Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’”
1 Peter 1:13-16
Repeatedly in scripture, the Lord commands His people to “be holy.” What does this mean though?
Does it mean being “perfect?”
Does is mean being someone who never struggles with temptations to sin?
Does it mean cutting ourselves off from the world, and living a solitary life of prayer and Bible study?
What does the Greek say?
Well, to begin with, the word “holy,” used by Peter in the verse above, is the Greek word “agios,” and at the time of Peter’s writing would have been closely associated with both the Temple and the offerings which were sacrificed at the Temple according to the law of Moses. Culturally, this word specifically implies that the subject had been carefully set apart for worship of and service to God. Tools and items would have been ritually cleansed, animals were required without blemish, and the priests would follow strict protocols to remain clean according to the legal standards of the law.
This seems to be a pretty straightforward definition. Something that is agios is clean according to the law of God and is religiously set apart for Him alone, just as God Himself is righteous and separate from His creation.
A Shift in Meaning
While the general definition is pretty simple, there is another use of “agios” in the New Testament, applied in various places to describe Jesus (Mark 1:24, John 6:69, Acts 3:14, 1 John 2:20, and others). This usage is quite different than the standard cultural use of the word relating to the Temple in Jerusalem.
In reference to Jesus, the word is used in conjunction with His supernatural birth (Luke 1:35) and identity as the incarnate Son of God (Luke 4:34). In Luke’s gospel, particularly, the descriptions of Jesus as “agios” points toward Jesus as both divine and as the One who carries the Holy Spirit of God.
In this sense, the word “agios” is not being used to identify Jesus with the Temple in Jerusalem, but as a Temple of God, Himself!
This should sound familiar, as Jesus spoke of Himself in the same way.
Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” But he was speaking about the temple of his body.
John 2:19-21 (Emphasis mine)
Jesus understood that, as Colossians 2:9 declares, “in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily…” His human form was the incarnation of God on earth. He was God, and the Holy Spirit dwelt in and with Him.
This was a greater revelation of God’s presence than the Temple in Israel.
Accessing God’s Temple
The problem the people of God had in the Old Testament was that to enter God’s presence, they had to travel to Jerusalem and enter the Temple. Even then, only a select few would be allowed access.
In the gospels, God’s presence breaks out of the Temple and is manifested through Jesus — God’s new Temple in bodily form. Still, though, access to the presence of God was limited to individuals in the vicinity of Christ. However, Jesus had an even greater plan that would give everyone access to God’s presence, and at the same time, transform them into His holy image.
Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.
Becoming God’s Temple
To fulfill God’s command to “be holy as I am holy,” we must move beyond human attempts to fulfill legalistic requirements and religious to-do lists. We do not even become holy through confession and repentance from sin. We must be holistically transformed by His holiness. We become holy when we are filled with and changed by the presence of God!
In fact, this reality is demonstrated in both Jesus’ instructions in the gospels and the apostolic commands on the church that believers should be filled with the Holy Spirit, since He is the One who will change us into Christ-likeness.
The good news is that when we trust Christ as Savior, He gives us the right to live in the Spirit and follow His directions in every area of life (Galatians 5:16). When we do this, the Holy Spirit will teach and guide us (John 16:13), point us to Jesus (John 15:26), empower us to serve the Lord (Acts 1:8), and ultimately, to sanctify us and make us like Jesus (1 Corinthians 6:11 and 1 Thessalonians 5:23). We will become “agios” because He makes us “agios.”
The point is that we must stop depending on our own self-discipline to make us holy. Instead, we should see ourselves as the true temple of God in the earth, just as Jesus was, and then live our lives each day as those set apart, made clean by Christ, hosting the presence of God, and ready to be used in worship and service to Him. “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” – 1 Corinthians 6:19-20
This is an updated edition of a post originally published on Anthony Scott Ingram.