The law section in Leviticus continues here. God is teaching his people how to live in his presence. Appropriately, then, this section begins and ends with a famous and important phrase: “Be holy as I, the LORD, am holy.”
In between this repeated phrase are laws. These laws unpack and explain the Ten Commandments, giving instruction more specifically on what the Ten Commandments spoke of generally.
So, it’s pretty straightforward - if you want to be holy as God is holy, obey these laws.
The reason they need to be holy is also given in a straightforward way. Israel is to be holy, or set apart because God has set them apart so that his holiness can dwell with them.
They must be holy as God is holy so God can live with them. It’s not as if God’s presence can’t come near something unholy - as if he were allergic to it or powerless against it. The opposite is true. When God comes into a space, he cleanses it. That means anything unholy would be blotted out.
That is why many of the punishments against sin are so heavy. Sins like murder, bestiality, and child sacrifice are punishable by death. By carrying out these punishments, the community of Israel simultaneously represents God’s judgement and preserves their communion with God.
Because if sin went unpunished, guilt would remain over the people and over the land. That would result in God vomiting the people out of the land, ending their communion with him.
The Law Reveals God’s Character
But one thing is easily overlooked in this section. When God says be holy as I am holy, he is not just telling them how to behave - he is telling them what he is like.
When God says that we must care for the poor, we learn that God helps the needy.
When God says that we must not lie, we learn that God always keeps his promises.
When God says that we must love our neighbor as ourselves, we learn that God loves with perfect love.
Where is Jesus?
God’s commands are a picture of who God is. There are, then, two elements here: what God commands and who God is. These two elements come together perfectly in Jesus.
Jesus is God’s Holiness
He showed us who God is by perfectly keeping God’s commands. He was perfectly holy as God is holy. Yes, we can and should look to the laws to see a picture of God’s character. Nevertheless, the truest picture of God’s character is Jesus. How Jesus lived, shows us what it looks like to live the law out loud. Jesus’ life shows us God’s character on full display. It’s no wonder, then, that Paul could write of Jesus, “He is the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15).
Jesus Makes Us Holy
What should astound us is that this perfectly holy one died. He was the only one who would be allowed in God’s presence just on the basis of who he is. Yet, he was cast outside the city gates where Israel was commanded to take those who broke the law and kill them.
But because he who perfectly kept the law, also perfectly took its punishments on our behalf, we don’t have to be cast out of God’s holiness. Most remarkably, Jesus actually makes us holy as God is holy. Hebrews 10:10 says, “We have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” What we could not achieve for ourselves, Jesus has freely given us at great cost to himself.
Now we have the right, through Jesus, to have close communion with God.
But Jesus making us holy does something else as well. Holiness isn’t just a state or title declared over Christians. It is also a lived condition. We have been made holy. That means, when Jesus transforms us into God’s holiness through his blood he makes us live holy lives. We actually start to keep the law that we could not keep before. We start to love people as we could never love them before. We start to reflect God’s character like Jesus did when he was alive. Jesus makes us holy so we can show God’s character to the world.
See For Yourself
I pray that the Holy Spirit would give you eyes to see the God who is perfectly holy and good. And that you would see Jesus as the only perfect one who, nevertheless, died the death of the guilty to make us holy people in an unholy world.