Once God delivered Israel from the bondage of slavery, He promised many blessings for obedience. One of the greatest blessings was that Israel would become God’s peculiar treasure.
“And Moses went up unto God, and the Lord called unto him out of the mountain, saying, Thus shalt thou say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel; Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles’ wings, and brought you unto myself. Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine: And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel” (Exodus 19:3-6). God first revealed Himself as their deliverer. Their delivery was a gift, but the promises, as we see in verse 5, were conditional.
God continued to explain His laws so that the children of Israel could live in peace and happiness. He continually warned them not to look back or to return to the sins of Egypt, and actually commanded them to stay out of Egypt (Deuteronomy 17:16; Jeremiah 44:14), lest they become entangled in idolatry once again.
God regularly reminded the Israelites that it was He who brought them out of the bondage of sin. He also taught them why they were to stay out. In Leviticus 11, we find an example: “Ye shall not make yourselves abominable with any creeping thing that creepeth, neither shall ye make yourselves unclean with them, that ye should be defiled thereby. For I am the Lord your God: ye shall therefore sanctify yourselves, and ye shall be holy; for I am holy: neither shall ye defile yourselves with any manner of creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. For I am the Lord that bringeth you up out of the land of Egypt, to be your God: ye shall therefore be holy, for I am holy ” (Leviticus 11:43-45).
With the warning not to fall back into sin, God gives us the encouragement and prod to be holy as He is holy.
Here is another: “Sanctify yourselves therefore, and be ye holy: for I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 20:7). We are to be holy because God is holy.
Yet what does it mean to be holy? How can we ensure that we remain holy today? The Bible is filled with exhortations for us to be holy. This is a commandment that requires active participation on our part. We must know what holiness is, or we can’t fulfill this requirement of God’s. What is this target that we aim for?
To be holy means to be pure, clean, purified, not polluted, to be free from defilement, consecrated—that is, dedicated and devoted to God—to be sanctified, or set apart for use by God, to be uncorrupted by unclean or profane things. These details are just part of the wide spectrum of meaning the word holy implies and covers.
God’s Law—Our Mirror
Prior to the Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread, we examine ourselves to see whether sin dwells in us. It is God’s law that reveals to us what sin is (Romans 7:7). Holiness is the yardstick by which God measures us. We are to measure ourselves against that standard.
If we fail to measure against a perfect measuring stick, we just compare ourselves to others and always come out on top. But when we judge ourselves by the standard that God has set, His holy law, the standard of holiness, not one of us can stand up to that kind of test without discovering some kind of shortcoming.
God’s holy nation, Israel, was to be separate from the world because of the obedience to God’s law by their forefathers, the patriarchs. “For thou art an holy people unto the Lord thy God: the Lord thy God hath chosen thee to be a special people unto himself, above all people that are upon the face of the earth. … Know therefore that the Lord thy God, he is God, the faithful God, which keepeth covenant and mercy with them that love him and keep his commandments to a thousand generations; And repayeth them that hate him to their face, to destroy them: he will not be slack to him that hateth him, he will repay him to his face. Thou shalt therefore keep the commandments, and the statutes, and the judgments, which I command thee this day, to do them” (Deuteronomy 7:6-11). Along with the reminder as to why they were a special nation is the admonition to continue keeping God’s law, so that the blessings would be passed on from generation to generation.
Today, true Christians are spiritual Israel. The true Church of God consists of the holy people God the Father has personally called out of this world (John 6:44) to be separate and different from everyone else (1 Peter 2:9).
This chosen generation was separated to “shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness.” How can we show forth the praises of God? By our obedience to His law (John 14:15; 1 John 5:3). We have been called and chosen to be this special people (Revelation 17:14). Our part is to remain faithful, or to desire to be, and remain, holy.
When we were called, we were the weak and despised ones of the world. By our obedience and the grace of God, however, we can climb from that status to be leaders for God. To do so requires that we keep sin out of our lives. We must remain holy!
