Why Holiness is Not What You Think

In Christian RealTalk by Antwuan Malone11 Comments

Holiness is about living out the lives God made us to live.

Usually, when the holiness conversation comes up,  it’s about how diluted the American Church has become or about “holy rollers” and their condescending attitudes. It’s a judgment conversation, complete with jabs and cross punches by both hoity toity Christians and “don’t convict me” seculars and backsliders. It bothers me that holiness and judgment are talked about so closely so often. Makes me wonder if maybe we’re missing the whole point.

Why Am I Here?

God acts with intention. He created you and I on purpose to accomplish specific things. I believe true holiness is about living within the jetstream of that purpose, following the breadcrumbs of our God-given passions,  and walking in steps ordered by God.

This means the church must remove holiness from the box we’ve placed it in. Our boxed in understanding of holiness limits the ways God can use us. Christians don’t roll off Heavenly  production lines as cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all copies. Not every Christian has the same heart for things like caring for the poor, visiting the prisons and hospitals, or working in politics.

A minister once referenced Luke 4:18-19 as the explanation for Jesus’ purpose on Earth: namely, to preach the gospel, heal the sick, deliver the captive, and open the eyes of the blind. He went on to say that, because this was Jesus’ purpose, it should also be ours. This is the sort of teaching that gets us into trouble.

First, Jesus’ primary purpose was to take away the sins of the world through His sacrifice. Without the cross, Jesus means little to our spiritual lives no matter how many poor and sick he served. This is not a shared priority. Thus the physical and spiritual preaching, healing, delivering, and opening to which Luke 4 refers is based on the gospel of Jesus’ sacrifice – the good news that because He died, our rightful relational place with God can be restored.

Second, Jesus’ purpose is not our purpose (now it’s my turn to tread a thin line). Not exactly, anyway.

Jesus was holy and we should follow his lead. But if we seek to imitate Jesus’ every action and passion, we might miss the unique purposes God assigned to us – purposes have nothing directly to do with the items listed in Luke 4. Bottlenecking “holiness” in this way softens the voice of God in our hearts when he calls us to something unconventional. It limits God’s use of the body (the church) in the varied functions for which it exists. Even with our own bodies, our eyes serve a very important function. But we also need our hands, mouth, nose and ears. It’s be silly to expect to be able to see from our hands, or out our ears! Seeing is the eye’s job.

When Good Is Bad

When a thing is declared holy, it’s set apart for a greater good. It’s assigned. Designated.

Contrary to popular Christian opinion, holiness is not rooted in moral perfection. When we look closer at the holy life of Jesus, we’ll see he does afford us the luxury of having a clean definition, despite our desire to place it in neat little categories like righteousness, godliness, or moral goodness. True holiness cannot be boxed in that way.

Sometimes (often times) true holiness surprises us, as it did the religious of Jesus’ day. Jesus was holy because He obeyed God’s purpose for His life without slipping off course or following His own ideas of what was good or acceptable. Without, even, following the social definitions of “holy” in his day.

Listen to Jesus when he talks…

    • With his parents as a boy,”… I must be about my father’s business.”
    • In John 5:30, “…because I will not seek my own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me.”
    • In John 8:29, “…the Father hath not left me alone; for I do always those things that please him.”

And in Matthew 7, he chides do-gooders by saying that all who say “Lord, Lord…” will not enter heaven, despite their seemingly “holy” deeds. Jesus even goes so far as to call them “evildoers!” If the amazing deeds mentioned in 7:22 do not qualify as holy deeds, if they could be considered “evil” by Jesus, then what does God want? Jesus answers in verse 21.

“Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my father which is in heaven.” (Matt. 7:21, KJV, bold added)

Doing the will of the Father. That is holiness. To fall into the jet stream of God’s will for your life, is to achieve holiness. And such a stream may never have anything directly to do with the poor or the needy, or the prisoners, or the blind.

