Before we return to our journey through the Book of Acts, I want to address the issue of holiness. Holiness is a theme that runs throughout the Scriptures.  God is seen as holy.  Humans are seen as holy.  Things, places, days and events are seen as holy.  The words holy and holiness appear hundreds of times in Scripture.  The Scriptures teach God is holy and because He is holy he wants us to be holy.  

        Leviticus 20:26: You are to be holy to me because I, the LORD, am holy,

        1 Peter 1:15-16:  But just as he who called you is holy (Greek hagios), so be holy in all you do; for it is written: "Be holy, because I am holy."

       In both the Old and New Testaments we are told to be holy. What does it mean for us to be holy? Is being holy the same under the New Covenant as it was under the Old Covenant?  Can we be holy like God is holy?  How is God holy?  Are there things that once were holy but are no longer holy? 

       If you consult Hebrew and Greek lexicons as to the meaning of holy in the NT Scriptures, the general concept that comes across is that to be holy is to be worthy of reverence and to have attained a high standard of moral/ethical behavior. The Greek word rendered "holy" in the NT is hagios (hag'-ee-os). This word appears in various tenses some 229 times in the Greek Scriptures. It is the word used to designate the Holy Spirit as "holy" and is used in this manner around 90% of the time.

       While the Greek hagios is primarily found in the NT to describe the Spirit of God as holy, it is also used to describe Jesus, OT prophets, angels, the Scriptures, the law, and converts to Christianity as holy. Christians are often seen as hagios in the NT which signified they are seen as being of high moral character and worthy of reverence according to the definition of hagios in the Greek Lexicons.  

       The Greek hagios also appears to define separation and being set apart for special purpose.  In Greek literature outside the NT narrative, this word was used to describe things devoted to and set apart for the gods.  Hagios is used hundreds of times throughout the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures) to identify persons, places and things as holy to God. It often is used to describe God.  It is equivalent to the Hebrew word qodesh (ko'-desh) which is translated holy in English. 

       When you see how the word holy appears in context in the numerous Scriptures where this word is found, it often gives the strong impression of something or someone that is separate from the ordinary or something dedicated to such separation. We know that God is separate from the ordinary.  When we read of God's holiness we are reading about God's separation from the ordinary. 

       Exodus 15:11: Who is like unto thee, O Lord, among the gods? Who is like thee, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders?

       We could read this as, “Who is like thee, glorious in separation from the ordinary.”  God is not ordinary.  He is so extra-ordinary that there is none like Him.  God is holy in the complete sense of being separate from anything else.  He is one of a kind. So when we see God referred to as holy in the Scriptures, we are looking at someone who is unlike anything or anyone else.  God is completely holy.   God is uniquely holy.  We will never be as holy as God.  Yet Peter wrote that we are to be holy in all we do. The NT Scriptures identify Christians as holy.  Look how Paul greets the Corinthian brethren.      

       1 Corinthians 1:2: To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ--their Lord and ours (NIV).

       The words “to be” are not in the Greek manuscripts and were inserted by the English translators.  This passage can easily be read as, “To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called holy.” Many translations render the Greek word hagios as "saints." You will often see the word saints used here rather than the word holy.  You will see this throughout English translations of the Greek hagios.  When you see the English word "saint" or "saints' in the NT, it is the word hagios that is being translated. 

       Romans 1:7: To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints (hagios): Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

       1 Corinthians 14:33: For God is not a God of disorder but of peace. As in all the congregations of the saints (hagios).

       Ephesians 1:1: Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints (hagios) in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus:

       Philippians 1:1:  Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints (hagios) in Christ Jesus at Philippi.

       While hagios is often rendered “saints," it is the same Greek word translated holy when referencing the Holy Spirit throughout the NT.  It is the same word used by the Septuagint translators when translating the Hebrew word for holy into Greek. Therefore it is a word that signifies something or somebody as set apart from the ordinary and considered special or set apart by God.

       As seen above, Paul refers to the Corinthian Christians as holy. Well, how can this be?  There was all kind of sin going on including illicit sex and getting drunk at their communion service?  How is that being holy?  Paul spends much of his letter dealing with their many problems.  Look what he says to them:

       1 Corinthians 3:1-3: Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly--mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly?

       Yet despite all these imperfections, the Corinthians are seen as holy before God.  You can see that human holiness does not mean perfection.  It does not mean never sinning.  Only the holiness of God means that.  Christians are holy because God has set them apart to be holy.  This is accomplished through the sacrifice of Christ Jesus. By accepting the sacrifice of Christ, God separates Christians to be a people separate from the ordinary.  While such separation should produce righteous behavior, this doesn’t mean we always achieve righteousness.  At times we may behave downright unrighteously.  The Corinthian Christians were certainly behaving unrighteously.  Yet Paul called them sanctified and holy.  

