I love the gospel narrative of the life of Jesus. These stories contain quite a collection of people besides Jesus. Some are sinful, ostracized, and uneducated . In other stories we see battle commanders, kings, religious leaders, and successful businessmen. Jesus attends to the needs of the broken and responds to the questions of the elite. He does not maintain his image by who he spends time with but by his consistent words, actions and heart.
As followers of Jesus, we have been consecrated (set apart as sacred) to God. We have been chosen as a holy priesthood, set apart for his purposes. The life of Jesus is our model for how to do that in this world.
We see Jesus does not shy away from interactions with prostitutes, tax collectors, adulterers, terminally ill, beggars or partiers. He doesn’t spend time with them in order to condemn them, but to offer them hope. Jesus is the high priest we model our being “set apart” after. We see from his example we are not called to protect our image or restrict who we spend time with. In fact, this priestly call demands we interact with those who are in need of hope.
Jesus intentionally heads into the areas that are most broken because, as he puts it, “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:32) Jesus is the hope of the world, a beacon of Hope for the hopeless. Those who recognize their hopeless state cling to Jesus and cry out in repentance.
We are image bearers of Jesus, consecrated for this purpose. When we display Jesus in the dark, those searching for hope come running to the light.
So, if being set apart is not about physically separating ourselves, what does it mean?
37 While Jesus was speaking, a Pharisee asked him to dine with him, so he went in and reclined at table. 38 The Pharisee was astonished to see that he did not first wash before dinner. 39 And the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. 40 You fools! Did not he who made the outside make the inside also? 41 But give as alms those things that are within, and behold, everything is clean for you.
Our ability to offer the hope of Jesus requires our pursuit of holiness. We can not be set apart unless we are clean on the inside. Sin, by definition, is anything that separates us from God. If we in any way stand in opposition to God, we are in need of repentance. We need to confess our sin, hand it over to Jesus, and turn to live in line with the heart of God. Our being set apart is reliant on the grace of God and our willingness to repent.
Only those who know hope can display the hope available to those looking. Only those who know the goodness of God can display it. Only those who know his mercy and love can testify to the love of Christ. Sin is evidence we do not know these things. God is on display when we come to know God as our source, when the fruits of the spirit are alive in us instead of the temporary and harmful fix of sin. The Holy Spirit produces fruit within us that is attractive to those around us. Sin, however, cuts us off from this fruit and destroys the fruit in our lives. When we live life in step with God, the Holy Spirit produces love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control. We do not produce this.
5 Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. 6 On account of these the wrath of God is coming. 7 In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. 8 But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.
Being set apart means that we are in pursuit of holiness. We cannot allow sin a place in our lives. There is grace in this process as we repent and turn to holiness. This grace allows us to repent and escape a life of sin. There is no excuse to go back to the old way of living.
Being set apart is an incredible privilege! Think about it. We have been chosen by God, highlighted as his own. We are a royal priesthood, sons and daughters of the king. We have been invited to know the richness of this. God freely offers us the things that the world is chasing after. The pursuits in this world, like wealth and success, are attempts to gain that which the Holy Spirit produces within us. Our being set apart is freedom and not slavery. It is freedom from chasing what only God provides. We get to receive freely from God and join him in what he is doing. Sometimes we hear words like holiness, and think about what we give up. What we give up are the faulty attempts at pursuing what only God can give.
Being set apart is an incredible gift, but must be received. We must put to death the sinful pursuits. One cannot be set apart and still chase after sin. They are mutually exclusive. God shows grace in the process, but we cannot take sin lightly. It keeps us and others from encountering the fullness of God. We are to be clean houses of God in a mess of a world.