It is hard to love! Most people desire to be kind and loving. You do your best in every way possible to be calm and composed and then suddenly-out of nowhere a person or an event triggers you. And… You know what I mean. You have been there and so have I.
Our circumstances are different. Our triggers are different. Our types of response are different. But the results are the same. What are those results? A failure to love and the guilt feeling that comes after the fact.
Brothers and sisters, God has called us to be holy. How then can we sin so easily? In the letter to the Romans, Paul wrote “For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.” [Rm 6:14] Do those words encourage you or do they haunt you? I believe that those words should encourage us.
Today we are focusing our attention on Leviticus 19 & 20. In my message this morning, I want you to learn that God commands you to be holy, as he is holy. Having learned this truth I want you to joyfully, actively and radically demonstrate holiness in the way we relate to God and to other people.
I want you to learn that God commands you to be holy, as he is holy. Having learned this truth I want you to joyfully, actively and radically demonstrate holiness in the way we relate to God and to other people.
I seek to do that this morning in five parts.
- An exhortation from God
- A definition from God’s word
- Our holiness arises from a relationship with God
- We demonstrate holiness in our relationships with people
- Our holiness requires living by distinction
An exhortation from God
The first part: an exhortation from God. “Be holy for I, Yahweh your God, am holy” This is a refrain in Leviticus. And we also see this command in the New Testament in 1 Peter 1:16.
God is holy in every moment of time and in all circumstances and in all his dealings with everyone. He calls us us to be holy in every moment of time and in all circumstances and in all our dealings with everyone, like him.
Friends, I am not making this up. This is the Bible! This is God’s command to us.
God calls us to be holy – meaning unique in that we live righteously. Holiness is an intrinsic attribute of God’s nature, and God expresses His holiness through what He does. He calls us to a holiness that is internal and that we express through what we do.
That was the first quarter of my sermon’s aim this morning. I want you to learn that God commands you to be holy.
A definition from God’s word
We will spend a few minutes in understanding the phrase ‘as he is holy’. That is the second part of the sermon: a definition from God’s word.
What comes to your mind when you hear the word holiness? Some of you may be thinking of sadhus. Some of you may be thinking of priests and nuns. Some of you may be thinking of boring, melancholy people who go to church with a sombre appearance. Some of you are thinking of ‘holier than thou’ religious people who make life miserable for those around them.
What if I told you holiness is not melancholy and unpleasant? Rather holiness is sweet and lovely.
Let me present a biblical definition and then let us chew on it for a bit.
Holiness is a condition of our hearts created by God, and a way of behaving lived by us.
First, holiness is a condition of our hearts created by God. In our natural state we are sinners, separated from God, and without hope in this life or the next. Ephesians 2:3 says we “were by nature children of wrath”. Through the saving work of Jesus, God creates a new condition in out hearts. We were spiritually dead, but He makes us spiritually alive. We were separated from Him by sin, but he reconciled us to himself through Jesus’ substitutionary sacrifice on the cross. The new condition in our hearts is his work. We repent of our sins and put our faith in him. Acts 5:31 teaches us that when we do so, God grants us repentance and Ephesians 2:8 calls our faith God’s gift. We are justified, and right in his presence, but how does that happen? Romans 3:24 says that we are justified freely by His grace. 1 Peter 5:10 says that every part of our reconciliation to him and our growth in holiness is his work – ‘the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you’ He calls us to himself and he restores us, strengthens us, and establishes us. Furthermore, how do we grow in holiness or sanctification? God does that! It happens through his power in us. In John 17:17 Jesus did not pray that we would be better people in our own strength. He prayed to God the Father, ‘Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth’. God sanctifies us. Becoming holy is something that God does in us. He changes our hearts.
On the other hand, holiness is a way of behaving lived by us. When we refer to salvation and sanctification as solely God’s work, it is like looking out at a beautiful rice field. We can say, ‘Look what God has done!’ Did God do that? Yes he did! He caused the seeds to germinate in the soil. He sent the rain in due season and in necessary measure. He caused the plants to grow. But did the farmer do that? Yes he did! He bought and planted the seeds, he cultivated the field and sowed the seeds. He transplanted the saplings. He watered the fields. He will reap a harvest and He will sell it.
