Section 7. Living The Faith...
The Biblical Command to Holiness and Perfection

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What Is Holiness?
Part II A - The Bible Defines Holiness as ĺSeparateĺ - Something Exclusively Set Aside For God

Carol Brooks

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What is Holiness?
In the 21st century, the word "holy" can convey some very negative connotations. It is often used to describe someone who is self-righteous, smug, sanctimonious, goody-goody, priggish etc. The phrase "holier than thou" indicates a person who's attitude is one of superior virtue. To most Christians the word "holy" implies moral goodness however, this is only part of the meaning. As said by James Patrick Holding

    "While holiness certainly implies goodness, the core meaning of holiness, it is not "good" but rather "set apart" -- and therefore, "good". [01]

In other words, the Biblical answer to the question is short. Holiness consists of the intertwined and inseparable concepts of Separation and Perfection.

In the Old Testament, the English word "holy" has most often been translated from the Hebrew word...

In it's almost 500 occurrences in the Old Testament, q˘desh has occasionally been used of God's "Holiness" and "Holy Name" (Ezekiel 39:7, Amos 4:2), However it most often refers to an inanimate object, not a person. Since inanimate objects cannot be morally good or bad, the word "holy" implies a sacred, consecrated, or dedicated place or thing, Something exclusively set aside for God's purpose. Here are some examples.

    The Altar: "For seven days you shall make atonement for the altar and consecrate it; then the altar shall be most holy (Heb. q˘desh), and whatever touches the altar shall be holy (Heb. qÔdash). (Exodus 29:37 NASB)

    The Sabbath: Then he said to them, "This is what the Lord meant: Tomorrow is a sabbath observance, a holy (Heb. q˘desh) Sabbath to the LORD. Bake what you will bake and boil what you will boil, and all that is left over put aside to be kept until morning." (Exodus 16:23 NASB)

    High Priest's Garments Used in Temple Ceremonies: the woven garments for ministering in the holy place, the holy (Heb. q˘desh) garments for Aaron the priest and the garments of his sons, to minister as priests.'"  (Exodus 35:19 NASB) Also See Ezekiel 42:14 

    The Holy of Holies: "Then Aaron shall come into the tent of meeting and take off the linen garments which he put on when he went into the holy (Heb. q˘desh) place, and shall leave them there. (Leviticus 16:23 NASB)

    Jerusalem: "For they call themselves after the holy (Heb. q˘desh) city and lean on the God of Israel; The Lord of hosts is His name. (Isaiah 48:2 NASB)

A Holy "Nation"
In Exodus 19, we are told that three months after they left Egypt, the nation of Israel arrived at the base of Mount Sinai and Moses climbed the mountain where God gave him a message for the people camped below. His message was that they had seen what God had done to the Egyptians and how He had brought them out of slavery therefore, if they would keep His covenant and obey His voice they would be His own possession, chosen by Him from among all the people of the earth. They would be unto Him a "holy nation".

    'Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy (Heb. q˘desh) nation.' ... (Exodus 19:5-6 NASB)

This meant that, just as the altar in the temple, and the garments worn by the high priest, were used solely in the service of God, the nation of Israel was also to keep themselves separate from all the other nations... a unique people dedicated to the purpose of God. They were set apart and belonging exclusively belong to God, something that could be said of no other nation on earth.

    "For you are a holy (Heb. q˘desh) people to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for His own possession out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.  (Deuteronomy 7:6 NASB)

You might notice here that the Israelites were not urged to become holy. The verses says "For you are a holy people" not so that you may become holy. Peter used exactly the same format when he told his readers that they were "a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation" which is pretty much the same wording used in Exodus 19:6. Christians were to be "God's own possession" -  a unique people dedicated to the purpose of God. 

    But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy (Gr. hagios) nation, a people for God's own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into his marvelous light; for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. (1 Peter 2:9-10 NASB)

Please note that the Greek hagios is an exact translation of the Hebrew q˘desh.

    Then He said, "Do not come near here; remove your sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy (Heb. q˘desh) ground." (Exodus 3:5 NASB)

    "but the Lord said to him, 'take off the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy (Gr. hagios) ground.  (Acts 7:33 NASB)

When used of believers hagios was translated "saints - the separated ones.

