Holiness is a word and a subject that’s a part of our Christian vernacular. The Lord is holy. We have holy space. Our literature is filled with the word. So, define it. Right now.
If you answer is in any way rules based, then you are in good company. In the modern Christian style guide holiness has become synonymous with following the rules so as to remain in God’s good graces. Whether it be the Commandments, any parts of the Levitical code or even fashioning a rule book from the Sermon on the Mount or one of Paul’s sin lists, holiness, like a lot of Christian practice, has become a human-oriented and crafted practice. It is not a state of being. Rather, it has become a way of measuring how close to the boundary lines we are walking.
And that is to our detriment.
When holiness becomes adherence to the rules, we attempt to be holy under our own power and guidance. The Holy Spirit is left to His other duties and plays no role and the outcome is not the holiness of the Bible. It is a completely natural holiness, one that we have pressed and prodded into our own image.
The holiness of the Bible, on the other hand, is completely unnatural.
The holiness of the Bible is in no way possible within our fallen state. The state of holiness as declared by God is that of being fully set apart. Not in the Benedictine monastery sense of hiding within the safety of stone walls, tucked away from the influence of the world. Instead, the holiness of which the Bible speaks is a holiness in which His people demonstrate their radical set-apartedness while living within the culture and influencing it. The holiness of the Bible is demonstrated in radically living out the Great Commandment—loving God with all your heart, mind and soul and loving your neighbor in the same way. Loving others in such a sacrificial way that there is no natural explanation for your ability to do so. Loving others in such a way that the only possible explanation that those who are not yet God’s people can offer is divine intervention.
Holiness is an unnatural love. It is not the acquisitive love of the world: do for me and I’ll do for you. Holy love is I’ll do for you despite what you do to me or what you can do for me. The love of holiness demonstrates unequivocally that the Holy are set apart, that they have moved their existence to a different plane. The Holy are living a life of service in response to the magnitude of the Sacrifice, seeking to please the Sacrificer at every step; unconcerned with the approval of the world while loving those in that world at the same time. Holiness declares the divine power of the Spirit within rather than our human efforts to follow a rule book. Holiness is unnatural and unmistakable.