The word holy and its derivative holiness are two of the most misunderstood words in the Bible. It is surprising because they are used over 460 times in the Old Testament and 230 times in the New Testament. The problem however is not in understanding the meaning of this important concept. Everyone would agree, including Merriam Webster, that to be holy means to be set apart and devoted to God and His purposes. Both the original Hebrew and Greek words for holy clearly convey this.
Where there is confusion is in understanding how someone or something becomes holy. Most people think that holiness is a result of something we do. It is a common belief that holiness is what happens to us when we conform our attitude and actions to God’s holy will. Nothing could be further from the truth.
To begin to comprehend any Biblical truth or concept it is always insightful to go back and look at the passage of scripture where it is first introduced. This is called the principle of first mention. When we go to a concordance we discover that the word holy was first used in the book of Exodus. It is a very familiar passage of scripture where God appeared to Moses in the burning bush and called him to be the deliverer of the Israelites. “Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” (Exodus 3:5 NIV)
Now we need to ask the question. What made the ground holy? Was it Moses’ response? Was it his final acquiescence and conformity to God’s will? No, the ground was holy before Moses arrived. In this instance, it is obvious that it was holy because a) God said so and b) He, the Great I Am Who Am, was there.
It could go without saying, but it is important to note that wherever God chooses to be is holy, simply because He is holy.