Christians hear and talk a lot about holiness and being holy. We are told that the sanctuary of the church is a holy place, that we are a holy people who should act in a holy manner. We even use the term in a derogatory sense when we describe someone with a “holier than thou” attitude. But what exactly holiness means and how it works itself out in our day-to-day lives is not always clear. Theologians have been trying to make sense of what it means to be holy for centuries, and they don’t always agree.1 But we can learn at least two things from Scripture about holiness: (1) God is holy, and (2) God calls his people to be holy.
A. W. Tozer says, “Holy is the way God is,” and he understands that to mean that God is separate from everything, especially sin.2 Bonhoeffer would agree with this assessment, but he also extends it to the life of the church by connecting God’s calling of a people to himself with the requirement that they become holy:
The sanctification [making holy] of the church means its separation from all that is unholy, from sin; and the method by which it is accomplished is by God’s sealing the church and thus making it his own possession, his habitation on earth, the place from which judgment and reconciliation go forth into all the world.3
For Bonhoeffer, God and the church are both holy, and as God’s holy people, separate from all that is unholy, they are called to live in a way that not only is different, but reaches out to the world around it.
John Byron, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, ed. Scot McKnight, The Story of God Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014), 124–125.
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