What is holiness and what practical importance does it have for me?
We have all heard of that submissive woman to whom bad tongues call 'a saint'. The Catholic churches are full of images of deceased pious people whom their practitioners call 'saints'. Surely you have heard the expression 'my mother was a saint' from the mouth of a grateful son who sought to draw attention to the goodness of a dedicated and generous mother.
In short, we use the word holiness to describe purity of character and high moral values, but is that the true biblical meaning?
Holiness is one of the central themes of the book of Leviticus. There is no other book in the Bible where you can find so many mentions of holy things. That being the case, you can be sure that we will come back to the subject later. In today's study, however, we are going to hear about a case of contagious holiness. Yes, you heard that right! It is holiness that could be transmitted by the touch, which does not represent the rule, but the exception. Let's start by reading Leviticus 6.24-27 and 29:
The Lord said to Moses, “Say to Aaron and his sons: ‘These are the regulations for the sin offering: The sin offering is to be slaughtered before the Lord in the place the burnt offering is slaughtered; it is most holy. The priest who offers it shall eat it; it is to be eaten in the sanctuary area, in the courtyard of the tent of meeting. Whatever touches any of the flesh will become holy…
Any male in a priest’s family may eat it; it is most holy.
The preceding verses describe the sin offering. This offering was considered the most holy thing, and part of the diet for the priests, who were to eat it inside the Tabernacle atrium. Let us return to verse 27 that says: Whatever touches any of the flesh will become holy... The Hebrew word for 'holy' here is qadash, which means distinct or separate from the common and profane, consecrated to God. In this way, holiness is belonging, and all that belongs to God is by nature, called holy.
Israel was a people called to holiness from the beginning; that is, as a possession of God Himself, the Israelites were to move away from the pagan practices of neighboring peoples and focus on a life of worship. Not only were the people holy, but also their priests and offerings, their special days and sacred holidays, the Tabernacle of Meeting, and later the Temple with all its furniture.
How many times have we heard that sin is indeed polluting; however, it is strange that holiness can also be transmitted from one object to another or even from person to person. Let's look at other examples of contagious holiness:
1. Offerings lit or presented by fire (Leviticus 6:18):
Any male descendant of Aaron may eat it. For all generations to come it is his perpetual share of the food offerings presented to the Lord. Whatever touches them will become holy.
2. The altar of the holocausts (Exodus 29.37):
For seven days make atonement for the altar and consecrate it. Then the altar will be most holy, and whatever touches it will be holy.
3. The anointing oil, furniture and utensils of the Tabernacle (Exodus 30: 25-29):
Make these into a sacred anointing oil, a fragrant blend, the work of a perfumer. It will be the sacred anointing oil. Then use it to anoint the tent of meeting, the ark of the covenant law, the table and all its articles, the lampstand and its accessories, the altar of incense, the altar of burnt offering and all its utensils, and the basin with its stand. You shall consecrate them so they will be most holy, and whatever touches them will be holy.
All these things represent Christ in his sanctifying function. Let’s pay attention to what the author of Hebrews tells us:
But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered. Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family.
The word sanctify (make holy) is the original Greek hagiazō, which has a parallel meaning to the Hebrew qadash (separate from the profane and dedicate to God), but where it is added 'to purify by atonement, to free from guilt'.
You will surely remember the story of the calling of the prophet Isaiah, where in a vision, the angel touches his mouth with a burning coal taken from the altar in order to take away his guilt and cleanse him from all sin. In the same way, all of us who have come to Christ, being purified in him, are called saints in the New Testament.
What does it mean to be holy? It means that we have already been washed and purified in his blood; but not only that, it also implies that we are his. It means that we have been separated from the world and consecrated to God. Holiness is who we belong to. It is our identity in Christ.
It may be hard to believe, but I assure you that if holiness could pass from sacred objects to other objects and people who touched them, more surely we have been sanctified in Christ, the sanctifier. God does not take into account our past life, but our new life in him, once we have been touched by the Holy Spirit and born again. Let's finish with Paul's first letter to the Corinthians:
1 Corinthians 6: 9-11
Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men, nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.
And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.