44 I am the LORD your God; consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy. Do not make yourselves unclean by any creature that moves along the ground. 45 I am the LORD, who brought you up out of Egypt to be your God; therefore be holy, because I am holy.
46 “‘These are the regulations concerning animals, birds, every living thing that moves about in the water and every creature that moves along the ground. 47 You must distinguish between the unclean and the clean, between living creatures that may be eaten and those that may not be eaten.’” --Leviticus 11:44-47
On Wednesday nights in 2011, I am teaching through topics of systematic theology. We just started a few weeks back, so we are still talking about God (my favorite topic! :)). Last night our discussion went to the moral attributes of God, starting with the idea that God is holy.
The text above from Leviticus was one of the passages we explored to get a clearer idea of what we mean when we say, "Holy". I guess that in America, the average person probably has a very fuzzy idea about what it means to say "God is holy." We go almost entirely to the idea that God is morally pure. Certainly that idea is there in holiness, but holiness is a larger concept than morality. Holiness is about separateness, distinction, difference, otherness, etc.
In the text above, we find that God calls the children of Israel to distinguish between clean and unclean foods, and he links this to the fact that he is holy. Why?
Many of the laws of the Old Testament deal with exercises related to distinguishing and separating. "Honor the sabbath day and keep it holy." That's a kind of separating and distinction. The law tells all who would follow it not to mix the fabrics in their clothes, not to mix dairy products with meat, not to touch dead bodies, not to eat pork or shrimp--the list goes on and one.
What is God trying to reveal about himself and impress on his people through such regulations? Part of it was to distinguish his people from those in the nations surrounding Israel. His people were supposed to be very different from the people around them, thus keeping their culture and their faith over time.
Beyond that, I think God, though the law, impresses on the hearts and minds of all who try to keep it, that he is different from everything else. As Isaiah 40:25 says it, "'To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?' says the Holy One."
So what does that mean? How does a Christian in the 21st century understand the repeated call from God, "Be holy, because I am holy"?
In a very basic sense, it means that we are to be distinguished from those who are not in Jesus Christ. We are distinguished by the saving work of God in Christ, but we are distinguished by the transformation of our minds, by the very different values we hold, by the fact that we are motivated by love for God and others.
That whole devotion to Christ, where we find ourselves absolutely dedicated only to him, having set our minds on God's priorities and not the treasures and pleasures of earth--that's where a holy life starts. I want to live a holy life--how about you?