Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts in your ignorance; But as He who called you is holy, you also become holy in all conduct, because it is written, Be holy, because I am holy.
1 Peter 1:15-16
The command to be holy is one God always gives to His people. In the Old Testament it was given to Israel. In the New Testament it is given to us believers. We are a “holy nation” (1 Peter 2:9), God’s people, and we are to be like Him in this way. To understand the call to holiness, we must first define what holy means.
Many people have a vague idea of what holiness means. In art, it is portrayed by a halo or glow around a person’s head, and sometimes a particular pose. (Whenever I see a painting of Jesus, I have this silly mind picture of Jesus posing for the artist as he paints the picture… perhaps two fingers pointing on his upraised hand… eyes focused upward… holding this supposedly “holy” pose for an hour or two until the painting is finished.) But this is man’s idea. Holiness is not about appearances. You can’t sense it physically.
There are various definitions of the word ‘holy’. Among the more well known are to be set apart to God, and to be morally perfect. These are good definitions, but neither one of them applies to all usages of the word. It is somewhat meaningless to say that, because God is holy, He is ‘set apart’ to Himself. And moral perfection can only apply to people, not to inanimate objects like the holy anointing oil used in the Old Testament temple.
While these two different definitions are adequate in their proper contexts, I think there is another way to understand holiness using a single all-inclusive definition, summed up by the phrase “No compromise.” We can see how this applies to the holiness of God, His people, and objects.
God is holy. He has absolute integrity. He will not compromise His character in any way. “Holy” describes the degree to which God is who He is. God is 100% righteous. He is 100% just. He is 100% loving. We think of the holiness of God as something to be afraid of, but it is also a source of great comfort. Because God is holy, we can trust Him to be 100% faithful to His promises. He will not deny Himself (Malachi 3:6).
The Old Testament tabernacle was made up entirely of holy things. Not only were the prominent items like the ark and the altar holy, so were the accoutrements such as the wash basin and various utensils used in the service. Every item was to be used only for the worship of Yahweh, and only in the way that was prescribed to do so. You could not borrow a pan from the temple to make a cake for your friends. That would have treated the item as common, compromising its purpose.
As Christians, we are God’s people, set apart for Him. We are the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16-17), and we must not compromise ourselves, living for the world, our friends, or ourselves – even the slightest. We have been bought with a price, and we are no longer our own. We are no longer common. Let us not compromise ourselves.