Without Holiness, no one will see the Lord (Heb. 12:14)
Some say holiness comes as a gift from God and therefore we don’t need to do anything with our lives. Some combine this with the passage that says, “we are not under law but under grace” (Rom. 6:14). On the other hand, others say, the Bible tells us to be holy and then links our being holy with obedience. If we become holy by being obedient, in what sense is it a gift? The verses just mentioned appear in contexts that “fit” with what I’m about to say, though I’m not going to exegete those passages here.
Here are some passages that say that we are called to be holy. Let me note the verse and then make a comment or two about each one. Then, I’ll try to put it all together.
“For I am the Lord your God. You shall therefore consecrate yourselves, and you shall be holy; for I am holy. Neither shall you defile yourselves with any creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” (Leviticus 11:44)
“Consecrate yourselves and you shall be holy; for I am holy.” Consecrate means to set something apart, to treat it as hallowed, or holy. Consecrate is the verb for the word that is translated ‘holy’ in the noun form. So when you consecrate something, you are making it holy. Consecrate is also the word we also translate as sanctify. So, to sanctify something, or to become sanctified is to make holy or to become holy. In this context, God is telling the people of God that eating certain things will make them common or unclean. He is asking them to separate, consecrate, sanctify themselves from the rest of the world and to dedicate themselves to God alone in what they eat. Here, ‘holy’ means to imitate God and be separated from the unclean things of the world. In the imitation, because God is holy, clean, separate, and pure, they will be these things as well.
What makes them holy is the separation from the worldly and they become holy by becoming like God, and they do this by obeying him, or acting like him.
The important point for us is that he is inviting his people to join him in the state of separated, holiness. They get to become like him, with him.
“For I am the Lord who brings you up out of the land of Egypt, to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.” (Leviticus 11:45)
This one is similar to the last in that God is proclaiming to the Israelites that he has separated them from the rest of the world, from the Egyptians, to be different because he is different—holy. Their holiness is because of his favor shown toward them and as we shall see in a second, holiness (proximity to the Holy God) is shown in how they act in a holy way. Because they are holy, they will behave in like manner.
“as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, “Be holy, for I am holy.”” (1 Peter 1:14–16)
This verse from 1 Peter, quotes Lev. 11:45 and adds the element of obedience to the mix. “As obedient children…be holy in all your conduct…” And this behavior is because he who called us is holy, therefore “be holy because I am holy.” So, we are to be obedient, acting like holy people, because the one who called us is holy and our proximity to him makes us holy. Therefore, we are to act like people who are set apart to God.
“The Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the people of Israel, and tell them to make tassels on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and to put a cord of blue on the tassel of each corner. And it shall be a tassel for you to look at and remember all the commandments of the Lord, to do them, not to follow after your own heart and your own eyes, which you are inclined to whore after. So you shall remember and do all my commandments, and be holy to your God. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your God: I am the Lord your God.”” (Numbers 15:37–41)
The underlined portion of this passage, all by itself, might make us think that we become holy by being obedient. I don’t think so, however. The larger context says that God wanted the people to dress in a certain way because he had set them apart as a special people. He had made them holy. He wanted them to put the tassels on their garments so that they would remember that they needed to live like people who were holy. Remember the commandments because it is living according to the law that shows that you know that you are holy because the God who called you is holy.
“just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love,” (Ephesians 1:4)
Here is a New Testament passage. It shows the same things. We were chosen, from the world, so that we would be holy. This holiness will be without blame, in love. This verse ties a number of things together that I think are extremely important in understanding sanctification and holiness (which again, are words used in different contexts). God is love (1 Jn. 4:8). He chose us when we were still sinners (Rom. 5:6). He has called us to imitate him (Eph. 5:1). He therefore wants us to love on another (Jn. 13:34). He has made us his children (1 Jn. 3:1). He has adopted us (Rom. 8:15). He has made us Christ-ians (Col. 1:27). So, we are holy (1 Pet. 1:16). Since our identity is as Christians, we should live as Christ lives, in Christ, for Christ, for the pleasure and glory of God (2 Cor. 5:9). We are who we are, therefore we should live like who we are. Because God is holy, we are to live in accord with our position in him and obey his commands. Not because we must, but because we get to. Not because we’ll be squashed like bugs if we don’t but because this is how people who know God live (1 Jn. 2:3). Fish breath water because they live in the water. We act like God because we live in him. This is why John said his commands are not burdensome (1 Jn. 5:3). It is because we aren’t obeying commands so much as we have asked, “God has separated us out from the rest of the world, He has blessed with every spiritual blessing, Has given us his spirit to live and love and bless others, I wonder how we ought to live as holy people?” And he’s said, “Do this and this and this. Holy people live this way.” So we aren’t earning holiness by obeying. We are obeying because he has made us holy. And our obedience shows that we know we are holy.
“that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish.” (Ephesians 5:27)
There are a lot of other places we could have gone to see this point, which is that our holiness is progressing. We are becoming more and more holy. As the other passages have said, we are holy, therefore we should act, think, and feel like God, this passage alludes to the fact that we haven’t arrived yet. He died for the church so that his love might change her into his likeness. Romans 8: 29 says that we are becoming conformed to the image of his son. James 1 and Romans 5 tell us that as we live through suffering and trials we become more Christ-like. We are sanctified and we being sanctified. Are both God’s children and we are growing up in the family of God.
How do we become holy? We are chosen by God and made holy. We are holy, that is our new identity. We are Christi-ians. Therefore, we think, feel, and act in ways that holy people think, feel, and act. And that is in imitation of Christ and God.
In addition, our holiness is increased as we walk with God. And God uses the events in our lives to give us opportunity to confess with our behavior what our verbal confession proclaims. I am a Christian, so when the toast burns, I will respond like a Christian, for that is what I am. And as we respond to the trials life with joy and obedience, God transforms us into Christ’s likeness even more.
As each Christian walks more consistently with God, the church of God becomes more and more beautiful. God is pleased and glorified in us as we imitate him and live out our holiness.
Did I answer your questions?