Holy Is The Lord

In the opening chapter of Paul's letter to the Church in Ephesus we read, "For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight." (Ephesians 1:4) And in Peter's first letter he quotes from the Old Testament and reminds us that we should be holy because God is holy (1 Peter 1:1616   because it is written, "You shall be holy; for I am holy."{Leviticus 11:44-45}
). But what does it mean to be holy?

When most of us are asked that question we respond with phrases like "utterly separate" or "morally pure", and whereas these words are fitting they fall short of the fuller meaning. D.A. Carson (an evangelical New Testament theologian) makes this point when he asks us to consider how the angels in Heaven endlessly cry the anthem: "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty." (Revelation 4:88   The four living creatures, each one of them having six wings, are full of eyes around and within. They have no rest day and night, saying, "Holy, holy, holy{Hodges/Farstad MT reads "holy" 9 times instead of 3.} is the Lord God, the Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come!"
) How would this sound if the angels cried, "Separate, separate, separate is the Lord," or "Moral, moral, moral is the Lord"? Clearly we are missing something.

The difficulty we have with defining holiness is because it is almost synomynous with God. To say God is holy is to say that God is God. There is no other like God (Isaiah 46:55   "To whom will you liken me, and make me equal, and compare me, that we may be like?
and Isaiah 46:99   Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; [I am] God, and there is none like me;
). In that sense we see that God is set apart and morally perfect, and this gives us some insight into what it means to say that God is holy.

In the same way, we are holy not because of what we do but because of whom we belong to. To be holy is to be given completely to God without measure. This is why in the Old Testament even items were declared holy: they were set apart for God. And once something has been set apart and designated as being holy it must remain pure. Let us consider the words which Jesus spoke to His disciples.

The vine
1"I am the true vine, and my Father is the farmer.
2Every branch in me that doesn't bear fruit, he takes away. Every branch that bears fruit, he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.
3You are already pruned clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.
4Remain in me, and I in you. As the branch can't bear fruit by itself, unless it remains in the vine, so neither can you, unless you remain in me.
5I am the vine. You are the branches. He who remains in me, and I in him, the same bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.
6If a man doesn't remain in me, he is thrown out as a branch, and is withered; and they gather them, throw them into the fire, and they are burned.
7If you remain in me, and my words remain in you, you will ask whatever you desire, and it will be done for you.
8"In this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit; and so you will be my disciples.
John 15:1-8

Once again we are reminded that it is not because of what we do, but because we remain in Christ; it is in Him and His righteous works that our faith rests. But it does not stop there. We should expect God to prune parts of our lives that are not pleasing. This is so that we can then bear fruit, but just as a branch does not have power within itself to bear fruit, it is only as we remain in Him that we will continue to bear much fruit: soli Deo gloriaglory to God alone (see verse 8).

Let us now consider the passage in Peter's letter that I referred to earlier. Note in particular where our hope should rest (verse 13).

13Therefore, prepare your minds for action,{literally, "gird up the waist of your mind"} be sober and set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ--
14as children of obedience, not conforming yourselves according to your former lusts as in your ignorance,
15but just as he who called you is holy, you yourselves also be holy in all of your behavior;
16because it is written, "You shall be holy; for I am holy."{Leviticus 11:44-45}
1 Peter 1:13-16

We are called to be holy: set apart for the glory of God. However, as has already been mentioned, holiness is not something we "earn" by trying to do the right thing. Rather, holiness is an attitude of the heart. It is the unconditional surrendering to the will of God. It is determination to place ourselves in the best possible place to get to know God and allow Him to renew our minds, transforming us into His likeness. There is no other like our God and we can only know Him through the Scriptures and what He reveals by the power of His Spirit. So when we are called to remain in Christ it means to set ourselves apart from the distractions of the world (1 John 2:15-1715   Don't love the world, neither the things that are in the world. If anyone loves the world, the Father's love isn't in him.
16   For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, isn't the Father's, but is the world's.
17   The world is passing away with its lusts, but he who does God's will remains forever.
). Instead we should spend time in prayer and meditating on the Scriptures (Psalms 1:1-21   Blessed is the man who doesn't walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the way of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers;
2   but his delight is in Yahweh's law. On his law he meditates day and night.
). And by this we will, day by day, be transformed into His likeness. Then doing the right thing will not be a battle against the flesh, it will have become part of our nature.

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God-this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is-his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Romans 12:1-2