This salvation was something even the prophets wanted to know more about when they prophesied about this gracious salvation prepared for you. They wondered what time or situation the Spirit of Christ within them was talking about when he told them in advance about Christ’s suffering and his great glory afterward. They were told that their messages were not for themselves, but for you. And now this Good News has been announced to you by those who preached in the power of the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. It is all so wonderful that even the angels are eagerly watching these things happen. So prepare your minds for action and exercise self-control. Put all your hope in the gracious salvation that will come to you when Jesus Christ is revealed to the world. So you must live as God’s obedient children. Don’t slip back into your old ways of living to satisfy your own desires. You didn’t know any better then. But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy. For the Scriptures say, “You must be holy because I am holy.”(1 Peter 1:10–16 NLT)
Ancient Hebrew does not have the benefit of the punctuation that is so common to us who write in English or other Latin-based languages. As such, rather than using a simple exclamation mark, which most of us take for granted, the means through which many passages in the Bible show emphasis is word choice. There are a handful of methods, but one is repetition. We see it often – for example, “King of kings and Lord of lords” – but the most potent examples are Isaiah 6:3 and Revelation 4:8, both of which are similar depictions of angels crying out, “Holy, holy, holy.” These are the only times in the Bible a characteristic of God is stated three times in rapid succession in just this way.
Many of us might have chosen a different word to be repeated in such a manner. “Love” would be an obvious choice; after all, 1 John repeatedly states that God is love. We might also consider righteous, perfect, or gracious. Yet the seraphim don’t proclaim those before God’s throne. The chief meaning behind the word “holy,” especially how it is used in the Bible, is of something that is set apart or separate. Knowing this, it makes sense why holy is the word that is repeated thrice by the seraphim instead of other descriptors. God, in his very nature, is separate from all of creation. As the Creator of all that is – seen and unseen – he is unlike anything else. “No one is holy like the LORD! There is no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God” (1 Samuel 2:2).
And yet, as 1 Peter 1:16 reminds us, we are instructed to be holy like our God. We, too, must be set apart, separate, known as different from everyone around us. We are not called to be set apart like fine china, saved for select events and special guests; instead, a better analogy would be a small child’s beloved blankie. While seemingly ordinary to most, it is irreplaceable to its owner. In fact, it is that very affection from the child that makes this blankie holy, different from all others. While it is in use every day, it is not fit to be used as a rag for cleaning up mud from the entryway, for that would defile it.
Similarly, we are holy and set apart not because of anything inherently special in us but because we are loved by God and considered his chosen bride. This then means we are not fit for certain activities, for they defile us. This is why so many confuse holiness with righteousness; we are instructed to seek righteousness because we have been made holy.
The difficulty many of us find in seeking holiness is figuring out how to be separate while still be part of this world. A popular phrase among Christians is that we are to “be in the world, but not of the world.” David Mathis, writing for Desiring God, says that this seems to miss the bigger picture. Instead, he suggests we revise this phrase. “Maybe it would serve us better — at least in light of John 17 — to revise the popular phrase ‘in, but not of’ in this way: ‘not of, but sent into,’” he writes. As people sent into our neighborhoods, communities, and social circles, we are to be holy beacons of God’s light.
What does it look like in the setting in which God has placed you for you to be a holy sent one?