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.
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.
While 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.)
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 not a personal 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.
These 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.
I agree with the majority of what you’ve written. I do disagree with many points however. Firstly, its obvious your blog is mainly centered around your experience with the Oneness Pentecostal movement. Might I add, that I myself was part of this denomination if you will, more notably calling ourselves Apostolic Pentecostal. I held a local license in the UPCI for 1 year, had a shaved face, wife could not wear pants, jewelry, the whole 9 etc. So my experiences are very similar to what you have been through and different in many ways I am sure. I am no longer a part of this belief system whatsoever (acts 2:38 as salvation, speaking in tongues, baptism in Jesus name only etc). So I am not speaking from a place of total ignorance. It appears sometimes that you are not sure of who your target audience is. I say this because I’ve learned that not everyone shares the same experience as me or you (not implying that you think that) and so some things you say in your articles are not relevant to every christian. Not every Christian was part of the oneness movement but you write in ways that have the connotation that you are speaking out of general dislike of the oneness pentecostal movement. And, as a result, it seems that some most of your arguments (for lack of a better term) are based around what they teach and practice. One thing I noticed when I left this denomination was that, many of the people who left with me quickly starting to stop certain things that they were doing with the excuse of “I am not doing this or that anymore because that is what pastor so and so taught us or that is what the upc teaches”. That is a dangerous mindset because not everything was wrong (though the majority was in my opinion). And if we live in open rebellion to the things we were taught just because of whom we were taught, then we open the door for so many mistakes to be made because the motive itself is not coming from a good place (again, not implying that you are doing this). I do believe that God purifies us and makes us holy and I also believe that holiness does in part, consists of behavior, conversation and appearance. And I do believe that it is something that can be obtained by our efforts. For example, God says to “be” holy as I am holy and mentions that without holiness we cannot see the Lord as you stated in this read. Why would the bible give such warning about not seeing God without holiness if it is God who makes us holy, that scripture would be irrelevant. Why would He say be holy if it wasnt in our ability. Why would the bible say be holy in all manner of conversation, this implies that it is in our control to decide how we order our conversation aright. some conversation are holy, pure, without covetousness etc. and some conversations go to far, crossing the line even if it was out of good intent. The bible also says that we should cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the “flesh” and spirit, “perfecting holiness” in the fear of God. So the more we cleanse our flesh by elimination of certain practices or many other examples etc, we perfect holiness, it is up to us and in our control to a certain degree. The same with appearance, and lets use dress for example. If a christian woman wears booty shorts (that is a term for shorts that go high up the leg even to the line of the buttocks) or a low cut shirt that exposes the top portion of her breasts, is it not fair to judge her intentions? And would that not be considered unholy, immodest etc? The same for a man. If does not mean they need to wear, skirts or a man long sleeve shirts etc. but to imply that dress standards have no bearing on holiness I believe is incorrect. I do believe 100% that holiness is from within and is centered around the heart. But out of the heart flows the issues of life and we are holy inwardly, then it does reflect outwardly in many ways and thus separates us from the world in the manner of our faith and how we conduct ourselves is proof of our relationship with God. We let out light shine, our holiness and righteousness is a result of him and work in transforming us. And we have bearing on how we sustain it or not in my opinion. We should all have “standards” and those standards may be different from person to person but what is the point of having the Holy Spirit in us if he cannot teach us and guide us in our walk with God? Not everything is going to be written in plain sight in the bible, just because the bible doesnt say this or that is not holy, does not mean that it is not holy. The Spirit of God is able to convict us, to lead us, and teach at any moment in time and let you know when you have crossed the line. And if we need everything to be written for us to follow, then being led by the Spirit is null and void and the Spirit itself is become useless to us. Even Paul said “and such like” when he was referring to things that were ungodly he also said “and if there be any other thing contrary to sound doctrine”. So it is clear that everything is not written specifically and it is up to the Spirit of God to teach us what is and what is not holy or unholy. Again, I agree with most of what you said and I admire your work very much, I just think sometimes you speak in light of what you have been thru in an attempt to discredit the teachings of the of the oneness pentecostal movement rather then speaking to a general christian audience that has not necessarily experienced the same things as you. I hope I made sense or was at least easy to understand. Sorry for the long essay. I’d love to hear read your response. God Bless
Thank you for your comments, well said!
