You Must Be Holy Because Jehovah Is Holy
“Do you also become holy yourselves in all your conduct.”—1 Pet. 1:15.
1. What thoughts may come to mind when you hear the word “holy”?
WHEN you hear someone mention the word “holy,” what comes to your mind? Do you think that “holiness” is something beyond your reach, an unattainable quality? Or that you could never measure up to being a “holy” person? On the other hand, do you picture a “holy” person as one depicted by Christendom or heathendom—a person displaying a pious look, dressed in some special garb, with a sanctimonious attitude, a holier-than-thou individual? Well, if that is what you envision when the word “holy” is mentioned, then you have yet to understand what the Bible means by that term.
2. What meaning do the Hebrew and Greek words convey for “holy” and “holiness”?
2 The English words “holy” and “holiness” in the Bible are translated from Hebrew words that appear to have the root meaning “to be clean,” “to be new or fresh, untarnished.” This would apply in a physical sense, but, more importantly, in a spiritual or moral sense. Thus, the words mainly have to do with moral cleanness, sacredness, purity. These Hebrew words also convey the idea of being separate, exclusive, or sanctified to God. In the Christian Greek Scriptures, the two words also denote a separation to God, and refer to purity or perfection in the personal conduct of an individual.
3. What dual counsel did Peter give at 1 Peter 1:14-16, and what incentive is there to heed these words?
3 With an understanding of these words in mind, we can appreciate why the apostle Peter gave the counsel that is recorded at 1 Peter 1:14-16: “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, because it is written: ‘You must be holy, because I am holy.’” Did you notice the twofold directive that was issued by Peter? First, he mentioned to “quit being fashioned according to the desires you formerly had,” and, secondly, Peter goes on to state that we must “become holy.” What is the incentive to respond to this dual command? The key reason for wanting to acquire “holiness” is because Jehovah is “holy.” Just as Peter stated: “You must be holy, because I am holy.”
4. How is holiness acquired, and what part does truth play in the matter?
4 Since this is a quality of God, and we are imperfect, how is holiness acquired? First Peter 1:14, quoted above, explains that we must show childlike obedience and, later on, 1 Pe 1 verse twenty-two states: “You have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth.” It is clear, then, that to acquire holiness we must show ‘childlike obedience’ to the truth, which is found in God’s Word. Jesus recognized the part that “truth” plays in gaining a holy standing with God for he states at John 17:17: “Sanctify them by means of the truth; your word is truth.” Therefore, a person is made ‘fresh, clean, untarnished’ and is ‘set apart’ to God by obeying the truth and letting the truth go to work in his life.
5. (a) We will be doing what if we disobey truth, and what two examples do we have of this? (b) Define sin, and explain how we can keep from sinning against God.
5 We must appreciate the fact that to obey the truth means to obey our Creator. To disobey the truth, by returning to former unclean ways and desires, would mean to sin against Jehovah personally. David felt that way after reflecting upon his adulterous relationship with Bathsheba. After repenting, he uttered these forceful words: “Against you [Jehovah], you alone, I have sinned, and what is bad in your eyes I have done.” (Ps. 51:4) The prodigal son reached the same conclusion after his recovery from the lapse into a debauched, licentious, unholy course. He put it this way: “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.” (Luke 15:18) Since sin is defined as a moral failure, a missing of the mark of perfection, it would make a Christian unholy, tarnished, unclean in a spiritual and moral sense. Therefore, in appreciation for all that Jehovah has done, a Christian must fight to keep loyal and obedient to the truth rather than disobey and sin against him.
6. Since the Israelites were to become holy, was the holiness limited to their religious activity only? Why not?
6 Down through the centuries, Jehovah has wanted his people to be holy, to become progressively more like himself. To understand this better, let us consider briefly God’s dealings with his people under the Mosaic law. His words to this Jewish nation were as follows: “You should prove yourselves holy, because I Jehovah your God am holy.” (Lev. 19:2) Now, what facets of human experience was Jehovah discussing here? Was he simply referring to the religious activities of life? No, that was not the case. The context, the remaining thirty-five Le 19 verses 3-37 in the chapter, reveals that God was talking about activities that marked every aspect of Jewish life. Things like stealing, impartiality in judgment, use of weights and measures, treatment of handicaps such as deafness and blindness, and even sexual matters are specifically mentioned. Therefore, holiness was to be displayed in all activities of life. By holding to God’s standards for holiness at that time, the nation could be a people that was “holy,” or clean, and set apart from the worldly nations as a people devoted exclusively to Jehovah. The dietary, sanitary and moral laws that God gave to them were a constant reminder of their separateness and holiness to Him.—Lev. 22:31, 32.
