Exodus through Deuteronomy deals a lot with holiness unto the Lord. There is the repeated idea that certain things are holy by virtue of having been consecrated to the Lord and certain things are unholy by virtue of being unclean. The holiness can be contagious, and the uncleanliness can be contagious. This passage in Numbers shows this concept:
The Lord spoke to Moses: Command the Israelites to send out from the camp anyone with a skin disease, an oozing discharge, or who has become unclean from contact with a corpse. You must send out both male and female. You must send them outside the camp so that they will not make their camp, where I live among them, unclean.
This is the core teaching concerning uncleanliness. Because something unclean is unholy, it cannot be in the presence of God or of the community in that state. Otherwise the unholiness will contaminate the entire community and God’s presence will leave. Therefore, there were rituals and waiting periods outside of the camp to ensure cleanliness and a restored state of holy living.
Perhaps the most important idea to remember in all of these regulations, though, is that this is speaking about ritual purity or ceremonial holiness, not the inner state of someone. These passages should all be read in light of the situation that occurred with Nadab and Abihu in Leviticus 10. These two priests, sons of Aaron, were ordained and consecrated in Leviticus 8. In fact, after the ordination ritual and the consecration of their clothes, 8:30 says, “In this way, Moses made holy Aaron, his clothing, and Aaron’s sons and their clothing.” That very same day these two are struck down. This holiness that Nadab and Abihu had conferred upon them obviously did not translate into their souls. They were ritually holy. Their holiness unto the Lord was for ceremonial purposes only. It would still be up to these two men to allow the holiness God desires to infiltrate their souls and become more than just a ceremonial purity, and they did not allow that to happen.
In the Christian life God calls for holiness unto the Lord as well. The Christian faith is only partly about making a profession of faith in Jesus Christ. That is the first step in life, not the final destination. From that point forward God gives us his very presence in the Holy Spirit to live within us, transforming us from the inside out into holy people. It is possible to keep this holiness at the surface only, making sure all the rules and commandments are followed, just as was prescribed in Leviticus and Numbers. Yet that holiness is only ceremonial. It is not a holy life, one that reflects the holiness of Christ, from the deepest parts of our being.
External actions can make us appear holy, just as Nadab and Abihu appeared holy. They cannot make someone truly holy. The ceremony and the law were supposed to point people in the direction of true holiness, yet it is always up to each individual whether or not to allow God’s transformation to occur.
Christianity is no different in this respect. We have commandments. We have rituals. We have communal worship. We have “holy actions.” Yet all of these are to point us to the source of true holiness–a living and vibrant relationship with the Triune God. Without this relationship, we will never experience holiness unto the Lord.