One must understand that God has always demanded that His people
be a holy people. God said in both the Old and New Testaments, "You shall be
holy, for I am holy" (Lev. 19:2; 1 Pet 1:16). The fact that God separated some
from the rest of the world for Himself indicates that demand, for God is the
essence of holiness. God's holy people in both testaments were always expected
them to maintain their holiness, or "set apart-ness," that God so richly
provided and desires them to continue therein of their own free will.
God's people are those who are chosen by Him. In the Old Testament, God's people were called the sons of Israel, or Israelites. They were chosen by God to fulfill the promise made to the Patriarch Abraham, "And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed" (Gen. 12:3). Abraham's family line ended up slaves in Egypt only to be delivered out of bondage by God through Moses. After being led out and miraculously crossing the Red Sea they came to Mt. Sinai in the wilderness of Paran. It was here that Abraham's family, through his descendant Israel, came into what is commonly called the Mosaic covenant. They were given the Ten Commandments (Ex. 20), the "Book of the Covenant" (Ex 21-23) and the tabernacle plans (Ex. 25-30). The sons of Israel built the tabernacle with its utensils (Ex. 35-40) and ritual holiness began shortly afterward. The sons belonging to Moses' brother Aaron were set apart from the rest of the nation to be priests and consecrated or made holy, then God lit the fire on the bronze sacrificial altar that would never go out (Lev 8-9). God established His holy people and gave them laws to maintain holiness.
God's holiness originates with Him. It "describes the moral perfection and purity of God's nature. " God's people, in order that He may dwell in their presence, must be holy in the same way God is holy. Israel was not to do anything to jeopardize their own holiness or any object God sanctified. Sanctification describes the divine action that makes someone or thing holy. "I am the Lord, who makes you holy" (Lev. 20:8; 21:8, 15, 23; 22:9, 16, 32). Those who became unclean did various rituals ranging from waiting one day to offering a blood sacrifice. Those who intentionally became unholy or neglected to do the ceremony for their given condition were "cut off" (Num. 19:20-22). "A natural extension of the belief that God is holy is the idea that holiness means wholeness or perfection. To be holy is to be unblemished or unmarred. It is to experience life in all its fullness as God had originally intended it to be. On one level this is reflected in the divine requirements regarding both priests and sacrifices.. On another level, holiness is associated with perfect moral behavior.. To be holy is to live in a way that reflects the moral perfection of God; it is to live a life marked by love, purity and righteousness."
God's chosen people in the New Testament are in one sense made holy once for all by the atoning blood of Christ, and live by the same concept of holiness, only without the ritual of the Mosaic Covenant's tabernacle service. However, in the same way that Israel was to do nothing to jeopardize their holiness, Christians must maintain holiness by a constant dedication to conforming to the character of God. John the Apostle said, "But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin" (1 Jn. 1:7). Paul more specifically said, "Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates the body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God" (2 Cor. 7:1 cf. Jam. 4:8) and "present your members as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification" (Rom. 6:19). Peter emphasize that holiness needs to be the ambition of every Christian when he quoted Leviticus 19:2, "You shall by holy, for I am holy" (1 Pet. 1:16).
Those who sense that holiness needs to be a big priority in life are right. Although Christians are set apart by God, there is still a process by which the concept of holiness is learned throughout the Christian walk (1 Thess. 5:23) and is yet to be completed. The good thing is that God loves and helps His children grow. It was the writer to the Hebrews who said that God "disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness" (Heb 12:10). Some of us may need a little paddling here and there to adjust our path, then there are others who are kind enough to lead us to the assisting paddle of the Lord. One thing is for sure, God is just with his paddle and it is for our own good. Where are we in regard to holiness? Where do we want to be? Where should we be? Let us seek His holiness and imitate it (Eph 5:1) become holier each day, together.
By Steve Quillian
From Expository Files 7.10; October 2000