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Understanding Holiness

Holiness, in the English language, is one of those words that people use but don’t quite know what it means. Some people say, “Holiness is sanctity or saintliness.” But those words don’t do any real good themselves because they’re not pointing to a better way of understanding what it means to be holy. Others imagine “holiness” to mean living a virtuous life, being just, pious, kind, charitable, caring or loving. Theologians speak of “holiness” as a kind of perfection that comes from sharing in the divinity of God. But even knowing all of that, it’s hard to say what precisely makes us “holy.” So what do we do?

First, look at the Gospel of John in chapter 14 verses 15-17 where we read the following: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him; you know him, for he dwells with you, and will be in you.”

In this passage, Christ is telling the Apostles that God will send to them (and all those who truly believe) another person of the Holy Trinity, not only to give us more knowledge of Himself, but also to be our “counselor,” our “comforter,” and our “advocate.” Think about that: God loves us so much that He didn’t stop wanting to give us Himself even after the Ascension of Jesus Christ. Instead, He decided to send us the paraclete (παράκλητος in Greek) so that He could continue to “counsel,” “comfort,” and “advocate” for us now and in our judgment.

Second, look at the Acts of the Apostles in chapter 2 verses1-4 where we read the following: “When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.”

In this passage, we find out that the Apostles experienced a theophany. In other words, they experienced a manifestation of God in a sound from heaven, a rush of wind, and fire that rested upon their heads. They also developed the gift of tongues. Think about that: God loves us so much He wanted His people not only to know He would be present for them during all the days of their lives, but also that, by being faithful to Him, He would grant them further gifts in order to build up the community and convert those who do not believe.

So what do these two passages tell us about holiness? First, that holiness is always connected to God. In other words, holiness is given by, developed for, and expressed in the name of God. Second, that holiness is always about serving others. Simply put, holiness is essentially an act of intercession in the name of God. Holiness is the sum total of counseling, comforting, and advocating on behalf of another in order to help them grow in closer union with God. Thus, while it is possible to say that holiness might be derived from or lead us to virtue, justice, piety, kindness, charity, caregiving, or lovingness, in itself, holiness is something distinct. Furthermore, prayer is the primary manner in which we intercede for others.

So ask yourself: Do I firmly understand that holiness is something distinct from virtue? Do I understand that God intercedes for us? Do I understand that we should intercede for others? Do I pray for the intercession of the Holy Spirit before the awesome judgment seat of Christ? Do I pray for others?

Let us pray for one another that we learn to live our lives in this way.


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