What is Holiness?

What is it? What is it not? Where did it come from? How has it morphed over the ages? Is it a ritual? A confession? Is Holiness obtainable? Can I find it, seek it, pray for it, achieve it?

One thing is for certain, the Bible calls Christian people, and all people, to be Holy, saying in “Be ye holy, for I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:16) Holiness, per Scripture, is required for us to see the Lord of heaven and earth. (Hebrews 12:14) In fact, Holiness is so important that the word Holy is found over 610 times in the King James version of the Bible, 548 times in the International Standard Version (ISV). And the word Holiness over 30 times.

Yet, coming to grips with what Holy means (in practice, how do we become Holy) is a little more challenging than just knowing the word is in the Bible, and that we are called to be Holy. God is Holy, He is called the Holy One of Israel, and the things He creates are holy. We see this starting all the way back in the creation narrative of Genesis 2:3.

Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God stopped working on everything that he had been creating. ~ Genesis 2:3, KJV

One important note to take away while we course through this study is that it is God who makes you, or I, or the earth, or the Sabbath, or anything else He chooses, to be Holy. It is not we ourselves (Ephesians 2:8) that cause Holiness. We are to seek Holiness, pursue it even, but it is only a Holy God that can impart Holiness upon His creations.

Defining Holiness

If you follow any of my studies, I place a high emphasis on defining words, using context and correct hermeneutical practices (systematic study) to conclude the meaning of the message of the Scripture, bit by bit. It is critical to realize that things written in the Bible were done so under the understanding of ancient people, Jewish people, who wrote for other Jewish people, who often used allegorical messages to illustrate principles, while other things were said concretely and literally. I can only do that in lite within this article.

walking-in-holiness.pngWhile translators have done fantastic work through the ages to bring the manuscripts alive in our modern language and terms, it is still easy to lose what was/is being said within our modern understanding and way of thinking. Think of a more modern application of transliterating words from one language/culture to another to see how it can err.

In America, where I reside, the word ‘napkin’ is something I use daily when I sit at the table for supper to wipe my hands, fingers, and mouth, for cleanliness. In other parts of the world, such as New Zealand and Australia, the word ‘napkin’ more commonly refers to a pad to absorb menstrual blood. Culture can view a word very differently, especially when you transfer that word over 2,000 years. Translators attempt to cross these boundaries of culture and time, but you can only go so far.

Furthermore, a word in my own culture carried a different weight and meaning 200 years ago than it does today. The word ‘gay‘ in the early 1900’s generally referred to carefree, jolly, happy. It slowly became sexualized over time, still mostly referring to a more carefree, even promiscuous lifestyle. Then, over time, as it is today, it is widely accepted as a reference to homosexuality, either male or female. So even the same word, in the same culture, in a very short amount of time, changes normalized meaning.

Stack on top of that challenge the different Bible translations and transliterations, and the purpose for which each was created. For instance, most of the more conservative/fundamental side of Christianity focuses on the King James Version of the Bible (yes, there are KJV only sects), but this was commissioned and produced by people from the middle-ages and early Renaissance periods of English/British history, in a war against the Roman Catholic Church, and later published in 1611Ad.

You can easily argue that the majority of the wording and translation/transliteration of this version of the Bible comes with the language flare and meanings of the period in which it was written. That isn’t a discredit to it’s accuracy, but the way in which words were used during that era do not easily translate to the modern.

For instance, the KJV places heavy emphasis via wording on complete obedience to worldly and spiritual authority, whereas other translations emphasis ‘following’ Godly examples, imitating their behavior, not blindly obeying them. In the Middle Ages, disobedience was punished harshly so it makes sense their verbiage would emphasize the mentality of the time.

And thus, we must look to a more ancient understanding of ‘holy‘ and the Biblical references to it, to truly understand what it means for a modern day Christian, or follower of Christ, to be Holy.

