Like obedient children, do not be conformed to the desires that you formerly had in ignorance. Instead, as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct; for it is written, "You shall be holy, for I am holy." (1 Peter 1:14-16)
I am coming to see that holiness may best be described as passionate, focused devotion.
God's holiness has largely been obscured by false ideas about holiness that have led us to view Him as severe, distant and unloving. Holiness has been asserted as the reason God killed Jesus on the cross, because, it is claimed, God's holiness will not allow Him to look on sin. Therefore, since Jesus took upon Himself our sins then God was forced to turn away from Him and/or even execute Him. Yet all of this is heresy invented by the father of lies as well as based on a wresting of Scripture.
I am coming to see a number of new insights about the concept of holiness.
Holiness is almost the exact opposite of nearly everything we have assumed about it.
Holiness is not distant and detached from humanity.
Holiness is intimate and deeply caring and longs for sinners to come close.
Holiness does not involve hatred for sinners.
Holiness includes a passionate, unconditional love for sinners.
Holiness is not aloofness.
Holiness includes the spirit of humble servanthood.
Jesus was holy – just like God is holy. God was in Christ while He hung on the cross.
To sanctify means to set something apart as holy. For too long both of these words have been buried by false notions misleading us into all sorts of presumptions that have defaced the truth about how God feels about us and what it means to live a sanctified life. To be set apart does not mean we quit loving and become snobbish. Quite the opposite, it means we become far more devoted and caring.
The closest thing that might be useful for understanding holiness could be a godly marriage. (I have to qualify marriage as an example with the term godly because today most marriages or live-in relationships do not reflect what God had in mind when He invented marriage. But still there may be enough left in the marriage relationship to give us some strong clues as to the nature of what true holiness looks like.)
A healthy marriage involves a man and a woman who have made a choice to totally devote their lives and their love unreservedly to each other for the rest of their life here on earth. That means they choose to unconditionally commit to loving and caring for each other, serving each other and seeking the best for the other so long as they live, without reservation or stipulation or loopholes. Like I said, marriages today are fast losing the true meaning of its original purpose and design, yet true marriage is actually a description of what holiness looks like.
Holiness, like marriage, involves passionate devotion to another person with exclusivity as a part of that relationship. What does it mean to be exclusive in such an arrangement? Does it mean that none of the people involved can any longer have other friends of any kind? Not at all. In fact, their friendships with others, if they have a healthy growing relationship within their marriage that includes God, can lead to having healthier relationships with everyone else as they learn to navigate the deeper regions of their heart than was possible to do before they became married.
Marriage was designed by God as a human relationship in which each person can practice and learn to develop the capacities of the heart in preparation for the extreme kind of intimacy that God plans to have with all who are willing to become bonded to Him for eternity as the composite bride of Christ. Marriage is really a practice for learning how to live in close and exclusive intimacy with another, where we learn to practice unselfish service and love for another human being and in so doing learn more about the nature of our God who is the essence of these same characteristics but to the extreme.
The reason there will no longer be marriage in heaven is not because we messed it up so badly here on earth that God will discard it forever as punishment on us. Not at all. Rather, God has wonderful plans for drawing us into a level of joy and intimacy with the godhead that is exponentially beyond any level of joy or pleasure remotely possible in anything we can now experience, even within a most delightful and fulfilling marriage relationship. Since our spouse will then be God Himself, marriage between humans would be a distraction for us in that context.
Holiness not only involves passionate love for another but is very focused. That is why marriage is a good illustration of holiness, for marriage should inherently be exclusive when it comes to deep, vulnerable intimacy with the spouse. A marriage in which one or more partners still flirt with people outside that intimate relationship give evidence of an emptiness in their heart, an inner brokenness that still needs to be addressed and healed. When there are continued efforts to find intimacy and solace with other people outside of marriage, it is a symptom that there is much confusion inside and a lack of willingness or ability to bond properly with the other person. In short, there is a lack of holiness.
