Three Chinese students attend our school. They sit in classes spoken in a language they hardly understand. Words fly all around them in a cacophony of knowledge that must seem like the speed of light. Sometimes they catch a few familiar words, translate them quickly in their thoughts, and try to decipher the sum of their meaning only to find the speaker has sped on like a locomotive, leaving them standing on the platform wondering what they missed and if they will ever catch up.
They hear fine. They just haven’t learned to make sense of the language. C. S. Lewis was close when he identified our world as deaf. God is speaking. His words fly all around us but fall flat on the ears of fallen humankind. Like my Chinese students, humankind has a problem with understanding. God longs to break the language barrier to answer our big questions of identity and purpose so in his goodness, he speaks in languages of many kinds and it is all about the patterns.
I teach math. Most kids think math is about numbers, but actually, math is about patterns. We see patterns everywhere—patterns in nature, music, medicine, sports, finance, and weather. Math is simply the language of those patterns. This language speaks to us in practical ways telling us how to use and protect nature, create beauty, stay healthy, win, manage wealth, dress, or prepare for a catastrophe. That language also speaks to us of the Creator in a myriad of ways. It awes us with his omniscience, beauty, care, and power.
Then, just in case we missed it, he gets very specific and speaks to us in our spoken language. As we open his Word, we are like the fourth year Chinese students. Understanding his language all around us becomes a fluency we possess. We no longer tire with translation but revel in the knowledge the words convey.
Once we see the patterns, he calls us to follow his pattern: “Be holy, because I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16). In other words, “This is who I AM. You are made in my image; holiness is my purpose for you.”
Why Holiness Is Important
Why is God’s pattern of holiness important? Leviticus 12 is a short puzzling chapter asserting that a woman is unclean for a length of time after childbirth and thus unwelcome to worship in the presence of God and the covenant community. The mother’s life was draining away with the blood loss of childbirth. Death was having a small day in her life, and that death kept her far away from God.
Don’t miss God’s voice in this shared experience of humanity. Something is wrong. Death hovers and if it can’t take our souls, it would at least steal our joy. This fallout of sin keeps humankind from true worship and abundant life. Relational nearness to God requires the removal of uncleanness. As childbirth brought a temporary uncleanness that kept the new mother far away relationally, so our lack of holy living keeps us far away relationally.
But God called the mother near again and the estrangement is broken through blood sacrifice. Two offerings were required. The sin offering, a sort of detergent that washed away sin and looked forward to the work of Christ on the cross, and the burnt offering. The burnt offering spoke of devotion to God. God consumed it all, replacing the stench of sin with a sweet savor of one wholly given to him. God’s part was the removal of uncleanness and the mother’s part was obedience. So it is with us. God calls us near through the blood of Christ, imparting his Spirit to us. Our part is the hard work of bending our knees in repentance and walking in his commands.
How Holiness Is Produced
There are no “get holy quick schemes.” It always comes down to diet and exercise. Bodies need not only good food but regular exercise before weight drops away and health flourishes. Don’t miss God’s voice in the mundane of the physical. Those who are spiritually healthy dine on his Word and exercise faith in the secret closet of prayer. His Word instructs and communion in prayer clarifies sight. It pinpoints sin and elucidates his call to faithful obedience.
Is death hovering in your relationships? Does the bitterness and strife of sin’s aftermath keep you far from God and true fellowship with the covenant community? You walk through the doors of the church but the preaching doesn’t satisfy. You feel alone in the crowd, isolated by the secrets of the uncleanness draining in your soul. Come back. Come back to the place of cleanness. Be holy as he is holy. Where is he calling you to obedience? Have you neglected the simple call to forsake “selfish ambition or vain conceit”? Are you “valuing others above yourself” (Philippians 2:3)? Have you “put to death . . . sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed”? Are you clothed with forgiveness (Colossians 3:5-13)? Are you yielding to or laying down your life for your marriage partner?
What Holiness Looks Like
Obedience was the prescription that brought the mother back to health, not just physically but spiritually, and all was restored. The mother was brought near. Obedience to God’s commands results in holiness that invites the once unclean near. This obedience increases our love for Christ in a show of fruit and flowers in our relationships. It strengthens the inner person through a growing walk of faith that believes God’s voice even when it hurts. The Bible calls this ever-increasing faith moral strength that evolves into contentment. When everything in us screams, “What about my rights? What about me?” loving obedience avows that God can be trusted, even with this hard relationship or circumstance. Jeremiah Burroughs reminds us that as we “do what God pleases, we find ourselves pleased with what God does.”
There was another woman in Scripture with an issue of blood that made her unclean. For years she spent her living trying to staunch the death hovering in her body so that she might once again come near to God. Her uncleanness kept her away from the covenant community because anyone she touched was also unclean. She couldn’t even bring the sacrifices because the blood just wouldn’t stop. Then something wonderful happened. She couldn’t go to sacrifice so the Sacrifice came to her. Jesus walked through her town and she, not fearing that this one who defined true holiness would be made unclean by her touch, reached out to be made clean by his. It was a true act of faith commended by the object of her faith.
Our obedience to Christ’s commands transforms sin’s aftermath. We are not just declared holy but by obedience we begin to resemble that holiness. Once again worship satisfies like a feast bringing health to the soul. So, follow his pattern: Be holy. This is the essence of the I AM. God is communicating. Hear with the fluency of one who is learning his language. Follow his pattern and understand his declaration, “You are here for my pleasure and you are mine.”
Joy Crichton is a minister’s wife, mother of five, and math teacher in Johnston, Rhode Island.