Faithlife Corporation

Holy Not a 4-letter Word

Notes & Transcripts

 “Holy” is not a 4-letter Word!

“Holy Joe” Reality Game

v  Goal: To correctly identify which of the self-proclaimed “Christian cast-members” was the real Christian.

v  How would you make that determination?

v  What if they all had great “salvation testimonies”?

You might not realize it - but you’ve just been trying to define the word “holy”.

1 Pet 1:15-16 - One of the scariest verses in the New Testament.


Ø  Set in the context of the greatness of our salvation. In response to this, the call to holiness is reasonable.

v  Ironic that one of the most revered descriptions of God is also one of the most feared descriptions of Christians.

v  But what is it about this call that puts us off sometimes? I don’t always have a positive gut reaction to the word “holy”.  Sometimes holiness conjures up words like ...

Ø  Sterile, Dull, Boring

Ø  Plastic, Superficial

Ø  Nauseating

Ø  “Ned Flanders”

Ø  Judgmental, Critical, Proud

Ø  Untouchable

A.  Reacting to the word “Holy”

“Things we secretly think about holiness, but would never actually say out loud in church”

1.    Holiness is boring

v  Kid at camp, “Man this place is to holy for me.”

Ø  Have you ever gotten upset because people think you’re a “goody-goody” and you want to let them know “Hey, I have a wild side. I run with scissors.”

§  I have seen friends do it. I’ve done it to. Why is that?

Ø  Do we have this idea that to be holy is to be boring?

v  We want to be “sort of holy”, but not so holy as to become boring.

Ø  Holy enough to get a passing grade at church, but no so holy that we get a failing grade at work/school

Ø  We prefer middle-ground, mediocre holiness.

Ø  We want to be “holiocre”.

§  Holy, but not too holy.

v  Being holy is like eating healthy.

Ø  Old Slogan: Anything fun is either illegal, immoral, or fattening.

Ø  “The healthier the food, the worse it tastes. The tastier the food, the more unhealthy it is.”

v  Sin can appear surprisingly attractive, and holiness disappointingly dull.

2.    Holiness is burdensome

v  Sometimes we see holiness as a burden to be endured more than blessing to be celebrated.

v   “Be Holy” = Try harder. Do more. Follow the rules.

Ø  One website identified 667 sins listed in the Bible, although they admit that their list may still be incomplete.

Ø  You could sin twice a day and never repeat the same sin in a year! Isn’t that wonderful?

Ø  It’s overwhelming.

v  Then on top of the rules specifically named in the Bible, religious traditions tends to add another layer of “derived rules” / “slippery slope rules”.

Ø  These are the buffer zone guidelines.

§  Intent: To create a safety zone by avoiding even those things that – while not technically wrong – might take you too close to the edge.

Ø  Examples:

§  The best way to avoid the sin of drunkenness is avoid alcohol altogether.

§  The best way to avoid immodest dress is to define modesty in terms of inches above the knee or below the collar.

§  The best way to avoid sexual sin is to avoid extended social contact with anyone of the opposite sex.

§  The best way to avoid the junk on TV/computer is not to have one.

Ø  Goal is wise and admirable: To avoid sin by staying as far away as possible.

Ø  Result is legalism: The “guidelines” eventually become “rules”. What was once “amoral” (not sin) becomes “immoral” (a sin of tradition)

v  We’ve some invented strange rules.  Ex. Strange laws reported from USA

Ø  In Arkansas, it is illegal to mispronounce the word “Arkansas”

Ø  In Waterville, Maine, it is illegal to blow your nose in public.

Ø  In Gary, Indiana, it is illegal to attend a theatre within four hours of eating garlic.

Ø  In Illinois, it is illegal to speak English, you must speak American.

Ø  In Seattle, Washington, you can’t carry a concealed weapon that is over 6 feet in length

Ø  In Tennessee, it is illegal to sell bologna on Sunday

Ø  In California, a 1925 law declared it illegal to wiggle while dancing.

