There’s a danger of making it to the top. You start to believe in your own press. You begin to think you’ve arrived. You start talking to yourself about your achievements and inflate your identity based on your accomplishments. The effort and work you put in to make it up there become another measurement of your superiority and grandeur. You may have enough self-awareness not to vocalize this, but inside you tell yourself, “I’m a big deal.” And that’s the danger.
You have to wonder how the sons born into Aaron’s family would have done it. Leviticus 21–22 details the ceremonial and ritual practices of “cleanness” that were required of them to stand as the Lord’s priests. Touching a dead person that wasn’t among their immediate relatives was forbidden (Leviticus 21:1–4). Any association in appearance, practice, or even marriage with the worship rituals of the pagan nations surrounding Israel was outlawed (vv.5–9). The high priest had to disavow any practice or rite violating his ceremonial cleanness (vv.10–15).
What God required of His priests was holiness. Holiness in the externals of physical appearance, ritual worship, and ceremonial practice was required (vv.16–24). If you were one of the sons of Aaron standing at the top of this moral, ceremonial mountain of religious practice, you would feel pretty good about yourself. You’ve run the gauntlet, married the right girl, performed the right tasks, kept the right rules, and stood head and shoulders above your fellow countrymen. You may feel very smug because you have met the standard. “They are to be holy to their God and not profane the name of their God” (v.6).
Those who make it to the top, especially in spiritual practice and religion, are on precarious ground if they believe they’re a big deal because of what they have achieved, which is why the repetitive phrase that occurs six times through these two chapters is necessary. God says, “I, the LORD who sets you apart, am holy” (v.8). Take heed lest you think too highly of your spiritual ascendency.
It’s no mistake that the concluding section of today’s reading tells us about a perfect sacrifice. It’s there in the perfect sacrifice of Jesus that we are set apart and made holy. Our cleanness doesn’t come through our climb to the top. It comes from the spotless Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29).
Are you thinking too highly of your own religious and spiritual performance? Does pride even fill your heart for reading this plan and checking the box of doing more to improve? Brother, repent of your attempts to accomplish your own holiness and humbly receive the gift of Jesus’s perfect righteousness and sacrifice by faith. Embrace the gift that it truly is “the LORD who sets you apart,” not your moral achievement.