Think of living as an Old Testament Jew under the Law, “You shall be holy to me, for I the LORD am holy…” (Leviticus 20:26). If you read through the Law, the meaning of holy is pretty readily apparent: separate, different, weird. Everything God told the Israelites to do was somewhat odd, starting with the idea that they would only serve one God.
And they failed for hundreds of years.
Then along comes Jesus, telling us to be good, that we even can be good. And the good he was talking about was the no nonsense, intrinsic, good from the inside out kind of good. Seriously? Just be good? Just do good?
But wait, there’s more!
“You are to be perfect, even as your Father in Heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:28). Reading this verse, even in context, is kind of difficult. This is the kind of thing that makes people stop reading the Bible for a while. Understanding that the word translated as perfect really means mature and complete takes the edge off, but it’s still kind of intimidating. We are to be mature and complete just like God.
But here’s the punchline: Jesus makes all of this possible! God tells us to be holy and then turns us into a new creation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation. God tells us to be good and then creates a good heart within us that produces good works in our lives. God tells us to be perfect, and then literally makes us perfect. And that is the grace of God.
And our part in all of this: follow Jesus. The try and fail pattern of the Old Testament establishes that we are incapable of following a list of rules. We are to simply imitate Jesus, and we will do what is mature, we will be different, and we will be both outwardly and inwardly good. He gave us an example. All we have to do is follow it.