what does it mean to BE HOLY?

Brian Christopher Coulter —  February 4, 2015

An excerpt from BE HOLY

First Peter states, “be holy yourselves in all your conduct; for it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’”[1] What do you think it means to be holy? We find it again in Ephesians when we read that God “chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy.”[2] And in the last chapter of the last book of the Bible we read, “Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy.”[3]

The command to “be holy” echoes throughout scripture and should be understood as a challenge to live our lives differently. Over and over we read passages in which God calls us to repent or turn from what we know and reorient our lives in a new direction. God calls us to be holy—to orient our lives in a new direction—to be set apart for, with, and from.

This is where it gets fascinating to me. People seem to get confused about why we are called to be holy. We are not called to be holy for God. God does not need us to accomplish God’s purpose in this world. God is God. God can do anything with or without us. God does not benefit from us choosing to be holy…we do. We are the ones who benefit from being holy.

Living a “normal” life today can lead us to frustration, disappointment, and empty overindulgence. Differentiating yourself from the “normal” crowd is often a very good thing. We are not invited to be holy because God needs worker drones; God invites us to be holy because it is a better way for us to experience and live life. When we make the choice to be holy, we find a richer, fuller existence. When we make that choice, we find satisfaction for cravings we did not even know we had. When we choose to live a holy life, we are choosing to live the way we were created to live.

This book will primarily be for young adults—the “missing age group” in many churches. Mainline Protestant denominations often lose young adults during college, and only a few of them find their way back when they reproduce and want their children to be baptized. They vanish. They are absent from our communities. I do not think this is due to their failure as Christians. I think this is our failure as the church.

Three things that we are all searching for as we transition from youth to adulthood are identity, belonging, and purpose.[4] We want to know who we are, where we belong, and why we are here. Unfortunately, our churches do not always help us with this search. The church is much better at saying what it stands against than what it stands for.[5] Rather than focusing on who-what-why we are, the church all too often points to who we should not be and what we should not do, all the while hoping that we never ask, “Why not?”

This is why scholars say Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is so pervasive within our congregations.[6] It is a diluted form of religion which professes that all we need to do is live a pretty good life and play nice with others so that God will take care of us. The problem with this line of thinking is that good and bad things happen in life regardless of your ethics or church affiliation. The world does not revolve around you and it is not solely focused on your happiness. God is not a divine vending machine dispensing to us whatever we think we need at any given moment.

So why should young adults come to church if the church is failing to help them transition into adulthood and telling them a lie?

In this book, speaking for the church as a young adult, I address these issues as I remind us of our calling to “be holy.” And while this book is primarily for young adults, it is for anyone struggling with who they are, where they belong, and why they are here. It is for anyone looking for a better way of life. It is for anyone seeking to expose flimsy, insipid faith and reveal true, authentic Christianity. It is really for everyone. This book is dedicated to fleshing out what it means to be holy and how we can find and develop our sense of identity, belonging, and purpose through this invitation.


copies of BE HOLY: Find Identity / Find Belonging / Find Purpose are now available through Chalice PressAmazon, Barnes & Noble, Cokesbury and you are invited to bring your questions to a livestream conversation tonight 2/4 at 6PT/9ET


[1] NRSV, 1 Peter 1:15-16

[2] NRSV, Ephesians 1:4

[3] NRSV, Revelation 22:11

[4] Rodger Nishioka, The Roots of Who We Are (Louisville: Bridge Resources, 1997).

[5] David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons, UnChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity … And Why It Matters (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2007).

[6] Kenda Creasy Dean, Almost Christian: What The Faith Of Our Teenagers Is Telling The American Church (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010).

Brian Christopher Coulter

Posts Twitter Facebook

Brian is currently serving at First Presbyterian Church in Aiken, South Carolina. Brian is a husband, father, pastor, author of BE HOLY, and a ping-pong champion.