What does it mean to be holy Ronald Dart

What does it mean to be “Holy”?

Is Holiness required for Salvation?

“Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord:” Hebrews 12:14

When’s the last time you heard a sermon on the doctrine of holiness? It doesn’t sound terribly interesting. “Holy” is sort of apart from men; men are over here and things holy are over there. And it’s a word that’s synonymous with “divine,” it’s a spiritual sounding thing but I’m not all that sure what it means. But, if we understand Paul correctly, without holiness (whatever it is) we shall not see the Lord.

Do you feel confident that you even know what holiness is? Could you even define the term? “Holiness” is derived from the same root word in both the Hebrew and the Greek; “holy, hallowed, holiness, consecrate, saint, sanctify, and sanctification.” While the basic idea of the word is the same, there really is some variant in the meaning of the word “Holy.”

Now, in the most basic meaning of the word “holy,” “sanctify” means to separate from the world and to consecrate or dedicate to God. Basically it means to dedicate. To be “holy” is to be separate from the world and to be dedicated to God. If you get your concordance and bible out and look up all the words listed in the previous paragraph, and see how they are used, you will find that you can easily substitute “dedicate, dedication, or dedicated” for all of the uses where you find any and all these words.

Examples from the Old Testament Books

For example: Leviticus 27:14-16 says when a man shall sanctify his house to be holy unto the LORD, then the priest shall put a value on it. And a provision was made so that the house could be sold and the money given to God, or so a man could buy his house back when he had sanctified it to God. And all this word means, “holy,” is if a man shall “dedicate” his house to God!

Now that can happen at a time of immense gratitude, or when someone is on the battlefield (“Lord, if you just save my life I’ll give you my house!”). And after he dedicates it to God he might want to have it back. So, we’re told the priest can estimate the value and he could buy it back. But if it is once dedicated to God, it is “holy.”

Now, “holy” does not mean “divine,” it doesn’t mean “good” because land is neither good nor bad; it might be better land for this or that but it’s not morally or ethically good or bad. Most things that are hallowed in the scripture are things like dishes, utensils, tents, houses, land, and even people. The concept of being holy or hallowed or sanctified is not a question of being morally or ethically good, it means it is “dedicated.”

And so Samuel was “dedicated” to God as a child (1 Samuel 1:20-28). Even when he was not able to do good or evil, or even have the concepts of good and evil, he was already holy because he was dedicated to God.

Now, Leviticus 27:26 says that one may not dedicate a firstling of the beasts. Why? Because it already belongs to God! Simple. It belongs to God, therefore, you cannot dedicate something to him that he already has. Here’s an example of “holy” meaning to dedicate:

“And it shall come to pass after the end of seventy years, that the LORD will visit Tyre, and she shall turn to her hire, and shall commit fornication with all the kingdoms of the world upon the face of the earth. And her merchandise and her hire shall be holiness to the LORD:” Isaiah 23:17-18

Now, the merchandise and the hire can hardly be considered to be coming out of a sacred or morally or ethically good thing. So what does this mean? Even though the merchandise and hire came out of fornication, it is dedicated to God, given to God, turned to that use. So, we’re not dealing with something that’s morally or ethically good, merely something that has been dedicated or given to God.

This word can also refer to days, such as Holy Days. Well, they are “dedicated” days. They are days that are separated from the rest of the days and dedicated to God. The Sabbath is a dedicated day.

“Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy (dedicated).” Exodus 20:8

Holy means that you separate from its common use and you dedicate it for a particular purpose. And when you look at the Sabbath that way, it makes it a little easier to understand what it is you might do on that day, and what it is you might not do, because these things come around to the mental perspective of the remembering the Sabbath day, to retain that day as a “dedicated” day; not used for your secular, profane, or ordinary purposes.

It can also refer to days, seasons, places, or objects. In the temple, the utensils were called holy because they were dedicated to God and God’s use. The altar was holy because it was dedicated. Offerings were holy because they were dedicated. The priests were holy, not because they were morally good men, but because they were dedicated to God. So, if something is sanctified or Holy, it is separated from the world and dedicated to God.

