A People Set Apart
A reflection on today’s reading from Leviticus 20.
A People Set Apart
“You are to be holy to me because I, the LORD, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be my own.” (Lev. 20:26 NIV11)
What do you do with a chapter like Leviticus 20? I was reading it over breakfast this morning and wondering.. “Do I really need to be reading about sexual relations, who can sleep with who, and child sacrifice? Where’s my bright and happy thought for the day to pep me up?”
Wonderfully, the Bible isn’t a ‘pep you up’ kind of book. Instead it’s the Word of the living God revealed in two testaments and centred on the revelation and salvation prepared in Jesus.
And we need saving.
Not just us – ancient people and modern. “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God,” we are told in Romans 3. That’s true. Leviticus was written to God’s people who were about to take over the land we know as Palestine from another group who lived a very different way. God tells us why they lost the land and why Israel must be wary:
“You must not live according to the customs of the nations I am going to drive out before you. Because they did all these things, I abhorred them. But I said to you, “You will possess their land; I will give it to you as an inheritance, a land flowing with milk and honey.” I am the LORD your God, who has set you apart from the nations.” (Lev. 20:23–24 NIV11)
God detested the child sacrifice and distorted relations of those who occupied the land. His people needed to be different. Distinctly different. They needed to pattern their lives on a holiness that took after their Holy God.
The New Testament similarly exhorts Christians,
“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Rom. 12:1–2 NIV11
“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 Pet. 1:14–16 NIV11)
Our separation from the world around us is both a work of God by His Holy Spirit who sanctifies or transforms us, and an act of choice to be distinct – as we choose not to be made in the likeness of our culture but our Christ.
God spelt out the dangers of the land Israel were going into in the Old Testament and similarly provides ample warning in the New for His Church. The big picture however is one of identifiably living by a different code to the prevailing culture. A holy people. Separate. Pure. Changed.
“Dear Heavenly Father, You have called us to be a holy people set aside for Your glory. We thank You that Jesus saved us when we were utterly unworthy. We thank You that Your Spirit is sanctifying us daily. We ask that You might continue to transform our will that we might freely choose to put You and the Kingdom first in ways that mark us out in distinction to our culture. Please forgive us when we fall short and encourage and enable us to grow in Your likeness. Amen.”