Very few Christians would dream of calling themselves a saint or holy, but the Bible demands that we be exactly that. "As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, 'You shall be holy, for I am holy... (I Peter 1: 14-16).
Unfortunately, this biblical call to holiness has been obscured by Roman Catholic ritualism on the one hand, and twentieth century materialism on the other. Let's clear away the confusion surrounding holiness and examine the Scriptures to determine what it truly means to be a saint.
THE MEANING OF HOLINESS
The word "holiness" is synonymous with the tem "sanctification." A "holy one" is a "saint." Both of these words have to do with separation. Originally, they were used to describe something like a piece of bread being cut and removed from the rest of the loaf That would literally be a holy or sanctified piece of bread. The essence of holiness is being separate, distinct, and different.
All holiness stems from God. As the prophet Isaiah declared, God is "Holy., Holy, Holy" (Isaiah 6:3). In fact, Isaiah's chief designation of God is "The Holy One of Israel."
To say that God is holy means that He is different and separate. This is true in two senses. First, God is holy in WHO HE IS. That is, God possesses certain personal attributes which no other being possesses, and that makes Him different. God is all-knowing, all-powerful, and eternal. No other being has these characteristics, That is one sense in which God is holy. "Who is like Thee among the gods, 0 LORD? Who is like Thee in majestic holiness" (Exodus 15:1 1). "There is no one holy like the LORD" (I Samuel 2:2).
But God is not only holy in who He is but also in WHAT HE DOES. His moral conduct is sinless, and that sets Him apart from all other beings. All men have sinned (Romans 3:23), and even angels sin (see Jude 6 and 2 Peter 2:4). God, however, cannot even be tempted by evil (James 1: 13).
In I Peter 1: 14-16 Peter said that we are to be holy as God is holy. This means that we must be holy in character and conduct just as God is. First, we must be holy in WHO WE ARE. When we respond to God's call, we are taken out of the world and placed into His kingdom. Ancient Israel, the people to whom the command to be holy was first given, was told: "For you are a holy people to the LORD your God; the LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for His own possession out of all the peoples who are in the face of the earth" (Deuteronomy 7:6). We, too, are to be a "holy nation" (1 Peter 2:9). At our conversion we are changed- we become "new creatures" (2 Corinthians 5:17). We are separated from the world by God and become holy.
Further, we are to be holy in WHAT WE DO, in our conduct. Being separated form the world means that our behavior is no longer conformed to the world's pattern of living (Romans 12:2). No one likes to be different, to stand out in a crowd. But if we are God's children we must do exactly that, we must be different in our way of living.
THE SPECIFICS OF HOLINESS
Having defined holiness, let's now look at some of the specific demands of holiness set forth in Scripture,
A holy person realizes that holiness is his personal responsibility. The Bible teaches that we have divine help in holiness. The Holy Spirit is involved in our sanctification (I Peter 1:2; 2 Thessalonians 2:13), by revealing truth (John 17:17), and by His indwelling (Ephesians 3:16). But the help of the Holy Spirit in no way absolves the Christian of his personal responsibility. We can grieve the Spirit (Ephesians 4:30), even to the point of quenching the Spirit's influence in our lives (I Thessalonians 5:19).
In the final analysis, we must determine that we will do all we can to be holy. "Let the one who is holy, still keep himself holy" (Revelation 22:1 1).
A holy person cares about other people. Colossians 3:12-13 says: "And so, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other." Let's examine each of these terms more closely:
"Compassion" often appears plural in Greek (compassions"), implying that true compassion must be expressed in various tangible ways.
"Kindness" according to Scottish commentator William Barclay, refers to thevirtue of a man whose neighbor's good is as dear to as his own.
"Humility" is "a deep sense of one's littleness" (Thayer's Lexicon).
"Gentleness" is a quiet, submissive spirit which puts others ahead of self.
"Patience" has to do with slowness in avenging wrongs (Thayer's Lexicon).
All of these traits merge to form a forgiving spirit. And such a spirit is truly different from the prevailing attitudes of hate in sacrifice that Christ made for you on the cross, you cannot help but be moved to return His love by living as He wishes.
The prospect of an intimate relationship with God. At the end of 2 Corinthians 6 Paul referred to an Old Testament promise of God: 'And I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me: (verse 18). Then Paul said, "'therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves form all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God" (2 Corinthians 7: 1). Just imagine-- if we will strive to be holy, we can call God our Father! And it just makes sense that if God is to be our Father we must resemble Him in holiness.
The chastening of God. Suffering is never pleasant, and not all suffering is caused by God. However, the Bible does teach that some bad things we experience are sent by God to make us stronger. Notice Hebrews 12: 10: "He disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness." As we encounter and triumph over adversity with God's help, we will become stronger saints.
