There is an aspect of holiness that I am beginning to see in the Word, but I have not heard expounded elsewhere. Maybe I just haven’t been listening closely, but now that I am becoming aware of it, I am taking a fresh look at sanctification. “Be holy as I am holy.” I have heard this my whole life, and I have made a pretty good stab at living it as I understood, though not always successfully. My understanding of holiness was two-fold. First, there is the imputed holiness, that righteousness we receive in Christ at salvation as He takes our sin and clothes us in His holiness. It is this holiness that allows us to enter the very presence of God with confidence. Then there is the holiness that we walk out day to day, making choices to go this way instead of that, to NOT be conformed to the world but be transformed in the renewal of our minds. It is this holiness that has taken on new meaning for me.
I guess I saw holiness like the Ten Commandments – a flat, two-dimensional rock engraved with a bunch of do’s and even more don’ts. But it was a wonderful list in that it taught me how to be pleasing to God. So, recently this rock that I thought was flat and broad has begun to turn a bit, and I am seeing a depth I couldn’t see from the front. It started in the Holy of Holies, where I am to enter boldly. This most sacred place holds the key to God’s definition of holiness. If He is going to create a room and call it the Most Holy Place, it stands to reason that its nature and contents would have holy significance.
Behind the veil
This room in the Old Testament temple represented the most sacred place on earth, the only place God’s glory dwelt, and it could be entered but once a year, only by the High Priest, and not without a blood sacrifice for both his sins and those of the people. There was a Holy Place that could be entered daily by the priest, but the Most Holy Place was strictly limited. First, by God’s design this place could only be entered by invitation, by a man chosen by lot. Second, even though he was invited to come, he had to make preparations before entering. He had to offer a sacrifice, taking a life and sprinkling the blood in the room and on the objects there to cover even the unintentional sins of the people and himself. If he did not first offer a sacrifice, he himself would lose his life.
Second, this room in the Old Testament temple held a few very specific things. There was the golden altar of incense where the High Priest would burn the holy incense once a year. This represents the pleasing aroma of intercessory prayer, of one praying for the benefit of another. Then there was the amazing mercy seat of pure gold that perfectly fit atop the Ark of the Covenant, as the redemptive mercy of Christ completely covers the requirements of the Law, and above all that were the cherubim who wait on God, serving His bidding and offering Him unending praise and worship.
The Ark of the Covenant is very revealing itself. It contained three articles. First was some of the manna from the Israelites’ desert years – evidence of God’s kind provision to sustain a wayward people. Also this is where the tablets were kept on which were engraved the requirements of the first covenant, a revealing of who is the great I AM and what pleases Him. The third article in the Ark was Aaron’s staff, a memorial of God choosing someone to represent the people before Him. This family, the descendents of Levi, sacrificed an earthly inheritance among the people in that they did not receive a portion of land as their own. The Lord was their inheritance. They offered sacrifices and were responsible to instruct the people well in God’s Law, and from them was chosen that one man each year to risk his very life to stand in their place in the Holiest of Holies.
The common thread
In all these symbols there is one common thread – sacrifice. From the animal sacrificed before entry to each item within the room, the Most Holy Place represented in every possible way, the sacrifice of God for man, of man for God, and the sacrifice of man for man. This room echoed the two Greatest Commandments – love God above all, and love your neighbor as yourself. It was a completely selfless room, which is why the earthly version could be entered so rarely, only by invitation, and at great peril. Selflessness is not natural for us.
Remember the Sabbath
The Fourth Commandment demands that we keep the Sabbath holy. The Pharisees had one understanding of this, but during His life on earth Jesus repeatedly shattered the accepted definition and laws of His day pertaining to the Sabbath. Jesus often did miracles on the Sabbath. He healed or cast out demons, and it was a huge issue with the Pharisees. Their understanding of the fourth Commandment was that to keep the Sabbath holy a person was to do no work at all. If someone wanted to be healed, let them come some other day. Holiness was vital, and Jesus could not be holy if he were going around healing and delivering people from demons on the Sabbath. “Like everything else He touched, Jesus put this law into its true position and light. He rescued it from the hands of the Scribes and Pharisees and showed it as God would have us esteem it, a day of holy rest, holy service and merciful works.” I believe Jesus was not only showing us what the Sabbath was to look like, but in these acts of sacrifice (for it cost Jesus power and reputation to heal someone) He was also giving us a visual example of holiness.
So, what I see in all the above is this very interesting twist, that holiness is purity, and purity is selflessness. Anything holy, anything sanctified, is a thing (or life or moment or place) that is not me-focused. That includes my body, not my own but a temple of the Holy Spirit. It includes my finances, of which I am merely a steward. It includes my time, which I must guard for the days are evil. The reason God did not permit the people to work on the Sabbath is because working, while essential and blessed the other six days, is still a self-benefitting act. We increase our income, grow our business, add to our barns, so to speak. The Sabbath is not for any of that. Beyond being a blessed rest we desperately need, it is holy and so must be selfless.
When I aspire to be holy as Christ is holy, I am committing to laying down my life, my success, my plans and aspirations, my self-pleasing ways in favor of a God-centered, others-focused life. What an honor and privilege!
There is a song entitled “What Do I Know of Holy,” and the words have resonated with me for many months now. As the song says so eloquently, “Where have I even stood but the shore along your ocean?” I stand on this shore staring at a vast sea of love, salty with the holiness of sacrifice, and I long to explore its depths and breadth, to feel it all around me and float in its vastness. The paradox is that the very hedonism of these desires will be satisfied only in the service and pleasure of others. This is who our God is, for His delight is in the sacrifice of Christ for the benefit of mankind. This is holiness.
 Matt 19:11-26 This parable is minimally about finances, but reaches into other realms as well.