The Bible’s answer

To be holy refers to a state of being set apart from defilement. The Hebrew word translated “holy” comes from a term meaning “separate.” Thus, what is holy is separated from common use, or held sacred, especially by virtue of its being clean and pure.

God is holy to the supreme degree. The Bible says: “There is no one holy like Jehovah.” * (1 Samuel 2:2) God therefore rightly sets the standard of what is holy.

The word “holy” can be applied to anything that is directly connected to God, especially things that are set aside for exclusive use in worship. For example, the Bible speaks of:

  • Holy places: God told Moses near the burning bush: “The place where you are standing is holy ground.”​—Exodus 3:2-5.

  • Holy events: The ancient Israelites worshipped Jehovah at regular religious festivals called “holy conventions.”​—Leviticus 23:37.

  • Holy objects: Items used in God’s worship at the ancient temple in Jerusalem were called “holy utensils.” (1 Kings 8:4) Such sacred items were to be treated with great respect, although they were never to be worshipped themselves. *

Can an imperfect person be holy?

Yes. God commands Christians: “You must be holy, because I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:​16) Of course, imperfect humans could never attain to God’s perfect standard of holiness. Nevertheless, humans who obey God’s righteous laws can be considered “holy and acceptable to God.” (Romans 12:1) A person who strives to be holy reflects this in his words and actions. For example, he or she follows the Bible’s advice to “be holy and abstain from sexual immorality” and to “become holy yourselves in all your conduct.”​—1 Thessalonians 4:3; 1 Peter 1:​15.

Could a holy standing with God be lost?

Yes. If someone abandoned God’s standards of conduct, God would no longer view that person as holy. For instance, the Bible book of Hebrews is addressed to “holy brothers,” yet it warns that they could develop “a wicked heart lacking faith by drawing away from the living God.”​—Hebrews 3:​1, 12.

Misconceptions about being holy

Misconception: Holiness can be attained by self-denial.

Fact: The Bible reveals that “harsh treatment of the body,” or extreme self-denial, is “of no value” to God. (Colossians 2:​23) Instead, God wants us to enjoy good things. “Everyone should eat and drink and find enjoyment for all his hard work. It is the gift of God.”​—Ecclesiastes 3:​13.

Misconception: Celibacy makes one more holy.

Fact: While a Christian may choose to remain unmarried, celibacy does not in itself provide a holy standing with God. It is true that those who remain single can give undistracted attention to worship. (1 Corinthians 7:​32-​34) However, the Bible shows that those who are married can also be holy. In fact, at least one of Jesus’ apostles​—Peter​—was married.​—Matthew 8:​14; 1 Corinthians 9:5.

^ par. 4 Jehovah is God’s personal name. Hundreds of Bible verses associate this name with the words “holy” and “holiness.”

^ par. 8 The Bible condemns the worship of religious relics.​—1 Corinthians 10:14.