Understanding Holiness: Part 1
Updated: Oct 12, 2021
DISTINGUISHING BETWEEN COMMON AND HOLY
While holiness is mentioned in the Scriptures hundreds of times, it is often relegated as one of those "assumed" understood topics around church circles. Almost as if we say the word enough times people will naturally understand what it means. However, a deeper dive into the subject would reveal most of us really don't understand it at all. If we did, we would all look a lot different than we do now. In this 2 part series we will explore what the Bible says about holiness, and how to distinguish and apply it to our lives today.
Read: Ezekiel 44:15-31 Ezekiel 44:23-24 nasb 23 Moreover, they shall teach My people the difference between the holy and the profane/common, and cause them to discern between the unclean and the clean. 24 In a dispute they shall take their stand to judge; they shall judge it according to My ordinances. They shall also keep My laws and My statutes in all My appointed feasts and sanctify My sabbaths. Part of understanding holiness is getting an understanding of what holiness is not. 1. Holiness is not "perfection." Pretty much my entire church life this was my perception, and I guess it's understandable because I never sat in a church or under a teacher who ever took the time to explain what holiness is. The words are not interchangeable and we shouldn't merge the meanings between them. While holiness can definitely appear to be perfection, holiness is a distinguished from perfection in Scripture as a characteristic of YHVH and Yeshua, not necessarily of us. Certainly YHVH and Yeshua are perfect and holy they are two different descriptions and should be understood as such. 2. Holiness is not "common". Part of what Ezekiel describes is the fact that holiness is distinguished from what is common. Chances are if everyone is doing it...it's not holy. the Bible makes a serious claim about what the path of salvation is. It is described as narrow and hard to find. It's not the path that many people travel, so if you're in a large herd, it should throw up some red flags. Holiness by nature is not the path of the masses.
Defining Holiness: Holiness is a topic that is frequently addressed from pulpits of every kinds all over the world. It is seemingly a simple subject and rarely is engaged in fullness of study which the Scripture garners. The word "holy" and its various forms are found in the Bible nearly 700 times, giving a profound amount of depth and clarity to all of those who claim to follow YHVH, the God of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob.
Ezekiel compels us to understand the difference between what is holy and what is common/profane. I’ve long been taught that being holy meant being perfect. Some of you may have experienced similar teaching. This false equating of perfection and holiness often leads believers completely overwhelmed as they seek to attain holiness by means of perfect living. When we see verses like 1 Peter 1:15-16, we inevitable fall way short in understand what the text is actually trying to communicate. 1 Peter 1:15-16 esv 15 but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; 16 because it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”
Let’s read 1 Peter again replacing the word "holy" with perfect. 15 but like the Perfect One who called you, be perfect yourselves also in all your behavior; 16 because it is written, “You shall be perfect, for I am perfect.” In both the Greek and the Hebrew the term "holy" means the same thing. Hebrew: qodesh Meaning: Set Apartness, Sacred, or Consecrated Greek: hagios Meaning: Set Apart by God, Sacred, Different Take a look at 1 Peter 1:15-16 again with the true definition in place. 15 but like the Set Apart One who called you, be set apart yourselves also in all your behavior; 16 because it is written, “You shall be set apart, for I am set apart.” It is clear from both the Ezekiel and 1 Peter verses the intent of the term "holy" is not to insinuate perfection, instead it refers to a person, object, or place that is set apart for YHVH. Something that is sacred, consecrated, different than the common or normal things. Think about it this way, if you had a room where the floor was covered with evenly spaced black balls. No matter how large this room is, if one of those balls is red instead of black, it will be easily seen and distinguished from all the other black balls, the "normal" balls. Things that are holy should be easily distinguished from those things that are common, just like the red ball. Now that we’ve established a baseline definition for holiness we can dig into the text from Ezekiel 44:23-24 with a true plumbline by which to understand what the verse is communicating. Ezekiel 44:23-24 nasb "23 Moreover, they shall teach My people the difference between the holy and the profane/common, and cause them to discern between the unclean and the clean. 24 In a dispute they shall take their stand to judge; they shall judge it according to My ordinances. They shall also keep My laws and My statutes in all My appointed feasts and sanctify My sabbaths."
