DEFINING HOLINESS by Ben & Brenda Peters

Dear Friends,

There has been a certain amount of discussion on the subject of holiness recently in some circles we are involved with.  I'm going to share my thoughts below if you want to know my understanding and definition of holiness.  As mentioned below, I've written a book called, Holy How, on Holiness, The Sabbath, Communion, and Baptism.  Downloads can be made for free on several e-readers.

Here's the article:  DEFINING HOLINESS

The word, “holiness,” is used frequently by many streams of Christianity.  Most preachers and Bible teachers assume everyone pretty much knows what the word means.  Of course, we know that there are a variety of Christian groups and denominations that have set their own standards for their people, which, if kept, their people can be called holy.

Growing up in a “Holiness” minded family, Holiness meant being different or separate from the world, and not doing anything the world did that we didn’t basically do in church or our Christian homes.  That included: smoking or chewing tobacco, drinking alcohol, dancing, going to movies, gambling (including with marbles), secular music, and of course all moral indecency or inappropriate dress.  My parents even had convictions about going to doctors and trusting Jesus for all healing.  I told my teacher that my family doctor was Jesus.  The school was sure we were Jehovah’s Witnesses, but we were not.  But other religious groups forbid women from cutting their hair, wearing makeup or jewelry, or men from wearing ties.

As a pastor, I preached on holiness, without ever questioning what holiness really meant.  I preached against a number of things, including all rock music, which of course applied to Christian rock.  I assumed all secular music was “unholy.”  Through various situations and the softening of my heart, I began to accept the concept of stronger rhythm in Christian music.

As I grew older, I began to ask the question:  What makes an activity a “worldly” activity that Christians should avoid.  Was it our religious tradition, or was there a real Biblical and spiritual reason to not do certain things.  For instance, the consumption of alcohol or tobacco.  I always knew there were social and physical dangers of these activities, but overeating and poor food choices could be just as dangerous.   But I had a much deeper and a more intense hatred for the first two activities than I did for the latter. 

I do believe I had inherited some religious spirits from my natural and spiritual ancestors.  I still have to fight those spirits, which make me want to judge and criticize those who practice or are bound by habits of alcohol or tobacco.  There were, of course, plenty of Bible verses warning against strong drink and drunkenness, but there are also verses that seem to indicate that Jesus and his disciples and Timothy drank real wine for various reasons.  Tobacco was not discussed in Scripture, but we could use the Scripture which talked about our bodies being the temple of the Holy Spirit.  

Today, I am more focused on trying to discern what actually grieves the Holy Spirit and what pleases Him.  I know He wants a clean vessel to use, but I also know that God looks first on the heart.  I want my heart to be full of Him and empty of my flesh. 

The greatest leader of what we call the “Holiness Movement” was John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Church.  Wesley did give us a very clear and concise definition of holiness.

Definition of Holiness – John Wesley

It is that habitual disposition of soul which directly implies, the being cleansed from sin `from all filthiness both of flesh and spirit;' and, by consequence the being endued with those virtues which were in Christ Jesus, thus being so `renewed in the image of our mind,' as to be `perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect."

What I like about Wesley’s definition:

  1. It’s about the habitual disposition of the soul.  That means we can position our soul to desire and pursue holiness.  It could also mean that God looks at the heart and its desires, more than our sins and failures if we confess our sins and truly desire to please Him.
  2. The consequence of that disposition of the soul is being endued with the same virtues that were in Christ Jesus.  That clearly refers to the fruit of the Holy Spirit, for Jesus promised that the same Holy Spirit which was in Him would be in us.

To sum up what Wesley is saying:  Holiness is about seeking to be clean and pure before God so He can fill us with His nature and we can be like Him on the earth and demonstrate His nature to others on the earth.

Wesley, of course, has volumes more to say about holiness, loving God with all our hearts and many related subjects.  His insights were way ahead of his time and he truly introduced to the church world the concept of sanctification and separation from the world.  He was truly a pioneer and a trailblazer for many others who came after him.  He and a few contemporaries led a powerful move of God, which helped to fuel the first Great Awakening.

My personal definition of holiness would include Wesley’s main thoughts, but would also include some additional insights, which I believe God wants to reveal to us today to further empower us to bring in His harvest.

As I shared in my book, “Holy How,” there are some very wonderful and powerful aspects of holiness, which we have missed because of an overriding aura of tradition regarding the concept of holiness.  Since writing the book, I have done some additional research on the words, “Holy” and “Holiness.”  I began studying the various words used in the Hebrew and Greek, and then the way those various Hebrew and Greek words were translated in various other passages.  I’d like to share the insights I have gained through this study.

Here are a few conclusions, based totally on Scriptural research.  I believe the following points are extremely important and powerfully transformative if we will accept and embrace them. 

