‘Be Holy Just As I Am Holy’

Philip P Eapen

A daisy flower unspotted by coal around it

Without holiness, no one will see God. God expects His children to be holy just as He is holy. God expects leaders to train His people to lead a life of holiness.


The Holiness of God

“Exalt Yahweh our God, and worship at his holy hill; for Yahweh our God is holy.”1

Holiness is one of God’s primary attributes. God is intensely holy, as seen in the angelic chorus in heaven. The seraphs cry out, “Holy, Holy, Holy is Yahweh who commands armies. His majestic splendor fills the entire earth!”2

What does the word ‘holy’ mean? There are two inter-linked concepts that we must understand in order to understand God’s holiness.

God Most Exalted and Transcendent

Firstly, we must consider the literal meaning of the Hebrew word for holiness, qādôš. It means “separate” or “apart.” God is distinct and separate from all His works. He is not part of the universe; He is “the Other.” This separation of the Creator from His creation is a defining aspect of God’s divinity.

The universe is a masterpiece par excellence. If God our Creator transcends the universe, we should naturally be awestruck by His greatness, power, splendour, and glory. It’s mind-boggling, to say the least. The Creator of the galaxies must be infinitely more glorious than the most glorious of constellations. God is the architect of each sunset and of each nano machine in our cells. Can we even begin to fathom the greatness of His aesthetic sense and wisdom? The great scientists among us, with the combined effort of a lifetime, barely manage to scratch the surface of a miniscule speck of God’s immense gallery of masterpieces.

The prime response to such awesomeness and splendour should be worship offered in reverence. A deep sense of humility too is an outcome of our meditation on God’s greatness.

When I look up at the heavens,
which your fingers made,
and see the moon and the stars,
which you set in place,
Of what importance is
the human race,
that you should notice them?
Of what importance is mankind,
that you should
pay attention to them,
and make them a little less
than the heavenly beings?

You grant mankind
honor and majesty;
you appoint them
to rule over your creation;
you have placed everything
under their authority,
including all the sheep and cattle,
as well as the wild animals,
the birds in the sky,
the fish in the sea and
everything that moves
through the currents of the seas.

Yahweh, our Lord,
how magnificent is your reputation
throughout the earth!3

Since God is not part of the created order, it is blasphemous and foolish to think that God might be represented or symbolized by anything in the universe. This explains why idolatry is an abomination. The Ten Commandments prohibit idolatry.

“You shall not make for yourself a carved image or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above or that is on the earth beneath or that is in the water below. You shall not bow down to them or serve them …”4

“I say this so you will not corrupt yourselves by making an image in the form of any kind of figure. This includes the likeness of a human male or female, any kind of land animal, any bird that flies in the sky, anything that crawls on the ground, or any fish in the deep waters of the earth.

“When you look up to the sky and see the sun, moon, and stars - the whole heavenly creation — you must not be seduced to worship and serve them, for the LORD your God has assigned them to all the people of the world.”5

No one can say, ‘I never knew God is too eternal and almighty to be visualised in a physical form.’ The created order points to the Creator. Any careful observer will surmise that the universe was created by an ominpotent, wise, and almighty God. This knowledge is present in every human. That’s why St. Paul says that a plea of ignorance cannot save idolaters from conviction in God’s court.

For although they knew God, they did not glorify him as God or give him thanks, but they became futile in their thoughts and their senseless hearts were darkened.
Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for an image resembling mortal human beings or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles.6

Perfectly Sacred and Fiercely Righteous

The second aspect of God’s holiness is his moral perfection. God is pure and sacred. God is light; in Him, there is no darkness.

God is righteous. He is the righteous Judge who punishes sin, since God’s holiness demands justice. Sin will never go unpunished. The supernatural majesty of God’s sacred justice should move us to pay obesience to Him in awe and with a healthy sense of fear.

Worship the LORD in holy attire!
Tremble before him, all the earth!7

“It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God,”8 the author of Hebrews warned Christians against falling away from their faith. “Our God is a consuming fire.”9

God will not allow his sacredness to be violated. Nothing impure or devious will survive His righteous gaze. The first fallen human couple was driven from God’s holy presence. Centuries later, Moses had to encounter God’s holiness on Mount Horeb. When Moses approached a “burning bush,” God commanded him,

“Do not approach any closer! Take your sandals off your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.”10

Moses and the Burning Bush by the Italian artist Domenico Feti (1613). Public Domain.

