It seems that a key feature many believers look for in a church is happiness. Whilst happiness is not always wrong, the key characteristic of God’s house is holiness, not happiness. ‘Holiness becometh thine house, O Lord, for ever’, Ps. 93. 5. Holiness has to do with being separated from, and not touching what is unclean. The concept of being separated from what is bad is not new to us. We separate from poison, bad food, germs, harmful animals, dirt, and cancer, to name a few.
One main Hebrew word for ‘holy’ is qadowsh. It means ‘sacred’ and ‘set apart for God’s use’. Those who would take a Nazarite vow would separate from some normal pleasures, so they could be totally dedicated to God, Num. 6. 8. We have this concept in an everyday sense. A young man might separate from seeing all other girls so he can be married to only one girl.
Another similar word for ‘holy’ is qodesh. It means ‘apartness’ or ‘separateness’ and is also translated holiness and sanctuary. It conveys separating from something so God can use it. In the sacrificial system a pig [unclean] could not be used and could stay with its herd. But a firstborn cow [clean] could be used and so was separated from the herd to be put on God’s altar for Him. We also have this concept in an everyday sense. We will separate a fish from its water habitat for our dinner – after we clean it.
We also get the meaning and purpose of holiness in its usage in Leviticus chapter 11. Holiness was not an intrinsic characteristic but an action in obeying the Lord. God told Israel that certain foods were clean or unclean. To eat something unclean would defile a person [contaminate with uncleanness] and limit their service to God until they became clean again.
Beginning on a simple level, God wanted His people to be able to ‘make a difference between the unclean and the clean’, Lev. 11. 47. God desires a people who know the difference between clean and unclean and will separate from the unclean so they can be used by and be near to God.
The subject of holiness in God’s church to many is passé and belongs back in the Old Testament. We now speak of joy. But Peter reminds the church, ‘Because it is written, be ye holy; for I am holy’, Lev. 11. 44; 1 Pet. 1. 16. Remember the very gift to the believer in Christ’s gospel is the ‘Holy Spirit’. But can holiness and joy go together? The fruit of the Holy Spirit is joy, Gal. 5. 22.
Hagios, the main Greek word for ‘holy’, is used over 200 times in the New Testament. Sometimes it is translated ‘saints’, for all believers are God’s holy ones. Holiness has to do with purification, consecration and sanctification of life. It is being set apart from uncleanness for God’s glory.
We read of a holy bodily presentation unto the Lord; a holy kiss; a holy temple [church]; holy brethren; holy hands; a holy calling; holy scriptures; a holy priesthood offering up spiritual sacrifices; a holy nation [church]; and a holy conversation [conduct].1
The unholy won’t see the Lord, Heb. 12. 14.2
Holiness is now intrinsic – By being born again of God’s Holy Spirit in us, we are ‘the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness’, Eph. 4. 24.
Two areas of holiness – There is moral wrong that damages us, and spiritual wrong that defames God’s glory. Therefore, we are to ‘cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God’, 2 Cor. 7. 1.
Saved to yield to holiness – By being linked to God through the living Christ, we are to'yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness … fruit unto holiness’, Rom. 6. 19-22.
Chastened to produce holiness – In love, the Father has ‘chastened … but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness’, Heb. 12. 10.
Older women an example of holiness – Holiness is modelled for the next generation, ‘The aged women likewise, that they be in behaviour as becometh holiness’, Titus 2. 3; 1 Tim. 2. 15.
Holiness to the end – Keep going on. ‘To the end he may stablish your hearts unblameable in holiness before God … our Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints’, 1 Thess. 3. 13.
Jesus taught that defilement is not what goes into the mouth but what comes out of the heart: pride, sexual sin, evil thoughts, deceit, thefts and blasphemies, etc., Mark 7. 23.
Today’s emphasis is what goes into the mouth: bottled water, vegan diets, etc. What the heart produces is generally ignored. The Lord taught that what goes into our mouth goes through the body, bypassing the ‘heart’. Thus, such things are valueless and powerless in changing the heart’s defilement in anyway, v. 19. Food is for the body and is to be eaten with thanksgiving, but Christ is for the heart, 1 Tim. 4. 3-5.
Holiness mourns sin. Esau wept when he lost the blessing, not because he had sold his birthright. Men mourn for the evil that sin brings, not for the sin which brings the evil. The Lord Jesus Christ is holy, Heb. 7. 26. So may we now, ‘come out from among them [secular and religious unions with unbelievers], and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing’, 2 Cor. 6. 17.