In this article, we will focus on ‘what it means for us to be holy in our lives’. Often the concept of Christian holiness is misunderstood and misinterpreted and this results in a lot of pseudo-holiness (fake or false holiness which is not biblical). There are people who think that holiness is about wearing white clothes or men having short hair or women having long hair, not watching any movies of any kind, anywhere, at any time, not watching TV, not wearing jewelry, and so on. The tendency is to totally externalize holiness. This is a very superficial understanding. However, when we look into the Bible we find that the heart of Christian holiness is, primarily the holiness of the heart. Of course, this holiness of the heart is manifested in our external behavior – words, actions, reactions, relationships, etc. Therefore, in this study we will try to understand our holiness in all its aspects or dimensions in a biblically balanced manner.

The Basic Meaning of Holiness: The Hebrew and Greek words for ‘holy’ mean ‘separated and set apart for God’ or ‘consecrated to God’. In other words, holiness is being set apart for the glory of God. There are two dimensions to the basic meaning – 1) devotion, in the sense of being set apart for the service of God and living a life of service to God, and 2) assimilation, in the sense of imitating, conforming to, and becoming like the God one serves. So to be holy is to be characterized by the character of God, that is, by the image of God in which He made us. This means that we take God’s moral law as our rule and God’s incarnate Son as our model. To the extent that we are in God’s image, we are holy. When the Word became flesh Himself and dwelt among us, He showed us what that image of God is like in its fullest expression. So to have passion for holiness then is to have a passion to be like Christ.  It is not surprising that two different words in English, holy and sanctify are actually from the same root in both the biblical languages. Sanctification is the process of being made holy and thus conforming to the image and likeness of Jesus Christ, the only perfect model. How does all this work out in practice? Let us now look at ‘a profile of a holy person’ that the great man of God Bishop J. C. Ryle had drawn up long time ago, and thus see how this question could be answered.

J. C. Ryle’s Twelve-Point Profile of a Holy Person : The command is that we should be holy in all we do/our behaviour/conduct or our way/manner of life or in every areas/aspect of our lives (1 Pet. 1: 15). J. C. Ryle’s profile covers the whole life and hence it is comprehensive. It is a well-rounded description of true and practical holiness. In this context, Ryle says something very profound and yet simple:

A man might go great lengths, and yet never reach true holiness. It is not knowledge – Balaam had that; nor great profession – Judas Iscariot had that; nor doing many things – Herod had that; nor zeal for certain matters in religion – Jehu had that; nor morality and outward respectability of conduct – the young rule had that; nor taking pleasure in hearing preachers – the Jews in Ezekiel’s time had that; nor keeping company with godly people – Joab and Gehazi and Demas had that. Yet none of these were holy. These things alone are not holiness.

What then is true practical holiness? Let us look at the twelve points in some detail and see how the answer to this question unfolds.

1. Holiness is the habit of being of one mind with God – The mind of God is revealed and described in the Word of God. It means agreeing with God’s judgment – hating what He hates, loving what He loves, etc., and measuring everything by the standard of His Word. The more we agree with God, the more holy we are. God’s Word is the best means of godliness in the present godless world/times (2 Tim. 3: 1-16). Therefore, a Christian who wants to be holy has to make God’s Word, the Bible his or her final authority in all matters of faith or belief and behaviour or conviction and conduct. In other words, a holy person’s thinking and living are both shaped and governed by the Word of God. Such a person applies God’s Word meticulously and lovingly (not legalistically) to everything in life. This is what exactly the Psalmist meant when he said, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.” (Psalm 119: 105)

2. A holy person endeavors to shun every known sin (negatively), and to keep every known commandment (positively) – It is not the fear of punishment, but the fear of displeasing God that drives us. Striving to keep God’s commandments (externally) is an expression of a hearty or deep desire (internal) to do God’s will (see Rom. 7: 22; Ps. 119: 28).