Do not allow well-intentioned, rigid church definitions of holiness to derail you from the path God has for you. The Enemy doesn’t have to make us all adulterers or murderers. If he can get redirect those God wants to work at universities with the intellectually depraved and searching minds too busy serving the poor in Africa as missionaries, he will have done his job of derailing God’s purposes all the same.

Holiness is aligned with purpose and obedience, not morality or some level of spiritual enlightenment. Holiness is living in the will of God, moving when he says move, staying when he says stay, and trusting enough to obey Him above all else.

Follow God. Live On Purpose, and you will find your holiness.

How do you define Holiness? What relationship does holiness have with purpose, if any?

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Antwuan Malone is a Ministry Director at ELEVATE Young Adult Ministry (elevateministry.net) where empowers young adults toward Christian leadership. He is passionate about seeing young adults take their place in church history by drawing near enough to God to hear his call on their life, and courageously living in obedience to that call.
Jason North
Jason North

Love this. It's interesting how I take the word 'holiness' for granted, because when I asked myself how I define it, I couldn't immediately come up with an answer. And then how can we strive toward something, without being able to accurately define it? I think you're right about holiness having many facets, which could include purity, righteousness, surrender to God's will & purpose. The pursuit of holiness could then be described as our only purpose. Then this leads to paradox. The paradox being holiness is being set apart to serve God's purpose for our life, but our purpose in life is to pursue holiness. In a way it makes sense because to pursue holiness is to pursue God's will, which is to establish His Kingdom on earth [a peaceful, prosperous, and righteous society]. What do you think?

TAB News
TAB News

I use to think holiness was something I achieved by avoiding worldly sins. This was before I actually dove deep into the Bible and relied on the Spirit of God to bring meaning to the words. Now, only by God's shear mercy and love, I can understand that holiness is perfection. God is Holy. He is perfect and beyond all magnificent words I can describe of Him. The only hope I have to be in communion with Him is His son. I really do see now that holiness is what God departs upon a man or woman who is in fellowship with Christ. The ability to be holy is from God. There's no formula or steps to achieve holiness. What God ask for his people is humility and dependence. From there He will give us the necessary strength to walk in the works that He has prepared before the foundation of the world. So that in the end, we may say to you be the glory, praise and honor. It was you God that worked in me, not I.


I would be very careful in equating Holiness with purity. If we equate the two then the end result is to withdraw from the world so as not to risk our purity. The Pharisees, in their attempt to be holy and set apart, are a great example of this, but so too are many churches who have zero impact in their community because they don't want to become defiled by the world. I would equate Holiness with the process of redemption which has strong biblical roots. For example, much of the gold and "treasure" that the Egyptians gave the Israelites as they left Egypt would have been tied to Egyptian gods, either as actual idols or as jewelry or coins that had idol imagery on it. This gold was tarnished by idolatry, however, God redeemed it and actually ordered it be used in the construction of His tabernacle. There is many, many examples of this throughout the bible, where "impure" people or things were redeemed and put to use by God. The key here is not actual purity (though it is important, I'm certainly not making an argument to be impure) but rather being redeemed AND put to use by God. When purity is our goal the focus is on us. When God's will, God's Holiness, is our goal then we are willing to work towards God's redemption of His world.


God is all about redemption, and anyone can come back to God at any point. But if we want our lives to be holy and have the impact that God has planned for us, it's important to try to maintain purity. Not perfection, not "holier-than-thou"-ness, but a purity of purpose, a purity of heart that doesn't get derailed by fleshy temptations. And I'm saying this not as some judgmental holiness preacher, but as a man that knows his own weaknesses. The last thing I want to do is stumble and a) disqualify myself from serving God's people, and b) hurt those around me. Excellent word. Holiness is about being set apart to live God's purpose for our lives, to have the impact that He wants to see.

Steve Crenshaw
Steve Crenshaw

Antwuan, I think you are on track saying holiness is aligned with purpose. We are separated for a reason and that is to offer the good news to everyone. While feeding the poor and caring for the sick are worthwhile tasks. Without the gospel they are for nothing.