Warren Asked Me the Right Question at the Right Time
I owe a great debt to Warren W. Wiersbe. He died last year, after a long and fruitful life of faith. The part of his work that I came to know and love is the “Be” series of commentaries he wrote. He wrote one for every book of the Bible, and he wrote with a heart for new people–people like I was at the time–who hadn’t really ever studied biblical things before. He was not a layman, but he wrote his commentaries for laypeople, and he did it without condescending to the reader as most commentary for non-scholars does. Most of those “commentaries” are devotional reading, at best, and not terribly useful for deeper study or understanding. Wiersbe’s books aren’t like that.
The first commentary I ever purchased was the one in the title photo. Be Holy: Becoming “Set Apart” for God. What a title, right? I bought the book because I had just finished chapter 17 of Leviticus for the first time, and I was all-in. I’d had my supernatural moment with the Holy Spirit in chapter 17, and now I wanted to know everything there was to know about Leviticus. Little did I know, I was about spend the next calendar year totally dug-in with learning, but on that day I knew almost nothing about deeper theology or biblical context or “Christianese” jargon. I call it “churchinese” sometimes, too, but I digress.
In March 2017, all I knew was that I was on a Spirit-driven mission to learn the book of Leviticus. I’d only read roughly 25% of the Bible at that point, and I’d literally emerged overnight as a believer after two solid decades of total unbelief. I needed a book–lots of books–and I knew it.
Now…commentaries, in case you didn’t know this already, can get really expensive. Grace is free, but books are not. I didn’t understand what half of the language in most of them meant. There were a lot of “isms” and “ologies” I didn’t understand in the sample pages, and they all cost like $40-$80 dollars. That’s what stood out when I got to Wiersbe’s commentary. It was inexpensive. It had a pretty cover on it. The title made sense. The sample pages were easy to understand. Did I mention that it wasn’t expensive? Yeah, so I bought it…and when it showed up in my mailbox, I consumed it like a starving man.
At the bottom of page 15, which is the very first page of Chapter 1, Wiersbe asks a crucial question:
“Have you ever thought of personal holiness as the most important thing in the world?”
I had not. I don’t think it had ever even crossed my mind, and that’s the problem that most of us have in trying to understand Leviticus. We don’t consider personal holiness. A lot of us have what scholars call an “over-realized eschatology.” That sounds like an intimidating term, but what it means is that, as Christians, we know that Christ has covered our unholiness and made us right with God for all eternity. In other words, we know that we’re saved. So we stop valuing holiness. We take our eschatology–our knowledge that in the end, we will be with God–and over-realize it by living as though our sin no longer matters, as though Christ has already returned, and as though personal holiness is no longer our responsibility.
The work is already done; Christ’s kingdom is already here; all blessing and promise is already ours; and all we have to do is sit back and reap the benefits while we wait upon the Lord’s return.
That is a simplified version of an over-realized eschatology. Prosperity and victory interpretations of the Gospel are another form this can take. Once you really grasp the concept, you start seeing it in a lot of devotional materials, sermons, and well-meant statements from fellow Christians. Wiersbe doesn’t use the term over-realized eschatology in his book, but he describes it perfectly.
In Leviticus, holiness is the most important thing in the world. When you put a 21st-century Christian with an over-realized eschatology into Leviticus, (s)he generally won’t be able to make sense of it. We don’t have eyes to see it. That’s the chief problem and the primary mental block that makes Christians and the church as a whole throw up their hands with the book of Leviticus. We joke about it. We talk about how boring, gross, or nonsensical it seems. We dismiss it as “part of the Old Covenant, and it doesn’t matter for us.” Those of us who take it seriously and try really hard come through it saying, “Man, I’m so glad we don’t live under that system anymore.” But none of us really get it, do we? Not without help, anyway.
I was given a gift. I didn’t do anything special. I just sat down and forced myself to read Leviticus like every other Christian who muscles through it in a devoted reading plan. God just gave it to me. He gave me a deeper longing for this book, and he gave me Warren Wiersbe’s little book to get me started. He gave Warren that question about holiness, and then Warren gave it to me. And the answer was, “no.” No, I had never considered personal holiness–“likeness to Jesus Christ”–as the most important thing in the world.
There Can Be No Fellowship Between Holy and Unholy
The entire book of Leviticus is about holiness. It is about God’s holiness, and it is also about our own personal holiness. It is a series of images, overlapping and one right after another, that demonstrate what God wants for us. We were created to be in perfect and eternal relationship with a holy God. He is holy, so we must be holy. The end.
