If you study the books of the Bible carefully, you'll notice that most of them have certain words that are used frequently. We sometimes call these words the key words of the book. For example, in Proverbs the key word is wisdom. In Hebrews, the key word is better. In II Peter, the key word is knowledge. In I & II Timothy and Titus, the key word is doctrine.
And, in the book of Leviticus, the key word is holy. In just 27 chapters, the word appears 90 times! That's an average of over 3 times per chapter. The book of Leviticus speaks of holy things, holy places, holy portions, holy offerings, holy flesh, a holy crown, a holy linen coat, holy garments, the holy sanctuary, holy fruit, holy name, holy bread, holy convocations, holy jubilee, holy animals, holy houses, holy fields, and holy tithes.
Now, if we wanted to spend the time studying all of these various objects that are referred to as "holy" we could do so, and no doubt, we could learn a great deal. But, I want us to focus our attention on two things that the book of Leviticus emphasizes concerning holiness: (1) God is holy and (2) God expects man to be holy also.
THE HOLINESS OF GOD
The Scriptures often affirm that God is holy. In the Old Testament, the Hebrew people sang after being delivered from Egyptian bondage - "Who is like You, O LORD, among the gods? Who is like You, glorious in holiness, fearful in praises, doing wonders?" (Exo. 15:11). Leviticus 19:2 - "Speak to all the congregation of the children of Israel, and say to them, 'You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy." I Samuel 2:2 - "No one is holy like the LORD, for there is none besides You, nor is there any rock like our God." In the New Testament, Mary, the mother of Christ, said in Luke 1:49 - "For He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name." Even in heaven around the throne of God we see this attribute of God being praised - "The four living creatures, each having six wings, were full of eyes around and within. And they do not rest day or night, saying: 'Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty. Who was and is and is to come!'" (Rev. 4:8).
And these are just a few of the passages we could read. Is it not clear that God is holy? In fact, everything that is affiliated and attached to God is said to be holy. In God's tabernacle, we have both the holy and most holy places (Exo. 26:33). The Sabbath is said to be holy (Exo. 20:8). God's name is holy (Lev. 20:3). God's angels are said to be holy (Matt. 25:31). God's revelation, the Scriptures, are said to be holy (II Tim. 3:15-17). His promises are affirmed as holy (Psa. 105:42). Because it was the city of God, Jerusalem was said to be holy (Matt. 4:5). His apostles and prophets were said to be holy (Rev. 18:20). The church is holy (I Cor. 3:17). Heaven, the new Jerusalem, the city of God, is said to be holy (Rev. 21:2).
We've seen clearly that God is holy and everything associated with Him is also holy, but do we really understand what we mean by saying God is holy? To a certain extent, I'm not sure man can completely understand what it means to say "God is holy." In like manner, I don't believe we can't fully comprehend what it means to say "God is love" (I John 4:8). God's ways are simply above our ways (Isa. 55:8,9).
R.A. Tozer expressed this thought rather well when he wrote:
"Neither the writer nor the reader of these words is qualified to appreciate the holiness of God. Quite literally a new channel must be cut through the desert of our minds to allow the sweet waters of truth that will heal our great sickness to flow in. We cannot grasp the true meaning of the divine holiness by thinking of someone or something very pure and then raising the concept to the highest degree we are capable of. God's holiness is not simply the best we know infinitely bettered. We know nothing like the divine holiness. It stands apart, unique, unapproachable, incomprehensible, and unattainable. The natural man is blind to it. He may fear God's power and admire His wisdom, but His holiness he cannot even imagine. Holy is the way God is. To be holy He does not conform to a standard. He is the standard. He is absolutely holy with an infinite, incomprehensible fullness of purity that is incapable of being other than it is."
Some might be thinking, Stephen, that didn't help much. But friends, it does help! Even though we might never fully understand God and His holiness, we can see that the central idea pertains to God being the absolute standard of purity.
We see this a little more clearly when we study the Hebrew words that are translated into English as our word "holy." They are all related to the idea of sacredness, consecration, and being set apart. Thus, holiness refers to God's moral perfection and total separation from everything that is profane. To say that God is holy is to say that God's character is absolutely pure and entirely set apart from all that is evil.
I believe this understanding of God's holiness sheds some light on some other passages in the Bible. For instance, James 1:13 - "Let no one say when he is temped, 'I am tempted by God'; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone." Notice that James doesn't say that God chooses not to be tempted by evil. He says that God simply cannot be tempted by evil. Why? Because God's nature is absolutely holy. God is completely separated from evil, even to the extent that it is impossible to tempt Him by it! Now that's hard to understand from our fleshly perspective, isn't it? We are weak and are continually enticed by our desires. We are not above temptation--but God is, He is an absolutely holy spiritual being!