Ø  In West Virginia, you can be jailed for cooking sauerkraut or cabbage

Ø  In Virginia, it is illegal to tickle women

Ø  In Memphis, Tennessee, it is illegal for a woman to drive by herself, unless a man is walking or running in front of the vehicle, waving a red flag in order to warn approaching pedestrians and motorists

Ø  In Nicholas County, West Virginia, no clergy members may tell jokes or humorous stories from the pulpit during church services.

v  All these regulations probably began with serious, sober-minded discussion over a matter of significant social and moral concern.

Ø  All the rules derived by any given Christian traditions likewise began with sober discussion over weight moral and spiritual matters.

Ø  But somewhere along the line, wisdom became entangled with legalism.

Ø  And holiness became a heavy burden.

3.    Holiness is hypocritical

v  Common reaction to the burden of holiness: At least “fake it”

Ø  If you can’t be holy, at least pretend to be holy.

Ø  So we learn to live within the external rules of our church/context. But inside, we often know that we’re just playing along. We’re actors in a game

Ø  The NT word for actor is “hypocrite”.

v  Jesus openly confronted the Pharisees because they had turned the legitimate pursuit of holiness into a game of rules.

Ø  Pharisaism began as a legitimate concern for holiness

§  Don’t be too quick to pick on the Pharisees

Ø  But it became a contest of self-righteousness.

§  Holiness became a matter of external appearances instead of inner righteousness.

v  We instinctively object to hypocrisy – when we detect that someone is trying to appear better than they are.

So, what do we do if we discover hypocrisy in ourselves?

Excerpt from John Ortberg, Life You’ve Always Wanted, pg. 11-13.

I am disappointed with myself. I am disappointed not so much with particular things I have done as with aspects of who I have become. I have a nagging sense that all is not as it should be.

Some of this disappointment is trivial. I wouldn’t have minded getting a more muscular physique. I can’t do basic home repairs. So far I haven’t shown much financial wizardry.

Some of this disappointment is neurotic. Sometimes I am too concerned about what others think of me, even people I don’t know.

Some of this disappointment, I know, is worse than trivial; it is simply the sour fruit of self-absorption. I attend a high school reunion and can’t choke back the desire to stand out by looking more attractive and having achieved more impressive accomplishments than my classmates. I speak to someone with whom I want to be charming, and my words come out awkward and pedestrian. I am disappointed in my ordinariness. I want to be, in the words of Garrison Keillor, named “Sun-God, King of America, Idol of Millions, Bringer of Fire, The Great Haji, Thun-Dar the Boy Giant.

But some of this disappointment in myself runs deeper. When I look in on my children as they sleep at night, I think of the kind of father I want to be. I want to create moments of magic, I want them to remember laughing until the tears flow, I want to read to them and make the books come alive so they love to read, I want to have slow, sweet talks with them as they’re getting ready to close their eyes, I want to sing them awake in the morning, I want to chase fireflies with them, teach them to play tennis, have food fights, and hold them and pray for them in a way that makes them feel cherished.

I look in on them as they sleep at night, and I remember how the day really went: I remember how they were trapped in a fight over checkers and I walked out of the room because I didn’t want to spend the energy needed to teach them how to resolve conflict. I remember how my daughter spilled cherry punch at dinner and I yelled at her about being careful as if she’d revealed some deep character flaw; I yelled at her even though I spill things all the time and no one yells at me; I yelled at her – to tell the truth – simply because I’m big and she’s little and I can get away with it. And then I saw that look of hurt and confusion in her eyes, and I knew there was a tiny wound on her heart that I had put there, and I wished I could have taken those sixty seconds back. I remember how at night I didn’t have slow, sweet talks, but merely rushed the children to bed so I could have more time to myself. I’m disappointed.

