Reading Time: 3 minutes
Holiness is a foreign topic for most people. Even Christians. We have a vague familiarity with the context in which it is usually found.
First and foremost, we are told that God the Almighty is “holy.” As the Israelites were getting familiar with their Divine Deliverer, these words were given to them: “For I am the LORD your God, so you must consecrate yourselves and be holy because I am holy.” (Leviticus 11:44, CSB) This is repeated three more times in Leviticus.
New Testament readers are told, “That’s why the Scriptures say, ‘I am the holy God, and you must be holy too.’ (1 Peter 1:16, CEV) Rather intimidating instruction! The Hebrew word for holiness is qōdes. That which is holy is sacred, in contrast to everything common and profane. How did we allow this to slip by?
I encountered the importance of the godly character of holiness in the foreword of Chuck Colson’s excellent book, Loving God. Chuck had come across a resource of profound insight on the subject written by theologian R.C. Sproul. It was titled (appropriately) The Holiness of God. Chuck stated that after reading Sproul’s book, he fell to his knees deep in awe over the holiness of God!
I would later read that same book by Sproul. And others of his. R.C. was a man who clearly took God at His Word.
Holy. It’s one word—among many—that we abuse in our world today by minimizing its significance. How often do we hear holy used in conjunction with terms such as holy cow, holy moley, holy guacamole, holy hell (wow), holy cr*p, and the even more offensive holy sh**? Other variations certainly exist and all of them run quite counter to the instruction to be holy. Ironic.
In our modern thinking, words apparently don’t really matter. This is why I was struck by a recent Christianity Today story titled, “Words are Holy. so Why Don’t We Talk Like They are?” It’s written by Paul J. Pastor, who is a pastor, author, and editor.
As Pastor states, “Today, we live in a crisis of language. Not only is the sacred nature of our words largely forgotten, but language is becoming degraded. In a world of significant social, ecological, and spiritual crisis, this may seem like a low priority. But healthy language, like clean air or water, is something we take for granted until it is gone.”
Pastor uses illustrations from the legendary George Orwell, who found political speech quite disturbing in his day. Imagine what his perspective might be like in 2023! Pastor determines this about our times, “So the great threat to language is not from a shadowy politburo. It is from the sheer disposability of words as part of a general glut of information. Words are everywhere. What is everywhere must not be precious. Language becomes disposable.”
What words can you think of that have lost their meaning? How about amazing. Incredible. Unbelievable. Even great. All attributed to ideas, thoughts, or acts that are nothing more than ordinary. And let me add one of my favorites to the list: perfect. I’ve heard waiters and waitresses use that word when I tell them we need a table for two.
Admittedly, none of those word trivialities rank up there in my book with the abuse of the word holy.
To be clear, our call to holiness is not a call to live a life of perfection. That is an impossible task and attempting to do so can quickly move into legalism. But our call to live righteous lives is the target for which we aim in the faith. Even in our language.
How comfortable have we become with the abuse of the word holy? Enough so that when it is used in any derogative form, few are the souls who would dare correct or challenge it. Even among the church faithful.
I’m often haunted by Jesus’ words about words. “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Matthew 12:36-37, ESV) I plead guilty to that charge often and have needed the healing words of forgiveness.
How about you? It might be worthy of some holy conversation!