, we cannot serve them, which is an essential function of the body of Christ. If we don’t submit to church leadership, we reject a primary form of influence the Lord has instituted for our growth in holiness. We cannot grow in holiness if our association with other believers is on terms that we set rather than on the terms that the Lord sets.
We cannot grow in holiness if our association with other believers is on terms that we set.

Set apart in your family life

Family can be messy. Many family members will not share our worldview, beliefs, affections or lifestyle commitments. The Lord still requires that we love them, serve them and honor them. Here again, our quest to honor the Lord will prioritize our relationships and order the way we interact, even when the only thing we have in common is blood or someone else’s marriage.

Humility results in holiness

We can summarize the quest for holiness as a quest for humility. Holiness is the practical outworking of a humble heart. As our understanding of the person and character of God and ourselves grows, every aspect of our lives will change, including each of these relationships. This is one reason why our personal quiet time is so important. We can use our quiet time to deliberately set about knowing God, understanding ourselves and our state and applying this understanding and its implications to our lives. This helps us identify areas in which we need to change so that we can respond with thanksgiving, confession and begin to address them biblically.
Holiness is the practical outworking of a humble heart.
So how do we pursue humility? How does humility form within us? How does it look when we are holy? What are the results of humility? These are the questions we need to ask if we are to grow in humility. And if we are to extend the effects of our quiet time into the rest of our lives, we need to take the lessons of our quiet time and let them change our character, by changing the way we think about God, ourselves, others, our actions and our roles.

I invite you to join me…

I’ve got a long way to go in growing in humility. Despite this, I’ve wanted to write on this subject for a long while. I invite you to join me over the next few months as I begin to consider this topic more thoroughly. If you want to join me, sign up using the box below, each week, I’ll send you my latest work.

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  1. Pingback: Are you humble? How to avoid falling into this trap - Darryl Burling

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