MEANING OF HOLINESS CLARIFIED
7. (a) Since the Israelites could be made “holy” only up to a point, what was necessary on God’s part? (b) How did Jesus’ message help the people of his day?
7 However, the Israelites could be cleansed and set apart from the ancient world and made “holy” only up to a point. That is why it was necessary for God to send Jesus to the earth, to unveil to mankind additional information about his Father and His wonderful qualities of righteousness, purity and holiness. The teachings of Jesus Christ could make receptive people even holier than those under the Law. His instructions would reach the hearts of those who wanted to respond to the message of God. It could help them to fashion themselves more like Jehovah. They could get to know God on a more intimate basis than those who lived prior to Jesus’ coming to the earth.—John 1:18.
8. How did Jesus, after quoting the Law, probe deeper, and what two examples illustrate this?
8 While performing his God-appointed service Jesus time and again quoted the Law and then probed deeper. How so? He got to the motives and reasons for doing things. Jesus was interested in finding out what was in a person’s heart. He illustrated this once when he was discussing the Law and the matter of murder and adultery. He explained: “You heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You must not murder; but whoever commits a murder will be accountable to the court of justice.’ However, I say to you that everyone who continues wrathful with his brother will be accountable to the court of justice; but whoever addresses his brother with an unspeakable word of contempt will be accountable to the Supreme Court; whereas whoever says, ‘You despicable fool!’ will be liable to the fiery Gehenna.” (Matt. 5:21, 22) Later, when talking about adultery, Jesus had this to say: “You heard that it was said, ‘You must not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone that keeps on looking at a woman so as to have a passion for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”—Matt. 5:27, 28.
9. (a) Show the contrast between the Law and Christianity. (b) What did Jesus highlight in his teaching?
9 In both cases, we can see the superiority of the teachings of Christ over those of the Law in making one holy. Under the Law the physical acts of murder and adultery would bring condemnation of death to an Israelite. But with the Christian, even his thoughts and motives could condemn him in Jehovah’s eyes. He had to have a clean heart. (Mark 7:18-23) A Christian could not entertain improper thoughts and desires and expect to put on the “holiness” that would reflect the glory of Jehovah. (Phil. 4:8; 2 Cor. 3:18) So Jesus highlighted the principles behind the Law. He stressed the spirit of the Law, which had been largely ignored by those that taught the Law.
10. How did the followers of Jesus benefit, and what did Peter say about these separated Christians?
10 The apostles and other followers of Jesus took to heart that counsel by endeavoring to apply the principles and spirit of the Law in their lives. This was helpful to them in acquiring the “holiness” that was expected of them. They received that “holiness” by faith in the sin-atoning value of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Peter, in describing the Christian congregation, was moved to speak of it as “a holy nation,” one that was completely separated from the world and set aside for service to its God. (1 Pet. 2:9) These ones, even though imperfect, were “holy” or clean and bright in Jehovah’s eyes.
11. What did Malachi say about a cleansing work, and when did that work begin?
11 Before Jesus came to the earth, Malachi, a man of God, had prophesied that Jehovah would also do a cleansing work during the end of this system of things. He described it in this manner: “But who will be putting up with the day of his coming, and who will be the one standing when he appears? For he will be like the fire of a refiner and like the lye of laundrymen. And he must sit as a refiner and cleanser.” (Mal. 3:2, 3) Chronology and physical facts in fulfillment of Bible prophecy show that this cleansing work has been performed since shortly after the establishment of God’s kingdom in 1914. Just as Jehovah had cleansed his people in the past, it was necessary progressively to cleanse the modern people that carry his name, in order to make them a holy people.
A PROGRESSIVE CLEANSING
12-16. As the cleansing work took place, what resulted with regard to (a) wrong doctrines, (b) moral uncleanness, and (c) drug and tobacco habits?
