Be Holy

Where scripture is concerned, saying it one time is sufficient, but when we are instructed repeatedly1 to engage the same behavior, we can safely reference that as a biblical mandate. “Be holy, for I am holy.”

But what does that even mean?

In truth, “holy” is such a simple term, but is has been so misused, so abused over time that it has come to represent something exceedingly pious, sanctimonious, off-putting. As such, it is used as a term to deride and ridicule Christ followers with accusations of hypocrisy. “Oh, she thinks she’s so holy.” Well, she probably is . . . properly understood.

The word “holy” is found more than 600 times in the pages of scripture. Most often it applies to God himself, as in “be holy for I am holy,” or when referring to the Holy Spirit. Often it refers to places or items that are considered holy. For example, we have the “holy place” in the tabernacle and later the Jerusalem temple. Even certain days are described as holy, “a holy day unto the Lord.”

So, if a thing can be described as holy, something like a room or a loaf of bread, then it is clear that holiness has nothing to do with activity or moral behavior. Holiness is an attribute that connotes a state of being rather than any specific behavior. Consider carefully what Peter says here:

But as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”
– 1 Peter 1:15-16, ESV

Peter does not call us to “holy conduct,” but rather calls us to be holy in our conduct. As you conduct your activities, do so as a man or woman who is holy. Peter is not addressing our conduct. He is addressing our holy state or position.

Holy (ἅγιος – hagios) is a term of separation. It is the same word translated as “saint.” You are a saint; you are holy, because you have been set apart for specific purposes, and those purposes are God’s purposes. It is that reality that shapes your behavior. The behavior is not holy or unholy. You are holy. You became holy, when God set you apart in Christ for his purposes.

This is why the apostle Peter says we are to “conduct yourselves in reverent fear during your stay as foreigners.”3 We’re foreign, set apart, made for something different. We’re here to effect the purposes of God, not to merely hang out and fit in.

In the quote above, Peter says we are called by one who is holy, and we are called to be holy. We are called to the purposes of God,2 set apart to live a life worthy of the calling we have received.4

You, Christ-follower, are holy, regardless of your behavior. You are set apart for something very special. Your behavior, then, should exude from your holiness.

Therefore, holy brothers, you who share in a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession, who was faithful to him who appointed him.
– Hebrews 3:1-2a, ESV

As we are set apart (holy), we share a common heavenly calling with others who are set apart (holy). As fellow saints (separated ones) we look to Jesus, together, and walk as he walked.

Throughout history, God has set apart his chosen ones. He sanctified them, made them holy, called them to his purposes. As a called out one, you are engaged with a throng of holy men and women stretching deep into human history. Holy women honored and served God in times of old,5 and holy men of old were set apart by God to communicate with humanity through the scriptures.6

Holiness is not an activity or a behavior. Holiness is a state of being. And it is in that state that you act as a holy, set apart man or woman.

But just as He who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do, for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”
– 1 Peter 1:15-16, ESV

Blessings upon you, my friends.

Victoriously in Christ!

– damon
X – @DamonJGray
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1. Leviticus 11:44, 11:45, 19:2, 20:7, 20:26, 21:8, 23:14, 1 Peter 1:15, 1:16
2. Romans 8:28
3. 1 Peter 1:17
4. Ephesians 4:1
5. 1 Peter 3:5
6. 2 Peter 1:21

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Damon J. Gray

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