Sanctify yourselves therefore, and be ye holy: for I am the LORD your God. (Leviticus 20:7)
First of all, I need to emphasize that I believe in salvation by grace alone, through faith alone apart from any works of the flesh (Ephesians 2:8-9; Romans 3:20; 11:6; Galatians 2:16; Titus 3:5). In addition, salvation cannot be maintained through any effort on our part, but it is dependent on the object of our faith, the Lord Jesus Christ, and His ability and faithfulness to keep His promises. Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand” (John 10:27-29, emphasis added). Paul asks, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” (Romans 8:3). Then he provides a long list of possibilities before answering, “Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:37-39).
That said, as His children, God still expects us to live “holy” lives. Our opening verse comes from the Old Testament law, and it was directed at the Children of Israel. Many Christians will object: “That’s Old Testament! We are ‘New Testament’ Christians. We are not under the Law; we are under Grace!” Well, what does the New Testament say? Jesus said, “If ye love me, keep my commandments … He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him” (John 14:15, 21, emphasis added). Then He makes Himself our example: “If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love” (John 15:10). Peter also echoes the words of the Old Testament when he says, “But as he [Jesus] which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation [i.e., “manner of life” or “life conduct”]; Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:15-16). James, the brother of Jesus, puts it very plainly, “faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone” (James 2:17). James is not preaching a salvation of works, but rather calls for a practical, visible manifestation of the faith we claim. He explains: “Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works” (James 2:18). A very simple illustration of James’ premise is this: To convince my wife to marry me, I told her that I loved her. But once we are married, I never take her out, I never help her at home, I never pay any attention to her or listen to her; I go out and spend time with my friends and leave her at home alone. I stay out late at night and use our home as sort of a “flop house.” Could an outside observer testify that I really love my wife? That is the point James is making. True faith demonstrates some sort evidence to the genuineness of that faith.
So what does it mean to be “holy”? Does it mean living a sinless life? If that were even possible, what purpose would Christ’s death on the cross serve? Of all our godly examples from Scripture, not one lived a sinless life, except for Jesus Christ our Lord. Paul lamented, “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” (Romans 7:24). So, being “holy” does not equate to being “sinless.”
The word “holy” means to be set apart. When God commanded the Children of Israel to be holy, He intended them to be distinct from the nations that surrounded them. Modern Christians often make light of the Old Testament laws and reject them as not applicable to New Testament saints. But, other than the sacrificial laws which were done away with the sacrifice of Christ, many of those laws were put in place for the sole purpose of distinguishing the people of God from the people of the world. Take for example, the prohibition against piercings and tattoos: “Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you: I am the LORD” (Leviticus 19:28). Piercings, cuttings of the skin, tattoos, etc. were all common practices of the pagan nations that surrounded Israel. These kinds of markings are still considered “beautiful” with many primitive people today. God wanted His people to be different. I selected this one example because it is one of the most obvious that I see among Christians today – they are hard to hide. To me what this says is “I can make my body more beautiful than the one God made for me.” That aside, the point is that we have a lost generation out there that needs a Savior, and this is what they do. Christians, rather than set themselves “apart,” fall right in line with the rest of the lost world, and yet, God still calls His people to be “holy.”
“Holy” also means to be “sanctified” or “consecrated,” i.e., to be “dedicated” to the service of the Lord. That does not mean that we put on our “holy” garments on Sunday for worship and live the rest of the week serving ourselves – in whatever form that takes. “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, emphasis added). A “living sacrifice” is a daily thing. Note that it is “holy” – distinct from the world around us. Our lives should not be conformed to the passing fads of this world, but rather our thinking should be “transformed” according to the pattern of our Savior. Our lifestyle, distinct and set apart from this world, will prove to the world, as James pointed out, “what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” For that Christian who thinks this cannot be done, you are correct. It cannot be done through your own strength, but by the Grace that comes from the indwelling Holy Spirit in our lives. Be ye holy.