However, exclusivity does not imply that one needs to cut off all relationships with others to shun everyone but their spouse. Not at all. If this were true society would quickly disintegrate into isolated couples unwilling to connect with anyone else, and God's design for community would not be able to function. What exclusiveness means in marriage and holiness relates to the issue of priority, not about cutting off all relationships with others.
We all have varying levels or priorities in all of our relationships with others. There are distant relationships that could hardly even be named as relationship such as glimpsing someone from the other side of the world who is totally different and completely foreign to us. The only thing we might know about them is that they are a human being. It is true that because all human beings come from one father (two actually, both Adam and Noah), then every other human is in a way our relative. But that does not mean we have any level of intimacy whatsoever with them or could trust them with our heart.
Jesus became fully human to become one of us so as to be able to identify with all of us. He also wants us to see Him as our brother and a fellow human. He came completely holy, fully dedicated/sanctified to loving us and to draw us to see His Father differently than what we have been led to believe about Him up to when Jesus arrived. Yet with His heart Jesus was completely and passionately devoted exclusively to His Father in the sense that His Father in heaven was the only one He felt safe opening up His own heart to and whom He trusted implicitly.
But Jesus on his part would not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to testify about anyone; for he himself knew what was in everyone. (John 2:24-25)
Let's review as few passages related to this idea of holy or sanctified along with other verses that might help to expand our understanding of this idea.
Sanctify yourselves therefore, and be ye holy: for I am the LORD your God. (Leviticus 20:7 KJV)
Thou shalt be perfect with the LORD thy God. (Deuteronomy 18:13 KJV)
You shall be blameless before the LORD your God. (Deuteronomy 18:13 NAS95)
You must remain completely loyal to the LORD your God. (Deuteronomy 18:13)
Therefore devote yourselves completely to the LORD our God, walking in his statutes and keeping his commandments, as at this day. (1 Kings 8:61)
Let your heart therefore be perfect with the LORD our God, to walk in his statutes, and to keep his commandments, as at this day. (1 Kings 8:61 KJV)
Let your heart therefore be loyal to the LORD our God, to walk in His statutes and keep His commandments, as at this day. (1 Kings 8:61 NKJV)
But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:44-48)
Jesus said to him, "If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me." (Matthew 19:21)
And He spoke a parable to them: "Can the blind lead the blind? Will they not both fall into the ditch? A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone who is perfectly trained will be like his teacher. And why do you look at the speck in your brother's eye, but do not perceive the plank in your own eye? "Or how can you say to your brother, 'Brother, let me remove the speck that is in your eye,' when you yourself do not see the plank that is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck that is in your brother's eye. (Luke 6:39-42 NKJV)
Finally, brethren, farewell. Be perfect, be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace shall be with you. (2 Corinthians 13:11 KJV)
Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded: and if in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you. (Philippians 3:15 KJV)
Let those of us then who are mature be of the same mind; and if you think differently about anything, this too God will reveal to you. (Philippians 3:15)
All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works. (2 Timothy 3:16-17 KJV)
All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing. (James 1:2-4 KJV)
My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2-4)
What kinds of things might we be able to consider holy?
Let me ask something very startling. Could flirtatious behavior ever be considered holy? I believe that the answer to that is – Absolutely! Flirting is not at all sinful but is part of the natural way in which God made us, so long as it is done exclusively within the context of a marriage relationship.
We can see how various activities can holy, but not because of some inherent quality so much as how they are related to a devoted relationship. Holiness involves relationships, not just activity. And what might be a holy activity or attitude within a devoted, exclusive relationship could be very unholy if the same thing is done outside of that relationship.
All through the Old Testament God speaks in sometimes sexually suggestive ways about the sort of relationship He desires to have with His people. Some of these passages were so graphic that most translators try to mask them over or ignore them completely when converting them into other languages. Yet God did not seem bashful about speaking of those He loved using sexual language suggesting a deep level of intimacy in ways one might only expect from someone who is in a covenant marriage relationship. But God says these things because this is the very kind of intimacy God longs for each one of us to experience with Him beginning even now.
