Holiness Is Required by Jehovah
IS HOLINESS too much for God to expect from his servants? Is it possible for ordinary humans like ourselves to achieve holiness and then maintain that quality? If so, is it worth the effort? Who really are holy? Just what is holiness?
The English words “holy” and “holiness” are renderings of words drawn from a Hebrew root verb having the meaning, in a physical sense, “to be bright, to be new or fresh, untarnished or clean.” In the Bible, however, these words are used mainly in a spiritual or moral sense. Accordingly, holiness carries the thought of sacredness, or moral and spiritual cleanness. It denotes also separation or sanctification to God, a state of being set aside to the service of God.
“HOLINESS BELONGS TO JEHOVAH”
Jehovah is the “Most Holy One,” superior to all others in holiness. (Prov. 30:3) Jesus Christ acknowledged that the quality of holiness belongs to Jehovah, addressing him as “Holy Father.” (John 17:11) Also, those in the heavens are shown declaring: “Holy, holy, holy is Jehovah of armies,” attributing to him holiness, cleanness in the superlative degree.—Isa. 6:3; Rev. 4:8.
In ancient times the Israelites were frequently reminded that Jehovah is holy. (Lev. 11:44; 19:2) For example, they were able to observe the words “Holiness belongs to Jehovah” that were engraved on the shining gold plate on the high priest’s turban. This plate was called “the holy sign of dedication,” showing that the high priest was set apart to a service of special holiness.—Ex. 28:36; 29:6.
That God’s name Jehovah is sacred, and is to be held as holy and set apart from all defilement, the Israelites had forcefully impressed upon them. On one occasion the son of the Israelite woman Shelomith was heard calling down evil on God’s name, thus abusing it. What penalty would be applied for this offense?
God himself instructed Moses on the matter: “In case any man calls down evil upon his God, he must then answer for his sin. So the abuser of Jehovah’s name should be put to death without fail. The entire assembly should without fail pelt him with stones. The alien resident the same as the native should be put to death for his abusing the Name.”—Lev. 24:10-16.
Yes, disrespect for the sacred name of God merited the punishment of death. We are wise, therefore, to keep in mind the words of the psalmist, who said regarding Jehovah: “His name is holy and fear-inspiring.” (Ps. 111:9) In appreciation for this fact, Jesus Christ, when teaching his disciples to pray to God, gave as the first petition: “Hallowed [Held holy] be thy name,” or, as another translation says, “Let your name be sanctified.” In keeping with this prayer, do you treat God and his name with the respect and reverence that they deserve?—Matt. 6:9, AV, NW.
Since Jehovah God is the basis for all holiness, any thing or object that is holy becomes so because of its relationship to him and his worship. For example, Jehovah’s active force or spirit is subject to his control and always accomplishes his purposes. It is pure, sacred and set apart for God’s good use. Therefore it is called “holy spirit” and “the spirit of holiness.”—Ps. 51:11; Rom. 1:4.
Just think of the privilege we have of receiving this holy force in our lives! This is possible, for Jesus said: “The Father in heaven [will] give holy spirit to those asking him!” Do you actually ask God for his holy spirit? We are invited to do so.—Luke 11:13.
In addition, since the Bible was written under the direction of God’s spirit, it also is holy. It is called “the holy Scriptures,” or “holy writings.” (Rom. 1:2; 2 Tim. 3:15) Do you treat the Bible as such? When you read it, do you consider what is said with the reverence and respect due God’s “holy writings”?
Other things, too, by reason of their sanctification for Jehovah’s service have been constituted holy. For example, under God’s Law to the nation of Israel the firstborn male of cattle, sheep or goats were counted as holy to Jehovah. (Num. 18:17-19) Likewise the altar of sacrifice, the anointing oil, the special incense, the showbread and other things closely connected with God’s worship were made holy by Jehovah’s decree.—Ex. 29:37; 30:25, 35, 37; 1 Sam. 21:4.
This did not mean that these things had holiness of themselves, to be used as a charm or fetish. For example, one of the primary holy objects, the ark of the covenant, proved to be no charm when Eli’s two wicked sons carried it into battle against the Philistines.—1 Sam. 4:3-11.
All things holy to Jehovah were sacred and could not be considered lightly by his Israelite servants, or used in a common or profane way. An example is the law regarding the tithe. If a man set aside the tithe, say, of his wheat crop, and then he or one of his household unintentionally took some of it for home use, such as cooking, such a one was guilty of violating God’s law respecting holy things. Was this a matter of little consequence, something that could be simply overlooked?
No, not at all. God’s Law required that he make compensation to the sanctuary of an equal amount plus 20 percent, besides offering up a sound ram of the flock as a sacrifice. Thus great respect was engendered for the holy things belonging to Jehovah. (Lev. 5:14-16) Should not this impress upon us today the importance of treating with proper respect things that are used in connection with Jehovah’s service?
JESUS AND CHRISTIAN “HOLY ONES”
By means of their relationship with him, Jehovah’s heavenly angels are holy. (Mark 8:38; Luke 9:26) The chief one among these heavenly ones, however, is in a special sense God’s Holy One. His holiness came from his Father when Jehovah created him as his only-begotten Son. (John 1:1, 14) Later, when announcing to Mary this one’s coming birth as a human and that his name should be called “Jesus,” the angel Gabriel also told Mary: “What is born will be called holy.”—Luke 1:31, 35.
