What is Holiness? (It’s Better Than you Think)

“Holiness is avoiding sin. It’s being set apart from the world and staying undefiled.” Or so we’ve been told. The problem with defining holiness like this is that it doesn’t actually describe a God who is holy. God was holy long before there was any sin to avoid. He was unblemished long before there were blemishes.

In the last post we looked at seven fairly useless definitions of holiness. All of them have a measure of truth but none of them contains the whole truth. None of them actually tells us what holiness is. And this is a problem because we are called to be holy as He is holy. How can we do that if we don’t even know what it means?

So what is holiness?

Holiness means wholeness. To say that “God is holy” is refer to the wholeness, fullness, beauty, and abundant life that overflows within the Godhead. God lacks nothing. He is unbroken, undamaged, unfallen, completely complete and entire within Himself. He is the indivisible One, wholly self-sufficient, and the picture of perfection.

Holiness is not one aspect of God’s character; it is the whole package in glorious unity. This is how Spurgeon describes it in his discourse on Psalm 99:5:

Holiness is the harmony of all the virtues. The Lord has not one glorious attribute alone, or in excess, but all glories are in him as a whole; this is the crown of his honour and the honour of his crown. His power is not his choicest jewel, nor his sovereignty, but his holiness. In this all comprehensive moral excellence he would have his creatures take delight, and when they do so their delight is evidence that their hearts have been renewed, and they themselves have been made partakers of his holiness.

Holiness means perfection in the sense of completion. When Jesus the Holy One came exhorting us to “Be perfect,” He was inviting us to a life of wholeness and holiness (see Mt 5:48). The Greek word for “perfect” means “complete” or “whole.” Jesus was saying, “Be whole as your Father in heaven is whole.” Jesus came to make broken people whole. He was calling us to the life that was His.

A holy and whole God stands in contrast to an unholy and broken world. Because of sin and separation we live in a world of death and scarcity. In our natural state we are consumed with our needs and lack. We spend our lives trying to get what we don’t have and trying to repair the damage of our estrangement. But the only cure for our brokenness is a revelation of a whole and holy God who lacks nothing and who has promised to supply all our needs out of His overflowing sufficiency.

Those in Christ ought to know better. We are to worship God in the beauty of His holiness yet much of what passes for worship is nothing more than grizzling about our ugliness. To the degree that we are conscious of our needs over His provision, we don’t get it. We don’t understand all that Christ accomplished on our behalf. The Bible declares we were sanctified (1 Cor 6:11); we have been made holy through His sacrifice and perfected forever (Heb 10:10,14); and we are complete in Christ (Col 2:10). In Him we lack absolutely nothing. Yet we run here and there to trying to gain what we already possess and speaking the faithless language of lack and longing.

We need to change our vocabulary. We need to start walking in our true identity of holiness. We need to thank Him for who He is and what He’s done. Here is a simple idea to help you do that. Whenever you read the words “holy” or “sanctified” in scripture, replace them with the heavenly language of wholeness and completion. This will give you a clearer insight into what Jesus has accomplished:

  • To the church of God in Corinth, to those complete in Christ Jesus and called to be whole.(1 Cor 1:2)
  • Put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and wholeness. (Eph 4:24)
  • So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord… who has saved us and called us to a whole and complete life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. (2 Tim 1:9)
  • But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a whole nation, a people belonging to God (1Pe 2:9)
  • But now since you have been set free from sin and have become the slaves of God, you have your present reward in wholeness and its end is eternal life. (Rom 6:22, AMP)

Jesus gives us a picture of a whole and holy life, unbroken and unstained by sin. Everything Jesus does is prefaced by holiness. His is a holy love, a holy righteousness, a holy joy. Holiness, or wholeness, is the very definition of abundant life. Such is the life you already have in Him.
surfing_the_tsunami_of_grace
Related posts:
- Your glorious new past
- Who do you think you are?
- Son, servant, or friend of God?