I really only have a couple responses to your well thought our response to this article and to my blog in general. You are correct, my primary focus is the exposure of the heresies of the Oneness Pentecostal church, but more importantly to contrast it with what Scripture and Christianity is actually supposed to be about. My target audience therefore is any who are either from, or looking into this type of a system. I cannot enumerate the number of people who have written me to say either, “you gave me the courage to leave…”, or, “This was a confirmation of what I have been thinking/feeling/studying myself.” My target audience is not entirely Christendom as a whole, and perhaps I can find a better way of making that clear. Thank you for that insight!
I do not believe you meant it in this fashion, but the number of times I have heard, “Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater” is staggering. I believe any group that verges into the realm of being a cult must then have its entire doctrine-set under the scope, especially eschatology. Of course, I heard some general terms, such as “Jesus Loves You”, and that encompasses the mindset of all Christianity. But when examining ‘doctrine’ that is produced by the flaw of Oneness Pentecostalism, nothing good comes from it, and no sick tree bears good fruit.
Finally, you are so correct that Holiness, if viewed as an act of sanctification, most definitely comes from an inward change, which I expressed multiple times in this article, and that it WILL indeed spill out in to our behavior, even our dress. There is no denying that.
However, when we create doctrines around those things, that is to say, “If you REALLY had the Spirit of God, you wouldn’t wear that tank top.”, you have moved in to legalism, and, ironically, legalism can also be inverse. I have seen people (Unitarian/Universalists) create a legalism out of their freedom. I certainly did not want to intimate the idea that there is NOTHING for a Christian to do in the acting out of their faith and most certainly, we know is is truth, submitting to God, His Spirit and His Word will most definitely bring a change to the soul of a person which must obviously be exemplified by the fruits of their lifestyle.
Yet, I am constantly reminding myself of Romans 14, and specifically, Romans 14:22, that says,
“The faith which you have [that gives you freedom of choice], have as your own conviction before God [just keep it between yourself and God, seeking His will]. Happy is he who has no reason to condemn himself for what he approves.”
I mark myself as a pharisee if I peruse town, looking at my fellow citizens and saying in my mind/heart, “Her shorts are a little small and tight, she must not be a Christian.” Would maybe eventually God lead her to not wearing that type of clothing? Perhaps, but that should not be at the pressure of my mentality, mindset or eyes. That is between her and the Spirit and for the anointing of the spirit to dictate.
“As for you, the anointing [the special gift, the preparation] which you received from Him remains [permanently] in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you. But just as His anointing teaches you [giving you insight through the presence of the Holy Spirit] about all things, and is true and is not a lie, and just as His anointing has taught you, [a]you must remain in Him [being rooted in Him, knit to Him].” ~ 1 John 2:27
Absolutely love your comment and hope you continue commenting, I think there is much to be learned by you.
I completely agree. I believe this is why useful dialogue is very important, especially around topics such as this one and many others that are covered on this particular blog. I agree that the Oneness Pentecostal cult is indeed a sick tree and therefore does so much damage it’s almost unfathomable. Their view of holiness is completely erroneous and when I mentioned that not everything they taught was incorrect, I wasn’t necessarily referring to the holiness portion of it and I know you aren’t implying that I was either. I meant more so the simple, common sense things that come with the notion of Christianity, such as Jesus loves you, or abstaining from the sins outlined in the word etc. And even with those truths, they still somehow find a way to put their spin on it, thus marring it altogether. You mentioned that you couldn’t enumerate the number of people effected by your posts, and for what it’s worth, I too am one of those people. I read many of your writings frequently enough, the similarities are shocking and your insight is thought provoking, conversation worthy and refreshing. With that being said, I’m looking forward to more of your postings and may God bless you in your journey from now until the return of Jesus our King. God Bless