For I am the LORD that bringeth you up out of the land of Egypt, to be your God: ye shall therefore be holy, for I am holy. -Leviticus 11:45
What does it mean to be holy? God has told us in the verse above that we ought to be holy. So what exactly does this mean in our everyday lives, and how can we attain to this holiness?
To be holy is to be separate
If you were to read the verses preceding the one quoted above, in the eleventh chapter of Leviticus, you’d find a few indications as to what God meant when He said He was holy: He was separated from evil.
Even though it can be unthinkable to imagine God as being anything other than good and holy, we understand by the things that He isn’t just what it means to be holy. God isn’t darkness. God is light. God doesn’t lie. God is truth. In these examples, we can see that God doesn’t mingle good with evil, but He is wholly and completely separated from impurity. So in this regard, holiness is to be pure and separate from evil.
How Christians can be holy
As Christians, it’s important to realize that in this sin-stained world there is a certain quality of holiness and purity that is only possessed by God. We cannot in and of ourselves become holy without God. The prophet Isaiah writes:
But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away. -Isaiah 64:6
And so it’s simply not enough for us to separate ourselves from evil: for the very fabric of our being, our earthly bodies are corrupted with sin. As the apostle Paul writes: “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing” (Romans 7:18). If a Christian’s situation is thus, then how shall we obtain the holiness that God demands?
God sanctifies us for Himself
For God, holiness simply means to be separate from evil. For He is the great Creator, and there’s no impurity in Him: to be separate and distinct from evil is enough for holiness.
Yet for the Christian, it takes on a slightly different form: we are to derive our holiness from Christ’s holiness. And so in this way, holiness becomes a slightly different goal.
But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some to honour, and some to dishonour. 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 2:20-21
Holiness is to be set aside for God
If Christ is our holiness, then we have but one goal: to devote our mind and body to God’s using, and to separate ourselves from the uncleanness that is in the world.
Holiness is a singleness of purpose. Yet this is true only insofar as the purpose that we are channeled towards is holy: this can only come from Jesus Christ.
I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. -Romans 12:1-2
Paul uses very strong language in saying that we are to be a living sacrifice: holy and acceptable to God. We are not to be a multi-purpose tool, which will do everything for everyone. But everything that we do must be done for Christ’s kingdom.
This is not to say that we must quit our earthly employment, and stop everything that doesn’t immediately appear outwardly to be spiritual. Rather, it means that we ought to always be seeking to use everything, every situation, every job, every circumstance to the glory of God.
I speak after the manner of men because of the infirmity of your flesh: for as ye have yielded your members servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity; even so now yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness. -Romans 6:19
Yet if we find ourselves in a situation that is clearly sinful, or clearly self-serving, we are called by God from the Bible to surrender such things up to God as part of our sacrifice to Him.
For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God. -Colossians 3:3
If we are truly a “living sacrifice” to God, then we ought not to cling to our own stubborn ways. Being a sacrifice implies that we are actually dead, yet by some miraculous means we are still living: and we are kept alive so that we may serve God whole-heartedly.
Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. -Romans 6:11