Later, after Moses led the nation of Israel up from Egypt to Mt. Sinai, they too got a glimpse of God’s holiness. Not even an animal was allowed to go near the mountain. The Israelites were terrified of God’s holiness, and rightly so. In fact, God was pleased by the way His people feared Him. God said,

“If only it would really be their desire to fear me and obey all my commandments in the future, so that it may go well with them and their descendants forever.”11

God is not wicked that He should take sadistic pleasure from intimidating His creatures. It was in the best interest of His people that God said so. A healthy sense of fear motivates us towards doing what is right. The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom.12 NET

King David burnt his fingers when he took God for granted. In his zeal to honor God, David decided to bring the ark of God into his city. The ark was supposed to be carried by a certain clan from the priestly tribe of Levi. David overlooked this requirement. He transported the ark in a new ox-wagon. “David and all Israel were energetically celebrating before the LORD, singing and playing various stringed instruments, tambourines, rattles, and cymbals.”

When they arrived at the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah reached out and grabbed hold of the ark of God, because the oxen stumbled. The LORD was so furious with Uzzah, he killed him on the spot for his negligence. He died right there beside the ark of God. David was angry because the LORD attacked Uzzah; so he called that place Perez Uzzah, which remains its name to this very day.13

“The Chastisement of Uzzah” by James Tissot c1902. Public Domain

What transpired during that joyous procession was indeed tragic. It teaches us to fear and honor God. When it comes to God’s holiness, there is no room for compromise. Supreme devotion and love towards God cannot compensate for a lack of regard for His holiness. David had to learn this lesson the hard way.

When it comes to God’s holiness, there is no room for compromise. Supreme devotion and love towards God cannot compensate for a lack of regard for His holiness.

Isn’t God full of love? Doesn’t His frightening holiness contradict His loving nature? No. It was in His love and compassion that God decided to save guilty humanity from certain destruction. We deserved nothing but eternal damnation. But God laid the punishment for our sins upon His Son, Jesus. The full measure of divine wrath came upon the Savior. God chose not to spare His Son due to His immeasurable love toward us. In the sufferings of Christ, we see God’s severe holiness and the depths of His love. We cannot, therefore, choose between God’s holiness and His grace.

Some Christians might emphasize God’s grace at the expense of His holiness. They will end up discounting God’s grace and His holiness. We must not ambush one of God’s attributes using another attribute. We need to take God’s holiness seriously in order to perceive the glory of God’s grace and love. God’s grace is best appreciated by those who tremble before God’s holiness and His fiery justice.

A Holy People for a Holy God

The holy God chose a people to Himself. The nation of Israel was to be a holy nation that followed God’s moral standards. God commanded Moses, their leader:

“Speak to the whole congregation of the Israelites and tell them, ‘You must be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy.’”14

God was not averse to reminding Israel numerous times to be a holy nation. God is holy. Therefore, His people had to be holy.

“You must be holy to me because I, the Lord, am holy, and I have set you apart from the other peoples to be mine.”15

This was clearly a call to moral perfection. Does this apply to Christians?

The Lord Jesus created a new Israel from the old. A small set, faithful remnants of ethnic Israel, believed in Him, and they were given exclusive right to be God’s children. Jesus’ choice of twelve apostles was not a matter of happenstance. He did that deliberately to give us an indication of what He was up to.

Upon this tiny remnant, Jesus poured out His Holy Spirit. They witnessed to their Jewish brethren under the Apostle Peter’s leadership. The number of Messiah-followers swelled to thousands in a few days very soon. God added non-Jews to this growing body of disciples who claimed that they were the true Israel of God.16

The Apostle Peter, while addressing this new Israel called Christians, used words and phrases that were once reserved for ethnic Israel. Sandwiched between these descriptions, the apostle mentioned how ethnic Israel lost their coveted position because of their unbelief.

So as you come to him, a living stone rejected by men [Jews] but chosen and priceless in God’s sight, you yourselves, as living stones, are built up as a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood and to offer spiritual sacrifices that are acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

So you who believe see His value, but for those who do not believe [the Jews], the stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone, and a stumbling-stone and a rock to trip over. They [the Jews] stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people of his own, so that you may proclaim the virtues of the One who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.17

What more do we need to know that the disciples of Jesus Christ are exclusively God’s Israel—a chosen race and a holy nation? They are His priests. All Christians – not just the clergy – are called to offer spiritual sacrifices18 to God through Christ Jesus.

The apostle also says that the Church, collectively, is God’s temple! Once God promised ethnic Israel,

“I will put my tabernacle in your midst, and I will not abhor you. I will walk among you, and I will be your God, and you will be my people.”19

Today, that promise of God’s presence belongs the Church of God in Christ Jesus. What a privilege to be God’s dwelling place! God dwells in the midst of His Church just as He once dwelt in the midst of ethnic Israel.

