Holy and Blameless- Ephesians 1:4

In Ephesians 1:4, Paul tells us that all who are in Christ are holy and blameless. Both are used as adjectives here and follow the verb “to be”, and thus are used to tell believers what they are, that believers are both holy and blameless as a condition of their existence, that part of their fundamental nature is holiness and blamelessness. In our previous posts, we have seen that to be blameless means to be “without blemish or spotless”, and it is our blamelessness which allows us to draw near to God. We have been justified (declared righteous) because we have been made blameless, and it is because of this that we may draw near to God. We also find here that we are “holy”, that holy and blameless go together, that they are two sides of the same coin. So what does it mean that we are “holy”, and how does the fact that we are holy relate to the fact that we are blameless? The term holy is used many times in the Bible and is the English translation of the Hebrew qodosh and the Greek hagios. While the New Testament is written in Greek, many of the concepts found in the NT come not from Greek culture but from the Old Testament, and the concept of holiness is one of those concepts. The Hebrew term qodosh comes from a root in Hebrew which refers to something which is “distinct, separate, uncommon”. Most scholars believe this Hebrew root is derived from an ancient Akkadian word meaning “clean, pure, spotless”, which is likely why Paul connects the term holy so closely with the term blameless. But what exactly does the Bible mean when it uses the word “holy”? In Scripture, God is referred to as the “Holy One”. He is completely distinct and separate from His creation, only He is clean and pure, only God has holiness, and all other holiness is defined only in its relation to God. Holy is also something which is used to describe not just people, but many things in the Bible. We find that tunics, bread, incense, oil, water, cups and various other objects are referred to as holy in Scripture. That which is holy is that which belongs to the Holy One, and the term holy is used in this way as an existential term (just like in Ephesians 1:4), it tells us what something is in its nature. The cup is holy because it belongs to the Holy One, it is holy as a characteristic of its existence, and “holy” cannot be an ethical term (a term describing behavior) in this usage because cups do not “behave” a certain way. If that were the only use of the word holy in Scripture, things would be very simple indeed. But it is not the only way in which the term holy is used, for we also find “levels” or “degrees” of holiness pictured in the Bible. What we find here is that the closer something is to God the “holier” it becomes. A prime example of this is found in the architecture of the Temple in the OT, which began with the court of the gentiles, followed by the court of women, the court of Israel, the court of priests, the holy place and then the most holy place. The closer the court was to God’s presence in the ark of the covenant, the “holier” it was. Being closer to God means being more holy, and the same is true of us. The more we draw near to God (the closer we get to Him) the “holier” we become, and, just as in the OT, this drawing near is related to sacrifice. The blood of atonement was sprinkled upon the mercy seat in the most holy place, the sacrifice was offered to God, and we also draw nearer to Him as we offer our bodies as living sacrifices (Romans 12:1-2) to Him moment by moment and day by day. Holiness describes our relation to God, and the nearer we draw to Him the holier we become. So we find that holiness, in the Bible, is used as both an absolute, existential term and also as a relative, ethical term. Much confusion about holiness comes from this very fact, and the biggest issues come from when we see the term as either exclusively ethical or exclusively existential. As believers we are simultaneously “holy” (existential) and are “being made holy” (ethical). Our next post will examine Scripture to see more clearly just what this distinction is between the uses of “holy”, and how it applies to the life of the believer here and now.

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