“Speak unto all the congregation of the children of Israel, and say unto them, Ye shall be holy: for I the LORD your God am holy.” (Leviticus 19:2)
Through the Word of God, our Heavenly Father is known by His many attributes (Sovereign, Righteous, Just, Wise, Loving, etc.). But each of His many attributes has its contrast as a backdrop, whereby it is known . These contrasts do not take away from God’s attributes (as nothing can diminish ought of God’s Being); but rather the contrasts serve to magnify the attributes.
For instance, God’s Grace is known to us through the manifestation of His Mercy, which in turn is known by the contrast of His Wrath, and how much we are rightly deserving of that Wrath. God’s Love for us is manifested in contrast to the degree in which we were complete enemies of God (Romans 5:10), and the extent to which Christ went to demonstrate that Love (John 3:16).
In much the same way, God’s Holiness is known in contrast to our own corruption. God is intrinsically Holy, which means that He is Holy by His very Nature: all that God is, is Holy. By contrast, the Bible verifies that human beings are wicked by nature (Jeremiah 17:9). For this reason, even our very best works are considered as “filthy rags,” or soiled menstrual cloths (Isaiah 64:6).
It is easy for us then to understand that this contrast stands as the ultimate separator between man and God. The Holy Nature of God prevents His fellowship with man, whose nature is unholy. Any contact between the two would be in diametric opposition – an outright denial – of the utter Holiness of God. Because God’s Holiness may not be diminished, such fellowship cannot be had, and the separation is all the more sure.
Our text verse then seems to be a contraction of terms, when we consider that the Lord is absolutely Holy, and humans are absolutely unholy. How can man, whose very nature is so unlike God’s, be anything resembling God? We note that this verse is the only time in which God tells Moses to speak directly to the entire Israelite community. Other times, His command is to the elders and heads of the people. This is important, because the command to be holy is binding on all, regardless of position or social standing.
As we’ve seen, it is impossible for the Holy Nature of God to have fellowship with the unholy nature of man. And yet, the injunction to be holy, and the reason therefore – because the Lord is Holy – forms the main message of the entire Bible, and is restated in the Words of Christ: “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).
‘Perfection’ here speaks of more than spiritual maturity, as many teach; but intimates the actual perfect adherence to the Divine standard which His Law demands. The perfect Law of God reflects His Perfect Nature, and reveals the depth of man’s corrupt nature. The simple giving of the Law reveals that we are unable to keep it; because in the absence of Holiness, the Law demands death. In order to keep the entire Law, its death penalty must be paid, in addition to the perfect adherence to all points therein.
Jesus therefore commands a thing that is only possible by His Grace. All of man’s religious posturings are defiled by the corruption resident within his flesh (Romans 7:18), so that even those deeds done in Christ’s Name may be termed as works of iniquity without His Grace (Matthew 7:23). And so, by His Grace, we overcome the corruption of the flesh by the imparting of a New Nature, a Divine Nature (2 Peter 1:4), which “is created in Righteousness and true Holiness” (Ephesians 4:24).
Thus we are Born-again into a positional Holiness to be like God, being made partakers of His Divine Nature.
But our text verse also indicates a practical form of holiness, whereby we are to live a life that reflects the Life of Christ in us. As much as God is Holy, so too are we to live a life of Holiness, and to instruct our children in the same.
God commands the entire community of His Covenant People to live a life of Holiness in service to Him. This Holiness separates His People unto Himself and from the World. We demonstrate this practical Holiness through a life of worship, and the weightier matters of the Law: judgment, mercy, and faith (Matthew 23:23). This means that we are to live a life that reflects the Holy Nature of God (Hebrews 12:14).
Child of Grace, we need to know that God is Holy, and that He is more concerned with our Holiness than our happiness. At no time does the Lord say, ‘Be ye happy.’ To the contrary, He gives us to know that our happiness – our Blessedness – is to be realized in a life of obedience to Him, knowing that the Lord is a Rewarder of those who diligently seek Him (Hebrews 11:6).
Our command, our purpose, is to be like Him. We must therefore be Holy, even as the Lord our God is Holy.