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Does God make us holy?

Does God make us holy?
Does God make us holy?
The Rev. Kathy Brumbaugh
The Rev. Kathy Brumbaugh, Special Writer

Background text: Leviticus 11:44-45

Devotional text: Leviticus 20:26

As I’ve been reading scripture lately, the subject of holiness keeps coming up.  Leviticus 20:26 tells us, “You shall be holy to me, for I, the Lord, am holy and have set you apart from the nations, to be my own.”

The whole of Leviticus was written by Moses as he met with God on Mount Sinai when the Israelites were on their exodus from Egypt to The Promised Land. As the people waited below, Moses spent time on the mountain receiving instructions from God.

Found throughout Leviticus, the people of Israel were told over and over again that God was their God, that God had separated them from the nations of false idol worship, to be their one and only God. The phrase “Be holy, because I, your God, am holy,” is seen throughout the chapters.

Today, in order to discover the meaning of holiness, we will look at some of these scriptures.

First, it’s good to look at the definition of being holy. In the Bible, the word holy is from the Hebrew word Qodesh, meaning to be set apart for a specific purpose. It is also defined as something or someone set apart, to be consecrated to God, to be a follower of God’s ways, as opposed to the ways of the world. For a person to be holy, they should be devoted entirely to God, dedicated (or consecrated) to God’s ways.

According to John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, there are two types of holiness: personal and social. Personal holiness is described as someone who is growing in a personal relationship with God. In social holiness, we find someone showing God’s love to other people by caring for their needs.

Let’s go back to the Old Testament book of Leviticus to see how the phrase “to be holy” is used.

In chapter 11, God gave Moses a list of food that could be eaten and food that should not be eaten. These foods were referred to as being clean or unclean. In verses 44 to 45, the scripture tells us, “… consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy. I am the Lord who brought you up out of Egypt to be your God; therefore, be holy because I am holy.”

God was not new to the Israelites. However, through years of bondage in Egypt, many had forgotten their God, believing God had forgotten them. Of course, this did not include everyone. There was still a remnant praying to God for release from captivity. We find the story of how God chose Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt in the second book of the Old Testament, Exodus.

We find another mention of holiness in Leviticus 19:2, where God told Moses, “Speak to all the assembly of Israel and say to them: ‘Be holy, because I, the Lord your God, am holy’.”

In Leviticus 20:7, Moses gave the people these words from God: “Consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am the Lord your God. Keep my decrees and follow them. I am the Lord who makes you holy.”

From these verses, we learn that no one can become holy on their own. We receive holiness from God as we follow him, grow in him and learn rightful ways of living.

Going back to chapter 19 for a moment, this is the chapter listing various laws given by God to the people. I call it the “Do Not” chapter, because it was a list of the things the people were not do if they were to be holy. It’s a long list and includes, in part, do not lie, steal, deceive, swear falsely against anyone, hold back wages, pervert justice, nor mistreat one another (including strangers living in the land).

We understand, of course, that no one is perfect. Although being holy sounds like trying to live in another plane of existence, beyond the normal world, and, therefore, unachievable for anyone, that is not true. God knows we are not perfect. When God tells us to be holy, he is referring to our thoughts and actions in our own lives as we strive to follow God.

In Leviticus 20:26, God told the Israelites he had set them apart. Leviticus 19:2 has Moses reminding the people that their calling was to “be holy as God is holy.” Going ahead to Leviticus 20:7, Moses told the people to consecrate (dedicate) themselves to God and to follow God’s decrees. In these ways, God would make them a holy people.

God speaks to us today in the same way, in the scriptures. As believers, we are to separate ourselves from worldly desires and all unrighteousness, all things that are harmful to us and to others. We are to follow God’s “do nots” found in scripture, following instead the righteous ways of God. This is still the way that God makes us holy.

Take, for example, the religious leaders of the Hebrew peoples. These leaders who were righteous and sought to show God’s love to the world separated themselves from worldly ways that were sinful. Their call was to introduce people to the one true God and explain the importance of choosing to believe. They showed mercy on the fallen, compassion to the needy and the love of God toward one another. Though they were not perfect, they lived a life of righteousness in the best way they could.

In the book of Leviticus, Moses, speaking for God, told the people that God had made them a separate people to follow his ways. He told them he was making them holy because they were his people, because he is holy, they too, were holy. This tells us we can never make ourselves holy, for holiness comes from God alone.

We become holy as we stay close to God, learning about God’s ways through his holy word, the Bible. God calls each of us to mature in his plan for our lives, following his gracious instructions from the Bible. Yes, we are called to be holy. We are not perfect, but we can stay close to God and learn his ways.

In the New Testament, Jesus and the Apostles continue the theme of holiness and speak of more specifics of how God helps us to become holy. We will continue with New Testament scripture next week.