(111) Inscrption 16_Kosher or Holy

Notes & Transcripts

Inscription: Writing God’s Words on Our Hearts & Minds

Part 16: Kosher or Holy?

Leviticus 11-19

April 11, 2010

Main Point(s) of sermon:

· God created the purity laws to teach the Jews about being separate and holy.

· In Christ, we are no longer separate, but now the focus is holiness, something lacking in the church today.

Objectives of sermon:

· Exhort us to holiness


·         Mark 7:1-23; Lev. 11-19 (skim)

·         Bridge’s book;  First part of Driscoll clip

Scripture reading: 1 Peter 1:14-17


·         Missed a great Seder meal.

We are continuing reading through the Bible. I really encourage you to be reading with us because I am not able to read many of the passages here. Also read the daily notes.

Are we failing?

A while back someone told me they don’t see holiness in our church. (Don’t waste time trying to guess, because you won’t be able to.) They are talking about me and you, saying that we don’t pursue holiness enough.

Q   What would you do with that?

Pastors face a lot criticism, it goes with the job, but I work very hard not to dismiss things out of hand, but rather listen for what God might be saying to me, regardless if it’s said in love or judgment.

·         This person got me thinking more about holiness and what it means, and it has been in the back of my head since.

Leviticus has taken it from the back to the front of my head. God is going to speak to us about holiness, and answer that question, “Are we pursuing holiness?”


Help us understand what holiness means. It’s not something we think about and we don’t really understand. Use Leviticus to teach us what it means.

Theology lived out

Q   The original context of “Be holy because I am holy”?

It’s in the middle of describing ritual purity, specifically banning eating reptiles:

Leviticus 11:44-45   44 I am the LORD your God; consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy. Do not make yourselves unclean by any creature that moves about on the ground.  45 I am the LORD who brought you up out of Egypt to be your God; therefore be holy, because I am holy.

While I have never had any interest in eating snake steaks, I am not sure I follow what that has to do with being holy. I mean if this were the section on sexual purity, I would get it.

·         BTW: Fair warning: Next week I will talk about the sexual purity laws and it will be rated PG-13.

I said last week, Leviticus is a drama, theology acted out. Another way to think of is like a complex symbolism, like communion or baptism, simple acts having deep, rich meaning of our redemption. Rather than a simple act, it’s entire way of life was meant to teach profound truths about God and about us.

God didn’t give teaching on his holy and eternal nature and the sinful and decaying nature of the world.

·         He told them not to eat bacon and stay away from the temple when they’re sick.

Leviticus 11-19 is dedicated to purity laws, which can be summarized in the two ideas of “clean” and “unclean”.

On one side, you had to be clean, meaning ritually pure, to be able to participate in the full life of the community and faith. On the other, there were many earthly, normal things make you make you unclean:

1. Unkosher food

2. Corpses

3. Blood

4. Childbirth

5. Discharges (periods and wet dreams)

6. Leprosy

7. Mildew


Notice that these are not sinful things; they are normal parts of life. There were a few moral (right and wrong) commands, but large majority here are ritual.

·         These passages laid out what caused uncleanness and how to be purified.

For Israel, life was always slipping toward impurity. Like dust and dirty dishes, uncleanness requires regular action and maintenance. Uncleanness is readily communicable, in a way that holiness is not. (Dictionary of Biblical Imagery)

·         Last week I said every Israelite understood that when they sinned, something died because they had to kill the sacrifice.

In the same way every Israelite understood that God was holy and eternal and that the world was sinful and decaying. They lived out in a drama, physically demonstrating spiritual realities.

·         They never read that in Bible, but implicitly understood it.

germs, germs, germs everywhere

A great way to understand it is germs. For instance, how many of you know the proper routine for washing your hands in a public restroom? Dispense paper, turn on water, wash for 15 seconds, dry hands, use paper to turn off water and open door.

·         I hate it when there are no paper towels, and you have to use your shirt.

Why the routine? Because germs are easily spread, and washing your hands becomes pointless if the last guy didn’t (do women do that?) and you touch the same door handle.

·         Germs infect clean things, not the other way around.

The world is filled with things that make us unclean and we must be taking continual steps to become clean.

Why the kosher laws?

Now, folks have tried to figure out the purpose of the purity laws, especially the dietary ones. The most popular one is that they have tremendous health benefits in a pre-scientific age.

Some of the laws did have health benefits, but most of them don’t, so that’s not the reason. Furthermore, NT elimination of the rules would then mean God no longer cares about health.