       They were holy because God had separated them from others by giving them of His Spirit.  Ultimately it is the Holy Spirit of God that makes one holy.  Having God's spirit in us is having God's presence in us.  Having God's presence is what makes us holy.  It is what sets us apart from the ordinary.  It is what gives us the inclination to behave in a holy manner.  It must be understood, however, that the Spirit of God doesn’t force us to behave in a holy manner.  It doesn’t take away choice.  We must choose to allow the Spirit of God to determine our behavior.  That is why Paul instructed Timothy to stir up the Spirit and the Thessalonians to not quench the Spirit.   

       2 Timothy 1:6-7: Wherefore I put thee in remembrance that thou stir up the gift of God, which is in thee by the putting on of my hands.  For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind (KJV).

       1 Thessalonians 5:19: Quench not the Spirit (KJV).

       It is when we allow the Spirit of God to be the driving force behind our behavior that we become an outward manifestation of the Spirit of God within us.   Holiness is a reflection of God’s presence within us.  Holiness is all about experiencing and manifesting the presence of God.  This is what separates us from the ordinary.

       In the Scriptures, we find separation from the ordinary manifested in multiple ways.  Not only do we find people separated but we also find places and things separated.  We see that God separated Israel from the nations around them and called them holy.

     Deuteronomy 7:6: For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession.

         Where the Israelites perfect?  We certainly know the answer to that question. They were very imperfect in their behavior.  Yet God said they were holy to Him thus showing holiness is not only about how righteous one behaves but about how God classifies something or someone.

       While God designated the people of Israel as being holy, God also designated many things they were to do as holy.  There were holy days and holy places.  The Sabbath and yearly convocations were called holy.  The tabernacle, and certain places within it, such as the altar, was holy.  There even was a place in the tabernacle called the holy of holies.  Aaron wore holy garments.   There was holy anointing oil. Certain grain offerings were called holy as were certain animal sacrifices. The tithe was holy to the Lord.  Holy water was used to decipher if a women had been unfaithful to her husband.  When going to war, they blew a holy trumpet.   Various vessels used in ceremonial activities were called holy.  When once settled in the Promised Land, that land was designed as holy and a city called Jerusalem became holy along with the temple it housed.

       These are all things God established in Israel to make them something more than ordinary, to set them apart as special before God. God established His presence in Israel through holy places, holy animal sacrifices, holy days, holy oil, holy garments, holy water and even holy musical instruments.  This was all done to make Israel holy and a special people before God.

       Even when Israel committed moral sin or failed to facilitate the numerous ritualistic and ceremonial regulations of the Mosaic covenant, they did not stop being holy before God.  God continued to regard them as holy through all their failures to keep the terms of the covenant He made with them at Sinai. God’s presence with them through the many designated holy things continued to sustain their holy status, their status of being separate and extra-ordinary.  

       However, after repeated failure on Israel’s part to keep the Covenant they had agreed to, God did bring judgement upon them and sent them into captivity. First the Northern kingdom went into captivity and then the Southern kingdom.  But God didn’t write them off as His holy people.  He allowed them to return to the land, rebuild the temple and restore facilitation of the Mosaic regulations of holy places, holy animal sacrifices, holy days, holy oil, holy garments, and so forth.   

       Israel continued to struggle to perform the regulations that defined their holy status.  By and large, these regulations were designed to keep them focused on their separateness and help facilitate obedience to the moral law in operation since creation. 

       In the overall purposes of God, these regulations were also added to point to a much greater holiness that would supersede what God had established with Israel.  That holiness would involve the coming of a Savior who would give holiness a whole new meaning.  Through the death and resurrection of this Savior, a new covenant would be established that would not be based on holy land, holy buildings, holy animal sacrifices, holy days, holy oil, holy garments, holy water or holy musical instruments.  This covenant would be based on a fulfilled promise to Abraham that through him all the world would be blessed.  

       This covenant would be based on the perfect holiness of the Son of God.  It would be through this covenant that Israel would be saved and through their salvation make it possible for the Gentiles to be saved as well.  This covenant would not be based on a physical priesthood carrying our physical regulations that were designated as holy. This covenant would be based on an eternal high priest setting in a heavenly tabernacle administering a spiritual holiness that would be everlasting.  

       The writer of the letter to the Hebrew Christians of the first century shows in detail the covenantal transition that took place with the coming of Christ.  In the first seven chapters he writes of the superiority of Christ over the Aaronic priesthood.  Then in chapter eight, he sums it all up.

