Holiness…what’s the “difference”?

This word has always bothered me. Here’s why. Growing up I always heard that I was supposed to “Be holy as God is holy.” You can’t blame them. That is straight from scripture:

But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” 1 Peter 1:15-16

Maybe like you, I can very clearly see that in many areas I am NOT holy in all I do and I spent a good part of my CHRISTIAN adult life trying very hard to live holy “for” God. Something has changed in my understanding of holiness.

In the Old Testament, God makes a covenant to His people. This would be repeated in MARRIAGE covenants as husbands gave their vows to their wives:

“…you are to be holy to Me, for I the LORD am holy; and I have set you apart from the peoples to be Mine.” Leviticus 20:26

Here we go. First, Holiness means ‘set apart, sanctified, different,’ not perfect. Holiness is also an attribute of God. But I ALWAYS thought holiness meant trying hard to do the right things. I’m not trying to downplay doing the right things, but I really want to hammer this truth home by not paying attention to our actions for a moment. I thought holiness was a synonym with ‘righteous’ behavior but it’s not. I grew up in a great Spirit-led church but somehow still came away with the idea that unless I lived a pure life keeping God’s commands God would not be willing to put His Spirit in me. Here’s why that cannot be true.

A “holy person” is not a “perfect person” but a “set-apart person.” It’s about who we ARE!!! It’s our identity. And it means ‘different,’ set apart for God’s use. We are being invited to be DIFFERENT by being covenanted to God! Look at God’s assignment to His chosen people right after He had set them free from slavery:

You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.  Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. Exodus 19:4-6

OK. So the question becomes what are they supposed to be different from? Primarily, they were to be who they were–covenanted to be God’s chosen people, obedient to Him in whole-life worship. When God set them free, they were called apart from Egypt to WORSHIP GOD (Exodus 9:1)! The worship of the One True God is supposed to be a setting-apart by a coming-out-from slavery. Look at what God says to Israel through the prophet Jeremiah in chapter 2:

I remember the devotion of your youth,
    how as a bride you loved me
and followed me through the wilderness,
    through a land not sown.
Israel was holy to the Lord,
    the firstfruits of his harvest;

Israel was chosen and set apart from the nations and even better, they were just the FIRSTFRUITS of the nations (meaning God’s plan has always been to own the nations as His own [see verse list at end of this post]). God remembered this initial time of covenant not as “good behavior” but LOVE…devotion. Israel’s response of being set-apart by God was just pure love (also, love is a greater motivator for obedience than fear). But look at God’s mourning when Israel was unfaithful to Him:

“What fault did your ancestors find in me,
    that they strayed so far from me?
They followed worthless idols
    and became worthless themselves.
They did not ask, ‘Where is the Lord…

The priests did not ask,
    ‘Where is the Lord?’
Those who deal with the law did not know me;

They had experienced the one true God. But when they needed direction, they did not ask “Where is the Lord?” In other words, when they had a problem or were not sure about things, they made their own projects and worshiped those things, forgetting what they were set apart to do–WORSHIP!

THIS IS THE ONE TRUE LIVING GOD who does not share His glory with another. God was inviting them to be His people, and to be in His presence…

In fact, they were meant to bear the very image of God, which was to be accomplished by obeying the law. They could not obey, so the sacrifice system was meant to bear the weight of their inability to be set apart for God. God’s presence would stay with them through the mediation of sacrifice by the priests in the HOLY of HOLIES (the ‘set apart’ of the ‘set apart’ place). Israel knew God’s presence, but said they did not want to see Him for fear they would die (Ex.20:19).

Those who were afraid of seeing God (for good reason) became motivated by fear until that fear drove them to doubt that God was even with them. They became just like those who never knew him! And even worse, they had EXPERIENCED God and decided He was not good enough to lead them. Their faith soured to frustration and to fear. “Give us a king!” they requested and so God laments:

“My people have committed two sins:
They have forsaken me,
    the spring of living water,
and have dug their own cisterns,
    broken cisterns that cannot hold water.

