Editors note: The purpose of this series is to help our readers think through what holiness is, and how to reflect the holiness of God through Christ in a sinful world.

holiness1Scripture declares the bride of Christ is to be holy. Ephesians 5:25-27 states “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.” Despite what some may think, being holy or without stain or wrinkle, spot or blemish is not speaking of the need to be perfect. In reality, what the Apostle Paul is referring to, being the learned Hebrew scholar that he was is the Hebrew word tamiym. This is a word used over 90 times in the Old Testament and it means “complete, whole, entire, sound, or mature”. Genesis 6:9 states “This is the genealogy of Noah. Noah was a just man, perfect in his generations. Noah walked with God.” Now this does not mean Noah was perfect and without sin. The Hebrew word translated perfect is tamiym. In Genesis 17:1, God told Abraham “walk before Me and be blameless.” Once again, the word translated as blameless is tamiym. Even a cursory review of the life of Abraham will reveal he was not perfect. What God desired was maturity, a desire to become closer to Him. This is the essence of what it means to be tamiym. Through the process of progressive sanctification wrought through the power and work of the Holy Spirit, believers can become tamiym bride.

So how does one become tamiym? Good works, hard work, luck of the draw, clean living? Let’s return to Ephesians 5:25-27. Paul speaks of Christ giving himself up for his bride doing what exactly? Christ is making her holy (again a clear reference to tamiym) by “the washing with water through the word.” I Corinthians 6:11 states “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” Ps. 19:7 states “The law of the Lord is perfect (tamiym), refreshing the soul. The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple.” It should be rather clear the word of the Lord is tamiym, it washes us and thus there is something important about the word and the concept of tamiym in relation to what it means to be holy as the bride of Christ.

Grasping what this washing hearkens back to requires us in part to explore the betrothal marriage process, in particular what the bride did to prepare herself following the Kiddusin (the first stage of betrothal) while she awaited the wedding day (the Nis’uin). Following the acceptance of the terms of the Ketubah (the marriage contract) by the bride, the bride and bridegroom would begin the period of separation, typically lasting one year. One essential element of what the bride did during this period was a ritual washing by water. The bride, with assistance from a family member who we would label in today’s wedding parlance as the “maid of honor”, would ensure the bride was completely submerged in the water. To further ensure the water touched every part of her body, the bride would also spread her fingers and toes. This ritual bathing served as a symbol of the bride casting aside the former things as well as the beginning of a new married life with her betrothed.

If we put all this together, we have a number of key points to consider. God wants a bride that is tamiym, mature, without spot or wrinkle. How does one work towards becoming tamiym? As the bride of Christ, we are to be constantly visiting the well of living water, the Word of God. When Psalm 19:7 speaks of “converting the soul”, many have attributed that solely as the act of salvation. In reality, what this passage also speaks of is the impact that washing oneself in the water of the Word, which has been demonstrated to be tamiym (perfect), will have in the life of the believer. It will literally “convert” or change the soul, more appropriately translated as nephesh, the entirety of what constitutes an individual namely their mind, will, and emotions from being simple (Hebrew word pĕthiy – naïve, simple, foolish) to being tamiym. James 1:2 speaks of this process by stating “Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” The bride of Christ is called to be mature and complete. Part of how that is accomplished is by spending time in the Word of God.

Hebrews 6:1-3 declares, “Therefore let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, instruction about cleansing rites, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And God permitting, we will do so.” Notice once again the call for maturity. It is through the word of God that spiritual maturity can be found, the place where the bride of Christ can daily wash herself in the sanctifying and cleansing power of God’s Word in order to convert our nephesh from being naïve to being wise in things of the Lord. This is a requirement and characteristic of the bride of Christ, that of seeking God’s paniym (His face) by devouring the Word of God. Do we desire to be so close to God through the reading and study of His Word that His taniym Word is so written on our hearts that the glory of God shines through us in every word and deed we do to the extent we are truly a light on a lampstand or a city set on a hill that cannot be hidden? After all that is a characteristic of what it means to be the bride of Christ, a longing for a word from our bridegroom!

Furthermore, the word sanctification, is in Hebrew qadosh and in Greek hagiazō, words that both describe something that is holy. In biblical use, to sanctify something means to set a person, place, occasion, or object apart from everyday secular use in order to be dedicated specifically to use by God and for His glory. We see throughout the Old Testament a great deal of time being spent describing the process of making something holy for use before God. For example, when the various elements of the tabernacle and the later temple were crafted, God provided specific instructions on how they were to be made and cleansed. It was important for the priests to ensure both the instruments and themselves was ceremonially pure before entering God’s presence.

Author and theologian Joel Beeke notes: “Holiness means to be set apart. But what does set apart mean? Two things. The negative sense of set apart is holiness’ call to separate from sin. The positive sense of set apart is holiness’ call to consecrate to God. These two concepts – separation from sin and consecration (or separation) to God – comprise holiness. When combined, these two concepts make holiness very comprehensive. In fact, holiness covers all of life. Everything, Paul tells us, is to be sanctified: “For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving: for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer” (I Tim 4:4-5).”[1]

It is clear that an essential truth that is repeatedly mentioned when it comes to believers being the bride of Christ is the necessity of the Word of God. Notice that Paul in I Timothy 4:5 says the creature of God, in other words the bride of Christ is “sanctified by the word of God and prayer.” How does one become sanctified? They become sanctified in large part by washing themselves daily in the Word of God and in prayer.

As theologian R. O. E. White has noted, “Beside positive motives, Paul stresses positive consecration of the personality so sanctified, in active service and love, with the total dedication of a slave, sacrifice and man in love. The addition of “and spirit” in II Cor. 7:1, the transformed mind set on things above and filled with all things holy and of good report, shows that Paul did not think of holiness only in physical terms. Everything is to be sanctified. Holiness represents purity before God, as righteousness represents purity before the law, blameless purity before the world: sanctification includes all three.”[2]

Get in the Word of God. Wash yourself in the Word. Understand that sanctification involves the work of the Holy Spirit writing God’s Word on your hearts to move you from a place of simplicity to a place of maturity. Grasp the importance of being a mature bride, one who is so in love with the bridegroom that they are constantly preparing themselves for the time of His return. Reject stagnant Christianity and embrace the need for holiness that comes again through the Holy Spirit operating in your life through this lifelong process called sanctification. Embrace the reality that sanctification involves being set apart to the glory of God.

As the great Puritan author John Owen once noted:

“What, then, should be our response to God’s command to be holy? Our first response should be that we make this duty a matter of conscience because it comes to us with all God’s authority. Holiness must arise from obedience or it is not holiness. Our second response must be to see how reasonable this command is. Thirdly, we must love this command because it is holy and just and good and because the things it requires are right, easy and pleasant to the new nature.

What should be our response to the promise that God will make us holy? Firstly, we must remember our utter inability to obey the command to be holy. Then we must see that our sufficiency is in God. Secondly, we must adore that grace which has promised to do in us what we are unable to do ourselves. Thirdly, we must pray in faith, believing God’s promise to make us holy, and look to Him to supply us with all grace necessary to walk in holiness. Fourthly, we should pray specially for that grace to keep us holy in times of temptation and when called to carry out special and difficult duties.

Finally, we must never forget that it is the Holy Spirit who sanctifies all believers, and who produces all holiness in them.”[3]

References:
[1] http://issuu.com/gospeldelta/docs/holiness_-_joel_beeke/1
[2] R. O. E. White, “Sanctification” in the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. Edited by Walter Elwell. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1052.
[3] http://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/articles/onsite/holyspirit_owen.html