  1. Purity of heart and life is NOT THE PRIMARY MEANING of the words, “Holy” and “Holiness.”
  2. The PRIMARY MEANING of “Holy” is special or set apart, chosen or consecrated for a special purpose.  The word, Holy, is used hundreds of times to describe articles and days set aside or consecrated for special purposes in serving God.
  3. Purity is a normal consequence and pursuit chosen by those who understand the fact that they have been called and chosen to be called “Holy” by God.  The “Holy” articles were kept clean, not to make them “Holy,” but because they were Holy.
  4. The opposite of “Holy” according to Leviticus 10:10 is “common” or “not special, consecrated or set apart.”  Look up the Hebrew meaning of “Unholy” in Leviticus 10:10.
  5. Our pursuit of “Holiness” should not be so we find greater acceptance with God.  We are accepted, “In the Beloved.”  Our pursuit of “Holiness” should be because we know He wants our intimate fellowship, which gets hindered by guilt, shame and feelings of failure, as well as pride, rebellion and stubbornness.  We love Him and express that love “because He first loved us.”
  6. “Holiness” is not a heavy or burdensome concept in Scripture.  A “Holy Day” is a holiday, a special day.  In Nehemiah 8, Ezra, the priest, and the Levites told the people more than once not to mourn or weep, but to celebrate, have a feast, and give gifts, because the day was a “Holy” day. 
  7. Paul addresses Christians as “Holy Ones.”  The Greek word he used for saints was the same as the word usually translated “Holy.” 
  8. Peter exhorted Christians (I Peter 1:13-16) to fulfill their callings and live their lives with pure conduct like Jesus did, but later (I Peter 2:9) gives insights into the meaning of “Holy” by using it as a synonym with “Special, Royal, and Chosen.”
  9. Peter said they should be Holy like God, who was Holy.  But we forget to think about what that could mean.  What makes God Holy?  Yes, he does not sin.  He keeps His promises.  He executes justice and mercy, etc.  But if “Holy” means set apart, and special, how is God special.

God is not “set apart” or “special” because He doesn’t smoke, drink, chew, do drugs, wear indecent clothing, cut His hair, go to movies, etc. etc.

What makes God different than all other “gods” is the fact that He is not only pure, but also powerful and full of love.  No other religion can claim a “god” who is both all-powerful and full of love.  No other “god” has demonstrated both of these things in any way, shape or form.  That’s because other “gods” are actually from the source of all evil, and they are full of lies and deceit, abuse and bondage.  Only the Holy God, which we serve is full of love and powerful at the same time.


Holiness is an amazing and wonderful gift of GRACE:

  3. DELIVERED to us by His precious Holy Spirit. 

The benefits of HIS Holiness, which we should not forget (Psalm 103:1,2), include:

  1.  God’s divine nature (II Peter 1:4).
  2.  God’s love and other spiritual fruit.  (Galatians 5:22)
  3.  God’s power, especially as expressed through spiritual gifts of all kinds.  (Romans 12, I Corinthians 12, 14, Ephesians 4)

REMEMBER:  We are talking about HOLINESS.  We would have no HOLINESS unless it was delivered to us by the HOLY SPIRIT.  When the Holy Spirit inhabits us, He will manifest His Holy nature, His spiritual fruit and His powerful gifts. 

According to Peter, God made us a HOLY NATION so that we “may proclaim the praises of Him who called us out of darkness into His marvelous light.”  (I Peter 2:9)  In other words.  He has chosen us and made us HOLY, to EMPOWER US TO SHARE THE GOSPEL EFFECTIVELY LIKE THE EARLY CHURCH DID.  In my own research throughout the whole Bible, for my book on Signs and Wonders, I discovered that over 90% of all conversions of non-believers resulted from a demonstration of God’s power. 

I don’t want to say this in a critical or judgmental way, but let me ask the question:

If we leave out the aspect of God’s miracle power when we talk about HOLINESS, are we not limiting our own ability to share the gospel effectively?  If we make HOLINESS about just our ability to please God or find favor with Him, are we not making it about our own personal advantage and reward, rather than about bringing in His harvest and filling Heaven with His children?

Thus, with all due respect to John Wesley, who called the church into a new dimension of Christian life, I would add to His definition the concept of the blessings and benefits of the gift of holiness, which include not only a clean and pure heart, but a life of supernatural power to effectively share the good news of God’s amazing grace, His awesome love and supernatural power to the non-believers everywhere.  When the early church was flowing in the power of the Holy Spirit, the apostles were the most effective in winning the lost. 

Let me close with two very simple illustrations.

  1. A wedding dress is not a wedding dress because it has been washed over and over again.  It is a wedding dress because it was created for a special purpose.  Because of its special purpose, special care is taken to keep it clean and pure.  It is holy – set apart and carefully kept clean for its purpose and design of its creator. 
  2. A prince, who is being raised to become the next king of a nation, has a high and holy calling.  He is raised with great privileges, but also great responsibilities.  He can do many things that others cannot do, but there are things that others do that he cannot do.  The prince IS NOT a prince because he does what a prince should do.  He does what he should do because he IS a prince.


Be filled and continuously refilled with the Holy Spirit.  Embrace His nature, His spiritual fruit and His spiritual gifts – not so you can say you are holy or sinlessly perfect, but so that you can build His Kingdom and reveal who He is the most effective way possible.

In His Amazing Grace, Love and Power,

Ben and Brenda Peters