Read: 1 Peter 1:13-16
Holiness is not optional for a Christian. God issues a command through Peter that all Christians be holy. Holiness is to characterize everything we do. The writer of the Hebrew letter issues similar instructions when he writes, “Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14). These scriptures let us know that holiness is an absolute requirement for every Christian.
The Command for Holiness (1 Pet. 1:15,16)
No Bible-believing Christian doubts the importance and necessity of holiness, but the question remains, “What is holiness?” To find the answer we must do as Peter did—turn to the Old Testament for our information. Peter is quoting the earliest recorded command of God for His people to be holy (Leviticus 11:44,45).
The Context for the Command to be Holy (Lev. 11:45)
The command of 1 Peter 1:16, “Be ye holy, for I am holy,” is a quotation from Leviticus 11:45. Right in the midst of the Levitical legislation on clean and unclean food, God says to His people, “I am the LORD your God: ye shall therefore sanctify ourselves, and ye shall be holy; for I am holy: neither shall ye defile yourselves with any manner of creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. For I am the LORD that bringeth you up out of the land of Egypt, to be your God: ye shall therefore be holy, for I am holy” (Lev. 11:44, 45).
Many have puzzled over God’s laws of clean and unclean foods, suggesting that the foods designated “unclean,” (i.e. pork) are foods we should continue to avoid. Any evaluation of these laws, however, needs to take into account two important truths God gave in the Old Testament.
First, we can confidently say that every plant and animal God created was “very good” (Gen. 1:31). There were no intrinsically “clean” and “unclean” animals.
Second, after the flood, God told Noah that “every moving thing that liveth shall be meat for you; even as the green herb have I given you all things” (Gen. 9:3). The phrase, “every moving thing that liveth,” includes all the “unclean” animals mentioned in Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14. Surely God was not trying to ruin the health of Noah and his descendants!
That is the charge that must be made if one insists that the “clean” and “unclean” food laws were health regulations. Leviticus 11:45 gives us insight into God’s purpose for the seemingly arbitrary separation of animals into clean and unclean.
God is establishing these laws as an object lesson to teach his people how to think critically and how to evaluate on a physical level the difference between concrete things like animals that have cloven hooves and chew their cud and those that do not. This was to help them sharpen their discerning ability so they could learn to discern on the moral and ethical level the difference between that which is defiling and that which is holy.
The Characteristics of Holiness (Ex. 3:1-6; 1 Pet. 1:14)
God began teaching His people the meaning of holiness when He revealed Himself to Moses in the burning bush (Exo. 3:1-6). God said to Moses, “Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground” (Exo. 3:5). This statement is pivotal to our understanding of holiness.From it we can derive three of the five characteristics of holiness.
To be holy one must be connected to God—the source of holiness
The first explicit statement of God’s holiness is Exodus 15:11: “Who is like unto thee, O LORD, among the gods? who is like thee, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders?” Everything God is, and everything He does, is holy. He is regularly described as “the Holy One”1 or “the Holy One of Israel.”  God’s holiness is unique and incomparable.
God’s holiness is unique and incomparable.
- “There is none holy as the LORD” (1 Samuel 2:2).
- “To whom then will ye liken me, or shall I be equal? saith the Holy One” (Isa. 40:25).
God alone is holy. He is infinitely, unchangeably, and eternally holy. His holiness is underived and independent. Therefore, nothing is holy unless it comes in contact with the Source of holiness, the holy God. This explains why the ground surrounding the burning bush was called “holy ground.” God’s presence turned common, ordinary ground into holy ground.
The same is true of people. In order for a person to be holy, he or she must be connected to the Source of holiness—God Himself. Such a relationship begins at the moment of salvation. When a sinner repents of his sins, and places his faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ as the lamb of God which takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29), Jesus enters his heart and becomes his Lord and Savior.
The presence of the holy God in one’s heart makes the new Christian holy. This is why Paul addresses his letters to the “saints” (literally, “holy ones”) residing at various geographic locations.
To be holy one must be separated to God as His possession
When we speak of people, places, or things as holy, we must keep several facts in mind. First, such holiness is derived and dependent upon a continuing relationship with God. For example, God claimed Israel as His personal possession by right of redemption from the bondage of Egypt (Exo. 19:5).
Being claimed by the holy God made the Israelites separate from other people and holy. “For thou art an holy people unto the LORD thy God: the LORD thy God hath chosen thee to be a special people unto himself, above all people that are upon the face of the earth” (Deut. 7:6).
Again, “Ye shall be holy unto me: for I the LORD am holy, and have severed you from other people, that ye should be mine” (Lev. 20:26). This aspect of holiness is sometimes called positional holiness. They were holy because they were possessed by the holy God, and therefore separated from the common and ordinary.
In the case of Moses, the ground surrounding the burning bush was now separated to God as His personal possession and was no longer to be treated as common or ordinary ground. Places and things have positional holiness. But God will not allow His people to be only positionally holy. He requires them to be personally and ethically holy.
They must cleanse themselves from all sinful associations and behavior, and live in obedience to His commands. This is the truth Paul is teaching when he says to the Corinthians believers, “What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s (1 Cor. 6:19,20).
At the moment of the new birth, you are made holy. You enter into a personal relationship with God and become His possession. You are no longer your own. You are to glorify Him in all you do by following His instructions. Holiness is to characterize the believer’s life each moment of each day.