And it’s not just my life as a father. I am disappointed also for my life as a husband, friend, neighbor, and human being in general. I think of the day I was born, when I carried the gift of promise, the gift given to all babies. I think of that little baby and what might have been: the ways I might have developed mind and body and spirit, the thoughts I might have had, the joy I might have created.

I am disappointed that I still love God so little and sin so much. I always had the idea as a child that adults were pretty much the people they wanted to be. Yet the truth is, I am embarrassingly sinful. I am capable of dismaying amounts of jealousy if someone succeeds more visibly than I do. I am disappointed at my capacity to be small and petty. I cannot pray for very long without my mind drifting into a fantasy of angry revenge over some past slight I thought I had long since forgiven or some grandiose fantasy of achievement. I can convince people I’m busy and productive and yet waste large amounts of time watching television.

These are just some of the disappointments. I have other ones, darker ones, that I’m not ready to commit to paper. The truth is, even to write these words is a little misleading, because it makes me sound more sensitive to my fallen-ness than I really am. Sometimes, although I am aware of how far I fall short, it doesn’t even bother me very much. And I am disappointed ay my lack of disappointment.

Where does our disappointment come from? A common answer in our day is that it is a lack of self-esteem, a failure to accept oneself. That may be part of the answer, but it is not the whole of it, not by a long shot. The older and wiser answer is that the feeling of disappointment is not the problem, but a reflection of a deeper problem – my failure to be the person God had in mind when he created me. It is the “pearly ache” in my heart to be at home with the Father.

  • *

So, what do we do then?

Ø  1) We can try harder, “shout louder”. If I elevate my performance, maybe I can still convince people (and myself …. AND GOD) that I really am holy.

Ø  2) Give up (which brings us to our forth option)

4.    Holiness is impossible

v  v  The fear of being a hypocrite sometimes keeps us from trying to be holy altogether.

Ø  I know I’m not holy, so why should I pretend to be?

v  Sometimes we just throw up our  hands and say: “Holiness is too difficult. I can’t do this. I’ll never make it.”

Ø  Holiness IS hard work. It is something we must diligently pursue.

Ø  We can’t just go passive and say, “God loves me anyway, therefore holiness doesn’t matter.”


And yet, 1 Pet 1:16 remains:
Be holy, because (your God) am holy.”

B.  Recovering the word “Holy”

v  Changing our attitude towards God’s call to be holy requires changing our perception of what this call really means.

Ø  What does it mean to be “holy as God is holy”?

Ø  Is it possible to have a more positive understanding of holiness?

Ø  What does “holiness” really mean?

v  Consider this chain of verses on holiness.

1.    Ex 15:11 (YHWH is Holy)

v  Song of Moses after God delivered them, thereby proving that none of the “gods of Egypt” were his equal.

Ø  Pharoah had asked : “Who is this YHWH”?

Ø  God’s reply: “You will know that I am YHWH”

Root of “Holiness” = “to be set apart”/that which distinguishes

Therefore, God’s “holiness” is that which  makes God uniquely God.

Ø  It includes the idea of morality, but it goes beyond that.

Ø  God is not holy because He adheres to a certain moral code (that would make morality higher than God)

Ø  Rather, because God is Holy (totally other, set apart, without equal, wholly distinct), His character and nature become templates for what is right and good.

2.    Gen 1:27 (The holy image of God)

v  Bible tells us that we were created in God’s image – that there is something about us that reflects God in a way that is unique among all creation.

Ø  Adam and Eve were not themselves God, but they bore the unmistakable “image of God”.

Ø  They were “Holy, like God is Holy”

v  As God’s holy image bearers, our capacity to reflect the character and quality of God on this earth set us apart from all other creation.

3.    Gen 3:5 (Holiness lost)

v  Can you see the irony?

Ø  Adam and Eve were already “like God” in all the appropriate ways.

Ø  Satan convinced them that being “God’s holy image” was somehow limiting, somehow beneath them.

v  Not content to be “God’s holy image bearers”, they strove to be gods in their own right.