The certainty of judgment . There is also a negative motivator to be holy. We should be holy so that we do not have to fear the final judgment. After describing the destruction of the world when the Lord returns, Peter warned, "Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness" (2 Peter 3:1 1).
A holy person avoids sexual misconduct. "For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality" (I Thessalonians 4:3). Our world is obsessed with sex, and not even the advent of AIDS has seriously altered the promiscuous lifestyles so many people lead and so much of the entertainment industry glamorizes. The child of God, however, must be different from the world, and that means our sexual conduct is to be different from the world's.
The Bible teaches that God created mankind with the capacity for physical intimacy. God's word teaches that sex is good. But the Bible also teaches that sex is to be limited to the marriage relationship, a one-man-for-one-woman-for-life relationship (Hebrews 13:4).
A holy person refuses to participate in anything not associated with clean living. Ephesians 5:3-4 lists several practices in addition to immorality that are not "proper among saints." Let's look at them closely:
"Any impurity." This refers to "the impurity of lustful. luxurious living" (Thayer's Lexicon). A holy person does not spend his life pursuing money, power, or prestige.
"Greed. " Another Greek dictionary suggests that this word refers to the desire to have more, and that the acquisition often occurs by taking advantage of others. Instead of coveting, the Christian should be content (Philippians 4:1 1).
"Filthiness." Nothing ugly, shameful, or dishonorable should be typical of the saint. Certainly this includes much of what the world deems quality entertainment, like pornography, obscene music, and suggestive movies.
"Silly talk." The ancient Greek writer Plutarch said that this word referred to the kind of things a drunk man would say. In other words, this would be profane, nonsensical, and irreverent language.
"Course jesting ." This does not mean that humor is sinful. The Bible says that "a joyful heart is good medicine" (Proverbs 17:22), and Jesus frequently used humor to make a point (see Matthew 7:3-4), But a saint's language should not be on the border of impropriety, filled with sexual innuendoes.
To summarize , a saint should strive to keep himself morally unblemished in thought, in word, and in action.
A holy person takes into account his influence. The apostle Paul faced a great deal of opposition during his career, sometimes even from Christians. This was the case with the Christians at Corinth. They were immature, conceited, and unholy. Because Paul knew lie had enemies there, in all of his dealings with the Corinthians lie wanted to make sure that his conduct was blameless. He wrote, "For our proud confidence is this, the testimony of our conscience, that in holiness and godly sincerity ... we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially toward you" (2 Corinthians 1: 12).
Too many Christians neglect this facet of holiness. One Christian told me that his brother-in-law was on the verge of becoming a Christian until he saw an elder of the congregation he had been visiting come out of a convenience store with a six-pack under his arm. He never became a Christian. In just a few seconds of influence that elder destroyed a man for eternity. We must guard our influence.
HELPS TO HOLINESS
The call to holiness is very demanding. But God has not charged us with this task without any motivation for accomplishing it. Let's look at some things which will help us be holy.
The death of Jesus. Colossians 1:22 states: "Yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless." Christ died to make us holy. If you will seriously think about the tremendous sacrifice that Christ made for you on the cross, you cannot help but be moved to return His love by living as He wishes.
The prospect of an intimate relationship with God. At the end of 2 Corinthians 6 Paul referred to an Old Testament promise of God: 'And I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me: (verse 18). Then Paul said, "Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves form all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God" (2 Corinthians 7: 1). Just imagine--if we will strive to be holy, we can call God our Father! And it just makes sense that if God is to be our Father we must resemble Mm in holiness.
The chastening of God Suffering is never pleasant, and not all suffering is caused by God. However, the Bible does teach that some bad things we experience are sent by God to make us stronger. Notice Hebrews 12: 1 0: "He disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness." As we encounter and triumph over adversity with God's help, we will become stronger saints.
The certainty of judgment. There is also a negative motivator to be holy. We should be holy so that we do not have to fear the final judgment. After describing the destruction of the world when the Lord returns, Peter warned, "Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness" (2 Peter 3:1 1).
The pursuit of holiness is a lifetime quest. No one will ever be sinless; only Christ was perfect. God does not expect perfect performance from us. He does expect, though, that we aim our sights on holiness and then fight the battle against sin and unrighteousness each day.
God is unpleased when our attitude is one of mediocrity. We cannot behave as if there is a fine line between holiness and worldliness and that we can walk that line. There is a great chasm separating holiness and worldliness. Don't settle for anything less than the sentiment expressed in this beautiful old hymn:
More patience in suffering, more sorrow for sin.
More faith in my Savior, more sense of His care.
More joy in His service, more purpose in payer.
1. What is the basic meaning of holiness?
2. In what two ways are we to be holy like God?
3. Ultimately, who is responsible for our holiness?
4. How does a holy person treat others?
5. What is God's attitude toward sex?
6. Should we care about the influence we have oil others?
7. What specific things does the Bible say will help us become holy?