How Can We Be Holy as God is Holy?

by Jack Wellman · Print Print · Email Email

God commands us to be holy just as He is holy, so how can we do that, since we’re anything but holy?

Striving for Holiness

The Apostle Peter seems to give us an impossible command to keep by telling us that just “as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct” (1 Pet 1:15), and “since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy” (1 Pet 1:16). Peter quotes Leviticus 19:2 which says “You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy” (Lev 19:2b), so apparently, that part of God’s Law is still in effect…even after Christ’s substitutionary death on the cross. We know that’s a command for today because Peter quotes this Old Testament command twice, but how can fallen creatures, sinful at that, be holy? For sure, it’s not within us to accomplish that. It takes an alien (outside) Person to do this work. We will never be sinless this side of the veil, but we should be sinning less…and less over time. But we know, it’s a struggle and it takes effort, prayer Bible reading, and denial of self, but we must all “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Heb 12:14).

Holiness to the Jews

What it means to be holy is to be completely and totally without sin and in complete perfection, so that leaves me out, but holiness means that of possessing moral perfection and a purity that has no cause outside of Himself to be as such. God is as complete as He is Holy and He is the only source of holiness. This may explain why the Jews held God’s name with such high esteem that they did not even want to say His name, so they substituted letters or syllables, so that Adonai becomes Adoshem or Ha-Shem.[1] I have a few Jewish friends who spell out God’s name as G_d because they reverence it so much. I respect that.

Holy, Holy, Holy

In Jewish literature, and especially in Scripture, the only time an attribute is mentioned about God three times is that He is Holy. In the Jewish genre of literature and writing, some things were mentioned twice like when Jesus would say “verily, verily” or even “Simon, Simon, Saul, Saul, Abraham, Abraham”…and elsewhere. This was to give something great emphasis, and to point out the supreme importance of it so when something. Now when a word is mentioned three times, it is as important as can possibly be It only happens in one place and only for One Person, and that is God. Nowhere does it say that God is “love, love, love” or “merciful, merciful, merciful,” although He is both, but only “Holy, holy, holy” is said about God. Of course God is love, merciful, gracious, but above all things I believe He is holy.

Isaiah the Prophet wrote, “I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him [God] were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory“ (Isaiah 6:1-3). The seraphim, literally the “burning ones,” mimic Moses when near the burning bush and Joshua with the Angel of the Lord where it was said, “take off your shoes.” This may be why the angels “covered their feet,” being on holy ground. Knowing that we cannot look at God and live, apparently even the holy angels cannot look at God directly, at least this close up, so they “covered their faces” with two of their six wings. That’s why these seraphim had six weeks because the other two wings covered God’s throne in Heaven.

Becoming and Staying Holy

We know enough about Scripture to know that our salvation or holiness imputed is never a product of human effort. It is fully “the result divine activity.” [2] This does not mean we are free to live as we please because God’s Laws are divine imperatives and we should be reflecting His image. By living out these Laws we are being sanctified and formed or pressed into the image of God more and more as He renews us from within (Rom 12:1-2). It is not just external but begins with intents of the heart and motivations and attitudes that reflect God. God’s Word commands us to live a life above reproach and in such a way that reflects the moral perfection and purity of Christ. Christ cannot dwell nor have fellowship with those who abide in sin, even though a Christian does not lose their relationship and salvation. We can lose our fellowship, but never our relationship, but to live in sin means you choose to live outside of a relationship with Christ.

Kings, Rulers and Priests

We are called to be kings and priests and rulers (of cities) and no future leader in the Kingdom should live like the world. Joseph’s life is a vivid portrait of sanctification…fleeing when tempted and knowing that his sin would be sinning against God. This is why sexual sin would disqualify a pastor from the pulpit, even though they can be forgiven; but how can that man ever preach about sexual purity again (1 Tim 3:2)? I cannot do anything to be declared holy by God except by imputation in Christ (2 Cor 5:21). I can do many things to become unholy or unclean. I am not a helpless victim that has no power to live in holiness. As 2 Cor 5:21 says, “For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God,” so frankly, I am not responsible for my own declared righteousness but I am responsible for how I live my life. I cannot make myself righteous; but I can live in an unrighteous manner. If we are to be leaders in the future, we must be living lives holy today. Of course, I don’t mean perfect.

Songs about Heaven

What Holiness Looks Like

Living a holy life today is like being a Christian teen today compared to being a teen and living a holy life in the 50’s in America. It is exceedingly more difficult today than it was decades ago. To the world, it’s not sexual immorality, it’s “Dating.” This moral degradation, vicissitudes of violence we see can desensitize Christians, who are today seen as the enemy. We are viewed as narrow minded, homophobic bigots. What is viewed as “old fashioned” or puritanical is despised. What we used to called evil many years ago is now called good and what was once called good many years ago is now called evil (Isaiah 5:20). I am reminded of an old saying that what is popular is not always right and what is right is not always popular.


I cannot make myself holy any more than a cow can make itself holy. It takes God Himself to make anything holy. I tend to work toward being holy and fail so many times. I must learn I cannot pull myself up by my own boot strings. I desire to grow in grace and knowledge and holiness, yet the old man keeps getting in my way. That’s because we are striving to live a godly life, but until you’ve repented of your sins and placed your trust in Christ, it is pointless. Put your trust in the Savior and the Holy Spirit will live within you and help you strive for holiness, and we need that help, so be holy as God is holy, for without holiness, no one will ever see God.

Here is some related reading for you: What is the Biblical Definition of Holy?

Resource – Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), Crossway Bibles. (2007). ESV: Study Bible: English standard version. Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Bibles. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

1 “The Name of G_d.” Judaism 101 (Accessed April 7, 2014).

2 Desmond T. Alexander. From Paradise to the Promised Land (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publish, 2012), 244.

3 Ibid., p. 242.

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