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Holiness

The divine purpose for the election is for the elect to be holy and blameless. Most translations will make holy and blameless the result of his choice. However, this is not the best way to understand this. The NIV offers the best translation: “he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless” (Ephesians 1:10).

 

These two attributes are not intended to be our responses to being chosen. Rather, this is something that God has done for us as part of the selection process (1) What God has done is to separate us as we had pictured in the concept of the transfer in chapter five. This transfer made us part of this unique group. We find the similar concept relating to Israel in Deuteronomy 7:6. Here, holiness designates the people as God’s own possession. The notion that holiness is something we do or a way we act is not the fundamental biblical concept. Rather, as demonstrated in Israel, it refers to our separated status; it is relational (2). Since Israel’s story gives us an excellent understanding of election, it is preferred that we understand holy as separated. The Hebrew word supports this idea. It expresses the idea of a relationship between married couples because they are “forbidden to others like something consecrated.” It is similar to the term used in Deuteronomy 5:9: “Because Israel is the Lord’s people, it may have no traffic with idolatry” (3). Deuteronomy 7:9 supports Israel’s faithfulness when God declares his faithfulness to Israel. Certainly God is a faithful husband to Israel even when they are unfaithful.

 

The concept of holiness is supported by use of the word blameless, which carries the connotation of purity or spotless. Hebrews 7:26 associates the purity of Christ with his office as the High Priest of the new covenant. The Association of this word to the practice of sacrifice reinforces what was said in the earlier chapters about our responsibility to be a living sacrifice. The absence of purity reflects poorly on Jesus. Being a pure sacrifice reflects well on him. Jesus separates us by making us blameless (4).

Endnotes

 

(1) Neufeld would have us believe that these are the response to being elected. From this we would assume that he means after the original forgiveness has been applied. His inference that being holy and blameless is an activity is not something with which Paul would agree. (Thomas R. Yoder Neufeld, Ephesians, Believers Church Bible Commentary (Scottsdale, PA: Herald Press, 2001), 44.)

(2) Seebass would contend that the "basic idea is not that of separation (though this is favoured by some scholars, cf. N. H. Snaith, The Distinctive Ideas of the Old Testament, 1944, 24 ff.), but the positive thought of encounter which inevitably demands certain modes of response." (H. Seebass et al., “Holy, Consecrate, Sanctify, Saints, Devout,” New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, Lothar Coenen, Erich Beyreuther, and Hans Bietenhard, eds. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1986), 224.). Yet later in the article regarding this verse in Deuteronomy he writes, “Another aspect of holiness occurs in the Deuteronomic formula “the holy people.” In so far as the people are holy to Yahweh, their God (Deut. 7:6; 14:2, 21; 26:19), the formula explains their separation from the practices and cult objects of foreign religions” (Ibid., 226).

(3) Jeffrey H. Tigay, Deuteronomy, The JPS Torah Commentary (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1996), 86.

(4) Justification is the term that best depicts this. We are “just as if” we had not sinned. That is, God has put us in a state where we are considered blameless or not accountable for our past actions.

* This page is an excerpt from is my book Non-Negotiable: Focusing on the Essentials of the Faith. The book goes into more detail on many of these issues.

 

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Last update: 6 September 2015

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