What does it mean to be holy? What does that word mean to you? For much of my life, when I heard the word holy, I would think of angels singing in heaven, I would think of the revival meetings at my church as a child, the gospel singers that would come in on a Sunday night, I would think of that old-time religion that preached legalistic moral concepts of holiness that were impossible to obtain. But somehow were were called to be holy.
Holiness became tied in my mind, to sexual purity, to financial honesty, to hours of earnest private prayer. Holiness meant going to church three times a week, keeping up the appearance of godliness, at least in public. It was something to obtain, something to strive for, something to earn.
As I matured in my faith, I realized that we don’t earn the love of God through our good works and morality. We aren’t saved because of who we are or who we are becoming. We are not always completely honest or have pure thoughts, we sin. Even as saved people, we are sinners. But where did that leave holiness. God called us to be holy;
For it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” -1 Peter 1:16
The most basic meaning of the word holy (or holiness) is the be “set apart” or “dedicated” to God. In other words, to belong to God.
This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. – Hebrews 8:10
So holiness becomes defined by a relationship. A unique relationship with God, one that He desires with us. So before holiness becomes defined solely by morality, we have to understand that first comes the relationship.
Because Jesus is the ultimate revelation of God, our relationship through Christ unites us with God.
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. -Galatians 2:20
We get to participate with God because he dwells in us and we in Him. So God’s holiness is our holiness. Because of Christ, through Him we are already holy. We are already “set apart.”
So God’s statement calling us to be holy is far more than just striving to be morally good. It’s a claim on our very identities.
The very act of pursuing this relationship with Christ will naturally lead us to obtain those moral attributes that we often associate with being holy. But the point of the pursuit is not moralism, the point is Jesus.
None of what I said here is to minimize the importance of purity of thought, of action, of your words, of any practice that is not keeping with the concept of a holy God. These are very important. But when we strive first towards the relationship with God through Christ, we have already crossed a great divide that is keeping us from becoming holy. That relationship with Christ is first and foremost the first step we all need to take to become Holy.