12 What are some of the changes and gradual transformations that have had to be made by the modern Christian congregation world wide and the individuals who make it up? What was this cleansing work that Malachi had predicted? Let us begin to get our answer by going back to the days of C. T. Russell and J. F. Rutherford, who served successively as presidents of the Watch Tower Society from the 1880’s through to the 1940’s. Wrong doctrines such as hellfire (Eccl. 9:5, 10) and the Trinity (John 14:28; 1 Cor. 11:3) had to be cleaned out. Later, true Christians were increasingly purified by the removal of the birthday celebration. (Eccl. 7:1) Then came the time for true Christians to be shown the necessity of keeping separate from the world and its conflicts, and that was made clear.—John 15:19; 17:16.
13 During the years following World War II the moral corruption of the world began to reach frightful proportions. The possibility existed that God’s clean organization could become contaminated by such corruptive influences. But Jehovah was interested in his people, just as in times past, so through his channel of communication he lovingly brought forward information to counteract the filth that could tarnish or cause his people to become unholy. (Matt. 24:45-47) Particularly from 1946, personal moral cleanness became a matter of much greater concern to the Lord’s people. (2 Cor. 7:1) Starting in 1952, the more formal Scriptural arrangement of disfellowshiping wrongdoers was instituted. Those who committed gross sins such as adultery and fornication were expelled from the congregation, if they did not repent. (1 Cor. 5:11-13) God’s organization would not tolerate persons who refused to keep unspotted, clean and pure in the sight of Jehovah.
14 In the 1960’s “dating” between sexes was prominent and popular in the world. Heavy “petting” and “necking” were in vogue. Was there a danger of our youths becoming sullied and besmirched by “loose conduct” and unclean practices? (Eph. 4:19) Yes, there was! So, Jehovah again, through his organization, pointed out that such practices were not fitting for a “holy” people. Courtship was shown to be for marriage-minded adults. “Dating” was not a game, it was a serious matter. For Christians it should lead to honorable marriage.—Heb. 13:4.
15 In recent years, homosexuality has swept the world. These homosexuals claim that they are ‘bringing it out of the closet’ and they brag by saying, ‘We are proud to be such.’ It was apparent that this erosion of moral standards could pose a danger or threat for God’s holy people, so the congregations were alerted and wrongdoers were cleaned out. Likewise, unclean practices, such as masturbation, which can be a steppingstone to homosexuality, have been dealt with in a serious, yet understanding, way, to help individuals keep clean and pure in Jehovah’s eyes. Later, another issue needed attention. Unnatural practices in connection with sex in marriage, such as oral and anal copulation, have caused some of God’s people to become impure in his eyes. But The Watchtower kept above this morass of filth by alerting married couples to God’s thinking on the matter. Also, fornication (por·neiʹa, Greek), which is so detestable in God’s sight, was shown to include all forms of immoral sex relations. (1 Cor. 6:9, 10) The information was appreciated, and those who quit such unclean practices were in complete agreement with David, who wisely asked of his heavenly Father, “From concealed sins pronounce me innocent.”—Ps. 19:12.
16 More recently, Jehovah has brought to the attention of his “holy” people the need to disfellowship those dedicated, baptized Christians who refuse to break and give up the drug and tobacco habits. The idea that tobacco was a defilement of the “flesh and spirit” was not new. Down through the years in hundreds of different references in the Watch Tower Society’s publications it has been brought to the attention of God’s people how contrary to the teachings of the Sacred Scriptures smoking is. It was therefore time for God to remove those who refused to see the need of cleansing themselves of every defilement of the flesh and spirit. As of May 1974, in the United States alone, more than 2,000 had been disfellowshiped for not quitting this unclean practice. They were not “perfecting holiness in God’s fear,” as Paul had encouraged.—2 Cor. 7:1.
17. How has God protected his people as a group, and what sobering question should an individual ask himself?
17 It is obvious from these as well as other examples of cleansing that Jehovah is striving to “perfect” his people in holiness. Just as a father, while walking in a forest, will take his small child’s hand to assist in overcoming any pitfalls and obstacles, so our heavenly Father has guided his people down through the years. Each step that he has brought us through has been necessary. As things cropped up that could tarnish or spot, they were taken care of by Jehovah. The congregations were notified and God’s people were prepared for the changes right on time. Therefore we are being “refined” and “purified” so that we can be in a better position to represent God in a holier way. However, the sobering question is, What are we doing as individuals? Have we kept pace with all these major progressive changes? Each of us needs to search his heart to find the answer.
