“For I am the Lord who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy” (Leviticus 11:45).
BEGINNING WITH ABRAHAM, GOD BUILT A FAMILY THROUGH WHICH HE WOULD BRING INTO THE WORLD HIS SON, THE MESSIAH (“ANOINTED ONE”). When Abraham’s family became numerous enough to be a nation, He delivered them from slavery in Egypt and established them in the land He had promised to Abraham. But prior to their entry into this land, God gave them this remarkable command: “You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.”
The root idea of “holiness” is “separateness.” Synonyms that come to mind are distinctness, uniqueness, unlikeness, and difference. Unfortunately, we often limit our discussions about holiness to moral purity, but moral purity is only one of the ways that those who belong to God are to be separate. God’s holiness does not consist solely in His moral difference; it includes every way in which His character is different from that of His adversaries. And if He commands us to be holy, we must learn to have a character that is distinct in the same ways that His character is distinct.
Israel’s separateness from the world of its day anticipated the holiness of God’s redeemed people in Christ, made up of Jews and Gentiles. Writing to Christians in the Roman Empire living under the threat of persecution, Peter quoted from Leviticus 11:45: “As he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy’” (1 Peter 1:15,16).
Sometimes holiness requires physical separation (and we are extremely foolish if we don’t understand this). But with or without physical separation, holiness requires that our principles, our values, and our decision-making — i.e., our character — be different. And how could it not be? If we’ve repented of our rebellion against God, will that not make us unlike those still in rebellion? James asked it this way: “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?” (James 4:4). For you and me today, this is an issue that requires some serious thinking and courageous choices.
“It is time for us Christians to face up to our responsibility for holiness . . . It might be well if we stopped using the terms victory and defeat to describe our progress in holiness. Rather we should use the terms obedience and disobedience” (Jerry Bridges).