Examples from the New Testament Books

There is a different side to this word here. One of the reasons why some words are translated more than one way is because the translators realized that this pursuit of the technical meaning of words can lead you down the wrong path in many cases. Because, just as in English, words don’t mean the same thing in different contexts. I may use a word in one way in this sentence, I may use it a different way in another sentence and it may carry a quite different meaning in those circumstances. We all understand that.

The same thing is true with Greek and Hebrew words. And so, consequently, you have on the one hand, the word “holy” meaning the formal concept of anything, regardless of the moral or ethical implications, that is dedicated to God. But there is another way in which the words are used, and they have to do with moral and ethical implications.

The gospels speak of the people who followed Jesus and called them “apostles.” But once you get beyond the gospel accounts, they are referred to as “saints.” People will say, “I’m no saint, but…” and then say something good they did. The idea is that in order to be a saint (like Saint John or Saint Anthony or Saint Mark) you’re supposed to have been a “good person.”

“Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother, Unto the assembly of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours:” 1 Corinthians 1:1-2

Notice the people in Corinth are called to be “saints.” That’s what they were. They were already “sanctified.” “Saints” and “sanctified” come from the same Greek word which means “holy.” It’s just another way of saying, “you people are holy.” The problem is that people are not sure they want to be called saints. They know that they are not that good of a person, even though they are a Christian and really want to serve God, they’re not quite comfortable being called a saint.

Paul called everyone in the assembly of God “saints,” and then in chapter three, he calls these same people “carnal!”

“And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able. For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?” 1 Corinthians 3:1-3

They were just ordinary people, like a lot of you, with problems, with sins that often beset their lives, with habits they couldn’t quite get away from, with things that just dragged them down, and then they’d get into a bickering among themselves and split the assembly right down the middle over something. Yet, Paul says they are sanctified and called to be saints, even though they are still carnal. Paul addresses corrections to these people.

But, essentially, a saint is not one who is morally perfect, but one who belongs to Christ, one who has been dedicated to Christ. You are one who is set apart, who’s sins are forgiven, and have been justified of your guilty past.

In the New Testament, there are some very heavy moral overtones implied in holiness. For example, to belong to God, to be dedicated to God, is no mere external matter. Paul is telling these people, who are saints, to pursue holiness (Hebrews 12:14).

“If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God.” Colossians 3:1-3

As we go along, the New Testament writers begin to speak of holiness in a different way; that holiness is a standard of right conduct, right thinking, and goodness to which followers of Christ should be pursuing. How could you possibly be truly dedicated to Christ, internally as well as externally, and not have it reflect in the way you live? There is no way, of course.

God is not a mere formality, it is not merely an external surrender, it is the yielding of the life in its deepest affections and in its highest powers to be ruled by Christ Jesus alone. This is what we are to pursue. It’s not that you have arrived and you’re already there.

“For ye remember, brethren, our labour and travail: for labouring night and day, because we would not be chargeable unto any of you, we preached unto you the gospel of God. Ye are witnesses, and God also, how holily and justly and unblameably we behaved ourselves among you that believe:” 1 Thessalonians 2:9-10

This is the adverb form, “holily,” which describes the behavior of believers. There is an overt, outward behavior, the way you do things, the way you act towards people, the way you treat people, the way you respond to crisis that come into your life. All of which may be describes as “holy” in the behavior of the person.

“Furthermore then we beseech you, brethren, and exhort you by the Lord Jesus, that as ye have received of us how ye ought to walk and to please God, so ye would abound more and more. For ye know what commandments we gave you by the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication:” 1 Thessalonians 4:1-3

Now, this is a gentile assembly in a gentile city, where the temple prostitutes were very evident and the practice of fornication was even involved in religious worship, and so it was hardly disreputable in the community at large. So Paul had to warn these people, this is the Will of God, this is a part of your holiness, that you keep your body clean from this type of conduct. It involves specific behaviors, not just a way of thinking. Holiness is a continuing thing in someone’s life. Paul continues:

