When God brought the Israelites out of Egypt, He led them to the wilderness of Sinai. They set up camp at the base of Mount Sinai, and God spoke to Moses on top of the mountain. When God descended upon the mountain, His very presence made it holy. He told Moses to set up boundaries around the mountain so the people would know not to go near it. If they did and went past those boundaries, they would die. Why? Because God is holy. It is through understanding God’s holiness that we learn how to practice holiness.
Holiness is Reverence for God
When God chose Israel to be His people, He called them to be a “holy nation.” They were to be sanctified and set apart from all the other nations around them. Exodus 19:3-8 gives a clear picture of what God expected of His people and what the people agreed to.
And Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel: ‘You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Myself. Now, therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel.”Exodus 19:3-8, NKJV
So Moses came and called for the elders of the people, and laid before them all these words which the Lord commanded him. Then all the people answered together and said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do.” So Moses brought back the words of the people to the Lord.
There is a lot more to this story, but all the people of Israel had to agree to was obedience to God and keeping His covenant. In return, He promised that if they kept His covenant, they would be “a special treasure” to Him “above all people,” and they would be a “kingdom of priests and a holy nation”.
So they promised to obey God, and three days later He came down to meet them, and He gave them the Ten Commandments through Moses (Exodus 20:1–17). But the people were terrified at the sound of God’s voice (Exodus 20:19), so Moses spoke to God alone, and God gave Moses the rest of His laws and Moses took them back to the people. Once again agreed to obey God and sealed it in blood, which also sanctified it and the people, who agreed to this covenant with God (Exodus 24:1–8).
What is Our Role in the New Covenant?
And forty days and forty nights later, they disobeyed and broke their part of the covenant. And while they were punished severely for it, God forgave them but never broke His covenant with them. Eventually, He created a new covenant in Jesus Christ. It is this new covenant we will look at today. What is our role in it?
For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.Romans 15:4, NASB
Never forget that Paul taught from the Old Testament. His Scriptures did not include the New Testament, as they were still being written. So when he talks about “whatever was written in earlier times,” he is talking about the Old Testament. We can see from the verse above that they were written for our instruction and to give us hope. That said, we must never think that the Old Testament is not needed anymore or doesn’t apply to us. While the law does not bind us, it still shows us the difference between the profane and the holy.
“. . . you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ”1 Peter 2:5, NKJV
But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvellous light.1 Peter 2:9, NKJV
Previously, I talked about Adab and Abihu, priests of Israel who profaned the name of the Lord (Leviticus 10:1–5). It is thought that this strange fire was similar to what the pagan Canaanites offered to their false gods. For their disobedience and betrayal, God consumed them with fire. As priests of God, they were supposed to be an example to the people, but their actions (incorporating idol worship with the worship of God) could have led the people of Israel into further sin. To prevent this, God destroyed them.
How Does This Apply to Us Today?
1 Peter 2:5–9 confirms that believers in Christ have the same responsibility as the priests of God did in the Temple. 1 Peter 2:9 says, “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.”
By the time Jesus came, the temple priests had so twisted and abused the laws created to glorify God that Jesus saw right through them and called them hypocrites. And so, when he died for us, a new covenant was established with his blood. This covenant stripped away the laws and offered the grace of forgiveness and eternal life to all who believed.
But it also began a new priesthood. This priesthood consisted of all who accepted Jesus as Lord and Saviour (Jew and Gentile alike). According to the verses above, we are to “offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God”. A very pointed remark in light of how the Temple priests behaved during Peter and Jesus’ time. But what does that mean for us today?
What are Spiritual Sacrifices?
Even though Jesus’ death ended the need for blood sacrifices, Christians are still expected to present sacrifices before God. I’m not talking about tithing. The sacrifices we are to present to God all tie in with practicing holiness and how we live before Him and the world.
I beseech you, therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of GodRomans 12:1-2, NKJV
In the Old Covenant, only the High Priest of the Temple had the privilege of coming before God, and that was only once a year on the Day of Atonement, when he entered the Holy of Holies (Hebrews 9:6-7). With the New Covenant, every believer in Christ has the incredible privilege of coming into the presence of God all the time. But with that privilege comes responsibility.
While Jesus sacrificed himself for us so that we would forever be forgiven and eternally allowed into the presence of God, our act of spiritual worship in response is to present ourselves holy before God as living sacrifices. But what does that look like in a practical sense?
Like the verse above says, we are not to be conformed to this world. A good definition of what “world” means is 1 John 2:15–16: “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world.“
The lusts of the flesh involve everything from obsessive sexual desires to food, drink, and drugs. “Giving in” to those desires because they make us temporarily feel good is not an acceptable sacrifice to God. Giving them up for 40 days for Lent is not either.
The lust of the eyes would be materialism—things you see and “have to have”. And the pride of life? That would be any ambition or pursuit that puffs us up, putting us on the throne of life instead of God. Jesus himself was the best example of turning away from the temptations of the world. He was God, and yet at any moment he could have taken up his power and used it against his enemies, to satisfy his thirst, or to get off the cross. But he didn’t. He was quite literally a living sacrifice.
As obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, ”Be holy, for I am holy”1 Peter 1:14-16, NKJV
Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things, the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore, do not be partakers with them. For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth), finding out what is acceptable to the LordEphesians 5:6-10, NKJV
Acceptable sacrifices given to God are how we practice holiness. When we think sacrificially, we become the light of Christ for those still trapped in darkness. 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 gives us an excellent example of holiness in action.
Our spiritual sacrifices mean we are patient when we are standing in line at the grocery store or in slow-moving traffic. When dealing with others, we exhibit kindness. We rejoice with those whom God blesses. We don’t get jealous of their abundance or good fortune. On the other hand, we don’t brag about the great things God is doing in our lives either. You may think you are glorifying God when you share with your friends how “God blessed you” with this or that, but to some of them, who have not been blessed in the same way, it just feels like you’re bragging. Be sensitive to those around you. Listen to them and respond to the Spirit’s leading.
This week, try to consciously think as you go about your day how to present to God your “spiritual act of worship”—your sacrifice—to Him. Put into practice 1 Corinthians 13:4–7. Memorize it so that you can bring it to mind as you practice holiness.
4 Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud 5 or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. 6 It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. 7 Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.