“Be holy, because I am holy” (1 Peter, 1:16, TNIV).
Do you ever run across a verse or a phrase in the Bible, and it just sticks with you? You don’t know why it strikes you so deeply, but it does. You chew on it, trying to get all of the meaningful juices out of the verse only to realize that there is no way to digest all of its incredible richness. This is what happened to me when I ran across this verse.
Peter, one of the authors of the New Testament, included this quote, “Be holy, because I am holy,” from Leviticus, one of the older books in the Bible, in his letter to some of the early Christians in Asia. I wanted to get a better understanding of this quote so I went to the original source, Leviticus 11:44-45.
I have read through Leviticus once, and I admittedly found the book extremely boring. The book consists of rule after rule that God gives the Israelites and addresses anything from childbirth to lizards falling into clay pots. I struggled just to finish it, and at the end, I had already forgotten what I had read.
I missed it. I completely missed the message God was and is trying to convey to his loved ones.
You see, the word “holy” was not just limited to a few instances in Leviticus. The book actually uses “holy” or “holiness” more than any other book in the entire Bible. That is a big deal; there is something in that.
Holy means to be set apart—different from the rest. And this is what God wants His people to be, different. Leviticus is not just a list of odd rules to govern the nation of ancient Israel; it was about being different from all of the other nations, who were worshiping false gods that surrounded them. Over and over again God tells them to be holy, be holy, be holy. Be different, be different, be different.
Peter, reiterates this message in his writings, not that we are supposed to worry about falling lizards, but that we are supposed to be set apart from the world. You see, much like the Israelites were God’s loved ones in ancient times, we are God’s loved ones—anyone that believes, in present day. And the message that rang true then is still true today. We are to be different.
After I had this little realization, I then found myself asking “how?” How do I become holy? How do I become set apart? Do I have to start wearing cheesy Christian T-shirts or stop taking showers? That would make me different, right? Obviously, this is not what God had in mind. Bad hygiene is not the type of holiness that God is wanting out of us.
Then how do I become holy? What is going to set me apart in a way that pleases God? Where is my guideline?
After some thought, I realized that Jesus perfectly answered this question while He was here on earth. While the ancient Israelites had to follow a whole book of commands to become holy, we were only given a couple: Love God with everything that you have, and love those around you as if they were yourself.
If we are to follow these two simple commands, we would be separated from the rest of the world like never before. Not by the clothes that we wear and not by our daily hygienic efforts. We would be separated by the lives that we live. Separated because we are chasing after God with all of our heart; separated because we are giving our time, our money, our care to everyone around us, both the known and the unknown. We would be different in a way that attracts and not repels unbelievers, a beautiful separation.
Following two simple commands can make one holy, yet there is absolutely nothing simple about these commands. Sure, I try to love God with everything, but I often fail. And I try to love everyone around me like myself, but sometimes selfishness takes over.
I want to be holy. I really do. Not just because God commands it, but because my being longs to be separated from this world and joined with something that is greater than my mind will ever fathom. It is interesting how separation can lead to the greatest connection that anyone will ever know.