3. A holy person strives to be like our Lord Jesus Christ – this underlines the human responsibility in sanctification, which is primarily about this (Rom. 8: 29; 2 Cor. 3: 18 and 1 John 2: 6). ‘To be conformed to the image and likeness of Christ in every area of life’ would be the aim of such a person. When we face dilemmas in real situations, asking the following question will be very helpful: What would Jesus Christ have done/said or how would Jesus have respond, if he were in my place? This is a key point, because Jesus, in His earthly sojourn anchored and exemplified true practical holiness in real human life. Therefore, happy is the Christian who learns to makes Christ his or her ‘all’, both for salvation and example (see 1 Peter 2: 21; Hebrews 12: 1-3; 2: 18; 4: 14-15).

Based on these three points we can say that ‘to be holy means to be like the holy God or to conform to the holy standards or laws of the holy God’ as demonstrated by Jesus Christ. God is truth. Therefore, when we tell truth we are holy and when we tell lies we are unholy. God is love. When we love, we are holy. When we are unloving, we are unholy. God is faithful. When we are faithful, we are holy. This truth is going to be explored further in the next few points.

4. A holy person is one who shows the fruit of the spirit  in his or her life (Gal. 5: 16-26) – Meekness, longsuffering, gentleness, patience, kind tempers, and government of tongue are the marks of such a person. He or she bears and forbears much, overlooks much, and is slow to talk of standing on rights. David and Moses are examples of some of these traits (see II Sam. 16: 10; Num. 12: 3).

5. A holy person follows after temperance and self-denial – It is a key discipline where in we labor to mortify (control and destroy the vigor of) the desires of the body, to crucify the flesh with its affections and lusts, to curb the passions, to restrain the carnal inclinations, lest they break loose at any time. This is what exactly Paul did. He says, “No, I beat my body (but I discipline my body) and make it my slave (bring it into subjection) so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” (1 Cor. 9: 27) This is very much in line with the warning of our Lord Jesus in Luke 21: 34.

6. A holy person follows after charity and brotherly kindness – Paul says that loving others is fulfilling the law (Rom. 13: 8). A holy person lovingly endeavors to do and speak, as she would have others do or speak to her. Such a person is full of love and affection towards other believers – towards their bodies, property, characters, feelings, and souls. This means abhorring all lying, slandering, backbiting, cheating, dishonesty, and unfair dealings, even in small matters, all out of love. We should look at ourselves in the light of 1 Cor. 13 and the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7 and Luke 6), to see if we are truly holy or loving and kind.

7. A holy person follows after a spirit of mercy and benevolence towards others – This means actively trying to do good (not just passively doing no harm). It is not just purposing to and talking about, but doing good to others. Dorcas, a disciple in Joppa, who was always doing good and helping the poor (Acts 9: 36), is a good example. The apostle Paul, who was willing to very gladly spend for the Corinthians everything he had and expend himself (2 Cor. 12: 15), is a great example.

8. A holy person follows after purity of heart (Matt. 5: 8) – This point reminds of the truth that ‘the heart of holiness is the holiness of heart’. A Christian who strives to be pure in heart, dreads all filthiness and uncleanness of spirit, and seeks to avoid all things that might draw him or her into it. Without inner purity (purity of thought, motive, and everything else that goes on), we cannot see or know God.

9. A holy person follows after the fear of God (Neh. 5: 15) – This is not the negative fear of a slave (who works only because he is afraid of punishment), but rather the positive fear of a child, who wishes to live and move as if he was always before his father’s face, because he loves him. Nehemiah feared (rather r revered) God in this sense and that kept him from doing what the former governors had done. Our fear of God keeps us from the unholy and leads us to the holy, if only we learn to practice the holy presence of God in our daily lives.

10. A holy person follows after humility (Philipp. 2: 5-11) – Humility is primarily a matter of the mind or attitude. True humility is seen, not in words, but in attitude and action. Jesus, in his incarnation epitomizes humility. Following the example of their master, holy Christians desire, in lowliness of mind, to esteem all others better than themselves. They see more evil in their own hearts than in the hearts of any others in the world. Humility and holiness are inextricably linked, as we can see in the holy men of the past. Holy Christians understand something of Abraham’s feeling, when he said, “. . . I am nothing but dust and ashes,” when he talked to God face to face (Gen. 18: 27). They understand Paul’s feelings, when he said, “I am chief or worst of sinners” (1 Tim. 1: 15).