       Hebrews 8:1-5: The point of what we are saying is this: We do have such a high priest, who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, and who serves in the sanctuary, the true tabernacle set up by the Lord, not by man. Every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices, and so it was necessary for this one also to have something to offer. If he were on earth, he would not be a priest, for there are already men who offer the gifts prescribed by the law. They serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven. This is why Moses was warned when he was about to build the tabernacle: "See to it that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.

       Hebrews 8:6-10: But the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, and it is founded on better promises. For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another. But God found fault with the people and said: "The time is coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they did not remain faithful to my covenant, and I turned away from them, declares the Lord. This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. VERSE 13: By calling this covenant "new," he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and aging will soon disappear.  

       The first covenant made with Israel was a covenant of holy places, holy days and holy things.  The writer to the Hebrews clearly shows that the covenant Jesus Christ brought made the first covenant obsolete.  The writer says what is obsolete and aging will soon disappear. All indications are that this letter was written to the Hebrew Christians in the early sixties A.D.  Jesus had fulfilled His ministry, been crucified, resurrected and had ascended to heaven to be with the Father.  Jesus had completed His mission which included establishment of the New Covenant.  On the night before He died we see Jesus establishing covenantal transition.  

       Luke 22:19-20: And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, "This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me." In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.   

       At the moment Jesus died, the curtain in the temple that separated the holy place from the most holy place was torn from top to bottom.  The writer to the Hebrews clearly shows that entrance into the most holy place was no longer a physical ritual performed by a physical priest.  

       Hebrews 10:19-20: We have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body,   

       It is established fact that the death of Christ terminated the Old Covenant system of rituals that were required to keep Israel holy before God .  Why then does the writer to the Hebrews say “what is obsolete and aging will soon disappear?"  This was said some thirty years after the death of Jesus.  Hadn’t the Old Covenant already disappeared?  Yes it had.  But Israel had not yet come to understand that their ancient covenant had become obsolete. Most of Israel didn’t recognize Christ as the promised Messiah and therefore didn’t recognize that the Mosaic Covenant had come to an end.  Many Israelites who did acknowledge Jesus as the promised Messiah simply added Christ to their observance of Old Covenant rituals.  

       The letter to the Hebrews was to show them that the pathway to God wasn’t Jesus plus the Mosaic ritualistic regulations.  The pathway to God was Christ Jesus alone and no longer involved the observance of holy places, holy days or holy things.  The pathway to God was through the blood of Jesus which would result in God’s moral law being written in the heart.  

       The holy places, days and things were all shadows of the real thing.  As the writer to the Hebrews points out, the tabernacle was a shadow of the real thing in heaven.  We learn from other Scriptures the Passover and Days of unleavened bread prefigured the sacrifice of Christ and his saving us from death by taking our sins upon Himself.  Pentecost foreshadowed the giving of God’s Spirit so God’s laws could be written in our hearts.  Trumpets, Atonement and Tabernacles foreshadowed Christs continuing presence within us as redeemer and as our advocate with the Father.  The Sabbath foreshadowed our rest in Christ as the writer to the Hebrews points out in the fourth chapter.

       Paul made it very clear in letters to the Colossians, Galatians and Ephesians that the old system of days, convocations, new moons, Sabbaths etc. had been made obsolete and these observances were no longer necessary. What mattered was being transformed by having Gods law written in the heart.  The laws written in our hearts are not the separatist regulations of the Old Covenant.  They are not the ceremonial/worship laws governing how the people of Israel maintained holiness before God.  The laws written in our hearts are the laws characterized by Apostle Paul’s instruction to never do anything that will harm your neighbor.

       Romans 13:10:  Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.

       It took a number of years for the Jewish converts to Christianity to understand the transition that took place with the coming of Christ.  The Mosaic ritualistic regulations of the Old Covenant were still being observed by Jewish Christians thirty some years after the death of Christ.  It took the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70 to end the facilitation of the Old Covenant system.  With the temple and priesthood gone, holy places, holy days and holy things disappeared as the writer to the Hebrews said would happen.

      However, as is often the case with human behavior, we sometimes like to cling to obsolete things even when something better comes along.  This seems to be especially true in the realm of religion. In the years since A.D. 70, various obsolete observances of the Old Covenant system have been reinstated in various areas of Christianity and thought to be required in order to be holy before God.  Others in the Christian community have added regulations they believe make them holy before God. In some fellowships you don’t dance, drink alcohol, play cards or go to movies as signs of holiness.  Other fellowships demand a certain style of dress or music as defining what is holy. One Christian group prohibits using electricity or driving cars as facilitating holiness before God.  It is believed and taught by those who observe such regulations that by doing so they appear holy before God.