Our process of becoming holy is like that. God changes our hearts and makes holiness possible, and we work out holiness in our lives. Holiness is a condition of our heats crated by God and a way of behaving lived by us. Philippians 2:12-13 says, ‘work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.’ God works in us and we work out what he does in our heats. God does what only he can do. He regenerates us, He replaces our spiritual death with spiritual life. Then we do what only we can do. We resist sin and do works of righteousness in his power. The apostle Paul lived a holy life and in 1 Corinthians 15:10 ‘by the grace of God I am what I am… I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me’ Holiness is being separate from the world and consecrated to God. Holiness is a condition of our heats created by God and a way of behaving lived by us. And holiness is sweet and lovely.
That marks the first half of my sermon’s aim this morning. I want you to learn that God commands you to be holy, as he is holy.
Our holiness arises from a relationship with God
So let us now move to part 3: Our holiness arises from a relationship with God. God’s people, Israel, had the opportunity to be holy because they were in a special relationship with God. And this is the reason in these chapters you will see repeatedly the statements. I am the God who brought you out of Egypt. I am the Lord God who sanctifies you. I am the Lord who separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine. There was a special relationship between God and the people of God. They were chosen, redeemed and invited into his presence. And God had asked them to be holy because he is holy.
Holiness arises from a relationship with God, and the closer we get to God the more holy we become. The tabernacle in which the Israelites worshiped in the wilderness was a physical illustration of that spiritual reality. The Tabernacle was divided into three sections, each one of which represented different degrees of holiness. The outer court was th farthest from the place of Gods presence, so it was regarded as the least holy (not unholy). Every Israelite was allowed in that space. The bronze altar of sacrifice was located in the outer court as was the basin of water the priests used to cleanse themselves before they entered th holy place. The holy place was inside the tent. The people saw that space as closer to God. Inly the priests were allowed in that room. The lamp-stand, the table for the bread of the Presence, and the incense altar were located in the holy space, and all the furniture was made of gold. Third, the inner sanctum of the tabernacle was called qodesh haqodeshim – the “holy of holies” or most holy place. The only furniture in the most holy place was the ark of the covenant, which was also gold. Only the High Priest could enter that room. God said that form that place He would meet with His people, so that space was ineffably holy. In the tabernacle, to move closer to the space that represented the presence of God was to become more an more holy. That physical reality illustrates a spiritual reality – the closer to we get to God, the more holy we will become, the more separated from the ways of the wold and the more consecrated to God we will grow. Our holiness arises from a relationship with God. The key to holiness is staying close to God.
Leviticus 19 and 20 emphasizes that we express our holiness when we submit to the commands of God. Chapter 19, verse 3 and 4 include four of the Ten Commandments – honoring parents, keeping the Sabbath, not worshiping other gods, and not making idols. In verse 37 God says, “You must keep all My statutes and all my rules and do them.” In chapter 20, verse 8 God says, “Keep my statutes and do them.” Again, in verse 22 God says, “You shall keep all my statutes and all my rules and do them.” To be holy means to be different, but different in what way? The difference of the people of God is shaped by our obedience to God;s commands. Jesus said in John 14:15 “If you love me, you will keep my commands” If we have a love relationship with God, we will obey his commands.
Also, Leviticus 19 says we express our holiness when we celebrate communion with God. Verse 5-8 describe the peace offering was to celebrate communion with God. The peace offering was given under three circumstances — for thanksgiving, upon the payment of a vow, or as a free expression of the worshiper’s goodwill (7:11–18). But whatever be the circumstance for which the offering was made – it meant the worshiper was at peace with God.
Our fellowship with God is exclusive. No other god is invited to the fellowship. In chapter 20, verses 2-6 God refers to pagan religious practices and he denounces them. Molech was the god of the Ammonites, and God singled out the worship of Molech for condemnation. Sometimes called Milcom, this god was also worshiped by people in neighboring nations. Child sacrifice was a prominent feature of Molech worship, which is the reason Leviticus 20:2 refers to the one “who gives any of his children to Molech”. God calls His people to honor and protect human life, especially the lives of family members. Hence, killing a child to placate a god that did no even exist was an especially egregious sin. In addition to murder, such pagan worship was also unfaithfulness to Israel’s exclusive relationship with the one true God. In 20:6, God referred to consulting the cult functionaries of pagan religions – mediums and necromancers. God called such activity whoring, a graphic way of stating that consulting such people was unfaithfulness to God’s sacred covenant with his people.
