Speak to the entire Israelite community and tell them: Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy (CSB).
In fulfillment of his covenant promises to Abraham (read Genesis 15), the Lord God had brought the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt to Mt. Sinai. There he formed them into a nation that was to be holy (Exodus 19:4-6) or set apart to the Lord. Everything about their way of life from that great event onward was to be marked by consecration to the Lord. They were not to live like the other nations. Peter succinctly described the way of life of the nations in 1 Peter 4:3. For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do—living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry (NIV). Pagans here is more accurately translated as the nations. A pagan way of life is simply the way of life of the people of the world. God ordered a new way of life for the people of Israel, and he defined this by particular commands. This required a revolution in their thinking and how they lived. Everyone else lived according to their sinful self and its pleasure seeking. But at Sinai God instructed them to live according to his pleasures and character. They were chosen to reflect the glory of God.
To say this was not easy is a massive understatement. It was impossible—apart from the grace of God by the Holy Spirit.
If you and I have followed the Messiah for several years or were brought up in a Christian home, it is to forget how people that are not set apart to the Lord live. When God instructed Israel to be a consecrated people, it was a radically new way of life. For this reason, the Lord needed to instruct them in detail. In Leviticus 18, the instruction was primarily about sexual relationships. In Leviticus 19, the Lord instructed them about other matters. In some kinds of systematic theology, it is popular to divide God’s law into moral, ceremonial, and civil categories. Leviticus 19 shows that it a hopeless task. All are simply the instruction of the law covenant to the people who had to live under it.
Instead of doing that, let’s observe three things that are essential for the way of life of the Lord’s people.
- We are to be holy or set apart, because the Lord our God is holy or set apart. What is he set apart to? He has consecrated himself to his glory, the fame of his name, the righteousness of his character. By grace, we are to be like the Lord.
- God urges us to live his way, because he is the Lord. He himself is the starting point for how we evaluate what to live. For Israel under the law covenant, this involved behavior that was basically an avoidance (“do not”) of what the nations did. Some of these matters related only to their life as a nation, producing a distinctive appearance to their persons and their worship, economy, and so forth. Every Saturday and festival day, everyone could tell the difference. But all was to be done because he is the Lord.
- The Lord requires us to live in love. Here is the Second Greatest Command (Leviticus 19:18). An examination of each of these commands will show that they are either a demonstration of love to God, love for people, or both.
In the same way in the new covenant, our way of life starts from the reality of what God is. In Colossians 1:15-20, the apostle set for the glory of Christ. In the remainder of the letter, he applied that to how Christ’s people ought to live. Let’s think more often about how the identity of the Lord should transform our lives.
Grace and peace, David