404 Do We Really Understand Holiness?

Do We Really Understand Holiness?

How do you define holiness?

When I think of holiness, I think of reverence. I think consecrated. I think hallowed and sacred and perfect. Honestly, I think unattainable. So when God says that we are to be holy because He is holy, let’s just say it makes me a little uncomfortable.

Because the apostle Paul calls the law holy, I make a direct connection with holiness and following the law. And since we have been set free from the law (Romans 8:2), I start to wonder if I really need to be holy. Is that even possible?

But in Romans 12, Paul comes back to this concept of holiness. He says holiness is our “reasonable service”. In other words, he’s saying that holiness is the least we can do in response to what Jesus has done for us.

So either he’s saying that I need to do better at following the law (because it is holy) or I need to reframe how I view holiness.

The gospel of Luke tells a story of a Pharisee who invited Jesus over to his house for a meal. He was surprised when Jesus doesn’t wash before the meal. He was probably deeply offended and visibly upset because Jesus’s response to him is pretty severe.

He accuses the man of having an outward appearance of holiness while his heart was full of greed and wickedness. He then begins to proclaim a bunch of “Woes” to him and as I read them I’m like, WHOA. Jesus talks about how the Pharisee’s load all these laws on people’s backs and they do nothing to help them carry it.

They were so mad at him because he called them out on their junk. He exposed their outward appearance because He could see straight to their heart.

If I’m going to reframe holiness, this seems like a good place to start. Throughout the Gospels, I don’t see Jesus impressed with anyone’s attempts at outward holiness. He always addressed the state of people’s hearts.

Maybe holiness is an internal reality more than an external one. Maybe it has nothing to do with rule keeping. Maybe holiness isn’t always evident in our actions. Sure, holy actions come because of the position of our heart. But if we seek external holiness first, we may be in for a pretty big “woe”. Pun intended.

I don’t have this figured out completely but as I draw more closely to Jesus, I see how He’s more concerned about the motives of my heart than the actions of my hands. Maybe it’s because He knows that when my heart is right, the actions will come naturally.

How do you view holiness? How much is internal vs external?


  1. Interesting says:

    When we are set free from the law it means we are set free from the consequence of breaking the law which is death and not its requirement. You see when you have Jesus in your life then you receive the Holy Spirit The Holy spirit under the new covenant writes the law on your heart so that you truly keep the law in Jesus. If you are not keeping the law then its is a clear indication that you are out of sync with the Holy Spirit. This is what Paul spoke about. The Scribe and Pharisees tried to make the law be the savior which was never its intent. It was only suppose to serve as an indicator for our need for a savior. So God calling us to be Holy as he is Holy is now possible in a relationship with Jesus.

  2. Holiness is tied to the idea of “walking in the Spirit” found in Galatians 5. I view it is an inward reality with outward evidence.
    seekingpastor recently posted..I’m a Rapscallion

  3. In the 90’s, there was a popular worship song which went like this:

    Holiness, holiness is what I long for.
    Holiness is what I need.
    Holiness, holiness is what You want from me.

    I have a hard time singing songs I don’t agree with, so I usually would keep my mouth shut when we sang that one. The third line is the problem. Change “from” to “for” and then we have something worth singing.

    God doesn’t want holiness FROM us. He wants us to ask Him to give it to us.
    James Williams recently posted..Two Years Later

  4. I highly agree with both Michael and Moe.

    When I think of holiness I automatically equate it to the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is our guide and source in which we exhibit holiness. The Holy Spirit is God’s source in us, it’s Jesus living in us.

    Holiness results in being completely yielded to the Spirit and
    less on our own power. God is a holy and sin separates
    us from Him. To be filled by the Spirit in totality,
    it involves confessiong any sin in our life that interferes
    with the work of the Holy Spirit fully functioning in
    our life.

