God, rather famously, expected His people to be holy. The command is repeatedly repeated in the Law. Lev. 11:44-45 “For I am Jehovah your God: sanctify yourselves therefore, and be ye holy; for I am holy . . . For I am Jehovah that brought you up out of the land of Egypt, to be your God: ye shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.” Lev. 20:7-8 “Sanctify yourselves therefore, and be ye holy; for I am Jehovah your God. And ye shall keep my statutes, and do them: I am Jehovah who sanctifies you.”
To be holy is to be separate or to be set apart. Something that is holy is set aside for a specific use and is to be only used for that purpose. We usually think about this in religious terms, but the concept is universal. My mother has a special set of silver that rarely sees use. It has been set aside for special occasions. These utensils are not every day, common forks and knives. They are special and are only used when special company is over or on other special occasions. In a sense, they are holy to special occasions.
This is what God expected from His chosen people. They were to be special to Him and His use. They weren’t supposed to be like all the regular people across the world. They were supposed to be set apart for Him. They failed in this. Isa. 2:6 “For thou hast forsaken thy people the house of Jacob, because they are filled with customs from the east, and are soothsayers like the Philistines, and they strike hands with the children of foreigners.” They hadn’t set themselves apart for God, instead they were just like all the foreigners.
We, too, are supposed to be a holy people. Notice that when Peter gives us this instruction, he tells us that we are to be holy as children of obedience and sets being holy opposite of fashioning ourselves according to our lusts. Living according to our common desires is the opposite of being holy:
1 Pet. 1:13-16 “Wherefore girding up the loins of your mind, be sober and set your hope perfectly on the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; as children of obedience, not fashioning yourselves according to your former lusts in the time of your ignorance: but like as he who called you is holy, be ye yourselves also holy in all manner of living; because it is written, Ye shall be holy; for I am holy.”
All rules of righteous living boil down to the concept of holiness. If we are set apart to be God’s people, we need to follow His will. Leviticus 19 illustrates this concept. In verse two the Israelites were told to be holy, as He is holy. Then verses 3-4 instruct them to obey their parents, keep the Sabbath, and abhor idols. Why? Because, He says, “I AM Jehovah”. Then verses 9-10 command them to take care of the poor. Why? Because, He says, “I AM Jehovah”. Then verses 11-12 tell them not to steal, lie, or swear falsely by His name. Why? Because, He says, “I AM Jehovah”. They are to be holy, as He is, set apart for His use. They are to do these things because He, for whose use they are to be set apart, so directs them.
I think we sometimes consider being holy as only abstaining from evil, and that’s just not true. As He is castigating the Israelites for not being holy, God makes this plea: Isa. 1:16-17 “Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil; learn to do well; seek justice, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.” He doesn’t just say “cease to do evil” but also implores them to “learn to do well”. Paul tell Christians the same thing: Eph. 2:10 “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God afore prepared that we should walk in them.” We are created for good works.
Mom’s silver isn’t used except on special occasions, but on those occasions it is used. It is set aside for a purpose and is used for that purpose. We, as Christians are supposed to be set apart for God’s use. Not just staying “unspotted from the world” but actively doing the works He instructs us to do. Paul tell Titus (2:14) that Jesus “gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” His people have been redeemed from lawlessness and are zealous for good works. Zealous for good works. Every time I read this passage I wonder if Christ would recognize me as one of His. It’s not that I spend my time doing evil things, it’s just that so much of my time is used for my own entertainment: football, web-browsing, movie watching, Netflix binging, etc. Occasionally I do something actively good. Does that raise to the level of being zealous for good works? If I am holy, set apart for His use, I need to be working toward the use He has for me.
As holy people we are set apart for His use, to do His will. This doesn’t mean we are fuddy-duddies or dull buzz-kills who never do anything fun. Rather we are busy people actively
Isa. 61:6 “but you shall be called the priests of the LORD; they shall speak of you as the ministers of our God; you shall eat the wealth of the nations, and in their glory you shall boast.”