By this time of the year, many Christians have begun to struggle with fulfilling their New Year’s resolution to read through the Bible. For many, the reason can be summed in one word: Leviticus! Certainly, the book of Leviticus is not the easiest reading in the Bible. In fact, I am in Leviticus right now in my own daily Bible readings as I journey through the Bible again this year, and each time that I read it, I come to a greater appreciation for the book. Yes, Leviticus is tedious and filled with laws and regulations that we do not understand and as New Testament Christians, we no longer live under the obligation to follow. It’s easy to wonder, “Why is this even in the Bible?” One year as I was struggling to read through Leviticus, I learned the key verses in the entire book…
“You shall not do as they do in the land of Egypt, where you lived, and you shall not do as they do in the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you. You shall not walk in their statutes. You shall follow my rules and keep my statutes and walk in them. I am the Lord your God. You shall therefore keep my statutes and my rules; if a person does them, he shall live by them: I am the Lord.” (Leviticus 18:3–5, ESV)
Did you catch that? God is giving His people the Law so that they would have a lifestyle distinct from the culture they lived in. Remember, in the centuries before this time, the people of Israel had been slaves in Egypt, and the Lord miraculously delivered them through the Exodus experience – think plagues, parting the Red Sea, and raining bread from heaven! Now, the people of God were delivered from Egypt and on their way to the Promised Land. However, the influences of Egypt were still with them. The culture they had lived in worshiped many gods and did not believe in the one true God of Israel. Egyptian culture had many beliefs, practices, and standards that were not in keeping with God’s plan for His people. So, in the book of Leviticus, we have the Lord giving His standard to His people. It is not God’s intention that His people continue to live just like the unbelievers they lived among. It is God’s intention that His people live distinctly from the people who do not follow the Lord. THAT is the core issue in the Leviticus.
While we now live as Christians in the age of New Testament grace brought through the work of Christ on the cross and no longer are required to keep the Law, this principle of God’s people living a distinct lifestyle is carried throughout scripture…
“Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ,” (Philippians 3:17–20, ESV)
“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:1–2, ESV)
We live in a time when the church is under pressure to compromise and conform to the culture. That is always a tragic mistake. Throughout the Bible, God’s people are called to a counter cultural lifestyle. The fact that the church is not like the world is a positive thing. The fact that our values as Christians increasingly clash with the values of the culture should not surprise us – in fact, it’s the Biblical norm. If you study the Bible, you will find that God’s people did not get into trouble when they did not live like the world, but rather when they did. Think about it.
As Christians, we live in this world. In fact, the Bible teaches that the Lord has us in this world for a purpose and a mission. That fact is why God has always intended for his people to be in the world, but to live distinctly from the world. How can we shine as lights in a dark world if we live just like the world? We can’t. The first witness we must give is a life sold out to Jesus Christ in every way. When unbelievers see Christ in us, they will be willing to listen when we share how they can know Him too.
It works the same collectively in the church. I am in no way opposed to the church using technology and all means available to us in order to communicate the Gospel. I am in no way opposed to churches changing how we do things to meet the challenges of a changing culture. In fact, I am staunchly in favor of those things. My point is that no matter how much technology we use in the church and no matter how many styles of music we offer and no matter how “cutting edge” we might strive to be, the true church as described in the Bible has always been and will always be distinctly counter cultural. We do not offer just a “christianized” version of what is offered in the world. We offer hope and eternal life through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. We offer changed life, not from self-help but from Christ living in you!
As the days we live in grow darker with sin, let us each one determine to shine more brightly. Think about it.