Ezekiel's message to the Israelites is one of restoration to YHVH through once again learning, understanding, and following His instructions. Ezekiel specifically states this knowledge of holiness comes by judging according to and following the commands YHVH gave them in the Torah. It is inly in this restoration the Israelites can avoid the pitfalls that led them away from YHVH to begin with. Yet strangely, in today's version of Christianity falls into the same error by calling its followers away from YHVH's commands and instructions given in the Old Testament.
THE KNOWLEDGE OF HOLINESS After all of this study we cannot ignore the fact that defining "holiness" as a word will only bring us so far, if we do not understand how that word informs our relationship with YHVH and our daily behaviors. Ezekiel is full of texts regarding holiness, and it sets forth the guideline by which holiness is instructed. Ezekiel 22:26 nasb 26 Her priests have done violence to My law and have profaned (wound, pierce) My holy (set apart) things; they have made no distinction between the holy (set apart) and the profane (common), and they have not taught the difference between the unclean and the clean; and they hide their eyes from My sabbaths, and I am profaned (wound, pierce) among them. (read v.17-31, it’s powerful) Here, God is making His case of judgement to Ezekiel before He offers hope in chapter 44 with the promise He will restore a priesthood who will teach these lessons on holiness accurately to YHVH's people. It is critical to note Ezekiel records the Israelites are not living holy lives because they have "done violence" to His law and have not taught between what is holy and what is common, including correctly following the Sabbath. If Israel's ignorance has come at the expense of abandoning YHVH's Torah, then we should rightly deduce it is the Torah that was the standard by which holiness could be understood and practiced by the people.
8 The Lord then spoke to Aaron, saying, 9 “Do not drink wine or strong drink, neither you nor your sons with you, when you come into the tent of meeting, so that you will not die—it is a perpetual statute throughout your generations— 10 and so as to make a distinction between the holy (set apart) and the profane (common), and between the unclean and the clean, 11 and so as to teach the sons of Israel all the statutes which the Lord has spoken to them through Moses.” This verse comes immediately after Aaron’s sons offered “strange/unauthorized” or unholy fire before God and they loose their lives because of it. God tells Moses to make sure they properly make the distinction between what is holy and common so no one else will die. God repeats in Leviticus, Ezekial, and other books of the Bible that one of the distinct roles of the priests were to teach the people to discern or understand the difference between what is holy or set apart and what is profane or common. This is important, because we too, must navigate the same waters as the Biblical patriarchs and every generation of faithful believers before us, to understand and follow YHVH's guidelines for holiness and not make up our own. It is there within the text of the Torah YHVH defines and lays out the details of what He has determined to be holy and what is common. We must not fall into the trap of believing that these texts only apply to Old Testament Israel, and as a result discredit the role the Torah plays in our daily lives of pursuing holiness by YHVH's methods. As we read earlier, Peter also urges believers to distinguish between holy and common behavior in their own lives by appealing to the words of the Torah, by quoting Leviticus 11:44. 1 Peter 1:15-16 esv 15 but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; 16 because it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”
"44 For I am the Lord your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, because I am holy. And you shall not make yourselves unclean with any of the swarming things that swarm on the earth. 45 For I am the Lord who brought you up from the land of Egypt, to be your God; so you shall be holy, because I am holy.’” In his letter, Peter quotes the dietary instructions to inform a New Testament understanding of holiness. The restrictions on food were well known and understood, Peter takes what is well-known to explain the more complex principles of attitude, behavior, and motivation. As with Yeshua and every other apostle, Peter upholds the authority of the Torah for teaching, instruction, correction and righteous living. We, like the early church, will struggle to comprehend and follow YHVH's call to be "holy" and set apart without firmly rooting our lives upon His instructions given throughout the Bible, and especially in the Torah. If we continue to abandon YHVH's Torah as our instruction for holiness, and attempt to use our man-made long-held church doctrine and traditions to establish our own standard of holiness, we too will fall into the same deception and error the Hebrews did so many years ago. It is upon the foundation of Torah that Ezekiel and the other prophets correct and instruct the Hebrews in holiness, but also the same standard Yeshua and all the apostles based their teaching and understanding of holy and righteous living.