To be holy one must be separated from the common (ordinary)
The third element of holiness involves separation from the common or ordinary (some translations use the word “profane”).
Here we learn the important concept that God often requires his people to separate from things not necessarily sinful, just things that if purged from the life will strengthen the Christian’s walk with God. To emphasize this element of holiness, God divided everything into two basic categories: holy and common.
He then subdivided the category of common (or ordinary) into two division:
- clean and
That which is clean can be devoted to God and become holy. That which is unclean, after the proper cleansing procedure, can become clean and could be devoted to God and become holy. That which is permanently unclean can never become holy.
The terms “clean” and “unclean” have nothing to do with cleanliness. They are religious categories designed to emphasize that God has a standard of moral and ethical right and wrong that is as clearly distinguishable as are the categories of clean and unclean.
That God gave the food laws to teach His people how to discern between the unclean, the common, and the holy, and not to teach health principles, is made clear in Deuteronomy 14 which is a summation of the food laws given in Leviticus 11. If health were the primary issue, God can be charged with not caring about the health of Gentile peoples.
To the Israelites He said, “Do not eat anything you find already dead. You may give it to an alien living in any of your towns, and he may eat it, or you may sell it to a foreigner. But you are a people holy to the LORD your God” (Deut. 14:21, NIV). He did not tell the Israelites to sell the “unclean” meat to foreigners in order to damage their health.
Clearly, God cares about the health of all nations! Further, when Jesus was asked about the proper observance of the food laws, he replied that the primary purpose of these laws was to teach a person how to discern right from wrong. He said that what a person eats cannot defile him. What defiles a person is improper thoughts, attitudes, and actions that spring from the heart.
Then he declared all foods clean (Mark 7:18-23) That God expects His people to be able to distinguish clearly between holy and unholy, and between clean and unclean, is emphasized in Leviticus 10:10.
One of the major charges God made against the priesthood, as Israel began to backslide was, “her priests have violated my law, and have profaned mine holy things: they have put no difference between the holy and profane [common], neither have they shewed difference between the unclean and the clean, and have hid their eyes from my Sabbaths, and I am profaned among them” (Ezek. 22:26; 44:23).
The same problem exists today. Carefulness to separate from common things which are not inherently sinful, just because God has called for this personal separation, is becoming rare. If we don’t joyfully follow God’s gentle promptings to separate from the non-sinful “common” because we and others’ declare, “There is nothing wrong with it!” we forfeit the delight of His presence and are soon in confusion.
We then end up like the people during the period of the Judges when everyone simply does what is right in his own eyes (see Jud. 17:6; 21:25; and especially Num. 15:39). The cure for this lack of sensitivity to God’s call to be holy and the ability to respond to His gentle promptings to separate from things that are not inherently sinful, according to the writer of Hebrews, is found when Christians press on to entire sanctification.
Without entire sanctification, Christians are destined to remain “unskillful in the word of righteousness” and unable to develop the degree of discernment and sensitivity to God’s will that He desires. Entire sanctification enables the Christian to discern more clearly what is good and what is evil in God’s eyes (Heb. 5:12-6:1).
To be holy one must be separated from all that God says is unclean or morally defiles
When we read in Habakkuk that God is too pure “to behold evil” and unable to tolerate wrong (Hab. 1:12-13, NIV), we understand that God never compromises His holiness even in the exercise of His love, mercy, and kindness.
This is why Peter tells Christians that God’s command to be holy requires that they be obedient and stop living like they lived before they were saved (1 Pet. 1:14).
Although God is loving, merciful, and kind, holiness requires separation from all that is unclean or morally defiles. There are no exceptions. One must be morally pure in every area of life.
To be holy one must be obedient to God’s Word
In addition to the positional, personal, and purity components of holiness, there is an ethical component. Holiness requires obedience to God’s Word.
Leviticus 19:2-3 says, “Speak unto all the congregation of the children of Israel, and say unto them, Ye shall be holy: for I the LORD your God am holy. Ye shall fear every man his mother, and his father, and keep my Sabbaths: I am the LORD your God.”
Again, Leviticus 20:7-8 says, “Sanctify yourselves therefore, and be ye holy: for I am the LORD your God. And ye shall keep my statutes, and do them: I am the LORD which sanctify you.” Notice the inseparable connection between “being holy,” and obeying God’s Word.
A reading of the context of Leviticus 19:2-3 and 20:7-8 reveals that holiness is exceedingly practical. For example, it is demonstrated by respectful treatment of parents, sexual purity, avoidance of anything associated with the occult, compassion on the poor, honesty, kindness, justice, refusal to be a talebearer, and not avenging oneself or bearing a grudge (Lev. 20:9-27; 19:4-18).
These are just a few examples of the practical life-related ways in which holiness is to be demonstrated in the Christian life.
We began our message with the statement, “Holiness is not optional for a Christian.” We conclude our message with the same assertion: holiness is not optional for a Christian. We also learned that there are five essential components of holiness.
To be holy one must:
- be connected to God—the source of holiness,
- be separated to God as His possession,
- be separated from the common (ordinary),
- be separated from all that God says is unclean or morally defiles, and
- be obedient to God’s Word.
Originally published in the Ministry Library of God’s Bible School & College.
 See Job 6:10; Isa. 40:25; 43:15; Ezek. 39:7; Hos. 11:9; Hab. 1:12; 3:3.
 See 2 Kings 19:22; Isa. 1:4; 43:3; Jer. 50:29; 51:5.