“Holy” or “holiness” is one of the most misunderstood words for Christians today.
“Holy,” is God’s most prominent attribute but the one that most believers understand the least and talk about the least.
This title, “Holier than Thou,” is taken from a Metallica song. They have sold over 125 million albums worldwide putting them up there with the Beatles and The Eagles. I like their music, but admit some lyrics are not wholesome. The point is this song from their best selling album helps us understand the misunderstanding of how Christians interpret or live out the word: “Holy.” Holy is not a tool used to look down or judge others as lesser. Holiness is not a weapon, but a state of blessing or happiness.
The theme of Leviticus: God is Holy and calls His people to be Holy or Set Apart.
45 I am the LORD who brought you up out of Egypt to be your God; therefore be holy, because I am holy. Leviticus 11:45 (NIV)
Key Word: Holy is used 77 times and implied over 150 times in Leviticus alone!
Key Phrase: “I am the Lord” 48 times. This gives authority to the instruction, “be holy.” “Why should I?” “Because, I am the Lord.”
To a lot of people, God’s holiness might be His least attractive attribute. Most people I know want to define Him as “loving” or “merciful,” which is true and these are traits of God. The Bible however speaks of God’s holiness more than any other attribute.
For instance when Jesus taught the disciples to pray; did he say, “Our Father in heaven, “Loving” is your name,” or “Merciful is your name?” No, Our Father in Heaven, “Hallowed” or Holy is your name.
The third person of the Trinity: is he called The Loving Spirit or the Merciful Spirit? Those are definitely attributes of the Spirit, but He’s called by his primary or most descriptive trait, The Holy Spirit.
Unfortunately we can’t pick and choose what description of God we like, and reject the rest.
For most Christians, “holiness” is a rather mystical and somewhat puzzling term. We’re willing to be holy, but we don’t quite know what holiness is. We know that God is holy. We realize that we are to be holy, as He is. But how can we be holy?
The Jewish leaders in Jesus time defined holiness as keeping all 613 commandments in the Old Testament. Then as if that wasn’t enough they developed a commentary from their rabbis called the Talmud, adding hundreds more instructions to each command! Did Jesus call these Pharisees, Sadducees and Scribes, “Oh holy ones?” No, he referred to them as, “hypocrites, whitewashed tombs, blind guides and more.
The Jewish leaders misunderstood what it meant to be holy. Holiness was not about keeping the law and inventing new ways to follow it.
The early church also struggled with the concept of holiness too. From Early church history we see many distorted views of holiness.
Clement of Alexandria (155-220) a Christian philosopher taught that holiness suffered with contact with women therefore he thought celibacy was the path to holiness.
Then Encratites believed the way of holiness was also connected with rejecting marriage, meat, and wine.
Asceticism emerged in about 312 AD after Constantine’s rise to power. With the legalization of Christianity many believers fled to seclusion as the path of holiness. They felt that holiness was only achieved through separation from the world literally.
Some would take vows of poverty, celibacy, and choose isolation as methods to achieve holiness.
What do you think? If we take away someone’s money does that make them holy? If we drop someone out in the middle of nowhere does this make them holy? If someone has no sex does this make them holy? I hope that we would agree the answer is no.
As the Roman and Eastern Orthodox churches emerged they saw holiness through the various lenses of beauty and sacrifice: through Great Cathedrals and buildings, through eloquent liturgy, through the burning of incense, statues, stained glass, through large choirs and elaborate attire, through acts of penance. Then later: through the crusades, through pilgrimages to the Holy land, through the worship of relics and idols, through doing services in Latin.
Also in the Middle Ages, people would whip themselves, called “self-flagellation” to achieve holiness.
What do you think? Does God feel more real if we are in a cathedral surrounded by stained glass with incense and pipe organs? I’ve been in those places and they are undoubtedly beautiful, historic and significant but have felt God’s presence stronger in tent in Guatemala or a modest building in India, Kenya or Mexico.
Even today some groups would have you believe if you are more emotional or loud, somehow you are holy, if you speak in tongues you are holy.
Even in my religious church upbringing if you memorized large chunks of scripture, where in church every time the doors were opened, or went on a mission trip, you must be closer to God!
What history has taught us is holiness is not achieved by man’s accomplishments or man’s methodologies to holiness.
We as human beings cannot manufacture holiness.
Man’s philosophies to achieve holiness have all failed and will continue to fail because mankind cannot make itself holy.
How then are we made holy? I’m glad you asked!
Hebrews 10 explains perfectly how Jesus fulfills Leviticus and how we are made holy.
10 We have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. Hebrews 10:10 (NIV)
Christ makes us Holy! It’s his sacrifice once for all! If you want to be holy as God calls you to be holy it’s through Jesus!
We don’t’ need a checklist for holiness, we need Jesus.
I hope you will put down your whip, your list of rules, vows of anything and accept Jesus. Then you will be holy, forgiven, filled with joy and purpose.
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