What comes to your mind when you hear the word “Holiness”? If someone is “struggling with holiness” what would you expect to see as evidence? Think about it. Now, put that idea on a shelf, because I’m bringing you out to a desert island. It’s so desolate here that we don’t even have our preconceived notions; all we have is a Bible, a few concordances, and a random monkey throwing coconuts. Ready to dive in?

Defining Holiness

In the King James Version the word “holiness” can be found 43 times, 13 of which are in the New Testament. However, the Greek root words for “holiness” (primarily ἁγιασμός / hag-ee-as-mos’) are also translated as “sanctification” (1 Corinthians 1:30, 1 Thessalonians 4:3-4′ 7, 2 Thessalonians 2:13, 1 Peter 1:2). The Helps Word Study defines this Greek root word (ἁγιασμός) as “use of the believer being progressively transformed by the Lord into His likeness” and the Strong’s definition is “the process of making or becoming holy, set apart, sanctification, holiness, consecration”.

A Deeper Look at the NT Passages on Holiness

Definitions are great, but what does it look like practically to be “progressively transformed by the Lord into His likeness”? What is our part in this process? Are there any commands we ought to obey: things to abstain from or things to practice? Let’s go to our NT scriptures to find out.

19 I speak after the manner of men because of the infirmity of your flesh: for as ye have yielded your members servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity; even so now yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness.

22 But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life” -Romans 6:19, 22

This passage teaches shows a contrast between before and after salvation. Before salvation, we were slaves to uncleanness which led to more and more sin. After salvation, we serve God. Serving God results in evidences of becoming like Him, and becoming like Him leads to eternal life.

17 Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you.

18 And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.

7:1 Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God. -2 Corinthians 6:17-18, 7:1

This passage is actually referencing back to Isaiah 52:11-12, in which those who were responsible for carrying the holy vessels were charged to come out of Egypt slowly with caution, so as not to defile them.

11 Depart ye, depart ye, go ye out from thence, touch no unclean thing; go ye out of the midst of her; be ye clean, that bear the vessels of the Lord.

12 For ye shall not go out with haste, nor go by flight: for the Lord will go before you; and the God of Israel will be your reward. -Isaiah 52:11-12

This noted, 2 Corinthians teaches us several things about holiness. First, just as the Israelites were required to keep the temple vessels clean, so must Christians keep themselves clean; not according to the OT rituals, but rather by cleansing ourselves from “all filthiness of flesh and spirit”. Flesh could be referring to the physical body (sexual sins come to mind) or the human nature, and spirit would be referring to the inner being (mind/emotions/will). Secondly, the present tense phrasing of “perfecting” (that is, accomplishing/completing) holiness is an even greater indicator that we have not attained holiness, but are rather striving for it (and by default are not currently holy beings). Lastly, perfecting holiness should be done with a healthy fear of God.

Ephesians 4 is another great chapter from which we can study Holiness. The Ephesian Christians are admonished not to walk as “other Gentiles” “who being past feeling have given themselves over to lasciviousness [sensuality], to work all uncleanness with greediness” (Ephesians 4:17, 19). In contrast, Christians ought to do the following;

22 That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts;

23 And be renewed in the spirit of your mind;

24 And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness. -Ephesians 4:22-24

“True holiness”, what does this look like practically? Paul begins his next thought with “wherefore” indicating that his following instructions should come as a result of putting on true holiness.

25 Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbour: for we are members one of another.

26 Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath:

27 Neither give place to the devil.

28 Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth.

29 Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.

30 And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption.

31 Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice:

32 And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.

5 :1 Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children;

2 And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour.

3 But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints;

4 Neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient: but rather giving of thanks

5 For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. -Ephesians 4:25-32, 5:1-5

According to Paul, true holiness implies putting away lying, stealing, corrupting speech, bitterness, anger, gossip, depravity (malice), and clamoring against each other, extra-marital sex, uncleanness, covetousness, foolish-talking, inappropriate joking, and replacing all that with truthfulness, honest working, edifying communication, kindness, tenderheartedness, forgiveness, following God, walking in love, and thankfulness.

11 Now God himself and our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, direct our way unto you.

12 And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all men, even as we do toward you:

13 To the end he may stablish your hearts unblameable in holiness before God, even our Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints. -1 Thessalonians 3:11-13

“To the end”, this phrase means “towards the goal”, implying that the first statement is a step leading towards the second statement. Now, the second statement is about being established “unblameable in holiness”, so what was the practical step in attaining this goal? “Increas[ing] and abound[ing] in love toward another and toward all men”.