And what about Hebrews 6:18? There the writer states that it is impossible for God to lie. He doesn't say that God refrains from lying because it is wrong. He says that lying is something God simply cannot do. Why? Because God's nature is absolutely holy. God is completely separated from evil, even to the extent that it is impossible for Him to lie!
Are you starting to see why this is a difficult subject? From our fleshly perspective, it is probably impossible to fully fathom the fact that God is absolutely pure and entirely set apart from any wickedness. But, to even appreciate this truth in part should cause us to feel inadequate and dreadfully sinful. We should realize how great and awesome God is and how lowly and corrupt we are!
Is that not how Isaiah felt? Put yourself in Isaiah's sandals and imagine yourself seeing what he saw and saying what he said:
"In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple. Above it stood seraphim; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one cried to another and said: 'Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory!' And the posts of the door were shaken by the voice of him who cried out, and the house was filled with smoke. So I said: 'Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.' Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a live coal which he had taken with the tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth with it, and said: 'Behold, this has touched your lips; your iniquity is taken away, and your sin purged'" (Isa. 6:1-7).
We are all men and women of unclean lips in comparison to God Almighty! We, like Isaiah, can only approach God after our sins or iniquities have been taken away. And, how can our sins be purged or cleansed? Through a living faith! A living faith is a faith that proves itself through obedience to God. God has done His part, and He expects man to do his. When a person realizes his vileness and filthiness in sin, he will grieve because he knows his sins are offensive to God's holiness (cf. Luke 18:13)! He must learn about Jesus and believe in Him (John 8:24) as God's Holy One (Acts 2:27), and the One through whom salvation is made possible. Sorrow over sin and personal faith will lead one to repentance, which is the decision and commitment to turn from unrighteousness (cf. II Cor. 7:10; Luke 13:3). Then, one must confess his faith in Christ (cf. Rom. 10:9,10) and have his sins washed away in the waters of baptism (cf. Acts 2:38)! From that point on, God desires that we grow and become like Him. God desires that we become holy, as He is holy.
THE HOLINESS OF MAN
We are spiritual beings, as God is, and He wants us to be like Him. Most earthly fathers swell with pride when someone observes their son and says, "Why, he is just like you, a carbon copy of your very image!" Wouldn't it be great if people thought we were carbon copies of our Heavenly Father? Absolutely! That's what God wants! Paul exhorts us to imitate him as he imitates Christ! (I Cor. 11:1). We will never be God, but we are to strive to develop His attributes--even His holiness.
As you recall, to say that God is holy is to say that He is absolutely pure and entirely set apart from all that is evil. So, if we are to be holy as He is holy, then we should do our best to live pure lives that are set apart from that which is sinful.
I believe there are two-parts to holiness: (1) There is the separation from that which is evil, and (2) There is the dedication to that which is pure. To illustrate this point, think about the Sabbath day under the Old Law. God stated that the Sabbath day was holy. But, why was it holy? Because it was separated from the other six days and it was a day dedicated to reflection and teaching.
If we are to be holy, we must be separate from sin and dedicated to that which is pure. If we don't have both parts, separation and dedication, then we are not holy as God is holy. For example, we might be very dedicated to that which is pure when we are around fellow Christians, but if we are not remaining separated from sin at other times, then we are not being holy. On the other hand, one could simply not do anything and be separated from wicked activities, but such a one is not dedicated to doing that which is pure. In this case also, true holiness is lacking.
There are many New Testament passages that teach the very things I've been speaking about. Romans 12:1,2 declares - "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God." James 1:27 - "Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this; to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world." II Corinthians 6:17-7:1 - "Therefore, 'Come out from among them and be separate,' says the Lord. 'Do not touch what is unclean and I will receive you. I will be a Father to you and you shall be My sons and daughters,' says the LORD Almighty. Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God."
By using the phrase "perfecting holiness," Paul teaches us that holiness is something that must be developed. A babe in Christ will not be as holy as one who has faithfully devoted himself to the Lord for thirty years! When we grow in the likeness of Christ, we should be growing in holiness! Holiness is a process and we should strive daily to improve and grow more holy and mature as God would have us to do. How? By separating ourselves from wickedness and dedicating ourselves to those things God says are pure, wholesome, and worthwhile (cf. Phil. 4:8)! Daily prayer, meditation, and study of God's word will help tremendously. Likewise, frequently assembling with other devoted Christians for worship and service in the kingdom should help us cultivate holiness.
I'm afraid that many do not consider frequently enough the holiness of the God we serve. Consequently, there is the tendency to become too casual in our approach to worship and life in general when we should be focusing our attention upon living lives of purity and lives that are set apart from sin.
Holy, holy, holy--God is holy, and He expects man to be holy (cf. Lev. 11:45). What kind of life are you living?
Thank you for listening, and may the Lord bless you as you strive to do His will.