The Evolving Identity of Holiness
The levitical laws regarding purity and holiness were established to consecrate the Hebrew people to God, to establish their identity as distinct from the surrounding cultures. The dominant societies around them were pagan, so the separation provided by the practice of their Hebrew faith served to orient their lives toward God rather than toward the influence of their neighboring nations.
In the United States today, we live in a different place. Our society is largely Christian and, on at least a superficial level, lives by a Christian standard of morality. Our country was founded, though not actually as a Christian nation, on a westernized understanding of essentially Judeo-Christian values. Yet this standard of Christianity has been so diluted by its mingling with nationalism, politicism, and non-transformative belief (I hesitate to even call our cultural Christianity a “faith” because it requires no commitment) that we struggle with some of the same identity crises faced by the early Hebrews.
When the whole world claims to be Christian, can a true Christian be found? It becomes difficult — impossible, perhaps — to distinguish between the Christ-follower and the cultural believer, because in many ways they appear to live by the same code. They speak the same language; they sit in the same pews; they share the same body and blood of Christ on Sunday.
We can no longer use a code of conduct as a marker of consecration. Our characteristic orientation toward God must evolve beyond a list of rules, a series of do’s and do not’s. Indeed, I believe this is one of the evolutions in faith Christ initiated in his teachings and demonstrated in his death: the mark of the Christian is no longer the food she eats nor the line of her birth nor the offering of sacrifices to God. The mark of the Christian is the love and grace she bestows upon her neighbors and the selflessness with which she lives. The mark of the Christian, the evidence of holiness, is how much of herself she is willing to give in order to nurture the lives and life of others.