11. A holy person follows after faithfulness in all the duties and relations in life (Luke 19: 11-27; Matt. 25: 14-30) – This is about striving for excellence in everything we do. Paul’s words on this are very instructive: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, . . . It is the Lord Christ you are serving” (Col. 3: 23-24 and Ephe. 6: 7-8). He emphasises the same truth slightly differently in Romans: “Never be slothful in business or lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord” (12: 11). People who have the passion for holiness aims at doing everything well and feel ashamed of allowing themselves to do anything less than the best if they can help it. Like Daniel of old, they will distinguish themselves among others by their exceptional qualities and give no basis for charge against them (Dan. 6: 1-5). They would strive to be good husbands and good wives, good parents and good children, good masters and good servants, good neighbors, good friends, good subjects, good in private and good in public, and good in workplace and good at home. Christian holiness is worth little indeed, if it does not bear this kind of fruit in daily living.

12. Lastly, a holy person follows after spiritual-mindedness (Ps. 63: 8; 119: 57; Colo. 2: 20-3: 4) – All Christians that make holiness their priority endeavor to set their affections entirely on things above and hold things on earth with a very loose hand. They do not neglect the business of the life that now is; but the first place in their mind and thoughts is given to the God-ward life and the life to come. They aim to live like one whose treasure is in heaven, and to pass through this world like strangers and pilgrims traveling to their home. Their chief enjoyments would be communion with God in prayer and in the Bible, and fellowship with God’s people. Such people value every thing, place, and company, just in proportion as it draws them nearer to God. Their longing is, first and foremost, for God, just as it was for David (Ps. 63: 1).

We can see clearly from this profile of a holy person the underlying theological truth that we are saved (justified), not yet fully saved or being saved (sanctified), and will be saved (glorified) at the return of the Lord. In other words, we are saved from the penalty of sin, being saved from the power of sin (although unlike others we are no longer slaves to sin), and will be saved from the presence of sin. If holiness is our priority, then we cannot be at peace with sin; we hate sin, mourn over it, and long and strive to be freed more fully from the power and finally to be freed from its presence. Sanctification is a progressive process where God and the human person work together. Ryle’s work on holiness is relevant across centuries, because it is based on the unchanging truth of God’s word. It is very enlightening and challenging. However, to anchor all the profound teaching on practical holiness more solidly in our real life in the real world in our time, in this final section, we will turn to the five ‘aspects of holiness’ in our lives.

Five Important Aspects of Holiness  in our Lives:

These five points only give us little more depth, breadth, and contemporary orientation in our understanding of holiness.

1. Holiness and Heart – The heart is the center and focus of one’s inner personal life It is the source of motivation, the seat of passion, and the spring of all thought process and of conscience. Holiness begins on the inside, in a person’s heart with a right purpose that is expressed in a right performance. Holiness is not just a matter of the motions that we go through, but more fundamentally of the motives that prompt us.
A holy person’s motivating aim, passion, goal, or drive is to please God, by both what one does and avoids doing. True holiness starts in a heart of grateful, humble, and adoring love for God. Therefore, asceticism, formalism, and legalism  in themselves do not constitute true holiness, although some asceticism and conformity to God’s standards are definitely seen in a holy person’s life. Holiness is always the saved sinner’s response of gratitude for grace received from the loving Savior.

2. Holiness and Human Temperament – All of us who are serious about holiness-sanctification should take the holiness-temperament  connection seriously. Character results from what we do with our temperament (the raw material). Temperaments are classified in different ways: positive and negative, easy and difficult, introverted and extraverted, outgoing and withdrawn, active and passive, giving and taking, sociable-forthcoming and manipulative-self-absorbed, etc. However, the oldest and still the best classification that the ancient Greek physicians worked out, distinguishes four basic human temperaments:

• The Sanguine – warm, jolly, outgoing, relaxed, optimistic,
• The Phlegmatic – cool, low-key, detached, unemotional, apathetic,
• The Choleric – quick, active, bustling, impatient, with a relatively short fuse, and
• The Melancholic – somber, pessimistic, inward-looking, inclined to cynicism and depression.

This classification acknowledges the reality of mixed types like the phlegmatic-melancholic and the sanguine-choleric, when characteristics of two of the temperaments are found in the same person in different proportions. There is nothing like the best or the worst type. Each type has its own strengths and weaknesses. This knowledge helps one to understand the temper, actions, and reactions of the person with whom one is dealing and his or her own self. 

