The Whole Meaning of Holiness

One of the reasons why we don’t walk in the freedom that the gospel brings, is that we have changed the meaning of words. We have made beautiful words ugly and turned truth into lies. We tell ourselves that we are doing what the Bible says, but since we have redefined words in the Bible, we are fooling ourselves.

For instance, well tell ourselves that repentance means turning from sin. (It doesn’t.)

Or that confession means reviewing my mistakes. (Wrong again.)

So we review our mistakes and turn from sin until we’re blue in the face and then wonder why nothing’s changed.

Holiness is another word that comes to us mangled by the machinery of religion.

We’ve heard that holiness means avoiding sin or being set apart, but that’s not what holiness is. It’s not that those definitions are entirely wrong; they are just not quite right. Like defining light as the absence of darkness or wealth as the absence of poverty, we have missed the essence of the thing.

What does holiness mean?

Holiness means wholeness. To say “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.

When the angels sing “Holy is the Lord,” they are not admiring him for his rule-keeping or sin avoidance; they are marveling at the transcendent totality of his perfection.

To worship God in the beauty of his holiness is to be awestruck by the infinite sweep and scale of his sublimity. It is to become lost in the limitless landscape of his loveliness.

Holiness is not one aspect of God’s character; it is the whole package in glorious unity. It is the adjective that precedes all other attributes.

Hence, the love of God is a holy love; it is the whole and unrestrained love of the Trinity spilling over into the hearts of humanity.

Similarly, his righteousness is a holy righteousness; it is the habit of right action that flows from One who is in such harmony with himself that he is incapable of acting any other way.

And his joy is a holy joy; it is the pure and unshadowed delight that accompanies every expression of his love and goodness.

Heavenly holiness

Holiness is hard for us to comprehend because we have never seen its like. We are more familiar with our needs than his fullness, our brokenness than his wholeness.

When the writer of Hebrews said, “Without holiness no one will see the Lord,” he was not making a threat but describing a fact (Heb. 12:14).

And when the New Testament writers exhort us to “be holy,” they are calling us to live out our true Christ-borne identity.

This does not come naturally. Our experience in a sick and broken world has not equipped us to relate to One who is healthy and whole. We don’t even speak the same language. Our native tongue is the language of lack and longing, but Jesus speaks the language of abundant life.

“Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect,” said the Holy One (Matt. 5:48).

The word for perfect means complete or full grown. It means whole. Jesus was saying, “Be whole as your Father in heaven is whole.”

He was calling us to the life that is his.


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34 Comments on The Whole Meaning of Holiness

  1. Jenifer Powell // January 23, 2020 at 8:40 am // Reply

    This is beautiful, Paul, and so well said. Thank you, and happy almost birthday to E2R!

  2. Bruce Fulton // January 23, 2020 at 8:41 am // Reply

    Well done Paul!

    I heard a guy say one time that God and Him being holy is “other”. Other in the aspect that there is no one nor anything that is like Him. And He has made us “other” in the Lord Jesus Christ!

    1 Peter 1:16 (NASB)
    16 because it is written, “YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY.”

    Knowing this releases His life within us to be “other” in our behaviour. 1 Peter 1:15

    Thanks Paul for these articles. Good food for us all.

  3. Wow. I’ve been a Christian for decades and I’ve never seen anything like that. I mean that in a good way.

    You said:
    When the angels sing “Holy is the Lord,” they are not admiring him for his rule-keeping or sin avoidance. They are marveling at the transcendent totality of his perfection.

    Wow again. This is so logical but no one has explained it like that. So why would God’s holiness and ours be different? God’s not trying to be good. He just is. And therefore we are too.

    Really profound Paul. And helpful. Thank you for what you do. It makes a difference.

  4. Wow. I really sensed the Presence of God while reading this. That is an incredible agreement with what you wrote. I needed to read rhis today more than you could ever imagine. I’m gonna read it again! Thank you!

  5. Reading this at breakfast, and what a great way to start the day. Thank you Paul.
    Our God is amazingly wonderful, and what joy it is to know we are sons and daughters of a loving Father. So grateful, thank You Abba.

  6. Diane Ollison // January 23, 2020 at 10:10 am // Reply

    I never received the Grace Pack

  7. I love these articles that provoke meaningful thought and cause me to seek more wisdom from Him. Thanks!

  8. Jenny Beauchamp // January 23, 2020 at 10:46 am // Reply

    I’m with you Lisamarie…..I too needed this today!!! I work in the legal field (for 100 years now) and I’m really good at it. Therefore, I really need to constantly hear truth and have my mind renewed! Thanks Paul, just awesome! God bless you and your family for being His earthen vessel, full of treasure!


    Sorry, my Caps Lock key got stuck there just for a moment… 😉

  10. Brandon Petrowski // January 23, 2020 at 11:38 am // Reply

    Love it.
    I needed this reminder today.

  11. Messiah Opusunju ( Bishop) // January 23, 2020 at 11:58 am // Reply

    Very refreshing insight! Changed completely my mindset and understanding of that word holy. Thank you somuch Brother Paul!

  12. Thank you Paul for a good word today, I really like what you have written, trying to get my head around it when really i just need my heart to absorb it. It is a lot to meditate on for a while. Brilliant !

  13. Marjorie Keenan // January 23, 2020 at 1:24 pm // Reply

    I have been studying daily as I know the Bible has much more for us than what we have been taught. Since I received revelation I have been looking up meanings of words in Hebrew and Greek, because the doctrines being taught do not line up with the message of Grace. Holiness was the next one on my list for today, and then I saw your post! Thanks Paul it means exactly what I thought it would! 😊

  14. Thanks again Paul. what a wonderful message. so simple and so true”. keep up the good fight of telling the truth my friend”.