Not only was Jesus Christ holy while in heaven, but throughout his earthly life he maintained his holiness, even to a sacrificial death. (Acts 3:14; Heb. 7:26) Thus God made it possible for others on earth to attain holiness, to achieve a righteous standing with God such as Jesus held. The Bible speaks of ones formerly defiled by wicked works as achieving holiness, saying:
“Indeed, you who were once alienated and enemies because your minds were on the works that were wicked, he now has again reconciled by means of that one’s fleshly body through his death, in order to present you holy and unblemished and open to no accusation before him, provided, of course, that you continue in the faith, established on the foundation and steadfast and not being shifted away from the hope of that good news which you heard.”—Col. 1:21-23.
Holiness, therefore, does not belong to them through their own merit, but comes to them through Jesus Christ. (Rom. 3:23-26) They receive holiness as a result of their faith in the ransom sacrifice of Christ. (Phil. 3:9; 1 John 1:7) God applies the merit of Jesus’ sacrifice in their behalf immediately, forgiving them all their sins, and, by judicial act on his part, imputes human perfection to them. They become Jehovah’s anointed ones, the spiritual brothers of Jesus Christ, and are called “holy ones” or “saints.”—Rom. 15:26; Eph. 1:1; Phil. 4:21; compare these verses in the King James or Authorized Version.
From the many Scriptural references to living members of the congregation as “holy ones” or “saints” it becomes clear that a person is not made a “holy one” or “saint” by men or by an organization. Neither does such a one have to wait until after death to be made a “saint.” He is a “holy one” by virtue of God’s calling of him to joint-heirship with Christ. He is holy in the eyes of God while he is on earth, with the hope of heavenly life in the spirit realm wherein dwell Jehovah God and his Son, along with the holy angels.—1 Pet. 1:3, 4.
HOLINESS OF OTHER FAITHFUL ONES
Other persons in the Bible are also spoken of as being holy. In pre-Christian times the entire nation of Israel was counted as holy because of God’s choosing and sanctifying them, bringing them exclusively into covenant relationship as a special property. (Ex. 19:5, 6) Thus the apostle Peter speaks about “the holy women who were hoping in God.” (1 Pet. 3:5) These persons were counted holy due to being numbered among God’s holy witnesses.
Similarly, there are a “great crowd” of faithful Christians today who are not included among those 144,000 “holy ones” who receive the “holy calling” to heavenly life. (2 Tim. 1:9) Nevertheless, this “great crowd,” who have prospects of eternal life under the rule of God’s heavenly kingdom, are pictured as having “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” (Rev. 7:3, 4, 9-15) This represents for them a standing before God, a counting to them of righteousness, that will tide them safely through the fast-approaching destruction of this wicked system of things.
However, unlike those with the heavenly hope, the “great crowd” do not have human perfection imputed to them and so are not reckoned in the Scriptures as “holy ones.” Rather, they look forward eventually to attaining actual human perfection and holiness.
Both the anointed “holy ones” and the “great crowd” who receive a standing before God need to maintain a course of purity and cleanness before God. They need to “continue in the faith, established on the foundation and steadfast and not being shifted away from the hope of that good news” which they accepted. (Col. 1:23) This requires on their part continued regular study of God’s Word of truth and the application of it to their lives. (1 Pet. 1:22) And since they are still imperfect and inclined toward wrongdoing, it also requires their responding to Jehovah’s discipline.
The part that discipline plays in maintaining holiness the apostle Paul explains, saying: “We used to have fathers who were of our flesh to discipline us, and we used to give them respect. Shall we not much more subject ourselves to the Father of our spiritual life and live? For they for a few days used to discipline us according to what seemed good to them, but he does so for our profit that we may partake of his holiness.” (Heb. 12:9, 10) Thus those “holy ones” who would partake of God’s holiness must humbly accept and submit to discipline. And to maintain their standing before God the “great crowd” need to do the same.
Christians are admonished to cleanse themselves of “every defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in God’s fear.” (2 Cor. 7:1) Are you doing this? If a Christian practices things that defile or damage his fleshly body, or goes contrary to the Bible in doctrine or morals, he is turning from a course of holiness and shows that he does not really love or fear God. This is a very serious matter.
Anointed Christians who have the “holy calling” to heavenly life become a holy temple of living stones for Jehovah. They constitute “a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for special possession.” (1 Pet. 2:5, 9) So if a member of the temple class practices immorality, what then? Why, he is defiling and tearing down God’s temple! And God says: “If anyone destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him; for the temple of God is holy, which temple you people are.” (1 Cor. 3:17) Yes, anyone misusing that which is holy to Jehovah will suffer punishment from God.
Jehovah’s attitude toward profane use of his holy possessions can be seen from the severe punishment he meted out to the Babylonians for such an offense. King Belshazzar had profaned the holy vessels of Jehovah’s temple by ordering them brought in and used by drunken banqueters. In that very night Jehovah caused their sudden destruction. (Dan. 5:1-4, 22-31) This indicates the importance for persons now to heed the Bible counsel to treat kindly and lovingly Jehovah’s “holy ones,” the spiritual brothers of Jesus Christ.—Matt. 25:40, 45.
It is clear that Jehovah God expects both his anointed “holy ones” and the members of the “great crowd” to maintain a course of purity and cleanness. Such holiness of conduct is a requirement for all servants of God. You will, therefore, show wisdom if you strive to obey the Bible counsel: “As obedient children, quit being fashioned according to the desires you formerly had in your ignorance, but, in accord with the holy one who called you, do you also become holy yourselves in all your conduct.”—1 Pet. 1:14, 15.