“That every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honour; Not in the lust of concupiscence, even as the Gentiles which know not God: That no man go beyond and defraud his brother in any matter: because that the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also have forewarned you and testified. For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness.” 1 Thessalonians 4:4-7

One way you come to understand words is to understand their opposites. God has not called us to uncleanness, God has called us to holiness. So it has to do with the behavior. But the problem is that many people start with the behavior but do not understand where the behavior is coming from. The behavior is coming from the fellowship that the person has because he is dedicated to and belongs to Christ Jesus. Because of the awareness of the dedication of who he belongs to, who he has been given to, who he has been bought and paid for by, because the fellowship is there, with Christ, the behavior is produced.

And that sort of uncleanness that was going on among those gentiles could not be practiced by those who claimed to be living a life in fellowship with, by one who claimed to be dedicated to, Christ Jesus.

False Holiness

“But ye have not so learned Christ; If so be that ye have heard him, and have been taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus: That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; And be renewed in the spirit of your mind; And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.” Ephesians 4:20-24

There’s a couple of things very important involved here. One is you must be “renewed in the spirit of your mind.” Paul writes to these people that they need to get rid of their former conduct, their former behaviors, the way they did things before. Paul says there’s got to be a turning around of the way you think, then its reflected in the things you do when you put on the new man, “which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.”

In saying “true holiness,” Paul implies that there is such a thing a false holiness. Can you name someone who has had a false holiness? The Pharisees come immediately to mind. The Pharisees were very religious people, very dedicated to the law, and very dedicated to righteousness. The problem was their righteousness was self-righteousness. When one is dedicated to God, and has fellowship with and in His Mind and Heart, an inner fellowship, then out of that fellowship grows an obedience to God’s Law that understands far beyond what the letter of the law might require. It’s not merely a matter of tithing mint and anise and cummin, but a matter of justice, mercy and faith (Matthew 23:23); these are also weighty matters of the law. These things grow out of a way one thinks when you are thinking in harmony with, and dedicated to, Christ Jesus and the Father. And that dedication, in scriptural language, is holiness.

The Essenes had a false holiness. They looked in scripture and saw that holiness meant separated, it came from an ancient root which meant “cutting off.” So they thought that being away or apart from the world is holiness. And so they established a desert community by the Dead Sea, and some of the scrolls from that community have been found recently. We refer to them as the Dead Sea Scrolls, they were produced by these people who had some very strange doctrinal concepts, and so they eventually died out. They thought that separateness was holiness somehow, But holiness involves separation from the world for the purpose of being dedicated to God, not merely separation from the world. So loneliness is not holiness.

Sanctification is not holiness either. The reason for the kind of holiness you might pursue involves ego and your self-esteem, and how important it is for you to feel better or superior to others. Inevitably it involves comparisons, and that is the core of the whole thing. True holiness need not engage in comparisons, sanctification always will.

Holiness is not a feeling. It is not an emotion. Some people have pursued that assuming that that was somehow true holiness.

There’s no such thing as holiness by association. In other words, because I am a member of a group, or a church, or of a particular religious organization, or because I associate with certain people who are themselves holy, does not convey holiness upon me. You will never understand true holiness until you grasp the idea that your relationship with God is personal. Many people have assumed that there is such a thing as holiness that is separation from God and dedication to God by association. That their separation from the world and dedication to God depends upon their association with one another, or with their minister, or leader, or group, or church, or whatever. But the fact of the matter is that holiness must grow out of a personal fellowship with God.

You see, if I am following certain lines of behavior because of my relationship with you, when I am away from you, and when that relationship is not critical or not important, I have no special reason to maintain those behaviors, I have no particular reason to act that way. In other words, it’s because you will condemn me if I do not do this. If you are not here I may feel perfectly free to do this.

So we have a situation where, on the one hand, my holiness or my closeness with God depends on my association or my fellowship with you, as opposed to my holiness depending on my association with Christ. We are talking about the difference between a personal savior or a collective savior. There is no such thing as holiness by association. Sometimes that’s where we take our wrong turn, we look to others for that association, for that closeness, for that support, for that guidance, when, in truth, that guidance should be coming from the indwelling presence of Christ Jesus who said he would be in you (Romans 8:10). In each and every person who is a follower of Christ, Jesus dwells.