We should remember that holiness arises from a relationship with God. God produces holiness in us, and when we sin we ruin our holiness and break our fellowship with God. Fellowship with God and holiness go together. If we are not in fellowship with God, we will not be holy and when we sin we break our fellowship with God. Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” We should not think we can commit sin and say “Everything in my relationship with God is great!” Everything is not great. God is perfectly holy and sin cannot be in His presence, so our sin breaks fellowship with Him. Isaiah 59:2 says, “Your iniquities have built barriers between you and your God.”
What is the solution for sin that separates us from God? God’s solution is Jesus. Who needs Jesus? Romans 3:23 says, “All have sinned.” Everyone needs Jesus, because everyone has sinned and is therefore separated from God. Romans 6:23 says, “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Sin leads to death, but Jesus died our death on the cross as the once-for-all sacrifice for sin, and then He rose from the dead. When we put our faith in Him, His sacrifice on the cross atones for out sin, He reconciles us to God, and He gives us eternal life and power for living-the same power that caused Him to rise from the grave. Christians are people who know we are sinners who were separated from God, and we turned to Jesus for forgiveness and reconciliation to God.
We do not turn to Jesus for help only when we first put our faith in Him. We need his forgiveness and cleansing all the time. We also need his power over sin so our fellowship with God can continue. In the Lord’s prayer Jesus taught us to ask God for pardon for our sin in the past- forgive us our trespasses. Jesus also taught us to ask God for power over sin in the present – do not bring us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one. God does that. God gives us pardon for sin in our past and power over sin in our present, and praise His name one day He will deliver us from the very presence of sin!
Oh how wonderful is the redemption and forgiveness we have received in Jesus. As Christians we celebrate our communion with God and participate in communion. It is difficult times that we live in. The world is trying to fight a pandemic – a result of man’s sin and fall. And this pandemic has prevented us from gathering and celebrating our peace with God. This is a good time for us to introspect our lives for disobedience and unholiness and seek Jesus’ help, forgiveness and cleansing.
This third part covers the relation to God in the second half of my aim in this morning’s sermon, “Having learned this truth I want you to joyfully, actively and radically demonstrate holiness in the way we relate to God and to other people.”
We demonstrate holiness in our relationships with people
We will deal with relating to people in part 4: We demonstrate holiness in our relationships with people. Leviticus 19:9-18 describes virtues that should characterize our relationships. When God works in us so that we are holy and we live out that holiness in the way we behave, inevitably we will relate to people differently. We will exhibit certain virtues.
The first virtue is generosity. In verses 9 and 10, God commands his people to allow gleaning. Incomplete harvesting was an act of generosity by farmers. The left some produce in their fields so that poor people could pick it. God commanded partial harvesting as a way to provide for the poor. God also expects his people today to be generous to the poor. The apostle Paul quoted Jesus as saying, “It is more blessed to give than to receive”. Generosity is one way we demonstrate holiness. Are you being generous?
God also commanded honesty. In verses 11 and 12, God tells us not to steal, not to act deceptively, not to lie and not to swear falsely. In other words, be honest. We speak the truth and do not take anything that belongs to someone else. In verses 35 and 35 God tells his people to be honest in business. Those verses refer to weights and measures in the marketplace. God’s point is that his people are not to tell someone they are selling them a certain amount of their product, when actually they are selling less. We know this all too well. In most shops in our part of the world this is almost common practice. But this is not supposed to be of us Christians. Are you being honest?
Third, we demonstrate holiness by showing sympathy. In verse 13 God says not to oppress people. In fact, if a poor person is working for us and he or she needs the wages, we don’t wait until the next day to pay. We pay today so the worker can buy food for tonight. In other words, we show compassion to people. In verse 14, God mentions the deaf and blind. We don’t mistreat them. We treat them with compassion. Holiness results in sympathy.
Fourth, God required equity. In verse 15, God forbids injustice and partiality in court to the rich or the poor. In other words, we don’t play favorites; we do what is right. We are tempted to show partiality towards the rich because they might grant us favors. We are tempted to show partiality to the poor because we feel sorry for them or because we want to “stick it” to the rich people. God tells us to tell the truth, whether we are speaking about a rich person or a poor person. In verse 16, God says not to slander anybody. Slander is saying something untrue about someone behind his or her back. God requires holiness in His people. Holiness includes refraining from saying things about people that are not true, in the courtroom or out of it. Do you guard your mouth and deal with equity?
