‘You Must Be Holy Because I Am Holy’
“You should prove yourselves holy, because I Jehovah your God am holy.”—LEVITICUS 19:2.
1. Who are some people considered by the world to be holy?
MOST of the major religions of the world have those whom they consider to be holy. Mother Teresa of Indian fame is often viewed as holy because of her dedication to the poor. The pope is called the “Holy Father.” The founder of the modern Catholic movement Opus Dei, José María Escrivá, is viewed by some Catholics as a “model for holiness.” Hinduism has its swamis, or holy men. Gandhi was revered as a holy man. Buddhism has its holy monks, and Islam its holy prophet. But what exactly does it mean to be holy?
2, 3. (a) What do the words “holy” and “holiness” mean? (b) What are some questions that need to be answered?
2 The word “holy” has been defined as being “1. . . . associated with a divine power; sacred. 2. Regarded with or worthy of worship or veneration . . . 3. Living according to a strict or highly moral religious or spiritual system . . . 4. Specified or set apart for a religious purpose.” In the Biblical context, holiness means “religious cleanness or purity; sacredness.” According to the Bible reference work Insight on the Scriptures, “the original Hebrew [word] qoʹdhesh conveys the thought of separateness, exclusiveness, or sanctification to God, . . . a state of being set aside to the service of God.”*
3 The nation of Israel was commanded to be holy. God’s Law stated: “I am Jehovah your God; and you must sanctify yourselves and you must prove yourselves holy, because I am holy.” Who was the Source of holiness? How could imperfect Israelites become holy? And what lessons can we find for ourselves today in Jehovah’s call to holiness?—Leviticus 11:44.
How Israel Related to the Source of Holiness
4. How was Jehovah’s holiness exemplified in Israel?
4 Everything related to Israel’s worship of Jehovah God was to be considered holy and treated as such. Why was that? Because Jehovah himself is the origin and source of holiness. Moses’ account of the preparation of the holy tabernacle and the vestments and decorations concludes with the words: “Finally they made the shining plate, the holy sign of dedication, out of pure gold and inscribed upon it an inscription with the engravings of a seal: ‘Holiness belongs to Jehovah.’” This shining plate of pure gold was fixed to the high priest’s turban, and it signified that he was set apart to a service of special holiness. As they witnessed this inscribed sign flashing in the sunlight, the Israelites were regularly reminded of Jehovah’s holiness.—Exodus 28:36; 29:6; 39:30.
5. How could imperfect Israelites be considered holy?
5 But how could the Israelites become holy? Only by their close relationship with Jehovah and their pure worship of him. They needed accurate knowledge of “the Most Holy One” in order to worship him in holiness, in physical and spiritual cleanness. (Proverbs 2:1-6; 9:10) The Israelites therefore had to worship God with a pure motive and a pure heart. Any hypocritical form of worship would be repugnant to Jehovah.—Proverbs 21:27.
Why Jehovah Denounced Israel
6. How did the Jews in Malachi’s day treat Jehovah’s table?
6 This was clearly illustrated when the Israelites were halfheartedly bringing shoddy, defective sacrifices to the temple. Through his prophet Malachi, Jehovah denounced their inferior offerings: “‘No delight do I have in you,’ Jehovah of armies has said, ‘and in the gift offering from your hand I take no pleasure.’ . . . ‘But you men are profaning me by your saying, “The table of Jehovah is something polluted, and its fruit is something to be despised, its food.” And you have said, “Look! What a weariness!” and you have caused a sniffing at it,’ Jehovah of armies has said. ‘And you have brought something torn away, and the lame one, and the sick one; yes, you have brought it as a gift. Can I take pleasure in it at your hand?’ Jehovah has said.”—Malachi 1:10, 12, 13.