How can a human being become and stay holy? The Days of Unleavened Bread teach us, by daily reminder, how deeply we have been entrenched in sin. They also teach us that it takes effort to stay away from sin, but that with God’s help this is not an impossible task.
Three Steps to Holiness
In order for us to attain holiness, before anything else we have to be forgiven of our past sins. Colossians 1:19-22 remind us how important it is for us to begin right. We have been brought to God and separated from the world by the blood of Jesus Christ. Verse 22 says that we must be unreprovable, or above reproach; above discredit, not needing correction. That can only be if the penalty for our sins was removed first and our sins were washed by the blood of our Savior.
The second step to holiness is to rely on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. The sacrifice of our Savior reconciled us to the Father. Without it, we could never be presented holy, blameless or above reproach unto Him. Our sins prevent us from becoming holy and perfect (Isaiah 59:2). Sin also cuts us off from God’s revelation, which is needed to spur us on to greater holiness.
The third step toward holiness is our active part. We must let Jesus Christ live in us, every day of our lives.
That is the only path to being presented holy, unblameable and unreprovable in God’s sight. After Christ’s blood has cleansed us of our past sins, each one of us must go on to perfection and holiness by continuing, increasing and growing in the faith and the gospel that we have heard (Colossians 1:23), toward salvation by grace with works.
Things don’t stop with the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, as many people believe. The Passover shows us that it is only the beginning of God’s plan of redemption for all mankind.
Peter, the chief apostle, clearly understood this. In 1 Peter 1:13, Peter warns us to be sober, or to get serious about this. He reminds us that God the Father has called us (verse 15) and that He judges our works (verse 17). He quotes Leviticus 11:44 in verse 16, emphasizing the fact that we are to be holy, not just act holy, and reinforces that point in 1 Peter 2:9. This is about who and what we are!
This greatest sacrifice ever was offered so that you and I could become holy and remain holy. Christ’s sacrifice opened the door for us, but our holy conduct then qualifies us to go through that door. Without holy conduct, without the works, our salvation will fail. We cannot just be hearers of the Word; we must be doers (Romans 2:13). We have to prove our holiness to God and show Him that we are sincere about becoming perfect (James 1:21-25).
In 2 Chronicles 34 and 35 we read how young King Josiah understood that it took sanctification to really keep the Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread properly. Josiah took drastic actions to ensure that the people were cleansed from sin. Christ Himself instructed us that it is by God’s truth, by the words of the Bible, that we are sanctified (John 17:17). That is how Josiah sanctified the people. He ensured that all people were able to hear the words of God (2 Chronicles 34:29-30). He did this prior to making a covenant with God on behalf of all the people (verses 31-32). He went on to destroy all the abominations in Israel. He knew that if the Israelites would live by the words of God’s law, they could keep sin at bay and develop divine holiness—and so can we.
“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Romans 12:1-2). We cannot be part of this world and still be holy. God tells us to take action to prove that we are a different, peculiar, and holy people.
We have been set apart for God’s use. God called His firstfruits out of season to sow the seeds for the latter harvest. It is by our actions that we show God that we are setting ourselves apart, every day of our lives.
In Leviticus 23, God commanded ancient Israel, like He commands us today, to be separate from the world by observing His holy days and His holy convocations. God set these days apart for His use, to instruct us. Obedience to God’s commandments concerning the holy days is one of the most obvious signs to the world that God’s people are different.
We are reminded weekly of this fact. In Exodus 31:12-17, God discusses how important it is to Him that we keep His holy Sabbath. It is the sign identifying His people, and God pronounced a death penalty for breaking that command. How holy is God’s Sabbath to you?
The holy days and weekly Sabbaths are just some of the commands we have been called to observe to develop holiness in us. The world refuses to obey God, and obedience will set anyone apart.
Dare to Stick Out
God wants us to be different from the world. Do you? There should be obvious and dramatic differences between us and the society around us. Are you willing to make a stand for God?