Christ In You

“To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory:” Colossians 1:27

This is perhaps the most fundamental teaching of God’s Truth, that Christ Jesus is to live in you! And that’s why you are a saint, that’s why you are holy. But it is also why the pursuit of holiness, the reinforcing of that dedication, is so critical. The fellowship you have with Christ will produce certain mental attitudes, certain directions of mind, certain desires, and certain conduct. Our surrender is not to an outer authority, but to an inner, living fellowship with the Father and with Christ Jesus.

Who have you surrendered to? I can recall so many times in the past hearing a minister talk about how it was necessary to unconditionally surrender our lives to Christ Jesus. But this falls in sharp contrast to an attitude of surrendering to somebody else. Our surrender is not to an outer authority, but to Christ Jesus who is in you. And it’s a personal matter, it’s a matter between you and Christ, and the relationship you have with me could come completely apart tomorrow. We surrender, not to one another, but to the Father and Christ Jesus.

In Romans 14, Paul is saying that we can have a strong difference of opinion in our assembly, someone believing exactly the opposite of someone else, and he asks what are we supposed to do about it. Get in there and sort out the difficulties? No he doesn’t. He says “…Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind” (Romans 14:5). Why? Because he who regards the day regards it to the Lord, not to me and not to you. He who eats regards it to the Lord and not to us (Romans 14:6). And the difference of opinion we might have is not really relevant. It’s that indwelling presence of Christ, it’s that fellowship with Christ, that should lead you.

Now, you and I may misinterpret the things of Christ, and we may distort them and go in different directions, and that shouldn’t happen to us, but after all, we are all fallible. But Paul’s point is let’s not create problems and upheavals and arguments and bickering in the assembly, let us not divide ourselves from one another because of these things. This chapter is talking about the fundamental concept that God is your personal savior, not your collective savior, and you don’t have to agree with everybody else in the assembly in order to be a part of the Kingdom of God. Thank God! For the one who will judge me, correct me, and the one who will lead us into true holiness is Christ Jesus.

“But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God. So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God.” Romans 14:10-12

Now, I have a certain amount of fear about giving an account of myself to God, but I feel infinitely more comfortable about it than having to give an account to you or anybody else or everybody put together. Don’t you? It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God, but He will always give us the benefit of the doubt. I feel it’s far better for me to fall into the hands of God than to fall into the hands of man, any time.

The good thing about that is that that’s the One I’m depending upon for my salvation. You see, if I was depending upon the church for my salvation, I would be depending upon man. I would hate for you to have to depend on me and I know you would feel the same way in reverse. If I felt that you were depending on me to get you into the kingdom of God that would scare me half to death, for I don’t want to have to carry that kind of a burden and responsibility.

“I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” Galatians 2:20

True holiness, which is a synonym for dedication, comes from just this situation here. Christ Jesus living in you, and the fellowship you have with Him. You see, obedience is not holiness. For there are some people who feel that if they would just obey the Law, strictly, to the letter, that they have achieved holiness. They have not. They may have achieved some degree of righteousness, but they have not achieved holiness. But for the one who is in fellowship with Christ Jesus, obedience is a part of him. It is a matter of having the Law of God written into your character, and into your heart, and into your mind. So that it’s not a matter of being obedient to an external force of some kind, under external control, but a matter of being obedient to Christ Jesus who is in you.

The difference between being submissive to something outside of ourselves, and being submissive to something inside of ourselves is the difference between light and dark. The fundamental concept of God’s Truth is “…Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27), not Christ in the person of a human being! And that, my brethren, is where the fundamental, bedrock difference lies. It is obedience to Christ in you as opposed to Christ in some other person, or a group of persons, or a collection of people, forming a church, a church hierarchy, a church government, or anything else. The One to whom you respond is not external, it is internal.

A Gift or a Task?

