Perfecting Holiness in God’s Fear
“Let us cleanse ourselves of every defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in God’s fear.”—2 CORINTHIANS 7:1.
1. How do we know that high-ranking angels recognize Jehovah’s holiness?
JEHOVAH is the holy God. High-ranking angels in heaven proclaim his holiness in no uncertain terms. “Holy, holy, holy is Jehovah of armies. The fullness of all the earth is his glory.” Such was the stirring call of the seraphs seen in a vision by the prophet Isaiah in the eighth century B.C.E. At the end of the first century C.E., the apostle John saw visions of what was to occur in “the Lord’s day,” where we now are. He saw four living creatures around Jehovah’s throne and heard them proclaim unceasingly: “Holy, holy, holy is Jehovah God, the Almighty, who was and who is and who is coming.” These threefold proclamations by Jehovah’s heavenly spirit creatures emphasize the Creator’s superlative holiness.—Isaiah 6:2, 3; Revelation 1:10; 4:6-8.
Holiness and Separateness
2. (a) What two aspects are there to holiness, and how is Jehovah holy in both these respects? (b) How did Moses emphasize Jehovah’s holiness?
2 Holiness means not only religious cleanness and purity but also separateness, or sanctification. Jehovah is supremely clean, or pure; he is completely set apart from all the filthy gods of the nations. This aspect of his holiness, or sanctification, was underscored by Moses when he sang out: “Who among the gods is like you, O Jehovah? Who is like you, proving yourself mighty in holiness?”—Exodus 15:11.
3. In what ways were all the Israelites required to be holy, and how did Jehovah help them in this regard?
3 The holy God Jehovah required that the ancient Israelites, his people on earth, should also be holy. This was demanded not only of the priests and the Levites but also of the entire nation. Jehovah said to Moses: “Speak to the entire assembly of the sons of Israel, and you must say to them, ‘You should prove yourselves holy, because I Jehovah your God am holy.’” (Leviticus 19:2) To that end, Jehovah gave them laws to help them remain clean spiritually, morally, mentally, physically, and ceremonially, the latter being in connection with their worship at the tabernacle and, later, at the temple.
A People Set Apart
4, 5. (a) How was fleshly Israel a sanctified nation? (b) What is required of spiritual Israelites, and how does the apostle Peter confirm this?
4 To the extent that the Israelites followed God’s laws, they stood out from the depraved nations around them. They were distinguished as a people set apart, or sanctified, for the service of the holy God Jehovah. Moses told them: “You are a holy people to Jehovah your God. It is you Jehovah your God has chosen to become his people, a special property, out of all the peoples that are on the surface of the ground.”—Deuteronomy 7:6.
5 Such cleanness and separateness are also required of spiritual Israel. The apostle Peter wrote to the ones chosen to be spiritual Israelites: “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.’”—1 Peter 1:1, 14-16.
6, 7. (a) How are the members of the “great crowd” described in Revelation chapter 7, and what is logically required of them? (b) What will be considered in the following paragraphs?
6 In Revelation chapter 7, the members of the “great crowd” are described as “standing before the throne [of Jehovah] and before the Lamb, dressed in white robes,” having “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” (Revelation 7:9, 14) Their white robes symbolize their clean, righteous standing before Jehovah, which he grants them because of their faith in Christ’s redeeming blood. Clearly, then, not only anointed Christians but “other sheep” too must remain spiritually and morally clean in order to worship Jehovah acceptably.—John 10:16.
7 Let us now consider how Jehovah’s people in the past were required to prove themselves clean and holy and why the same principles apply to God’s people today.
8. For what reasons did the Israelites have to keep themselves separate from the religions of Canaan?
8 Fleshly Israelites had to keep themselves scrupulously separate from the unclean religious practices of other nations. Speaking through Moses, Jehovah told Israel: “Watch yourself that you do not conclude a covenant with the inhabitants of the land to which you are going, for fear it may prove itself a snare in your midst. But their altars you people are to pull down, and their sacred pillars [used in connection with disgusting sex worship] you are to shatter, and their sacred poles you are to cut down. For you must not prostrate yourself to another god, because Jehovah, whose name is Jealous, he is a jealous God [or, “a God exacting exclusive devotion,” New World Translation Reference Bible, footnote]; for fear that you may conclude a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, as they will certainly have immoral intercourse with their gods and sacrifice to their gods.”—Exodus 34:12-15.
