Be holy – Leviticus 19

“Be holy” is very much the theme of Leviticus 19. God said, “You must be holy because I, the LORD your God, am holy.” But how? Can you just decide to be holy? What does it look like? Can anyone be holy? How many hours of prayer or Bible study are required? What even is holiness?

These notes accompany a sermon on YouTube and you can find more in the series in our Sermon Index.

What holiness looks like

Read Leviticus 19:1-2.

If you asked someone to paint people being holy, what would they paint? Clouds, harps, halos? Little babies with wings? Leviticus 19 instructs God’s people to be holy and then gives a list of things that that looks like. It turns out that holiness is something that happens in the real world, in real life – in your life.

We’re in a section of Leviticus specifically about being holy. Chapters 18 and 20 have strong parallels to each other – they’re like bookends around this chapter. They make sure that you understand this chapter in the context of life within worship of God as he has given it. In particular, worship that’s different from other nations.

Everyday holiness

But not just worship at a temple or tabernacle – how you live every day. It’s not a list of everything you need to do – it’s typical of how you are to be:

  • V3-4 specifically reference some of the 10 Commandments. That sets the tone immediately. Being holy requires you to obey God’s commands. Why?
    • Because they are ‘of’ him; they represent his nature
  • V5-8 are about not keeping any of a peace offering for too many days. Holiness is based on a current, active relationship with God.
  • V9-18 are commands that ensure generosity, truth, care for the vulnerable, justice and fairness.
    • The summary is in Leviticus 19:18 [read].
  • V19 speaks against mixing things – animals, seeds, materials; a constant reminder towards purity.
    • A reminder of Ch 17; life oriented towards God only.
  • V20-22 has that odd case of a man sleeping with a slave woman engaged to someone else. Normally that would be regarded as adultery, but in this case the man has clearly abused his power and abused the woman.
    • The law here protects the abused woman and calls the abuser to justice.
  • V23-25 is about care for God’s land
  • V26-31 gives further reminders about the uniqueness of God and that he has given one way to approach him – so don’t do the stuff they do in other religions (tattoos etc).
  • V32-35 finishes with care for the elderly, respectful of the wise, welcoming to foreigners and refugees, and being true and fair to everyone.

In summary

Do right and put right, to everyone and for everyone. Imitate God.

It’s a lot to take in, but can be summarised in two ways.

  1. First, you are to be driven to do right and put right, to everyone and for everyone.
    • No room for favouritism, racism, or social bias.
  2. Another way to summarise is to realise that what you’ve read flows out of the character of God: You’re to imitate God.
    • He is just and unbiased.
    • God acts for the vulnerable and weak.
    • He loves his enemies (not just his “neighbour”) – without which no-one would be saved.

So now you know what holiness looks like for God’s people – it’s a God-like goodness in action in your daily life. But here’s the surprise: Doing these things doesn’t make you holy.

Holiness flows from God

Read Leviticus 19:1-2 again.

Notice the primary reason for being holy: Because the Lord your God is holy. The whole book of Leviticus is like Mt Sinai, the mountain of God. Who may ascend the mountain of the LORD?

  • Chapters 1-15 are all about approaching God. The sacrifices; ceremonial cleanness. Sin dealt with, approach possible.
  • Chapter 16 is the summit! A man did what no-one since Adam could do – he entered God’s presence, representing all God’s people. Guilt cleansed, sins forgiven, atonement.
  • Chapter 17 onwards is the descent from God’s presence. Holiness is to flow out from God into and through his people to all the nations.
    • They’re a holy nation to make God known to the whole world.

So ceremonial cleanliness is about approaching God. Holiness is about belonging to God and representing him to the world. Blessing flowing out to all. Do right & put right, to everyone & for everyone.

God alone is holy by nature. Perfect in purity, goodness, love, light – separate from everything unclean and sinful. There are heavenly beings in his presence – themselves perfectly holy – and they cover their eyes and say to one another, “Holy, holy, holy” – God is eternally, unfathomably, wonderfully holy. He is an ocean of holiness whose depths you can’t see or explore.

And it is that God whose particular presence was located in the Most Holy Place in the Tabernacle, among his people. You could no more approach that holiness in your own steam than you could fly to the sun. Be he came and dwelt among his people on the earth, and he made a way for people to approach him. His presence among them makes them holy too (once there has been atonement for their sin).

From shadow to reality

And it’s just at this point where we see shadow become reality! When you read your New Testament there are letters to various churches. 

  • E.g. Ephesians is a letter to Christians at Ephesus.
  • It says it’s to the “saints” in Ephesus (in most English versions). Literally, it’s to the “holy ones” (as in NLT).
  • Christians are described in the New Testament as “holy” or “sanctified”.