4:1 Furthermore then we beseech you, brethren, and exhort you by the Lord Jesus, that as ye have received of us how ye ought to walk and to please God, so ye would abound more and more.

2 For ye know what commandments we gave you by the Lord Jesus.

3 For this is the will of God, even your sanctification [holiness], that ye should abstain from fornication:

4 That every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification [holiness] and honour;

5 Not in the lust of concupiscence, even as the Gentiles which know not God:

6 That no man go beyond and defraud his brother in any matter: because that the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also have forewarned you and testified.

7 For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness. -Thessalonians 4:1-7

This is one of the passages where “sanctification” is translated from the same Greek word (ἁγιασμός / hag-ee-as-mos’) which is also translated “holiness”. Paul says in this passage that the Thessalonians already know how to walk and please God, because they were given commandments from Christ (recorded for us in other portions of the NT). He continues that the will of God is for our holiness and describes this as abstaining from sexual immorality. Rather, we must possess our vessels (most likely bodies) in holiness and honor-never passionate lust; furthermore, we must never defraud/wrong our brothers in this matter. Thus, holiness in this passage is being taught as synonymous with sexual purity. The passage continues;

7 For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness.

8 He therefore that despiseth, despiseth not man, but God, who hath also given unto us his holy Spirit.

9 But as touching brotherly love ye need not that I write unto you: for ye yourselves are taught of God to love one another.

10 And indeed ye do it toward all the brethren which are in all Macedonia: but we beseech you, brethren, that ye increase more and more;

11 And that ye study to be quiet, and to do your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you;

12 That ye may walk honestly toward them that are without, and that ye may have lack of nothing. -Thessalonians 4:7-12

Paul continues with a “therefore” suggesting that more practical implications of holiness are about to follow. First, he warns that anyone that despises the above teaching on sexual purity is despising God. Secondly, he says that God has also taught them to love one another. Thirdly, he tells them to aspire to live a quiet/peaceful life, working to provide for themselves, and walk honestly before the world. This is very similar to the passage on practical holiness in Ephesians.

The next two passages on holiness are specifically looking at how holiness should be applied in the life of a Christian woman.

15 Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety. – 1 Timothy 2:15

3 The aged women likewise, that they be in behaviour as becometh holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things;

4 That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children,

5 To be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed. -Titus 2:3-5

The Greek word translated as “becometh holiness” in Titus 2:3 is different from the rest (ἱεροπρεπεῖς/ hieroprepeis) and leans more towards the idea of reverent behavior. That said, there are still several practical implications of holiness, specifically for ladies, that can be gleaned from this passages. First, holiness is linked with faith (which refers to abiding in the faith) and love, and should be lived out with sobriety. “Sobriety” is from the Greek word σωφροσύνης/sōphrosynēs meaning self-control/soundness of mind, and is also used in 1 Timothy 2:9. Secondly, we learn that reverent (holiness) behavior should entail the following for married women: no gossiping/lying, no alcoholism, and teachers of good things, which further include: soberness, loving their husbands and children, discreetness, chastity, home keeping, goodness, and obedience to husbands.

10 For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness.

11 Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby.

12 Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees;

13 And make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but let it rather be healed.

14 Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord:

15 Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled;

16 Lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright. -Hebrews 12:10-16

The first thing this passage teaches is that God’s chastening comes that we would be able to partake of His holiness, and that this process will bear the “peaceable fruit of righteousness”. Secondly, we see following peace with all men linked to holiness in verse 14, as well as the importance of holiness. Verse 15-16 go on to be more specific on what will defile personal holiness, namely, bitterness, fornication, and profanity.

