re-thinking “holy”

“Holy.” It is a word you hear in church quite often. You might also happen to hear it outside of the church quite often, but it is usually followed by an expletive! Which, when you understand “holy,” makes absolutely no sense, but I digress! I decided to look up “holy” to see how the dictionary defines it. According to, it means:

  • connected to a god or a religion
  • religious and morally good
  • used in phrases that show surprise or excitement

It goes on to list several full definitions:

  • exalted or worthy of complete devotion as one perfect in goodness and righteousness
  • divine <for the Lord our God is holy–Psalm 99:9>
  • devoted entirely to the deity or the work of the deity <a holy temple> <holy prophets>
  • a: having a divine quality <holy love>
    b: venerated as or as if sacred <holy scripture> <a holy relic>
  • used as an intensive <this is a holy mess> <he was a holy terror when he drank–Thomas Wolfe>; often used in combination as a mild oath <holy smoke>

I’ve been reading and studying through the first several books of the Bible paying special attention to how God interacted with the people He chose for Himself–Israel. I decided to circle the word “holy” because it appeared so many times. I believe there is one, glaring omission in the dictionary concerning the definition of “holy.”

According to the Bible, to be “holy” is to be distinct, separate, different. Sure, it can mean “without sin,” “unblemished,” “pure,” but the most accurate definition of “holy” concerning God and also His people is distinct, separate, different. We see this in Leviticus 20:26, “You are to be holy to me because I, the LORD, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be my own” (emphasis mine). 1 Peter 1:16 quotes this passage, “…for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy.'”

Yes, we should be pure, unblemished, righteous, etc., but what we often miss as followers of Christ is that we are to be different. We are to be set apart or separate from the value system of our culture where it comes in conflict with God’s Word.

Some, like the Amish, take separation to the extreme. The world has electricity, so in order to be separate from the world means that we can’t have electricity. The world drives cars, so in order to be separate from the world means that we will only drive a horse and buggy. But, cars and electricity are not contrary to scripture. The Amish have separated themselves so far from culture by adding to scripture that they have become irrelevant to society. Pretty much the only way people become Amish is by being born into an Amish family.

On the other hand, there are Christians who have embraced things scripture speaks against. (I could list many things here, but the point of this article is not the specific issues.) When we do that, we blend in so well with the culture that we also become irrelevant to society. Our impact and ability to be salt and light is severely diminished.

Where is the middle ground?

“Perpetual Tension” is the title of my blog and holiness is yet another aspect of the Christian life that we must hold in tension. We must adhere to scripture when it speaks against various actions, behaviors, attitudes, etc., but we must not add to scripture in areas where it is silent or unclear. Yes, there are overarching principles that must guide our lives, but if we follow the instruction of Jesus in Luke 10:27 when he was asked about the greatest commandment (“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and love your neighbor as yourself”), I believe our behavior, attitude and actions will fall in line with scripture every time. In other words, if we are motivated by our love for God and others instead of ourselves, the gray areas will become a little more black and white.


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