I think many of us misunderstand the concept of holiness. Many of us think of holiness in terms of ethics; that is, we think holiness = perfection. In actuality, the call for us to “be holy” has nothing to do with our moral behavior per se. Instead, holiness means “to be set apart”.
For example, in 1 Peter 1:16 we are told: “For it is written, ‘be holy, because I am holy’”. If you are like me, I have always viewed that to mean we are to be morally perfect because Jesus (and by extension God) is morally perfect. However, that verse in and of itself does not tell the whole story. Peter clearly is quoting from Leviticus 20:26, which says “You are holy to me because I, the LORD, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be my own.”
In a very real sense, the call to holiness is a call to distinction, not perfection. It’s a call to stand apart from the normal in order to become part of the greater. Just as God is Holy (distinct from any other deity), so too are we to be set apart from others.
Jesus illustrated holiness through his life and his dedication to the Father’s Will. He stood apart from what would be considered the norm for his time and dedicated himself to his calling. I think many of us have a very distorted view of Jesus as simply being “morally perfect”. I think we do a disservice to his incarnation if we ignore the overall uniqueness of his calling – he did the Father’s will, and that set him “apart” from humanity.
Consider Adam and Eve for a moment. Their willingness to partake in eating the fruit speaks more to their desire to stand alone; than it does a moral failure. Perhaps we have been looking at their situation incorrectly. Perhaps their “failure” was more about them destroying the holy; than it was establishing an inherited depravity.
This is why we are given Leviticus. YAHWEH is calling people to be holy through doing his will. And doing his will is to re-establish the kingdom we were originally called to. It’s a beautiful circular reality of taking a convoluted world and moving back to the simplicity of life with God. However, Israel failed to understand this reality and navigated toward moral requirements than establishing the Kingdom. The old testament testifies to the tension that exists in re-establishing the holy.
This is why Jesus was necessary. Jesus was the only way to re-establish the holy by illustrating what it means to do the will of God.
Imagine if Christians focused more on doing the Will of God than they do the moral depravity of the world. Imagine if we were able to reorient ourselves towards a more accurate understanding of being holy, then we would see a drastic change in our lives, in the Church and in the world.