Now. Here’s the thing. When Jesus died, His blood the final sacrifice taking away our guilt (and accompanying self-hate, fear, and shame), the veil was TORN in two. God was no longer “set apart” in a place called the “set apart of the set apart.” His presence was so powerful in that moment that it raised dead people to life (before Jesus was raised.) Did you catch that! His presence is no longer withheld from us. It now is poured out on us as Living Water, the Holy Spirit (John 7:38-39). When we surrender in trust to Jesus for this new identity (made possible by His blood that covers us as a breastplate of righteousness Eph. 6:14; 2 Cor. 5:21; Gal. 3:27, Romans 13:14) and are set apart as the possession of God, He is holiness FOR us and we experience this set apart holiness IMMEDIATELY because we have now been set apart with His presence INSIDE of us!! (1Cor. 3:16)

His presence is evidence of our identity as one who is “holy.” God would not dwell in an unclean place! Our status has shifted because of Jesus. We who have surrendered our lives and trusted the work of His death to purify us now have the offer of the Holy Spirit who is God inside of us. The Worship of a Christian therefore, is the crying out of a holy person to a holy God. It is His presence in us, and ONLY THAT, that makes us Holy. Just ask Moses, whose face shone after being with God (Exodus 34:30). We are changed by His presence.

What are the implications? The pressure valve releases and we return to rest, quietness and trust (Isaiah 30:15). God has done ALL. All that is left is to worship HIm, to let our lives sink back into the original purpose of those “set apart”–our response is simply love (worship and love-driven obedience). And as for all the nations–they will not be drawn to us by our cisterns that we make (even FOR God) by our own efforts. It will be the fruit of the Living Water of the Spirit and the Seed of Christ growing out of us that accomplishes this work.

Those who do not know Him will simply be drawn to His presence, by us whose faces shine. Therefore, could the entry point for salvation actually be a worship experience, where they encounter the holiness of God? What if our job is just to enjoy the presence of God and create space for others to really encounter Him, by just giving God space to move? If we really did this–if we prioritized the presence of God and waited on God to move, how would it change our church services, the way we trained our worship leaders, the way we live our daily lives?!

You, follower of Jesus, is your face shining? He invites you to choose the one necessary thing–sit at His feet and listen to Him (Luke 10:38-40). Be in His presence. Learn His voice so you can say what the Father says and do what the Father does (John 12:49; John5:19). Live in His agenda, not yours. Experience His presence and let Him rework you from the inside out. Let Living Water of the Spirit clean you out naturally and regenerate the seed of Christ in you! (Galatians 3:16)

This DIFFERENCE (holiness) is a natural by-product of HIS PRESENCE. Our holiness is His holiness in us. Thank God.

Remember we as the people of God are not meant to be perfect, but holy. To show something DIFFERENT!

It’s Him in us. Not us for Him.

And here is the amazing news…you don’t even have to stress out about this…HE is the one that DOES IT ALL!!! You being in His presence, listening at His feet, will allow Him move you naturally away from disobedience, back into habits of listening, trusting, and obeying. (Just check out all the “I wills” below!!)

24 “‘For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land. 25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. 26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. 28 Then you will live in the land I gave your ancestors; you will be my people, and I will be your God. Ezekiel 36

I once met a man whose dream was that the next great world revival will come from worship, not preaching. I think He may have been right. After all, the outbreak of the presence of God raises dead men from the grave.

At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. Matthew 27:51-52

It’s a covenant people.

You SHALL BE holy as I am holy. It’s a promise, not a command.


The following Scripture references (New International Version) reveal God’s heart for all ethnic groups: “all nations,” “all peoples,” “all mankind,” “all creation,” “every creature,” “every knee,” “every tongue,” “men of every language,” and “the world.”

Genesis 12:3 – “I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”

Genesis 18:18 – “Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all nations on earth will be blessed through him.”

Genesis 22:18 – “..and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.”

Genesis 26:4 – “I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and will give them all these lands, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed,..”

