“Holiness is detachment from self and attachment to God; the very opposite of sin, which is turning away from God, and attaching oneself to something else.”
Why Christians need to be holy
Rev Stephen Brooks takes a look at the issue of holiness, and states why Christians should not shy away from the truth that to be holy is an intrinsic part of being born again
During this Christmas season, one of my favourite carols is ‘Silent Night, Holy Night’. Surprisingly, for many Christians, the word ‘holy’ is something they cannot bear. The very sound of it is an abomination, and whosoever preaches on the subject of holiness runs a risk of being accounted by them as worse than a heathen.
The word ‘holiness’ is mentioned at least 600 times in the Bible, and means to be ‘set apart for God’. As Christians, we are sanctified/set apart (1 Corinthians 1:2).
The Old Testament serves as a teacher for us, as we examine the concept of holiness in our new covenant with God.
The Book of Leviticus contains numerous laws for Israel regarding purity:
• Clean and unclean foods (Chapter 11:1-23)
• Biological functions (Chapter 12:1-8)
• Disease (Chapters 13 through 16)
• Sexual morality (Chapter 18)
• Sabbath-keeping (Chapter 19:1-3)
• Idolatry (Chapter 19:4)
• Stealing, lying, hatred, injustice, etc (Chapter 19)
The definition of holiness is more narrowly defined in the New Testament. The sphere of holiness in the New Testament has reference to morality and obedience to the doctrine of Christ, not the ritualistic purity and impurity of the Old Testament.
In Matthew 15:10-11, Jesus brings clarity to the subject by stating what holiness is and what it is not. “When He (Jesus) had called the multitude to Himself, He said to them, “Hear and understand: it’s not what goes into the mouth that defiles a man, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a man.”
Holiness is detachment from self and attachment to God; the very opposite of sin, which is turning away from God, and attaching oneself to something else. For too long, the manifestation of holiness has been exemplified by the enforcement of prescriptive, external dress codes predominantly targeted at women. I have personally heard of women not being able to wear open toe shoes, pleated tights, red dresses, perfume, wedding rings… to name but a few.
(Query: ‘pleated tights’ – what on earth are they? Does he mean patterned tights? Please change, if yes! LOL!)
Being born again is the initial experience of salvation, but the work of salvation does not end there. There is also the continuing work of sanctification, a process of becoming progressively more Christlike, that begins at the new birth and leads to sinless perfection in the life to come. The ‘new birth’ experience is not about dropping off but starting again. This takes place as we submit our lives daily to the leadership and control of the Holy Spirit (2 Thessalonians 2:13).
The holiness message can and has been perceived as arrogant and judgmental and, in some case, rightly so. Those who hold themselves aloof – or think themselves better than the worst of sinners – have no understanding of holiness. A dog with white fur looks very clean in the background of a muddy field, but not so clean when he stands in the background of freshly fallen snow.
Effectively communicating the holiness message today requires a dual emphasis on the internal work of God (cleansing) and the external transforming (empowering) power of God. Holiness involves both the inner person and the outer person (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). For example, hatred as well as murder is sinful (1 John 3:15). Holiness is not a means of earning salvation but a result of salvation. We cannot manufacture our own holiness; we can only be partakers of God’s holiness (Hebrews 12:10). As a result of Jesus’ sacrifice at Calvary, He grants us His holiness (1 Corinthians 1:30). Upon our obedience to His plan of salvation, He places us immediately into a relationship with Him, which transforms us into a holy people.
A saint is not someone completely separated from the world. One’s location is not essential to holiness, provided one is fulfilling the will of God. While on earth, Jesus was repeatedly accused of spending too much time with sinners. Fulfilling the will of God always has to come first, yes! Even at the expense of religious tradition.
Holiness is not manifested by putting on artificial airs and tones of voice, or always talking about religious things. Jesus said in His Sermon on the Mount: “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter into the Kingdom of Heaven, but he who does the will of My Father, who is in heaven…” (Matthew 7:21). Holiness can never be a game of play-acting, of putting on our Sunday phony holiness mask.
The recent Jimmy Savile sex abuse scandal is a stark reminder that we shouldn’t define ourselves by our works, “because you do good therefore you are good”. We should define ourselves as holy not because I do right or by keeping the law, but because I believe right, about how God sees me and how I relate to Him and His creation. Let us be thankful this Christmas season for the gift of holiness because, without it, none of us can please God.
Rev Stephen Brooks is National Development Manager for Excell 3 (National Black Boys Can Association). Visit www.blackboyscan.co.uk for more details.