CONTINUING TO BE MADE HOLY
18. Why does Jehovah bring his holy standards to our attention, and how does he react when we err?
18 We must recognize that God’s standards for holiness do not change. They have always been in the Bible. As he brings these things to our attention, he merely wants us to see more clearly the principles and laws of his Word. He wants us to learn more about his ways so that we can pattern ourselves more after his holiness. When we err and fall down, he is patient with us. He has empathy, “remembering that we are dust.” (Ps. 103:14) He does not threaten us with removal from the congregation for each and every transgression, but he gives us the opportunity to grow in appreciation of his ways and qualities.
19. How might we accept the undeserved kindness of God and yet miss its purpose?
19 But we do not want to accept the undeserved kindness of God and miss the purpose or reason for being brought into God’s clean organization. (2 Cor. 6:1) We must not be indifferent. It is not wise to take things for granted. We cannot afford to remain stationary. We must take seriously what his Word says and what his organization reveals to us. As new information comes out we must take it to heart and sincerely endeavor to apply it in our lives. We are in God’s clean organization to bring honor and praise to Him. If we fail to do this, then we are missing the purpose for becoming clean and “holy.” Really, could we then expect the blessings and support of God?
20. (a) What is God’s way of ruling? (b) A failure to respond to His direction would indicate what?
20 God’s way of ruling is by love. (1 John 4:16) He wants us to do things because they are right. Sometime in the future a test may be imposed upon us to comply with certain information that God brings to our attention. It may hit something that we love very dearly. What will we do? Will we hesitate in applying counsel, perhaps pondering in our mind as to what we want to do about it? If that would be the case, wouldn’t we really be asking ourselves the question, ‘Do we really want the rulership of God?’ Would not a failure to respond to direction from God through his organization really indicate a rejection of divine rulership?
21. Today, by what means does God make his people holier?
21 As we receive each new publication through Jehovah’s faithful “slave” class, whether we are of the “anointed” or of the “great crowd,” we see fresh facets of Jehovah’s holy standards being drawn to our attention. It is by this means that we are being cleansed, and not by an increased list of reasons for disfellowshiping persons in the days to come. We are purified by our obedience to the truth just as Peter said: “You have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth.” (1 Pet. 1:22) It is apparent that Jehovah’s people as a group are doing this, but it is vital that individually we respond to what Jehovah is doing for us at this time. He is making us “holy” just as He is “holy.”
22. Instead of making excuses for weaknesses, what should we do?
22 What we want to do is image our heavenly Father. Therefore, we must work to stay clean, especially as this world becomes progressively more and more dirty and unclean. This is no time to be making excuses because of our weaknesses and imperfections. We must strive to improve. We must struggle steadily to become more like Jehovah. If the burden at times seems to be too great for us to carry, then why not accept God’s invitation: “Throw your burden upon Jehovah himself, and he himself will sustain you.”—Ps. 55:22; 68:19.
23. What are the things we must do now to realize life in a holy new system?
23 Important, too, is the need to keep our minds centered on the holy New Order that will be filled with holy people. Constantly reflect on the time when you will be clean and holy forever, physically, mentally, morally and spiritually. However, to experience those blessings it is essential NOW to associate with the clean people that make up the congregations of God. It will stimulate you to want to imitate their fine example as they strive to be holy. (Heb. 10:24, 25) Let us continue to cleanse ourselves now by obeying God’s Word of truth. We want to follow the leadings of the Christian congregation and respond to the direction of the holy spirit that Jehovah is pouring out to help us to gain his holiness. Let us display our genuine holiness by our unhypocritical love for other people and by responding with an ever-deepening love for our holy God, Jehovah.—Matt. 22:37-40.
24. What grand prospect can be realized by us, resulting in all credit going to whom?
24 What a grand prospect all of us have before us today! That “holiness” that many thought could never be reached can be ours. How wonderful it will be as truly “holy” persons to reflect on the many superlative qualities of God throughout all eternity! All praise and honor go to Him! How eternally grateful we will be to Jehovah for the opportunity that was given to us to respond to his command: “You must be holy, because I am holy”!—1 Pet. 1:16.