Saturday, May 12, 2012

What is holiness?

Leviticus 11:44 For I am the LORD your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy. And you shall not make yourselves unclean with any of the swarming things that swarm on the earth.

From childhood you learn about holiness
Though we may not know God redemptively prior to salvation, we nonetheless can know things about God through the general revelation of creation and the conscience. (Romans 1:18-20; 2:15). One of the things we understand from childhood is the distinction between what is clean and unclean. Leviticus 11-12 is like a class in "Holiness 101", for it begins with outlining things that are "clean and unclean".

Practically we learn that the distinction between "clean and unclean" is a distinction revealed through the law of God written on our hearts.  This leads then to the next level concept of "the pure or holy" and "the profane or common".  Thus when you wash dishes, you are "santifying them" or "setting them apart" to be used for cooking.  We even make distinctions between the water we drink, water we cook and wash clothes and water for sanitation.  Without holiness, human life as we know it would cease. 

How holiness is revealed from General Revelation to the special revelation of scripture
As a little child, how many of you were told to "wash your hands"? Why? Because they had been made dirty or unclean and needed to be washed. Why is it that we wear clothing? Because we understand that clothing covers up what is literally "holy, special". No matter how much mankind tries to run away from "the holy", all people at some point will complain when they percieve an "injustice" or "unfairness". That entails a distinction between that which is holy and unholy.

What is meant by the term "holy"? In scripture we travel from the basics of clean/unclean to pure /profane to that of God's Holiness over against sin and the world.  Holy or holiness comes from a Hebrew word and corresponding Greek word that carries with it the following ideas:

1. To be Holy primarily means to be in a class of one's own.  To be separate or unique.

2. Holiness secondly speaks to something that is special or owned by someone.  Thus The Lord's people are called Holy due to the fact that He has redeemed or purchased them by His blood. (Acts 20:28)

3. Holiness thirdly takes this idea of "Special" or "unique" and applies it in the moral realm - thus purity and morality are the natural outcomes of holiness

4. Practically speaking holiness speaks to that which is clean as opposed to that which is unclean

5. Then finally, holy is a synonym for God Himself.  New Testament Scholar D.A Carson has suggested that when we see the angels crying out in Isaiah 6:3 "Holy, Holy, Holy", they are not crying "separate, separate, separate", but rather "God, God, God" or "Lord, Lord, Lord". 

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