Holiness vs. Perfection

As I have been preaching, teaching, and writing about holiness throughout 2021, I have defined or described holiness as God’s total perfection and purity in all of his attributes and actions. God is holy because God is totally perfect in his power, his authority, his love, his justice, his grace, and in any other characteristic we might use to describe God. More than that, not only is God’s character the definition of those attributes, but it determines his total perfection in demonstrating those attributes. God is not only holy in his character, but he his holy in his actions; everything God does is totally perfect, according to his holy character.

This is why the other aspect of God’s holiness is that God is totally unique. There is nobody like our God because he alone is totally perfect in all of his attributes and actions. Very simply, God’s holiness is defined by his unique perfection.

OK, I can hear you thinking: “No kidding. Tell me something I didn’t know.” However, I’m also pretty sure you might also become rather uncomfortable considering these Bible verses I’ve quoted several times throughout the year. First Peter 1:15, 16 say, “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’” (NIV 1984). Why do these verses make us uncomfortable? Because they make it clear that God’s expectation is for his people to be holy. Since God defines holiness by his unique perfection and since the Bible tells us that we are sinners (Romans 3:23), we know we are not perfect.

Unfortunately, since we know we are not perfect, far too many times, we give up on the notion of being holy. When we hear the command from God to the people of Israel in Leviticus repeated by Peter – “Be holy, because I am holy” – we tend to shy away from God, from his holiness, from his call to holiness. The thing is, it was Jesus’ goal to make us holy. Hebrews 13:12 tells us, “Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood” (NIV 1984). Jesus died on the cross to make us holy; there is a purposeful and causal between Jesus’ death and our holiness. That is, Jesus endured the cross with both the intent and effect of making us holy.

In fact, it’s not just a matter of God viewing us as holy because of Jesus’ death and our faith in him; it’s a matter of transformation. God does not simply declare us to be holy; he makes us holy; he makes us righteous. In fact, he makes us perfect. This was Paul’s prayer for the early church in 1 Thessalonians 5:23, 24:

May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it. (NIV 1984)

Through the sacrifice of Jesus, Paul says, God makes us holy “through and through.” And if we missed the point, he emphasizes that the change he makes is in our “whole spirit, soul and body”; it’s a complete transformation. This transformation is so complete that we will be “blameless” when Jesus returns.

That’s perfect holiness. It’s holiness as God is holy. It’s more than simple similarity or reflection of God’s holiness; it’s a transformation that makes us like him. Hebrews 2:11 gives us this assurance, “Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers.” Jesus died to make us holy, to make us perfect like himself.

When we put our faith in Jesus, we trust God that he makes us like Jesus. As Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians 5:24, God is faithful; he promised it, and he will do it. So let’s not be distracted by the fact of our sinful imperfection; let’s be transformed in faith by God’s holiness and live like Jesus who is not ashamed to call us brothers and sisters.