“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 before there were blemishes.
In my last article I looked at seven 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 know what it means?
So what is holiness?
Holiness means wholeness. To say that “God is holy” is to 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 Charles 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 (Matt 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.
This seems obvious, but many don’t know it. We are to worship God in the beauty of His holiness yet much of what passes for worship is 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 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 an exercise 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 (1 Pet 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)
As you read these words, remind yourself that in Christ you are all these things. You may not feel it is true, but God’s Word says it is. Believe it. This is how to be holy.
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.
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