Another troublesome churchy word is “holy.” Like “righteous,” the word “holy” also has some unnecessary baggage attached to it. What I mean is that just as some people see the word “righteous” and think “self-righteous,” some people see the word “holy” and think “holier-than-thou.”
If you’re not familiar with the term, “holier-than-thou” is used to describe the attitude of a Christian condescending to non-Christians based solely on church affiliation or some other man-made construct (such as denominations) apart from the grace of God.
Naturally, this attitude is very off-putting.
HOLY DN= HOLIER-THAN-THOU
The word “holy” simply means “set apart for God’s purpose.” It can refer to a day, a place, a nation or an individual. Mostly, however, it refers to God Himself. As Isaiah wrote:
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
(Isaiah 55: 8-9 NIV)
God is holy, or set apart, simply because He’s God, and we’re not. When people put their faith in Jesus Christ, trust in His saving work on the cross to make them righteous, and make Him the Lord of their lives, then they also become holy. They are still human beings, but now they have been set apart from the rest of the world to do God’s work.
It is critical to understand the progression here. God makes us righteous through JESUS’ work, not ours. In the same way, God makes us holy only when we realize that we AREN’T made righteous by the good that we do.
If a person claims to have faith in Jesus, but still lives as he did before being saved, then how has that person been set apart?
Christians are SUPPOSED to stand out. We are SUPPOSED to be different from everybody else. Otherwise, what would be the point of being one?
The irony of holiness is that just as we were set free in order to become servants, we were also set apart to become unified—not to the world, but to each other. As Paul wrote to the church at Ephesus about Jesus:
The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers,to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love. (Ephesians 4: 11-16 NRSV)
When Paul refers to “saints” in this context, he is referring to all believers, not people (such as himself) who are referred to with a St. in front of their name. The “work of ministry” for which said saints are being equipped is the service to which we are called upon having been made free. Still with me so far?
In addition to the teaching, preaching and shepherding gifts Paul mentions above, there are many other spiritual gifts that believers receive when they are made holy. I’m not going to go into all of them here, but in light of the sudden aggressive turn our culture is taking lately, I feel it necessary to expound upon one of them—discernment.
(And I will do that in Part 5–Discrimination)