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Are you letting God's Spirit sanctify you?

Anthony Costello
Courtesy of Anthony Costello

“On the seventh day the priest shall return. If he sees that the plague has spread on the walls of the house, the priest shall order the stones with the plague in them to be pulled out and cast outside the city into an unclean place.” – Leviticus 14:38-39

The impurity of sin

When the Psalmist tells us that the whole Earth is the Lord’s (Psalm 24:1) he truly means the whole Earth. There is nothing not sacred to the Lord: no animal, no plant, not the trees of the forest or even the stones themselves. All is God’s creation and everything belongs to Him. For this reason, God sets up the entire priestly system: to keep his people and their environment clean and pure—clean from sin and pure from disease and infection.

But in the Old Testament these two ideas, sin and infection or disease, are not all that different. In Leviticus, anything that can make a man or his dwelling place unclean must be treated by the high priest. It must be cleansed of impurity through sacrifice. This applies even to the very rocks and stones of one’s home. Think of the labor involved if you were to find infected rocks in the walls of your house! The mold-infested beams and the stones infected with fungus would have to be pulled out of the house and replaced with clean ones. All the while, the family and every household item from the home would be quarantined for several days. What an ordeal!

However, if it were not done and not done thoroughly, the corrupting effect of the fungus or mold could spread to other parts of the house, to household items, to the family clothing and to the very bodies of the Israelites living there. So it is when sin and death have entered into the world, everything is vulnerable to its impurities.

But, God has made a way! For we no longer have to cleanse our bodies or our homes through the work of the law or the sacrificial system. No! We have the great and final High Priest, who through His once-and-for-all sacrifice has made atonement for us and, should we receive that sacrifice, cleansed us from sin.

Being sanctified in the Spirit

Nevertheless, although we are cleansed in the sight of God, the process of removing impurity from our hearts is not unlike removing stones from the walls of an ancient home. Sin is heavy and it is burdensome. And to be purified from its effects we must constantly return to our High Priest, Jesus, in order that He remove the mold and mildew from our souls. Peter, who knew this process well, tells us that we are being “built into a spiritual house for a holy priesthood.” We are the house that is made of living stones, and in this house, we offer “spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” as His Spirit sanctifies us.

This “house cleaning” demands our participation too. It is the Spirit who does the work, but we must invite Him into the house so He can do that work. As the late J.I. Packer put it, we must “keep in step with the Spirit.”  Keeping in step does not mean that in one fell swoop we invite the Spirit into our day and “poof” moral perfection! Packer puts it this way, “it is equally right to stress that the Christian’s present quest for purity of life means conscious tension and struggle and incomplete achievement all along the line” (Keep in Step with the Spirit, 33).

It is true that we no longer have to perform the daily sacrifices associated with the Temple cult, and thank God for that! I imagine very few of us would be inclined to the slaughter of various beasts of the field, or breaking the necks of little birds. It is true that our great and final High Priest has taken care of the last sacrifice, the sacrifice to atone for original sin that dwells in every heart, mind and body. However, we are called to imitate Christ, and to do so we must imitate, to a much lesser degree, the sacrifice He made for us. To keep in step with His Spirit we must sacrifice daily. Christ carried the cross for the whole world. We don’t have to do that. But, we are commanded by Him to carry the cross for our own, personal world—for our inner and outer life. We must give up our own will and allow the will of the Spirit to work in us. We must open the door of our lives to the Spirit of God and let Him clean house. Only then can we fulfill our new role as priests of the Most High God.

Anthony Costello has a BA from the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, IN and two Masters Degrees from Talbot School of Theology, Biola University in Christian Apologetics and Theology. Anthony's areas of focus are Apologetics and Systematic Theology. He has published in both academic journals and magazines and co-authored two chapters in Evidence that Demands a Verdict, edited by Josh and Sean McDowell. He is a US Army and Afghanistan Veteran.

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