An imperative like that contained in Leviticus 20:26 has always been a little scary to me. First of all, it’s Leviticus, which is a book foreign to most of us, full of bloody sacrifices, strange holy days and feasts, and ceremonial washings. Even dietary restrictions. Sometimes we don’t know what to do with that, so we just don’t read it. But it’s also off-putting in that I know I can’t be holy, so it reminds me that I will fail, that I have repeatedly failed, that I fall far short of holy or perfect or righteous or just “pretty decent guy.” I’m not, not if you knew me like I know me.
But today in reading this I considered this not as exhortation but as promise. What if rather than saying “Get with it and get your act together and act like a Christian,” God is saying “I have made you holy, have taken you for my own, and will bring to completion the good work I have begun in you?” Which of course, in Christ, he has. The rest of the verse shows that it is He who has done the separating, as God says “I have set you apart from the nations to be my own.” It’s not our initiative but His.
Frederick Buechner said something like this about another hard-to-obey verse of Scripture. Buechner said “THE FINAL SECRET, I think, is this: that the words ‘You shall love the Lord your God’ become in the end less a command than a promise. And the promise is that, yes, on the weary feet of faith and the fragile wings of hope, we will come to love him at last as from the first he has loved us—loved us even in the wilderness, especially in the wilderness, because he has been in the wilderness with us. He has been in the wilderness for us. He has been acquainted with our grief.”
And so, in the end, the promise is that we too will be holy. Beloved, chosen, treasured possessions of God that we are, we will finally become who He intended us to be: Holy.