Comments

  1. Holy is removing the Why (Y) then we become Whole (HOL) :)

  2. Hey Paul… I see you stole my “tsunami of grace”. I’m honored! ;-) Sometimes… I wish there would be a short pause between glory and glory… at least long enough so I can get used to the me I am before He moves on with the next version. ;-) Yes… God is all about wholeness! I forgot what sin was. No need to remind me.

  3. Paul, THANKYOU for this post! I had been viewing the word ‘holiness’ in those seven ways that were more a culturally defined and incomplete context, but now that I view it as ‘wholeness’, the word makes perfect sense, and takes away any burden of doing to become holy! Warm regards, Jemma

  4. I once read that the English words “heal”, “whole” and “holy” all come from the same root word…interesting…

  5. Hi, Paul, thank you so much for this article. I’ve received revelation of God’s holiness through the Holy Spirit!
    I also wanted to point out in your “holiness” puzzle picture that: the puzzle piece held in that hand looks like a man (his torso) whose arms are outstretched, as if in embrace (or perhaps crucified on the cross?). Is that picture intentional? Even if it isn’t, I think the Holy Spirit has pointed this neat feature out. :-) Amen.

  6. Jonathan Marsden says:

    Thank you this is life changing

  7. Powerful revelation

  8. Hi, thanks Paul for throwing more light our way! I can kinda grasp that holiness is wholeness, a sense of completeness. Well for God that is true I an sure…but for us., my escape to reality only takes me so far, I sense I certainly haven’t arrived there. On paper yes, but in reality, not yet..I can’t figure that our Christian walk doesn’t involve some kinda doing in this process towards holiness.

  9. Great post Paul. It’s great that you take the fear and negativity out of holiness.
    For some of us who’ve been on the road a longtime, O.C. holiness is so deeply ingrained in our psyche that it takes continual washings of N.C. grace to wash it out of us.
    I’m learning to worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness. Thank you.

  10. this is wonderful! the one definition of kadesh/qodesh/qudosh that kept popping out to me was the word “betrothed”… two become one… the mystery that paul speaks about our relationship w/ Christ. would you agree that it is only by this “betrothal” that we then are made holy? b/c when i think about how much my life has changed since i became a believer (3 years ago), ‘i am complete and whole’ are words that always seem to rise to the surface…

    • i was prompted after i commented this morning to look up the hebrew meanings of the letters that make the word qodesh (q d sh) and i found a beautiful image of completeness: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit! q (kuf) = omnipresence/to surround/strength/holiness, d (dalet) = selflessness/door/poor man, sh (shin) = eternal flame/serenity/to teach. :)

    • This is great Jennie, thank you for sharing it.

  11. Wholeness…what a wonderful word….!!

  12. Thank you Paul. You said you have some more thoughts stored up. I would love to hear them.

  13. Patrick KWH says:

    Fantastic sharing!

  14. Powerful indeed. Thank you, Holy Spirit………Great work Paul!

  15. i would also like to say that substituting the word ‘holy’ w/ ‘whole’ and ‘complete’ is a most excellent way to help us in the renewing of our minds. when i began to understand the new covenant of grace and that we need to “rightly divide the word” by the cross, i started substituting the words ‘obey’ and ‘obedience’ w/ ‘believe’ and ‘believing’ (mentally and out loud). before i learned to do this, when a pastor started preaching about obedience, it felt like a dagger to my heart. replacing the word w/ its new covenant meaning is one of the ways i have learned to guard my eyes, ears and heart…

  16. Oh this is great Paul.All worth the wait.Wholeness love it!

  17. Joanne Beasley says:

    How come all the commentaries or when I google the word, holy, explain the definition as “set apart” or “pure”, etc.??? instead of the definition you have here…”Holiness means wholeness.” ?? Where did this definition come from? Is it explained in a previous article you wrote? Thanks! :)

    • Joanne Beasley says:

      I read your previous article on seven fairly useless definitions of holiness. Thanks! I have a better picture of what you’re explaining now.

