What Does It Mean to Be Holy?

Have you ever wondered what it means to be holy? Verses like 1 Peter 1:16 clearly say we believers should be holy: “Because it is written, ‘You shall be holy because I am holy.’”

We probably have our own ideas, but what does it really mean to be holy? Does it mean we’re pious, perfect, or sinless? That we dress, talk, and behave a certain way? Does performing a religious ritual make us holy? Does being holy mean we withdraw from society to live in a monastery?

While the New Testament has a lot to say about believers being holy, today we’ll discuss this topic in a simple way by focusing on Ephesians 1:4 and the corresponding notes in the New Testament Recovery Version.

Why did God choose us?

Ephesians 1:4 says something we may find quite unexpected. It tells us God chose us, before we were even born, for a particular purpose:

“Even as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world to be holy and without blemish before Him in love.”

We usually think God chose us to save us from judgment. We surely were delivered from eternal judgment when we believed in Christ as our Savior and Redeemer, and we thank God for that. But this verse doesn’t say anything along those lines. Instead, it says God chose us before the foundation of the world “to be holy and without blemish before Him in love.”

Since we were chosen by God to be holy, it’s important that we know and understand what that means.

Now let’s read the first part of note 3 on the word holy: 

“Holy means not only sanctified, separated unto God, but also different, distinct, from everything that is common. Only God is different, distinct, from all things. Hence, He is holy; holiness is His nature. He chose us that we should be holy.”

This note tells us only God is distinct and different from everything and everyone else. Only God is holy in His very nature.

Everything has a particular nature. For instance, the nature of a car is metal. God’s nature, His being, is holy. His holy nature makes Him unique, different, and distinct from everything else in this universe. Yet God chose us to be like Him, to be holy as He is holy.

How can we be holy?

If we look at ourselves, we may wonder how we can ever be holy as God is holy. We have to admit that in many different matters, we’re still not separated unto God. In certain areas of our life we’re worldly through and through. But when we were born again, we were born of the Spirit in our spirit, and the process of God’s full salvation of our whole being began. This process includes God making us holy.

Let’s read the rest of note 3 to find out how God does this:

He makes us holy by imparting Himself, the Holy One, into our being, that our whole being may be permeated and saturated with His holy nature. For us, God’s chosen ones, to be holy is to partake of God’s divine nature (2 Pet. 1:4) and to have our whole being permeated with God Himself. This is different from mere sinless perfection or sinless purity. This makes our being holy in God’s nature and character, just like God Himself.”

This note helps us realize that adopting outward behaviors, such as dressing, acting, or talking in a certain way or isolating ourselves from society, doesn’t make us holy. We can do all those things and still not be holy. In fact, unbelievers can adopt those same behaviors and actions, but that certainly doesn’t make them holy; they’re completely without God. To be holy means to have our whole being permeated with God. Little by little, God imparts Himself into us to make our being just like His—holy. By fully permeating us with His holy nature, He makes us holy.

This permeation isn’t instantaneous; it takes time. And this permeating isn’t automatic; God needs our cooperation. Our daily Christian life presents many opportunities for God to impart Himself into us.

How can we cooperate with God to be made holy? We’ll discuss just three ways here.

1. By going along with Christ who lives in us

First Corinthians 1:30 says that Christ became sanctification to us from God. In Greek, the word sanctify is the verb form of holy. When we believed in Christ, He came into us to be our life. Christ brought the holy nature of God into us to sanctify us—that is, to make us holy—so that we can live a holy life.

This explains why after we’re saved, we spontaneously feel different about things we used to do before we were saved. We no longer want to engage in sinful activities, and we feel uncomfortable if we do. This uncomfortable feeling doesn’t come from any outward regulation, but from Christ in us. He gives us a feeling, or sense, about worldly, sinful, or unclean things or activities in our life.

We shouldn’t ignore that feeling, because continuing in such activities prevents us from being made holy. On the other hand, separating ourselves from those places or activities allows Him to saturate us more with His holy nature.

Let’s go on to see the second way we can cooperate with the Lord to be made holy.

2. By reading the Word of God

 In John 17:17, the Lord Jesus prayed to the Father, “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.” God’s living Word is truth. The Word as truth is a shining light that sanctifies us. By its shining, we know what agrees with God’s holy nature and what doesn’t. When we come to the Bible with an open heart, the Word enlightens us and teaches us to be holy.

For instance, let’s say in your Bible reading you come to 1 John 2:15 and 16, which say:

“Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in him; because all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the vainglory of life, is not of the Father but is of the world.”

These words shine on you. They enlighten you concerning the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the vainglory of life—and how God feels about your loving the world. The light of the Word may even shine on particular matters, perhaps on how you spend your time. As a result of this shining, you might pray, “Lord, I agree with Your Word. Separate me from the world. Save me from loving the world. Save me from the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the vainglory of life.”

It’s so important for us to read the Bible regularly with an open and prayerful heart. If we don’t read the Word, we can’t receive its shining. Before we know it, we find ourselves drifting away from the Lord and into the world.

Many of us know by experience the difference in our Christian life when we’re reading God’s Word regularly versus only reading it rarely or sporadically. We need to read God’s Word, which is truth, to receive its shining and sanctifying. What sanctifies us isn’t the Bible simply sitting on our shelf, but the Word of God that shines on our hearts as we read it. The less we read the Word, the less we’re sanctified. The more we read the Word, praying over it with an open heart, the more we’re sanctified.

We can cooperate with the Lord by daily reading the Word of God and by not resisting or arguing with the shining of His Word. When we read it, we receive it, agree with it, and allow the Word to sanctify us.

Now we come to the third way we can cooperate with the Lord to be made holy.

3. By cleansing ourselves from defilement

God wants us to be holy. In 2 Corinthians 7:1, the apostle Paul said,

Let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.”

Paul strongly exhorted us to “perfect holiness in the fear of God.” We should all have a healthy fear of God. This healthy fear encourages us to cooperate with the Lord to cleanse ourselves from defilement.

To cleanse ourselves from all defilement means we don’t go to places that are unclean in the eyes of God; we stop participating in vile, sinful activities; and we get rid of anything we possess that offends God’s holy nature. Engaging in defiling activities and possessing unclean and sinful things prevent us from being made holy. Cleansing ourselves from all defilement is something God wants us to do. This allows Him a way to continue to impart Himself into us, sanctifying us.

We can be empowered to cooperate

It may seem daunting to cooperate with the Lord in the ways we’ve discussed. We may look at our condition or our weakness, be discouraged, and think we can’t do it. But we’re not on our own. The Lord lives in us as the life-giving Spirit. He’s readily available to us to be our life and everything we need. We can do all things in Him who empowers us, including cooperating with Him to be separated unto God and saturated with Him to be made holy. We simply need to turn to Him and contact Him in our spirit.

In this post, we’ve only scratched the surface of what it is to be holy. We hope reading Ephesians 1:4 with the notes from the New Testament Recovery Version helps you see a little more about this topic. We pray the Lord Jesus would encourage us and supply us to cooperate with Him, in order to be made holy as He is holy.

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