There is a danger here that we need to avoid. Often people say that they cannot help, because they are wired or made that way. Largely this is true of the natural or unregenerate people, particularly those that are ignorant of these realities and hence do not know how to change. However, as the regenerated people of God, we are not to become or remain victims of our temperaments. The sanctifying work of the indwelling Holy Spirit has to be applied to the natural temperamental weaknesses, so that we might come out of them gradually, become more sanctified, and Christ-like.

Sanguine people tend to live thoughtlessly and randomly. Phlegmatic people tend to be remote-unfeeling, sluggish, and unsympathetic. Choleric people tend to be quarrelsome, bad-tempered, and poor team players. Melancholic people tend to see everything as bad and wrong and to deny that anything is ever really good and right. We should look at the holy humanity of Jesus Christ which combines in itself the strengths of all four temperaments without any of the weaknesses and make that our goal. We have to try to be like Him in this, not carry on with our behavioral flaws, and justify such flawed behaviour like the worldly people.

Sanctification-holiness for a sanguine person involves learning to look before one leaps, to think things through responsibly, and to speak wisely rather than wildly. There were among the lessons Peter learned with the Spirit’s help after Pentecost. Holiness for a phlegmatic person involves a willingness to be open with people, to feel with and for people, to be forthcoming in relationships, and to become vulnerable, in the sense of risking being hurt. Holiness for a choleric person involves practicing patience and self-control. It means redirecting one’s anger and hostility toward Satan and sin, rather than toward fellow human beings who are obstructing what one regards as the way forward. These were among the lessons Paul learned after his conversion. Finally, holiness for a melancholic person involves learning to rejoice in God, to give up self-pity, proud pessimism, and to believe that things will go well. What are my (and your) temperamental weaknesses? If I am to be holy, as I am called to be, I must identify them (a very hard thing) and ask my Lord to enable me to form habits of rising above them.

3. Holiness and Our Humanness – Often there is confusion about what it means to be human, because we look at humanness only from the perspective of fallen humanness. This confusion leads to confusion about our redeemed humanness and sanctification also. Here again, biblical-theological understanding of our Lord Jesus Christ, God’s incarnate Son, fully divine and fully human, will dispel darkness and bring light. He is both the mediator of divine grace and the model of human godliness. What is human godliness, the godliness that is true holiness, as seen in Jesus? It is human life lived as the creator intended – perfect and ideal humanness, in which the elements of the human person are completely united in a totally God-honoring and nature-fulfilling (human nature being fulfilled) fashion.

We are created in God’s image and likeness for God (to know Him and enjoy Him forever) or for God’s glory. ‘God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him’, says John Piper, and in this sense, holiness and humanness are correlated and have implications one for another. However, sin ruined the image of God and separated us from God. In our sinful humanity, we look for joy, contentment, and fulfillment elsewhere. In this condition, we are less than fully human and live lives that are qualitatively subhuman. All that we do and have while we are away from God can never give us the contentment and joy that are ours when we lovingly obey God and live a God-honoring life. From this perspective, sanctification is a progress towards true humanity and salvation is essentially the restoration of humanity to fallen and broken humans. When we seek or pursue holiness, happiness follows. But if we chase happiness, ultimately we will miss it and in the process miss holiness as well.

Genuine holiness is genuine Christ-likeness, and genuine Christ-likeness is genuine humanness, the only genuine humanness there. What do we find in Jesus that helps us to understand the holiness-humanness connection? Loving service of God and humans, humility and meekness under the divine hand, integration of character seen in integrity of behavior, wisdom with faithfulness, boldness with prayerfulness, sorrow at people’s sins, joy at Father’s goodness, and single-mindedness in seeking to please the Father in everything and at all times, were all qualities seen in Christ, the perfect man. The goal of our sanctification, which is becoming more like Jesus as time passes by, can be restated now as ‘becoming more human as Jesus was human. We are called to imitate these qualities, with the help of the Holy Spirit, so that the childish instability, inconsiderate self-seeking, pretense, and so on that contradict our professedly Christian lives might be left behind.

