Holy! What?

Continuing our discussion from a few weeks ago, we read I Peter 1:14-17: Like obedient children, do not comply with the evil urges you used to follow in your ignorance, but, like the Holy One who called you, become holy yourselves in all of your conduct, for it is written, "You shall be holy, because I am holy." And if you address as Father the one who impartially judges according to each one's work, live out the time of your temporary residence here in reverence.

What does it mean to be holy? We may think of "holy men" like Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa, the Dalai Lama, or perhaps Salvation Army greats like William Booth or George Scott Railton. Must we become spiritual supermen?

What is "holy"? One way approach this is to look at opposites: what is the antonym of "holy"? It is not "evil", or "impure", but rather "profane" provides the best match for the opposite of "holy". The primary meaning of holy is separation (transcendence). In ancient Israel the people and things which had been set aside and reserved only for use in the Tabernacle or Temple were spoken of as being holy. They could not be used for any other purpose than the service to God that they had been dedicated to and sanctified for.

How do you become holy? Is it a do-it-yourself project, or must God make some miraculous transformation in you? Must you make large donations and spend thousands of hours doing volunteer work? Or perhaps you must impress a board of examiners? See Exodus 30:22-37 for an example.

Being holy is not an inherent attribute or property of a person, object or event -- holiness is a matter of status. A holy thing is holy because it has been dedicated or committed or consecrated to sacred purposes. It is no longer available for common every-day use, it is restricted to be used only for sacred purposes. In short: it now belongs to God.

Here is an example: when I lived in Redding, the government built a new bridge across the Sacramento River south of town. The contractor finished work on the project and removed all their equipment from the site, but the barricades at each end of the new road remained in place for weeks afterward. Some scofflaws moved the barricades just enough to squeeze their cars through so they take advantage of the new shorter route. The police were issuing them citations because the new road, although owned by the local government and thus, in one sense, public property, had not yet been officially dedicated for use as a public street. Eventually, of course, there was an official dedication ceremony, the barricades were removed, and the new road was now available for use by the public. Note that the only thing that changed was the status of the road: the condition of the pavement, curbs, lighting, and guard rails was unchanged; the road still had all its original properties.

How does a thing become holy? By what means?

But, wait! If God is holy how can we say that He has been consecrated to sacred purposes? We must look a bit deeper.

The holiness of God speaks of His transcendence and His absolute moral purity. When we say that persons or things are holy we are recognizing that they are separated from every-day life, they are set apart for a divine purpose. Similarly, when we know that God is holy we know that He is separate: He has no physical being, His power and knowledge far exceed anything conceivable to us in this, His created universe. Furthermore, His moral purity is evident in His absolute separation from sin. Unlike mankind, we can say of God that He is holy; holiness is not a mere status or appellation asserted on His behalf -- it is an essential element at the very core of His being. In contrast, we do not normally say of men that they are holy, rather that they are becoming holy (never fully attained in this life).

How do I become holy? Confess your sins, failings, and weaknesses; accept Christ as our Savior and His indwelling Spirit as our source of strength; and be obedient to His word and His leading. We become holy by committing our entire being to His care and guidance.

History of holiness: Genesis 2:3, Exodus 3:5, Exodus 15:13, Exodus 19:6, Exodus 20:8, Exodus 30:29, Leviticus 11:44-45. The Holiness Code: Leviticus 17-26


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