  18. Natalie Pacama says:

    Praise GOD for this post… :) I now have a better understanding on what holiness really means. :) keep on posting!!! :)

  19. TheFran says:

    Hi Paul, awesome post. I have a question though.. can you please put this into perspective when reading 1 Peter 1:16, I agree 100% with you but someone asked me about this verse which advocates a lifestyle that we must live in order to be holy. How does this verse change through grace lenses and not law-lenses?
    “15 But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; 16 for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”

    • I do have some more holiness posts in the pipeline that address this very issue as well as the fish-hooks embedded in typical sermons on “practical holiness.” Since the NT declares in so many places that we are holy/sanctified already, the only way to interpret the exhortation to “Be holy” is in the sense of “Be who you already are and stop acting otherwise.” It would be like you telling me to “Be a man” if I was acting like a child. Christians who act unholy are acting contrary to their new nature in Christ. Peter writes to correct this: “Do not conform according to your former lusts and desires,” but be who you now are. More to come.

  20. Joshua James Robert says:

    Hi Paul,

    what you’ve said is absolutely true! Can we say that Jesus is our Holiness?(1 Cor 1:30,31)? We are holy or we have holiness because we have Jesus rite?

  21. yaa bleppony says:

    Thanks Paul.. dis piece is really illuminating!! been quite confused about dis holiness thing but now im highly enlightened!! Bless u!!

  22. this helped me soo much on my project for school thanks a tun!!!!!

  23. Great! Makes me think of Ecclesiastes 12:13, when Solomon says that to fear God & keep His commandments, or through the filter of the finished work of Christ, to trust Him, is the whole, and then the word “duty” in the KJV is supplied for some reason, but it is literally the “whole” or “wholeness” of man! Trusting in Christ makes us whole! How true that is. God Bless you.

  24. Hi Paul, I have been enjoying your blogs and have been doing studies regarding holiness myself. Up until awhile ago, I was in agreement with your definition but I was led to this verse awhile ago. James 1:4 (that you might be perfect and complete). If perfect and complete is the same word why is their distinction separated in this verse. Upon checking the greek, It uses the word teleioi (perfect) which is the same word used Mt 5:48. And it uses this word for complete (holoklēroi). Which isn’t used in Mt 5:48.

    • Hi John, that’s a good question. I think the wrong way to read James is to conclude that we are half-righteous, or half-holy, or half-saved. James isn’t saying that. But he is saying that we are made perfect in some way. Note that sinless, flawless Jesus was also “made perfect” (Heb 5:9). Although Jesus lacked nothing, he wasn’t made perfect until the cross.

      I haven’t studied this but I think James is saying something about giving expression to the life of Christ within us. When we face diverse temptations, we can respond in the flesh like a mere man or we can respond in the spirit. James says, “Let patience have her perfect work.” If we choose to walk after the flesh we can sabotage the work of patience, or the work of the Spirit if you like. James is saying, “Don’t do that. Let Christ express his perfect life through you in testing times so that your life will reflect his perfect life and you will be mature, full-grown, or complete. He’s not saying we are incomplete or substandard; he’s inviting us to trust God’s grace. The only thing we lack is wisdom, so ask. Note that a law-lover doesn’t like to ask God for anything; they’d rather search the scriptures or ask Moses. But a grace-lover lives a life of total dependency and will often ask for wisdom.

  25. This is a fantastic site and a wonderful post on Holiness. I am very interested in this topic and am working on a video blog on the subject. Would you mind if I referenced some of your info if I give you mention? Again thank you so much for this. Truly excellent.

  26. I like that definition of Holiness, What book did you get that definition out of?

    • Tim Davies says:

      As with Steve, love the definition, but where is it from?

      • A good dictionary – and I mean a good one, not an online one – will provide you with an answer. The word holy originally meant whole to English speakers, including those who translated the Bible. And as I explain in this post, it fits better than more modern interpretations such as separateness. Read the old preachers and you will see they interpreted holiness as wholeness. For instance, Spurgeon in his note on Ps 103:1, says: “It is instructive to note how the Psalmist dwells upon the holy name of God, as if his holiness were dearest to him; or, perhaps, because the holiness or wholeness of God was to his mind the grandest motive for rendering to him the homage of his nature in its wholeness.” If you read the NT and substitute the word holy for wholly or whole, you’ll see it fits perfectly.

