Rules for living

Clean and unclean

A crucial area to understand in Leviticus concerns the distinctions between holy and common, clean and unclean. Most people think in terms of good and bad, but the Bible works with three categories, as the chart shows.

There are two processes going on. The first process is when sacred, godly, holy things are profaned and become common. You can spoil a holy thing by making it common. When the Bible Society sent Bibles to Romania, the communist government allowed the pages to be used in toilet rolls. It sparked a revolution started by Christians who were scandalized by this action. What had happened in that situation according to the teaching of Leviticus? In using the Bible for such a mundane though necessary purpose, a holy thing had been made common. The second process is when a common, clean thing is made unclean and sinful.

The three words sacred, secular and sinful correspond roughly to these divisions of holy, clean and common, and unclean. Just as there is a process of profaning the holy to make it common, and polluting the common and clean to make it unclean, so there is a process of redeeming this situation. You can cleanse the unclean and make it clean, then you can consecrate it and it becomes holy.

What is holy and what is unclean must never come into contact. They must be kept rigidly apart. Things holy and things unclean have nothing in common. If there is a mixture of unclean and clean it will make both unclean. Similarly, if you mix holy and common things, that makes them all common – it does not make them all holy.

Hence the downward process shown on the chart leads to death, quite literally, whereas the upward process leads to life – but this involves sacrifice. Only by sacrifice can you cleanse what is unclean and bring it to life.

This has ramifications for our view of life. According to the Bible our work can be consecrated to God. Work can be any of these three things, holy, clean or unclean. There are some jobs that are illegal and immoral, which are therefore unclean. A Christian should not be in them. There are other jobs that are clean, but common. But you can consecrate your work and do it for the Lord, and then it ceases to be common – it becomes a holy vocation in the Lord. So it is possible for a printer to be doing holy work, just as it is possible for a missionary to do only common work. Your money can be unclean if it is spent on bad things, clean if it is spent on good things, or holy if it is consecrated to the Lord. Sex, too, can be any one of these three things.

Plenty of people are living decent, common, clean lives, but they are not holy people. God does not want us just to be living good lives: he wants us to be living holy lives. This is the emphasis in Leviticus.

Those outside the Church may claim that they can live lives as good as the lives of those within it, but they are not the holy people God is looking for.

Holy living

Living holy lives involves all kinds of very practical things.

  • The health of the body is just as important to holiness as the health of the spirit. What we do with our bodies does matter if we want to be holy to the Lord. Leviticus has instructions about haircuts, tattoos and men wearing earrings, as well as regulations on male and female bodily discharges and childbirth.
  • There are a lot of regulations concerning food here, clean and unclean food especially.
  • There is teaching in Leviticus about not getting involved in occultism or with spiritualist mediums.
  • Instructions are given on the action to be taken when there is dry rot in the house. The house is to be torn down in love for your neighbor.
  • There is teaching concerning clothing. There is to be no  mixed material.
  • Social life is covered: holiness means paying special attention to the poor, the deaf, the blind, and the aged. If you are a holy youth you will stand up when an older person comes into the room.
  • Sex is also dealt with. Leviticus has things to say on incest, buggery and homosexuality.

If you ask what is a holy life, Leviticus says it is how you live from Monday to Saturday and not just what you do on Sunday. God is looking not just for clean people, but for holy people. That is a big difference and until you become a Christian you never even think of becoming holy; you just think of being good – and that is not good enough.