Live holy lives, He says.
Be holy just like Him, He says.
Our God is pure and perfect and has provided a way for us to have relationship with him through Holy Sacrifice. But part of this covenant agreement is that we live holy lives.
But we’re sinners, born into and living in … sin.
Is this command even possible?
The Leviticus passage (Exodus 25:1 – Numbers 10:10) was intended to instruct the Israelites on how to do just that.
But do any of these laws still have relevance today?
To work that out, let’s look at the intention behind the instruction. Throughout the Leviticus passage, the term “ceremonially unclean” is used 14 times.
The IVP Bible Background Commentary suggests, “ceremonial unclean” relates to etiquette. That is, social behaviours, ceremonial practices, and ethical behaviours pertaining to Israelite culture.
In short, all those practices and behaviours that were central to Israelite identity as God’s elect.
God is in the house
God hand-picked an old man and his barren wife and decided to make them a nation. He established the couple and left their family to grow in the fertile lands of Egypt. When the time was right, He pulled them out led them into the desert so they could learn what it was to be His kids and not slaves.
He did this by dwelling among them. This was extremely awesome, but it was also a bit tricky (see Holy Sacrifice). To be in God’s presence, the Israelites not only had to be made holy, they had to live holy lives, i.e. be just like Him.
Therefore, a really important part of wandering around the wilderness was learning what holiness looked like. Enter, the Leviticus passage.
Bad news, good news
When they were ready, Yahweh delivered the Israelites to the Promised Land and planted them as His light to the nations. However, for them to be effective in this role, they had to learn to follow His ways and not adopt the practices of the locals.
The bad news was they were bound to fail.
The good news however, was God knew this was going to happen. So, He established boundaries for them to live within to keep them close. He also taught them that when they did fall away, they could always turn around and come back.
First thing was to establish Holy Sacrifice enabling genuine relationship with Him.
The next part of the curriculum was teaching, through everyday practices, the importance of keeping sacred things set apart from the unholy. For example, don’t sew two kinds of seeds in the same field, and don’t wear clothes woven from two different fibres.
However, this did not mean foreigners weren’t welcome. On the contrary. Right from the outset, laws were established for non-Israelites to join their holy community. All were welcome. They just had to leave their own cultural, religious practices at the door.
The most important theme underlying … everything, was that God’s holiness is serious business; it’s a matter of life and death. Aaron’s sons learned this the hard way.
Some of the laws we read in Leviticus seem rooted in common sense. Living in the throes of a pandemic, we can understand the importance of isolation if a person or a thing is infectious.
Other laws revolving around the appropriateness … or not, of intimate relations also seem grounded in common sense.
But regardless of all the rules and regulations, there’s gold in them’ thar hills of Leviticus.
When a person unintentionally fell from the “holy life” wagon becoming literally unclean – diseased, or ceremonially unclean – etiquettely, they were banished from the camp and community life.
However, all was not lost. God left the door open by making provisions for them to come back home. Because, the bottom line was,
It’s not about right ritual, it’s all about right attitude.
For followers of Christ, God has set up camp among us … in us. Therefore, we too are expected to be holy like Him and live holy lives. And to be sure, holiness is still a life and death matter. If we want to be close to the Author of Life, we need to be pure and holy.
The good news is, this is possible.
We are heeding this call from the other side of Calvary. Thanks to Jesus’ sacrifice we have access to the Father, and we have the gift of the Holy Spirit to enable us.
But the best news of all is, just like the Israelites, when we unintentionally fall away from holy living, the Father has enabled a way back. Because at the heart of it, it’s still all about right attitude.
- What causes “ethical uncleanliness” in Christian culture?
- How can we maintain holy living?
- What is “right attitude”?