Holiness Defined for the 21st Century
By Ronald V. Duncan
One of the most quoted Scriptures on the necessity of holiness in the life of the believer is 1 Peter 1:16: “You must be holy for I am holy.” Holiness is clearly a requirement. It is a scriptural mandate. The difficulty arises in the definition of what holiness means when discussed in cultural context. The Bible is replete with examples and characteristics of a holy life. When the concept or belief of holiness has to take on real world attributes, the believer is drawn to a deeper level of understanding about holiness.
Each one of us can think back into our history and share examples of the holy life being defined by a list of things you don’t do. In some Christian circles this is still the primary way a definition of holiness is developed—by making a list of don’ts. Obviously, when there is a list of don’ts, somewhere there has to be a list of dos.
For some in the Christian faith, the definition of holiness is guided more by the dos then the don’ts. It seems reasonable to assume that you really need both in any true definition. The key question about holiness is, What serves as the dominant driver in the believer’s life, the dos or the don’ts? The believer in Christ who is guided by the dos seems to produce more fruit for the kingdom and seeks the leading of the Holy Spirit on a daily basis. The believer in Christ who is guided by the don’ts may never get to the dos, exhausting energy seeking to enforce those don’ts.
The love of Christ is presumed by most to be the motivating factor in each believer’s life. When this love of Christ and for Christ is at the forefront in the believer’s heart and mind, then the desire to live a life worthy of the high calling becomes the dominant force. The desire of the heart is to love, not out of compulsion or pressure, but out of genuine love. Genuine love seems to align more closely to the dos then to the don’ts. So as a definition is sought within culture, each believer should review all biblical sources and make application to daily existence. Hebrews 12.14b states, “Without holiness no one will see the Lord.” A short essay necessarily limits the discussion of all the nuances of holiness; therefore, a deeper study is required for a balanced definition.