Sometimes we could be embarrassed in a restaurant when we have to call the presence of pork in our food to the attention of the waiter, or because our salad is sprinkled with croutons during the Days of Unleavened Bread, but that’s not what our attitude should be.
This time of year is a special reminder of how different we are and ought to be. The world considers us peculiar when our lunch consists of unleavened products day after day. This especially reminds our children of how different they are. Yet God says He separates people in His great plan according to what they do. His firstfruits choose to obey Him no matter how peculiar it makes them look. Holiness is far more than just forsaking sin. It is desiring to do what’s right.
Year round, we are reminded that we are different. We deleaven our homes, vehicles and workspaces. We leave work at odd times to keep God’s Sabbath holy. We take our children out of school, sometimes just days after their break. All these things set us apart.
God’s holy ways are different from man’s ways. Because of it, we stick out like a sore thumb at times, and it is our compliance with God’s instruction that makes us readily identifiable. We should, nonetheless never be ashamed of our holiness. Not even when we are caught in the spotlight at work, in school or among our neighbors.
Living in a Polluted Land
God told Ezekiel that he lived in a polluted land (Ezekiel 22:24). Ezekiel’s message is for our time. “Her priests have violated my law, and have profaned mine holy things: they have put no difference between the holy and profane, neither have they shewed difference between the unclean and the clean, and have hid their eyes from my sabbaths, and I am profaned among them” (verse 26). Our Laodicean brethren have done violence against God’s law. They despised being holy, set apart by God. They wanted to be accepted of the world. We must be able to tell the difference and make sure we don’t do violence to God’s law by incorrectly measuring our holiness. God’s standard is perfect and absolute.
We are exposed to so much evil, perversion and violence on a daily basis that it can almost lull us into complacency. Perhaps we are not used to turning away from it anymore. Have you ever turned off the tv when God’s name was taken in vain? Yet we are called to see the evil of this world and take a stand for our Father’s law.
In the wonderful World Tomorrow, there will not be any of this kind of entertainment, and we’ll have to be able to tell people why. Then, the whole world will be called to holiness. All mankind will be purified and cleansed from the influences of Satan’s wretched world.
Let’s not harden our hearts or dull our minds to the evil that surrounds us. It’s so easy to get used to it and say, Well, that’s our modern-day society, yet still let it creep into our lives. Does evil have to intensify further for us to be shocked by it?
God is very serious about the things He considers holy. He wants us to be serious about living holy lives, and that is difficult to do while living in this world.
When God spelled out the Ten Commandments, He reminded us of how He had already made the Sabbath holy, but that it’s up to us to keep it the way He intended it to be. God has already clearly spelled out for us that which is holy. It is now up to us to be holy and not be or act unholy. Get away from the unholy; flee from the abominations of this world.
Sons of Zadok and the Bride of Christ
“But the priests the Levites, the sons of Zadok, that kept the charge of my sanctuary when the children of Israel went astray from me, they shall come near to me to minister unto me, and they shall stand before me to offer unto me the fat and the blood, saith the Lord God …. And they shall teach my people the difference between the holy and profane, and cause them to discern between the unclean and the clean” (Ezekiel 44:15, 23). God is preparing a people today who, despite everyone around them going astray, will keep God’s charge. When the time comes for all mankind to understand what it means to be holy, it will be these people, by then changed to immortal spirit beings, teaching the difference between the holy and the profane.
Are you preparing for this task today?
Those who take part in the first resurrection are called holy (Revelation 20:6). We are to strive for greater holiness in our individual lives, but also collectively as the body of Christ (Ephesians 2:19-22). Both individually and collectively, we should seek holiness so that Christ’s bride may be presented holy (Ephesians 5:27). Striving for holiness is one way in which each and every one of God’s firstfruits can hasten the day of Christ’s return.
Once we attain true righteousness, it will be set in our character. We’ll always choose to be and do that which is holy unto God (Revelation 22:11-14). We won’t be able to be corrupted anymore. Let us develop the holiness of God, so that He will have the servants He needs to teach the whole world to “be holy, for I am holy.”