1-6-1 The Meaning of Holiness

Conflict, active conflict, with ‘the world’ is, Biblically, inevitable. And not only inevitable, but a vital stage in our redemptive process. We must come out from the world and only then can we be received by God (2 Cor. 6:17). The act of baptism is a saving of ourselves not only from our sins, but also from " this untoward generation" in which we once lived (Acts 2:40). Without holiness (separation), no man will finally see the Lord (Heb. 12:14). The Lord died in order to separate us out of this world, as a new people and nation that lives under His leadership rather than that of the world (Tit. 2:14 cp. Ex. 19:5). This is how important it is. The Hebrew word frequently translated ‘cut off’ throughout the Law is the same translated ‘to make / cut a covenant’. Covenant relationship with God involves a severing, a separation from the world and the flesh. James puts it as plainly as could be: friendship with the world means you are an enemy of God. Nobody, not even an atheist, would say he hated God. But this is how God sees our friendship with the world. The seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent are by their very nature in opposition to each other. There is an essential opposition between a man and a snake; there’s no third road of compromise between the two.  The subsequent necessity for ‘Separation from the world’ can become such a familiar cry that it loses meaning, and takes on a negative overtone; and it has to be said that it has all too often been associated with tokenistic separation rather than the separation God seeks. We must also be aware that it’s all to easy to be separate from the world in ways which are just convenient to us. We may not like, e.g. the café culture, or cinemas; we may not be good at personal relationships... and so we can justify all this as ‘separation from the world’, whereas in fact our hearts are not separated unto the things of God. Yet the early believers were separated from the world in a radical sense. Tertullian mentioned that the Christians were referred to as a “third race”, after the Romans and Greeks [the first] and the Jews [the second]. They were recognized for what they were- another nation.


The meaning of ‘holiness’ is both to be separated from and separated unto. Separation isn’t only something negative; it’s more essentially something positive. We are separated from this world because we are separated unto the things of God’s Kingdom; the separation from is a natural, unpretended outcome of our involvement in the things of God’s Kingdom.  It’s not part of a cross which the believer must reluctantly, sacrificially bare. Like all spiritual growth, it is unaffected; the number of hours spent watching t.v. goes down (to zero?) naturally; the friendships with the world  naturally frizzle out, the way we dress, the things we hope for and talk about... all these things will alter in their own time. Israel were brought out from Egypt through the Red Sea (cp. baptism) that they might be brought in to the land of promise (Dt. 6:23). The Nazarite was separated from wine, because he was separated unto the Lord (Num. 6:2,3). Dt. 4:19 warns Israel not to worship the stars, because God has shared them with “all the peoples under the whole heaven” (RV)- but He Has shared Himself only with Israel. Because of this unique and awesome entrance into their lives by God, they ought to have naturally separated themselves from any other god. The positive separation unto naturally resulted in the negative separation from.

Abraham was told “Get thee out...” of Ur; and obediently “they went forth to go into the land of Canaan: and into the land of Canaan they came” (Gen. 12:1,5). This must be the pattern of our lives, until finally at the Lord’s return  we are again called to go out to meet the bridegroom; and we will go in with Him to the marriage (Mt. 25:6,10). The New Testament preachers urged men to turn “from darkness to light, and from the power of satan to God” (Acts 26:18); from wickedness to God, to the Lord (Acts 3:26; 15:19; 26:20; 9:35; 11:21). In Nehemiah’s time, the people “separated themselves from the peoples of the lands unto the law of God, their wives, their sons, and their daughters…they clave to their brethren” (Neh. 10:28,29). Close fellowship with one’s brethren arises from having gone out from the surrounding world, unto the things of God’s word. That, at least, was the theory. In reality, those exiles who returned found this separation very difficult. In fact, the account of Judah’s separation from the surrounding peoples reads similar to that of the purges from idolatory during the reign of the kings. They separated / purged, and then, within a few years, we read of them doing so again. Initially, the exiles separated from the peoples of the land (Ezra 6:21); by 9:1 they are in need of separating again; and by 10:11 likewise; then they separate (10:16), only to need another call to separation by the time of Neh. 9:2; 13:3. They obviously found it extremely difficult to be separated from the surrounding world unto God’s law (Neh. 10:28).

This separation from the world unto the things of God is brought out in the way Ps. 45:10.16 alludes to the Mosaic laws about a Gentile woman forgetting her father’s house. Indeed the Psalm appears to have relevance to Solomon’s marriage to a Gentile [and note the allusions to Joseph’s marriage to a Gentile]: “Forget also thine own people, and thy father’s house [this is the ‘separation from’ the world]…instead of thy fathers shall be thy children, which thou mayest make princes in all the earth [land- of Israel]”. The emotional pain of separation from her father’s world would be offset by her bringing forth Godly children within the hope of Israel.

previous page table of contents next page next chapter