       Our relationship with God and the blessings we receive from Him are not dependent on observing the holy places, holy days and holy things of the Old Covenant system. Neither does our relationship with God require the observance of man made regulations that are thought to produce holiness.  Our holy relationship with God depends on our acceptance of Jesus as Savior and Lord of our lives. Covenantal transition has led to new dynamics of what is holy. We are holy because God makes us holy through what Christ did.

       Colossians 1:22: But now he has reconciled you by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation—

       God has reconciled us to Himself through the Christ event and that is what separates us and makes us extra-ordinary before God.  It is because of what Christ did that we are holy in God's sight. Having granted us holy status, God expects us to behave in a manner congruent with that status.  The New Covenant provides for God’s law to be written in our hearts.  The law of the New Covenant is the law of love.  The law of love is the law that governs how we treat our neighbor.  When we treat our neighbor with honor, respect and concern, we also honor God who created our neighbor.  We honor God by treating our neighbor according to the behavioral laws God has established for that purpose.

       God has changed the dynamics of how he relates to the human race.  God is no longer interested in holy places, holy days or holy things.  He is only interested in us being holy by accepting the sacrifice of His son and honoring the law of love that has been implanted in our hearts through the Holy Spirit.  This has been God’s focus from the beginning.  Even though God gave Israel a complicated system of holy places, holy days and holy things, He was much more interested in their heart being holy.  He was more interested in how they treated their neighbor.  After years of observing their behavior, God became very frustrated with them and through Isaiah said the following:

       Isaiah 1:11-17:  "The multitude of your sacrifices-- what are they to me?" says the LORD. "I have more than enough of burnt offerings, of rams and the fat of fattened animals; I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats. When you come to appear before me, who has asked this of you, this trampling of my courts? Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations-- I cannot bear your evil assemblies. Your New Moon festivals and your appointed feasts my soul hates. They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them. When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you; even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood; wash and make yourselves clean. Take your evil deeds out of my sight! Stop doing wrong, learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.

       It may be questioned how God could become totally turned off by Israel performing the very ceremonial and worship regulations He had commanded them to observe.  What is often overlooked is that the reason God gave Israel this great body of ceremonial/holiness regulatory law was because of the transgression of moral law that had been extant since Adam and Eve. Moral law had been violated since Adam and Eve.  Paul clearly said the law was added because of transgressions. 

       Galatians 3:19a: What, then, was the purpose of the law? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come.

       What law was added because of what transgressions?  The transgressions were of moral law, the law of love that had been extant since creation.  Israel was given this great body of sacrificial/ceremonial/holiness law as an addition to the moral law to keep them focused on the moral law which was to love their neighbor as themselves. What happened was that they ignored the moral law and concentrated on the sacrificial/ceremonial law.  This is what God was ticked off about. 

       In addition to the sacrificial/ceremonial/worship law under the Old Covenant, there was much civil law that defined how the moral law was to be administrated. When you study the civil laws contained in the Old Covenant, you will find they are defining how to apply the law of love to specific circumstances.  While the Old Covenant has been replaced by the new Covenant, the many civil laws contained in the Old Covenant are as valid in intent today as they were legally valid in ancient Israel.  While these laws were culture specific and seen as applicable to circumstances extant thousands of years ago, we can learn from these laws and apply their principles to our time.

       What God is and always has mainly been interested in is how we treat each other.  Apostle James said this:

       James 1:27: Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

       The KJV translates it this way:  “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.”  The Greek for “unspotted” is aspilos.  It was use in Greek literature to signify staying away from immorality.  What James is saying is that what pleases God is to serve those in need and live a moral life.

        God gave Israel a complicated system of observances and regulations to keep them in constant awareness of their need to live the law of love which is to live a moral life.  Instead of these observances and regulations keeping them in tune with the law of love, these observances and regulations became their focus. They were doing the physical things and neglecting to do the spiritual things that the physical things pointed to.  

       With the advent of the New Covenant, God did away with some of what He had previously defined as holy.  Holiness would no longer be a matter of places, days and things.  Holiness would be centered in the Christ event.  It would totally be a matter of the heart.  Holiness would be all about our expression of the law of love.

       Hebrews 12:14:  Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.

       You see how living in peace with all men is tied to being holy.  Holiness under the New Covenant is a matter of living in peace with all men.  Living in peace is facilitated by the law of love.  God wants us to be holy.  Such holiness is no longer centered in holy places, holy days or holy things.  Holiness is centered in Christ and how we treat our fellow man.