Be Holy! - September Magazine Article

I'm planning to write a few magazine articles about holiness, the first of which is below.

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I am the Lord your God; consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy. (Leviticus 11:44 NIV)

The concept of holiness has mostly fallen out of use in our culture. Probably the only context in which we hear of it is when someone is described as being holier-than-thou, which as well as being a body-piercing shop in Manchester (Google provides all kinds of useless information!), is usually an insult about being a self-righteous so-and-so.

But holiness is an important concept in Christianity. The book of Leviticus is all about being holy. On the one hand there is a constant reminder that God is holy, which means that he is separate from sin, morally pure and blameless. On the other hand, there is repeated call to the Israelites to be holy themselves, because their God is holy (Leviticus 11:44, 45; 19:2; 20:7).

In one sense, God has already made his people holy at this stage in Israel's history. By rescuing them from slavery in Egypt, he has separated them for himself and for his glory – they are holy. In another sense, God is calling his people to holy behaviour. Leviticus is full of laws about how to behave as God's holy people. But Leviticus also recognises the reality of sin and failure, which is why God provides a system of sacrifices to deal with sin and bring the people back into a good relationship with him (to make atonement).

The book of Leviticus points forward to our situation if we're Christians. Jesus picks up on Leviticus in the Sermon on the Mount when he tells us to “be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48 NIV) Peter quotes Leviticus 11:44 when exhorting the church not to be caught in evil (1 Peter 1:15-16). So like the people of Israel, we Christians are to be holy like our holy God.

What does that mean for us? First, if we're Christians, then, like the Israelites, there is a sense in which we are already holy, because we have been rescued from slavery to sin and separated for God and his glory. That's why Peter can call the church “a holy nation” (1 Peter 2:9). Similarly, Paul writes of the church in Corinth as “those sanctified [made holy] in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people” (1 Corinthians 1:2 NIV).

I wonder if you've ever stopped to realise what a privilege and blessing that is. God in his grace and mercy has brought you into his holy people. If you're a Christian, then you are actually set apart for God.

Secondly, like the Israelites, Christians are called to holy behaviour. That's why Peter quotes Leviticus 11:44 in his first letter, which has a lot to teach us about living holy lives in a difficult culture. Jesus exhorts us to perfection and a holy life in the Sermon on the Mount. In fact, the author of Hebrews can write: “Make very effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.” (Hebrews 12:14)

Now if this is true, then we need to take living lives of purity and goodness seriously. That means seeking to eradicate sin from our lives. Sadly, the reality is that most people who claim to be Christians don't take their sin seriously at all. In fact, I suspect all of us have a tendency to take our cues for living from the non-Christian culture around. But a glance through the 10 Commandments or at the Sermon on the Mount should be enough to make us uncomfortable about the standards of our non-Christian culture! When it comes to trust in God, honesty, sex and marriage, hate, covetousness, care for the weak, money and many more things, the gap between God's holy standard and the common view in Britain is massive. When we recognise that gap between our lives and God's standards, we need to change. That's what repentance and belief is all about. We turn from our sin and trust in and live for God – we grow in our holiness.

As the great Puritan theologian John Owen wrote: “Be killing sin or it will be killing you.”

Thirdly, as with the Israelites, God's recognises the reality of our sin and failure to be holy. However, the sacrifices of Leviticus were just a poor shadow of the once for all sacrifice of Jesus on the cross for our sins (Hebrews 7:27). His one sacrifice makes complete atonement, so that we don't need any more sacrifices. It is perhaps worth saying that the idea of communion services being sacrifices, or in some way dealing with our sins, which is often found in forms of Catholicism is thus completely wrong. Such ideas are described as “blasphemous fables, and dangerous deceits” in Article XXXI of the Church of England's Articles of Religion.

So let me ask you to consider a few questions for this month.

(1) Do you ever consider the question of your holiness? If not why not?

(2) If you are a Christian, how often do you think of giving thanks to God for the holiness he has given you in Christ and for the atonement that he provided for you in Christ's death on the cross?

(3) In what areas do you need to “make every effort...to be holy”? Maybe you could read through the 10 commandments, or the Sermon on the Mount this month. Note down the areas where you have a problem. Confess them to God and pray for his strength to turn from those sins and to live for him.

Yours in Christ,


Stephen

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