The phrase ‘set apart’ appears frequently throughout the Bible. But what exactly does it mean for something or someone to be set apart? In this comprehensive article, we’ll explore the meaning of ‘set apart’ in biblical context.
If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: In the Bible, ‘set apart’ means to be separated and dedicated for a special purpose by God.
We’ll look at various examples of things and people described as ‘set apart’ in Scripture. We’ll examine the original Hebrew and Greek words translated as ‘set apart’ and study their meanings. And we’ll discuss the implications of being set apart for believers today.
The Meaning of ‘Set Apart’ in the Old Testament
‘Set Apart’ as qadash in Hebrew
The Hebrew word most often translated as “set apart” in the Old Testament is qadash. It carries the meaning of something or someone being “separated” or “consecrated” for a special purpose. When God commands something or someone to be “set apart,” it means they are designated and equipped for God’s holy service.
People Set Apart for God’s Service
Certain people were set apart for special service to God in the Old Testament. The priests, like Aaron and his descendants, were set apart to serve God in the tabernacle/temple and offer sacrifices (Exodus 28:1). The prophets were set apart to speak God’s word to His people (Jeremiah 1:5).
The Nazirites were set apart for a time of special consecration to the Lord (Numbers 6:2).
Places and Objects Set Apart for Sacred Use
In addition to people, places and objects were also set apart and consecrated for the Lord’s purposes. The tabernacle and temple were set apart as sacred spaces to meet with God (Exodus 29:43-44). The altar and furnishings were set apart and anointed for offering sacrifices (Exodus 30:26-29).
The Sabbath day was set apart as holy (Genesis 2:3).
Israel Set Apart as God’s Chosen Nation
The nation of Israel as a whole was set apart from all other nations as belonging to God. They were set apart to be a “kingdom of priests” and a “holy nation” (Exodus 19:6). God set them apart through his covenants and the gift of his law (Deuteronomy 7:6).
Their set-apart status as God’s special possession was signified through practices like circumcision, Sabbath observance, and dietary laws (Leviticus 20:26).
The Meaning of ‘Set Apart’ in the New Testament
‘Set Apart’ as hagiazo in Greek
In the New Testament, the Greek verb hagiazo is commonly translated as “set apart”, “sanctify”, or “make holy”. It comes from the adjective hagios meaning “holy”. When believers are described as being “set apart”, it carries the sense of being made holy and dedicated to God’s purposes.
Believers Set Apart Through Salvation
The New Testament teaches that when a person puts their faith in Jesus for salvation, they become “set apart” from the world and sin. 2 Thessalonians 2:13 says “God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth.”
Here sanctification refers to being set apart in Christ.
Hebrews 10:10 also connects sanctification with salvation, stating “we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” Believers are positionally sanctified and set apart for God’s glory when they are saved.
Set Apart to Serve God and Bear Spiritual Fruit
In addition to being set apart at conversion, Scripture speaks of sanctification as an ongoing process of spiritual growth for believers. As Christians walk in obedience to God’s Word, they become more set apart from the sinful ways of the world.
Romans 6:22 states “But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life.” God’s desire is that set apart believers increasingly bear the fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).
Set Apart from the World’s Ways
Because believers are set apart, they are called to live differently than the world. 1 Peter 1:14-15 exhorts “As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do.”
Being set apart includes fleeing from sexual immorality, impurity, lust and other sins (1 Thessalonians 4:3-7). It means rejecting ungodly attitudes like greed, anger, and bitterness. Instead, God’s sanctified people are to clothe themselves in Christ-like virtues (Colossians 3:12).
While set apart from the world, Christians are called to go into the world as salt and light – sharing the gospel and making disciples for God’s glory (Matthew 5:13-16).
Being Set Apart Today
Set Apart for God’s Purposes
As Christians, we are called to be set apart for God’s purposes (Romans 1:1). This means dedicating our lives to serving God’s kingdom and living according to His standards, not the world’s. We strive for holiness and righteousness as we carry out the unique mission God has for each of us.
Scripture urges us: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2).
Set Apart Through Obedience and Holiness
A key way believers are set apart is through obedience to God and pursuit of holiness (1 Peter 1:14-16). As we read God’s Word, follow His commands, and allow the Holy Spirit to transform us, we grow spiritually and become more Christlike.
Our thoughts, words, and actions increasingly align with God’s standards. We turn from sinful lifestyles and seek righteousness. We also separate ourselves from influences that hinder our faith. This intentional spiritual growth results in lives marked by godliness and virtue.
Set Apart While Remaining Engaged in the World
Despite being set apart, Christians are not completely isolated from the world. Jesus calls us to be “in the world but not of it” (John 17:14-18). We strive to impact nonbelievers positively while avoiding compromise. As Tim Keller puts it, “We are to be in the world but not of the world.
Our separation is, in one sense real […] Yet we are sent into the world.” We’re to be “salt and light” – illuminating spiritual truth and improving society (Matthew 5:13-16). So while set apart for God’s kingdom purposes, we actively yet carefully engage the secular world.
Set Apart as a Community of Believers
The Bible does not depict holiness and obedience as purely individual pursuits. Rather, Scripture emphasizes spiritual growth within a community of believers. As Christians gather in local churches, small groups, accountability partnerships, and other settings, they encourage each other toward greater Christlikeness and faithfulness to God’s callings (Hebrews 10:23-25).
They rejoice together over answered prayers and victories over sin while mourning failures. And they stimulate one another to love and good deeds through fellowship. So the body of Christ is set apart collectively as members care for one another.
To be set apart means to be singled out and dedicated for God’s purposes. Throughout Scripture, we see how God set apart people, objects, places, and even entire nations for His divine plans.
As Christians today, we are set apart at salvation. And we are called to continue living set apart lives by pursuing holiness, obedience to God’s commands, and fulfilling the good works He has planned for us.