What Does Holiness Mean?

“God the Father knew you and chose you long ago, and His Spirit has made you holy. As a result, you have obeyed Him and have been cleansed by the blood of Jesus Christ. May God give you more and more grace and peace.” (1 Peter 1:2 NLT)

Holiness as described in Scripture may be among the most misunderstood and misused teachings in the Christian Faith. On some levels we dismiss it as unattainable and, equally destructive, we use it to try to “whip believers into spiritual shape.” While some see it as a goal to pursue, others see it as the height of spiritual achievement which they have reached.

1 Peter gives us balance and insight that is much needed in our pursuit of Christlikeness and holiness of heart, mind, soul, and body. Notice in the verse above that we are chosen and made holy by God alone. We were chosen in Christ before the beginning of time and the Holy Spirit made us holy the moment we received forgiveness and new life in Christ.

The word that’s translated “knew” in the verse above can also be translated “foreknowledge” and is the Greek word “prog’ no sis.” Does that word look familiar? That’s why we go to see the doctor, so they can give us an accurate “prognosis” for whatever sickness or symptoms we have. Sin is our sickness, and the only reliable cure for our prognosis is forgiveness and new life in Jesus.

To be holy means to be set apart for sacred use. We have no holiness of our own, only what is given to us by God. Notice in the verse Peter sets out the progression of our holiness: we’re foreknown and chosen by God – the Holy Spirit makes us holy (sets us apart for His use) – then, or as Peter writes, “as a result” we “have obeyed Him and have been cleansed by the blood of Jesus Christ.”

Why is this so vital to understand? Because in our haste to get it right, we too often get it wrong. We want to be holy by our good behavior. We tend to believe we’re made holy by the people we hang with, the books we read or don’t read, the places we go or don’t go, the food we eat or don’t eat, the clothes we wear, even the way we style our hair. But what do all of those things have in common?

They’re all external – outward – but the holiness God designed, and desires is internal – it’s spiritual. Submission to God’s agenda by our obedience is the willing response of a forgiven heart. We don’t obey God to become holy, we obey God because we are holy. Holiness isn’t a lifestyle that results in inward purity, it’s inward purity that demonstrates and illustrates God’s activity in and through us by the “set apart” lifestyle we live.

That’s why the writer of the Hebrew letter said in 12:14: “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” “Strive” in this verse can also be translated “pursue.” In much the same way as we strive for or pursue our wife or husband, not to gain their love and affection, but because we want to grow in our love and affection for them. Our goal isn’t to gain something we don’t have, but to grow in something we already enjoy.

Holiness isn’t a lifestyle that results in anyone making much of us, rather, it is God’s working in and through us resulting in us and others making much of Him. He’s the subject of our holiness, not us. That’s why it’s so important that we understand what it means.

Blessings, Ed 😊

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