"Look at my holey jeans!!" My brother held his pants with the holes in the knees as if they were sacred! Neither one of us knew what "holy" meant. If you wonder whether you need to know what holiness means, consider what the Bible says -- "Make every effort ... to be holy, without holiness no one will see the Lord" (Hebrews 12:14). Although holiness is essential to our relationship with God, it is difficult to define because its meaning is several layers deep.

The Personal Layer

Holiness has to do with a Person -- God. Holiness is not an attribute of God; it is His very nature. Angels in the presence of God continuously sing "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty" (Isaiah 6:3 and Revelation 4:8). Why are they NOT chanting "Love, love, love," or "Good, good, good"? What are they really saying about God? Here is the key to understanding the first level of holiness.

The angels are saying something about the central feature of God's nature -- His otherness or His transcendence. God's awesome majesty is unparalleled by anything that we can know or experience (Exodus 15:11). Similarly, His splendor (Psalm 96:9), His truth (Revelation 6:10), and His moral perfection are beyond human comprehension (Isaiah 5:16). God is the "Holy One" (Isaiah 43:15).

The Relational Layer

God alone is the source of all holiness, so other things become holy ONLY as they relate to Him. Therefore, at the next level, holiness is a relational word meaning "something that belongs to God." The Sabbath was holy because it was God's day. The temple was a holy building, Zion a holy mountain, Israel a holy people -- all because they belonged to God. Belonging to God meant that they were "marked off, separated, withdrawn from ordinary use" (W. Eichrodt) because of God's exclusive ownership.

The New Testament word "saint" or "holy one" simply means a person who belongs to God. The words "sanctify" and "hallow" mean to make holy. Through the sacrifice of Jesus WE have been made holy so that we can live in God's presence. Certainly this CAN (and, possibly, it already DOES) ALSO apply to YOU.


The Moral Layer

If your being holy means that you belong to God, then it also means that you recognize His ownership and that you must obey Him. This moral level of holiness requires that you "purify (yourself) from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God" (Second Corinthians 7:1).

In the Old Testament, holiness includes ceremonial purity as well as right moral behavior (Leviticus, chapters 11 and 19). The motive behind these regulations is "Be holy because I, the LORD, am holy." Only by moving into God's sphere of holiness can you hope to relate to Him. Therefore, holiness has religious application as well as daily application (First Peter 1:14-16).

The Spiritual Layer

Here is where many people distort their faith. The command of God is to "be holy" -- it is NOT to "do holy things." You won't become holy by doing holy things; even the most UNholy of people often enough do some holy things! It is only AFTER God has made you holy by His Spirit, by His Word, and by the sacrifice of His Son (Jesus Christ) that you are really able to do what is right BECAUSE it is the right thing to do. (See Romans 15:16 and Ephesians 5:26 and Hebrews 10:10.)

R.C. Sproul reminds us that we aren't supposed to conform to the world. But, he says, the answer is NOT non-conformity -- like wearing different styles of clothing or boycotting entertainment. The Biblical response isn't to be non-conformed, but to be transformed (Romans 12:2). Therefore, holiness is a work of God that transforms your heart, leading you to integrity and to a complete devotion to God's will for you.

Some Christians think that holiness means flawless perfection. They tend to be legalistic and judgmental. However, every church that Paul addressed as "saints" also had to be told to give up such things as anger, greed, theft, lies, gossip, and immorality! Like other aspects of Christian growth, becoming holy is a process that is worked out in your daily actions as you walk with God.

Your holiness is so important as to involve God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. (See First Thessalonians 5:23 and Hebrews 10:10 and Hebrews 13:14 and other Scriptural references.) In fact, Mores was kept from entering the promised land precisely because he under-estimated the importance of standing up for God's holiness (Deuteronomy 32:51).

Holiness -- which is also related to health and to wholeness -- affects your entire being: spirit, soul, and body (First Thessalonians 5:23-24). God's goal for your life is that you be holy -- wholly His!