4. Holiness and Our Relationships – The Reformers broke away from certain strands of thought and practice within Christendom that conceived of holiness as something that is achieved and maintained in isolation, solitude, austerity, and detachment. They biblically reconceived holiness as the fulfilling of one’s relationships, the stewarding of one’s talents, time, and treasures, and the maintaining of love, humility, purity, and zeal for God in one’s heart. They insisted that holiness (the consecrated life of the grateful forgiven sinner) must be worked out in the way in which, as worshiper, worker, and witness, one related to one’s family, church, and wider community. So biblical holiness is worldly holiness, in the sense that it is seen and tested in the way we live our lives in the real world among real people.

If our relationships (husband-wife, parent-child, colleague-colleague, etc.) are marked by resentful contempt rather than love, then we are not holy. Our unwillingness to show any kind of empathetic feelings and to give up our love of the limelight and the desire to control others (3 John 9), all induce a hardness of heart that ruins our relationships and makes us unholy or unchristian. How holy are we (you and me)? Alternatively, how healthy and God-honoring are our relationships?

5. Holiness and Cleanliness – Last, but not least, our holiness is also seen in our cleanliness. We are familiar with the saying ‘cleanliness is next to godliness’. But I want to say that ‘physical cleanliness is integral to Christian holiness’. This might appear to be far-fetched. Yet, I assure you that it is biblical. How can we substantiate this? Just look at the verse from which we have drawn our theme and you will understand. It says, “But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do (NIV) or all your behavior (NASB)” (1 Peter 1: 15). The last phrase does not leave anything out – every aspect of our life is included. In this context, Peter quotes from the book of Leviticus where this command comes first in the context of clean (Heb. taher or tahor) and unclean (Heb. tame) food (Lev. 11:43-47). In fact, in chapters 11-15, we find instructions about various aspects of physical uncleanness. In Deuteronomy 23: 9-14, we notice that God’s people were required to keep their camp ‘holy’ and this comes in the context of some aspects of physical cleanliness. What is interesting is the fact that taher and tame are used in the context of both physical and other aspects of holiness.

In the NT also, we find that the same Greek word, katharos is used to talk about purity or cleanness, in both physical and other aspects of life (see Matt. 23: 25, Mk. 7: 19; John 13: 10; 15: 3; Acts 10: 15; Rom. 14: 20). Jesus condemned the pharisaical or hypocritical holiness, which was just external cleanliness or purity without a corresponding internal purity. He taught that inner purity is comparatively more important than external purity. However, he never taught that external and physical purity or cleanliness is unimportant. Therefore, we conclude that to be biblically holy means to be holy (clean or pure) physically also – keeping our bodies, clothes, houses, things, and surroundings clean and tidy.

Not too long ago, we went to a Christian home for a Bible study. Our son needed to use the bathroom. The host led him there and left. In the very next moment, he screamed and ran back saying, “It is dirty. I can’t use it.” I was reminded of many similar experiences I had when I visited or stayed with Christian families (of course, I did not scream and run away, but just could not stand the disorderliness, dust, dirt, intolerable odor, cobwebs, and cockroaches). This uncleanness is unchristian and needs to be corrected, for the sake of others and our own sake and for God’s glory.

Conclusion: I think there is no better way to summarize this extensive study of Christian holiness, than to quote J. I. Packer: “ . . . Christian holiness is a number of things together. It has both outward and inward aspects. Holiness is a matter of both action and motivation, conduct and character, divine grace and human effort, obedience and creativity, submission and initiative, consecration to God and commitment to people, self-discipline and self-giving, righteousness and love. . . . It is a matter of patient, persistent uprightness; of taking God’s side against sin in our own lives and in the lives of others; of worshipping God in the Spirit as one serves him in the world; and of single-minded, wholehearted, free and glad concentration on the business of pleasing God.”

With this, we come to the end of our study of the doctrinal or theoretical aspect of holiness in God and in our lives. Some questions might arise in our minds: If this is what it means to be holy, can we be truly holy? How can we be holy in our daily lives? It is to these questions that we will turn our attention in the next two articles.


*This article is published with permission from Rev. Sudhakar Mondithoka website.

For more information, please visit Rev. Sudhakar Mondithoka