Ø  In striving to be more than the image of God, they became less than the image of God.

Ø  Holiness was lost; the “image of God” was deeply marred.

4.    Heb 1:3a (One who is “holy as God is holy”)

v  There is one who was/is “holy as God is holy”

Ø  Son the very image of God

v  Note: Christ’s holiness was not boring, burdensome, or hypocritical

Ø  It was actually intriguing, majestic, attractive, and compelling.

v  Granted, those who were “holy in their own estimation” (religious legalists) objected to Jesus, but those who were well aware of their “lost holiness” were drawn to him.

Ø  Even today, even many who reject Christianity nevertheless acknowledge that there was something different and compelling about him.

v  Far from being repulsive, Jesus demonstrated that true holiness is awesome and compelling.

v  There was something deeper about Christ’s holiness than our shallow stereotypes.... and there’s something deeper about what it means for us to be holy like Jesus was holy.

!!! 5.    Rom 8:28 (The image of the Son)

v  If God’s destiny for us is conformity to Christ’s image, and Christ perfectly expresses the holy image of God, what is God’s destiny for us?

Ø  That we would once more bear the fullness of the image of God.

Ø  That we would be “holy, as God is Holy”


BOTTOM LINE: The essence of holiness is nothing more and nothing less than the recovery and expression of the image of God that was ours by design, lost through sin, and recovered by Christ.

Ø  LIE: “Holiness is God trying to force you to become what you are not.”

Ø  TRUTH: “Holiness is God remaking you into who you were created to be.”

v  There’s nothing boring, burdensome or legalistic about this.

Ø  It is exciting, liberating, and revitalizing.

Ø  God is not out to ruin you, but to revive you.

Ø  God’s not out to wreck your life, but to save it.

Ø  You are never more fully “YOU” than when you are expressing God’s image in you.

Holiness is our quest to regain the full expression of that image.

Not in a proud, self-sufficient, or “new age” way

Ø  Bible/Christian thought never fuzzes the line between creation and Creator. “Being in God’s image” and “being like God” are not about aspiring to divinity or merging into godhood (as Adam and Eve discovered).

v  But in a profound “creation as a reflection of Creator” way

Ø  There should be a deep imprint of God’s character on us.

It has a moral quality to it.

Ø  Certain activities and attitudes not part of God’s character; therefore they are not part of the character of those who fully bear His image.

Ø  Conversely, certain things are part of God’s character and therefore are also part of the character of those who are called to be holy.

v  But it is more than “do and don’t do”. It is about our being, not just our doing.

Ø  It is innately and primarily positive.

Ø  It’s not primarily about “not being bad”; it’s about engaging life proactively as Christ would engage life.

Ø  It’s about the difference following Jesus makes in our everyday lives”.

!! C.  Conclusion

v   “Be holy, even as I, the Lord your God, am holy” – what does it mean?

Ø  Being distinguished more and more by the qualities of God expressed through you.

Ø  Engaging daily life in full view of sinful people, but bringing something so refreshingly different to the interaction that people are compelled to notice and inquire.

Ø  Demonstrating to the world the difference Christ makes when he truly gets a hold of a person’s whole heart.

v  “Be holy because I am holy” - When you hear that verse, what happens in you?

Ø  If it creates a knot in your stomach, or makes you break out in a sweat, perhaps you have the wrong notion of holiness.

Ø  When we begin to grasp the profound privilege and call to bear God’s image into daily life – not as a duty (“be good or else”) but as the rightful destiny for which we created, and for which we were saved – we will pursue the climb.

§  Not because holiness suddenly becomes easy (it doesn’t)

§  But because holiness becomes that which most deeply expresses our heart’s purest desires.

“Be holy because your God is holy” – is not a obligatory order to obey, but a liberating invitation to experience the very essence of what it means to be human, created in God’s image,  bearing his holiness.

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