A Scripture study from Caring, part three of four.

We, the church, are called to be holy in times such as these—especially when the world is yearning for someone to give them hope and love, somehow, as social isolation takes its toll. No matter the decade, or whether on a mountain top or in a valley, God calls each of us to be holy. But what does “holy” mean? 

The primary Old Testament word for holiness means “to cut” or “to separate.” Fundamentally, holiness is a cutting off or separation from what is unclean, and consecration to what is pure. In the New Testament, “holy,” the adjective, is hagios, which fundamentally signifies “separated.” For the Greeks, it meant to be dedicated to the gods. In Scripture, the moral and spiritual significance of the word “holy” highlights the state of being separated from sin and therefore consecrated to God. 

Practically speaking, the concept of being holy deals with the proximity to and resemblance of someone completely “other.” That is, proximity and resemblance to God (and therefore separated or cut away from those things in contrast to him). To be holy, one must be like or resemble the Holy One. But no worries, God does the work. He draws us in. He makes it happen by his Spirit.

This study is going to focus on two staples of being holy so that we can not only understand holiness in general, but so we might be able to better gauge what holiness looks like in our current age.

Behind the scenes: Set apart

Read what Scripture says in Leviticus 20:26.

The laws God gave to the people of Israel were designed to serve as a distinguishing mark. Yes, the laws kept them safe and pure in a variety of ways, but they were also a stamp, or mark, setting the people apart. In many ways, we know that the laws of Israel were unique in comparison to the laws of nations around them. Circumcision is a good example of a command from God that served not only as a sign of those who were in covenant with him, but also as a distinguishing mark of Israelites (the people of Yahweh/God).

Notice the last part of that verse—”to be His own.” God wants a people for himself. Like a relationship, God wants to be one with his people, therefore requiring his people to be separated out or cut away from other gods and worldliness. To be set apart from the world, one must be joined to God. But to be with God, one must be rid of sin. 

So, God made a provision for his people until that day would come when he would purify our sins and pour out his Spirit on all people and fix the sin problem for good. 

But over and over again, God’s people continued to sin and fall into worldliness. They continued to worship idols and stray further from the holiness God desired. The law was not the fix. Yet, God promised one day everything would change. He would, one day, put an end to the temporary provision, or fix, and do something new.

Read what Scripture says in Ezekiel 36:25-27.

Read what Scripture says in Joel 2:28.

As these verses reveal, God wants to restore humankind back to what their original purpose and intent was. He not only made provision for us while we were sinners, but he set into motion a plan to address the problem at the core. 

Sin is the problem. Sin, worldliness, idolatry…all of these things are far from what God wants for his children. 

He wants them to be different, to stand out, to be separated out from all the mess. What a better way than to do it himself? Where the Spirit of God is, there is freedom. Not only does the Spirit empower the person to walk away from sin, but the Spirit leads the person in the way of holiness. He is called the Holy Spirit, after all. 

Beyond the surface: Different

Read what Scripture says in 1 Peter 1:14-15.

Read what Scripture says in 1 Thessalonians 4:7-8.

This calling to be holy, just as God is holy, is possible because we have been given the Holy Spirit—who is a helper, counselor and who is God himself. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking this is an optional deal, as if holiness is only for monks or priests or religious freaks. Holiness happens when the Holy Spirit fills and guides you. To turn down the calling to be holy, one must turn down what the Spirit wants to do in and through the person. 

Read what Scripture says in Romans 12:1-2.

True and proper worship is laying down our lives to please God. This act of sacrificing our desires for what God wants for us will contradict the pattern of this world. We will either conform to the image of Christ or conform to the pattern of the world.

How do we conform to the image of Christ? By the renewing of our mind, which happens when we receive the Holy Spirit. You will know what God wants when his way is written on our hearts. Receive the Spirit and live by the Spirit, and you will know. Furthermore, when we know what God wants for us we get a clearer picture of how to respond in crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic or during other major shifts in normal life. God will not only cleanse you and me, but he will make us available for service in ways we could never imagine. 

Read what Scripture says in 2 Timothy 2:20-21.

We should want to heed this calling to be holy not only because Jesus is holy, but because it allows God to use us for his special purposes. We are called to be different. Special. Holy. We are his instrument.

Reflect on that: 

  • In what ways has your faith led you to be set apart or different from the world?
  • What are some challenges for you or your church when it comes to being set apart for God?
  • How can we be holy in times of crisis?

Between the lines

A.W. Tozer writes: “Holy is the way God is. To be holy he does not conform to a standard. He is that standard. He is absolutely holy with an infinite, incomprehensible fullness of purity that is incapable of being other than it is. Because he is holy, all his attributes are holy; that is, whatever we think of as belonging to God must be thought of as holy. The holy man is not one who cannot sin. A holy man is one who will not sin. The true Christian ideal is not to be happy, but to be holy. The whole purpose of God in redemption is to make us holy and to restore us to the image of God. To accomplish this he disengages us from earthly ambitions and draws us away from the cheap and unworthy prizes that worldly men set their hearts upon.”

Let’s ask for the Spirit’s help in making this happen. Through the sanctifying presence of the indwelling Spirit, and on the basis of the atoning work of Christ, people who believe are made holy, children of God (Rom. 8:14–17). When we respond to the call to be holy, we will fully trust the Holy Spirit to carry us in proximity to God and reflect God’s image (i.e. Jesus) into the world. And boy, does this world desperately need a people called to be set apart and different for the purposes of God. May our proximity to God inspire the world to come out of spiritual isolation.

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