Summary: Explains that holiness is more than righteous actions, but is being specially set apart as the Temple of God and for the purpose of sharing the Good News. Also shows that the means of attaining holiness is the empowerment of the Holy Spirit of God.
As someone who has grown up Pentecostal, I am very familiar with the term “holiness.” I’ve heard sermons on holiness from before the time I could even say the word. And I hear all kinds of people quoting “Be holy as I am holy” After all, several times God did say that to his people. And I agree with these people. Holiness is important. It’s something that we must achieve. The Pentecostal movement was birthed out of holiness movement. But it seems that somewhere in our growth and manifestations of the Spirit, by and large we’ve lost our holiness. I firmly believe that we must return to holiness.
But I think that one of the biggest problems with achieving holiness is that we really don’t understand what holiness is. I grew up in a church that said holiness was men not wearing shorts, long hair, or jewelry. It was women not wearing pants, makeup, jewelry, short hair, colored hair, pig tails, hair ribbons, hair clips (unless they were the same color as her hair), or red dresses. Holiness was not watching TV, going to the movies, dancing, gambling, playing pool, smoking, drinking, doing drugs, and a whole long list of other no-no’s. I suppose, even though we didn’t hear as much about it, that holiness also included a lot of do’s, like do read your Bible, do pray, do pay your tithes, do go to church every time the doors are open, and on and on. To sum it all up, holiness was a long list of do’s and don’ts. And if you did the do’s and didn’t do the don’ts you were holy.
Now, I’m sure, and I hope I’m right, that your definition of holiness doesn’t include all of the same things as mine did. Frankly, I went to a church that had a lot of rules. But even if your list isn’t as extreme as mine, your definition of holiness may consist of a list of things you must do and a list of things you cannot do. And as long as you follow that list, you’re holy. As soon as you deviate from that law, you’re unholy. By that definition, holiness basically means “do what’s right and don’t do what’s wrong.” Or “don’t sin.”
Now, in reading Exodus 29:36b, I have come across a problem with this definition. And I think that in examining this problem, we can begin to see what holiness really is, and then we can begin to achieve holiness.
Exodus 29:36b “Purify the altar by making atonement for it; make it holy by anointing it with oil.”
The first of the two lines says, “Purify the altar by making atonement for it.” Now, atonement was made through a blood sacrifice. And the purpose of atonement was a covering for sin. So this command means “sacrifice the proper animal and sprinkle it’s blood on the altar to “cover up” the sin that has defiled the altar. Now after this is done, the altar is pure. The altar is, at that point, without sin. Now if we use the definition of holiness, “without sin” then we could say at this point that the altar was already “holy” right? If holy means “without sin” and the altar has just been cleansed from sin, that would make the altar holy.
But God’s next instruction for the altar is “Make it holy by anointing it with oil.” Even when it was made sin-free by the blood, the altar still needed to be “made holy.” So then, what is holy? I’m not going to say that holiness doesn’t at least involve or include living a righteous life, free from sin. But that is not the summation of holiness. While holiness may include being sin-free, and we’ll examine that, sin-free is not the totality of holiness. Holiness, means “separated” or “set-apart.” In this specific case, God was talking about the altar. By anointing the altar with oil, they were signifying that this altar was not just an ordinary altar. This altar wasn’t for just any old purpose. This altar existed for a specific purpose and that purpose was to make offerings to God. No other use for this altar was permissible, because this altar had been set apart for this purpose.
I don’t know about in Vietnamese homes, but in American homes our mom’s have the “good dishes.” These dishes are usually kept in a cabinet on display somewhere because they’re so beautiful. When you want to make a snack or grab a bite to eat, you don’t put it on one of these plates. You use one of the normal dishes. You see these dishes only come out on special occasions, usually when there’s company around to impress. My parents have a beautiful set that I bought them for their 25th anniversary 2 years ago. We’ve used the dishes only once, for a big Christmas dinner. These dishes are “set apart” for a special purpose. They are separated. They are not stored with or treated like the ordinary dishes. These are special dishes.