9. What precise instructions were given to the faithful remnant who left Babylon in 537 B.C.E.?
9 Centuries later, Jehovah inspired Isaiah to address these prophetic words to the faithful remnant who would return to Judah from Babylon: “Turn away, turn away, get out of there, touch nothing unclean; get out from the midst of her, keep yourselves clean, you who are carrying the utensils of Jehovah [to be used in restoring pure worship at the temple in Jerusalem].”—Isaiah 52:11.
10, 11. (a) What similar instructions were given to spiritual Israelites in the first century C.E.? (b) How have these instructions been followed particularly since 1919 and 1935, and in what other way do the anointed and their companions keep spiritually clean?
10 Similarly, spiritual Israelites and their companions must keep themselves undefiled by the idolatrous religions of this world. Writing to anointed Christians in the Corinth congregation, the apostle Paul stated: “What agreement does God’s temple have with idols? For we are a temple of a living God; just as God said: ‘I shall reside among them and walk among them, and I shall be their God, and they will be my people.’ ‘“Therefore get out from among them, and separate yourselves,” says Jehovah, “and quit touching the unclean thing”’; ‘“and I will take you in.”’”—2 Corinthians 6:16, 17.
11 Since 1919 the cleansed and refined members of the anointed remnant have been freed from the unclean, idolatrous religions of Babylon the Great. (Malachi 3:1-3) They have heeded the heavenly call: “Get out of her, my people, if you do not want to share with her in her sins, and if you do not want to receive part of her plagues.” (Revelation 18:4) Since 1935 an increasing great crowd of “other sheep” have likewise heeded this call and have abandoned unclean Babylonish religion. The anointed ones and their companions also keep spiritually clean by avoiding all contact with the pernicious ideas of apostates.—John 10:16; 2 John 9-11.
12. (a) By means of what laws did Jehovah raise the moral status of the Israelites far above that of the surrounding nations? (b) What rules were particularly strict for the priesthood?
12 By means of the Law covenant, Jehovah raised the moral status of the Israelites far above the degraded condition of the surrounding nations. Marriage and family life were protected institutions in Israel. The seventh of the Ten Commandments forbade adultery. Both adultery and fornication were severely punished. (Deuteronomy 22:22-24) Virgins were protected under the Law. (Deuteronomy 22:28, 29) The rules for marriage were particularly strict for the priesthood. As for the high priest, he was required to choose a chaste virgin for a wife.—Leviticus 21:6, 7, 10, 13.
13. To whom are the members of Christ’s “bride” likened, and why?
13 Similarly, the great High Priest, Jesus Christ, has a “bride” made up of 144,000 anointed Christians, who are likened to “virgins.” (Revelation 14:1-5; 21:9) They keep themselves undefiled by Satan’s world and remain doctrinally and morally pure. The apostle Paul wrote to anointed Christians in Corinth: “I am jealous over you with a godly jealousy, for I personally promised you in marriage to one husband that I might present you as a chaste virgin to the Christ.” (2 Corinthians 11:2) Paul also wrote: “Christ also loved the congregation and delivered up himself for it, that he might sanctify it, cleansing it with the bath of water by means of the word, that he might present the congregation to himself in its splendor, not having a spot or a wrinkle or any of such things, but that it should be holy and without blemish.”—Ephesians 5:25-27.
14, 15. (a) What must accompany the spiritual purity of the bride class, and what scripture shows this? (b) Why is it evident that similar requirements of moral purity apply also to the other sheep?
14 This spiritual purity of Christ’s bride must be accompanied by moral cleanness on the part of its members. The apostle Paul stated: “Do not be misled. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers . . . will inherit God’s kingdom. And yet that is what some of you were. But you have been washed clean, but you have been sanctified.”—1 Corinthians 6:9-11.
15 That such requirements of moral purity apply also to the other sheep becomes apparent when considering those whom Jehovah will exclude from his promised new heaven and new earth. We read: “But as for . . . those who are disgusting in their filth and murderers and fornicators . . . , their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulphur. This means the second death.”—Revelation 21:1, 8.
16, 17. (a) What scriptures show that singleness is not a requirement for moral cleanness? (b) How can a Christian show proper fear of God in the choice of a marriage mate, and why would it be unwise to ignore the apostolic restriction?
16 To remain morally clean, anointed members of the bride class and the other sheep are not required to remain single. Compulsory celibacy is unscriptural. (1 Timothy 4:1-3) Sexual relations within the marriage bond are not unclean. God’s Word states: “Let marriage be honorable among all, and the marriage bed be without defilement, for God will judge fornicators and adulterers.”—Hebrews 13:4.
