The word holy has gotten a bad rap. You don’t have to go very far to get examples. It can be seen in sign language where the word for holiness is “snake handling.” In other places it is identified with all kinds of emotional manifestations. This image tends to carry over when a church is identified as a “holiness” church.

We must get past this stereotyping which keeps us from its pursuit. Holy is a precious word. Holy is what God is. Holy is what we are to be. “Speak to all the congregation of the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy” Leviticus 19:2 (NASB). If this is the command then it is more than important that we recover and cherish the word.

It also must be said that the word holy, holiness, sanctify, sanctified, sanctification, saint, and sanctuary have the same Greek origin. In reading Greek text, you know from the root word hagios that all these words are referring to the same reality.

The word “holy” in its simplest form means “set apart.” “Set apart” has a negative connotation in that you are set apart “from” something and a positive connotation in that we are set apart “to” something. It is a life that belongs no longer to me, but to the one who has redeemed me. It is a life freed from the “world, the flesh and the devil” to belong entirely to God. It is a life set apart from a former manner of life to a new way of living.

Further, it is my conviction that this command’s fulfillment is found in Christ. Holiness is not something in addition to Christ. Holiness is found “in Christ” (i.e. our solidarity with Christ). In Hebrews 12:2 we are to run the race “looking to Jesus.” In the same chapter we are to “pursue the sanctification.” These are not different quests. They are the same quest.

There is a kind of Christian teaching that turns us aside from the biblical command to pursue holiness by suggesting that Christ was holy for us and we just don’ have to be concerned about it. This makes mute the command for quest and pursuit! Those who are taught this way never hear the call that this teaching has muted. The command is still to “run after the sanctification without which no man can see the Lord” (Heb 12:14). We do not run the race looking at holiness, but we run the race “fixing our eyes on Jesus the author and perfecter of faith” (Heb 12:2). If holiness is the object, it will tend toward legalism or emotionalism or who knows what else.

It is in our full solidarity with Christ or as Paul’s often repeated phrase “In Christ Jesus” that we find our source of holiness. “But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption” I Corinthians 1:30. He is God’s Wisdom. He came to set us in right relationship with God (righteousness or justification). Abiding in Him we are holy and are being made holy.

Our call to be a Christian is a call to sanctification. “Just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him in love” Ephesians 1:4. Again Paul says, “For God has not called us for the purpose of impurity but in sanctification” I Thessalonians 4:7. “God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the spirit and faith in the truth” II Thessalonians 2:13. It is clear from these references and others that could be cited that the call to Christ is a call to a life of holiness.

Christ is our Holy Way. He is the highway of holiness for the final return of the exiles (Isaiah 35). He is the Holy Way to our Holy Father. He died for our holiness. His Holy Spirit is given to make us holy. He is the provider of our holiness by his sacrifice and the sending of his Holy Spirit.

Christ provides for us in his own person what the Father requires.
“By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” Hebrews 10:10 (NASB). “Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people through His own blood, suffered outside the gate” Hebrews 13:12 (NASB).

It is his sanctifying work that makes him unashamed to own us, identify with us, and claim us as His brothers and sisters. “For both He who sanctifies and those who are sanctified are all from one Father; for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren” Hebrews 2:11 (NASB).

It is Christ sanctifying work that is preparing us to be his purified bride. “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless” Ephesians 5:25-27 (NASB).

Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for the shall see God” Matthew 5:8. Speaking of heart purity and the Spirit, Peter said, “God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He made no distinction between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith” Acts 15:8-9 (NIV). In his letter Peter wrote that we are, “Chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood” 1 Peter 1:2 (NASB).

Peter reminds us again that we are now set apart from our former manner of life to holy behavior. “Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance.” Then he reiterates for us that wonderful Levitical command, “But like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, “YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY.” 1 Peter 1:13-16 (NASB)

This pursuit of holiness is not an achievement, nor even an arrival point, it is a journey, a highway on which to travel. It is a relationship of how we relate to the world and how we relate to our Lord. Christ has “laid hold of us” for the upward call of holiness. We are to “Lay hold of Christ” where holiness is found. “Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” Philippians 3:12-14 (NASB).

In Christ Jesus we have “everything pertaining to life and godliness” and “He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust” 2 Peter 1:2-4. It is said in the NIV “Participants in the divine nature.” Holiness is amazingly “sharing” or “participating” or “partaking” in the divine nature. We are transformed by the impartation of the divine life living in us by the holy-making Spirit. The nature of the vine must flow into the branch for there to be good fruit. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Christ. To share in the life of God is to partake of the one who said, “I am holy.” It is this connection that fulfills the command “You be holy!”

Christ is indeed our Holy Way. We look no further than to our Lord himself for the fullness of what He has promised. What he has commanded he has promised. What he has promised he does and will do.

This great Pauline benediction says it perfectly, “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass” 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 (NASB).

Sanctuary means holy place. We are that sanctuary or holy place where the Spirit of God dwells. In the song “Sanctuary” written by John Thompson & Randy Scruggs, we sing these words.

“Lord, prepare me to be a sanctuary,
Pure and holy, tried and true;
With thanksgiving,
I’ll be a living sanctuary for You.”

May it be so for all of us!
H. Lamar Smith