Today I finished up the book of Leviticus. As I read through eight chapters of laws, statutes, and commandments given to the children of Israel, I was both convicted and grateful. I’m convicted because God’s original laws for the Jewish people reveal so much about His character of holiness, and I recognize how little I understand that concept. We live in a very unholy world, surrounded by our idols and the sin that is so acceptable in our culture – it’s impossible not to feel the effects, and we’re fooling ourselves if we think we’re above it, or immune to it.
On the other hand, I’m so very grateful that Jesus fulfilled all the laws, both the civil and ceremonial laws that belong only to Israel, and the moral laws that apply to all of mankind.
Those distinctions – civil, ceremonial, and moral – help us understand Leviticus from our present-day Gentile perspective. Civil laws only apply to the people who belong to the nation those laws govern. The ceremonial laws governed Israel’s personal relationship with God until Christ came to fulfill all sacrifices on the cross. For us, they are a picture of the necessity of the shedding of blood for atonement, because the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23), and all have sinned (Romans 3:23). Our relationship to God has always been in light of Jesus’ finished work, but the children of Israel lived before that historical event took place. The sacrifices pointed forward to Jesus.
The moral laws God gave Israel still apply to all of mankind because they are based on God’s character. Jesus took the moral code God expects us to live by and elevated it; it not only addresses our actions but our heart and attitudes. See Matthew 5-7, the Sermon on the Mount. The New Testament has much to say about our morality. We are all still very accountable for our moral (and immoral) choices, but thankfully we live under God’s grace and mercy, finding forgiveness for our moral failures in Christ. We aren’t stoned to death because Jesus was put to death in our place on the cross.
Leviticus 19:2b – You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.
1 Peter 1:14-16 – As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”
What does Leviticus reveal as God’s moral code? (Here are just a few.)
God says we are not to steal or lie (Lev. 19:11).
God says we are not to profane His name (Leviticus 19:12).
God says we are not to oppress our neighbor (Lev. 19:13).
God says we are not to worship any other gods or idols (Lev. 26:1-13).
God says we are not to sacrifice our children (Lev. 20:1-5).
God says we are not to have immoral relationships: adultery, incest, bestiality, homosexuality, etc. (Lev. 20:9-21).
God says we are to love our neighbor as ourselves (Lev. 19:18).
As you can see, God’s moral law is contained in the Ten Commandments, and they are still as relevant as they were on the day they were given. God simply gave more specific details on how the Ten Commandments should affect our lives when He gave Moses the moral laws for His people. The New Testament confirms this.
1) Do not worship any other gods (1 Corinthians 8:6; 1 Timothy 2:5)
2) Do not make idols (1 John 5:21)
3) Do not misuse the name of the LORD (1 Timothy 6:1)
4) Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy. (Colossians 2:16 releases the NT believer from the Sabbath rule. Jesus, the Lord of the Sabbath, has become for us our Sabbath rest, according to Hebrews 4:1–11. However, the principles of trusting God to provide, making worship a priority in our lives, and not focusing on worldly wealth are found in the NT.)
5) Honor your father and your mother (Ephesians 6:1–2)
6) Do not murder (Romans 13:9; 1 Peter 4:15)
7) Do not commit adultery (1 Corinthians 6:9–10)
8) Do not steal (Ephesians 4:28)
9) Do not give false testimony (Colossians 3:9; Revelation 21:8)
10) Do not covet (Colossians 3:5)
I’ve heard people excuse their sin by saying, “We’re not under the law, we’re under grace.” Yes, and I’m so thankful for grace, but reading Leviticus reminds us of how seriously God takes our sins. The death penalty comes up quite often in Leviticus, and that fact should give us pause when we dismiss God’s holiness and take His grace for granted. Jesus died to free us from the penalty of the law, not to give us the freedom to live sinful, selfish lives. He freed us to be holy.
May we seek His forgiveness for our immorality and moral failures.
May we repent and turn away from anything God says is unholy and wrong.
May we never presume on God’s grace, or take it for granted.
May we be courageous enough to live holy in an unholy world, as representatives of the One who died to set us free.