These laws we’re studying are no longer something we’re meant to physically obey and carry out–none of the laws in Leviticus are–but the images of holiness they paint are very much for us. They were lessons given by our eternal God, and those don’t change because he does not change. He has not changed his mind about what our relationship with him is meant to be. He was and is and is to come, so if it was important to God in 1445 BC, it’s still important to him in 2020 AD.
Leviticus is the book God gave to his people when he came down to dwell among them for the first time since Eden. He came down again as the Christ to dwell among an Apostolic generation. He is still coming down to dwell–this time within us–ever since the Pentecost. Same God. Same three persons. Same plan. Same desire for relationship. Same. Holy. God. He wants to dwell with us, and he is holy. That means we gotta be holy, too.
This is gonna get repetitive, but it’s important. Just bear with the boredom of repetition because what I’m trying to do here–and I hope it helps–is drum the theology of holiness into your understanding. Say it out loud. Tattoo it onto your brain. God is holy, so we must be holy.
Holy, holy, holy
Lord, God Almighty
Early in the morning our song shall rise to Thee
Holy, holy, holy
Merciful and mighty
God in three persons blessed Trinity
The God of Leviticus is the same God we worship under the New Covenant. The moral of the story in Leviticus is the same moral in our story. You and me. He is holy, so I must be holy. He is holy, so you must be holy. Our bodies are the Temple. Our bodies are the Tabernacle. Our bodies are the sacred space that God fills with his glory to dwell amongst us. Jesus fulfilled Leviticus. He did it all. We don’t need the structures and the sacrifices because he became the sacrifices and made us into the structures.
To love Christ as we’re meant to love him, and to know the breadth and depth and height of what he has done, we need to “get this.” You…are the sacred space that has to be kept holy. I am the sacred space that has to be kept holy. We are the Tabernacle, y’all. The ash heap cannot stay here. Unclean things must not be allowed to soil us. We are the sacred space where God dwells among his people. My brothers and sisters, after everything we’ve studied so far, that should knock your breath out.
Holiness. It is the most important thing in the World.
I want you to go through your colored pencils, highlighters, or pens–whatever you use when taking notes in bible study. Pick a color you don’t normally use. Make it a special color. If you have a metallic gold pen you always want to use but never do…pick that one. We’re almost out of the offerings, and we won’t be coming back to the subject of offerings again until the very end of Leviticus, so I’m trying to emphasize this perspective before we move on.
There are several places in Leviticus where “You must be holy because I, the Lord your God, am Holy” will appear. I want you to mark it, every time you see it, with your special color/special pen/special whatever. I want it to stick out and scream at you every time you turn to Leviticus in your Bible in years to come. It is the thesis statement of Leviticus, and my personal opinion is that it is a thesis statement for the entire Genesis-Revelation arc for the whole Bible.
We’re going to get into some heavy, heavy stuff soon. Sections of Leviticus have been misused over centuries to hurt people, shun people, and condemn people. You need to understand what Leviticus is doing and what it is for before we get into that, because I’m not going to skip it or go light on it. Prepare to get uncomfortable and challenge some things, okay? We’re going to be talking about periods and sex and “nightly emissions” and homosexuality and “tattoos” and dead things before you can say, “Bob’s your uncle.”
I will never suggest anything outside of basic Christian orthodox theology, so don’t get scared that I’m gonna take you away on the heresy train or something. I’m not. I’m a deeply liturgical and conservative Christian with a high view of Scripture. But you need to prepare to get uncomfortable and challenge some things.
Leviticus is about showing you–you, who are a beloved child of God–the importance of holiness. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ, but God is holy, and we are his sacred space. God wants his sacred space to be kept holy, for his glory and our good. Every lesson that this book teaches contributes to the pursuit of that end.
Okay? Good. See you next time.
8 thoughts on “The Thesis Statement of Leviticus & Warren Wiersbe”
When are you posting new ?// amazing study
Sent from my iPad
It’s been a rough six months. I know many in the world can relate. My schedule has been so incredibly messed up, and my usual writing/quiet-in-the-office time sort of evaporated.
I will be returning shortly, but I can’t be positive. My daughter is finally going to return to school at the end of this month, and I hope I have my writing hours back at that point.
Thank you for reading with me up to this point.
Amy, I read an auto-email about your frustration with WordPress, but I can’t find it here to comment on it, so I chose a random post that still had comment-ability.