·         The reason is simply what God said: Be holy as I am holy. These laws were designed to be a demonstration of holiness.

These ritual purity laws were not based intrinsic meaning, but that God said this is what you must do to be separate and holy.

Separate and holy

The entire purity system had two big points:

1. Be separate: All of the strange rules about eating and purity kept them separate from the nations around them.

It was God’s protection from assimilation. It kept them separate as a people without a nation for almost 2,000 years.

2. Be holy as God is holy: Be morally pure.

God had given Israel, sinful people they were, the honor of representing him:

Exodus 19:5-6   5 Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine,  6 you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.

But in order to do so, they had to be holy. It was their job to protect the world from God’s holiness, not the other way around. The camp set up demonstrated this (tabernacle, Levites, Israel, then the world).

God is holy in such a fierce, overwhelmingly pure way that we cannot even imagine it. It is as a consuming fire the burns up all impurities.

·         Holiness isn’t nice and safe it’s terrifying and dangerous.

they had to understand is just how pure and holy God is. It is dangerous for sinful, unholy people to work that close to God.

·         It was a great honor, but very, very dangerous:

Leviticus 10:1-3  Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu took their censers, put fire in them and added incense; and they offered unauthorized fire before the LORD, contrary to his command.  2 So fire came out from the presence of the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD.  3 Moses then said to Aaron, “This is what the LORD spoke of when he said: “‘Among those who approach me I will show myself holy; in the sight of all the people I will be honored.’” Aaron remained silent.

This story immediately precedes the purity laws. Coincidence? No way! It is a reminder of how dangerous it is work so closely with God, and a reminder of why these rules are so important.

·         They were like all of the OSHA safety rules designed to keep the workers safe, for the entire nation were priests.

Ignoring these rules is as dangerous as overriding the safety mechanism on power tools.

·         The Jews not only knew, but really “got” how holy God is

After the refinery explosion, one guy who worked there made this observation about the dangers of their job, “We don’t bake cookies. We boil oil. This is dangerous work and we know it.”

·         That is how we should feel about God’s holiness – it’s a scary thing, and we tread on it too lightly.

This is what the Bible means by “fear of the Lord,” not terror of an abusive father, for he is loving and good, but recognition of how great and holy he is and how sinful we are.  

Missing the point

Fast forward 1,400 years to Jesus’ day: Israel couldn’t get the lessons of separation and holiness right. For most their history they were not separate and became as immoral as the pagans.

By Jesus day, the Pharisees were great at being separate from Gentiles, but they had missed bigger point: holiness. It was external ritual, not internal heart change.

·         The were known for following the ritual law to the “t” but missing the bigger point:

Mark 7:9-13  9 ¶ And [Jesus] said to them: “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions!  10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.’  11 But you say that if a man says to his father or mother: ‘Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is Corban’ (that is, a gift devoted to God),  12 then you no longer let him do anything for his father or mother.  13 Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.”

And there were many more things like that, workarounds (still used today) to keep the letter, but miss the spirit of the law.

Mark 7:14-23   Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen to me, everyone, and understand this.  15 Nothing outside a man can make him ‘unclean’ by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him ‘unclean.’”  16   17 After he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about this parable.  18 “Are you so dull?” he asked. “Don’t you see that nothing that enters a man from the outside can make him ‘unclean’?  19 For it doesn’t go into his heart but into his stomach, and then out of his body.” (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods “clean.”)  20 He went on: “What comes out of a man is what makes him ‘unclean.’  21 For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery,  22 greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly.  23 All these evils come from inside and make a man ‘unclean.’”

(BTW: Jesus says “toilet” in v. 19, but apparently, translators think that he is too holy to talk about using the potty.)   

·         As you read this, you can hear his frustration, it’s like he’s yelling, “You missed the whole stinkin’ point!”

The purity laws were meant to teach about holiness, it’s like God put training wheels on holiness to help them understand it (Paul says the law was our tutor (Gal. 3:25).

The problem is that now they are all wrapped up in the training wheels. This wasn’t a new problem, the prophets spoke against it. It might be really impressive that you can balance yourself on one training wheel, but you’ve missed the point!

So Jesus does something pretty significant – he repeals the purity laws, “In saying this, Jesus declared all foods ‘clean’.” With one comment, the entire set of purity laws are obsolete.

Q   How could Jesus just overturn the Mosaic law like that?

Q   Didn’t Jesus say he did not come to abolish the law?

