What is holiness?

Usually we associate God's holiness with his majesty and power. We don't often associate it with love... but Jesus did. Check this out.

Exhibit 1: Leviticus 19 is the chapter of that book devoted to the subject of holiness among God's people. I was surprised to discover that most of that chapter is social in nature, meaning that holiness among us is a matter of the quality of our relationships. Read it and see for yourself!

--> Holiness is primarily a matter of relationships.

Exhibit 2: Jesus stated that the two great commandments were to love God (the Shema from Deut 6:4-5) and love our neighbor as ourselves. Guess where the second commandment is from... Leviticus 19 (19:18 to be exact), the chapter on holiness! So for Jesus, one of the greatest commandments is to love our neighbor as ourselves, and loving our neighbors is an expression of holiness.

--> To love our neighbors is to be holy.

Exhibit 3: What about people who are not our "neighbors"? (In New Testament speak, "neighbors" are people we accept because they are in our social sphere.) We now turn to Matthew 5. Holiness is godliness, right? God is holy, to be holy is to be like God. Are you with me so far? Okay, proceding further then... In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus instructs his listeners to "be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect" (Matt 5:48). In other words, he is calling people to be godly and holy. Most Christian interpret "be perfect" individualistically as a call to absolute control of one's moral choices. It's not. What is the context of this statement? Love. Jesus' instruction to be perfect comes at the end of a brief teaching about loving our enemies.

To love our enemies is to be perfect.
To be perfect is to be like God.
To be like God is to be holy.
--> Therefore, to love our enemies is to be holy.

Conclusion: The Pharisees were the masters of moral and ceremonial obedience. They were correct in that they knew God wanted Israel to be holy. But for them, holiness was a matter of behavioral conformity. Jesus agreed that God's people should be holy, but he rejected moral and ceremonial conformity in favor of an ethic of love. Holiness = love! Love your friends, and love your enemies. This is to be holy and godly.


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