In continuing to meditate on the names of God, one that appears in Exodus 31:13 is Yahweh M’Kaddeshem, translated as “The LORD who makes you holy” or “The LORD who sanctifies you.”
There is often a lot of discussion as to exactly what being holy (or being made holy) means to people like you and me. We have very little problem acknowledging that God is holy in His essential character, but we even have a hard time defining what that means. Often people separate the definition of God’s holiness into two parts:
- He is separate from His creation. We do not serve a god of the pantheists who is a part of creation, or who IS creation. Instead, we acknowledge that our God created everything in the Universe, and is separate from it, much as an artist is separate from the artwork he creates. This is true even though God is actually present throughout creation – He is still separate from it, not trapped in it, and not subject to its natural laws. (I know, the concept doesn’t fit well between our mortal ears!) So in a sense, when we talk about God as being holy, we are talking about His separateness from the created Universe, existing outside of time and space, and generally not made of the same stuff as the material Universe.
- He is morally pure. Although some might try to convict the Lord of actions that they deem sinful (but caution is advised here, because we can’t know everything that God knows about the things in which He takes these actions), the Bible tells us that God is morally perfect. He never sins. He never does anything wrong.
Some have tried to draw half an analogy between the holiness of God and the holiness of His people that He provides as Yahweh M’Kaddeshem. These people say that, since man can’t be made morally pure, that the only holiness that we can experience is simply being separated for God’s use. There is a sense in which things are sanctified by being set apart, such as the tools and equipment used in the Tabernacle and the Temple, and things devoted to the LORD, but is that really what it means to be made holy?
Others talk about a “positional holiness.” In other words, as long as we are in realtionship with God, who is holy, then we are considered holy by virtue of that relationship, even though we are not actually objectively holy.
Other people (including myself) understand that, just as the holiness of God has a two-fold nature, so does our holiness. When we devote ourselves to the Lord, coming to Him for salvation, we indeed consider ourselves set apart for God’s use. But they also understand that, BECAUSE we belong to God and are set apart for His use, that we also must be morally pure as well. Some may wonder how this can possibly be, since it is assumed that we as humans are so corrupt and depraved that moral purity is totally impossible. The answer is that God is actually powerful enough to make us morally pure. (Remember, He is omnipotent, meaning that He can do anything.) He does this by remaking our hearts, just as He promised through the prophet Ezekiel:
Ezekiel 36:25-27 (NIV): I will sprinkle clean water on you and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.
I believe that God made this a reality for the Church on the day of Pentecost, when He visited the disciples and changed their hearts by filling them with the Holy Spirit. (In the Church of the Nazarene we call this moment of being changed by the filling with the Holy Spirit “Entire Sanctification,” which means being made wholly holy.) Peter identified this heart purification in Acts 15:8-9, describing the filling with the Holy Spirit of Cornelius the Centurion and his people: God, who knows the heart, showed that He accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as He did to us. He made no distinction between us and them, for He purified their hearts by faith. This purification of the heart makes possible a real moral purity that the Bible refers to as righteousness or holiness.
We understand that no person can make themselves holy, or can keep “the rules” well enough to be considered holy by God (even though we might make a good enough show of it to convince some of the people around us). But I think it is amazing that the same God who gave Israel the Law, identifies Himself NOT as “The God who gave you the rules,” but as Yahweh M’Kaddeshem, “The LORD who makes you holy.” He knew (and tried to communicate right from the start) that the rules would never make the people holy or righteous; for that you really need a change of heart. But that’s okay, because He can actually do that too!