Through this series of articles we will explore the significance of holiness as defined in the Scriptures. Our aim will be to understand its value and embrace the method by which Yahweh seeks to develop holiness in our lives. Our first article will introduce the subject, and subsequent articles will look at the example of our Lord (the perfect Holy One) and examine the impact that holiness should have on our lives.

Defining and understanding the holiness of Yahweh

Holiness is a vast subject that spreads right across the Scriptures and is found in over 580 passages, clearly indicating its importance to every disciple of Christ. Yet how well do we understand the holiness of our heavenly Father? And what impact should this have on our worship? How should it affect our own spiritual state? What level of holiness is required of us?

All these questions need to be answered and as we cover this very important subject, we will grow to see that holiness is in fact something we must all strive for in our walk towards the coming kingdom of God.

But first, let us consider what holiness, in its simplest form, means to us. Whilst this is a term we frequently use within our ecclesial environment, we may not fully appreciate its complete significance. For those of us fortunate enough to have enjoyed Christadelphian Sunday School, we were taught that the word “holy” had the meaning of “being separate” and this was taught in the context of the “Holy Bible” or “the separate book.” Perhaps that was as far as our understanding on the subject went (it was certainly as far as mine went!), but what does it really mean?

Today the meaning of the word “holiness” is described in the dictionary as:

noun: holiness

1. the state of being holy.

“a life of holiness and total devotion to God” 

synomyms: sanctity, divinity, godliness, saintliness, sanctitude, sacredness, faith, devotion, devoutness, divineness, blessedness, spirituality, religiousness, piety, piousness, righteousness, goodness, perfection, virtue, virtuousness, purity, sinlessness

You might agree that while the list is comprehensive, it fails to make “holiness” any more significant for us. So, what is the scriptural definition of the word? Here is a definition from the concordance and the lexicon:

Strong – from H6942: a sacred place or thing; rarely abstractly sanctity: – consecrated (thing), dedicated (thing), hallowed (thing), holiness, (X most) holy (X day, portion, thing), saint, sanctuary.

Brown-Driver-Briggs

1) apartness, holiness, sacredness, separateness

1a) apartness, sacredness, holiness

1a1) of God

1a2) of places

1a3) of things

1b) set-apartness, separateness

Part of Speech: noun masculine

Like the dictionary definition, these details add little to our understanding!

Before looking at the Scriptures themselves, we would find it useful to build a foundation upon which the subject rests. That foundation is known as God Manifestation: “the ability to live a life that manifests aspects of God’s character to others around us”.

Our understanding of God’s word gives us a unique perspective on what God’s plans are with this world and, more importantly, how He works with His servants to achieve that purpose. When this principle is fully grasped, we can begin to appreciate the need to be like God, to display the character and perspective of our heavenly Father in every facet of our lives. Since holiness is an essential part of God’s character, we need to develop an understanding and appreciation of this concept if we wish to reflect the qualities of God in our personal lives.

Be ye holy, for I am holy

With that in mind let’s commence with Leviticus 19, because here we are dealing with a section from chapters 18–20 which is commonly known as “The Laws of Holiness”. In 19:2 we read, “Speak unto all the congregation of the children of Israel, and say unto them, Ye shall be holy: for I Yahweh your God am holy”. This is quite a statement; and when we examine it closely we have to wonder why God makes this statement to Israel at this point of their journeys. This was a people who had just left Egypt and we know through subsequent events that they still retained many of Egypt’s undesirable longings. Yahweh wanted them to start living new lives, modelled after His character—an entirely new concept for them. He wanted them to develop characteristics that would set them apart from everything they previously knew. The Israelites were to be separate; identified by their holiness in character before Almighty God. In reality, God wanted them to develop what we could today call ‘a culture’; a culture of holiness as God’s people.

So, what did Israel do? Unfortunately, they failed to grasp this concept. Instead we find that they did develop a culture, a different culture—one of legality—a culture that said ‘if we just keep each of those commandments without breaking the law, we will be holy’.

