What Does It Mean to Be Holy?

God is holy, and he wants us to be holy as well. The more holy we become, the closer relationships we can enjoy with God. But what does it really mean to be holy? Thankfully, we don’t have to rely on our strength to pursue holiness, because Jesus meets us where we are and helps us achieve holiness. Here’s what it means to be holy, what the Bible says about holiness, and how to pursue holiness in our everyday lives. 

What Does the Bible Say about Holiness?

The biblical definition of “holy” is someone who is sacred – set apart spiritually for a good purpose. In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word “qodesh” is used for “holy.” In the New Testament, the Greek word “hagios” represents “holy.” The meanings of both “qodesh” and “hagios” are similar, with both words indicating separateness for the purpose of purity. Holy people, in the biblical sense, are those who are devoted to God. They make their relationships with God their top priority by living lives that are set apart from the secular and centered around what’s sacred.

The Bible says that God is holy. 1 Samuel 2:2 proclaims God as the ultimate model of holiness: “There is no one holy like the LORD; there is no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God.” Isaiah 6:1-3 describes angels in heaven worshiping God for his holiness: “I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.’” Psalms 29:2 urges people to worship God for his holiness: “Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; worship the LORD in the splendor of his holiness.” 

Since God is holy, the Bible says, he wants us to be holy in our relationships with him. God tells us in Leviticus 20:7-8: “Consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am the Lord your God. Keep my decrees and follow them. I am the Lord, who makes you holy.” He says in Leviticus 11:44: “I am the LORD your God; consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy…” The apostle Peter refers back to that verse in 1 Peter 1:15-16: “But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy.’” Hebrews 12:10-11, 14-15 reveals that holiness is necessary, so God teaches us how to pursue it: “…God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. … Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness, no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” 

We have all the help we need to be holy through our relationships with Jesus, who imparts his holiness onto us when we trust him for our salvation. 2 Corinthians 5:21 explains: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Jesus tells us in Matthew 5:48: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Luke 1:68, 74-75 celebrates the fact that Jesus works redemptively in our lives so we can be holy: “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come to his people and redeemed them. … to rescue us from the hand of our enemies, and to enable us to serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.” So does Ephesians 1:3-7: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love, he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will – to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him, we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace.” Hebrews 7:24-26 reveals that Jesus always intercedes for us with our holy God: “…because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.  Such a high priest truly meets our need – one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens.” Titus 3:3-7 emphasizes that God helps us be holy because of his mercy, not because of our own behavior: “At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.”

What Does it Mean to Be Holy?

So, we can be holy by living pure lives, as God calls us to do and helps us do. 1 Thessalonians 4:7 points out: “For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life.” We simply have to trust Jesus, who has set us free from sin, to help us live holy lives. Romans 6:19, 22 says: “…Just as you used to offer yourselves as slaves to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer yourselves as slaves to righteousness leading to holiness. …But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life.” 

One way that Jesus helps us be holy is by showing us a simple way to pursue holiness, so we don’t need to become overwhelmed or discouraged by trying to be holy. Jesus tells us simply to focus on loving God and loving other people day by day. Matthew 22:36-40 records Jesus’ reply when asked about God’s holy law: “‘Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?’ Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.’”

Jesus also helps us with other ways to pursue holiness in our everyday lives. He is always available for us to rely on for encouragement and strength in our quest for greater holiness. Romans 8:28-30 describes how God confirms us to the image of Jesus as we grow in holiness: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew, he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.” 

Being holy means centering our lives around our relationships with Jesus and following his example of holiness as best we can. Along the way, we’ll sometimes make mistakes, but we’ll also keep growing in holiness as long as we keep trusting Jesus to help us. As Jesus tells us in John 16:33: “…in me you may have peace. In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” 

How to Pursue Holiness in Our Everyday Lives

The pursuit of holiness is a lifelong journey that consistently leads us closer to God. Here are three key ways to pursue holiness day by day:

Live in awe of God’s inspiring holiness. We can seek God’s wonder in our lives and allow that to reveal new facets of his majestic holiness to us. Exodus 15:11 says of God: “Who among the gods is like you, LORD? Who is like you – majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders?” As we’re inspired with awe because of God’s holiness, that can motivate us to move closer to God by growing in holiness ourselves. The Bible points out that living in awe of God is the beginning of wisdom, and when we’re living with wisdom, we naturally become more holy.

Confess and repent regularly. Rather than allowing sin to accumulate in our lives and corrupt us, we can regularly confess our sins to God and repent by turning away from sin and turning toward God. As we make that choice and learn from our mistakes, we will purify ourselves so we can become more holy. 2 Corinthians 7:1 urges: “Therefore, since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.” Then, as we encounter new temptations to sin, we can trust God to help us overcome temptation moving forward.

Pursue the fruit of the Spirit. We can also ask the Holy Spirit regularly to help us grow more holiness in our lives by renewing our minds. Ephesians 4:22-24 points out: “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” The Holy Spirit will help us renew our minds (Romans 12:2) and cultivate attitudes of holiness in us that are called the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). 


Holiness is an important quality of God, which he wants us to cultivate in our relationships with him. Although we make mistakes in this fallen world, we don’t have to worry that holiness isn’t attainable. We can live holy lives as we trust Jesus to help us day by day. The more we grow in holiness, the closer to God we become, and that’s something to celebrate!

Whitney Hopler

Published by Intentional Faith

Devoted to a Faith that Thinks

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