1 Peter 1:15-16 says, “But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy.”
Recently, I saw two religious men walking down the street in their distinct religious garb. Their distinctive “holiness” was overtly external. I have no idea the condition of their heart. But if their heart matched their works-based religion, then they are not “holy” in the biblical sense because they do not even have the Holy Spirit.
The word “holy” means set apart. This involves a to and a from. Peter quotes Leviticus and challenges New Testament believers to be holy in all manner of conduct (1 Pet. 1:15). But what does this mean for the New Testament believer?
In my early ministry years I took it to mean primarily lifestyle issues that are essentially outward, like clothing, music, and so forth. When you don’t understand the more core matter of life in the Spirit, this is an easy way to establish “holiness” without the Spirit. But you cannot be spiritual without being rightly related to the Spirit—even if you look religious outwardly. Mere outward conformity is a fleshly substitute for true spirituality.
To be holy is to be separated unto Jesus from all that hinders that love relationship. Being separated unto Jesus is faith in Him, His person, His leadership, and power. I wish I had understood this in my earlier years. When you depend on Jesus, the Spirit imparts the life of Jesus to you and through you. This is holiness—accessing the Holy One. Obviously, when we experience Jesus the outcome internally and externally will be right. But the focus is Jesus.
While external matters have an appropriate bearing in Christian living, the far greater issue is living in the Spirit, without which there is no true holiness. Holiness is when we are animated from the inside out by the Holy One. It’s the beauty of Jesus shining through. It’s the fruit of the Holy Spirit which is love expressed as joy, peace, all the way to temperance, which will appropriately affect some outward matters as one slice of the multi-varied fruit. But without the life of love shining through we can be externally distinctive and mistreat others in the process, which is unholy.
It is possible to be ritualistically distinct and yet not have much of a relationship with Jesus. What’s the greater distinction which could impact a lost world in need of Jesus? A strict version of outward lifestyle matters, or loving people instead of condescending them, a joyful spirit instead of shame and guilt, peace instead of anxiety, patience instead of irritability, and so forth? To be clear, those who are persuaded to be more strict don’t have to be condescending, troubled, anxious, and irritable. Through the Spirit they too can express love, joy, peace, and patience. That’s my point, the real issue of holiness is the life and beauty of Jesus shining through.
In the Old Testament, the manifestation of the presence of God was physical. People saw the pillar of cloud in the wilderness and the shekinah glory of God at the dedication of the Temple. But we live in the New Testament, which is the age of the Spirit. Today, the manifestation of the presence of Jesus is spiritual, not physical, but just as real as if it were physical. When we walk in the Spirit, the Spirits manifests Jesus in us and through us. To be sure, the Spirit never leads to anything that would grieve Him. But spirituality—the animating life of the Spirit—is the core matter.
John Van Gelderen