7. What unholy actions were the Jews taking in the fifth century B.C.E.?
7 Malachi was used by God to denounce the false practices of the Jews, probably during the fifth century B.C.E. The priests were setting a poor example, and their conduct was by no means holy. The people, following that lead, were slack in their principles, even to the point of divorcing their wives, possibly so that they could take younger pagan wives. Malachi wrote: “‘Jehovah himself has borne witness between you and the wife of your youth, with whom you yourself have dealt treacherously,* although she is your partner and the wife of your covenant. . . . And you people must guard yourselves respecting your spirit, and with the wife of your youth may no one deal treacherously. For he has hated a divorcing,’ Jehovah the God of Israel has said.”—Malachi 2:14-16.
8. How have some in the Christian congregation been affected by the modern view of divorce?
8 In modern times, in many countries where divorce is easily obtained, the divorce rate has soared. Even the Christian congregation has been affected. Instead of seeking the help of the elders to overcome obstacles and try to make their marriage succeed, some have too quickly cast it aside. Often the children are left to pay a high emotional price.—Matthew 19:8, 9.
9, 10. How should we reflect on our worship of Jehovah?
9 As we saw above, in view of the deplorable spiritual condition in Malachi’s day, Jehovah roundly condemned Judah’s shallow worship and showed that he would accept only pure worship. Should this not make us reflect on the quality of our worship of Jehovah God, the Sovereign Lord of the universe, the Source of true holiness? Are we really offering to God holy service? Do we keep ourselves in a spiritually clean condition?
10 This does not mean that we have to be perfect, which is impossible, or that we should compare ourselves to others. But it does mean that each Christian should be rendering to God worship that is his or her best within the individual’s circumstances. This refers to the quality of our worship. Our sacred service should be our best—holy service. How is that accomplished?—Luke 16:10; Galatians 6:3, 4.
Pure Hearts Lead to Pure Worship
11, 12. From where does unholy conduct emanate?
11 Jesus clearly taught that what is in the heart will become evident by what a person says and does. Jesus said to the self-righteous, yet unholy, Pharisees: “Offspring of vipers, how can you speak good things, when you are wicked? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” Later he showed that wicked actions spring from wicked thoughts in the heart, or inner person. He said: “The things proceeding out of the mouth come out of the heart, and those things defile a man. For example, out of the heart come wicked reasonings, murders, adulteries, fornications, thieveries, false testimonies, blasphemies. These are the things defiling a man.”—Matthew 12:34; 15:18-20.
12 This helps us to understand that unholy actions are not just spontaneous or without a prior basis. They are the result of defiling thoughts that have been lurking in the heart—secret desires and maybe fantasies. That is why Jesus could 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.” In other words, fornication and adultery have already taken root in the heart before any action takes place. Then, given the right circumstances, the unholy thoughts become unholy conduct. Fornication, adultery, sodomy, thievery, blasphemies, and apostasy become some of the evident results.—Matthew 5:27, 28; Galatians 5:19-21.
13. What are some examples of how unholy thoughts can lead to unholy acts?
13 This can be illustrated in various ways. In some countries, casinos are springing up like mushrooms, thus increasing the opportunity to gamble. One might be tempted to resort to this pseudosolution to try to solve one’s financial problems. Specious reasoning might induce a brother to reject or dilute his Bible principles.* In another case, easy access to pornography, whether through TV, videos, computers, or books, could lead a Christian into unholy conduct. He needs only to neglect his spiritual armor, and before he knows it, he has fallen into immorality. But in most cases the slide into sin starts in the mind. Yes, in situations like these, James’ words are fulfilled: “Each one is tried by being drawn out and enticed by his own desire. Then the desire, when it has become fertile, gives birth to sin.”—James 1:14, 15; Ephesians 6:11-18.
14. How have many recovered from their unholy conduct?
14 Happily, many Christians who sin in weakness show true repentance, and the elders are able to restore such ones spiritually. Even many who are disfellowshipped because of lack of repentance eventually come to their senses and are reestablished in the congregation. They come to realize how easily Satan overtook them when they allowed unholy thoughts to take root in the heart.—Galatians 6:1; 2 Timothy 2:24-26; 1 Peter 5:8, 9.
