‘Holy’ Defined

“I will be your God and you will be my people”

To be sure, biblical terms translated “holy” or “holiness” (qadosh, hagios) carry a strong secondary connotation of moral purity. But moral purity is not, first and foremost, what Scripture is talking about. Instead, the most basic meaning of the word is to be “set apart” or “dedicated” to God—to belong to God. “I will be your God, and you will be my people,” says Yahweh (Lev. 26:12; Heb. 8:10). Thus, prior to any consideration of morality, biblical holiness describes a unique relationship that God has established and desires with his people. This relationship has moral ramifications, but it precedes moral behavior. Before we are ever called to be good, we are called to be holy. Unless we rightly understand and affirm the primacy of this relationship, we fall into the inevitable trap of reducing holiness to mere morality.

If we read the biblical understanding of holiness through the lens of our relationship to God, Jesus, as the unique revelation of God, becomes preeminent. Too often, our notions of holiness are lifted from the Old Testament without understanding them in light of God’s self-revelation in Jesus.

Those who have responded in faith to the revelation of God in Jesus Christ have been united with Christ. To be a Christian means far more than merely to believe in God—as if the Christian faith were reducible to a system of beliefs. Rather, it means to be united with Jesus in and through the Holy Spirit.

“I have been crucified with Christ,” says Paul, “and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal. 2:20). Elsewhere, Paul tells us that our lives are “hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 3:3) and that we have been “seated with [God] in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:6). Passages like these convey the mysterious, yet utterly real fact that, by virtue of our union with Jesus, we participate in the life of God: He dwells in us, and we dwell in him. As such, we can say that in Christ, God’s holiness is our holiness. In Christ, we are already holy. Any and all subsequent notions of what it means to be holy must be predicated on this truth.

credited to B Ward and his source

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