    But Ananias answered, "Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he did to Your saints (Gr. hagios) at Jerusalem;  (Acts 9:13 NASB)

    To me, the very least of all saints (Gr. hagios), this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ,  (Ephesians 3:8 NASB)

    To the saints (Gr. hagios) and faithful brethren in Christ who are at Colossae: Grace to you and peace from God our Father.  (Colossians 1:2 NASB)

Separation - From One End of The Bible to The Other
Deuteronomy 7:1-5 was penned just before Israel was about to go into battle with the seven nations that occupied the land of Canaan. However, before they did so, the Lord gave them some strict instructions not to show the Canaanites any favor nor to make any covenant with them. They were further instructed not to intermarry with any of the people but to tear "down their altars, and smash their sacred pillars, and hew down their Asherim, and burn their graven images with fire."

Not only would they worship differently, but their society would be be set up differently. They would neither look nor behave like any one else. All of which would keep them separate from the surrounding people and tribes, thus lessening the chances of them being influenced by pagan cultures and religions. 

Verse 6 begins with the word "for" that tells us why they were to keep themselves so separate from the pagan nations - i.e.  they were set apart and belonging exclusively belong to God, something that could be said of no other nation on earth.

    "For you are a holy (Heb. q˘desh) people to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for His own possession out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.  (Deuteronomy 7:6 NASB)

We find it difficult to understand many of the Old Testament laws. For example

    "You shall not sow your vineyard with two kinds of seed, or all the produce of the seed which you have sown and the increase of the vineyard will become defiled. "You shall not plow with an ox and a donkey together. "You shall not wear a material mixed of wool and linen together. (Deuteronomy 22:9-11 NASB)

Think about it. Since no possible harm could result from planting two kinds of seed in a vineyard or wearing fabric made of mixed materials and the Father doesnĺt issue arbitrary commands, we can only conclude that the seeds and fabric were only physical representation of the spirit of the law -  put in place so people would get used to the idea of separation and learn to differentiate between the holy and unholy, between clean and unclean. When Christ came to earth, He zeroed on the spirit of the law which is the intention behind the commandment, not necessarily the letter of the law that entailed a physical keeping of that commandment.  See Jesus and the Law

And there was much at stake.

In Leviticus 26, the Lord told the people that if they walked in His statutes, and kept His commandments, with particular mention of not making for themselves any graven image, pillars or idols that they bowed down to, He would set His tabernacle among them, walk among them, and they would be His people and He would be their God.

    'I will also walk among you and be your God, and you shall be My people. (Leviticus 26:12 NASB)

Paul reiterates this promise in 2 Corinthians 6:16-18, in which he uses the Greek word aphorizo, translated into the English separate. (See other uses of aphorizo in Footnote I). Note that verse 17 is actually a paraphrase of Isaiah 52:11, which says "Depart, depart, go out from there, Touch nothing unclean; Go out of the midst of her, purify yourselves, You who carry the vessels of the Lord.."

    (14) Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? (15) Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? (16) Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, "I will dwell in them and walk among them; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.  (17)  "therefore, come out from their midst and be separate (Gk. aphorizo) ," says the Lord. "and do not touch what is unclean; And I will welcome you. (18) "And I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to Me," says the Lord Almighty. (2 Corinthians 6:14-18 NASB) 

Isaiah was speaking in the context of the end of Israel's exile in Babylon. Through the prophet God was calling on the people to depart from Babylon and to return to their own land. However, they were to leave in a pure state and not contaminate themselves with any of the Babylonian's objects of idolatry. Paul used Isaiah's words to emphasize exactly the same concept.

Being holy is about separation.

However, since it is obvious that we cannot physically leave this planet, how do we 'come out from among them'?

Change of Familial Status and Citizenship
It seems that many Christians are familiar with the New Testament verses that tell them that born again believers become sons and daughters of God.

