Among what God expects of His children is a non-negotiable aspect of character: holiness. This trait was introduced in the Old Testament and carried through to the New. If we follow after God, we must be holy as He is.
But what is holiness? And how can we possibly imitate this aspect of God? The Bible gives us guidance here.
From early on in the Old Testament, we find what the people of God should be and the corresponding reason. Leviticus 11:44, 45 is just one of many texts with a call to holiness:
For I am the Lord your God. You shall therefore consecrate yourselves, and you shall be holy; for I am holy. Neither shall you defile yourselves with any creeping thing that creeps on the earth. For I am the Lord who brings you up out of the land of Egypt, to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy (cf. 19:2; 20:7, 26; 21:8).
In the New Testament, Peter directly quotes the sentiment in his first epistle: “But as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, ‘Be holy, for I am holy’” (1:15, 16).
It is no coincidence that the entire fourth chapter of Revelation has the holiness of God as its central theme. It is celebrated in a liturgical setting, where not only the redeemed but also the entire creation glorifies God for being “Holy, holy, holy” — the Lord God Almighty (v. 8).
John, the author of this last book of the Bible, has a vision in which he sees an open door in heaven, where the temple of God is located. He is invited to go up to witness the unmatched superiority of the only existing God (4:1), opposed to the “lord” (Greek: kyrios) of the Roman Empire, Caesar, and to any other lord who claimed to be worshipped.
The description in Revelation 4 is wonderful. There are no human features on the one who is seated on the throne, because everything about Him is divine (vv. 2, 3). The twenty-four elders appear dressed in white clothes because they have been washed in the blood of the Lamb, and they have crowns on their heads because they are kings and priests, something God promised to every believer. The twenty-four elders cast down their crowns before Him in an act of full submission and worship (v. 4), and God makes His presence audibly known through natural phenomena (v. 5).
Verses 6 and 7 describe the splendor of God’s throne. Before it is a sea of glass (like the fountain located in front of the tabernacle of Israel), and four living creatures appear as representatives of all the living beings of creation. The climax of John’s vision is in verses 8-11. The four animals constantly celebrate God’s holiness, affirming that the Lord is holy, almighty, and eternal, as opposed to other lords whose kingdoms are corrupt, finite, and oppressive.
Upon seeing this, the twenty-four elders bow down before the One who is seated on the throne. They cast down their crowns before Him and declare, “You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and by Your will they exist and were created” (v. 11).
From what is said here, there is not even the slightest possibility of comparison between the lords of this earth and the only Lord, Creator, and Sustainer of the entire universe. In short, it is declared in the heavens: God is the only Lord!
How wonderful and fearful, then, that this holy God should invite us to be holy as He is holy. This holiness of God is not just a theme of study, reflection, and recognition. It is a subject of celebration for every believer, and the best way to celebrate His holiness, aside from our true worship, is to imitate it.
That idea may seem to be utopian and unattainable because the flesh is opposed to God’s holiness and sin abides in every human being. However, by the power of the Holy Spirit that God gives to every believer, it is understood that sin is the exception and holiness is the rule. John the apostle affirmed this when he said, “We know that whoever is born of God does not sin; but he who has been born of God keeps himself, and the wicked one does not touch him” (1 John 5:18).
In addition, the theme of holiness is addressed in the Pauline epistles as a demand for the entire church. For example, in his letter to the Ephesians, he literally refers to the believers as saints (holy ones). In verse 4 of the first chapter, he speaks of the work that God does in them: “He chose us in Him [Christ] before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love.”
Paul uses three key terms here. The first is the verb choose, from the Greek eklectos (to select). This selection is not for being better than others or wiser or richer, because we know that every human is a sinner. But God chooses the people that He knows will fulfill the purpose for which He calls them, and that purpose is holiness.
The second term is saints, from the Greek hagios (separate). It implies that believers are human beings just like everyone else, but in spirit, soul, and body, they are paradoxically different. The difference lies in the lifestyle they lead, making sure to stay away from sin to imitate God by living in holiness.
The third expression, without blame, is from the Greek amomos (without fault). It is derived from the old covenant sacrificial system, where the animals that were offered to God should not have any physical defects for fear of being rejected. Thus, believers are called to live spiritually without the stain of sin.
Is this possible? The answer is yes, as long as we remain in Christ. Just as the apostle John said: “My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1).
It seems that the subject of holiness is old-fashioned. The postmodern era we live in and transhumanism that is already at the door opt for a lifestyle full of relativism and superficiality in everything that is done. This includes human relationships and, of course, the relationship with God.
But the church is different. She knows she is called to be a contrasting society and to navigate against the current. She is ready to be rejected — not for committing crimes or practicing injustices but for refraining from any practice that does not agree with the Holy Scriptures. She celebrates God’s holiness, proclaiming that He is the only Creator and Savior of the universe.