Beckett: Pastoral Thoughts – You Shall Be Holy (Leviticus 19:2; 20:22-26)

“Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy… You shall therefore keep all My statutes and all My rules and do them, that the land where I am bringing you to live may not vomit you out. And you shall not walk in the customs of the nation that I am driving out before you, for they did all these things, and therefore I detested them. But I have said to you, ‘You shall inherit their land, and I will give it to you to possess, a land flowing with milk and honey.’ You shall therefore separate the clean beast from the unclean, and the unclean bird from the clean. You shall not make yourselves detestable by beast or by bird or by anything with which the ground crawls, which I have set apart for you to hold unclean. You shall be holy to Me, for I the LORD am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be Mine.”

Leviticus 19:2; 20:22-26

As I’ve discussed in another article, “You shall be holy, for I am holy” is not a command but a promise. Like others, we could jump to Acts 10 where we find its fulfilment when Jesus tells Peter to rise and eat, but as a good Jew Peter refuses since he’s not supposed to eat any common and unclean thing. But then Jesus says, “What God has made clean, do not call common,” thus showing Peter that there are no more unclean foods (and peoples). Yet just like before, I want to go in another direction. Not only are Leviticus 11, 19, and 20 fulfilled in Jesus as He makes every food clean to eat and that Gentiles (pagans) are no longer unclean to be part of God’s people, but even more there is God’s promise that His people shall be holy in Christ.

This happens first by faith. As Luther preached it on John 3:1-15, “…because this man [Jesus] comes down from heaven, for His own person He must be without any sin, innocent, and of divine purity. Thus He is not said to be born of flesh, as we are, but of the Holy Spirit, and His flesh is not sinful, but a purely holy flesh and blood. This was so that He could make our sinful flesh and blood pure and holy through His purity and holy, unblemished sacrifice” (LW 78:49), which happens by faith. It therefore also happens in the Lord’s Supper. Jesus’ body and blood are the purest of all clean things, and He gives them to us to eat and to drink in the Lord’s Supper. Just as He alludes to in John 6, His body and blood make us holy by faith in what He did on the cross and His actual body and blood make us holy as we eat and drink of it in the Supper.

As God made quite clear in Leviticus 19 and 20, God’s holy people live differently than the rest of the world. He decrees all these forbiddances because Canaan does all these things (Leviticus 20:23). The people of Egypt practiced all these sexual perversions, consulted mediums and necromancers (19:31), dishonoured their parents, and other things. The Lord has called Israel to live differently—to be holy, literally set apart. “You shall be holy to Me,” says the Lord (20:26), or literally, “You shall be set apart for Me.” God has chosen Israel for Himself, and this means they live completely different than the rest of the world: not adulterous, not incestuous, not homosexual, not lying with animals, not dishonouring father and mother, not worshiping other gods, not sacrificing their children, not lying and cheating and stealing, and so on.

We are made holy through Christ, and we thus live differently than the rest of the world. We are set apart, which means we look, sound, and live differently than everyone else. When the pagan world says two people of the same sex can get married, we confess with God’s Word that marriage is only between a man and a woman (Genesis 2:24; Matthew 19:5; Mark 10:7; 1 Corinthians 7:10-11; Ephesians 5:31). When the world says there’s more than two genders, we confess, “male and female He created them” (Genesis 1:27; Matthew 19:4; Mark 10:6). To confess more than two genders is to confess that God makes mistakes as Creator, which makes trusting in God for our salvation a moot point since a fallible and errant god cannot be trusted.

When the pagan world says Jesus is not the only way to salvation, we confess that He is (John 14:6) and that there is only one God (Deuteronomy 4:35; 1 Kings 8:60; Isaiah 42:8; 43:11; 44:6; 46:9; John 10:30; 1 Timothy 2:5-6). When the world takes the Lord’s name in vain by using it to curse, swear, lie, deceive, or use satanic arts, we only use His name to call upon it in every trouble, pray praise, and give thanks. When the world says we don’t need church to be a Christian, we confess with God’s Word to keep the Sabbath holy by loving and cherishing preaching and God’s Word rather than despising it. When the world says to grow out of your parents, we honour, serve, obey, respect, love, and cherish them, even as they grow old (what this looks like will change as you also get older). When the world says it’s right to murder your baby in the womb, we confess that it is life in the womb and, therefore, murder (Psalm 139:14-16; Luke 1:41).

While the pagan world normalises adultery, we confess with God’s Word that it is sin and all people—whether single or married—should lead a sexually pure and decent life in what we say and do. When the world utilises situational ethics to justify stealing, we confess with God’s Word that it is sinful, no matter the dire predicament. (If you’re poor and “need” to steal food to feed your family, fine, steal, but then repent.) When the world slanders and tells lies about people with whom they disagree and thus damage their reputation, we instead defend them, speak well of them, and put the best construction on things. While the world normalises the coveting of persons and things, we instead remain content with what the Lord has given us and help our neighbour to keep his persons and possessions.

You can see how living as God’s holy people looks totally different than the rest of the world. The world, violating the 8th Commandment since they love to get in bed with lies, will call us bigoted, intolerant, homophobic, transphobic, and exclusive. But no, we are holy, and holiness is fundamentally exclusive—it does not tolerate sin; for God has made us holy by the blood of His only-begotten Son by faith in what He did on the cross, the consumption of His body and blood in the Lord’s Supper, and our rebirth in Holy Baptism. As such, He makes us different than we once were, and thus we live and speak differently. This will make the world hate us, just as Jesus warned (John 15:18-23), so do not be surprised that they launch such vile, thoughtless invectives at you for living as Christ’s holy, set apart people. For since they hate Christ, so they will hate you and me because His holiness demands that we live apart from our sins and narcissistic desires since His Gospel frees us from such self-centredness. But fret not, for we are already more than conquerors through Him who loved us (Romans 8:31-39).

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