To Make Holy, or To Be Holy

In Genesis 2:3 where the Scripture says, ‘and made it holy…‘, the word here is hagiazō, which is found 39 times in the King James Version of the Bible (out of 548 occurrences). It literally means, to make holy, to consecrate, to venerate. The important distinction here is that it is was an action taken, and completed, and in this case, the action was performed by God, not a person in response to God.

God sanctified, or consecrated the earth and everything in it, for Himself. He MADE it Holy. He deemed it to be Holy, and therefore, it WAS Holy. There are many times when justification, sanctification, or holiness, is by God’s doing, and others where He demands something from us.

Consider Romans 5:19;

For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.

In this version, the NIV, the declaration is that because of the Obedience of One (Christ) the many will be made righteous.

In other places, such as Leviticus 22:31, where Scripture says, ‘And you shall be holy men to Me…’, the word here is slightly different, it is now hagion which means ‘a sacred thing‘, and can also mean ‘a spot, a holy place, sanctuary‘. In the case of being ‘Holy men to Me [God]’, this implies a practice, a choice, and a commitment to give oneself into the service of God, to obey His commandments.


That is again seen in Leviticus 20:7 where it clearly says “And you shall sanctify yourselves, and be holy, for I am Jehovah your God.” This infers there was an action to be taken on the part of the audience, and in this case, it was to turn away from pagan rituals, witchcraft, and specifically, ritual sacrifice of their own children to Molech. They were to ‘cleanse’ themselves of unGodly practices (even sexual immorality) and turn back (repent) to God’s commandments.

In the Old Testament examples, Holiness included ritual cleansing from such events as coming in to contact with dead bodies, or when a woman was menstruating, etc. Holiness included obedience to strict dietary laws, even ceremonial laws such as when to cleanse oneself and to observe the Sabbath, when to sacrifice, offer incense, etc.

Interestingly, Jesus himself broke through several of these laws, and by the definition of the Old Testament system, would have been made ‘unholy’, or, ritually unclean. Mingling with Samaritans, being touched by the woman with the issue of blood, breaking the Sabbath, touching the sick and diseased, etc. Yet, while Jesus was a Jew, and living in the Old Testament era, we do not see him ritually cleansing himself after these offenses. Indeed, he was Baptized once by John the Baptist, to ‘fulfill all righteousness’ (Matthew 3:15), but it was not a continuous event, and strangely, we do not see any record of the Apostles being baptized either.

So is ‘Holiness’, under the era of Grace, and instituted by Christ, to be found under the shadow of obedience to man-made doctrines of dress, cleanliness, and ritual/ceremonial purification? Or is Holiness an in-ward, individual, heart-based desire to align towards the Gospel of Christ in an attempt to fulfill the Law of Christ? (Romans 8:2, Romans 10:4, etc.)

Finding Holiness

Admittedly, I’m writing this on the heels of discussing the Oneness Pentecostal/Holiness movement. For one, I’ve been asked to provide a study on the history of the Holiness movement and to discuss the origins of where it came from, and I will soon. (Translated, ‘Holiness’ in the fundamental sects I am accustomed to, is a dress standard and abstinence standard such things as smoking, drinking, swearing, movies, television, worldly entertainment, woman wearing pants, and such like) Also, it is something I am continuously intrigued by, as it is one of those things that is so vague as to require study, but also simple and plain.

Is Holiness accomplished? It is something we produce? Can we search for it? Find it? Perfect it? Perform it?

One Scripture constantly misused in the Holiness movement is Psalm 96:9, that in the King James (there it is again…) Version says, ‘O worship the Lord in the Beauty of Holiness…‘ and this was referenced many times to suggest validity that the way in which these people dressed was beautiful to the Lord, and the right way to express worship to Him.

Take one short step over to the Berean Study Bible, and the language points in a different direction.

Worship the Lord in the splendor of His Holiness…

Furthermore, one of the innocent lies (contradiction of terms? I’m trying to be kind) I’ve heard told by the Holiness/Pentecostal movement is that their dress standards are not a law to keep, they aren’t a requirement, that it is a personal conviction, and a choice, and it has nothing to do with Salvation…

But, then these same people will quote Hebrews 12:14 (without Holiness, no man will see the Lord) in defense and a rally cry of their ‘way’. The implications are clear. Individual people will dis-fellowship from people who stop dressing the part, so certainly it is notpersonal conviction that one may choose to participate in if he/she wishes.

