Nov 22, 2010

"Be Holy Because I Am Holy"

For I, the LORD, am the one who brought you up from the land of Egypt, that I might be your God. Therefore, you must be holy because I am holy.

The chapters of Leviticus following chapter 10 deal with the issue of clean and unclean things. That which is clean is allowed to be in contact with the holy things (priests, altar, tabernacle, etc.). That which is unclean should be kept separate. It's difficult for us today to make sense of why certain things were regarded as clean or unclean. Even scholars have not reached a consensus about such matters. What is clear, however, is that the notions of clean and unclean helped the Jewish people structure their lives intentionally around the worship of God. Worship wasn't simply something they did once in a while when they brought sacrifices to the tabernacle. Rather, they were invited and required to honor God in everyday activities, such as eating.

Leviticus 11 focuses on the kinds of animals that are clean or unclean. The Israelites were to avoid all contact with unclean animals. As the chapter concludes, the Lord calls his people to more than simply eating the right foods. He says, "For I, the LORD, am the one who brought you up from the land of Egypt, that I might be your God. Therefore, you must be holy because I am holy" (11:45). Talk about setting the bar high! God's people are to be holy even as God is holy.

What does this mean? In Scripture, holiness is a rich concept. It is centered in the notion of being set apart from common things for a special, divine purpose. Priests are holy, for example, because they have been singled out by God for service in the tabernacle. They are to live differently from those around them so that they can be fully devoted to their holy calling.

In the New Testament, all Christians are holy. All of us who have received God's grace through Christ have been set apart by God for him and his purposes. Even as God delivered the Israelites from bondage in Egypt, thus forming a holy people, so he has delivered us from bondage to sin and death and called us to be his people. Thus, we are to be holy because God is holy.

In practice, this means that we are to imitate God rather than the ways of the world. Like the Old Testament priests, we are to see our whole lives as dedicated to God's service. Yet, our service happens, not in the tabernacle or temple, but in the world, as we offer all that we are to God as "a living and holy sacrifice" (Rom. 12:1). Thus, our holiness does not remove us from the world. Rather, it sends us into the world even as God sent his Son into the world (John 17:9-19). We serve the Lord by serving others, living for God's purposes and according to his standards. We imitate him by loving others even as he has loved us.

QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: When you hear the word "holy," what comes to mind? How can we be holy and still be part of this world?

PRAYER: Gracious and holy God, you have set us apart for yourself. Through Christ, we are your people, your servants, your emissaries in this world. What an honor and blessing . . . and a high calling!

Help us, dear Lord, to be like you. Teach us when to avoid the ways of this world in order to be conformed to your likeness. Yet, help us not to withdraw from the world into which you have sent us. May we learn how to live in the world but not of it, conformed to you even as we are being transformed by your power.

All praise, glory, honor, and power be to you, holy God! Amen.

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