The idea of holiness or sanctification (Hebrew root ka-dash) is very prominent in scripture, with the concept appearing on hundreds of occasions. The idea behind this concept is sacredness, consecration, dedication; being hallowed or set apart for God and his service; or to use a common but terribly misunderstood picture – becoming a saint.
First of all, we are informed in scripture that God is holy, as he declared to the Children of Israel, “Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy” (Lev. 19:2). God says the same thing in some other places like in Leviticus 11:45 and 20:26. God tells his people that they are to be a kingdom of priests, a holy nation unto him (Ex. 19:6).
To illustrate this fact the Lord proceeds to separate his people from Egypt and to make a distinction between them and the people of the world. In Deuteronomy 7:6, we see just how great a distinction God has made with his chosen ones: “For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession.” Once the Lord had set apart his holy people unto himself he then led them to his holy hill, to Jerusalem or Zion. We are told in scripture that “He has set his foundation on the holy mountain” (Psa. 87:1). So is it for nothing that Israel is called the Holy Land; that Jerusalem is called the Holy City; and the People of Israel are called the Holy People?
This idea of holiness or separateness is carried over into the New Testament. The New Testament challenges Christians to be holy in much the same way that Israel was challenged: “Be holy, because I am holy.” (1 Pet. 1:16). Christians, like the Israelites, are called to be a holy priesthood, a holy nation (1 Pet. 2:5, 9), and even a holy temple (Eph. 2:21). Christians are given the Holy Spirit as their instructor and comforter. This should give us our first clue about what God is really up to. In Hebrews 12:14, there is a warning to all Christians that without holiness no person will see the Lord.
AN UNHOLY WORLD
Although holiness is God’s standard of perfection for us all, the sad fact remains that we are living in a very unholy world. As we pass through this world today it is much like trying to swim through a sewer. It is defiled and contaminated with evil. Just by the mere fact of living, our minds and bodies become defiled with this present evil age.
From the very outset, the Christian church was affected by the unholy ideas and concepts of the world. In the book of Acts we read about Ananias and Sapphira, who for vanity’s sake tried to appear to be something they were not, although they had to lie to the Holy Spirit and to the church to accomplish this (Acts 5:1-11). We later see Paul lamenting the fact that the once faithful worker, Demas, had forsaken him. Paul says: “for Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me” (2 Tim. 4:10). Even the beloved John was unable to minister in a particular church because Diotrephes, the pastor, loved to have the preeminence and would not receive the apostle (3 John 1:9).
After a few centuries had passed, the evil concepts of the world had so permeated the church, that the once holy church offices were sold to the highest bidder, indulgences could be purchased giving people the right to sin, and that the true saints were methodically burned at the stake by a sinful and defiled church leadership. Although there has been much reformation in the last four hundred years, we certainly cannot claim that the church today is without its abuses. In ways too numerous to recount here, the church of the twenty-first century is defiled by the world in which it exists. Today we must acknowledge that instead of the saving ark being in the water, the water has gotten into the saving ark with near disastrous results.
The church is not alone in its problem. Not even the Jewish people have succeeded in being the holy people that God called them to be. The Jews have done many outstanding and commendable things, but like the Christians, they have not been holy. They were expelled from their blessed land because of un-holiness (Jer. 29:18-19; Jer. 13:22). They were then scattered to all the nations of earth where they have remained for almost two thousand years. In reference to this dispersion and the conduct of the Jewish people God spoke by prophecy saying: “And wherever they went among the nations they profaned my holy name” (Ezek. 36:20). When we consider God’s absolute standards, it appears that both Christians and Jews have fallen short of real holiness.
ZION AND HOLINESS
As impossible as it may seem, God will have a holy people, even in the midst of an unholy world. He will also have a Holy Land and a Holy City. It seems that the movement toward holiness in scripture is closely connected with the movement back to Zion. The prophet Obadiah puts it simply, “But on Mount Zion will be deliverance; it will be holy” (Obad. 1:17). In Isaiah 35:8 the prophet presents the idea even more clearly: “And a highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness. The unclean will not journey on it; it will be for those who walk in that Way”
Also in Isaiah 4:3, the prophet tells us that someday everyone left in Zion will be called holy. Isaiah says “They will be called the Holy People, the Redeemed of the LORD” (Isa. 62:12). All Jerusalem will be holy, and strangers will not pass through her any more (Joel 3:17). In the Book of Revelation we get a further picture of the holiness of the New Jerusalem. In Revelation 22:15, we are told that many will not be able to enter the city: “Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood.”
When God does a job he does it thoroughly. The prophets go on to tell us that even the common pots in Jerusalem will be like bowls before the altar, and that upon the bells of Jerusalem’s horses there will be “HOLY TO THE LORD “ (Zech. 14:20-21). Well, these are beautiful pictures, but can they become a reality for us today?
HOW CAN WE BECOME HOLY?
As Christians, we believe that holiness is something that is included in the salvation package. Simply stated, Jesus makes us holy. Holiness is first of all a gift given to us from above. It is from Jesus and is based upon his atonement (Heb. 13:12). We read in Hebrews 10:10 that we are sanctified by the once for all offering up of the body of Jesus Christ. We read of the eternal nature of this offering in Hebrews 10:14; “because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.”
Although sanctification or holiness is a gift from God, there is still a responsibility on our part to apply that holiness to our lives (2 Tim. 2:21; 2 Cor. 7:1). We see several things about the holiness process in scripture. We see that holiness or sanctification comes by faith. It also comes by the washing of the word, or through heeding the word of God each day that we live (Jn. 17:17& Eph. 5:26).
However, we must say that the work of sanctification is primarily the work of the Holy Spirit within us. On several occasions the expression “sanctification of the Spirit” is used in the New Testament (Rom. 15:16; 2 Thess. 2:13& 1 Pet. 1:2). In 2 Thessalonians 2:13 Paul says, “from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth.”
We know from God’s word that he has set his king upon his holy hill of Zion, and that the redeemed of the Lord will return there. Yet today the words of David are still true as he said, “LORD, who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy hill? He whose walk is blameless and who does what is righteous, who speaks the truth from his heart…” (Psa. 15:1-2). It is like an old preacher once said, “Real religion isn’t how high you jump when the Holy Spirit of God hits you, but how straight you walk when you hit
David again deals with this question in Psalm 24:3-4 when he asks, “Who may ascend the hill of the LORD? Who may stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart who does not lift up his soul to an idol or swear by what is false.” Yes, although holiness or sanctification is a gift from God, there is a way in which we must cooperate with God in making this gift a reality in our lives. In Romans 12:1 we read that our lives are really to be a holy sacrifice offered to God daily.
Yes, that “Holy Hill” and that “Holy Land” both lie before us, but it is up to us to enter that land and to stand upon those promises. In this light, the scripture challenges us with these final thoughts, “Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.” (2 Cor. 7:1). The scripture adds: “May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones” (1 Thess. 3:13).
– Jim Gerrish
This updated article is presented courtesy of Bridges For Peace, Jerusalem (original publication date, 1993).