In a world full of growing darkness and a Church that increasingly looks like the world, walking a Christian walk that is set apart, holy unto the Lord can seem impossible, especially when so many around us are compromising to fit into the masses. Is holiness even achievable today? Let us take a look at holiness according to scripture and what holiness meant to the Early Church (pre 325AD).
Peter exhorted the Church:
But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy.
(1 Peter 2:9-10)
Notice what Paul says, that only the Church (that is holy and set apart) is regarded by the Lord as having obtained mercy. Paul also exhorted the Church:
I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God. (Romans 12:1-2)
Paul says here that us becoming holy, and living a life laid down and set-apart is our reasonable service to God. He gives us some understanding as to how we become holy- through the renewing of our minds.
According to the dictionary, the word holy means
“separation, consecration, devotion to the service of Deity, sharing in God’s purity and abstaining from earth’s defilement.” (1)
In Hebrew, the word holy comes from the word one. (2) Meaning those who are pursuing holiness are becoming completely united, or one, with God. Contrary to common belief in the Church today, sometimes even our minds try to tell us otherwise, it is not impossible to share in oneness with God. Jesus reminded the Jews of this when they went to stone Him:
“The Jews answered Him, saying, ‘For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy, and because You, being a Man, make Yourself God.’ Jesus answered them, ‘Is it not written in your law, “I SAID, YOU ARE GODS“?’”
Jesus is saying becoming one with God is achievable, and He went on to say that it is through doing the works of the Father that proves if God is one with us.
Paul urged the Church,
“Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God”
(2 Corinthians 7:1).
Notice here that Paul says we can become perfect in holiness, and it comes through the fear of God. The Book of Proverbs says,
“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding”
For us to be set apart, there must be a separation from the things of the world:
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.
(1 John 2:15-17)
Distancing ourselves from this world is not just speaking of the people in the world, but the lusts of our flesh, the vices within us, the pride, anger, insecurity, etc. We must be very clear on that distinction, that being set apart is not just giving up our possessions or not hanging around worldly friends, but having a purity in our hearts from everything that defiles us from God’s nature.
First-century Early Church Father, Clement, confirms what we read in 1 John above:
Now the Lord declares, “No servant can serve two masters.” (Mat 6:24; Luk 16:13) If we desire, then, to serve both God and mammon, it will be unprofitable for us. “For what will it profit if a man gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” This world and the next are two enemies. The one urges to adultery and corruption, avarice and deceit; the other bids farewell to these things. We cannot therefore be the friends of both; and it behoves us, by renouncing the one, to make sure of the other. . . For if we do the will of Christ, we shall find rest; otherwise, nothing shall deliver us from eternal punishment, if we disobey His commandments. For thus also saith the Scripture in Ezekiel, “If Noah, Job, and Daniel should rise up, they should not deliver their children in captivity.” (Eze 14:14, Eze 14:20) Now, if men so eminently righteous are not able by their righteousness to deliver their children, how can we hope to enter into the royal residence of God unless we keep our baptism holy and undefiled? Or who shall be our advocate, unless we be found possessed of works of holiness and righteousness? (3)
Clement is saying that we cannot have a longing for the things of this world and be joined to God. Remember what we said above; the world is not just this physical world- our careers, belongings, and friends/family. Yes, that is part of it, but the world, more importantly, is speaking of our fleshly desires, our carnal nature that separates us from God (Romans 8:6-7). There must be a passionate drive in us for holiness. For us to enter the kingdom we must distance ourselves from the vices of our flesh and pursue holiness and righteous conduct. Clement also says that our baptism can be defiled, meaning we can be being cleansed by the water of the Word (Ephesians 5:26) and go backwards if we are not being faithful. We must be violently pursuing the cleansing of our character until we become completely holy. Clement warns that without holiness and righteousness we will not enter the Kingdom of God.
So, is holiness expected of the Church? Yes. Is holiness achievable today? Absolutely. There is a remnant of people being raised up now, with this exact fire and passionate desire in them to become one with God. Be encouraged, the Church was always meant to be set apart, not conforming to the things of this world. Through a desperate desire and diligence to pursue holiness through the cleansing of our mind, and the power of God, we are able to achieve the impossible, just as Jesus said:
“But Jesus looked at them and said to them, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible”
We leave you with this exhortation from our Lord and savior:
I have given them Your word; and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.
1. Complete Word Study Dictionary: ‘holy’ (G40)
2. Ancient Hebrew Lexicon of the Bible: ‘one’ (H2297)
3. Clement, A Homily, Ch VI
All scripture references from The Holy Bible: New King James Version: NKJV. Thomas Nelson, 2010. (Bold emphasis added throughout).