Recently my daughter came home and showed me a picture of what she had studied in Bible class that night. They had been talking about Leviticus. Now, there are obviously parts of Leviticus I am not ready for my daughter to read, foremost being the chapters on unhealthy sexual relationships, but I was excited to hear she learned about such an important book. Some that have read this blog before will remember Leviticus is a favorite of mine. I think Leviticus is a book of grace. It describes how an unholy people can be in the presence of a holy God. It is a reminder that God is wholly different, and yet God chooses to allow us to come before the throne and find forgiveness and peace. No matter how many times we mess up, God provides a means for our atonement. Sure, it can get tedious at times, and there are lots of rules, but its the purpose of the rules that matter. The rules are not meant to control us, but to help sinful people become holy. Thus a book of grace.
As my daughter was sharing her picture with me, I mentioned to her that it was ironic because I was just finishing Leviticus in my daily reading. Over the previous two weeks I had spent time each morning reading and meditating over God’s laws in Leviticus. Through this reading, the concept that kept grabbing my attention was the admonition to not follow the practices or be like the nations that God was driving out of the land before Israel. This admonition comes up multiple times concerning the things that they eat, the things that they wear, and the ways that they approached God, among other examples. God was intent on Israel remaining distinct. God abhorred the people who were being driven out because of these practices. Israel was to be different. Israel was to be holy.
One of the dangers that has always plagued Christianity has been the danger of assimilation; the danger of becoming just like the nations around us. In an effort to be relevant, we blur the lines between what is Christian and what is of the world. Because we are immersed in the present culture, it is difficult to live in a culture that at times is opposed to Christian values and not have the values of the culture rub off on us or change us. For years I’ve heard mentors say, be careful who you hang around because their values, whether good or bad, will rub off on you. Their values will become your values. We recognize that if we are in a culture that has no sexual boundaries, our own morals about what is appropriate or not sexually may become compromised. If we are in a culture that is racist, we may become more racist without recognizing our own changed behavior. In a society in which the central government is elevated to a status of supreme authority, we may start pledging our allegiance to the government above our allegiance to God; we may start fighting for the countries protection above seeking justice for the weak and marginalized. If we are not careful we will become like the nations around us.
What’s interesting about the commands in Leviticus is that the solution was not for Israel to go and become a secluded commune somewhere with no interactions with the outside world. The answer was not separation. Israel’s ultimate calling was to be a light to the nations; to be a people who through their faithfulness and righteous lives testified to the type of life possible when lived under God’s rule. Israel was called to be in and among the nations, but to act differently. Where others would hoard resources, Israel was to freely give. Where others would settle matters through war and violence, Israel was to offer terms of peace. Where others would abuse women, children, slaves, or the least of these, Israel was to offer justice and mercy to all, especially the weak. Where others were selfish, Israel was to be selfless. Israel was called to live as kingdom participants in the midst of a fallen world. They were to be different in a way that drew others to God; in a way that they became a light to the nations.
Things have not changed. We are called to be different. We are called to live new creation life in the midst of fallen Babylon. We are called to not respond like the nations (people, culture, society) around us, but to instead live as an alternate community pointing to a new reality. Be different from the nations around you because you are holy. It is in your differences that you will testify to the holiness of God.