What the Bible says about
(From Forerunner Commentary)
At the very beginning of the Book, God tells us what He is doing. His project, His work, began with the formation of man as a physical being in the bodily form of God, and it will not end until mankind is in the nature and character image of God.
To accomplish this, God gave men free moral agency to enable us to choose to follow His way and assist in the development of His image in us, since we cannot be in His image unless we voluntarily choose to do so. Then the character is truly ours, as well as being truly His, because it is inscribed in us as a result of what we have believed and experienced.
God is not merely eternal. He is supreme in every quality of goodness, and in Him absolutely no evil dwells. In the Bible, this goodness is called holiness, which is transcendent purity. It permeates every aspect, every attribute, of God-life. God's character is holy, and it flows out from Him in acts of love, making it impossible for Him to do anything evil. This is the state towards which He is drawing us.
Law must be seen in this context. If we tear law from the context of God's purpose, then we can come up with anything we want to say about law. We can say, "Oh, it is all done away," or "We do not need to do this." However, we cannot tear it away from the purpose of God, and there is a reason for this.
Does God abide by law? The creation screams at us that He does! Everything He creates operates by law, and it does so because it came from His wonderfully orderly and organized mind. It is a reflection of what His mind is like because this is the way He is. He is a law-abiding God.
However, we cannot see Him - not literally, with our eyes. It is here that faith enters the picture: We can see evidence of Him, and we can believe what He says. His law outlines the way that He lives. It is the way of this holy, law-abiding God.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part 20)
I Peter 1:16 says, ". . . because it is written, 'Be holy, for I am holy,'" which is precisely the lesson contained within Leviticus 22:1-7. Our holy God is clearly saying, "Those who serve Me must also be holy." Holy essentially means "set apart," but it also carries with it the sense of "different," which helps explain why a person or thing is set apart. Certain factors or characteristics distinguish the set-apart one or thing, making it different from persons or things of the same kind.
Holy also has the sense of cleanliness or of being undefiled. God can just as easily be saying to the priests and their children, "I am a clean God, and I want those who serve Me to be clean." In this case, His transcendent purity of intent and character sets Him apart from others or things that people may consider to be god. He is therefore completely undefiled.
The Leviticus passage mentions leprosy, a corpse, and semen. We must not forget that, when this was written, God was addressing a carnal people. Thus, the instruction is couched in physical terms, but we must look for spiritual meaning within the physical instruction.
The Tabernacle, altar, priesthood, furniture, vessels, and all of the rites have spiritual significance, and Paul writes that they are "shadow[s] of good things to come" (Hebrews 10:1). Leprosy is a horrible, dreadful disease, thus it is a type of a spiritual disease. It is externally visible in its disfigurement of its victim's body. At times, there can be running sores. It probably does not parallel any one spiritual disease, but rather it symbolizes any number of sins that disfigure a person's character and/or attitude.
Both a corpse and semen possibly represent carriers of disease. Something causes a person to die, and all too frequently, it is an invisible, internal disease, of which infections and cancers are examples. The widespread AIDS virus is a good example. It can be carried within a man's semen into a woman's body. The carrier may look healthy externally, but a deadly disease is present. Only the carrier may know of its existence within him. A corpse and semen represent sins that are not easily perceived. Withdrawal from participation in the fellowship requires the sinner to exercise discipline, as he may be the only one aware of his problem. Creeping things are also defilements from sins that are less obvious. Perhaps in this case, it might be problems with one's attitudes like resentment, bitterness, envy, jealousy, and lusting.
Regardless of what rendered a person unclean, he was not allowed to participate until he cleaned himself by washing in water, a type of the Holy Spirit. Even then, he was still considered unclean until evening of that same day. This process was a form of excommunication. The unclean person was symbolically excluded from communion with God and held unfit to eat of the holy food of the altar, symbolizing the Word of God, until he had cleaned up his act. Verse 7 distinctly says he was free to eat of the holy things only after the sun went down. Even given this permission, he was still eating in the dark! Though accepted back into fellowship, he was still somewhat removed from full exposure to the light of God's throne until the next day, when complete communication with God was restored.
Taking steps to rid ourselves of uncleanness has awesome ramifications when we grasp how burdened we are with the potential for sin. The apostle Paul labels himself as a wretched man who greatly needed deliverance (Romans 7:24-25). Despite what we can do on our own—and God requires us to strive to do so—complete deliverance can only come through the work of Jesus Christ. It is essential that we know this, yet it is perhaps beyond our full understanding and appreciation that God is so merciful and full of grace to provide the sin offering that precedes us! If it were not for these elements—because we are so full of spiritual creeping things and spiritual leprosy—we would never be permitted to eat from the Lord's table.
