Last week I studied about what it means to be holy, or set apart for a specific purpose. I learned that:
- If I am set apart for a specific purpose, then obviously if I go back to my former purpose, I won’t be set apart any more.
- If I am not set apart and clean, God will not use me.
- If in my old life, my purpose was to live in wickedness and uncleanness, then my new purpose is to be righteous and clean.
- Holiness seems to be comprised of separating from uncleanness.
The apostle Peter wrote that it is urgently important for us to be holy.
“But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy.'” (1 Peter 1:15-16).
Peter says, “It is written,” to remind his readers that he wasn’t making up a new commandment; rather, he was quoting from the oldest part of the Bible, the Torah (“teaching”). I probably wouldn’t have noticed this myself, except that my Bible has a footnote to tell me where he’s quoting from. (I’m a geek… I like reading footnotes…) The footnotes tell me that he is quoting from Leviticus 11:44-45 and Leviticus 19:2.
The apostle John wrote something very similar in his first letter.
“We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands… Dear friends, I am not writing you a new command but an old one, which you have had since the beginning. This old command is the message you have heard” (1 John 2:3-7).
The message [Greek logos] he is referring to is also mentioned in John’s gospel:
“In the beginning was the Word [logos], and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made” (John 1:1-3).
The “beginning” referred to by John is the creation of the world, which is recorded for us in Genesis, the beginning of the Torah.
The message of the Bible never changes from beginning to end. The Word, with a Capital W, is Jesus, the logos “made flesh” (John 1:14) and the One who came to live among us, Immanuel, or “God with us” (Isaiah 7:14, Matthew 1:23). Just as Jesus cannot change (Hebrews 13:8), neither do His commands and teachings (Psalm 105:8, Isaiah 40:8).
I have often heard that as a Christian, I am to live a holy life. However, I have also been frustrated by the different opinions of what holiness means. For instance, a simple Google search brought up the following:
- Holiness means to be morally good.
- Holiness means to be unique.
- Holiness means to belong to God.
- Holiness means to live with God.
- Holiness means to be a light.
- Holiness means to be distinct from the world.
- Holiness means to have a right relationship with God.
- Holiness means to study God’s Word and grow in it.
- Holiness means to be a saint.
- Holiness is goodness.
- Holiness is the sum of all God’s attributes.
- “NO man can determine what acts, thoughts and lifestyle are Holy. It is only with the aid of the Holy Spirit we can do this.”
Are you with me that this is as clear as mud?!
Exactly how am I supposed to be holy?
It all seems rather vague…
Which is why verses like this make me pause:
“Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness [hagiasmos] no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14).
I am guessing I’m not the first person to wonder these things, for in the acrostic poem written to help young Hebrew children learn their aleph-bet, the Psalmist says,
“How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word” (Psalm 119:9).
We become holy, pure, and clean by living according to the Word of God. My Google search basically said the same thing, but now I’m wondering if the Torah (or the “teaching” of the first five books of the Bible) gives a specific definition of what it means to be holy, pure, and clean.
I decided to start with the passage in Leviticus that Peter quoted:
“YHWH said to Moses, ‘Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them, “Be holy because I, YHWH your God, am holy…“‘” (Leviticus 19:1-2).
God then began a long and miscellaneous listing of commands and rules, some of which bear resemblance to the ten commandments, a few of which are familiar to me, a couple of which are repeated in the New Testament, and many of which seem totally unrelated to my life in 2012.
God ends the 30-some verses with,
“Keep all my decrees and all my laws and follow them. I am YHWH” (Leviticus 19:37).
So being holy means guys shouldn’t clip off the hair on the edges of their beards or wear clothing woven of two kinds of material?
I was looking for a specific list… and this is specific… but this chapter is written to “the entire assembly of Israel” (verse 1), not to me. Right?
So I looked at the other reference in Peter’s footnote:
“Of all the animals that live on land, these are the ones you may eat: You may eat any animal that has a split hoof completely divided and that chews the cud… There are some that only chew the cud or only have a split hoof, but you must not eat them… Of all the creatures living in the water of the seas and the streams, you may eat any that have fins and scales… You will make yourselves unclean by these; whoever touches their carcasses will be unclean till evening…
“Do not defile yourselves by any of these creatures. Do not make yourselves unclean by means of them or be made unclean by them. I am YHWH your God; consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy. Do not make yourselves unclean by any creature that moves about on the ground. I am YHWH who brought you up out of Egypt to be your God; therefore be holy, because I am holy.
“These are the regulations concerning animals, birds, every living thing that moves in the water and every creature that moves about on the ground. You must distinguish between the unclean and the clean, between living creatures that may be eaten and those that may not be eaten.” (Leviticus 11:1-4, 9, 24, 43-47).
Again, I was looking for specifics — and this is specific — but… seriously?
My search took me much further, to lists of many more specific things that God defines as “clean.”
- Touching dead animals is unclean (Leviticus 5:2 and 17:15).
- Women are unclean for a number of days after childbirth and during their periods (Leviticus 12:2).
- Contagious skin diseases are unclean (Leviticus 13:3, 46).
