Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?15 What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? 16 What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said,

“I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them,
and I will be their God,
and they shall be my people.
17 Therefore go out from their midst,
and be separate from them, says the Lord,
and touch no unclean thing;
then I will welcome you,
18 and I will be a father to you,
and you shall be sons and daughters to me,
says the Lord Almighty.”

1 Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God. – 2 Corinthians 6:15-7:1

It seems that holiness is one of those subjects that is extremely difficult to address without getting into trouble. We either fall off into legalism with a set of rules for conduct and thus completely fail the objective of being holy (we simply become 21st century Pharisees) or, we ignore God’s requirement of holiness altogether. Neither position is acceptable to Scripture, our sole rule of faith and life.

In some segments of the Body of Christ holiness is defined as not drinking alcohol, not doing illegal drugs, not smoking, not going to movies, not going to dances and women not wearing makeup or showing any skin at all. There are two problems with this approach. 1. Most of these behaviors are not addressed directly in Scripture, or if discussed they are not prohibited. 2. This rules-based holiness doesn’t touch on the heart, the seat of true holiness.

What is Paul talking about when he tells them not to be unequally yoked with unbelievers, etc.? There was a contingent among the believers at Corinth who resisted Paul’s instruction and he didn’t want to have another painful visit with the Corinthians to deal with their problems.

But I call God to witness against me – it was to spare you that I refrained from coming again to Corinth. Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, for you stand firm in your faith. For I made up my mind not to lame another painful visit to you. – 2 Corinthians 1:23-2:1

Paul was concerned that those who were resisting his instruction may not, in fact, be believers.

Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test! – 2 Corinthians 13:5

So, when Paul writes not to be unequally yoked with unbelievers, he is apparently referring to these members of the Corinthian church who are not submitting to the Apostle’s instruction.

The image of being “unequally yoked” is not obvious to we non-Greek readers. The Greek word is heterozygeo and means to be “hitched up” or even crossbred with another animal who is not the same. Clearly, Paul is concerned about the influence that unbelieving members of the church will have on the believers enticing them to sin.

Paul then makes another powerful reference not completely obvious to we non-Greek readers. When he says, we are the temple of God the word is naos which refers to the Most Holy place in the temple, the place where the shekinah glory of God appeared over the mercy seat.  Now, we who follow Jesus, are the Most Holy place. It is then wrong for us to be inappropriately hitched to unbelievers. I don’t believe this separation means we have no relationship or friendship with unbelieving people, but that we remain separate from their worldview and live faithful to the Biblical worldview.

Paul, in his quotes from the Old Testament, gives three commands and three promises: the commands are “go out, be separate, and touch no unclean thing,” and the promises are, “I will welcome you, I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me.”

These promises are our motivation to holiness.

Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.

It is important to note that Paul calls us to cleanse ourselves from every defilement of both body and spirit. Often we separate the physical from the spiritual and emphasize one or the other. The Scriptures never make this false dichotomy. God is concerned with the whole man, body, and spirit.

Holiness looks like the fruit of the Spirit.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. – Galatians 5:22-23

So holiness is produced by the Spirit as we cooperate with his work in us.

 If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. – Galatians 5:25