The holiness of God’s people, then and now

God’s standards of holiness don’t change.

Leviticus 20:26 – You must be holy because I, Yahweh, am holy. I have set you apart from all other people to be my very own.

This admonition to holiness is set amidst the context of the practices of the nations of Canaan that Israel was displacing.

Leviticus 20:23 – “You must not follow the statutes of the nations I am driving out before you, for they did all these things, and I abhorred them.

In the context of Leviticus 20, the “things” the nations were guilty of were the contaminations of idolatry (which included spiritism and child sacrifice), sexual immorality, and eating of unclean foods. Avoiding all of “these things” is what would set ancient Israel apart from the other nations; this is what would make them “holy.” This setting apart is the holiness that distinguished Israel as God’s people.

In consistent fashion, the holy Spirit of God led the first recorded council in Jerusalem to similar conclusions. As those among the nations were coming to faith in Messiah along with the scattered Jews and God-fearers in the synagogues, there were idolatrous practices being introduced into the community of believers, such as food offered to idols and cultural promiscuity. Paul and the other apostles deal with some of these issues in their epistles to various groups of believers. But the council, through the guidance of the holy Spirit, had issued a decisive template for the believing congregations to follow that was worded very similarly to the injunction of Moses to the ancient Israelites in remaining holy.

Acts 15:28-29 – “For it was the Holy Spirit’s decision ​– ​and ours ​– ​not to place further burdens on you beyond these requirements: “that you abstain from idolatrous offerings, from blood, from eating anything that has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. You will do well if you keep yourselves from these things. Farewell.”

As can be seen by these comparative texts, avoidance of practices associated with idolatry, sexual immorality and unclean foods have always been the earmarks of God’s people that set them apart from the other nations. Therefore, I believe these distinctions should in like fashion remain as the defining characteristics that demonstrate the holiness or set-apartness of God’s people even today.


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