I recently had the privilege of praying along side a young woman as she accepted Christ as her Savior. It was exhilarating to see her find peace and freedom as she realized at last that she could come to God through Jesus, just the way she is. In the weeks leading up to this moment, “B” thought she couldn’t begin a relationship with God until she knew she would never sin again. The weight of this perspective kept B from giving her life to God for some time. I loved seeing the relief wash over her face when she finally understood that a relationship with God is about Jesus taking care of our sin, not us being perfect on our own.
Many people have this idea that Christianity is a religion of rules. They quote Leviticus 19 as proof. After all, Lev. 19 restates all 10 commandments found in Exodus 20. From gleaning to tattoos, it has many do’s and do not’s to obey. However, this chapter also describes the opposite of a check-list! It expresses God’s desire for fellowship with His people in a beautiful way!
What does this tell me about God:
- God is about relationship, not about check-lists.
This chapter begins with God beckoning the people into fellowship with Him: “Speak to the entire Israelite community…” God then invites them again to “be Holy because I, Yahweh your God, am holy.”
God then reiterates this phrase 16 times! He says over and over again: I am Yahweh, your God. In so many ways, this is personal and intimate, drawing the people to know Him, “your God.” It certainly commands respect and fear (He is God), but that does not necessarily turn these expectations into a set of rules to follow to avoid punishment.
I think the prominence of the fellowship offering also points to God’s desire for fellowship. In verses 5-8, God gives a primary place in the list for the fellowship offering, the sacrifice that gives the people the chance to commune and “share a meal” with God.
- God set up laws and expectations to strengthen our relationship with Him.
God invites His people to be Holy, as He is holy. This invitation is so much more than a “get ‘er done” mentality. It is not “follow rules so you will be a good person.” It is also not a means to avoid punishment or to achieve an awesome life.
“Be holy as I, Yahweh your God, am holy” is a call to know God in order to be like Him.
It is also a call to be like God in order to know Him.
God set up these expectations as a way to build identity together with Him in relationship.
- God also emphasizes our relationships with others.
Leviticus is the book at the center of the Torah. At the center of Leviticus is chapter 19. The middle verse is verse 18. In other words, the axis of God’s direction for his people, on which the rest of His law revolves around, is
Do not take revenge or bear a grudge against members of your community, but love your neighbor as yourself; I am Yahweh.
My study Bible comments: “relationships with people are inseparable from one’s relationship with God—Holy living and love are mutually dependent. Being identified with the Lord, who is holy, necessitates mirroring His holiness.”
How can I live in light of this:
- Focused fellowship can become a springboard for intimacy in our relationship with Jesus.
Living a set-apart list does not come naturally to me. I have to be intentional about it. Throughout each week, I try to make room in my schedule to meet with the hurting and sick, like Jesus did. I read that Jesus prioritized his quiet time with God, so I set my alarm a little earlier. I know that Jesus detests religiosity, so I strive to be gracious, generous, and humble.
All of these things are ways to follow in Jesus’ footsteps, to be set-apart. But sometimes I do them to just do them. I have to admit, this study through Leviticus has been an eye-opener, but there are still days I just can’t wait for it to be over! I spend several hours a week with teenagers in a non-church setting, with the sole purpose of trying to be a light in their dark worlds. I pray for opportunities to share my faith with them, knowing I might be the only contact they have with someone who has a relationship with Jesus. Still, there are weeks I just “check it off the list.”
I avoid bad movies, say no to over-eating, delete a sarcastic text before I send it, and try to curb my negative thoughts. Each of these things present an opportunity to commune with God, ask for His help, express my gratitude, etc. But sometimes I just pat myself on the back and keep going about my day.
I believe God wants us to use our good things, and the avoidance of the “bad things”, to know Him better. To build our sense of identity in relationship, not just our badges of “Christianity.”
Today, after reading Leviticus 19, I noticed I was talking with God more throughout each task of my day. My tasks became talking points in an ongoing conversation with my Savior. Focused fellowship can become a springboard for intimacy in our relationship with Jesus.
- I can strive for heightened awareness of the Holy Spirit’s work in me.
Every task of Leviticus 19 does not apply to those of us living in the days of Christ. But the principal of doing what is right does apply. Christ-followers do not accomplish good by our own efforts, however. It is the work of the Holy Spirit. Philippians 2 says
So then, my dear friends, just as you have always obeyed, not only in my presence, but now even more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God who is working in you, enabling you both to desire and to work out His good purpose. (vs. 12-13)
We get to work with the Holy Spirit on the character traits and behavior issues He is working on in us. Sanctification (becoming more like Jesus) is carried out by the Holy Spirit, but we still get to participate.
Other thoughts or questions:
- I’ve decided not to enter the tattoo debate that Leviticus 19:28 often brings up.