Now, if these New Testament passages were all you knew of holiness, what would your concept of holiness look like? You would define holiness as progressively becoming like Christ, and you would keep in mind several biblical things which would either be practiced or abstained from the more a Christian grows. Let’s condense these acts of obedience, as well as the commands closely linked with holiness, into a couple of lists:


Scriptural List of What to Abstain From in Regards to Holiness:

Sexual Sins

Uncleanness (Romans 6:19, 2 Corinthians 6:17, Ephesians 4:19, Ephesians 5:3, Ephesians 5:5, 1 Thessalonians 4:7)
Filthiness of flesh and spirit (2 Corinthians 7:1, Ephesians 5:4)
Sensuality (Ephesians 4:19)
Illicit sexual relationships (Ephesians 5:3, Ephesians 5:5, 1 Thessalonians 4:3, Hebrews 12:16)
Lust (Ephesians 4:22, 1 Thessalonians 4:5)
Defrauding others in sexuality (1 Thessalonians 4:6)

Verbal Sins

Corrupt Conversation (Ephesians 4:22, Ephesians 4:29)
Lying (Ephesians 4:25)
Gossip/Slander (Ephesians 4:31, Titus 2:3)
Foolish Talking (Ephesians 5:4)
Crude Joking (Ephesians 5:4)

Inner Sins

Bitterness (Hebrews 12:15)
Depravity (Ephesians 4:31, Hebrews 12:16)
Covetousness (Ephesians 5:3, Ephesians 5:5)
Giving place to the devil (Ephesians 4:27)
Grieving the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 4:30)

Behavioral Sins

Sinful anger (Ephesians 4:26, Ephesians 4:31)
Clamoring against each other (Ephesians 4:31)
Stealing (Ephesians 4:28)
Alcoholism (Titus 2:3)

Scriptural List of What to Practice in Regards to Holiness:

Holiness Towards Others

Kindness (Ephesians 4:32, Titus 2:5)
Tenderheartedness (Ephesians 4:32)
Forgiveness (Ephesians 4:32)
Love (Ephesians 5:2, 1 Thessalonians 3:12, 1 Thessalonians 4:9, 1 Timothy 2:15, Titus 2:4)
Teachers of good things (Titus 2:3)
Obedience to husbands (Titus 2:5)
Quiet Living/following peace (1 Thessalonians 4:11, Hebrews 12:11, 14)
Giving to the needy (Ephesians 4:28)

Verbal Holiness

Edifying Communication (Ephesians 4:29)
Truthfulness (Ephesians 4:25)
Giving Thanks (Ephesians 5:4)

Inner Holiness

Righteousness (Romans 6:19, Ephesians 4:24, Hebrews 12:11)
Fear of God (2 Corinthians 7:1)
Blamelessness (1 Thessalonians 3:13)

Behavioral Holiness

Separation from paganism/idolatry (2 Corinthians 6:17, Ephesians 5:5)
Honest labor (Ephesians 4:28, 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12, Titus 2:5)
Possessing oneself with honor (1 Thessalonians 4:4)
Self-control/Soundness of mind (1 Timothy 2:15, Titus 2:4, Titus 2:5)
Abiding in the Faith (1 Timothy 2:15)
Chastity (Titus 2:5)

Take careful notice of these categories. The New Testament authors taught strongly against sexual sin, verbal sin, inner sins and sinful behaviors. Equally strongly, they urged for inner holiness, holiness in the treatment of others, holiness of words to others, and holy behavior. Notice what is not mentioned in all these passages; a holiness appearance is never mentioned.

Sexual sin and lust were taught against repetitively, while chastity, honor and love were upheld; these principles would seem to lead to decency of dress, however, not even modest clothing was directly linked to holiness, neither was gender distinct clothing. Furthermore, jewelry, cosmetics, organized sports, dancing, public entertainment, facial hair, body piercing and tattoos all existed, and were even common practice in the first century, but they are not even named in the biblical passages on holiness.What then, is the biblical basis for preaching against these things as the evidence of personal holiness? Why is it that when a holiness preacher announces that he will be preaching holiness that we brace for a sermon on sleeve-length and makeup rather than tenderheartedness and giving to the needy? Could it be, that preaching which puts the emphasis on an outward appearance is not actually holiness preaching from a biblical standpoint?

It could certainly be argued that in applying principles of humility and modesty, Christians will tend towards an outer appearance that does not put themselves in the limelight. However, scripture leaves discerning the details of this appearance entirely up to the individual Christian. There are no external regulations such as “hand-breadth past thy knee” or “abstain from all appearance of paint”. How, then, can modern day preachers be comfortable in setting hard and fast rules when not even the apostles would do such? Can we really improve upon the Biblical standard of holiness? Or are we standing in danger of adding to God’s Word, while neglecting to teach the genuine principles of holiness?

All Scripture quotations taken from the King James Version
Definitions/word clarification taken from https://biblehub.com/greek and the English Standard VersionFind this interesting? Check out all of our articles here.