I and II Corinthians offers us great comfort by showing that, though one may be cut off from the body, he can return once he has cleaned himself through repentance. It shows that even though he is denied close communion with God because of some spiritual uncleanness, he still remains tied to God through the New Testament priesthood. Disfellowshipping is intended to be a temporary, corrective tool.
I Corinthians 5:4-5 says, "In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are gathered together, along with my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus." The purpose of excommunication is to save the person from his uncleanness that is destroying his communion with God and others in the fellowship. Therefore, if he can still be saved, that person is not completely cut off from God.
II Corinthians 6:14-17 adds more information to this subject. Paul asks four questions that provide comparisons that clearly urge us to avoid or depart from what is unclean so that we can be at peace and in communion with God. Fellowship with God and being allowed to eat spiritual food from His table are clearly conditioned upon our not falling into uncleanness but instead striving to maintain the purity provided by Christ's sacrifice.
Our part in striving to maintain the purity is to follow Christ's example of thorough dedication in fulfilling the requirements of the burnt and meal offerings. Doing so in no way earns us the fellowshipping privileges expressed in the peace offering, but it does show God our understanding of faith, love, sacrifice, thanksgiving, and the links between total devotion to Him, Jesus Christ, our fellow man, and His wonderful purpose. God has invested a great deal to provide this for us. The least we can do is give back to Him full devotion in our life as a living sacrifice.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Offerings of Leviticus (Part Five): The Peace Offering, Sacrifice, and Love
1 Peter 1:15
When a person swears by a thing greater than himself, it lends weight to what he says. He means that his word is as certain as the existence and power of the one by whom he is swearing. When one takes an oath by God or on the Bible, such as in a court of law, men recognize that God Himself makes the oath binding.
God swore by His holiness. "As He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct." We find here that we are to be holy because He is holy. Holiness, like righteousness, is both imputed by God and achieved by us. Just as the vessels of the Tabernacle and Temple were holy, so are we when we are consecrated, set apart, for God's use upon conversion (I Corinthians 3:16; Colossians 1:22). Holiness, however, is more than an imputed state of being. It is a process that we must pursue throughout our Christian lives (Hebrews 12:14). That is why God admonishes us to become holy, to be holy in our conduct (Romans 12:1; II Corinthians 7:1; Ephesians 4:24; II Peter 3:11; I John 3:3).
The laws written in Leviticus 19, from which Peter quoted, are injunctions against defiling the mind, character, personality, and attitudes of a person through sins like idolatry and breaking the Sabbath. God also speaks of taking care of the poor, of not reaping the corners of the fields, and of being just in judgment. He warns against respecting persons and always siding with the disadvantaged (who may be wrong in his cause). He also mentions not eating anything with blood, practicing divination, or soothsaying and so forth. These and other defilements make one unholy, impure, and defiled.
He wants us to be holy because He is with us and in us. He does not want to be contaminated by the impurities of His people. God wants to have close contact with His people. "I will dwell in them and walk among them. I will be their God and they shall be My people" (II Corinthians 6:16). If we want to have a fellowship with Him, we must start to become holy as He is. "'Come out from among them and be separate,' says the Lord. 'Do not touch what is unclean, and I will receive you'" (II Corinthians 6:17).
Israelites, God's people, are advised to be separate so they can avoid every possibility of defilement: "Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God" (II Corinthians 7:1). Flesh and spirit indicates "physical and spiritual" or "body and mind"—one's total personality—outwardly and inwardly in all relations with God and fellow man. Our sanctification, part of which we do, sets us apart to walk the way of holiness.
Holiness is what makes God what He is. It is not an attribute of God like love, joy, or omnipotence. Holiness is the ground, basis, and foundation of God. It is His uniqueness and totality, His deity, and divinity itself. It is the perfect purity of God.
His holiness is symbolized in the construction of the Tabernacle: "The veil shall be a divider for you between the holy place and the Most Holy" (Exodus 26:33). A curtain separated the two chambers, and only the high priest could pass through the veil—and then only once a year. The phrase Most Holy is literally "holiness of holinesses." It represents the height, the top, the very pinnacle of morality. God was isolated from Israel, not because He was unapproachable, but because He wanted us to see the difference between us and Him. He really is approachable; no one in the universe is more approachable than God. But He is transcendently superior.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Prepare to Meet Your God! (The Book of Amos) (Part Two)
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