"For you are a people holy to the Lord"
- Deuteronomy 7:6
As the people of God are standing on the banks of the Jordan River, preparing to enter into the Promised Land after 400 years of slavery and 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, God takes great care to remind them of their true identity. They are a holy people.
But what does it mean to be holy? What sorts of things are holy? There's the "Holy Bible". Moses enters into "Holy Ground" when approaching Yahweh. In the temple, the priests wore "holy garments".
What exactly does it mean to be holy? To be holy means to be "separated from the rest". It means to "belong to the service of God". This definition applies to Israel as they were about to enter into Canaan. God was about to fulfill His promise with Abraham and give this particular land to Abraham's descendants. More than just inhabiting the land, though, Abraham's descendants were also to be a blessing to the nations. They were called to be a light to the Gentiles. So as they enter into the land, God calls them to separate themselves and to refrain from assimilating into the surrounding culture. Most especially, God reminds them that they are to remain true in their worship: "You shall have no other gods before me" (Deuteronomy 5:7).
In the New Testament, the Apostle Peter uses the same words God used to describe Israel to describe the Christian church. "But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation..." (1 Peter 2:9). Since we are in Christ, forgiven and redeemed by Him, we too belong to God. We too have been chosen by God and have been made holy. We too belong to His service.
Therefore, in one sense, as Christians, we are to be separate from the rest of the world. That is, we are not to assimilate to the predominant culture. We are not to worship the gods the world worships. Freely forgiven of all our sin, we are to be followers of Jesus' counter-cultural way of living.
Of course, in another sense, the Christian Church ought to be very much a part of this world. That is, we ought to be living for the benefit of our neighbors. We ought to be engaged in the political and social life of our communities. In so doing, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we are a blessing to our neighbors. We are a holy people. Set apart for service to God...and to neighbor. Why? "The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession..." (Deuteronomy 7:6).
With you in Christ,