      • Tim Davies says:

        Hi Paul, as per strongs definition, holy come from the word hagios, meaning set apart,holy or sacred, which I know u will know. Now I love this article you ave put together, and the definition, but can you explain why the root word doesn’t highlight wholeness.

      • I don’t think Strong’s definition is wrong, just incomplete. God is holy and always has been. In what sense was he set apart before creation? There was nothing to be set apart from? In what sense was he sacred when there was nothing profane?

        Without knowing the etymology, I would guess “set apart” or “separate” is what you are when you are whole in a world of brokenness, complete in world of lack, and healthy in a world of hurt. How can Jesus be separate from sinners (Heb 7:26) and yet spend so much time in their lives? We hear the word “separate” and think “avoid sinners” but Jesus the Holy One did the exact opposite.

        Our pictures of “separate” stem from old covenant dedication: stick that shiny thing in the temple and leave it there away from all these grubby sinners. It is very difficult to hear the word separate and not interpret it through old covenant lenses of don’t touch, don’t handle or “do to be” – I have to separate myself to be holy. I would say we are separate because we are holy. So set apart or separate yes, but only because those who are apart from Christ lack something; not because we lack something.

        In this world all who are holy and whole are separate or different, but not all who are separate/different are holy and whole. And in heaven all are holy and not separate or set apart from anything.

  27. Tim Davies says:

    Brilliant!

  28. Barbara Jansen says:

    This is so far the best definition of holiness I have ever read. Thank you and God Bless!

  29. Sharon Chiang says:

    I have never heard of you until a friend sent me this article. I’m glad she did. One of my biggest concerns with this holiness/wholeness is that there will be some who would feel they don’t need to make any changes in their lives. If we are “positionally” holy in this fallen world as Paul says, paraphrase…are we to keep on sinning so grace can abound? If we are holy ‘now’ do we need to “strive” to be not just positionally holy but in reality in this fallen world holy? This last sentence; “In this world all who are holy and whole are separate or different, but not all who are separate/different are holy and whole. And in heaven all are holy and not separate or set apart from anything”. It describes how I have felt since my conversion, different and “not fitting in” but as Christ says: “Be ye holy as I am” indicates we are not holy just by believing in Him but is a work to be accomplished???? I know we are positionally seated in the heavenlies with Christ but in reality we are here on earth. I hope you can help me wrap my brain around this. Blessing from our risen Lord be upon you.

    • Hi Sharon, I’m glad you found us!
      We are not merely positionally holy. When we were sinners we weren’t positionally sinners – we were bona fide sinners. Now we are in Christ we are bona fide righteous and holy. In fact, one with the Lord we are exactly as righteous and holy as he is. The exhortation to “be holy” is not an exhortation to become who you are not, but to be who you already are, just as you might say to me “be a man.” It is the thin edge of a bad and unbelieving wedge to think we must strive to be holy. I talk more about that in this post. The only striving we must do is to enter his rest.

      • Sharon Chiang says:

        I understand what you are saying but I’m not sure you understand my question. Yes we are holy in that we are one with Christ. What my concern is this and I believe it’s valid. With your message it sounds like after we accept all Christ is, did and will do….we are still in this fallen world and say I’m a brand new believer, I’ve accepted Christ….I extrapolate from your message that’s it. Now I just set around praising/resting/worshiping God eating bon bons and stay sequestered in my little cave. There is no more possibility for me to sin. (Paul states that we are all sinners and fall short of the glory of God) Also the admonition, without works faith is dead. Do you see what my concern is. I’m not trying to denounce your message, I love it and agree and yes it is just that simple…..BUT……

      • Sharon, so what do you think we should do? Paul said, “Let us keep in step with the spirit.” That’s walking by faith. That’s trusting God and resting in his finished work. No one is promoting sequestration (unless you’re a cardinal). We’ve got the privilege of a great commission. But I find that those who are trying to avoid sin, trying to be holy, trying to do all the things they think need to get done, are the ones who are cloistering themselves away – in prayer closets and like-minded cliques while the rest of the world goes to hell in a hand-basket.

