“Say this to the entire community of Israel: You must be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy.“ – Leviticus 19:2 NLT
We sometimes think of holiness as this super-spiritual, almost ethereal quality that is hard to describe, and even harder to achieve. It is some kind of ubber-piety that only an elite few ever achieve. For most of us it appears unattainable and unfathomable. Yet, here we have God telling “the entire community of Israel” – everybody has to be holy because God Himself is holy. It is not some kind of optional condition, but a command – a divine expectation. But how were they supposed to do it? Well, God goes on to explain. They were to show great respect for the father and mother. There were to observe the Sabbath days of rest. They were to refrain from putting their trust in idols instead of God. They were to offer their sacrifices properly. They were to enjoy God’s blessings (the harvest of their crops) but always keep the needy and the foreigner in mind. They were not to steal, deceive or cheat one another. They were to hold the name of the Lord as holy by not using it lightly or flippantly. They were to not defraud their neighbor. They were to treat their employees with dignity. They were to show the disabled respect as fellow children of God. They were to judge fairly and not show favoritism. They were to refrain from slander and malicious gossip. They were to protect one another. They were to love and not hate, confronting lovingly when required. They were to refrain from seeking revenge or bearing grudges, and love their neighbor as themselves. They must obey all the commands of God.
Do all of these sound a little bit familiar? They should. They are an elaboration the Ten Commandments. God is reiterating His original list of laws and expanding on their meaning. Then He goes on and gives them further instructions regarding such things as the mating of animals, sexual relations among humans, planting and harvesting, diet and food, personal hygiene, witchcraft, prostitution, body piercings, the elderly, foreign relations, and business ethics.
What’s the point? What does all this have to do with holiness? Everything. It is a different way of living. God is outlining His expectations for His people. They were going to be entering into a new land – a land filled with all kinds of people who lived apart from God and ignorant of His ways. God wanted His people to be distinct and different. He wanted their actions and behaviors to be different. The point is not so much the behavior as it is the heart behind the behaviors. It wasn’t doing these things that would make them holy. It was the love and obedience toward God that spurred their behavior that would set them apart and make them holy and distinct. We must always be careful to not confuse our behavior as the mark of our holiness. We could do all these things and still be apart from God. Wasn’t that the problem with the Pharisees? Jesus had this to say about them: “He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: ‘‘These people honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.'” (Mark 7:7 NIV). The Pharisees were experts at keeping the Law, but didn’t do so with a right heart. Their motivation was wrong. They thought they could make themselves righteous. They were self-righteous. The New Living Translation puts it this way: “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far away. Their worship is a farce, for they replace God’s commands with their own man–made teachings.” (Mark 7:7 NLT). They had taken God’s commands and come up with their own. They had added to His original list, because they thought the key was in the keeping of the commands. But God was looking at the heart.
The same was true in Moses’ day. God was looking for obedience, but from the heart. And He is still looking for the same thing today. He wants us to obey Him because we love Him. That is what will set us apart and make us holy. We are to live distinctive lives, out of love for Him. We are to live according to a higher standard – His. We are to behave and act differently. Because we belong to Him. We are not to live like the world. Instead, we are to reflect to the world a different way of living, commanded by God, but also empowered by God through the indwelling Holy Spirit. He has given us the requirements for righteous living and the capacity to keep them. And when the world sees that, they sit up and take notice. Because we are being holy as He is holy. Nothing ethereal, just practical.
Father, You have called me to a life of holiness and given me the capacity to pull it off. Continue to show me how to live a life that is set apart and distinct – for Your glory and to show the world around me the greatness of my God. Amen
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men