What are the differences between holiness and righteousness?

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George from Sierra Leone asked me a great question in email; “What are the differences between holiness and righteousness?”

Holy is ontologically “separate”. Clean is ontologically “appropriate for cult”. Righteousness is “appropriate in covenant”. Uncleanness and sin remove the appropriateness for cult and covenant. Purification sacrifice recovers for holy and clean, and for humans also provides forgiveness.

As with all Scripture, we must be careful to both examine the context and understand the terms used. The word justify means “declare righteous,” not “make righteous.” Justification is not salvation. Salvation is by grace, through faith (Ephesians 2:8). That which justifies is that which proves one has already been made righteous.

James and Paul referenced two different types of works. Paul combatted a legalistic works-righteousness. Over and over, he specifically countered “the works of the law.” This type of work is done as an attempt to become righteous apart from faith in the Messiah. Such a self-righteous effort will never “declare” the righteousness that comes by grace alone. (James 2:14,17; Matthew 7:19)

James, however, fought against the other extreme—those who claim faith but never demonstrate that faith through their works. These are the people about whom John wrote, “He who says, ‘I know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him” (1 John 2:4). That’s not to say that true believers will never disobey, but those who consistently disregard God’s commands demonstrate their own lack of repentance.

To summarize, Paul spoke against the works of the law without salvation, while James affirmed the works of faith with salvation. They presented two sides of the same truth. There is no contradiction.

Throughout the Scriptures, we see a huge celebration of the holiness of God; yet, most of us really don’t have a full grasp of what it means to be holy. The original word for holiness in the Hebrew meant to be “set apart” or to be “separated from” something. As it applies to God, we see that He is exalted above and completely separate from any type of sin, flaw, or moral imperfection. Thus God is Holy and we (you and I) can only be seen through Christ Jesus’ work on the cross as Holy when we repent and accept Him as our Savior.

The Scriptures also indicate that, even as God is holy, we should be holy in all manner of lifestyle. We are to follow that divine example. Now on this planet, we certainly will never attain complete holiness, for we are ever warring with our old, sinful nature. But holiness is the target for which we are to direct our actions. Sin puts a barrier between us and God. Holiness brings communion and fellowship with Him–holiness is required in order for anyone to have eternal life with God in heaven (Romans 8:11–14; Hebrews 12:14). This was accomplished through Jesus Christ as He took on all of our sins on the cross so that God may see us as holy (Colossians 1:19–22).

God is completely holy and we are supposed to be like Him. However, our sin keeps us from being holy.

As we grow in our journey with God and become stronger in our own personal holiness, we will actually begin to hate sin and its effects. That’s right, the more you abhor sin, the more you’ll recognize its hold on you (Romans 7:23). You must understand this paradox, or else your Christian life will be riddled with doubt and fear.

We grow to despise those things that interfere with our intimacy with God and those things which bring so much pain to others here on this earth. And we will seek to avoid those things with a passion.

When we seek God’s righteousness, we will be blessed in unimaginable ways. Once again, this is the opposite of the worldly message that tells us it is right and good to seek our own blessedness (or happiness). But Jesus taught that denying self and thirsting for righteousness will bring great and everlasting joy. So basically, seek God’s will and ask Him to help you keep His commands. And we must understand sin to be a filthy contaminant to our spirit, and we must avoid those things through the power of the Holy Spirit. Pray that God will help you to see those contaminated areas in your life and that He will help you to turn away from those things and turn toward Him!

If you have yet to repent of your sins and have not accepted Christ Jesus as your Savior, why not do so today?

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