It is notable that in describing the three persons of the Godhead the New Testament uses the word ‘holy’ particularly in relation to the Spirit of God. This is all the more remarkable because whilst this is common in the New Testament it is rare in the Old (there are three instances in the Old Testament - Psalm 51 and twice in Isaiah 53, but 93 such instances in the New Testament).
Why is it that Holiness is particularly associated with the Spirit? Clearly not because holiness is a special attribute of the Spirit since the term holy, and in particularly the superlative three-fold affirmation, ‘Holy, holy, holy’, relates to the Father or the godhead as a whole.
The most obvious answer is that the Spirit has a particular role in relation to holiness and the Christian.
A Christian is justified through faith in Christ, which means that they are counted righteous by God because of Christ, whilst actually remaining in their own nature unrighteous. The lifelong work of the Holy Spirit in the Christian is to sanctify, that is to make us more holy, bringing us into conformity with the will of God.
What can be said about holiness and the believer?
It is God's will that we should be holy.
'It is God's will that you should be sanctified; that you should avoid sexual immorality.' 1 Thessalonians 4 verse 3
Indeed, it is not simply God’s will, but his ultimate purpose for us:
'For he chose us in Christ before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight'. Ephesians chapter 1 verse 4
Holiness is necessary for our salvation:
'Follow peace with all men, and holiness without which no-one will see the Lord.’ Hebrews chapter 12 and verse 14
It is part of the work of Christ to make us holy. Jesus prayed for His disicples:
'For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.' John chapter 17:
Indeed, it is the sacrificial death of Christ, and His blood shed, that brings this about:
'And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of Jesus once for all.' Hebrews chapter 10 and verse 10.
Thus we can say that there is some sense in which holiness is something we find through Christ. Therefore Christians are referred to as ‘holy ones’ (1 Cor 1.2) or saints.
Does this mean that we are perfect now? Our experience tells us that this is not so, but so does the Bible. Therefore, whilst we are counted holy by God because of Christ, and thus in some sense we are holy, nevertheless, there is an ongoing work by which we must be brought more and more into conformity with the will of God - to be holy. There is a constant struggle going on in the believer as is shown by Paul in Romans chapter 7.
Therefore we are commanded to be holy.
But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: "Be holy, because I am holy".
1 Peter chapter 1 verse 15:
We are called to be holy (1 Cor 1.2), to do those things which lead to holiness (Rom 6.19), to perfect holiness (2 Cor 7.1) and so on. In this work we are not left to struggle on our own. Rather, the work of sanctification, of bringing is into conformity with the will of God, belongs to the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is at work to make us holy, to present us pure and blameless.
'from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth' 2 Thessalonians 2 verse 13
‘you have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling with his blood.’ 1 Peter chapter 1 verse 2
Therefore, in the work of sanctification, the lifelong, ongoing process, the believer is seeking to follow the command of God to be holy and is aided in this by the Holy Spirit. This work of sanctification, making holy, includes putting off the old and putting on the new:
For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. Romans 8 verse 13
The same thing can be found in Colossians chapter 3 verse 5 following
Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. (NIV)
Seeking holiness is a conscious act of the believer, and it begins with the mind, with the determination to do what God desires:
Gird up the loins of your mind, be self-controlled, set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: "Be holy, because I am holy".
1 Peter chapter 1
Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God -- this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is -- his good, pleasing and perfect will.
Romans chapter 12
The pursuit of holiness begins by a conscious and deliberate action. It begins with the mind and then results in action.
One of the chief tools at our disposal is therefore the word of God. It is as we learn the truth and put it into action that we become holy, as we conform ourselves to the revealed will of God, both in our thinking and in our doing. Jesus prayed:
Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. John chapter 17 verse 17
Someone has described it this way:
In the process of sanctification the Spirit is our teacher. His textbook is the bible.