  15. Amen! I have to comment on this one, but it will be tuff to put into a concise comment. About 4 months ago this same (new to me) understanding of the word “holy” blew open the doors to a whole new journey of discovery about the nature and character of God. My heart has been seized with astonishment ever since. I chucked the law mentality years ago and love 99.9% of everything Paul writes. (You are such a blessing to the body of Christ, Paul) Just saying the discovery of Jesus as Mr. Grace and the lover of the human race is not new to me at this point. But something burst alive in me as if awakened when I found out, as Paul has illustrated above, that “holy” is not a reference to moral perfection and never has been, but is a reference to the unique one of a kind essence of God – namely, the complete, perfect, other centered, overflowing relationship shared between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. From all eternity they have shared union, love, laughter, joy, and harmony. Basically everything we crave, by design, from relationship. Their desire is to share that which they have with us. Our existence is their dream come true. They will not be satisfied with anything less than us coming to know and share and participate in their abounding relationship. Their relationship is what we have been adopted into. For me, discovering this has given “grace” a vastly expanded meaning. Grace has a whole new source in my mind that makes perfect and beautifully logical since. Grace has a new platform to explode from. God’s desire to open their fellowship up to include us is why Jesus came, died, and rose, bringing us with him. Love, with no obligations, contingencies, hold backs, fine print, or wishy washyness is where we stand. To be in Christ is to have inherited Jesus’ relationship with his Father. Religion is the ugliest thing there is! It blinds us to all of this. I’ve not created anything. I’m only discovering what has always been. Knowing what I know now, given the choice to go back 4 months and gain 1 million dollars or a new definition of “holy”, I’d say keep your money, I want my mind renewed. Thank you, Paul. Thank you, Holy Spirit. He’s on the move!!

    • Marjorie Keenan // January 24, 2020 at 3:37 am // Reply

      Ditto! You said it all;. I couldn’t say it any better. The church has been lied to for centuries and religion has stolen the JOY OF THE LORD!

    • Well said jason b. Heart and minds are being awakened and flooded with Light and Life and Love of Abba. Joy bubbling up from a realisation that we belong to an amazing Father who wants to bless us with His Life, no strings attached.
      God told Peter to call no man unclean.
      Religion has taught us to think, ‘what can we do for God’..upside down thinking. God wants to receive from Him, He is the Giver.
      This joy is pretty addictive, it will make you smile a lot! It’s not about knowing everything, the youngest believer who has a revelation that God loves them and He is their Dad…and can live in the confidence that they are OK with God..holy, really has it all.

  16. All this while, I understand that perfect, glory and shalom are used to describe wholeness. Now holy is another wonderful adjective to describe the wholeness of God 🙂

    Am I right to say that holiness is to be wholly set apart – not a single part is profane nor common? Completely of His own when describing God and completely for Him alone when describing us?

    • Yeah Daniel… That’s what it really means. To be wholly or completely set apart for God like Jesus did in his earth walk.

  17. What an awesome view – His Holiness, captured by Paul. We have often been felt to be left out, because we missed the mark of holiness set by men, but under Grace, my holiness is in the finished work of Christ.

  18. Wow, what a great clarification on a very harmful and pervasive misinterpretation/definition! I didn’t know the definition of “holy“, but I know the way most people use it is not in alignment with the truth of God‘s character and goodness. Thanks for your always-refreshing reframing perspective of grace, Paul!

  19. Decima Logan Morrison // January 24, 2020 at 11:35 am // Reply

    This explanation of holiness overwhelms me! The beauty of it captivates my soul & spirit! Amen & Amen!

  20. Excellent article and definition of holiness. Can you touch on repentance and confession please?

    • Hi Todd, I have written extensively on both repentance and confession. Some links are included in the article above. For more, you can search the Archives > Subject Index > Repentance, etc.

  21. Interested to hear your thoughts on this thought…
    Matthew says, Be perfect as your father in heaven is perfect. Luke says, Be merciful as your father is merciful.
    BE-ing perfect is, BE-ing loved and BE-ing love.
    Perfect love casts out fear. It’s heeding His call, Fear not.
    His love, perfected in us.


    • Marjorie Keenan // January 24, 2020 at 3:37 pm // Reply

      The Greek meaning of Mercy is “Hesed” meaning loving kindness. Often times mercy has been implied as having pity on us wicked sinners. It really is all about LOVE!

  22. Terry Bennett // January 25, 2020 at 1:50 am // Reply

    A true revelation of God’s character. Thank-you Paul!

  23. This is beautiful😊

  24. On the idea of ‘holy’ meaning ‘separate’, I’m always amused as to what this does to certain texts (and hymns)… ‘Separate, separate, separate is the Lord of Hosts’. (Isaiah 6:3, cf Rev 4:8). ‘The unbelieving husband is made separate because of his wife…’ (1 Cor 7:14).. etc, etc.

  25. Chris. Interesting perspective. Hmmmm…that’s worth a study…

    • Hi Lisamarie
      Yes, my point was simply to show that there’s a lot more to the word ‘holy’ than just describing it as ‘separate’. And as Paul points out in his post above, we’ve done this with other words too – that is, changed the meaning, usually to make them fit in with some theory or other – or some systematic theology, or to ‘remove’ (what we see as) contradictions in the biblical text.
      God bless

  26. John Cheeseman // January 31, 2020 at 12:50 pm // Reply

    I love it, it’s sublime truth. In progression is it even possible, in this world of need with it’s rules and demands, this aging, finite body and mind to be complete as he is?

  27. Karen D Martin // March 24, 2020 at 6:00 am // Reply

    What a lovely article. I have just found this site and look forward to reading more from you because your heart feels so right and you have the talent to express what I innately feel.

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