17 However, a Christian who desires to ‘perfect holiness in God’s fear’ should not feel free to marry whomever he or she pleases. Just before counseling his fellow Christians to ‘cleanse themselves of every defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in God’s fear,’ the apostle Paul wrote: “Do not become unevenly yoked with unbelievers. For what fellowship do righteousness and lawlessness have? . . . Or what portion does a faithful person have with an unbeliever?” (2 Corinthians 6:14, 15; 7:1) As a member of Jehovah’s separate and clean people, a Christian man or woman who wishes to marry will accept the apostolic restriction to do so “only in the Lord,” that is, by choosing someone who is a dedicated, baptized, and faithful servant of Jehovah. (1 Corinthians 7:39) As in the past, so today, it would certainly be unwise for dedicated ones among God’s people to ignore this Scriptural counsel. (Compare Deuteronomy 7:3, 4; Nehemiah 13:23-27.) It would not be showing wholesome fear of our Grand Master, Jehovah.—Malachi 1:6.
18. In what other way can Christians keep their marriage honorable?
18 Furthermore, in Israel, laws imposed limits on sexual activities even within the marriage bond. A husband was to refrain from having relations with his wife during her menstrual period. (Leviticus 15:24; 18:19; 20:18) This required loving consideration and self-control on the part of the Israelite menfolk. Should Christians be any less considerate of their wives? The apostle Peter says that Christian husbands should dwell with their wives “according to knowledge,” that is, knowledge of their make-up as “a weaker vessel, the feminine one.”—1 Peter 3:7.
Walking on “the Way of Holiness”
19, 20. (a) Describe the broad road being followed by the majority of mankind. (b) How must Jehovah’s people be different from Satan’s world? (c) What highway are God’s people following, when was it opened, and who only are allowed on it?
19 The foregoing underscores the ever-widening gulf that separates Jehovah’s people from Satan’s world. The present worldly system of things is increasingly permissive and self-indulgent. Jesus stated: “Go in through the narrow gate; because broad and spacious is the road leading off into destruction, and many are the ones going in through it.” (Matthew 7:13) That wide road is being followed by the majority of mankind. To quote the apostle Peter, it is the way of “loose conduct, lusts, excesses with wine, revelries, drinking matches, and illegal idolatries,” a way that leads to a “low sink of debauchery.” (1 Peter 4:3, 4) Its end is destruction.
20 God’s people, on the other hand, are walking on a different road, a clean road being followed by clean people. The opening up of this road in the time of the end was foretold by the prophet Isaiah, who wrote: “And there will certainly come to be a highway there, even a way; and the Way of Holiness it will be called. The unclean one will not pass over it.” (Isaiah 35:8) Commenting on this prophecy, the book Worldwide Security Under the “Prince of Peace” states: “In 1919 a figurative highway was opened up to the joyful servants of God. Those who wanted to be holy in Jehovah’s sight were the ones who walked upon that ‘highway,’ ‘the Way of Holiness.’ . . . Today, so deep into ‘the conclusion of the system of things,’ that divinely provided ‘highway’ remains open. Throngs of appreciative people are . . . entering in upon the spiritual paradise route, ‘the Way of Holiness.’”*
21. How and why must Jehovah’s servants distinguish themselves from the Devil’s crowd, and what will be considered in the next article?
21 Yes, the anointed remnant of spiritual Israelites and their companions, the other sheep, distinguish themselves today as a people set apart from Satan’s world, for whom the notion of holiness has lost all meaning. Nothing is sacred to the Devil’s crowd walking along the “broad and spacious . . . road leading off into destruction.” Not only are they spiritually and morally unclean but in many cases they are physically unclean and their appearance is slovenly, to say the least. Yet, the apostle Paul says: “Let us cleanse ourselves of every defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in God’s fear.” (2 Corinthians 7:1) In what ways God’s people should be careful to be clean in mind and body will be considered in the next article.
Chapter 16, pages 134-5.
Points for Review
□ What two aspects are there to holiness, and why can it be said that Jehovah is superlatively holy?
□ In what two ways were the Israelites to prove themselves to be a holy nation?
□ What is required of spiritual Israelites and of their companions, the other sheep?
□ How should our fear of God affect our choice of a marriage mate?
□ What two roads can be followed today, and why must a clear choice be made?
[Picture on page 13]
God’s Word says: “Let marriage be honorable”