- Clothing contaminated by certain types of mildew are unclean (Leviticus 13:59).
- Homes contaminated by certain types of mildew are unclean (Leviticus 14:33-57).
- Various bodily fluids are unclean (Leviticus 15).
- It is unclean for a man to marry his brother’s wife (Leviticus 20:21).
- Places were people have died (such as graveyards and battlefields) are unclean (Numbers 19:14-16).
- Lips can be unclean (Isaiah 6:5).
- Evil spirits are unclean (Matthew 10:1, 12:43).
- A land where idols are worshiped is unclean (Joshua 22:19, Ezra 9:11, Zechariah 13:2).
God was very, very specific when He said,
“For YHWH your God moves about in your camp to protect you and to deliver your enemies to you. Your camp must be holy, so that he will not see among you anything indecent and turn away from you” (Deuteronomy 23:14).
He obviously took his specific commands of cleanliness seriously!
We find that God’s people knew what God’s definition of “clean and unclean” were, even before the time of Moses. For instance, Job lived shortly after the Flood, and he understood God’s definition of holiness:
“Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? (Job 14:4, KJV).
“They die in youth, and their life is among the unclean“(Job 36:14, KJV).
Even before that, Noah understood how to tell which animals were clean and which were unclean:
“YHWH then said to Noah, ‘Go into the ark, you and your whole family, because I have found you righteous in this generation. Take with you seven of every kind of clean animal, a male and its mate, and two of every kind of unclean animal, a male and its mate, and also seven of every kind of bird, male and female, to keep their various kinds alive throughout the earth'” (Genesis 7:1-3).
It seems likely to me that this knowledge wasn’t passed on from generation to generation, as it should have been, so that by the time of Moses, the godly line of Israel didn’t know what clean meant any more. (Search sometime for how many times Moses told the people to “remember.”)
As John said,
“Dear friends, I am not writing you a new command but an old one, which you have had since the beginning. This old command is the message [logos] you have heard” (1 John 2:7).
Here we are, thousands of years later, and it seems to me that believers have not been taught any specific definitions of holiness. We have been left to do what is “right in our own eyes.” We’re sincerely trying to obey God — but if the definitions of “clean” in the Torah are correct, we are sincerely missing the mark!
“Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped… And a highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness. The unclean will not journey on it; it will be for those who walk in that Way; wicked fools will not go about on it” (Isaiah 35:5, 8).
“The Spirit of Sovereign YHWH is on me, because YHWH has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners… They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of YHWH for the display of his splendor… And you will be called priests of YHWH, you will be named ministers of our God… They will be called the Holy People, the Redeemed of YHWH” (Isaiah 61:1, 3, 6; 62:12).
“And Yeshua answered them, ‘Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.'” (Matthew 11:4-5, ESV).
“All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away” (Isaiah 64:6).
“‘Therefore come out from them and be separate’, says YHWH. ‘Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you'” (2 Corinthians 6:17).
Israel was judged because she refused to “come out from among them” and be clean.
“Her priests do violence to my law and profane my holy things; they do not distinguish between the holy and the common; they teach that there is no difference between the unclean and the clean; and they shut their eyes to the keeping of my Sabbaths, so that I am profaned among them” (Ezekiel 22:26).
In fact, this was defined as the day that Ephraim (a tribe of Israel) returned to Egypt and ate unclean things (Hosea 9:3).
We have learned before that this world lives according to the system of Babylon, a system which God defines as unclean in every possible way.
“Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great!
She has become a dwelling place for demons,
a haunt for every unclean spirit,
a haunt for every unclean bird,
a haunt for every unclean and detestable beast” (Revelation 18:2).
And so Peter wrote to the first-century believers,
“As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do;for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy.'” (1 Peter 1:14-16).
“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us” (1 Peter 2:9-12).
God told Aaron and the priests,
“You must distinguish between the holy and the common, between the unclean and the clean, and you must teach the Israelites all the decrees YHWH has given them through Moses” (Leviticus 10:10-11).
As a member of the chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, and a people belonging to God, I also have a responsibility to distinguish between the holy and the common, between the unclean and the clean. And I must also teach this!
God never changes. Even in the millennium, the priests of God are to “teach my people the difference between the holy and the common and show them how to distinguish between the unclean and the clean” (Ezekiel 44:23 and Revelation 20:6).
And at the end of time, in God’s Holy City, a city set apart and pure, we see that “nothing impure [Greek koinoō, or unclean] will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life” (Revelation 21:27). (See also Isaiah 65:17-66:24).
I am thankful for the blood of Yeshua, which cleanses me from all my uncleanness:
“The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Messiah, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!” (Hebrews 9:13).
I have been cleansed, but this doesn’t give me license to do things God calls impure.
“What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” (Romans 6:1-2).
And so if God’s Word doesn’t change and He is always the same, then Peter’s words make more sense:
“Peter, an apostle of Yeshua the Messiah, To God’s elect, strangers in the world, scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia, who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying [hagiasmos] work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood” (1 Peter 1:1-2).
Who’s with me?