1) you have invested so much into this beautiful place, I hope you aren’t giving up on the CONTENT at least.
2) Many people don’t understand that there is a difference between WordPress.com and WordPress.org. WordPress.org is the place where programmers collaborate on the core software package, and provide it for FREE! On the other hand, WordPress.com is a BUSINESS that is also run by some of the core software developers, but they make money on it to help support all the hours they invest in collaboration at wordpress.org
3) the core software package has some amazing features, but they try to limit the core modules to essential code that EVERYONE needs. So, there will be nothing in there about financial transactions, for example. If you want to process VISA cards, you will have to research the various financial PLUG-INS, and choose the one that best fits your needs.
4) I believe in the value of your writing site, and will host it for free if you want at frontdoor.biz. I dislike that domain name now, but I’m already hosting so many other little websites for friends and family it is not worth changing.
5) I hope you have discovered the Tools>Export feature to make a backup of your site before you do anything drastic. There are also “migrate” plug-ins to move your site away from WordPress.com, but of course that isn’t part of the core and you have to look at PLUG-INS. Plug-ins are awesome!
6) You might have become familiar with the old editor and are frustrated by the block editor, but it is really cool and infinitely expandable. true they don’t have the justified text option, but there are a bazillion block styles for the block editor you can add to core. I’m sure one of them has that style if your theme supports it. ok, I’m repeating myself.
7) I am new at this, but I’m willing to help you get away from WordPress.com if you need help. Again, I am newer at wordpress because I spent too much time learning Drupal. but you can see my new blog about Christian Art here for an example of a site that is NOT HOSTED BY WORDPRESS: http://GalleryofBiblical.art (that’s the domain name I bought, but it is really hosted at http://frontdoor.biz/WP-GoBA/ ) my email is firstname.lastname@example.org if you need help
No, not to delete the blog…just to move it elsewhere. I have kept it upgraded for the remainder of the year, but I’ll be looking for something else. I cannot STAND the editor. I absolutely hate it, and I resent the nasty attitude of all the devs defending it online, saying those of us who dislike it are just unwilling or too old or incapable to learn how to use the Gutenberg block editor.
I got a bee in my bonnet over it.
It’s an atrocious editor, and removing the ability to disable it was just…money grubbing to force people into a business upgrade for access to the plugin to disable it.
But I digress. I’m absolutely never going to trash the entire site. I’d just move it when I’ve had time to find a home for it that I like better.
I hate the editor, and not because it’s blocks. I’ve used block editors for other things and enjoyed them tremendously. This one…is not intuitive, doesn’t have justified paragraphs, and I despise it. Making it the default is fine, but forcing me to use it is not.
edited to add: Also, here’s the thing: block editors are marvelous for blogs that post a lot of embeds and galleries and dynamic images and very short posts. For someone who posts 5k-word text walls, blocks are not (and will never be) ideal. I don’t want a page creator. I want a text editor. That isn’t invalid or a sign that I’ve become too geriatric to stay on the tech train.
oh my, I can’t see my comment now, and I can’t remember if I left a way to contact me if you need help!
email me at email@example.com or
leave a message at 815-878-8557 if you need help
No worries! You did. I’m not sure why you can’t see it. The comment things really confuse me. I’m glad to hear from you. 🙂
ok, seems like you are already on the path you want to go. I was just hoping you wouldn’t do any permanent damage to your site out of frustration. The bee in my bonnet is that I spent monthly cash at wordpress.com before I realized it was FREE open-source software! and I already pay for my own hosting site for other reasons! (still kicking myself, ha!)
Anyway, I don’t know what you mean about limitations and “business upgrade” because that’s wordpress.com and I’m done with them. I’m also not here to praise the block editor, but just in case you haven’t explored wordpress.org yet, the classic editor is is freely available but not considered core software anymore.
Over 5 million people have it actively installed today, so you are not alone in your preferences…
Thank you for the posts and for sharing your process for studying God’s word. I am currently studying Leviticus and came across your blog. I have very much enjoyed your blog and hopefully will read your future posts. I have not read Warren Wiersbe’s commentary on Leviticus but have his books for the Gospels and have enjoyed them and respect his work. I thought I would share another free online study of Leviticus that provides context to holiness being the most important thing in the world. Lesson 14 – Leviticus 11 (torahclass.com) The portion that discusses the importance of holiness is within the study of Leviticus 11. I hope this provides an awaking insight for someone as it did for me. Again, thanks for your work.