The Challenge—To Face Our Weaknesses
15. (a) Why must we face up to our weaknesses? (b) What can help us to acknowledge our weaknesses?
15 We must make an effort to know our own heart objectively. Are we willing to face up to our weaknesses, acknowledge them, and then work at conquering them? Are we willing to ask an honest friend how we could improve, and then listen to the advice? To remain holy we must overcome our shortcomings. Why? Because Satan knows our weaknesses. He will use his subtle machinations to provoke us into sin and unholy conduct. By his crafty acts, he tries to separate us from God’s love so that we are no longer sanctified and useful for Jehovah’s worship.—Jeremiah 17:9; Ephesians 6:11; James 1:19.
16. What conflict did Paul have?
16 The apostle Paul had his own trials and tests, as he testified in his letter to the Romans: “I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, there dwells nothing good; for ability to wish is present with me, but ability to work out what is fine is not present. For the good that I wish I do not do, but the bad that I do not wish is what I practice. . . . I really delight in the law of God according to the man I am within, but I behold in my members another law warring against the law of my mind and leading me captive to sin’s law that is in my members.”—Romans 7:18-23.
17. How did Paul come out victorious in his struggle with weaknesses?
17 Now the vital point in Paul’s case is that he acknowledged his weaknesses. In spite of them, he could say: “I really delight in the law of God according to the [spiritual] man I am within.” Paul loved what was good and hated what was bad. But he still had a fight on his hands, the same fight that all of us have—against Satan, the world, and the flesh. So how can we win the battle to remain holy, separated from this world and its thinking?—2 Corinthians 4:4; Ephesians 6:12.
How Can We Remain Holy?
18. How can we remain holy?
18 Holiness is not achieved by taking the line of least resistance or by being self-indulgent. That kind of person will always make excuses for his conduct and try to place the blame elsewhere. Perhaps we need to learn to become responsible for our actions and not be like some who allege that fate stacked the deck against them because of family background or genetics. The root of the matter lies in the heart of the individual. Does he or she love righteousness? yearn for holiness? desire God’s blessing? The psalmist made the need for holiness clear when he said: “Turn away from what is bad, and do what is good; seek to find peace, and pursue it.” The apostle Paul wrote: “Let your love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is wicked, cling to what is good.”—Psalm 34:14; 97:10; Romans 12:9.
19, 20. (a) How can we build up our mind? (b) What does effective personal study entail?
19 We can “cling to what is good” if we view matters from Jehovah’s standpoint and if we have the mind of Christ. (1 Corinthians 2:16) How is this accomplished? By regular study and meditation on God’s Word. How often this counsel has been given! But do we take it seriously enough? For example, do you really study this magazine, checking Bible texts, before you come to the meeting? By study we do not mean just underlining a few phrases in each paragraph. A study article can be scanned and underlined in about 15 minutes. Does that mean that we have studied the article? Actually, it might take an hour or two to study and absorb the spiritual benefit that each article presents.
20 Perhaps we need to discipline ourselves to turn away from the TV for a few hours each week and really concentrate on our personal holiness. Our regular study builds us up spiritually, actuating the mind to make right decisions—decisions that lead to “holy acts of conduct.”—2 Peter 3:11; Ephesians 4:23; 5:15, 16.
21. What question remains to be answered?
21 The question now is, In what further fields of activity and conduct can we as Christians be holy, even as Jehovah is holy? The following article will present some food for thought.
This two-volume reference work is published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.
For a more complete consideration of what is meant by “treacherously,” see Awake! of February 8, 1994, page 21, “What Kind of Divorcing Does God Hate?”
For more information on why gambling is unholy conduct, see Awake! of August 8, 1994, pages 14-15, published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.
Do You Remember?
□ How was the Source of holiness identified in Israel?
□ In what ways was Israelite worship unholy in Malachi’s day?
□ Where does unholy conduct start?
□ To be holy, what must we recognize?
□ How can we remain holy?