I am going to write a few posts on the topic of holiness. Holiness is a characteristic that is often talked about but hardly understood as to how it can be obtained. Too often holiness is considered an attribute of God that is not attainable to man. Holiness is considered something impossible. However, 1 Peter 1:15-16 reads, “As the One who called you is holy, you also are to be holy in all your conduct; for it is written, be holy, because I am holy.” God commands all people to be holy.
Holiness Means Separation
Our first step in attaining holiness begins with a proper understanding of what God means when He calls us to be holy. Holiness has been defined in all sorts of ways. Sometimes we have allowed our minds to think of holiness as sinlessness. Perhaps we consider holiness as perfection. The first time we come across a strong concept of holiness is in Exodus 3. In this passage we see Moses is shepherding a flock in the wilderness and comes to Horeb. The angel of the Lord appears to Moses as a flame of fire within a bush, yet the bush was not consumed by the fire. In verses 4-5 we read, “When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called out to him from the bush, ‘Moses, Moses!’ ‘Here I am,’ he answered. ‘Do not come closer,’ He said. ‘Take your sandals off your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.’” Why was this holy ground? How could ground be considered holy? If Moses had taken a handful of “unholy” ground and compared it with the “holy” ground at the burning bush, would he been able to see a difference? If Moses had traversed this ground last week while shepherding, would the ground have been holy then? Consider for a moment what made this ground holy!
The only reason the ground where Moses stood was holy was because God had said it was holy. The word “holy” simply means “separate.” God had separated this land from the other parts of the earth as the place where He would reveal Himself to Moses in the burning bush that was not consumed. If God had spoken to Moses at another place, that location would have been holy. The ground did not change its characteristics or organic components. The ground was the same dirt that it always had been. The only way Moses knew that this ground was holy was because God revealed to Moses. The only reason the ground was holy was because God declared it separate from other ground.
Holiness requires separation from one thing and separation to a different thing. The ground that God used to appear to Moses was separated from the rest of the ground of the earth and separated to God for His purpose. Holiness requires division. This is one reason why the word “holy” and its various derivatives are translated with terms like “set apart, dedicated, consecrated, sanctified, and separated.” Holiness is about distinction and division from one thing and separation for or to another thing.
Suppose the temple priests required a new knife to be used for the preparation of the sacrifices to God. The priest could not merely take a knife from home and start using in the temple sacrifices. The knife may have been separated from the home but it had not been dedicated or separated to God. Further, the knife could not be considered holy to the Lord and remain in the house of the priest. The knife had to not only be separated to God, but it also had to be separated from the common use in the house. Holiness requires subtraction and addition. With this idea in mind, we see that God has called us to abandon our unholy ways and pursue His holy way. Without both actions, holiness is not possible.
Consider 2 Timothy 2:22, “Flee from youthful passions, and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.” In this command we see the dual command of separation. We are to separate ourselves from youthful passions and lusts. But that is not all that is required for holiness. We are to separate ourselves to or dedicate ourselves to righteousness, faith, love, and peace. This is the two-part equation to holiness. Separation from plus separation to equals holiness. We are not holy if we only separate from the youthful passions. Neither are we holy if we only dedicate ourselves to righteousness, faith, love and peace. Both separation from youthful passions and separation to righteousness, faith, love, and peace leads to the holiness of God. When we return to 1 Peter 1:14-16 we see that we are to separate ourselves from the desires of our former ignorance and inappropriate conduct and separate ourselves to Him and appropriate godly conduct.