Yes, but he also said he came to fulfill the law, and he was fulfilling it in two important ways:

1. He ended the need for separation: Remember, a major purpose of the purity laws was to keep them separate from us Gentiles, but:

Galatians 3:28-29   28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

Q   But aren’t Christian supposed to be separate from the world?

Yes, but now we are separated by moral purity, not ritual laws. In other words, the world will still think we are weird because of holiness, not rituals.

·         Being weird is not an option!  

Our weirdness doesn’t come from eating special foods, but from skipping the bachelor at the strip club, not finding our meaning in new car, not participating in the water cooler gossip, or dressing modestly.

2. He moved holiness from external rituals to internal heart change:

Jesus was removing the training wheels! He wasn’t lowering the bar he was raising it. This is why he said:

Matthew 5:20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

Call to holiness

This brings me to what that person said about our church: I think they were right and wrong: Right in that we (and pretty much every church) fail to pursue holiness. Wrong in that their idea of holiness was not entirely correct.

Holiness means absolute moral purity, being faultless, not just doing the right things and not the wrong things, but doing it for the right reasons, and all of us fall very short. 

·         We are guilt of sins of commission (the stuff we do) and omission (stuff we don’t do).

Jerry Bridges wrote “Pursuit of Holiness” and made this observation: In 1 John 2:1 John says he writes so that we might not sin. Most Christians seem content not to sin very much.

Q   Think about that for a moment, examine yourself: Do you have a passion to not sin, or just not sin much?

I think we twist a biblical truth into a justification for sin: The Bible is very clear that we will never reach perfect holiness on earth (e.g. 1 John 1:8-10). We can pursue holiness, but we can never attain it here.

·         The problem is that becomes an excuse for complacency:

When I took my driving test, I knew I would not be able to parallel park, so I didn’t try, and I still can’t do it well, because I can’t back up well (U-Haul and helping Alexis).

·         We must be pursuing complete holiness, because pursuing partial holiness is not pursing holiness.

Here’s irony: If you pursue complete holiness and fail, you have still won. If you pursue partial holiness, and make it, you have still failed.

Holiness at The Gathering

Every church struggles with holiness in different ways, and here is the specific way most of us (including myself) struggle:

We grew up equating legalism with holiness – follow these extra-Biblical rules, when in doubt don’t, and avoid the appearance of evil (a mistranslation of 1 Thes. 5:22, see 10/4/09 sermon). All the while the heart grows proud, judgmental, and condemning.

·         That’s what we have grown up with, but we have recognized that it’s not holiness, it’s legalistic pseudo-holiness.

We’ve figured out that that’s just following in the path of the Pharisees – more interested in external rules than the joy, life, and freedom in Christ.

I still believe that (though it’s a broad brush to paint with). The problem is we have gotten off of the Pharisee’s path, but gotten onto the path of paganized Israelites.

·         We replace legalistic pseudo-holiness with libertine (taking advantage liberties, cheap grace) pseudo-holiness.

And why have we done that? Because we want to have fun. We don’t want to just enjoy our liberties in Christ, we want to skirt the edge, we want to “not sin very much.”

·         The irony is we get the most joy out of pursuing God and his holiness (not irony, but deception).

Two pseudo-holinesses

Holiness does not mean following extra rules to avoid external sin while growing in legalistic pride. But it also doesn’t mean allowing our liberties in Christ to become excuses for sin.

·         To be honest, if I have to error, I would prefer to error toward the liberties side than the legalistic side.

Why? Because they are both sinful and destructive, but the consequences of “sins of the flesh” are far more obvious and immediately painful than the spiritual sin of legalism.

·         Legalism masquerades as righteousness and can stay hidden for a lifetime.


Of course, that’s like saying I prefer to die of cancer than a being murdered, because with cancer there is a better chance I will recognize and treat it. But I would rather not die.

·         One way or another, sin kills. 

What I really want true holiness, not wanting any sin.

He is still holy

So God’s lesson to the Israelites, illustrated through dietary laws and purification rituals, is still his lesson to us: “Be holy because I am holy.”

So how do we pursue holiness? Here are four keep principles:

1. Commit to total holiness, not partial. And it has to be for the right reason, God’s glory, not to feel better about ourselves or be happy.

2. Develop godly standards of holiness: Neither legalism nor libertine. These standards must be Biblically-based, Spirit-developed, and community-supported.

·         This how we avid both legalism and excessive liberties.

3. Depend on the Holy Spirit: This sermon errs in making it sounds like it’s only up to us, but it’s mainly him. Our biggest role is choosing and asking for help.

4. Daily choose holiness: It’s a daily battle, back and forth.

Q & A


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