Leviticus 19:1-2 And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying,
2 Speak unto all the congregation of the children of Israel, and say unto them, Ye shall be holy: for I the Lord your God am holy.
The Lord God commanded the children of Israel to be holy. Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, reiterated the commandment by saying, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). Then Peter in his epistle, “But as He which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy” (I Peter 1:15-16). On the other hand Paul said, “There is none righteous, no, not one” (Romans 3:10).
The subject of these scriptures has been a matter of great debate. Most Christians don’t have any trouble believing there are none righteous. However, many have trouble believing that God really expects us to be holy. The common response is, “Only Jesus was perfect. We can only do the best we can; our perfection will come after we go to heaven.” On the other hand, there are those who claim to be holy and sinless.
Why would God tell us to be holy if it was impossible? He didn’t say for us to do the best we can or to strive to be holy. Yet that is the way most Christians feel about it. “It’s impossible for us to be perfect or holy, but we must strive for it,” they say. That seems futile. Why strive for something that is impossible? Of course, the answer would be that one could only do his best by striving for perfection. But God doesn’t want us to do our best; He wants us to be His best. He didn’t make a request; He gave a commandment! He said, “Ye shall be holy; for I the Lord your God am holy” (Leviticus 19:2). And Jesus gave it even more emphasis, saying, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).
There has to be a way to obtain holiness. Not only that, it has to be a way that doesn’t nullify Romans 3:10: There is none righteous, no, not one. That may seem to be a contradiction, but it isn’t.
If we say it is impossible for us to be holy and perfect, that we can only do our best, then we are rejecting the commandment of God. Even if perfection could only be obtained in heaven, it could not be earned by doing our best. If that were the case, grace would be nullified. We will never receive anything from God by our own merit. For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast. Ephesians 2:8-9. So it becomes quite obvious that our best is not what God is looking for.
In Leviticus 19 after God tells Moses to tell the children of Israel to be holy, He gives a number of ways in which holiness should be manifested in daily life, such as do not steal, do not lie, do not swear falsely, do not defraud your neighbor, do not unrighteousness in judgment, do not hate your brother, love your neighbor as yourself, etc. What we need to understand, though, is that these things do not generate or develop holiness; rather, they must flow out of holiness.
A common mistake is for people to think they can become holy by disciplining themselves to not lie, steal, swear falsely, etc., then they are holy. The result of that is religious pride and arrogance. That was the same mistake the Pharisees made. Do you remember the young rich ruler that came to Jesus (Matthew 19:16-22)? He wanted to know what he must do to inherit eternal life. He had kept the commandments from his youth up but was still lacking. So Jesus told him, “If you want to be perfect sell what you have; give it to the poor, and follow Me.” The young man walked away sorrowfully; he didn’t want perfection that much.
Many Christians have done the same thing. They are not willing to dedicate themselves to walking with the Lord, so they con themselves into believing that it is enough to keep the commandments. But instead of becoming holy, they become pharisaic. That route always leads to pride, arrogance and a condemning attitude toward others. Nothing has been a greater detriment to Christianity than the holier-than-thou attitude of so many Christians.
We cannot generate holiness by keeping the commandments, for that is the pharisaic legalism that Jesus condemned. Neither can we say that holiness cannot be obtained. What must we do? The Lord gave us the answer along with the commandment. He said, “Ye shall be holy: for I the Lord your God am holy” (Leviticus 19:2). It is not what we do that creates holiness; it is what we become. God is saying that we can be holy because He is holy. Jesus also gave the answer in the Sermon on the Mount with the commandment. He said, “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33); and, “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled” (Matthew 5:6).
Do you know what it is like to hunger and thirst after righteousness? Do you know what it is like to love the Lord so much that you just have to be filled with His presence? That is what it will take to be holy as He is holy. We cannot become holy through legalism, being governed by laws, rules, and regulations. God is holy; holiness is His nature. And we cannot become holy apart from Him. Therefore, we must appropriate His life. It is His divine nature within us that creates holiness. Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. II Peter 1:4.
Too many Christians are of the opinion that God is sitting on a throne somewhere up in the heavens, looking down on us to see how we are living our lives. So they discipline themselves to live by a set of rules and regulations. That is a life separated from God. It is impossible to please the Lord in that manner. He wants to live in us! He wants to fill us with His presence (Ephesians 3:19)! So when He says, “Ye shall be holy: for I the Lord your God am holy,” He is saying that He is making Himself available to us that we may become holy.
Mark 12:30 Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment.
This scripture is called the first commandment because none of the others can be fulfilled until it is accomplished. It is a key to appropriating the life of the Lord, and it is His life in us that creates holiness.
People read the Scriptures, “Be ye perfect…” or “Ye shall be holy…” and they know they can’t do it. So they either reject them completely or water them down to mean something far less than what is meant. God doesn’t expect us to be holy apart from Him. We can only be holy by allowing Him to be holy through us. Our responsibility is not to discipline ourselves to a set of rules but to appropriate His nature!
Everything the Lord requires of us is impossible on a human level. He has ordained it to be that way so that we have to appropriate Him into our lives. The following scripture is usually taken to mean that we are able to escape any temptation or fulfill any requirement. There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that you are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that you may be able to bear it. I Corinthians 10:13. But we are not able, not apart from the Lord. He is the way of escape! He alone is able to meet His requirements and to conquer all temptation. Our ability is found in His ability. Again, it is necessary to appropriate Him. If He asked you to go to the corner and buy a newspaper, it would take a miracle to accomplish it. God has purposely made it impossible for us to do anything acceptable to Him apart from Him accomplishing it through us. And He has done it that way so we will have to become one with Him. If it were possible for man to keep the commandments, or to do the will of God, or to become holy in any manner, that is what he would choose to do. Man will try anything in lieu of walking with God.
Holiness is obtainable! We can become holy because God is holy. He is willing to fill those who hunger and thirst after righteousness with Himself (Matthew 5:6). And the ones who do become holy will not feel holy; they will only sense a hunger and a love for the Lord. What a glorious promise we have: Ye shall be holy; for I the Lord your God am holy.
Copyright © 1998 by Henry DuBose