In studying the Old Testament book of Leviticus, I’ve noticed the word “holy.”
In fact, the word “holy” appears 94 times in this book! That’s almost twice as many times as the book with the next highest word count of 56, the book of Isaiah.
As you can tell, a huge part of the message of Leviticus is the concept of holiness.
God commands the people of Israel to be holy, because He is holy. And He commands the same of us. So, it is very important that we ask, What does it mean to be holy? What does it mean to be holy unto the Lord?
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In Leviticus 19:2 we read…
Speak unto all the congregation of the children of Israel, and say unto them, Ye shall be holy: for I the LORD your God am holy.Leviticus 19:2
And we know that this command also applies to us today, for God repeats it through the apostle Peter in 1 Peter 1:15-16.
But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation;
Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy.1 Peter 1:15-16
So, obviously, as God is the holy God, He cares about holiness. But what does that mean?
What Does It Mean to be Holy?
I have for a long time been a little perplexed by this idea of holiness. After all, I know that holiness is part of God’s character.
And I’ve wondered if it was even possible for me to be holy, like God is.
Maybe you have, too.
The thing the Lord showed me as I’ve looked more at this subject is that I’ve been wrong all these years. My understanding of what it means to be holy was not quite right.
What Being Holy Does Not Mean
First, the Lord showed me what being holy does not mean.
For many years I’ve had the idea that “holy” meant sinless. But that simply is not correct.
Holiness is not sinless perfection!
Holiness is not even about sin.
Else, how could a garment, or oil, or a day be holy?
The Word of God speaks of many such things as being holy…the altar, offerings, a field, a house, tithe, and perfume. We are told about the holy temple, holy ground, holy nature, holy days. There are also the holy place, crown, convocations, sabbaths, and gifts.
But things don’t sin.
Therefore, “holy” cannot mean sinless.
When God commands that we be holy, He is not commanding that we be sinless. The only person to be sinless was and is the God-man, the Lord Jesus Christ!
Sinless perfection will never be an attainable goal for us in this life. God’s holiness is not something we can achieve. Although we as God’s people should strive to live a holy life, the holiness of God is not what God is expecting from us.
God is not commanding the impossible from us human beings. But what God is commanding, we can do.
According to the scriptures, men (people) can be holy!
For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.2 Peter 1:21
Which leads to something else the Lord taught me about what being holy is NOT—
Holiness is not impossible!
It IS possible…for me…and for you…to be holy! According to the correct biblical definition of what this word means.
What Being Holy Does Mean
It is the will of God that we be a holy people, but what does that mean?
Leviticus 27:21 gives us a good synonym for the word “holy” that would apply to both people and things.
But the field, when it goeth out in the jubile, shall be holy unto the LORD, as a field devoted; the possession thereof shall be the priest’s.Leviticus 27:21
Being holy means, then, being devoted for God’s purposes. Set apart for God’s use.
Holiness, then, has to do with being separate.
God is holy in that He is separate from all else.
Things are holy when they are separated from the day-to-day ordinary uses and devoted, or dedicated, to the special purposes God has given.
People are holy to the extent that we, as believers on Jesus Christ as Saviour, separate ourselves from the world’s ordinarily accepted views on life, and instead, dedicate ourselves for God’s purposes for our lives. Letting God’s Word, and not the world, tell us what our lives should look like.
Leviticus 20:24-26 gives further insight about what God means when He speaks of something or someone as being holy.
But I have said unto you, Ye shall inherit their land, and I will give it unto you to possess it, a land that floweth with milk and honey: I am the LORD your God, which have separated you from other people.
Ye shall therefore put difference between clean beasts and unclean,…which I have separated from you as unclean.
And ye shall be holy unto me: for I the LORD am holy, and have severed you from other people, that ye should be mine.Leviticus 20:24-26
Separating ourselves from the world around us involves separating ourselves from the evil practices of the world. And because of that, there is, after all, a moral sense to the definition of the word “holy”…as it applies to people.
Previous to the above verses in Leviticus 20, God gives many commands to Israel (and to us) to not commit the grievous sins of the Canaanites—such as child sacrifice (20:2), sorcery/witchcraft/psychic readings (20:6, 27), cursing parents (20:9), adultery (20:10), homosexuality (20:13), bestiality (20:15-16).
And ye shall not walk in the manners of the nation, which I cast out before you: for they committed all these things, and therefore I abhorred them.Leviticus 20:23
God wanted, commanded, His people to live holy lives, to be a holy nation.
And ye shall be holy unto me:Leviticus 20:26a
God wants the same for us. Our holy Father wants His people to be holy, to be different from the world. Set apart. For Him.
Holiness Begins in the Heart
Although the word “holy” is not synonymous with “sinless,” it does, when applied to people, carry a certain connotation of a cleaner life. A child of God who is no longer living to please men, but rather God, will naturally have less sin in their life.
Also, for us to be holy unto the Lord, requires that we have a clean heart and life. Not sinless perfection, but a dedication to God and to striving for a clean life that God can use.
In the New Testament God uses the apostle Paul to write…
If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the master’s use, and prepared unto every good work.2 Timothy 2:21
Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.2 Corinthians 7:1
For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.Romans 8:29
We cannot devote to God a dirty life for His use. God does not use a dirty vessel. He uses those who allow Him to conform them to the image of His Son, those who seek to become more like Christ their Saviour.
In this sense, holiness is a heart issue. For dedication, commitment, and surrender to God starts in our hearts. Else, we are no better than the Pharisees, that Jesus called hypocrites, who appear on the outside to be committed to the service of God. But are instead just a lot of outward show.
Which did not please God in the least. Their good works did not earn them salvation, or God’s favour.
It is important to note here that holiness, as it applies to living a life of holiness, has nothing to do with salvation. However, to enter the holy presence of God in Heaven we must “be made the righteousness of God in Him (Christ)” (2 Corinthians 5:21) through belief in the name of the Lord Jesus and His death for the payment of our sins.
So, while we cannot attain to sinless perfection here in this life, we are made holy in a spiritual sense by the power of the Holy Spirit at the moment of our salvation. And made ready to enter the most holy place where the Lord God Almighty sits on His throne!
Learn more about how to be holy with this Free Holy Unto God Checklist! Spend a few minutes looking at what God says pleases Him.
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Holiness, then, is not something that can be faked. God knows our hearts and knows whether we are genuine in our pursuit of holiness.
Others can tell, as well. Those watching our lives know whether we are “real,” or not.
Would you say that you are holy? Now that we’ve taken a closer look at the meaning of the word?
But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light:1 Peter 2:9
Drawing nigh to Him,
LET’S TALK ABOUT IT.
Has there been a time in your life that you consciously committed yourself to be holy unto the Lord, to live your life for Him? We’d love to hear about it, if you’d like to share.
If you haven’t yet, won’t you do that today, and begin to live a life that is pleasing unto God and that He can greatly bless?