I posted a quote out of the book “Shameless” by Nadia Bolz-Weber the other day on Facebook and it sparked a conversation with a friend around what it looks like to be holy. Here’s the book quote:
“Let us treat ourselves and others, no matter what our talents, as if we are all holy. Because we are.”
The conversation was about the truth/untruth of this statement. Are we really all holy by virtue of our existence or is holiness more around working or striving to be holy? So I set out on a short journey to see what scripture has to say about holiness.
In 1 Peter 1:16, we see the direction to be holy because God is holy. Without much reason to think otherwise, it is easy to think Peter is quoting Jesus here when actually, he’s quoting the Old Testament. Leviticus 11:44, 19:2 and 20:7 all give us this direction: “be holy because I (the LORD) am holy”. Ok, so knowing where the direction comes from helps in setting the context. We’ve always been called to holiness, it’s not a New Testament call. That means to me, it’s something foundational about us, not empowered by our idea of what it means to be a Christ follower, but rather, it is part of what it means to be the creation of God.
In Genesis we are told that we are created in the image of God (1:27). We are representative figures of who God is in His being. Does that mean God has a physical body that looks like a human? I don’t personally think so but there isn’t anything I’ve ever seen in scripture to describe Him in that manner. There is, however, lots of verses in the Bible that explain God’s character and nature and it is in those things we find the image in which we have been created. Holiness, based on the verses Peter is using to support his direction, is one of the facets of God’s character.
Ok, so if we can agree that being holy is something that is part of our nature, why isn’t it something easy to do? I mean seriously, the word “holy” feels like a high and mighty word so how do we go about being holy? Holy means to be of God and set apart. In the creation story, humans were of God (in His image) and set apart. All throughout scripture, Old Testament and New, we see people who have dedicated their lives to God, made horrific mistakes, failed over and over, and who are still holy. Holiness doesn’t seem to be something you work at attaining, as much as it is something you simply are, of God and set apart. Because we are offered free will, we can of course choose to live unholy lives. Our actions may not be holy and actually, the may be in direct defiance to holiness, but our created nature is always in and of itself one that holds holiness as a feature.
I think it comes down to whether or not you see holiness as a state of being or an action. I see it as part of our nature and out of it, we act in ways which are loving and life giving. There are certainly holy moments where you know that presence of God is thick in that moment. There are actions that feel holier than others. So perhaps, holiness is both: being and action. Regardless of how you define it, I don’t see that holiness is something you strive to be, I see that it is part of who you are and whether or not you tap into it is your choice.
Be holy because God is holy.