Set Apart and Chosen

As you know, I was employed in the “secular” world a long time before I finally submitted to God’s call to preach. After a dozen different jobs in almost every corner of the continental U.S., I know the drill. New hires meet with Human Resources to fill out all the paperwork. At the end of the meeting, HR blesses you with your very own copy of The Employee Handbook.

At some point, all the employee handbooks began to look alike. I relegated them to a deserted desk drawer to gather dust until such a time that my employment ended. Then they were properly placed in the circular file in the corner of the room.

Employee handbooks are not compelling reading. I’ve never been tempted to flip to the final pages to see how it all ends. They are usually filled with page after page of policies, procedures, and rules.

The Bible contains an employee handbook for the Levitical priests. Appropriately enough, it’s called Leviticus. Like your employee handbook, it’s pretty dry reading—page after page of policies, procedures, and rules. Some of the rules make great sense to us. Others are real headscratchers. I’ve never called a priest over to examine the mildew in my bathtub or a crusty spot behind my ear. Mom told me that a wet rag and a little elbow grease would probably remove both.

As you make your way through Leviticus, you are hit with the realization that Israel had so many rules. The “holiness codes” alone take up a full six chapters! Why so many rules?

The reason is in Leviticus 11:44-45 where God says, “I am the Lord  your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy…. For I am the Lord who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.”

Without holiness, no one will see God.

This wasn’t new information for Israel. God told them the same thing at Sinai after bringing them through the Red Sea, “You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:4-6).

God chose Israel to be in a covenant relationship with Him. They were to reflect God to the world around them. God is holy and He declared His people to be holy. He gave Israel the Ten Commandments and the book of Leviticus. Because they were the “set apart” people of God, this is how they were to live—they were to be “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”

Fast forward about 1500 years. Israel has rejected God’s Messiah. They killed him. But God raised him back to life and brought him home to his right hand. Both Israel and temple worship faded into the background with the advent of the church—the community of people who had put their trust in the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Almost overnight, the church took over the role of God’s royal priesthood. The church became God’s holy nation. The church entered into a covenant relationship with God—a people ‘called out’ of and ‘set apart’ from all the other people in the world as God’s treasured possession. Because of their unique relationship with the Holy One, the church was commanded to live in holiness.

I’ve had a verse in my head all week. It’s been gnawing at me, making me examine myself. Frankly, I find the verse disturbing. I would like to ask you to also think deeply about this verse between now and Sunday morning.

It’s Hebrews 12:14, “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.”

Please chew on that for a few days while asking the question: How “set apart” for service to God does my lifestyle look to those outside the church? Or, as the old preachers used to ask, “If they were throwing people in jail for being Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?”

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Romans 12:1).

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Jim Hays

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