God also commanded mercy. In verses 33 and 34, God says, to treat foreigners, or sojourners, as if they are our neighbors. We don’t treat people like they don’t belong and are not wanted. People from other states, other languages, other castes, other social status. We may not have contempt towards many other countries apart from a few poorer countries in the world since we ourselves are not a rich country. But we do treat other people within our country or even our city badly. Are you merciful? Do you love your neighbor as yourself.
When Jesus was asked which is the greatest command – he kind of summarized these 2 chapters and said love the Lord with all your heart, soul, strength and mind. And in the same breath he said love your neighbor as yourself. He said all the law and the prophets are summed up in these two commands. The Bible does not describe love as a feeling. Love is action. Loving God is living holy lives. Loving our neighbor is living holy lives.
Sixthly, God called his people to relate to other people in purity. In chapter 20, God gave his people numerous commands concerning staying away from impurity. He told them to refrain from sins like cursing parents, adultery, incest, homosexuality, and bestiality. These commands are also mentioned in other places in the Bible. But these were the sins of the people who lived in the land before the Israelites would move in. God was going to drive those people out because of their sins in these very areas. He called his people to be faithful to him and live holy lives. Our holiness arises from a relationship with God. And we demonstrate holiness in our relationships with people.
That kind of completes my aim for this sermons: I want you to learn that God commands you to be holy, as he is holy. Having learned this truth I want you to joyfully, actively and radically demonstrate holiness in the way we relate to God and to other people.
Our holiness requires living by distinctions
I’d like to press further all that we have learned in the fifth and final part: Our holiness requires living by distinctions. In the book of Leviticus, God regularly addresses distinctions. The distinction between clean and unclean food, the distinction between acceptable and unacceptable sacrifices, and so on. Leviticus 19:19 refers to the distinction between sacred and secular. The mixing of things mentioned in verse 19 was allowed in the tabernacle – the mixing of fabrics in priestly garments and the mixing of spices in the tabernacle incense. Because that mixing was practiced in the tabernacle, God said it was special, so it was not be practiced in secular life. While we do not practice this distinction anymore in this fashion in the New Testament. We still have the principle of regarding certain things as holy and not vulgar i.e. common. The Bible, is God’s word, not man’s word. So we treat it with special respect. Worship is especially sacred too, since Jesus is present in our gatherings. We do not treat it lightly. Holiness makes a distinction between the sacred and secular.
Second, we live by making distinction between marriage and singleness. The seventh commandment says, “do not commit adultery”. The penalty for adultery in the old covenant Israel was death. Both the command and the penalty were different from those of the cultures around Israel. Those cultured practiced every form of deviation from God’s design, prostitution was one of their religious rituals. Their pagan gods themselves were sexually immoral. In that environment God said to his people, “Be holy”; you will be different.
Look at verses 20-22. For some of you it might be repulsive. But look at how the command underscores the sanctity of marriage. When a man was intimate with “a woman who is a slave”, that woman was not married so it was not an act of adultery. Therefore the death penalty was not applied. However such sexual sin is immoral activity that is offensive to God, so Leviticus 19 says that they are guilty of sin and the man must offer a restitution offering to make atonement.
We live in a world today where Christians are the only people in the world who make distinction between singleness and marriage. Sex outside of marriage between the man and his wife is prohibited. There is just no exception. We do not even consider same sex marriage as marriage. That is an abomination. While we do not hate those who sin in that way, we do not accept such a definition or application of marriage. We call such persons to repentance just as we call any other sinner to repentance. We honor God’s distinctions in singleness and marriage.
Thirdly, our holiness is defined by the distinction between falsehood and truth. In verse 23-31, God called his people to be different from the false religions around them. When fruit trees bore fruit, the people were to give praise to the one true God, not to other gods, because the one true God gave the harvest – not the harvest gods of false religions. So they refrained from eating fruit from those existing trees for 4 years. Only in the fifth year they began to eat the fruit of the land. It was to make sure no one said that they ate fruit that was a result of serving false gods. Not only that but God prohibits them from other filthy practices that were prevalent in the land before they occupied the land. They were to be holy. Different!
Dear Christian, are you the same person you were before you professed to be a Christian? Or are you holy? Dear Christian, are you same as the person who is not a Christian? Or are you holy?
Be holy, for I am holy says God to you. If you are not a Christian, for you that command means to repent and believe in Jesus. If are a Christian, for you that command means to live in distinction. Holy Christians are sweet and lovely people characterized by the fruit of the Holy Spirit. They are compassionate, truthful, just, kind and merciful people.