Holiness is not contagious, but unholiness is

Holiness is not contagious, but unholiness is
Can someone “catch” holiness from you? Can you “catch” unholiness from someone?

After the Jews returned to the Promised Land following their exile in Babylon they had to be taught that holiness is not contagious, but unholiness is. They believed two lies:

  1. Doing holy things like rebuilding the temple or offering sacrifices would make them holy.
  2. Being in the Holy Land made them holy.

They thought this would make them holy without actually being holy themselves. God had an important message for them, which he delivered through the prophet Haggai by asking two questions.

First question“If one carries holy meat in the fold of his garment, and with the edge he touches bread or stew, wine or oil, or any food, will it become holy?” (Hag 2:12a).

Holiness is not contagious!

Haggai asked, what happens when something holy touches something unholy? Does the unholy object become holy? The priests correctly answered, “No” (Hag 2:12b). Holiness doesn’t rub off on unholy things. Just as…

  1. Healthy people can’t walk through a hospital and touch sick people and make them healthy.
  2. Non-spoiled food can’t come into contact with spoiled food and make it non-spoiled.

Second question“If one who is unclean because of a dead body touches any of these, will it be unclean?” (Hag 2:13a).

This question presents the opposite situation of the first. What happens when something unholy touches something holy? Does the holy object become unholy? The priests correctly answered, “Yes” (Hag 2:13b).

Unholiness is contagious!

If something unholy comes into contact with something holy, can it make the holy object unholy? The priests correctly answered, “No” (Hag 2:12b). Unholiness does rub off on holy things.

  1. Sick people can spread sickness to healthy people.
  2. Spoiled food can spread mold or bacteria to non-spoiled food.

The first question reveals holiness can’t be transferred, but the second question reveals unholiness can be transferred.

Even though people understand this physically, there seems to be a tougher time understanding it spiritually. People will say they’re going to take something from the world and sanctify, redeem, or make it holy, but if it’s unholy in the world, it’s unholy in your life. We can’t bring unholy things from the world into our homes or churches and make them holy or sanctified, but they can make us unholy and affect our sanctification.

Jerry Bridges said, Holiness begins in our minds and works out in our actions. That being true, what we allow to enter our minds is critically important. The television programs we watch, the movies we attend, the books and magazines we read, the music we listen to, and the conversations we have all affect our minds. We need to evaluate the effects of these using Philippians 4:8 as a standard. Are the thoughts stimulated by these true? Are they pure? Lovely? Admirable, excellent, or praiseworthy?”

The principle applies to relationships too.

The Old and New Testaments discuss the negative affect people can have on other:

  • Do not make friends with a hot-tempered person, do not associate with one easily angered, or you may learn their ways and get yourself ensnared. (Pro 22:24-25). The angry person learns to control himself by spending time with a patient person. Instead, the patient person learns to become angry.
  • The companion of fools will be destroyed (Pro 13:20b). The companion of fools doesn’t save fools through their relationship.
  • Go from the presence of a foolish man (Pro 14:7a). You don’t spend time with fools so you can teach them knowledge and wisdom.
  • Do not be deceived: “Evil company corrupts good habits” (1 Cor 15:33). Good company doesn’t fix bad habits. Instead, we can be deceived into believing associating with the wrong people won’t hurt us. We can believe their poor behavior isn’t “contagious.”
  • Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers (2 Cor 6:14).

What are Christians – or holy people (1 Pet 2:5, 9) – supposed to do? Preach the Gospel! Seek to see spiritual healing take place in their life. This is the example Jesus set. Believers don’t have the power to change other believers, say nothing about unbelievers. But the Gospel can. When people embrace Christ, the Holy Spirit can accomplish the saving and sanctifying work that’s necessary.

Have you ever found yourself learning “bad habits” when you became too close to someone? Have you shared the Gospel with someone and seen the Holy Spirit introduce holiness into that person’s life? Share your testimony below.

You can listen to the sermon this is drawn from here.

13 thoughts on “Holiness is not contagious, but unholiness is

  1. My first thought was what about Jesus? Didn’t he hang out with the un-holy? But then as I really analyzed what I was thinking I realized that Jesus did not spend his time with people who had no desire to be transformed and made holy. These people wanted what Jesus was offering. He didn’t spend his time in unholy ways with people doing unholy things. He spent his time in holy ways with people who understood their own unholiness and wanted to follow Him. The self-righteous religious leaders of the day who did not recognize their own unholiness/Un-cleaness considered the people Jesus spent time with as “unclean” or “not holy” but they were basing those judgements on the wrong things. Jesus knew each man’s heart. He did not spend time with the unholy religious leaders, and instead spent time with people who wanted to become holy. In my modern day application I would apply it to my life by thinking about the difference of going out and joining a gay pride parade to show my love for gay people (unholy), vs. reaching out in love to a gay person and telling them the truth in love, giving them the hope of the gospel, and sharing about God’s forgiveness and showing them they have the option go and sin no more (holy). The gay pride parade example would start to rub off on me, change my thinking, pervert my views on Christianity and make me less like Jesus (un-holy) whereas the sharing the truth with a person is confirming my faith, and making me closer to Jesus as I emulate Him (Holy). Correct me in any area where I am off base please.