The apostle Paul cited the above verse, along with Isaiah 52:11, Ezekiel 20:41, in order to encourage the Corinthians to lead a holy life.

For we are the temple of the living God, just as God said, “I will live in them and will walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.”
Therefore “come out from their midst, and be separate,” says the Lord, “and touch no unclean thing, and I will welcome you, and I will be a father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters,” says the All-Powerful Lord.

Therefore, since we have these promises, dear friends, let us cleanse ourselves from everything that could defile the body and the spirit, and thus accomplish holiness out of reverence for God.20

Since the Church is the Israel of God, she is expected to be holy just as ethnic Israel of old was required to be holy.

Since the Church is the Israel of God, she is expected to be holy. This requirement is no different from what God expected of ethnic Israel of old. The apostle Peter mentioned this requirement of holy living in the first chapter of his first epistle, calling Christians to life of holiness and reverent fear.21

“Like obedient children, do not comply with the evil urges you used to follow in your ignorance,  but, like the Holy One who called you, become holy yourselves in all of your conduct, for it is written,
‘You shall be holy, because I am holy.’
“And if you address as Father the one who impartially judges according to each one’s work, live out the time of your temporary residence here in reverence.”

A Code For Holy Living

How was Israel to know what was morally acceptable to God? They were given an elaborate set of laws and regulations. Those laws revealed God’s heart, His very nature. For example, the Ten Commandments codified God’s moral standard for humanity. No human could come up with such elaborate ethical and moral requirements that go against the natural inclinations of sinful humanity.

I hear someone say, Why do you bring up the Ten Commandments? Those were given to the Jews. Christians are not expected to follow Jewish laws.

The laws that God gave to the Jews may be classified as the moral law, the ritual law, and the civil law. The ritual law dealt with Jewish religious observances. The civil law governed the Israelite society. The moral law of God is codified in the Ten Commandments.

Christians do not follow Jewish ritual or civil laws. The moral law stands. Of all the laws, only the decalogue was written by God on tablets of stone, indicating their permanence.

In fact, Jesus and His apostles affirmed all the Ten Commandments. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus spoke about dire consequences awaiting those who violated God’s commandments. In addition, in his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus went about clearing misconceptions regarding a few of those commandments.

“You have heard that it was said to an older generation, ‘Do not murder,’ and ‘whoever murders will be subjected to judgment.’
But I say to you that anyone who is angry with a brother will be subjected to judgment. And whoever insults a brother will be brought before the council, and whoever says ‘Fool’ will be sent to fiery hell.”22

Jesus made these pronouncements because the Jews had misinterpreted those commandments to get their favourite sins whitewashed.

Apart from the moral code, Israel was also commanded to observe elaborate rituals and regulations to maintain ceremonial purity. Although Christians do not observe those rituals or hold notions of ceremonial purity, it is profitable for us to understand the eternal principles that were upheld by those rituals.

Therefore, a Christian who wishes to understand God’s standards must carefully study the Hebrew Scriptures as well as the New Testament.

In the Old Testament times, God commanded Jewish priests to teach His people how to reject the profane and choose what was holy.

“They (the priests) shall teach my people the difference between the holy and the common, and show them how to distinguish between the unclean and the clean.” – Ezekiel 44:23 ESV

But the priests failed in their duty. As a result, Israelites wallowed in filth, without a clue regarding their holy calling.

“[Israel’s] priests have done violence to My law and have profaned My holy things. They have made no distinction between the holy and the common, neither have they taught the difference between the unclean and the clean …” – Ezekiel 22:26 ESV

When was the last time you made a conscious decision to shun something profane or ordinary to pursue something sacred? When was the last time the leaders in your church or household encouraged you to distinguish between the profane, the common, and the sacred?

Legalism versus Life in the Spirit

Certain well-meaning Christians might protest saying, “Why do you push legalism in the name of holiness? Are we not under God’s grace? We are not under the Law. We are not called to follow any code of written regulations.”

Firstly, where did we get this idea that Christian life is a life without any rules or regulations? Where does the Bible say that our new life in Christ is like a circus in which artists leap through imaginary hoops that do not restrict their paths? Is Christian life like a ride on an expressway that has no road signs, markings, speed limits or restrictions? When Jesus commanded some of his new followers, “Go and sin no more,” was he telling them, “I don’t want you to sin. But it’s entirely up to you to figure out how to lead a sinless life. I am not laying down any rules for you?”

