“But as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, ‘Be holy, for I am holy’” (1 Peter 1:15-16, NKJV).
Peter’s quotation is from Leviticus 11:44 (see also Leviticus 11:45, 19:2, and 20:7).
“For I am the Lord your God. You shall therefore sanctify yourselves, and you shall be holy, for I am holy. Neither shall you defile yourselves…” (KJV).
Peter also asks, “What manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness?” (2 Peter 3:11, NKJV).
One may be inclined to think God has imposed impossibility upon His people here, because the word holy is misunderstood to mean pure, undefiled, sinless, and righteous. Since all humans are judged by God to be sinners (Romans 3:10, 23), with innate desires that make them vulnerable to temptation and sin (James 1:13-15), it necessarily follows that the word cannot mean pure, sinless, or undefiled.
Actually, as we shall see, holiness is not necessarily related to sin, except indirectly, by extension. Just so there is no confusion here, let us clarify the point. Of course God is pure, sinless, and righteous in all His attitudes and activities. But holy is not the word that defines Him as to those qualities and attributes.
Since the references are from both Old and New Testament writings, we must note both the Hebrew and Greek words translated as holy.
The Old Testament word is QADOSH. It means holy, devoted, consecrated, separated, sanctified – qualities of a saint.
The New Testament word is HAGIOS and it has similar meanings. There are cognates for both words. Of particular interest is the related Greek word HAGIAZO (from the same root as HAGIOS), a verb meaning to consecrate, sanctify, set aside as separate, to make holy.
Holiness is HAGIASMOS (Romans 6:19, 22) and refers to the condition and conduct of saints, persons who are sanctified to God.
Holiness is about being true to one’s stipulated character, nature, and identity. God is God, and nothing else. God is not an angel; He is God. He is not a man, He is God. He cannot be anything other than God or He would cease to be God. This is an essential thought to be considered by those who insist that Jesus is God, or that God became a human being. Not possible.
To be holy, God must be God and nothing else. The same is true of man. He must be man, as God designed and purposed him to be – nothing else. Man is not an angel and he is not God. For the most part man does not try to be or pretend to be anything other than man, human. But he often fails to be the kind of man God designed him to be.
God has called us to virtue and glory (2 Peter 1:3). Virtue is from Latin VIRTUS, properly understood as manliness, the essence of manhood, ideal humanity – in other words, man as he was designed to be and is capable of being.
The holy God is perfect deity; the holy man is perfect humanity. Remember, Jesus said we are to “be perfect even as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).
Holiness is also about relationships. Remember that HAGIOS, holy, is also translated saint or holy one, one who has been sanctified by God or has sanctified himself to God.
The key to understanding the connection of the words is seen in the references already noted from Leviticus: “I am the Lord your God; sanctify (consecrate) yourself; be holy as I am holy” (11:44-45, 19:2, 20:7).
The action of the person here is that he has chosen God, consciously separated himself from all that is foreign to God, committed and dedicated himself to God and considers himself to belong exclusively to God – no divided allegiance, no loyalty or devotion to any other master (see Matthew 6:24).
The action of God here is that He has chosen and accepted the person, claimed the person as His own personal possession, one of His own special people (Titus 2:14 NKJV), and agrees to treat the person as His own son or daughter (2 Corinthians 6:17).
We see here another subtle aspect of the holy relationship that should not be missed. God is holy to the person – committed and devoted, and true to the person – and He requires that the person be holy to Him, committed, devoted, and true to Him. “Present your bodies (your own selves) a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God” (Romans 12:1).
We have two final thoughts for consideration. First a negative aspect: one cannot be devoted to God unless he is separated from all things that are contrary to God, or that conflict with service to God (Matthew 6:24, 2 Corinthians 6:14-18).
Here is where purity, righteousness, and being sinless become extended implications of the word holy. To be sanctified to God requires that one first be separate from ungodliness and that he maintain that separation.
We also have a positive aspect. The holy nation, holy priesthood, or holy person is to “show forth the praises (excellencies, ASV) of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).
A part of man as God designed him is to reflect the attributes and qualities of God – we are made in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26-27). The holy God is to be seen in the holy man.
Yet, holiness is not automatic. “Be holy” means take the time and make the effort that is required for holiness.
Holiness is not optional. It is required. No one can see and please God without it (Hebrews 12:14).