Meanderings of a Minister


What Does It Mean to Be Holy?
March 22, 2017, 2:03 pm
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A girl walks up to a group of boys at the local high school.  The boys stiffen up and straighten up as she nears.  Their raucous tones turn to hush.  As she walks by, one of the boys says, “There she is!  Who does she think she is?  She acts ‘holier than thou’.”  What would make someone look at another person and say they are holy?  What does “holy” even mean?

The Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary defines “holy” the following way:

HOLY — moral and ethical wholeness or perfection; freedom from moral evil. Holiness is one of the essential elements of God’s nature required of His people. Holiness may also be rendered “sanctification” or “godliness.” The Hebrew word for “holy” denotes that which is “sanctified” or “set apart” for divine service.[1]

So being holy means being different than everyone else around you.  Ironically, the word for “church” in Greek is ekklesia.  The direct translation means “to assemble out of or away from”.  In the New Testament, Paul refers to all believers in Jesus Christ as “saints” (see Romans 1:7, 8:7, 12:13, 15:25, 26, 15:31, 16:2, 16:15, 1 Corinthians 1:2, 6:1, 2, 14:33, 16:1, 16:15, 2 Corinthians 1:1, 8:4, 9:1, 9:12, 13:13, Ephesians 1:1, 1:15, 1:18, 2:19, 3:8, 3:18, 4:12, 5:3, 6:18, Philippians 1:1, 4:22, Colossians 1:2, 1:4, 1:12, 1:26, 1 Thessalonians 3:13, 2 Thessalonians 1:10, 1 Timothy 5:10, Philemon 5, 7)  The word saint is the noun form of the word that is translated holy.

So, the church is called out from world.  Believers are set apart and different.  By extension, then, Christians are holy.  So when you come upon someone who says that you are “holier than thou” what do they mean?  They simply mean that you are different than they are.  You are set apart by God for a special purpose and a certain affection by and through Him.  So what they are actually saying is that you are just who God called you, saved you, is transforming you, and how God already sees you to be.  You are different.

Maybe what we need in our day are not men and women who shrink back and are ashamed of being considered or called different.  Perhaps what we need are men and women who lean into the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives.  Possibly what we need are believers who will own God’s stamp of approval over their hearts and lives as badges of honor and who look for opportunities to let their lights shine before men so that they might glorify our God, Who is in heaven.  We need men and women who will live out the part of the Lord’s prayer that we pray for so easily.  “Our Father, Who art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy Name.  They Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.”

So the next time someone accuses you of being “holier than thou”, thank them.  Tell them that it is the work of God in your life and that He wants to do that work in them as well.  Tell them that you are not perfect yet, but you are not who you used to be either.  Tell them how they can become a follower of Jesus as well.  And then ask them if they would like to.  Who knows.  They might have started the conversation God wanted to use to save them.

[1] Youngblood, R. F., Bruce, F. F., & Harrison, R. K., Thomas Nelson Publishers (Eds.). (1995). In Nelson’s new illustrated Bible dictionary. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc.

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