    But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, "Abba! Father!" Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God. (Galatians 4:4-7 NASB)

    For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.  (Galatians 3:26 NASB)

Most Christians are also probably quite familiar with various statements made by the apostles, that tell them that they are 'citizens of heaven''. In fact verses like the ones below are often used to make the case that God doesn't want His children to be broke, but wear the best clothing, drive the best cars, and have the best of everything in this life, provided of course, they claim these blessing for themselves through positive confessions of faith and the 'sowing of seeds'. [See The Prosperity and Word of Faith Doctrines

    For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; (Philippians 3:20 NASB)

    remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world... for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God's household, (Ephesians 2: 12, 18-19 NASB)

However, what is often ignored are verses like the following... (All Emphasis Added)

    All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles (Gr. parepidemos) on the earth. For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own. And indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them. (Hebrews 11:13-16 NASB)

    Beloved, I urge you as aliens (Gr. paroikos) and strangers (Gr. parepidemos) to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul. Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation. (1 Peter 2:11-12 NASB)

The members of the 'hall of faith' in the eleventh chapter of Hebrews had the opportunity to return to the country "from which they went out", but they were "seeking after a country of their own", and desired a "better country", which God had prepared for them. Their affections were set on a kingdom, which would not endure for a mere 70 or 80 years, with nothing but the grave as a final destination. Their sights were set on a kingdom that would endure for all eternity. Therefore they chose not to be a part of this world, but to live as strangers and sojourners during their time here.

Both Peter and the author of Hebrews used a similar word (paroikos) word to describe the Hebrews being aliens in a foreign land during their 400 year exile in Babylon (Acts 7:6) and Moses being an alien in the land of Midian after he fled Egypt (Acts 7:29). In other words, the apostles were very clearly emphasizing that becoming a citizen of Heaven, meant that a believer is not a citizen of this world, and does not belong to it.

We are here temporarily... merely passing through.

But to be noted is that  just as a traveler from one country is expected to comply with the rules of any country he happens to be passing through, we are strongly urged to submit to the governing authorities, and give them their proper due, which includes paying taxes. (See Romans 13:1-7 and 1 Peter 2:12-14).

In Summary...
The shallowness of our world today is exemplified by the endless pursuit of what's new and what's "hot", regardless of how much 'the latest' pushes the boundaries of decency, or even good taste. Sex, violence and "entertainment" are the hallmarks of modern society. Right and wrong are rapidly becoming a thing of the past, overshadowed by 'situational ethics', which teaches that ethical decisions should follow flexible guidelines, rather than absolute rules, therefore, should be made on a case by case basis..

The commandment to be separate, perfect and complete were unchanging, and consistently repeated from one end of the Bible to the other. Holiness, or separation from the world and it's standards is NOT a virtue, it is the commandment of God, and anyone who professes Christianity without holiness is as phony as the proverbial three dollar bill.

Obviously being conformed to the world, or even flirting with what the world has to offer, is dangerous ground for the Christian to be treading. What makes it more difficult and complicated, is that in our time, it is perhaps more difficult to maintain, or even define, separateness than it has ever been.

I would argue that with the pervasive influence of modern media, the tug of the world is greater now than it ever has been. Daily we are bombarded with attractive people telling us that we cannot be happy unless we own the product that they are selling or adopt the lifestyle that they are pursuing. We thumb through magazines that lure us with beautiful homes, new cars, luxury items, or expensive vacations that all can be ours, if we just get enough money or go into enough debt. There are plenty of credit card offers that will help us get hopelessly in debt, if we're not careful. It is lust for the things of the world that prompts Americans to spend billions on casino gambling and lottery tickets. Just one lucky hit and you will have it all!  [02]

All of which brings up the million dollar question of how we as 21st century believers are to apply the principles of separation and perfection to our often very complicated lives in the modern world. Continue on to Part B - Applying the Principles of Separation


Footnote I - aphorizo

"All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate (Gr. aphorizo) them from one another, as the shepherd separates (Gr. aphorizo) the sheep from the goats;  (Matthew 25:32 NASB)

While they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, "Set apart (Gr. aphorizo)for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them." (Acts 13:2 NASB)

Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart (Gr. aphorizo)for the gospel of God,  (Romans 1:1 NASB)

For prior to the coming of certain men from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to withdraw and hold himself aloof (Gr. aphorizo), fearing the party of the circumcision.  (Galatians 2:12 NASB)


Index To What Is Holiness