Do You Want to Be Called Holy?

By Mark D. Roberts

July 26, 2022

Scripture – Isaiah 4:3 (NIV)

Those who are left in Zion, who remain in Jerusalem, will be called holy, all who are recorded among the living in Jerusalem.


The prophecies of Isaiah envision a time in the future when the people of God will honor and serve God. In that time they “will be called holy.” That is, they will be seen as special to the Lord and as the Lord’s servants on the earth. They will do God’s bidding in God’s way.


In the opening chapters of Isaiah, God condemns Israel for its immorality and godlessness, predicting a day of painful judgment. The “sinful nation,” a “brood of evildoers,” “have spurned the Holy One of Israel and turned their back on him” (Isaiah 1:4). This unholy people will suffer the painful judgment of God.

Yet, that is not the whole story. In those same opening chapters of Isaiah, the Lord also looks forward to a time of restoration, when the people and land will be blessed. In that time, those who have survived the judgment “will be called holy.”

What does it mean to be holy? We don’t hear the word “holy” very often in contemporary English, except perhaps in the critical phrase “holier than thou.” Holy people are thought to be self-righteous at best and quite strange at worst. You probably don’t want people in your workplace calling you holy.

Yet the biblical notion of holiness doesn’t have this negative connotation. To be holy is to be special—special to the Lord. Holy things are not for ordinary use because they are dedicated to God—say, for use in the temple. Holy people, by analogy, are set apart by God for relationship with God and for God’s own purposes. Holiness isn’t simply a matter of being separate from the world. It is being distinct from the world to be fully devoted to and invested in God’s kingdom.

If we jump ahead several centuries, we learn in the New Testament that all who receive God’s grace through Christ are holy people. We have been set apart by God for an intimate relationship with him and for participation in God’s cosmic work. If we are holy in this sense, we aren’t cut off from the world. In fact, like Jesus, we are intimately involved with this world and its people. But we are different, in heart and in action, in commitment and calling, because of our relationship to a holy God.

The point, of course, is not to be called holy, whether this is meant positively or negatively. Rather, the point is to be holy, to be people set apart by God for God’s work in the world. As holy people, we give ourselves to God and to others in God’s name. We are holy servants, holy healers, and holy restorers.


How do you understand holiness?

In what ways do you live as a holy person?

How do you reflect the distinctiveness of God in your daily life? In your workplace?

Is it possible to be holy, in the biblical sense, without being some kind of oddball or offending others?


Pay attention to how you work this week. See if you are aware of doing or saying things differently because you belong to the Lord.


Gracious God, even as you once called Israel to be holy, so you have called us. Those of us who know you through Christ have been set apart from this world. Yet we remain in this world to bear witness to you through our words and deeds.

Help us, dear Lord, to be a holy people. Teach us how we are to be different from the world and its values. Yet, teach us also how to reach this world, how to extend your love and grace to the people around us. May our holiness be like your holiness: separate in crucial ways from the world, yet profoundly engaged with the world and its people. Amen.

Find all Life for Leaders devotions here. Explore what the Bible has to say about work at the unique website of our partners, the High Calling archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project. Reflection on today’s Life for Leaders theme can be found here: Worship the Lord in the Splendor of His Holiness

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Mark D. Roberts

Senior Strategist

Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders,...

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