“Be holy, because I am holy.”
Doesn’t matter if you read this in Leviticus 11:44, where the Lord is teaching His people how to live with the obvious presence of God in their midst for the very first time; or if you read it in 1 Peter 1:16, where Lord is telling people how to live with the obvious presence of God in their very bodies; either place, the message is the same:
God is holy — be like God.
Interestingly, it is our tendency to hear or read those verses like Old Testament people. We immediately endeavor to stop doing a whole list of “bad things” that hinder our holiness. It is not hard to generate this list; simply thinking about all the things we have said or done recently that were sinful, wrong or just hurtful could fill a page (or two). Or we could just listen to others, who are more than glad to tell us how we are messing up. Now, with list in hand, it is time to prove our love and commitment to the Lord by working really hard not to do those things again.
We hate the list. It feels like a burden, a shroud robbing us of joy and hovering over us like a spy satellite reporting our every move.
But what if we are misreading this? What if, through a New Testament lens, the Lord is actually trying to tell believers: Holiness is not avoiding the negatives — but doing the positives? Be holy, not do holy.
Could it be that He imploring us to live out of whom He says we already are instead of battling against old patterns and beliefs? Perhaps, when we decide holiness is important, the questions we ought to ask are, “How does a holy man live?” or “How does a holy woman act?” If we focus on what it looks like to live and act holy – and let those things guide our words and behaviors – the “bad things” will not be as big an issue.
Allow me to give you an example of how this might look practically. I am working with some couples working to restore their marriages after adultery by the husbands. There are lists being generated of “bad things” the men cannot do if they are to be good, trustworthy husbands. While the men are committed to not doing the things on the lists, I have been encouraging them on a different path. I have challenged them to ask, “How does a loving husband live?” “How does a faithful husband act?” Bottom line: Start being a godly husband; stop focusing on not being a bad husband.
The Old Testament message tends to focus on what they did; the New Testament highlights who we are. Give attention to the right thing and it will change your life.