God's Holiness and what it means for us
Gan Jia Min (Garang Sheep)| Easter 2018
I have been reading the book of Leviticus for my quiet time. I think sometimes as Christians, we may be tempted to think that a book like Leviticus (which for the most part contains rules and regulations for how the Israelites are commanded to live) is irrelevant to our modern day lives as a Christian. I believe that is partially true, but I also believe that there are certainly some laws there that we still have to obey as modern Christians and definitely we can learn from the book the bigger principle of what it means to live a holy life which is very relevant to us.
So what is holiness? Leviticus 20:26 says “You are to be holy to me because I, the LORD, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be my own.” (NIV) In Leviticus 10:10, the LORD instructed the priests to “distinguish between the holy and the common, between the unclean and the clean”. Hence, holiness carries with it a meaning of being set apart and not common.
The many laws and commands that the LORD gives the Israelites to obey in Leviticus are therefore to set the Israelites apart from the other nations. The Israelites are going to enter the Promised Land (Canaan) and the LORD does not want them to follow the evil practices of the nations there. The Israelites are given very strict dietary requirements (Leviticus 11 and 17) so that they would be separated from the worship of other gods because worshipping the gods of the peoples around them would require violating their own regulations about clean and unclean animals. Not being able to eat with other people also made it difficult for the Israelites to establish and maintain marital and other social relations with them. The Israelites are called to be holy because the LORD is holy and living amongst them in the tabernacle.
What does this mean for us today? Obviously we are still called to follow some of the laws in Leviticus such as not perverting justice, not committing unlawful sexual relations, not stealing or lying etc. But we also no longer obey certain regulations such as Leviticus 19:19 “Do not w
ear clothing woven of two kinds of material” or even the strict dietary restrictions (because of Mark 7:18-23 where Jesus explains that it is what comes out of a person that defiles them). On this side of the cross, we are still called to live holy lives, e.g. 1 Thessalonians 4:7, and so we need to live lives that are distinct and set apart from the world around us. As followers of Christ, we need to be holy because Christ is holy. God was present with the Israelites through a physical tabernacle. Today, God is more intimately present with us through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit within us. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 talks about how our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit i.e. the equivalent of Israel’s tabernacle. How much more should we be holy!
Leviticus does not leave us without a warning of the consequences of not treating God as holy. I always get the chills whenever I read Leviticus 10 which describes in just a few short sentences how Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu were destroyed by fire when they did not treat the LORD as holy. Leviticus 10:3 gives a chilling promise: “Among those who approach me I will be proved holy”. Nadab and Abihu sadly were on the wrong side of that promise. I hope all of us will fear the LORD and never take our call to holiness for granted.