Summary: The New Testament calls upon Christians to be holy, as God is holy. Is that even possible? Does a single sin nullify our holiness irrevocably? What does the phrase mean, and how are we to respond?


Note: I have a presentation in PowerPoint 10 to go with the following sermon. If you are interested in the PowerPoint file I will send it directly, along with the sermon text in a Word 10 docx file with cues for slide changes and animations. Email me at with the subject Be Holy for I am Holy Powerpoint.

“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” - So called the seraphim standing above the throne of God when Isaiah was called to duty as a prophet.

"Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!" – so declared the four living creatures around the throne of God, as John visited the scene of God’s throne in heaven.

The escarpment on the screen is called the Rock of Ages.

It is so named because of an event said to have occurred at that place in 1763, just over 250 years ago.

A young preacher, Augustus Toplady, was walking in Burrington Combe, a gorge in Somerset County, England, to a nearby town for an engagement.

Caught in a sudden, severe storm, he took shelter in a fissure in this escarpment.

Waiting there for the storm to subside, he reflected on the soul’s refuge from the devastation of sin in Jesus’ wounded side.

He noticed a playing card on the ground. Though it was considered an instrument of evil, he picked it up, took out a pencil and began to write his thoughts:

Rock of ages, cleft for me

Let me hide myself in thee.

Four years would pass before the finished poem was published, and almost 70 years before it was put to the melody we use, but the hymn became one of the best known and loved hymns in the English language, and has remained so for 2 ½ centuries.

Toplady was 23 when he wrote these lines. In poor health all his life, he died at 38.

The expression “Rock of ages” is not found in the Bible, but in the intervening years, many songs have picked up the visualization of the cleft rock as a refuge for the soul.

I. Be Holy

If asked to choose one word that describes yourself, I doubt if anyone would choose the word “holy.”

Lev 11:45 – “I am the Lord who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy."

1 Pet 1:14-16 – “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’"

“Be holy, for I am holy” says the command.

For us to be holy is to be God-like (and that’s a heady thing).

One may say, “I could never be holy.”

“That’s just not the way I’m made”

May I remind us in whose image we are made?

We are made in the very image of God himself.

We are built specifically for holiness. That is our design.

To be less than holy, as God is holy, is to fall short of what you and I are built for.

If we are not holy, we’re like a well with no water, a song without music.

II. So what does God expect of us?

Is it even possible for you and me to be holy at all – in any way, to any degree?

If so, how? By careful attention, clear understanding, of what he wants, and unfailing obedience to it?

Is that what holiness consists of, and what God meant in saying “Be holy?”

And what does holy mean?

Intuitively or reflexively we tend to think of one who is holy as being thoroughly “good,” undiluted by anything short of uncontaminated, ultimate goodness.

That definition would be a standard that could be met by no other than God himself.

His righteousness is never compromised, or filtered.

That definition may be an easy fit for God himself, but is troublesome when applied to ourselves.

For by that standard, how can we be holy at all?

We are like Belshazzar, king of the Babylonian empire who saw handwriting on the wall.

Mene Mene Tekel U Pharsin

God has numbered the days of your kingdom and brought it to an end;

you have been weighed in the balances and found wanting;

your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians."

Dan 5:26-28

III. But “utterly perfect in goodness and righteousness”--while that would indeed be true of God, and is now in common thought and even some modern dictionaries--is not the Biblical meaning of “holy.”

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