If Holiness Isn’t All About ‘Thou Shalt Not’ Then What is It?

Here are some great thoughts on world engaging holiness from my good friend Alan Hirsch. I think he says it clearly and succinctly.

Before we move on to some of the many wonderful expressions of the Holy Spirit, we thought it important to address some of our misunderstandings around the issue of holiness. As mentioned in chapter 1, often our understanding of biblical holiness is one that leads us to see holiness from a negative perspective or as a list of “don’ts” and prohibitions. One of the key roles of the Holy Spirit is to oversee the change process by which we become holy, and when holiness is properly understood, it is actually an incredibly redemptive, highly missional concept.

Part of the problem with our understanding of holiness relates to the fact that we understand the word “holy” as a passive adjective when we refer to the “Holy” Spirit. But there is another, more distinctly Hebraic way of translating the original language that emphasizes other dimensions of the work of the Spirit in our lives. Rather than translating hagia as a passive adjective (“the Spirit who is holy”) we can legitimately translate it far more dynamically as “the Sanctifying Spirit”—that is, it is the Spirit who is actively engaged in making the world a more holy place. Isn’t this who God is, and doesn’t it far better describe what he is doing all the time?

When we talk of God as being holy, or of Jesus as holy, or of the Holy Spirit, we must resist the temptation to see holiness in moralistic terms, or else we do violence to the idea of the redeeming God and end up seeing God as the ultimate moralist! That is simply bad theology. God is the model of holiness and we must become like the One we love. “As obedient children, let yourselves be pulled into a way of life shaped by God’s life, a life energetic and blazing with holiness” (1 Peter 1:15 Message).

A Hebraic understanding of holiness suggests that all of life is actually in the process of being redeemed and brought into the sphere of the sacred: Holiness begins with God, flows into our own hearts and our lives, moves from there into the community, and eventually reaches every aspect of life in the world. God is extending his sanctity over ever-increasing portions of life until all is made holy. God is never a detached observer, but is deeply involved in the sanctification of the world. In fact he leads the charge!

This way of understanding holiness is far more world- engaging, and is best exemplified in the life, teachings, and ministry of Jesus. As we have seen, the biblical concept of holiness provides us with a much more active, and therefore missional, understanding of holiness than we are used to in the Western tradition. Holiness is not gained by withdrawal from the world, but by active, redemptive, engagement in the world.

Instead of looking at holiness as a list of “don’ts,” see it as a list of “do’s”; for every prohibition in Scripture actually implies its positive. In fact, positive virtue generates the prohibition. For instance, in the Ten Commandments, “do not kill” actually teaches that we should value and preserve life. “Do not commit adultery” implies we should actively pursue holiness in relationships, and so on.

2 thoughts on “If Holiness Isn’t All About ‘Thou Shalt Not’ Then What is It?

  1. Pingback: tasmission » Blog Archive » links of the week

  2. Pingback: Just DO IT or Holiness » danielmrose.com

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