“But set Christ apart as Lord in your hearts… ” —1 Peter 3:15 (New English Translation)
To be holy does not mean to be pure, perfect and righteous. When ascribed to God, holiness is in acknowledgement of His uniqueness. He is wholly different and set apart from the creation of which He is the Creator. In itself, the designation “holy” says nothing specific about God’s character, but in the New Testament, when ascribed to human beings, it is to those who have been set apart to Christ.
To illustrate, in our wedding vows, we usually say something like, “Forsaking all others, I take you only unto me.” What that means is the bride will never again look at another man the way she looks at her groom, and the groom will never again look at another woman the way he looks at his bride. They are now joined together in holy matrimony and have become “set apart” exclusively for each other. That will not make the perfect, pure and righteous spouse, but neither is that the expectation on our wedding day. The expectation is that “till death do us part” we remain devoted to one another in a loving, committed relationship.
This is the relationship we are meant to have with God. As Christians, we are set apart for God. In Scripture, God set many people apart for His purposes and they were just as weak and vulnerable as we are, but it was God who accomplished His purpose through them. Abraham was set apart to be the father of the nation of Israel from which the promised Messiah would come. Moses was set apart to lead in excess of two million people out of slavery in Egypt. All the prophets were set apart to deliver God’s message to the people. The disciples were set apart to spread the Gospel and the Apostle Paul was set apart to be God’s instrument to bring the Gospel to the Gentile world.
To be holy is to be set apart for Christ and does not involve an expectation of being perfect. That is not promised or even offered to anyone in this life. Rather, it is in our imperfections, our frailties and failures, we walk in harmony with the Lord and with a disposition of heart that says, “I am set apart for Jesus.” This is what it means to be holy.
The alternative to holiness is being available to anything that happens to attract our attention at the time. To go for whatever is convenient, comfortable and compatible to benefit our own ambitions and desires is to live an unholy life. We are called to holiness, to live in step with Jesus, and to unite our interests and agendas with those of our Lord.