Holiness is Love
In Christianity, we have our own set of words that no one else seems to really use in any other area of society. Sanctification, anointing, stewardship, and the like, are terms that we often throw around regularly. Another one is holiness. I think we have used that word so much that we have lost what it really means. When people think of holiness, they often think of Christians who never swear, watch Pureflix instead of Netflix, can cite the Bible on demand, and withdraw at length for prayer and solitude. They might picture a monk somewhere, dressed in simple garb and free of worldly distractions while staring into the sunset, meditating and praying.
While those things might be fine and well, they don’t necessarily equate to holiness. Holiness, at its core, is very simple. Holiness is love. Or, more specifically, holiness is pure and genuine love for God and others. That’s it! We don’t have to make it much more complicated than that.
If you’re not convinced, let me take you on a tour of the Bible and show you how this idea that “holiness is love” is all over the pages of the Word of God.
…and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints. (1 Thessalonians 3:12–13)
Follow the logic of Paul’s prayer for the Thessalonians. He prays that they would “increase and abound in love…so that [God] may establish your hearts blameless in holiness”. Think of it backwards. How does a Christian establish their hearts in holiness? Answer: increase in love for one another.
For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love. (Galatians 5:6)
Circumcision was a big deal to the Jews. It was the sign that they were God’s covenant people in the Old Testament. New Testament Christians are not required to undergo circumcision anymore, but the point is that you can have all the outward signs of being a follower of God, but if you don’t have love as the result of your faith, it counts for naught. All your external religious actions may garner the praise of others, but without love, it’s a waste.
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:1–3)
A similar idea is shown here in 1 Corinthians 13. You can have a mighty impressive Christian resume—miraculous abilities, impressive Bible knowledge, incredible faith, generosity, and even martyrdom—but if love is not what is underneath it all, God isn’t impressed. Other people would look at such a person and be in awe of their holiness. God thinks it’s “nothing”.
For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome. (1 John 5:3)
How do you show God that you love him? Is it by years of service, or passionate singing, or fervent witnessing? No—it’s a matter of obedience. Most people would consider obeying God’s commands as seeking “holiness”, and it is. But this verse shows that holiness/obedience is really just love for God in action.
For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. (1 Timothy 6:10)
Evil could be considered the opposite of holiness. And what is at the root of all kinds of unholiness? The love of money—or, put another way, a lack of love for God and others. Lack of love leads to unholiness.
Do your best to come to me soon. For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica. (2 Timothy 4:9–10)
Once again, a lack of love leads to unholiness. Demas sinned because he lacked love for God and others (in this case, Paul), and loved the things of this world instead.
But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:34–40)
Most would say that obeying God’s commands is the pinnacle of holiness, and that just might be true. But what it is to obey God’s commands? According to Jesus, it really just means loving God and people. That’s the whole point of the Bible.
Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. (Romans 13:8–10)
Again, all of the commands are really just one command, to “love your neighbour as yourself”. Why not steal? Because that’s not loving the person you are stealing from. Why not commit adultery? Because that hurts people and isn’t loving. Every command from God is really another way of saying, “love God and people in all you do”. That’s holiness.
For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Galatians 5:13–14)
And again, the whole point of the commands in the Bible are to say, “love people”. Obeying God (aka holiness) means loving people.
The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. (1 Timothy 1:5)
Paul gives Timothy a bunch of instructions in the book of 1 Timothy. What is the point of it all? What is Paul hoping to see as a result of Timothy’s obedience to these instructions? Love. The aim of every command of Scripture is love. That’s what Christianity is all about.
Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. (Colossians 3:12–14)
As God’s “holy” people, we should try to grow in good character qualities like compassion, kindness, humility, and the like. But “above all these” we should grow in love, since that brings all these qualities together. So, when we try to grow in holiness and the various good qualities God desires for us, we are really only trying to do one thing: grow in love.
We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing. (2 Thessalonians 1:3)
The Thessalonians had two things happening: a growing faith and a growing love for each other. That’s because these two things are inseparable from each other! It’s impossible to grow in your faith but not in your love for others. These two things are inextricably linked together.
Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. (1 John 2:10)
How can a Christian avoid stumbling (aka live a holy life)? Love your brother. As long as you are loving others, sin is impossible.
Here’s the takeaway point. As Christians, we are called to walk in holiness. Don’t get too caught up in the details. It simply means we need to grow in love for God and others. And how can we do that? The very first passage we looked at was a prayer to grow in love. That seems like a great place to start. Pray that God would increase your love for him and others, then go out into your life and be holy. Let that love overflow.