When Jesus said, “Go and sin no more,” did he mean, “I don’t want you to sin. But it’s entirely up to you to figure out how to lead a sinless life. I am not laying down any rules for you?”

Secondly, the argument that we were set free from a “written code of conduct” to “live free” under God’s grace will not stand. Were we all Jews? Certainly not. Most Christians were never under the law of Moses in the first place because we were never Jews. Much of the New Testament’s rhetoric regarding “Law” versus “Grace” has nothing to do with what Christians of Gentile origin face in their daily walk with God. Yet, many Christians quote the following verses to claim that the Christian life must be a law-free life.

“For the law of the life-giving Spirit in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death.”23

“For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not be subject again to the yoke of slavery.”24

Paul wrote those verses to convince “Jewish Christians” (what an oxymoron!) to stop forcing Judaism down the throats of Gentile converts to Christianity. Unlike those Judaizers, we were never under the “written code” that Apostle Paul referred to. We were followers of other religions; or, we were without any religion. Let us, therefore, refrain from pulling verses such as these, out of context, from Pauline epistles or from Hebrews.

To Christians like us, who came from Gentile backgrounds, were written commands such as these:

“You’ve already put in your time in that God-ignorant way of life, partying night after night, a drunken and profligate life. Now it’s time to be done with it for good. Of course, your old friends don’t understand why you don’t join in with the old gang anymore. But you don’t have to give an account to them. They’re the ones who will be called on the carpet— and before God himself.”25

So I say this, and insist in the Lord, that you no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. You were taught with reference to your former way of life to lay aside the old man who is being corrupted in accordance with deceitful desires, to be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and to put on the new man
Therefore, having laid aside falsehood, each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor …
Be angry and do not sin; …
The one who steals must steal no longer; rather he must labor, doing good with his own hands …
You must let no unwholesome word come out of your mouth, but only what is beneficial …
And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God …
You must put away every kind of bitterness, anger, wrath, quarreling, and evil, slanderous talk.
Instead, be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ also forgave you.26

Does this list of commands resemble a “written code”? Well, these are the Holy Spirit’s commands Christians must obey—whether they like it or not. Let no one deceive us by labelling this as legalism. God forgave us our sins and made us part of the new Israel for free. The New Testament’s commands for godly living call the attention of forgiven sinners towards God’s high moral standard.

God forgave us our sins for free. The New Testament’s commands for godly living call the attention of forgiven sinners towards God’s high moral standard.

Why should we live by any set of rules if God has already forgiven us our sins?

When we were slaves of sin, we were unable to follow God’s moral standard even if we wanted to. At the same time, we were weighed down by our guilt. Although the Law was given through Moses, it unable to clear Israel’s guilt let alone empower them to follow its tall requirements. The Law was designed just to show Israel that they had sinned and fallen short of God’s standard.

Now, God accomplished through Jesus what the Law could not accomplish. By letting Jesus take up our punishment, God provided a way for sinners to walk free from their guilt and punishment. As for the Jews, they do not need their religion anymore to approach God. The Temple, its sacrifices and rituals, its priesthood and offerings were all fulfilled in Jesus. As for the Gentiles, they too can approach God for forgiveness and acceptance through Christ.

The Holy Spirit explains this beautifully through Apostle Paul.

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the life-giving Spirit in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death.  For God achieved what the law could not do because it was weakened through the flesh. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and concerning sin, he condemned sin in the flesh so that the righteous requirement of the law may be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.27

Sinners who repent are forgiven and set free from their slavery to sin. They are given a free slate, a new beginning, so that they may live according to God’s high moral standard, as revealed in His laws, in the power of the Spirit. The high moral standard expected of humans was never abolished! The Jewish ritual laws were fulfilled in Christ’s supreme sacrifice. No one needs to perform those rituals any more. But God’s moral law holds good forever.

The Lord Jesus said,

Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have not come to abolish these things but to fulfill them.
I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth pass away not the smallest letter or stroke of a letter will pass from the law until everything takes place.
So anyone who breaks one of the least of these commands and teaches others to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever obeys them and teaches others to do so will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.  For I tell you, unless your righteousness goes beyond that of the experts in the law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

Christian life is not a lawless life. Neither is it a “godly” life free from all laws. We find true freedom in a life of “slavery” to God.

Christian life is not a lawless life. Neither is it a godly life free from all laws. Life in the Spirit is indeed true freedom; but it is not like the freedom that a carefree bird enjoys in the sky. The birds don’t report to Ground Traffic Control or to some Air Traffic Control station. They don’t follow any defined airway. Neither do they require clearance for take-off or landing.

