Here’s another term that I think people are grossly misunderstanding these days. Holy. The whole idea of holiness and what it means to be holy was a great revelation I received a while back. Yet I still see everyday how people have the wrong idea about what it means to be holy, of simply what holy means.
I read this post on on awesome blog and I thought I could not say it better, enjoy:
Somehow in Christianity we have managed to totally change the meaning of what it means to live holy. As soon as somebody says ‘We must live holy lives’ people immediately think ‘Oh, he means we need to stop sinning.’ Why have we attached holiness to something so ugly as sin?
And since when has holiness been defined by the amount of sin? Holiness has ABSOLUTELY nothing to do with sin. When we talk about doing right vs doing wrong, we are talking about righteousness, not holiness.
Righteousness by definition means one’s ability to do right and avoid doing wrong. That is why we have concepts like self-righteousness, where people think their relationship with God is correlated to their ability to do right and avoid doing wrong. If doing right and doing wrong had anything to do with holiness, we would have called it self-holiness instead of self-righteousness.
Holiness and righteousness are also not synonyms. They don’t mean the same thing. Righteousness and morality are closer linked than holiness and morality. So when we talk about living moral lives, it means doing more good and doing less bad, so again we are actually talking about righteous living, not holy living.
How often do you hear ‘Without holiness no man shall the see God’? And do you immediately think about doing right and not doing wrong? Probably. If you do think that, you have a definition problem that automatically makes you think in an old covenant way. If holiness meant what we commonly think it does, then we should be able to say ‘Without doing more good and doing less bad no man shall see God.’
That is the epitome of a works based performance religion based on self-righteousness. Where is the Grace? Where is the finished work? Where is the rest? Where is Jesus? We simply remove them when we incorrectly define holiness.
So what is holiness? A better place to start might be to look at what holiness isn’t. I myself only recently learned this when my brilliant friend Paul Ellis told me about it. He goes into it quite well in his new book (which I will review shortly) The Gospel In Ten Words, so make sure you go get a copy! You can also read his blog posts on the subject here and here.
Holiness is not sin avoidance or moral perfection. That is called righteousness, which is not the same as holiness.
Holiness doesn’t mean to be set apart or separated unto God. This is a more common definition, one which I held until recently, yet it is also not the right definition. God is holy. Does that mean God is set apart unto Himself or that God is separated unto God? See, this definition just doesn’t add up.
The angels continually cry ‘Holy Holy Holy is the Lord’ They aren’t saying how much sin He is avoiding or how secludedly separated He is from Himself. So what are they saying?
Maybe they mean holiness is godliness, or that God is worthy of worship? Worthy of worship is better definition, but now we have a problem. The angels too are holy, but we told to never worship them. So worthiness of worship also doesn’t fit the bill. What about godliness?
If holiness means godliness, then by saying ‘God is holy’ you are actually saying ‘God is godly’. Which is pretty redundant. Similarly the angels are then also godly since they are holy too. Not to mention all the holy places and artifacts mentioned in the Bible that would suddenly be worthy of worship since they were now godly.
Ok, enough tension building. Let me tell you what holiness is. Actually, I will let Paul tell you because the way in which he first described it to me is stunningly beautiful.
“Holiness means wholeness. To say that “God is holy” is to refer to the wholeness, fullness, beauty, and abundant life that overflows within the Godhead. God lacks nothing. He is unbroken, undamaged, unfallen, completely complete and entire within Himself. He is the indivisible One, wholly self-sufficient, and the picture of perfection. Holiness is not one aspect of God’s character; it is the whole package in glorious unity.” – Paul EllisLet that sink it for a little bit.
Holiness is not something you become because of something you’ve done, its not something you can achieve or get. It is something you are. It is part of your identity. It is who you are. Just as I am a South African citizen, the same way I am holy.