Holiness is not a popular word in today’s Christian circles. If you do use it, most folk consider you part of some recluse religious sect. Or you're a "super saint" if holiness is a hallmark of your life.
I’m reading through the Bible in a year and am wrapping up the the book of Leviticus. But who really reads through the book of Leviticus much less enjoys it right? I’ve never really been a fan of the book. I’ll admit, my eyes have glazed over in times past with all the talk of sin offerings and how to kill animals. But this time around, I have to admit I’m finding it quite fascinating.
Of course, the whole premise of the book is God’s holiness and how the children of Israel (who had just come out of slavery in Egypt) had to follow a laundry list of ritualistic guidelines to ensure they were clean or pure to enter into God’s presence represented by the Tabernacle.
What struck me is that these people had to always be aware of their state of purity or impurity. Anything could turn their otherwise clean state into an unclean one, like touching a dead animal, giving birth, or something as simple as a skin rash. It was always Israel’s responsibility to ensure that they returned back to a state where they could approach God.
In Leviticus 10:10-11, God says to Aaron, “You are to distinguish between the holy and the common, and between the unclean and the clean, and you are to teach the people of Israel the statutes that the Lord has spoken to them by Moses.”
It was the priest’s duty to teach the people what was considered holy and what wasn’t. Today, it seems this is a lost art. Political correctness has trampled over any talk of holy living. And the “I’m going to do me” mantra rules even in churches today.
While mold, menstruation and eating certain foods don’t make us unclean like in the days of the Old Testament, there is something that does: what’s in our hearts. In Mark 7:14–23, Jesus pointed this out.
And he called the people to him again and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand: There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.” And when he had entered the house and left the people, his disciples asked him about the parable. And he said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.) And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”
How mindful am I of the leprosy of slander that covers my heart or the flowing forth of pride that pushes out holiness? How many times have I come before God’s presence full of all this uncleanness without a second thought? I shudder to think.
For the children of Israel, there was no way to escape impurity as they went about their normal tasks. It was bound to happen that they would find themselves in a state where they had to be made pure again. It’s a heartbreaking picture of just how much sin invades every aspect of our every day lives.
Little regard for God's holiness led to harsh and deadly consequences in Leviticus 10. Aaron's sons were killed on the spot and dragged away for offering up unauthorized fire in the Tabernacle.
Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, which he had not commanded them. And fire came out from before the Lord and consumed them, and they died before the Lord. Then Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the Lord has said: ‘Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.’” And Aaron held his peace.
Today, our propensity to fall into a state of uncleanness is bound to happen. But the good news is we don’t have to go through a series of rituals and then wait to return to a clean state. The blood of Jesus has already done the work. But we’d do well to be aware of the where our hearts stand and what is coming out of our hearts that is defiling. Even more, we'd do well to be aware of our attitudes about our state of holiness (or lack thereof) as we come into God's presence. It seems like lofty work: to reach for a virtue that is ascribed to God. But God does not call us to that which is not attainable.
"Holiness is not an impossibility for any of us. It means first of all to be set apart, as the vessels in the tabernacle were set apart (consecrated) from ordinary vessels. For us to be holy means the will to do God’s will. It means sacrifice—the offering up of my own will (which sometimes seems to me an impossibility) and the acceptance of His. He asks of us nothing which He Himself was unwilling to do." -Elisabeth Elliot
While the children of Israel longed for a day when they would be delivered from the rituals of washing, we live in that day. Jesus laid down His life so that holiness would be ours. Let us not think of holiness as being stodgy and uptight as the world thinks. But may we be constantly mindful of guarding our hearts from uncleanness and continually walking in holiness.
Psalm 20:2 says: "Give unto the Lord the glory due unto his name; worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness." Facing the Lord's holiness as we walk toward Him in holiness is such a wonderful picture of the relationship that God has afforded us through Jesus Christ. May we never squander it by being careless in His presence.