“You must be holy because I, the Lord, am holy. I have set you apart from all other people to be my very own.” (Leviticus 20:26)
When I attended Lee University, one of the requirements for my degree was a class called “Introduction to Preaching.” The professor that taught my section was known to be particularly strict in his expectations and grading, and he did not disappoint! On the first day of class he let us know that a 10 point grading scale was too lenient in his view so we would be using a 6-point scale, meaning that anything below a 76% was a failing grade. No pressure.
Over the course of the semester, we were expected to deliver two sermons in different styles and he gave us the expectations on which we would be graded. It included everything from the quality of our sermon notes/manuscript, tone of voice, posture, eye contact, dress and even personal grooming. (One of my friends missed getting an A on his sermon because his hair was “disheveled.”) I knew that I really needed to step up my game if I was going to get the grade that I wanted.
When challenged with high standards most of us have one of two responses. Some of us determine to put on our big boy/girl britches and get to work. We determine to do our best, even if the possibility of failure is very real. Others of us look at the standards and become overwhelmed by them. We can become so discouraged that we just give a half effort since we’re doomed to failure anyway. Other times, we just give up entirely. How we view difficult tasks can even change from day-to-day!
When it comes to high standards, there is nothing that comes close to the standard of holiness that God requires of his people. God says “This is what I am like. Be like me.” But no matter how hard we try and strive, we can’t! He’s omniscient, omnipotent, and perfect. We are not. Because of our physical, mental, emotional and spiritual limitations, it is quite literally impossible for us to be like a limitless God.
So is God mocking us? Is he setting us up to fail? No, of course not! Well, then what does he mean?
Holiness can be a difficult concept to understand, but one of the primary meanings of the word is the idea of being “dedicated or consecrated to God or a religious purpose.” When God is calling his people to holiness what he is saying is “this is how I am moving and working in the world and I want you to be a part of it.” To do this, we have to re-orient our lives to move in the same direction. We have to be set apart for a religious purpose, his purpose. Yes, there will be outward manifestations, but they are the result of this inner transformation, not the cause.
In Romans 12:1, Paul writes, “And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.” There’s just one problem with being living sacrifices…we tend to fall off the altar!
Yes, you will mess up. I will mess up. Everyone does. But that doesn’t mean we should get discouraged and give up. We just need to put on our big boy/girl britches, decide to do the best we can, and rely on the grace and mercy of God to make up the difference.
Prayer: Father God, thank you for calling us to holiness and setting us apart. It’s a hard task and we often get worn out in the effort, but we don’t have to do it alone. Thank you for sending your Holy Spirit to comfort us in our weariness and guide us in our confusion. Most of all thank you for your patience and mercy for those times when we do fall short. In Jesus’ name, Amen.