The Meaning of Holy

Part 4 in the Series:

The Bezalel Blueprint

By Don Enevoldsen

Holiness is closely related to cleanness. In many ways, they are almost indistinguishable.

For both holy and clean, the underlying meaning paints a picture of things being in order, everything in its place, whole and complete. This is why Leviticus makes such a fuss about not mixing things that don’t belong together. For example, Leviticus 19:19 addresses three different things in a single verse:

“Do not mate different kinds of animals. Do not plant your field with two kinds of seed. Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material.”

Those are odd things to throw together. At first glance one might wonder what sewing wool and linen together has to do with mating animals. The point is that we are to understand holiness in terms of things being in their intended place in creation, living according to their intended function.

The enemy of holiness is portrayed as pollution, or more literally, confusion. That is the idea behind the word “perversion” in Leviticus 18:23. The verse begins with a command not to have sexual relations with animals, and concludes with the declaration that this is perversion. The word used in the Hebrew text is tevel. Its literal meaning is “mixing or confusion.”

In other words, something ceases to be either holy or clean when it becomes mixed or confused. It becomes polluted or contaminated. In practical terms, this means that something is holy when it is functioning exactly as it was intended, without confusion. God is holy because he is not the least bit confused about who he is or what he is doing. We become holy when we figure out exactly who we are and what we are doing. We have figured out the category in which we belong, which makes us normal, whole and complete.

Applying that concept to my everyday life, becoming clean and holy involves a diversity of things. I was created to be a writer. To be clean and holy, I must write, which means that I cannot pursue studying medicine. (Of course, in reality, it might be that someone was created to be a doctor who writes, which would combine the two without confusion.) But that is not my whole purpose. I am a husband and a father. Holiness involves learning to do both to the best of my ability.

All of this means that holiness is not about growing a beard and joining a monastery on a mountaintop. It is about figuring out what talents, gifts and desires God built into me. Bezalel was created to be an artist. That was the beginning of being chosen. He could have ignored God’s purpose in his life and determined to be a shepherd. It was a common vocation in Israel and would have been easy to pursue. But he would never have known the joy of fulfilling his Destiny.

To the extent that holiness and cleanness relate to purpose and finding your place, they are pretty much the same. But there are some significant differences. The basic meaning of clean is purity. The basic meaning of holiness is completeness or wholeness. Gordon J. Wenham, in The Book of Leviticus, differentiates these two terms in this way:

“I have suggested that cleanness is the natural state of most creatures. Holiness is a state of grace to which men are called by God.” (p. 23)

I have adapted those terms slightly to make them understandable in our context. Clean is the state of being normal. You are clean when you are what you were created to be. Holiness is what happens when God takes your normal state and infuses it with divine purpose. Holiness takes cleanness to a higher level.

Note that here we can see why holiness is usually defined as “set apart.” Technically, though, that isn’t quite an accurate use of the word. Set apart is the meaning of the word “sanctify.” When you take something that is “clean” and “sanctify” it, or set it apart, it becomes “holy.”

A simple way to understand the basic dichotomy between clean and holy is to picture it in terms of the focus or motivation behind your purpose.

1. Clean refers to a person who recognizes the innate talent and desire that God created in him, and who pursues it without distraction or confusion. As such, cleanness is a state that focuses on self. It revolves around “My” purpose. Cleanness is inward focused and motivated.

2. Holy refers to a person who takes his state of cleanness or normality, and submits it to God’s purpose. Holiness is outward focused and motivated. It seeks to impart something of value to others. A person moving in holiness will not lose the sense of personal fulfillment, but his/her focus is turned outward toward the community and the rest of the world.

Holy is clean set apart or sanctified, and infused with divine purpose. Which brings us to the question, what is divine purpose for an artist?

Let’s begin by explaining what it isn’t. It does not mean creating “Christian” art. A painter can be holy without painting biblical subjects. An architect can be holy without building churches. A singer can be holy without singing Gospel music. A filmmaker can be holy without including a salvation scene in his story. Divine purpose does not mean adhering to such superficial criteria.

It has nothing to do with the avoidance of drinking, smoking or swearing.

It is not achieved by living on a mountaintop or joining a monastery.

What holiness does require is being sufficiently in tune with God that you live your life for the benefit of his creation. (Which, by the way, is the only life that will be genuinely fulfilling for you.)

Divine purpose simply means moving in agreement with what God wants. Explaining everything God wants would take longer than I am likely to live, but to reduce it to as simple a statement as possible, it involves the impartation of life, freedom and love to his creation. God’s deepest desire is to redeem mankind and infuse life into others. For this reason, holiness inherently involves reaching out to others. For God so loved the world that he gave. To be holy requires taking on the same characteristic.

Artists of the Reformation grasped this idea. Prior to that time, artists tended to portray biblical subjects, often with the intention of disguising very non-biblical worldviews. With the Reformation, many artists embraced the Protestant agenda and began to paint non-biblical subjects. For example, there is a painting by Rembrandt called “The Slaughterhouse.” The dominant feature of the painting is a gutted and skinned cow hanging from a beam.

While that might not seem particularly spiritual, Rembrandt’s intention was to proclaim his redeemed worldview, the idea that God was intimately interested in the affairs of everyday life. This theme ran through the work of many of the painters of that time, who portrayed scenes of farmers plowing or sailors unloading cargo from ships. These artists understood that fulfilling their Destiny as artists did not require that they preach. It required that they be artists, true to a biblical worldview in their observations of life. By so doing, they portrayed God’s character.

Last week, I identified a significant reason why people don’t achieve their Destiny—they confuse it with Fate and allow circumstances to dictate the path of their lives. Fate will inevitably take you away from God’s purpose for your life.

This week, we see a second reason. People confuse cleanness with holiness. Many figure out what God created them to be. We actually are inspired by stories of people who fought the odds and risked everything to become successful artists. Unfortunately, many who achieve their desires never see past their own purpose. They become self-centered and often arrogant. They are the artists who believe the world owes them something because they are greatly talented. This is a common sight in Hollywood. Celebrity status gives a sense of entitlement. (It has become far too common in the Church as well.)

Such people never step from cleanness into holiness because they can never see past their own purpose. God calls us to pursue and to become what he created us to be. But then he expects us to remember that he gave us the talent so that we use it for others.

Next, Part 5: Destiny Too Soon

Go to the beginning of the series, The Bezalel Blueprint:  Part 1, The Artist Bezalel

Do you have an additional thought on this subject? Please join the discussion and share your insights.

The Meaning of Holy
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5 thoughts on “The Meaning of Holy

  • July 26, 2013 at 8:05 am

    Really enjoying this series, Don! Inspires and encourages me to keep writing, which is a good thing… A holy thing!! 🙂

    • July 26, 2013 at 8:08 am

      Indeed, I was thinking about you this morning when I posted this. For those who don’t know, Ryan is a gifted Bible teacher who is working on a book on the end times. I’m greatly looking forward to the finished product. So keep writing. Wouldn’t want you to slip out of holiness after all this time.

    • July 26, 2013 at 12:17 pm

      Thanks for your encouragement, Jerry. This is a fascinating subject. Who would have thought Leviticus could actually be interesting.

  • July 31, 2013 at 5:26 pm

    Psalm 24:3-4 Who may ascend the hill of the LORD? Who may stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands “and”
    a pure heart (Webster defines Holy as Pure), who does not lift up his soul to an idol or swear by what is false. You’re correct
    in saying it’s about right attitudes and motives.


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