Dozens of tran-Atlantic flights make a beeline for various busy airports on the eastern coast of Canada and the United States.

On the contrary, life in the Spirit – like that of airlines – follows invisible tracks that are well defined by the Word of God. As airlines follow clearly defined paths in the sky and remain attentive to instructions from Air Traffic Control, a Spirit-led Christian is grounded in the holy scriptures and remains attentive to the voice of the Spirit.

Therefore, true freedom is not characterized by the absence of rules or restrictions. We find true freedom in a life of “slavery” to God.

“But now, freed from sin and enslaved to God, you have your benefit leading to sanctification, and the end [result] is eternal life. For the payoff of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”28

A Christian who claims to have been set free from sin but never consecrates himself as a slave of God is neither here nor there. Let such a “free Christian” not dream about entering eternal life that lies at the end of life of sanctification.

Remember, Christian life is journey, a pilgrimage—not an instant transfer to heaven. Jesus did not just mention a narrow door. He taught His disciples to take the narrow path. Yes, you read it right: a narrow path.

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” – Jesus Christ29

Pilgrims on a heavenward journey must mind their steps. The word of God is a lamp unto their feet, shedding light on each of the steps they must take.

Christianity was called “The Way.” Those who wilfully ignore the sanctity of the journey might as well abandon hopes of reaching the destination.

After entering through the narrow gate, if he refuses to walk the narrow path of sanctification towards eternal life, his chant of “I am saved” is pointless. (Cf “Once Saved, Always Saved?”)

Christianity was called “The Way.” Those who wilfully ignore the sanctity of the journey might as well abandon hopes of reaching the destination.

(To be concluded)

A Call To Cleansing And Sanctification

“For you know what commands we gave you through the Lord Jesus. For this is God’s will: that you become holy …”30

“For this is the will of God, even your sanctification …”31

What is sanctification?

Cleansing from all sin Consecration of oneself to God

“Now in a wealthy home there are not only gold and silver vessels, but also ones made of wood and of clay, and some are for honorable use, but others for ignoble use.
“So if someone cleanses himself of such behavior, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart, useful for the Master, prepared for every good work.”32


Comments and Feedback

  1. Psalm 99:9.↩︎

  2. Isaiah 6:3.↩︎

  3. Psalm 8:3-9 NET.↩︎

  4. Exodus 20:4-5a NET.↩︎

  5. Deuteronomy 4:16-19 NET.↩︎

  6. Romans 1:21-23 NET.↩︎

  7. Psalm 96:9 NET.↩︎

  8. Hebrews 10:31.↩︎

  9. Hebrews 12:29.↩︎

  10. Exodus 3:5 NET.↩︎

  11. Deuteronomy 5:29 NET.↩︎

  12. Deuteronomy 5:29 NET.↩︎

  13. 2 Samuel 6:6-8 NET.↩︎

  14. Leviticus 19:2 NET.↩︎

  15. Leviticus 20:26 NET.↩︎

  16. “For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. Peace and mercy be upon all who walk by this rule, upon the Israel of God.” — Revised Standard Version (RSV)

    “But in Christ it is not circumcision or uncircumcision that counts but the power of new birth. To all who live by this principle, to the true Israel of God, may there be peace and mercy!” — J. B. Phillips New Testament.↩︎

  17. 1 Peter 2:4-5, 7-9 NET.↩︎

  18. Cf Hebrews 13:15.
    “Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, acknowledging his name.”↩︎

  19. Leviticus 26:11-12 NET.↩︎

  20. 2 Corinthians 6:16-18; 7:1 NET.↩︎

  21. 1 Peter 1:14-17 NET.↩︎

  22. Matthew 5:21-22 NET.↩︎

  23. Romans 8:2 NET.↩︎

  24. Galatians 5:1 NET.↩︎

  25. 1 Peter 4:3-5 The Message.↩︎

  26. Ephesians 4:17-24 NET.↩︎

  27. Romans 8:1-4 NET.↩︎

  28. Romans 6:22-23 NET.↩︎

  29. Matthew 5:13-14.↩︎

  30. 1 Thess 4:2-3a NET.↩︎

  31. 1 Thess 4:3a KJV.↩︎

  32. 2 Tim 2:20-21 NET.↩︎


About the author

Philip Eapen, an environmental scientist by training, devoted his life to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ ever since he realized that the world needs Jesus Christ more than anyone or anything else. Apart from sharing the good news of Jesus Christ, Philip teaches Christians in order to equip them for service. He is supported by donations from readers. Philip is married to Dr. Jessimol and they are blessed with three sons and a daughter.

Date: October 21, 2022




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