    1. Hi Amanda,
      Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

      It is an interesting situation that clearly requires some balance: the bible warns against the danger of associating with people who can negatively influence, but we know we should have relationships with unbelievers or else how would we share the Gospel? I wrote a post discussing this exact topic. I hope you’ll check it out: https://scottlapierre.org/physician-not-close-friend/

      I’d like to respond more fully, but I feel like I’ll be simply repeating the info I put in that post.

      No, I don’t think you’re off base at all. I think your conclusion is perfect!

  2. I should clarify: Jesus’ ministry suggests that holiness is contagious and he demonstrated this by being with the unholy in unholy places. However, it does not suggest that we should participate in the patterns of life of the unholy.

    1. Hello Keith,
      I understand what you’re saying.

      There’s a balance that needs to be struck regarding how far we go when it comes to being like Jesus. For example:

      1 Peter 2:19 For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps:

      22 “Who committed no sin,
      Nor was deceit found in His mouth”;
      23 who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously;

      Peter gives a few ways we should be like Jesus: experience suffering like He did, don’t sin with our mouths when suffering, don’t take vengeance, etc.

      So yes, we should be like Jesus. But do we think we can (or should try) to feed thousands with a few loaves? Heal everyone that comes near us? Walk on water? Raise people from the dead? Die on a cross?

      There’s only one Son of God. Yes, He could “spread holiness” you might say, but we’re not Him. He could reach out and touch the leper (sinner), and not only not get leprosy in the process, but heal the leprosy (sin). We can’t do that. Trying would be foolish.

      Instead, we spread the Gospel. We let the Lord do His work. But we don’t think we can do that work ourselves.

      You might check out this post where I try to explain the balance: https://scottlapierre.org/physician-not-close-friend/

      Thank you for your thoughts!

      In Christ,

  3. Hi Pastor Scott, came across this post while working on a presentation. Jesus’ ministry seems to demonstrate a contrary understanding to the one you have portrayed here: Jesus specifically acted in contrast to the holiness movements of 2nd Temple Judaism and intentionally put himself among the unclean of society. You should check out Holiness and Ecclesiology in the New Testament by Brower & Johnson or Holiness in the Gospels by Kent Brower http://www.amazon.com/Holiness-Ecclesiology-Testament-Kent-Brower/dp/0802845606

    1. You’re absolutely right, Keith! That’s exactly what Jesus did.

      The question is, should we do that? Many verses in Scripture encourage us to limit our exposure and closeness to sinful people. I didn’t say we don’t share the Gospel, but we consider how close we are. Please see my previous post regarding how much of Jesus’ life is descriptive versus prescriptive for us.

      Thanks for your thoughts!

  4. I am little confused on this:
    Haggai 2:13 Haggai said, “If one who is unclean because of a dead body touches any of these, will it be unclean?”

    Kandie 🙂

    1. Hi Kandie,
      Good question. Let me know if this is what you’re asking…

      Haggai basically asked, “If someone becomes unclean by touching a dead body and then touches food, does it make the food unclean as well?” and the answer is, “Yes.”

      “Clean” and “unclean” in the Old Testament related to ceremony or being able to take part in the religious life of the nation. There were various ways to become unclean, and therefore unable to participate until you were clean; one of those ways was through touching a dead body.

      Please let me know if this answers your question and/or if you’re wondering anything else Kandie!

    2. I didn’t know that one became unclean by touching a dead body. Seems like somewhere I was reading about that, that a person had to wait until sundown or the next day to be clean again. Might of read it wrong.

    3. Right, I should’ve put the locations in Scripture where that’s discussed. Here you go Kandie:
      Leviticus 5:2 ‘Or if a person touches any unclean thing, whether it is the carcass of an unclean beast, or the carcass of unclean livestock, or the carcass of unclean creeping things, and he is unaware of it, he also shall be unclean and guilty.
      Numbers 19:11 ‘He who touches the dead body of anyone shall be unclean seven days. 12 He shall purify himself with the water on the third day and on the seventh day; then he will be clean. But if he does not purify himself on the third day and on the seventh day, he will not be clean.

Do you have a question or thought? If so, please share!