In the Bible, believers are commanded to be holy, but in our current culture there are popular notions and definitions of what it means to be holy that may lead to some misguided understandings of how that quality applies specifically to believers.
Looking at some online dictionaries have provided some of these popular definitions of the word holy.
- Specially recognized as or declared sacred by religious use or authority; dedicated or consecrated to God or a religious purpose, such as holy ground.
This definition implies that things or places can be designated as holy by some sanctioned religious authority. There have been holy objects throughout the history of Israel; namely, the tabernacle or temple and furnishings and many articles that were for exclusive use by the priests, including some of their garments. However, with the final destruction of the temple in AD 70, there no longer exists an earthly priesthood or any one place or object which is holier than any other.
John 4:21, 23 – Yeshua told her, “Believe me, woman, an hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. … “But an hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and in truth. Yes, the Father wants such people to worship him.
- Entitled to worship or veneration as or as if sacred: a holy relic.
This definition describes some things as being inherently holy and worthy of worship. Nowhere does the Bible condone the veneration of created objects. In fact, idolatry through worshiping objects was the primary downfall of the nation of Israel throughout their history.
Exodus 20:4-5 – Do not make an idol for yourself, whether in the shape of anything in the heavens above or on the earth below or in the waters under the earth. Do not bow in worship to them, and do not serve them…
- Dedicated or devoted to the service of God, the church, or religion: a holy man.
This is a pretty close approximation to a Biblical definition, as being holy means to be set apart for use exclusively by God. However, the Kingdom of God as defined in God’s Word is the only universal and eternal community of believers, not any one church or denomination. To be devoted to one church or denomination can lead to being bound to traditions of men over the Word of God.
Acts 5:27-29 – After they brought them in, they had them stand before the Sanhedrin, and the high priest asked, “Didn’t we strictly order you not to teach in this name? … Peter and the apostles replied, “We must obey God rather than men.”
- Having a spiritually pure quality: morally and spiritually excellent; a holy love for others.
This is a good definition, but when used in a universal sense can be frustrated by differing standards of moral excellence. The standards of moral and spiritual excellence are defined by God in his Word, not by men. It is exemplified as having a pure and blameless heart according to the instruction of God by loving God and loving others as one would love oneself.
Matthew 5:8 – “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”
Mark 12:30-31 – “Love Yahweh your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is, Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other command greater than these.”
When we understand that being holy is not confined to a place or a thing but is the active response of a willing heart to the call and purpose of God according to his Word, we are more likely to be led by his Spirit than beholden to the dictates of men or their traditions. To be set apart by God for his purpose in this world then provides the pure motivation and selfless actions for the ongoing expansion of the timeless Kingdom of God throughout the world.
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