The Concreteness of Holiness
The heart of Leviticus 17-26 (known as the Holiness Code) is the fundamental principle that God’s people must be holy. “You shall be holy unto me because I am holy” (Lev 20:26). God alone is holy and those who wish to be in communion with Him must participate in His nature which is holiness itself. But this is not a commandment to have some vague religious feeling. In fact, it has nothing to do with feeling per se. Instead the idea of holiness was tied to the concept of being separate-behaving differently from the pagan world (Lev 18:3,28). Then, in explicit detail, God shows Israel explicitly how she is to be holy. The focus of the laws is on what each person does. One of the major focuses of these laws is the day to day life in the home and family. Topics such as what to eat (Lev 17:16); with whom one may have sexual relations (18:7-18; 20:10-21); the conditions for proper marital relations (18:19); how to relate to parents (19:3); the prohibition against eating blood (19:26); the requirement to live in leafy booths for 7 days to commemorate the Exodus (23:42), and many others are present in these chapters.
The point that is being made is that what we do really matters. Holiness is not some deep spiritual feeling but rather holiness must penetrate our deeply physical realities: our food and eating, our bodies and our sexuality; our relationship to other people. Holiness in the OT was lived out in the concrete details of our lives. In Christianity there is a profound movement which gives the interior life, our dispositions and intentions, their proper place. We not only should not commit adultery but we should not entertain lust in our hearts (Matt 7: ). But that proper emphasis on the heart does not do away with our need to make sure out concrete physical actions are under the Lordship of Christ. Christ stated that, “Not everyone who cries unto me, Lord, Lord, will enter the Kingdom of Heaven but he who does the will of my Father Who is in heaven” (Matt 7:21) Christ’s parable of the sheep and goats brings this same point home (Matt 25:31).
It is interesting that in ancient Israel, holiness was greatly reflected in the sexual practices of the people. In this area, as in all other areas, Israel was called to holiness. We find this emphasis in the Church as well. The indissolubility of marriage is a critical sign of the coming of Christ (see Matt 19). The Church shows that to be faithful to Christ we need to accept the fullness of our bodies (and ourselves) as they are and work within the laws God has inscribed in our nature. If we give into the world’s temptations to contracept or misuse our sexual abilities, our love will be distorted. All this leads us away from Christ and the truth.
Thus we find that in both the OT and the NT the concept of holiness has to do with the very concrete details of our lives. Our we treat each other and our selves. When this happens (when the physical is penetrated by the spiritual) we begin to a foretaste of the kingdom of God.