      • Sharon Chiang says:

        I am in process of reading the post you suggested, “Practical Holiness”…. and it is indeed helping me understand this a tad better. I’m still pretty “old school” it would appear or should I say “old covenant”. Didn’t realize. My legalistic mind set is saying, now wait, we can’t just throw out the old testament. You know that drill. The last two paragraphs of that article are liberating. I am truly that toddler and I am a senior citizen. If I could rename the Bible I think I’d name it Paradox. Thank you for adding to the liberation my friend Steve Crosby has been so crucial in confirming what Holy Spirit has been showing me. He is truly pouring out his Spirit on all flesh in this time.

  30. Holiness has nothing to do with what we do but what we think. I am just as holy as Christ. I was nailed to the cross with Him and buried with Him and then raised with Him. Whatever He is I am. As Romans 6 says we must reckon ourselves dead to the old life. We are new creations in Christ. One thing for sure if we think we can become more holy or righteous we are in for a rude awakening. I am as holy as I will ever be for He is my holiness and He can’t be identified apart from me and I can’t be identified apart from Him. I have His nature through and through.

  31. Daniel Enoch says:

    I just wanna say thanks for allowing God use you this way..God has blessed me through your article,i must say thanks again….

  32. God bless you Paul! Your definition is enlightening. What peace it is to know that I AM HOLY because I am in Christ! Any unholy act I partake in is contrary to my nature which is perfected in Christ! #Thy kingdom come

  33. I love this treatment of holiness. It states in new terms what I believe about the oneness of God, His indivisibility. He is light, but we see Him so often through the prism of our need and our doctrines. I believe Deuteronomy 6:4 is referring to this truth: “”Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one!” My heart is disturbed when I hear people say that Jesus needed to die so that we might be forgiven, thereby putting God’s justice and His forgiveness in tension, as if God had a dilemma. But Romans 3:25-26 is actually a statement of how God is equally just and a justifier. There is a wholeness here. His mercy and judgment are not wrestling against one another, but are revealed in peaceful unity at the cross. Psalm 85:10 also supports this idea: “Lovingkindness and truth have met together; Righteousness and peace have kissed each other.” I look forward to reading more of your posts, brother.

  34. Jesse LaRue says:

    A good definition for holiness is belonging to someone!

    God can be holy to himself because what do the angels continually cry out when they fly around the throne in Isaiah? Holy holy holy , not one time ” holy”. Not two times holy holy , not four times holy holy holy holy.
    But three times , because when they behold God they are seeing how God is a family ! The father loves the son, the spirit loves the father , the son loves the spirit , and so on they all love each other, the main characteristic of God isn’t morality it’s LOVE

  35. Austin Dan says:

    Hello Paul,

    I must admit, I’ve been blessed by your post on “Holiness” those fairly definitions of holiness are partly correct but are only fragments of the definition of holiness. Holiness is the key word as a believer in Christ. Thanks and God bless.

  36. sounds good, but what does it mean to be pure? if you say we are whole (holy) and live in sin after accepting Christ, how can you describe that? Heb 12:14 says follow peace with all men and holiness without which no man shall see the Lord. It shows that holiness is a criteria for making heaven, what can you say about this? Any Christian who is not heavenly minded is not a Christian.

    • I agree with John who said “As he (Jesus) is so are we in this world” (1 John 4:17) and Paul who said “He (Jesus) has become our wisdom from God – our righteousness, holiness, and redemption” (1 Cor 1:30). I don’t Jesus will have any problems making heaven, since he is already there, and nor will we, since we are already seated there in him (Eph 2:6).

Tell us what you think (<250 words)...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s