Christian jargon often doesn’t translate in any meaningful way for our society, or even for our own members. Much of our language needs unpacking and explaining. One such term in the Christian church today is ‘holiness’. What does the word ‘holy’ mean?
Our understanding comes from God’s own character. He repeatedly calls Israel to ‘be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy’ (Leviticus 19:2). His holiness refers to his complete moral perfection. In God there is no sin, evil, or compromise. He is, and always will be, faithful, true, good, and merciful. To be holy therefore means to be like God – perfect! Holiness also has a second meaning in the bible; to be set apart for special use. So a library is a building set apart to house books, and a teacher is a person set apart to teach students. These are the two ways the bible speaks about holiness.
This means we have a problem. Because we are far from being morally perfect, and fail to meet our own standards, much less God’s, we lack holiness. Why is this a problem? As we see today in the book of Joshua, this sets us apart for destruction. In his holiness God cannot tolerate our lack of holiness; our sin. The trouble with God’s holiness is that it demands holiness from us.
What a joy it is then to discover the word of grace that comes to us in Jesus. By his sin bearing death, that we’ve celebrated at Easter, Jesus has ‘become for us wisdom from God– that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption’ (1 Corinthians 1:30). What we lacked Jesus has provided. Now all who trust in him are washed from their sin, and made clean in God’s sight, and are set apart for holiness!