Growing in the Family Image
"Keep my decrees and follow them. I am the LORD, who makes you holy."
Sometimes I jokingly tell people that if they are having trouble sleeping at night, just start reading the Old Testament book of Leviticus and they will nod right off. This is a really important book of Scripture because it laid out the laws that the children of Israel were told would set them apart as God's people. But there are a lot of laws that are so detailed that the casual reader can be easily bored. However, monotony has proven to be the least of the problems associated with this list of laws. The greater problem, and the one that has plagued people of faith, both Jews and Christians, for centuries is that they are lulled into believing that if they will follow these laws, they will earn God's favor and they will transform their lives in the way God desires.
The Jehovah name of God referenced in Leviticus 20:8, shared above, is Jehovah M'Kaddesh--the Lord Who sanctifies or makes holy. Sanctify is a fancy theological word that means to "set apart" or to make holy. The name itself tells us the first important truth we need to know to dispel the error I described in the opening paragraph. It is the Lord Who makes us holy; we don't make ourselves holy. This seems so obvious that most Christians wouldn't think twice about the truth of this statement. So, why don't we live this way? None of us believes that we are saved, or "justified," by any work that we accomplish in our lives. We know that Jesus did all that was necessary for us to receive salvation on the Cross when He died for our sins. So, we accept the reality that we are saved by grace (God's gift, not my merit) through faith in the historical Crucifixion and the price Jesus paid there for our forgiveness.
Likewise, throughout the Scripture, we read that, once we are saved and a part of God's family, it is the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives to make us holy, that is, to make us progressively more like Jesus. And yet how often do we think that God won't love us or accept us unless we pray so much, read the Bible so much, obey His commandments perfectly, and so forth? We use the same measuring stick for others, judging the sincerity of their faith by how perfectly they live and how "spiritual" they seem. We think that we won't grow in our holiness unless we put in the necessary work in our own strength and energies.
It doesn't work that way. It is the job of the Holy Spirit to make us holy--that's why He has that name. If I have a relationship with Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior, the Bible says that the Holy Spirit is active in my life. And because I am a part of the family, I will share the family image more and more as time goes by. I am going bald, not because I take a little time each day to work hard at pulling out a few hairs. I am going bald because my maternal grandfather was bald. My hairline is receding and conforming to the pattern I share with those family members who passed along this genetic predisposition.
Similarly, because the Holy Spirit is at work in the family of Jesus, we all can't help but look more like Him as time goes by. We are wrecked as sinners once we join the Lord's clan; a healthy relationship with Jesus means that, as I keep my eyes on Him and off of myself (and all my selfishness), I will become what I look at. It will be harder for me to be a good sinner as time goes by. Of course, the progression is not linear. I will take a few steps forward, then a few back from time to time, as the Holy Spirit in me battles with the spirit of my flesh and my selfishness. But the outcome is just as guaranteed as the fact that I won't be re-growing any hair in the years ahead.
Some people read these thoughts and think that I am declaring the irrelevance of God’s law or arguing against its value. I'm not. But let's look at the law the way the Lord intended us to look at it. The law was never meant to be a map to show us how to get to God. Instead, the Lord gave His people the law as a target to hit knowing they could never hit it. Think of it as a bullseye that we are trying to hit with a gun that is ruined by a faulty gun sight. Try as I might, I just can't hit the target. The experience teaches me that I need help--I need a new gun.
In the same way, the Lord wants us to recognize the futility of following His commands (because our wills are ruined by our sin nature) so that we will ask Him for a new life. And once I have that new life, and His Spirit at work in that life, I will "naturally supernaturally" begin to fulfill His commands. In that way, obeying the law becomes a "thank you" for or the fruit of God's love at work in me--not a way to earn that love in the first place. We will ultimately follow God's commands as Christians, but we will do so for the right reasons and through the power of the Lord--not to try to get God's approval through our own efforts.
Why is it important to live a holy life? Why does the Lord want to sanctify us? The word "holy" comes from the same English root word from which we get the words "whole" and "healthy." Living the life God has set apart for us is simply healthier and happier for us. He is the One Who created us and knows what will make our lives work best. If I put the parts of a vacuum cleaner together without following the directions, more than likely the machine won't work and, if it had feelings, would probably feel like a failure. Why then do we live our lives our own way, ignoring God's design for us as reflected in His Word (the operator's manual or instructions for our lives), and then wonder why we are so unhappy and unfulfilled?
The other reason it is important to live a different, holier life than the one pursued by most people in the surrounding culture is that those very people need hope. They need to see that there is a different way to live that will help them escape the meaninglessness, purposelessness, and despair that, if they were honest, plagues their day to day existence. As Jehovan M'Kaddesh produces holiness in our lives, we can be a beacon of light in a sea of darkness. What a crucial and exciting role God asks us to play in our world!
Heavenly Father, thank You that You are the One who make us holy, whole and healthy; we don't have to take on that obligation or responsibility ourselves. That's a good thing because it is too much for us. Help us to keep our eyes on You this week so that Your Spirit can move us closer to the family image You are producing in us. Cause us to be hope, help and light to those around us who are struggling to keep going through days filled with defeat and depression. In Jesus' Name, Amen.