Genesis 28:14 – “Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring.”

Exodus 9:16 – “But I have raised you up for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.”

Joshua 4:24 – “He did this so that all the peoples of the earth might know that the hand of the LORD is powerful and so that you might always fear the LORD your God.”

1 Kings 8:43 – “..then hear from heaven, your dwelling place, and do whatever the foreigner asks of you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your own people Israel, and may know that this house I have built bears your Name.”

1 Kings 8:60 – “..so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God and that there is no other.”

1 Chronicles 16:23 – “Sing to the Lord, all the earth; proclaim his salvation day after day.”

1 Chronicles 16:24 – “Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all peoples.”

2 Chronicles 6:33 – “..then hear from heaven, your dwelling place, and do whatever the foreigner asks of you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your own people Israel, and may know that this house I have built bears your Name.”

Psalm 2:8 – “Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession.”

Psalm 22:27 – “All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations will bow down before him,..”

Psalm 33:8 – “Let all the earth fear the Lord; let all the people of the world revere him.”

Psalm 47:1 – “Clap your hands, all you nations; shout to God with cries of joy.”

Psalm 48:10 – “Like your name, O God, your praise reaches to the ends of the earth; your right hand is filled with righteousness.”

Psalm 64:9 – “All mankind will fear; they will proclaim the works of God and ponder what he has done.”

Psalm 67:2, 3 – “..that your ways may be known on earth, your salvation among all nations.”

Psalm 67:7 – “God will bless us, and all the ends of the earth will fear him.”

Psalm 72:11 – “All kings will bow down to him and all nations will serve him.”

Psalm 72:17 – “May his name endure forever; may it continue as long as the sun. All nations will be blessed through him, and they will call him blessed.”

Psalm 82:8 – “Rise up, O God, judge the earth, for all the nations are your inheritance.”

Psalm 86:9 – “All the nations you have made will come and worship before you, O Lord; they will bring glory to your name.”

Psalm 96:1 – “Sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth.”

Psalm 96:3 – “Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all peoples.”

Psalm 97:6 – “The heavens proclaim his righteousness, and all the peoples see his glory.”

Psalm 98:3 – “He has remembered his love and his faithfulness to the house of Israel; all the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.”

Psalm 102:15 – “The nations will fear the name of the LORD, all the kings of the earth will revere your glory.”

Psalm 117:1 – “Praise the LORD, all you nations; extol him, all you peoples.”

Psalm 145:21 – “My mouth will speak in praise of the LORD. Let every creature praise his holy name for ever and ever.”

Psalm 148:7, 11 – “Praise the Lord from the earth, …kings of the earth and all nations, you princes and all rulers on earth,..”

Isaiah 2:2 – “In the last days the mountain of the LORD’s temple will be established as chief among the mountains; it will be raised above the hills, and all nations will stream to it.”

Isaiah 25:6 – “On this mountain the LORD Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples, a banquet of aged wine – the best of meats and the finest of wines.”

Isaiah 25:7 – “On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations;”

Isaiah 34:1 – “Come near, you nations, and listen; pay attention, you peoples! Let the earth hear, and all that is in it, the world, and all that comes out of it!”

Isaiah 40:5 – “And the glory of the LORD will be revealed, and all mankind together will see it. For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”

Isaiah 42:10 – “Sing to the Lord a new song, His praise from the ends of the earth…”

Isaiah 43:6 – “I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’ and to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’ Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth.”

Isaiah 45:22 – “Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other.”

Isaiah 45:23 – “By myself I have sworn, my mouth has uttered in all integrity a word that will not be revoked: Before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear.”

Isaiah 49:6 – “(The Lord) says: ‘It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.’”

Isaiah 52:10 – “The LORD will lay bare his holy arm in the sight of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth will see the salvation of our God.”

Isaiah 56:7 – “..these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.”

Isaiah 61:11 – “For as the soil makes the sprout come up and a garden causes seeds to grow, so the Sovereign LORD will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations.”