If you’re a Christian, you’re holy. You’re sanctified (made holy). We need to be careful, though. The New Testament speaks of Christian holiness / sanctification in two ways: It’s usually thought of as the gradual process of change, as a Christian becomes more and more like Jesus – and that is certainly correct. But the New Testament also speaks of your state of holiness in that you have union with God, who is holy.

So, read 1 Peter 1:2. God the Father knew you and chose you long ago, and his Spirit has made you holy. As a result, you have obeyed him and have been cleansed by the blood of Jesus Christ.

  • It’s a beautiful verse, drawing in the eternal work of the triune God – Father, Son, and Spirit.
  • If you’re a Christian, it’s because the Father knew you and chose you before he created the world. He loves you.
  • The Holy Spirit did his secret work in you at some point: You saw your sin against God, you turned to him for forgiveness – and the new life and faith in you were the Spirit’s work.
  • And that’s possible because Christ died as a substitute, as a sacrifice in your place. His death atones for your sin – cleansing you from guilt, and appeasing God’s righteous anger against you.

A new future in Christ

And so, as a Christian, you are changed. Your future was only hell alone, but now it’s immeasurable, unimaginable bliss with God. If you’re not a Christian, or not sure, here’s your moment. You can turn to him right now. You can leave the highway to hell and take the narrow path to life. God has made it possible to approach him and enter into his holiness of life. Turn to him, seek his forgiveness, live.

Because Peter goes on in 1 Peter 1 to speak about the change in future that comes to those who believe. Will you inherit hell, or heaven? To those made holy by the Holy Spirit, the future is amazing: Read 1 Peter 3-4. You were going to inherit death and hell. But you were rescued from that at great price. Read 1 Peter 18-20.

So you have been bought, cleansed, forgiven, by Jesus, the Son of God, dying and taking the punishment you deserve. You are now in Christ and he is in you, mediated by the work of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit of God dwells in you. God dwells among his people on the earth. In you, and in us. You are united to holiness. More, the Father has adopted you. Read 1 Peter 1:14.

Why are we reading 1 Peter?

  • Leviticus is the 2D shadow; Jesus is the 3D reality.
  • In Leviticus, God did amazing things:
    • The holy God dwelt among his people.
    • He gave a system of sacrifice so that people could approach him.
    • They were made holy by his presence, and they were to live out holiness in their daily lives.
  • Now, God has done so much more in Christ
    • The holy God dwells in you. In Christ, you can enter the Most Holy Place in prayer – right now.
    • You are made holy by his presence in you, your union with him, your adoption as his child.

Only God is holy, and his holiness flows outward. So, read 1 Peter 1:15-16!

Be holy

God sanctifies you by dwelling in you because your sin and guilt is cleansed, atoned, forgiven because of Jesus. So you must embrace that holiness (sanctification) with your life oriented towards God, living out holiness in the world.

In a million little ways!

  • Tip the low-paid server or hairdresser; pop your change in the charity box at the the till
  • Be honest and work; be known for fairness and integrity.
  • Don’t tell mean jokes at someone else’s expense.
  • Be careful with people with mental illnesses and depression.
  • Love your neighbour (and your enemy) as yourself.
  • Stand up for the abused; call out abusers; be a whistle-blower if that’s what’s need to do right & put right.
  • Have nothing to do with false worship, even if you have to offend people or change job (e.g. from a Catholic school).
  • Welcome immigrants and refugees – your life is their dream.
  • Be holy at work in truth and integrity.
  • Also, in your family with care for parents and the elderly.
  • Be holy at the shops, with tips, and honesty.
  • Be holy in conversation – generous, standing up for people who can’t stand up for themselves, loving foreigners
  • You can even be holy in church!

Holiness flows from God, not to him. Holiness flows out, not in.

But notice, these things are holiness worked outwards. They don’t make you holy. The indwelling Holy Spirit, union with Christ, and adoption by the Father make you holy. So the command “be holy” is effectively “be what you are in Christ” – live out who you are, sanctified, holy.

Holiness flows from God, not to him. Holiness flows out, not in.

Holy, because your Father in heaven is holy and has chosen you.

Reflective Questions on Leviticus 17-20

We’ll be discussing these questions at our prayer meeting on Tuesday:

  1. What do we mean when we describe God as “holy”?
  2. What does holiness look like in God’s people? Is that the same as God’s holiness?
  3. In what sense is sanctification (being made holy) an event, and in what sense is it a process?
  4. Can you give an example of a way you’d like to grow in holiness?
  5. What should we pray for one another?