READ: Deuteronomy 13-14
THINK: This section can be both troubling and confusing. There are laws about putting to death those who would entice God’s people to turn astray and laws about how it’s okay to eat beef but not okay to eat pork. And it’s easy to read this – at least if you are anything like me – and wonder, “What is God doing here? Why do these laws seem so harsh and so arbitrary?”
Holiness. That’s what God is doing here. Why so harsh? Holiness matters more than we can possibly fathom with our sinful minds. Why seemingly arbitrary? Holiness is about being set apart. It means being different. It means standing out and being like God in the midst of a world that looks nothing like him. That is the big idea of this section of the Law in Deuteronomy.
It’s easy to get caught up in the minutiae of passages like this – and far too many people fall victim and do so. They read these chapters and then come away feeling and acting judgmental towards anyone who has tattoos or likes bacon. But that really isn’t the point here. God is doing something really unique in this book. He is teaching a people how to live set apart for him in the midst of a pagan world so that they can be lights to that world that draw it towards him.
And his commands aren’t designed to be oppressive or frustrating. They aren’t there to trip Israel up. They aren’t designed to be an onerous system of boxes to check to be good enough. In fact, this passage indicates the opposite! It requires tithing. But encourages the people to feast on their own tithes at the appropriate time. The tithe isn’t about making yourself poor or going hungry. It is about passionately celebrating what God has provided. And the food laws and laws about marking your body or shaving your head were set up specifically to help God’s people be set apart and easily identifiable as his.
Israel, by following the law, stood out in contrast to the pagans around them who did these things in order to somehow win the favor of the gods. But this God is about grace. Not performance. And so is the Law! So are all of his commands today. They are about living the way we were designed to live and being set apart from the sinful brokenness of this world so that we can shine his light in the darkness and – by the testimony of the unique and different lives we live – draw people towards him.
The question we have to ask is: are we doing that? Are we living holy lives set apart to God which shine so brightly in the world around us that people cannot help but be compelled to find out more about him? That ought to be what defines us. This is and has always been God’s vision for his people in the world. Often, though, this isn’t what defines us.
Most of the time we get so caught up in chasing the world that our lives don’t look different enough for anyone to notice. And when we do – and by “we” I mean the broader American evangelical Church – take a stand for holiness it is all to often by rallying around the coercive power of the state and attempting to vote into law some restriction on a sin we don’t collectively struggle with in order to help “them” be better people. That isn’t at all to say we our faith and politics shouldn’t intersect. But it is a suggestion that we might win far more to the Kingdom if we focus on living lives of radical holiness, set apart from the darkness and practices of our world, that so powerfully reflect our God to everyone around us that people are compelled to learn more about him.
PRAY: Ask God to help you be set apart. Ask him to reveal to you the parts of your life that look more like the world than like him and to help you overcome your struggles there. Offer yourself and your life up to God today and ask him to make you holy and use your life to draw people to himself.