On the Power of Obedience & the Necessity of Grace

Guest post from FaithWords author Daniel Harrell, whose book How to Be Perfect publishes today, January 6, 2011.

Obey Leviticus and you’ll live a holy life

Nobody in their right mind sets out to write a book about Leviticus, mostly because you’d have to read Leviticus first. Of course once you read it, you’re even more convinced that writing a whole book about it is crazy. But then you remember that Leviticus not only sits at the center of the Torah as a the pinnacle book of Old Testament Law, it also contains more direct quotes from God than any other book in the Bible! It’s clearly important. So why is it so strange?

HOW TO BE PERFECT, Daniel M. Harrell

How to Be Perfect: One Church's Audacious Experiment in Living the Old Testament Book of Leviticus

Leviticus was written for a nation of people in transit from captivity in Egypt to freedom in the Promised Land, but it was also written for a nation of people that God was making into his people. His holy people. It wasn’t enough that they believed in the Lord, they had to behave what they believed too. Leviticus was written to show them how to do that—how to be holy (or as Jesus puts it, how to be perfect). Holiness is not as much a state of mind (or soul) as it is a lifestyle. And therefore, to have any chance at understanding holiness, you have to live it out.

Many will define being holy as being “set apart.” While true, the problem with that definition is that it makes being holy sound like being separate. But God didn’t lead his people into a deserted land, but through a desert to be among other people—into the world, not away from it. More than being set apart, holiness is really about being set up for God. To be holy is to live for the Lord. Leviticus shows you how to do that. Obey Leviticus and you’ll live a holy life.

That was the idea behind How To Be Perfect. Eighteen people from my church joined me in an adventure of living by the book to see if obedience to what we didn’t fully understand could help us understand why obedience to these strange laws mattered so much.

Obedience is so much about trust, and to trust generally does not entail much information on the front end. As Christians, we’re used to being told “how to do,” but this approach is precisely why obedience gets such a bad rap. Yet the harshest critics of obedience are those who have never given it a shot and simply tried to follow the Bible.

Needless to say (but crucial to write!), a lot was learned—about Leviticus, about God, about ourselves. Some of it was assuring and some of it disturbing, and yet all of it impressed on us both the power of the obedience and the necessity of grace. In the end, we all realized that God’s involvement in the minutiae of human life is a remarkable reality, even if like God himself, it remains hid from our eyes.

God’s involvement in every aspect of life meant that nothing was insignificant. While on the one hand this may seem a daunting realization, on the other hand, it breathes all kinds of new life into those things we might consider mundane and worthless. It’s like when Jesus said that not a sparrow or lily or hair on our head escapes notice. The Lord cares about everything.

Daniel M. Harrell

Daniel M. Harrell is senior minister of Colonial Church in Edina, Minnesota. For 23 years he served as a minister at Park Street Church in downtown Boston. He is the author of Nature’s Witness: How Evolution Can Inspire Faith as well as numerous articles that have appeared in Leadership Journal, Christianity Today, The Christian Century, and Regeneration Quarterly.

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