You Shall Be Holy

We’re in Leviticus with my church bible plan. It’s the book many dread reading. I get that, but there are some very interesting things in it as well. For example, God says a couple of times, “You shall be holy as I am holy.” What does that mean? I’m not going to attempt to plumb the depth of that question here, but I think we can get a good idea of what he meant to be holy.

First, let’s look at the context. God has promised the Israelites a land rich in resources, a land of milk and honey. We also know from Deuteronomy 9:4-6 that God wasn’t giving it to them as a reward for their good deeds. Indeed, God said he was doing it despite their deeds. The real reason was because of the wickedness of the people who inhabited the land. God said of these that their deeds caused the land to become unclean, “so that I punished its iniquity, and the land vomited out its inhabitants.” (Lev. 18:25)

It was clear that God meant for the Israelites to act differently than the current occupants of the land. In fact, God charged them specifically to wipe out every trace of the nations in his judgement, which Israel failed to do. The Israelites weren’t supposed to be like them at all. The were supposed to be like God.

Leviticus 19:1-2 And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them, You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.

Impossible Demands?

What does it mean to be holy? In Lev. 20:22, God told them, “You shall therefore keep all my statutes and all my rules and do them, that the land where I am bringing you to live may not vomit you out.” Do they simply need to keep all the rules or get the boot? No, because we know because God had already laid out sacrificial rites as means to atone for sin. He expects them to sin and gave them rules to make up for it. Yet, it’s not just a matter of keeping the rules. In the book of Hosea, we find the classic example of God pointing out the inadequacy of the sacrificial system.

Hosea 6:6 For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice,
    the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.

It’s a matter of the heart. It’s a matter of love. Extraordinary love for God and for other humans. That type of love doesn’t harm oneself or others in sin. Certainly, God commanded them to cause harm, even death, when people violated his commands (sin), but that type of harm is not sin. No, sin is a result of our own selfish deeds and lack of regard to God. Indeed, some of these had dire consequences.

Therefore, it’s not just a matter of following the rules. It’s a matter of having a heart that loves greatly. As the story unfolds, we find it rare that a person with a heart like that. Extremely rare. Over the centuries Israel continued to violate this command:

Leviticus 20:26 26 You shall be holy to me, for I the Lord am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine.

God eventually threw the whole nation of Israel out of the Promised Land by force.

The New Covenant

Their story isn’t done, however. God still has plans for them. Certainly, the nations that were there before have long been forgotten, never again to be raised, yet Israel, one day, will. But God had still another plan because he knew all along that Israel will fail to keep their word. We see this told in Jeremiah and Ezekiel. Let’s look at one example:

Ezekiel 36:25-27 25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.

This is what Jesus explained to Nicodemus:

John 3:5-8 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

It’s the born again that will enter, and stay, in the kingdom of God. God will put a his Spirit within these people and cause them to walk in his ways. These people will genuinely desire God because he completely changed them. Without that, we may give God lip service, but, truly, no one loves God on his/her own. (Romans 3:9-18, 11:32-36)

In the end, God is the one who makes us holy. This is something we can’t do on our own. God is the only one who can, and he does, to those whom he wills (Romans 9:15-16). If you indeed are born again, you are among a nation set apart by God to love him and worship him. He is our God, and we are his people. Only those born again are holy because he has made us holy, and we act holy only because he has changed us from the inside out. We aren’t perfect, yet, and sometime make real problems, but God will not abandon us. We will mourn our sin and he will correct us (Ezekiel 36:31-32, Hebrews 12:7-11), but we have no fear of God abandoning us or of us somehow leaving him (John 10:25-30).

If you are indeed born again, rejoice! You are among the richest people the world has ever known! If you want to read more about this, check out a previous post of mine here. And be sure to subscribe directly to this blog using the signup above and to the right. Thank you!

Father, I thank you for all this. Thank you for your mercy and your book that explains what we need to know. What a glorious day it is when I relish all that you have done for me! Amen!

Copyright © 2021 Scott Powers

Photo by Fabio Fistarol on Unsplash

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