    Complete holiness means surrendering control to the Holy
    Spirit and asking Him to take control over every area of our

    I wholeheartedly believe holiness is more internal
    than it is external. Seeking external holiness only leads
    to pride. Seeking internal holiness puts our relationship
    with Christ first and produces a right heart.

    Great post, Tony! Hope to see more posts like this in the future. Love talking about the Holy Spirit!
    Julie (@InciteFaith) recently posted..The Pit of a Wounded Heart

    • I guess I haven’t heard of holiness framed as an internal reality as much in the course of my walk with Jesus. It’s something I’ve had to come to through my own wrestling with the text.

      Excellent comment, Julie. Thanks for sharing your wisdom!

  5. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the concept of holiness as consecration, as something higher and better than anything we can attain. But I think if we look at the original language (and I’m going to do a horrible job of representing this properly), we’ll see that holiness isn’t anything more than being set apart. We are called to be [set apart] because Christ was [set apart]. Suddenly “holiness” it’s a lot more attainable and clear, even if it’s difficult.
    John recently posted..To Live is Christ

    • It’s so true, John. It’s taken a lot of unlearning to get so much of the perspective I have today. I know I have a long way to go but I love having a community that helps me reframe how I see things.

  6. Holiness is an internal work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. It’s also a gift from God. I do believe that if we are holy, our lives will reflect that. But where we get in trouble is that we start trying to keep rules/regulations and such. I could go on and on about this topic.

    Favorite verse on holiness: Ezekiel 36:24-27 24 “‘For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land.25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols.26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.27 And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.

    • Yeah man, it’s the rules and regulations that give us a false sense of holiness if we’re focused on the them and not the inward transformation. And yeah, that verse in Ezekiel is powerful. You should name your next kid, Ezekiel! 🙂

  7. Two thoughts here: I think in Romans 12, the offering of our lives to God is proof of our holiness, not a means of attaining it. The act of presenting or offering ourselves is holiness (setting apart for His use) in a sense. Also, think about this…what if “Be ye holy as I am holy” is a declaration of intent rather than a command? It.changes.everything.

  8. Since I became a Christian in my teens the concept of holiness has always overwhelmed me just a little bit. And I’ll admit my study on this subject is lacking a lot. When I hear the word, “holiness” it’s a word that I distinctly attribute to God. I never look at myself inwardly or outwardly and think, “Yep, this is me being holy.” Its just never felt right for me to think that way.

    I’ve always believed that even the good things I do in this life are nothing compared to what Christ did on the cross. “…all our are righteous acts are like filthy rags.” (Isaiah 64:6)

    But I also realize that by the renewing of our minds He will transform us (Romans 12:2).

    I am nothing…but He makes me something.

    Does this mean I’m holy or can gain holiness? I’m still trying to figure that out. But I’m for certain that I don’t want to put on a show to try and put off the image of holiness…I’d rather just say that I don’t have an answer to this yet :o)

    Great post, Tony!

    • My take is that He “makes” us holy because He is holy and He is in us. That’s the transformation part. It’s an inward holiness. It’s not something we strive towards in my opinion. Mostly because it really is unattainable in our efforts.

      I’m still working through it but that’s where I am today. 🙂

  9. Holiness is a gift of God and something that can never be fulfilled apart from the work of the Holy Spirit. However, it is our responsibility to strive for it and labor towards this goal. In order to understand holiness, we have to go back to levitical law. There’s no difference between old testament holiness and new testament holiness. At it’s core, holiness means to be “seperate”. God’s desire for the nation of Israel was to be a nation “separated” for Him. Not to live like the heathen neighboring nations, but to live under the ruleship of Yahweh. We see this clearly in Paul’s epistles when he describes Jesus as the head of the church and us as being the body.

    As you have stated, all spiritual “practices” are void unless it comes from within. There’s no holiness in external behavior. In fact, this was the pharisaical mistake. The Holy Spirit makes us holy from within. If you ask me, holiness is a road paved with spiritual warfare. Something that today’s church speaks very little of.
    Moe recently posted..A Disciple’s view of fairness

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