The levels of intimacy similar to sexual intercourse that God wants to share with us are so intense that Satan has done everything possible to discredit and destroy our respect for sex in order to prevent us from responding to God. Religion especially Satan has used to lead many people to view sex and any related activities as something the very opposite of holiness. Yet as we begin to see the true meaning of what holiness actually is, to our amazement we will find that holiness and sexual intimacy are very close to the same thing in many respects. And the more holy a person becomes, the more capacity for intimacy they have with God. True holiness helps a person become more explicitly personal, transparent and naked in every respect in their relationship with God as they discover that God is the only one who can really be trusted with vulnerability.
Sexuality is the part of our lives where we usually face our greatest vulnerability which means it is also where we can feel the most shame. Thus fear, shame, disgust and guilt have sadly all come to be linked with many discussions about anything sexual. But this is actually a scheme of the devil to drive us away from God as well as remain inhibited to a great extent from entering into levels of intimacy and joy with our spouses as God intends we should experience.
True holiness, contrary to mistaken ideas about it, is actually closely connected with vulnerability in many respects. At the same time holiness is the very protection needed in order to feel safe to become vulnerable, for holiness is the atmosphere of focused dedication in which strong boundaries are in place so that everything inside them is secure from dangers and threats to our vulnerability from outside those boundaries. Thus, holiness may be seen as the atmosphere in which vulnerability, joy and love can all thrive more easily as we grow deeper in bonds of love with each other.
Holiness is very much like the covenant of true marriage. Inside such a marriage there can be full disclosure, full trust, full vulnerability and as a result potential for much fuller joy than anything that can be experienced outside those boundaries.
When we observe illicit sexual activities in someone's life, we need to understand that these are really symptoms of a lack of holiness on the inside, for holiness means an intimacy with God that brings one true satisfaction and fulfillment. Longing for sexual pleasures that can only bring temporary relief for our longings will never bring true satisfaction like the lasting joy and peace of living in a holy relationship with God. Such things may appear to be a quick fix emptiness on the inside but will always leave us feeling more desperate than before.
These thoughts may sound like so much religious dribble, but in fact the opposite is true. A famous theologian once said there was never a man who entered the doorway of a brothel who was not looking for God. He understood something very profound about human nature, for such sinful behaviors and all addictions really, can be traced back to an inner emptiness that drives each of us to look for something to fill a void inside, even if that something will be harmful to us or to others. Yet such pleasures and quick fixes only intensify our emptiness leaving us more desperate than ever as we pursue empty promises and fading fixes that have less and less ability to mask the pain we increasingly feel inside.
Holiness is not an end in itself. Holiness is not necessarily even a state of being, for true holiness is not so much about piety but is rather a direction of our focus and priorities. Holiness is the passionate pursuit of a singular relationship, and ultimately true holiness is the passionate, focused pursuit to know God whom to know is to experience eternal life – the very thing each of us was designed to crave more than anything else. When we begin to appreciate just how valuable this pursuit is and the potential it has for our eternal destiny, we will realize that there is nothing else really worth pursing that much. To pursue holiness is to pursue love, light and God Himself.
Biblical perfection is not about trying to act good enough or keep rules perfectly. Perfection as used in Scripture relates to maturity, proficiency and completeness. When viewed properly in this way the idea of being holy takes on completely new dimensions from what most people think of when they hear this word. Comparing a number of translations reveals that the call to be perfect or holy involves being loyal. That makes sense once the true meaning of holiness emerges, for if holiness is complete devotion to God, then complete devotion is simply another way of saying complete loyalty – holiness.
Hear, O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD alone. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. (Deuteronomy 6:4-6)
Pursue peace with everyone, and the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. (Hebrews 12:14)