What was the problem with this? The problem was that it stifled the development of a spiritual mind and only fostered a legalistic approach to serving Yahweh. For them it became a worship in which the conscience was not affected. They imagined that by offering sacrifices they would become holy, instead of understanding the import behind the laws and growing closer to God by being more like Him in character. Herein is the danger for us! The culture we must develop and preserve today needs to separate us from evil and at the same time bring us closer to God. If we are just like Israel, focusing on a blind observance of the truth’s requirements in an attempt to develop our own righteousness then we will fail to understand the vital lesson of what holiness entails.

Notice that Leviticus 19:2 comes at the beginning of the law as an introduction to what follows, because it declares the whole object of the ceremonial and the moral law! We might add that it is the object of the Gospel also—to develop a spiritually holy character; not a legalistic one!

When God declared, “Be Ye Holy, for I am Holy”, He was informing Israel that He wanted them to imitate Him in every way; to develop a spiritual and moral character which reflects a spiritual likeness to God and His holiness.

In this context, consider the words of the Apostle Peter: “Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy” (1 Pet 1:13-16, ESV ).

Here is the key to this principle and it is a perfect explanation of those early verses of Leviticus 19. Peter fully grasped the concept of holiness when he stated, “you also be holy in all your conduct”, and he sets out the key to this by asking us to prepare our minds for action, and be sober minded. This reference to being sober minded is not really an exhortation to abstain from alcohol, but rather an admonition to practice sobriety and develop a spiritual mind centred on the ways of Yahweh. He is anxious that we who are reading His word understand the difference between the legalistic approach to service and a service based on spirit and truth.

So, we see in Leviticus 19 that Yahweh is bringing home to Israel (in the first instance), that He is a Holy being and that these laws are designed to bring them to that same condition. That is why we have no less than 14 times through this chapter, the phrase, “I am Yahweh your Elohim”—a title that inform us of God’s desire to manifest Himself in a new class of mighty ones.

Turning back to Leviticus 19, let’s probe a little deeper and ask the question: what are the first requirements we need to understand to attain to the holiness that Yahweh requires? The answer lies in the following verses: honour your parents (v3), and give reverence to God (v4-8). Both principles are linked. If we cannot honour our earthly parents, how can we honour our heavenly Father? And these commands are so different to the commands relating to sacrifice and offering. They require the outworking of a spiritual mind.

Conformity to the divine image

Understanding this then, we are moved to ask ourselves the question: what of us? We all, without exception, have been called to this way of life—a life of holiness, based on the principle of God manifestation. It is a calling which needs to be developed deliberately and consciously in our personal lives; something we hope to explore through this series of articles. With this in mind, we find that various commentators have grasped how holiness needs to be translated into our way of living. For example, Vine makes this comment: “Holiness as an adjective word… is characteristically god-likeness” (p227). Charles Hodge in his commentary on Romans says, “The proximate result of obedience to God is inward conformity to the Divine image” (p209).

What we understand from this is that holiness has to do with the development of a character that matches God’s and hence we need to know God in the fullest sense. It should also be noted that the holiness of God is frequently aligned with the majesty and glory of God and although this is just one facet of God’s character, it is nevertheless a significant attribute.

The relationship that we have with Yahweh is based on our loving dependence upon Him, but it is a relationship where we must play our part by faithful obedience to His will. Simply sitting back and waiting for holiness to become a part of our character is never going to happen. There has to be some pruning of our character; there must be some thinning out of the ‘dead wood’ in our lives. We have to have a regular supply of the ‘water of the word’ so that the fruit of the Spirit can develop in our lives. Without this action on our part, there will never be a harvest of fruitfulness.

Through the wonderful provision of His Son, Yahweh has made it possible for us, the Gentiles who live in the last days, to walk in holiness. He has done all that He can for our salvation in the offering of His Son, so that nothing should hinder us from walking in the holiness He requires.

But are we doing our part by doing the walking in the light? Do we understand what is required of us, to walk in holiness? These are vital questions we wish to explore further in our next article.