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The Call for Holiness

In this week’s reading, we learned that God is holy and that we are called to be holy as he is holy. Our reading takes place from Leviticus 16:1 and continues on through Leviticus 20:27 with Ezekiel 22:1-19 and Mathew 15:10-20 serving as support texts for this portion.

In this portion, Leviticus 16 describes the Tabernacle ceremony for the festival called the Day of Atonement. Leviticus 17 establishes and lays out the rules for sacrifice and the sanctuary. Leviticus 18 describes specific laws about permitted and forbidden sexual relationships. Leviticus 19 details laws concerning our neighbors and how to live peacefully among them in love. Leviticus 20 details the punishment for child sacrifice and then gives more details on the punishment for sexual morality.

Through all of this, we see that God has established and maintains a standard of holiness for each of us. He continually utters the words, “For I am holy,” throughout the passage, sometimes right after reminding us that we are to be holy, such as Leviticus 20:26: “You shall be holy to me, for I, the LORD, am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine.”

There are three big things that we can learn from these passages describing God’s holiness:

  1. God is distinct from all other gods.
  2. God has high standards.
  3. Holiness gives us rest.

God is distinct from all other gods.

This point is not intended to suggest that there are actually other gods that exist somewhere in the cosmos. Rather, this is to explain that God alone is holy and distinct from any other god that we can create in our finite minds. God, in his wonder and grace, constantly reminds us that he is holy.

The word holy in Hebrew is קׄדֶש (kodesh), which means set-apart, or distinguished. This means that there are parts of God, if not everything, that are completely different than any other being in the universe. God’s character is like no other; even the attributes that we share with God, he possesses on unfathomable levels beyond our comprehension.

By continually charging his children with seemingly crazy commandments, he reminds us that he is unlike us and that radical is his nature. The standards by which he expects us to live are a testament to how he himself exists and operates with his kingdom. If we want to see the true character of God, we are to look at his law, and ultimately his word/law made flesh, Jesus – the perfect incarnation of God’s standards perfectly met in one perfect person.

God has high standards.

As previously mentioned, God has set high standards for us in his word. Here and in many other places throughout the Torah, God gives us commandments to live by, assuring us that if we do them, we shall live by them.

​“And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, I am the Lord your God. You shall not do as they do in the land of Egypt, where you lived, and you shall not do as they do in the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you. You shall not walk in their statutes. You shall follow my rules and keep my statutes and walk in them. I am the Lord your God. You shall therefore keep my statutes and my rules; if a person does them, he shall live by them: I am the Lord.’”
(Leviticus 18:1-5 ESV)

God expects us to be different than the world, signified here by his reminder to the former Egyptian slaves that they are to not look, talk, act, or operate in any of the ways that the Egyptians did or do. God distinguishes his people from the peoples of the world by his commandments, his standards. If we live according to God’s standards alone and not our own, we will look nothing like the world, because the world is all about vanity and selfishness.

God’s call in our lives to holiness is not a curse; rather, it is a blessing. To be given a written record of his standards, and even having given a physical representation of these commandments in Jesus, is a testament to God’s active interest in the separation and sanctification of his people from the world. That should make us feel pretty special.

Holiness gives us rest.

I believe this point is rarely thought about or taught in the pulpit. As we just said, God’s commandments are not a curse, because they give us a standard of holiness that aims to be like God himself. Through this, through walking out a life in subjection to God’s expectations of holiness and separation, we are given an identity.

Too many times, we grow up wondering just who we are. Bullying is on the rise and many children, and even adults, struggle every day with identity crisis; a crisis where they are not sure who they are or why they just don’t fit into the crowd.

God’s expectations of holiness solve this issue. God’s expectation of holiness tells us that we are special, we are different, we are particular, and that we are recklessly loved by God himself. We can rest assured that we have found our identity in God, and that is why we do not fit into the crowd most times. We have something inside of us that the world does not; we possess the same spirit that gave the command to be holy in the first place. There’s no wonder that the world looks at us like we are crazy.

We find rest here then because we do not have to keep working our entire lives to look like our friends, to be popular in the crowd, or to have the biggest following of friends. To search after this our entire lives is to never rest, because this will never be attained; there will always be someone “cooler” than you. But in God’s eyes, you are particular, and you are being sanctified and conformed to the image and likeness of his son Jesus, the very embodiment of God’s holiness.

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