The question has sometimes been asked, “Is holiness a gift from God or a task of man?” There are some people who argue that it is a gift of God, that God bestows holiness upon us and there’s not much we can do. Other people argue that it is a task of man, that we have got to strive mightily to be obedient to the Law and purify our lives. But the fact is it is both! The life of a follower of Christ is both a gift and a task.

Salvation is a gift, and yet the scripture says “…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). This means that salvation is both a gift and a task.

“Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” 2 Corinthians 7:1

Who cleanses you? Well, Christ does (1 John 1:7, Revelation 1:5). But right here, Paul says “let us cleanse ourselves!” Which means that, having been forgiven of all our sins, having put these things away, from that day forward it is your task to continue to work to clean up your own life and put your own life in order, to work out your own salvation, to cleanse ourselves and perfect holiness. It is an ongoing work that you do.

The apostles Paul is fond of the word walk. “…Walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4), “…Walk in the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16), “…Walk in love” (Ephesians 5:2), “…Walk ye in him (Christ Jesus)” (Colossians 2:6). In every case, the gift becomes the task. God gives you love, and then says “Walk in love.” It is a gift, and it becomes a task.

When you come out of the waters of baptism you have been cleansed, you have been made holy, you have been set apart and dedicated to God. And that dedication becomes the task. It is something, now, to be worked at, to be carried out.

“And be renewed in the spirit of your mind; And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.” Ephesians 4:23-24

What is that true holiness? Let us continue:

“Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbour: for we are members one of another. Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath:” Ephesians 4:25-26

True holiness involves putting away lying, stop lying to one another. True holiness involves, when you’ve had a really difficult time with somebody, and you’re mad, to go out at sunset and watch the sun go down and send your anger over the horizon with it. That’s a part of true holiness. Continuing:

“Neither give place to the devil. Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth. Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers. And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.” Ephesians 4:27-32

This is an illustration of true holiness, that which you and I are to pursue.

“Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children; And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour. But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints; Neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient: but rather giving of thanks.” Ephesians 5:1-4

Have you ever felt that something was missing from your life? Sort of felt a vague dissatisfaction as though there ought to be something here…I’m looking for something…I know there’s more but I don’t know what it is? A lot of people feel that way. Some people have the “master key syndrome.” They feel that there’s a key somewhere, and if they could just find that key they could unlock every door. If they could just pronounce Jesus’ name correctly they would be healed. Or maybe we would actually get the Holy Spirit more if we just kept it on the right day. There’s got to be a key. Maybe the calendar’s the problem. Somebody wants the key to unlock all these things.

The truth is there is no master key. Salvation is a process. It involves justification, a calling, baptism, the receiving of the Holy Spirit, it involves growing, the process of sanctification; all these things. And until it’s finished, you should feel that something is missing. What we really should do is respond to that feeling. How? Pursue holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14).


What is true holiness? What is a true dedication to God? It is the pursuit of a life so fully surrendered to fellowship with Christ, day by day, that the inner spirit and outward expression are ruled by the spirit of Christ. External controls can never accomplish this. It should be obvious that preventive legislation does not accomplish this, such as the church telling you how you should act and what you should wear. This isn’t being ruled by the spirit of Christ, but by the spirits of other people. It’s not the same.

True holiness, complete dedication, can only arise from personal fellowship with Christ Jesus. What a beautiful thing it is. When you have repented, and been baptized, and received the Holy Spirit, the important thing to realize is you are not finished.

“Pursue holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord” Hebrews 12:14

Original sermon provide by borntowin.net – Article originally transcribed by www.icogsfg.org/rldtonge.html

Ronald Dart
Ronald Dart is the voice of the Born to Win radio broadcast, heard on over 100 radio stations in America, Australia, Britain, and Canada. His easy delivery style and unique insight has earned him a large and loyal audience. He has been an ordained minister for more than 40 years and is chairman and founder of Christian Educational Ministry. He taught Bible and speech for many years at college and graduate level, has published extensively, and has spoken to crowds of more than 14,000 people on four continents. Ron's speciality is taking complex ideas and making them clear and understandable. He lives in Tyler, Texas with his wife Allie.
Ronald Dart
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