In fact, the leader of the Oneness Pentecostal church (the largest current proponent of the Holiness movement as it is applied to a dress code), David K. Bernard, wrote the book, that I have in paper and digital format, In Search of Holiness. This entire book is a textbook/apologetic work in defense of and purports to prove that the dress standard is not only Biblical, but required in order to please God. Including but not limited to abstinence from wearing jewelry, make up, women cutting their hair to any degree, woman wearing pants/britches, and in many circles, no wedding rings even.

seek-peace.pngThese practices and conclusions seem to heavily cherry pick Scripture and ignore many others that often confirms, suggests and examples many of the things the so-called Holiness movement calls unholy.

However, the purpose of this article isn’t to focus on the wrong, it is to seek the right. What IS the meaning of Holiness?

God is Holy

First and foremost, the Christian Bible proclaims God to be Holy. He is the source of all things, he is the only perfect being and thus, can truly be the only Holy One. And yet, he makes things Holy, and we are to be Holy unto him. How can we?

According to 1 Peter 1:13-16, we are to be like the Holy One and that he calls us to holiness.

“Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.'”

And here, Peter stars to make a distinction of what that Holiness looks like – not being images of our former lusts, which we kept in ignorance. To be sober, to place our faith completely in the grace of Christ, to keep our minds, and more.

We know, of course, that we cannot be like God, we cannot be perfect, but we can attempt to, aligning our thoughts and behaviors towards him. Similarly, Paul teaches in Corinthians that a woman’s dress is to be sober, that their real adornment should be their good works. This of course, must apply to all of God’s creatures.

Christ himself declared that the utmost law, was to Love God, and equally as important, (Matthew 22:36-40) He said, was to love other people. Jesus went on later to say, “A new commandment I give you, that you love one another.” (John 13:34) Indeed, later, James tells us that pure religion is found in visiting the needy, and the destitute, the widows and the fatherless children, and supporting them in their distress.

I find it intriguing that Jesus, Peter, Paul, James…didn’t line out a dress code for Holiness. They didn’t line out abstinence to certain drinks, or tobacco, or Hollywood, or jewelry, or music, or…I digress.

Holiness, then, is to be in complete devotion (having Faith in Christ and God the Father) to God, observing His Holiness and doing all we can to be in likeness to that Holiness.

As well, He called us to be different from the ‘world’, and that word ‘world’ implies the age, or the sum of humanity that does not believe in the Christian God. That alone, that belief, is what sets you apart from the World. The Holiness movement uses the phrase ‘be ye seperate‘ as if it defines a requirement that we must look immutably different than the majority of people around us, when in fact, it has nothing to do with our appearance, but our faith.

So then, just as by one mans obedience we are made righteous, it is by God alone we are made Holy, and it is when our trust is placed upon Him. The gift of Holy Ghost (Acts 2:38) comes upon God’s children to start an on-going, ever-evolving transfiguration of who we are in Him, when we place our faith in Him.

Holiness isn’t a destination, it is a journey, to use an old cliche. It isn’t something achieved, and certainly, it isn’t something dressed. If that is the case, than Holiness itself simply becomes a work that people take pride in, and believe you me, there are some people who think their holiness is in their dress that are the most prideful people I’ve ever met.

We are to humble ourselves in the Lord, knowing that Grace is HIS gift to give, freely, and it isn’t accomplished by any behaviors that we perform, nor granted by any clothes we wear, or things we say, or do. It comes when our FAITH is in Him. Holiness is seeking Him, loving Him, and following Him, according to the Scripture.

It doesn’t come from mans ideas, or the commandments of man. It doesn’t come by enough Rosaries, or prayers, or fasts, or pilgrimages, or abstinence. Faith, is the substance, of all things hoped for.


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