Holiness Is Only Defined By The Lord
Every culture has some form of holiness which it keeps. Certain actions are considered taboo and improper in a society, while other actions are considered good and acceptable. But this is not the holiness that God is speaking about. Society does not dictate what is holy and what is common. Holiness has high standards. I cannot simply say that I dedicate this paper to God and it is no longer part of my common papers. Biblical holiness is specific separation as revealed by the Lord. People can claim to be holy and dedicated to the Lord but that does not make them holy to the Lord. The scriptures are full of illustrations of those who claimed to be holy to the Lord because they declared that their actions were for God yet God condemned them.
A clear example of this is in Leviticus 10:1-3 with the sacrifice presented by Nadab and Abihu. Nadab and Abihu offered a sacrifice to God which they considered dedicated to God. However, God killed Nadab and Abihu for offering an unholy or unauthorized fire. Verse 3 says, “This is what the Lord meant when He said, by those who come near Me I will be treated as holy, and before all the people I will be honored.” God defines what is holy and dedicated to God and what is not. This is an important lesson that we cannot gloss over too quickly. Too often people believe their actions are authorized as long as it is dedicated to the Lord. They seem to think that church bingo parties, church funded golf tournaments, church funded recreation and feedings, and anything else can be considered worship and acceptable to God as long as we simply declare that it is dedicated to God. But this is not the case. Only God has the right to declare what is holy and what is common. People have no right to make such declarations.
Further proof of this principle is found in Acts 10. Peter has a vision with all sorts of creatures and God said to Peter, “Rise, kill and eat” (Acts 10:13). “But Peter said, “By no means, Lord, for I have never eaten anything unholy and unclean.” Again a voice came to him a second time, “What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy” (Acts 10:14-15). Peter did not have the right to declare something unholy which God had declared holy. By the same token, we have no right to declare something holy which God has declared unholy. God defines holiness.
Therefore, attaining holiness is a very simple proposition: do what God says. Since God defines holiness, if we are to be holy as He is holy, we must simply do what God says. This is what God said to Israel in Exodus 19:5-6, “Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” This same command is reiterated to us in 1 Peter 2:9, where Peter tells us that we are chosen race, a royal priesthood, and a holy nation.
External Holiness Alone Is Unholy
In Matthew 15:1-9 Jesus drew this clear distinction. Jesus pointed out that the Pharisees were keeping their own traditions and not following the commands of God. Jesus called them hypocrites because keeping their rules was not the holiness of God. Further, the external holiness that the Pharisees attempted to keep was also unholy. The reason they were unholy was because their hearts were far from God. In other words, it is possible for a person to do something that the Bible defines as holy or that people believe to be holy yet not fulfill biblical holiness.
When we engage in actions that would seem holy, like prayer, study, and worship attendance, but permit our hearts to remain distant from God or even rebellious to God, we are unholy even though we appear holy to others. We cannot be holy to the Lord unless both our actions and our hearts have been separated from the world and dedicated to God. One without the other is simply to be unholy. A clean heart that does not do what God says is unholy. A person who do what God says yet has an impure heart is also unholy. We must have heart and actions separated from the world and devoted to God to be credited as holy to the Lord.