We often think of “holiness” as a synonym for “purity,” but this is a bit backwards.
To be holy, something must be set aside for a special, divine purpose.
When we set something apart for God, we refuse to profane it, to waste it on common use.
That’s where the purity comes from—we purify it by setting it apart for something special. Treating something as holy makes it pure.
Of course, this forces us to ask, “For what purpose have we set this thing aside? What is that “special, divine purpose” for which we have made this thing holy?”
Unused Fine China
I recently helped someone move into a house. While hefting one particularly heavy box, my friend remarked, “This is another box of china that my wife never uses.”
Do you have a set like that? We do. When I was a kid, my mom had a few sets of china and some gold-plated flatware that we never used. Why didn’t they get used?
They were for a special occasion. A special purpose that never came.
Purpose Leads to Purity
God has saved us and has called us to be holy, which means that He’s setting us apart from the world around us so that we can be used by Him for His purposes.
It means holiness doesn’t mean being “holed up,” keeping ourselves from the world. That’s what went wrong in the middle ages when the faithful turned monastic and let the world around them fall to pieces. We are called to be holy—purified by our purpose.
James 1 says, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” Notice that the purpose of caring for the less-fortunate comes before the mention of purity.
Christians should commit themselves to doing God’s work, to accomplishing His purposes, and because we have so committed ourselves to God’s service we will increasingly choose purity over pollution because we do not want to disqualify ourselves from His use.
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
We have been saved by God for His purposes and because of this we will keep ourselves pure. Let’s abandon the myth that holiness is simply purity.
Purity without a purpose does not glorify God.