In the Old Testament there was a view that things fell into one of two categories. Either it was sacred or it was secular, holy or profane. Those categories did not mean things were either good or evil but that they were either set apart for special purposes or that they were ordinary or common. This distinction has to do with how something is used or what its purpose is. For instance, the articles used for temple or tabernacle worship were holy. That means they were only to be used for sacred purposes as defined by God. They wouldn’t go into the temple and throw a big BBQ bash using the tongs, altar, etc…all seemingly great for a nice dinner gathering. But using it like that would be taking something holy and sacred and using it for common or ordinary purposes. It would be using those items and that location in a way inconsistent with what God prescribed in scripture.
In the Old Testament the holy or sacred could be broken down into three categories: people, things, and places.
People – In Leviticus 20:26 we see the Hebrews were to be set apart as a holy nation. This meant God’s people aren’t supposed to act like the other nations because they are holy, set apart, and on earth for a different purpose. We see that in the New Testament in verses like 1 Peter 2:9 – God’s people are still a holy nation. Though now that nation contains both Jews and Gentiles
Things – In Exodus 29:37 the altar is called holy. Lev 5:15-16 tells what offerings to make if someone violates God’s holy things. The point is, you don’t use the objects of worship in the tabernacle or temple however you want and for whatever purposes you want. In the New Testament there is not as much a connection with holy things as it was in the Old Testament.
Places – There were several holy places mentioned in the Old Testament, each of these represented at one time or another the presence of God on earth. Bethel (which means House of God) was considered holy by Jacob in Genesis 28 where he had a dream of angels ascending and descending from heaven – Jacob’s ladder. Sinai was holy (Exodus 19:23). Sinai was also called Horeb and this is where Moses first encountered the Lord and was told it was Holy ground (Exo 3:1-5). The tabernacle and temple were holy. Exodus 26:33-24 mentions the Holy Place and Most Holy Place. You don’t walk into the Holy Place when you want and do whatever you want. It is a holy place to be used for holy purposes.
In the New Testament we see a shift from places to people. Jesus said he was the replacement of the temple in John 2:19-22 when he cleared the temple and said he would destroy it and rebuild it in three days. Jesus also compared himself to Bethel, the house of God in John 1:51 when he said his disciples would see angels ascending and descending on him. Jesus was God in the flesh, the presence of God on earth. After Jesus went back to the Father, we are considered God’s holy place present in the earth (1 Cor 3:16). In that verse we are called a temple where the Holy Spirit dwells. In 1 Cor 6:18-20 we see what it means to be holy today. Because we are God’s holy temple we don’t do things to our bodies that are out of character of a holy place, specifically sexual immorality in this verse. Just like they weren’t to use the temple or tabernacle for common or profane uses, we aren’t to use our bodies for things that are not in line with God’s purposes for our lives.
Because we are God’s temple we are to be used for holy purposes. Just like how they couldn’t go in the tabernacle or temple and treat it however they wanted and disrespect God’s wishes, we are not to use ourselves, as God’s temple, in a way that would desecrate that temple. If forsaking the temple regulations was punishable by death (Exo 28:35, 43; 30:21) how much more serious are we to treat our own bodies that were made holy, not by washing with water, but by washing by the blood of Jesus Christ?
“Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy;
without holiness no one will see the Lord.” – Hebrews 12:14