Isaiah 66:18 – “And I, because of their actions and their imaginations, am about to come and gather all nations and tongues, and they will come and see my glory.”

Isaiah 66:20 – “And they will bring all your brothers, from all the nations, to my holy mountain in Jerusalem as an offering to the LORD — ..”

Isaiah 66:23 – “‘From one New Moon to another and from one Sabbath to another, all mankind will come and bow down before me,’ says the LORD.”

Jeremiah 3:17 – “At that time they will call Jerusalem The Throne of the LORD, and all nations will gather in Jerusalem to honor the name of the LORD. No longer will they follow the stubbornness of their evil hearts.”

Jeremiah 33:9 – “Then this city will bring me renown, joy, praise and honor before all nations on earth that hear of all the good things I do for it; and they will be in awe and will tremble at the abundant prosperity and peace I provide for it.”

Ezekiel 39:21 – “I will display my glory among the nations, and all the nations will see the punishment I inflict and the hand I lay upon them.”

Daniel 7:14 – “He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshipped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.”

Zephaniah 2:11 – “The LORD will be awesome to them when he destroys all the gods of the land. The nations on every shore will worship him, every one in its own land.”

Zephaniah 3:9 – “Then will I purify the lips of the peoples, that all of them may call on the name of the LORD and serve him shoulder to shoulder.”

Haggai 2:7 – “‘I will shake all nations, and the desired of all nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory,’ says the LORD Almighty.”

Zechariah 8:23 – “This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘In those days ten men from all languages and nations will take firm hold of one Jew by the hem of his robe and say, “Let us go with you, because we have heard that God is with you.”‘”

Zechariah 9:10 – “I will take away the chariots from Ephraim and the war-horses from Jerusalem, and the battle bow will be broken. He will proclaim peace to the nations. His rule will extend from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth.”

Malachi 3:12 – “‘Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land,’ says the LORD Almighty.”

Matthew 24:14 – “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.”

Matthew 28:19 – “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit..”

Mark 11:17 – “And as He taught them, He said, ‘Is it not written: “My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations“? …’” (Isaiah 56:7)

Mark 13:10 – “And the gospel must first be preached to all nations.”

Mark 13:27 – “And He will send His angels and gather His elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.”

Mark 16:15 – “He said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.’”

Luke 2:31, 32 – “‘which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.’”

Luke 3:6 – “And all mankind will see God’s salvation.”

Luke 24:47 – “..and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.”

John 17:23 – “…to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

Acts 1:8 – “‘But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’”

Acts 2:17a – “‘In the last days,’ God says, ‘I will pour out my Spirit on all people.’”

Acts 3:25b – “He said to Abraham, ‘Through your offspring all peoples on earth will be blessed.’”

Acts 10:35 – “..but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right.”

Acts 13:47 – “For this is what the Lord has commanded us: ‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’”

Romans 1:5 – “Through Him and for His name’s sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith.”

Romans 14:11 – “It is written: ‘”As surely as I live,” says the Lord, “every knee will bow before me; every tongue will confess to God.”‘”

Romans 15:11 – “And again, ‘Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and sing praises to him, all you peoples.’”

Romans 16:26 – “..but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all nations might believe and obey him– ..”

Galatians 3:8 – “The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: ‘All nations will be blessed through you.’”

Philippians 2:10, 11 – “that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

1 Timothy 2:3, 4 – “This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”

2 Peter 3:9 – “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”

1 John 2:2 – “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.”

Revelation 5:9 – “And they sang a new song: ‘You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.’”

Revelation 7:9 – “After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.”

Revelation 12:5 – “She gave birth to a son, a male child, who will rule all the nations with an iron scepter. And her child was snatched up to God and to his throne.”

Revelation 14:6 – “Then I saw another angel flying in midair, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth– to every nation, tribe, language and people.”

Revelation 15:4 – “Who will not fear you, O Lord, and bring glory to your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship before you, for your righteous acts have been revealed.”

book on a white wooden table



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