In my previous two blog posts on the sacred/secular divide, I’ve been using the terms sacred and secular but have not stopped to define what I mean by them. According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, sacred means a: dedicated or set apart for the service or worship of a deity and b: devoted exclusively to one service or use (as of a person or purpose). Secular, according to the same source, means: not spiritual: of or relating to the physical world and not the spiritual world. Sacred is very close in its use to the word holy – “devoted entirely to a deity or the work of a deity.”[i]
In the NIV, sacred shows up early – Genesis 1:14 “And God said, “Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years.” Holy is not far behind. Genesis 2:3 says, “Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.” So holy or sacred means “set apart to God or dedicated to God’s use.”
The second occurrence of holy in the NIV is Exodus 3:5. “Do not come any closer,” God said, speaking to Moses. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” I’ve often wondered, “What made that piece of ground, that dirt, holy on that particular day?” It’s very possible Moses may have walked on that very piece of ground the day before and a hundred times previously, but on that day God says, “Where you are standing is holy ground.” There is only one thing that was different that day from all others – God’s presence.
The Expositors Bible Commentary referring to Exodus 3:5 says, “Because God was present, what had been ordinary became ‘holy ground’ and consequently ‘set apart’ for a distinct use. The place where sheep and goats had traveled just a short time ago was transformed into ‘holy ground’ by God’s presence.” [ii]
Take time to look at the use of the word(s) when it comes to the priests, their vestments, the tabernacle and its “holy” and “most holy” places. Each time it has to do with being “set apart for” or signifying “the presence of God”.
The question now becomes, where is God present today and what is to be set apart for God’s use? Paul makes that abundantly clear in 1 Cor. 3:16 when he writes, “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple.”
Does it not follow then, that if God’s presence is what makes something sacred or holy, every place one who is indwelt by God’s Spirit goes is sacred. Is that what Paul means in 1 Cor. 7:14, when he says “For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy”? Living under the same roof with one who is indwelt by God’s Spirit means you are living in a sacred or holy place. And it would seem that the same fragrance of God’s presence would be or should be evident in the community and marketplace where a believer lives and works.
We may be living in a secular or profane society and working in a secular environment, but when the follower of Jesus is present there should be an aroma of God’s presence. A kind word, a thoughtful gesture, respect for others created in the image of God, an unspoken inappropriate word, a spoken appropriate word, a word of encouragement and affirmation when honestly given, a servant attitude, respect for authority, a genuine godly love for others, a desire to see the community and the company flourish, a confession and apology when needed, a desire to see and help others grow and develop and get promoted. The list is endless, but it’s not a list of do’s and don’ts; it’s a description of living in the presence of Christ under the power of the Spirit of Christ for the glory of God.
For the believer, everything in life is important to God. Everything in life is to radiate the presence of God. Everything in life is to be set apart for His use, for His glory, for His honor. In 1 Cor. 10:31, Paul writes, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” Is there anything more routine, more daily, and more human than eating and drinking? It is all to be done in a way that makes known and makes meaningful the God we serve. There is no sacred/secular divide for the follower of Jesus.
The gospel should redeem every minute, every job, every conversation, every interaction, every act, every opportunity, every workplace – every part of a believer’s life.
[ii] [ii] Kaiser, W. C., Jr. (1990). Exodus. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers (Vol. 2, p. 316). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.
About Jim Hislop
Jim Hislop is the Director of Western Seminary's Center for Leadership Development.