Monday, July 16, 2012

Hungering for Holiness

Let me start with a confession: I never read the book of Leviticus from start to finish…until this year. I mean, after Creation and the Fall, Noah and the flood, the stories of the Patriarchs, slavery in Egypt, and the Exodus, Leviticus seemed like an engineering textbook misshelved between well-worn copies of The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Usually, I’d skim through it (or skip right over) to keep the story moving.

This time because our church is reading through the Bible together, I was motivated me to keep reading. And I discovered something incredible in the pages of Leviticus. To imagine my surprise, join me in reading through Chapter 11. God is sharing a rather detailed list of clean and unclean food with Moses and Aaron. It appears that fins + scales = clean. Flying insects + jointed legs = clean. Cud chewer + no divided hoof = unclean. The weasel, rat, and skink are also off limits, I learn.

Let’s pick up this appetizing education in verse 42:
You are not to eat any creature that moves along the ground, whether it moves on its belly or walks on all fours or on many feet; it is unclean. Do not defile yourselves by any of these creatures. Do not make yourselves unclean by means of them or be made unclean by them.
That’s when we get to the verse that arrested my attention—verse 44: “I am the Lord your God; consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy.”

I keep reading, and there it is again in chapter 19 verse 2. God tells Moses, “Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: ‘Be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy.’ ” And again I read it in chapter 20 verse 7: “Consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am the Lord your God.”

There’s a new thought—a God-given instruction with huge implications—planted right in the middle of Leviticus. Until this point, we’ve seen the word “holy” used only a few times in the Scripture: once in Genesis referring to the Sabbath and three times in Exodus referring to the tabernacle, the altar, and the offerings. But here in Leviticus, it is applied to mankind.

What exactly does it mean to “be holy”? The Hebrew definition of holy (kadosh) is “set apart for a purpose,” and in Greek, holy (hagios) also means “the set-apart ones; set apart (or sanctified) for a separate purpose.”

Lest we think this is an instruction solely given to the Law-abiding Israelites, and thus not applicable to those of us living under grace, let’s look ahead to the New Testament. In 1 Peter 1:15-16, we read, “But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy.’ ” Sound familiar? When God instructs mankind to “be holy,” he means us.

How are we to “be holy” or “set apart”? I’m caught by the wording of these verses. God doesn’t declare, “You are holy, because I am holy.” No, he instructs us, “Be holy…” We have influence here—that free will that we’ve seen in action since Eve decided to eat in Genesis 1. What does it look like in the matter of holiness? Jerry Bridges, in his book The Pursuit of Holiness, explains it this way:
No one can attain any degree of holiness without God working in his life, but just as surely no one will attain it without effort on his own part. God has made it possible for us to walk in holiness. But He has given to us the responsibility of doing the walking; He does not do that for us.
A.W. Tozer explains, “The holy man is not one who cannot sin. A holy man is one who will not sin” [emphasis mine]. So, is holiness merely a matter of behavior? Wise choices? Sin avoidance? No, it’s so much more. I like the way Charles Spurgeon clarifies the difference: “Holiness is better than moral­ity. It goes beyond it. Holiness affects the heart.”

“Holiness affects the heart.” When I became a Christian at the age of seven, the pastor invited me to “ask Jesus to live in my heart.” For many years, I thought of these words as merely a church-y saying rather than the unbelievable truth that it is: When I received Christ, my heart of stone was replaced with a heart of flesh (Ez. 11:19). Paul explains, “God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us” (Romans 5:5).

So, what does holiness look like? For a glimpse, let’s turn to the Psalms and consider the words of David, described as a man after God’s own heart (i.e. holy):
Teach me your way, LORD, that I may rely on your faithfulness;
give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name.
I will praise you, Lord my God, with all my heart;
I will glorify your name forever. Psalm 86:11-12

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