No one synonym adequately expresses all that is signified by the word holy. We see in Revelation 22:11 that holy is the opposite of filthy, and from I Corinthians 7:14 that it is the opposite of unclean----the opposite, of course, being clean. Holy also means being "without blame" (Ephesians 1:4), "irreproachable" (Colossians 1:22), "without blemish" (Ephesians 5:27).
Clean, pure, without blame or blemish----you might wonder how it is possible for any human to be holy. But it is possible! Living Christians were referred to in Hebrews 3:1 and I Thessalonians 5:27 as "holy brethren." We can be sure they were not perfect, though just as Christians today are not perfect. The Christians at Colosse, for example, were "elect of God, holy and beloved" (Colossians 3:12). Still, they needed to be admonished to rectify and improve their lives in many respects.
They were not yet perfect. But they were holy. What made them----what makes any true Christian---holy? It is the result both of becoming a Christian and of becoming a better Christian by growth. When one becomes a Christian one is, according to the Bible, "sanctified." The word sanctify to most people is no more than a religious sounding word. In reality, though, it means "to make holy." It includes the idea of setting apart, consecrating, for a special purpose.
When God "blessed the seventh day and sanctified it" (Genesis 2:3) he made it special, different from the other days of the week. It became holy. Jesus Christ gave himself for his Church, composed of individual believers, "that He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that He might present it to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that it should be holy" (Ephesians 5:26-27).
Notice how the terms sanctifying, cleansing and being made holy are used together. To be clean is to be set apart form filthiness. Christians are holy ones because they have been sanctified, set apart for a special purpose.
A Christian----a saint----a holy one----is set apart from the sinful ways of the world. He or she has taken heed to the warning in Isaiah 52:11: "Depart! Depart! Go out from there, touch no unclean thing: go out from the midst of her, be clean you who bear the vessels of [i.e., serve] the Lord."
Christians are holy because God's Holy Spirit takes up resistance and dwells in them. All who become Christians are "sanctified [set apart,made holy] by the Holy Spirit" (Romans 15:16). If you are a Christian. you are, in fact, a holy temple. "Do you not know that you are the temple of God...? If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are" (I Corinthians 3:16-17).
A Cleansing process
Being a saint is also the result of an ongoing cleansing process. We of ourselves are not clean and pure. God makes us so. "The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin" (I John 1:7). God creates in us a "clean heart" (Psalm 51:10).
We also have our part to do. We have to continually ask that any sins we commit after the conversion be washed away by the blood of Christ. We have actively put sin out of our lives. We must "cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God" (II Corinthians 7:1).
"Perfecting holiness" is a process. It requires effort. Every day we confront situations where we could become defiled by unrighteous deeds of the flesh or of the mind. What wrong actions do we allow ourselves to do? What foolish or evil thoughts do we allow to pollute out minds?
We are engaged in a lifelong struggle to perfect holiness. It is not easy. God knows our best efforts are often flawed. He made provision for such eventualities. We see that reflected in the Old Covenant ceremonial laws. They foreshadowed the spiritual relationship we under the New Covenant have with God through Jesus Christ.
The offerings the children of Israel made were holy. But they were not perfect. So God compensated for the imperfections. He provided atonement for "the iniquity of the holy things which the children of Israel hallow in all their holy gifts" (Exodus 28:38).
Aaron the human high priest, of himself was not holy. He had to be made holy. He was given holy garments to put on (verses 2-4). He was given a golden plate engraved with the words "Holiness to the Lord" (verse 36). When the most holy God looked down on Aaron as Aaron came into his presence, he did not see imperfections. He saw holiness that was given to Aaron----just as God gives us his holiness.
Saints are cleansed, purified, set apart, made holy and kept that way through God's grace and power. Right now we live in a world of competition and greed. There is much talk of peace, but war is this world's way of life. The weapons are poised to produce the horrendous "sudden destruction" (I Thessalonians 5:3) that is surely to come.
Meanwhile, lives are wasted by drugs, disease and unhappiness. This world, according to the Bible, is unholy. But the world to come will be different. As God's coming government takes hold, there will be an increase in what is holy----cleansed, purified, having God's presence, set apart for his service.
Have you had the misfortune of seeing bumber stickers, T shirts or graffiti expressing glorification of foolishness or, worse, just plain profanity and filth? That's symptomatic of this world. By contrast, we read of the world to come in Zechariah 14:20-21: "In that day 'Holiness to the Lord' shall be engraved on the bells of the horses. The pots in the Lord's house shall be like the bowls before the altar. Yes, every pot in Jerusalem and Judah shall be holiness to the Lord of hosts."
Notice what The New Bible Commentary: Revised has to say about this scripture: "Everything will have become holy because it will be dedicated to a holy purpose. The instruments of war, looked upon with such disfavour by the prophets, will be converted to better use (cf. Mi 4:3,4). They are even to bear the same inscription as the mitre on the head of the high priest (cf. Ex. 28:38). Pots are mentioned as the commonest of vessels, and like everything else they will be transformed by their consecration to the Lord."
In tomorrow's world, everyone will be taught to appreciate and exalt all the word holy stands for.
All will then know what God's converted people know now: There is no greater calling than to be a saint and to partake of God's holiness!