Pursue “Holiness in God’s Fear”
ATTRIBUTING holiness in the superlative degree to Jehovah God, the Bible states: “Holy, holy, holy is Jehovah.” (Isa. 6:3; Rev. 4:8) The Hebrew and Greek words for “holiness” convey the idea of purity or religious cleanness, of being set apart from defilement. The holiness of God refers to his absolute moral perfection.
Would not the holy God, Jehovah, expect those who worship him to be holy, that is to be physically as well as morally and spiritually clean? In no uncertain terms, the Bible shows that Jehovah wants his people to be holy. We read at 1 Peter 1:16: “You must be holy, because I am holy.” Can imperfect humans really imitate Jehovah’s holiness? Yes, albeit not in the perfect sense. We can be considered holy before God if we worship him in a clean spiritual state and have a close relationship with him.
How, then, can we keep clean in a world that is morally unclean? What practices should we shun? What changes in speech and conduct may we need to make? Let us see what we can learn in this regard from what God required of the Jews returning from Babylon to their homeland in 537 B.C.E.
‘There Will Come to Be the Way of Holiness’
Jehovah foretold that his people who were in Babylonian exile would be restored to their homeland. The prophecy of restoration contained this guarantee: “There will certainly come to be a highway there, even a way; and the Way of Holiness it will be called.” (Isa. 35:8a) These words show that Jehovah not only opened the way for the Jews to get home but assured them of his protection along the way.
For his modern-day servants on earth, Jehovah opened “the Way of Holiness” leading away from Babylon the Great, the world empire of false religion. In 1919 he freed anointed Christians from spiritual bondage to false religion, and they progressively cleansed their worship of all false teachings. As Jehovah’s worshippers today, we enjoy a clean, tranquil spiritual environment in which we can worship Jehovah and have a peaceful relationship with him and with our fellow man.
The members of the “little flock” of anointed Christians and a growing “great crowd” of “other sheep” have chosen to walk in a way that is holy and are inviting others to join them. (Luke 12:32; Rev. 7:9; John 10:16) “The Way of Holiness” is open to all who are willing “to present [their] bodies a sacrifice living, holy, acceptable to God.”—Rom. 12:1.
“The Unclean One Will Not Pass Over It”
In 537 B.C.E., the returning Jews had to meet an important requirement. Regarding those qualified to walk on “the Way of Holiness,” Isaiah 35:8b states: “The unclean one will not pass over it. And it will be for the one walking on the way, and no foolish ones will wander about on it.” Since the purpose of the Jews’ return to Jerusalem was to reestablish pure worship, there would be no place for those who had selfish motives, lacked respect for sacred things, or were spiritually unclean. The returnees needed to maintain Jehovah’s high moral standards. Those desiring God’s favor today need to meet the same requirement. They must pursue “holiness in God’s fear.” (2 Cor. 7:1) What unclean practices, then, ought we to shun?
“The works of the flesh are manifest,” wrote the apostle Paul, “and they are fornication, uncleanness, loose conduct.” (Gal. 5:19) Fornication has to do with all sexual activity involving the use of the genital organs that is carried on outside the bonds of marriage. Loose conduct involves “licentiousness; wantonness; shameless conduct; lewdness of conduct.” Both fornication and loose conduct are clearly contrary to Jehovah’s holiness. Hence, those who continue to practice such things are not allowed to become part of the Christian congregation or are disfellowshipped from it. The same is true of those who practice gross uncleanness, that is, “uncleanness of every sort with greediness.”—Eph. 4:19.
“Uncleanness” is a term that covers a wide range of sins. The Greek word for it refers to impurity or filth of any kind—in conduct, in speech, and in spiritual relationships. It includes practices involving a degree of uncleanness that may not warrant judicial action.a But are those who practice such uncleanness pursuing a course of holiness?
Suppose a Christian secretly begins to view pornography. Little by little, as unclean desires are aroused, his resolve to remain clean before Jehovah is undermined. His conduct may not yet have escalated to the point of becoming gross uncleanness, but he is not continuing to consider only ‘whatever things are chaste, well spoken of, virtuous, and praiseworthy.’ (Phil. 4:8) Pornography is unclean and certainly damages one’s relationship with God. Uncleanness of any sort should not even be mentioned among us.—Eph. 5:3.
Consider another example. Say a Christian makes a practice of masturbation—deliberately stimulating himself to cause sexual excitement—whether this is accompanied by pornography or not. Although the term “masturbation” does not occur in the Bible, can there be any doubt that it is a mentally and emotionally defiling practice? Would not continued defilement of this sort seriously damage one’s personal relationship with Jehovah and make one unclean in God’s sight? Let us take to heart the apostle Paul’s admonition to “cleanse ourselves of every defilement of flesh and spirit” and “deaden [our] body members that are upon the earth as respects fornication, uncleanness, sexual appetite, hurtful desire, and covetousness.”—2 Cor. 7:1; Col. 3:5.
This world ruled by Satan tolerates unclean conduct, even encourages it. Resisting the temptation to engage in unclean behavior may present a real challenge. But true Christians must not be “walking just as the nations also walk in the unprofitableness of their minds.” (Eph. 4:17) Only if we avoid unclean conduct, secret or otherwise, will Jehovah allow us to continue walking on “the Way of Holiness.”
“No Lion Will Prove to Be There”
To enjoy the favor of the holy God, Jehovah, may require that some make radical changes in conduct and in speech. Isaiah 35:9 states: “No lion will prove to be there, and the rapacious sort of wild beasts will not come up on it,” that is, “the Way of Holiness.” Figuratively speaking, people who are violent and aggressive in action and speech are compared to wild beasts. They will certainly have no place in God’s new world of righteousness. (Isa. 11:6; 65:25) It is therefore essential that those desiring God’s approval leave such beastly personality traits behind and pursue a course of holiness.
“Let all malicious bitterness and anger and wrath and screaming and abusive speech be taken away from you along with all badness,” the Scriptures admonish us. (Eph. 4:31) At Colossians 3:8, we read: “Put them all away from you, wrath, anger, badness, abusive speech, and obscene talk out of your mouth.” The expression “abusive speech” used in these two verses basically refers to injurious, degrading, or blasphemous talk.
Today, hurtful, vulgar speech has become very common, even in the home. Married couples hurl biting, cruel, or demeaning remarks at each other and at their children. This type of verbal aggression should not exist in Christian homes.—1 Cor. 5:11.
Pursuing “Holiness in God’s Fear”—A Blessing!
What a privilege it is to serve the holy God, Jehovah! (Josh. 24:19) The spiritual paradise into which Jehovah has brought us is very precious. Maintaining our conduct holy in Jehovah’s sight is certainly the best way of life.
Very soon God’s promised earthly Paradise will become a reality. (Isa. 35:1, 2, 5-7) Those who yearn for it and who keep on pursuing a godly course will be blessed with a place there. (Isa. 65:17, 21) By all means, then, let us continue to worship God in a clean spiritual state and maintain a close relationship with him.
a For a discussion of what distinguishes “uncleanness . . . with greediness” from “uncleanness,” see The Watchtower, July 15, 2006, pages 29-31.
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What was required in order for the Jews to walk on “the Way of Holiness”?
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Pornography damages one’s relationship with Jehovah
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“Let all . . . screaming and abusive speech be taken away from you”