Holiness 101 in the Checkout Line

We spent this past weekend in Auburn. Since the rain had moved out and our place was within walking distance of Walmart, I laced up my tennis shoes to get what we needed. With our topic of holiness simmering unconsciously on the back burner of my brain, God decided to create a teachable moment for me. I wish I could say I behaved as a holy person should, but let’s just say I still have room to grow.

As I stepped out the door, I noticed the sun was shining, and the air was crisp. That’s when I heard the whisper of the Spirit’s still, small voice. I don’t always know it’s Him or listen as carefully as I should, but this time, in my thoughts, I heard Him plainly say, … 

Before I tell you what He said, perhaps we should talk about holiness. 

“Be holy because God is holy.” This command in both the Old and New Testaments presents a profound challenge. How can imperfect people living in an imperfect world embody holiness? Does this seem like an impossible task? Is holiness even something you desire?

Before grappling with those questions, we need to define “holy.” The Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary defines the word this way, “The term “holy” has to do primarily with God’s separating from the world that which He chooses to devote to Himself.” In simple terms, to be “holy” is to be set apart for a godly purpose. 

If we consider the Law of First Mention to be helpful, we must travel back to Genesis 2:3, where we first encounter the word “holy.” “God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, because it was the day when he rested from all his work of creation.” (NLT) The Sabbath Day was solely dedicated to honoring, thanking, and praising God. God emphasized the need for His people to focus on HIS work, not their own. This would become an everlasting foundational principle for becoming holy.

Abraham fathered the family that God chose as His holy, special possession. His 12 sons produced the 12 tribes that, four centuries later, would be led out of Egypt and into the Promised Land. Yet, in those four hundred years, chains of Egyptian slavery shackled the Hebrews’ worship of the Most Holy God. At their lowest, they cried out to God to save them. He listened and sent Moses. 

Through the most referenced events recorded in the Old Testament, God performed miracle after miracle to prove that He saw their pain, had the power to change their circumstances, and longed to be with them. More than that, He longed for them to WANT to be with Him.

God’s great love for His people motivated Him to send a comprehensive plan that would usher them into His presence. Sacrifices, rituals, and specific laws and commands became the avenue of access to God. Followers also benefitted in many tangible ways. They enjoyed good health, prospered, and were protected from their enemies. 

God’s miraculous responses to their sincere worship demonstrated His power. His merciful forgiveness revealed His patience. His presence in the cloud by day, the fire by night, and within the tabernacle unveiled His deep longing for an intimate relationship with His chosen ones. He desired that they yearn for time with Him so intensely that they CHOSE to set themselves apart from those indifferent about being with Him. After all, He had ALREADY set them apart. He had ALREADY made them holy, transforming their lives to be markedly different from the nations around them. 

The Israelites displayed God’s holiness by choosing to be distinct, not merely with warm, fuzzy thoughts of holiness but in tangible ways. After pondering that for a while, we may wonder if our lives differ from those around us. We wonder what unclean things still lie hidden in our hearts. The good news is that the Holy Spirit will tell us if we ask and then teach us how to correct our course.  

Many of us have been guilty of doing good things simply because they make us look like the good guys. Yet we wonder if those good deeds highlight the goodness of God or merely feed our need to be well thought of. I’ve been giving that much thought. Thankfully, I’m learning that God is a patient teacher who graciously turns our mistakes into teachable moments.

So, what was it I heard the Spirit whisper? It was just a sentence, “You’re going to get to pay for someone’s groceries today.” It came and went so quickly that I gave it a little chuckle and enjoyed the rest of my walk. 

The self-checkouts were all full, so I went to the real-person check-out line. Sure enough, in front of me was a young mother who made me think of my daughter. Her little girl dangled her feet from the cart seat, oblivious to the panic on her mother’s face. 

The mother, now carefully examining her banking information on her phone, became completely undone and blurted out, “I don’t understand! I don’t even recognize this transaction.” She called the name on the transaction and asked the cashier if she’d ever heard of it. The lady shook her head. “They’ve taken $400 out of my checking account! Why would someone do that!” She scrambled for a way to pay for her groceries. “I may have some cash in my car. Let me go see if I have enough.”

Honestly, I was taken by the fact that I had indeed heard the Spirit say what I thought He had said. Without hesitation, I pulled out my bank card and said, “Let me pay for your groceries.” She proudly resisted while I insisted. Finally, I said, “It’s okay. Just pay it forward sometime.” After a few more exchanges, she relented and thanked me profusely. As the cashier rang up my total, she told me how nice that was. I smiled and told her I just did what I hoped someone would do for my daughter if she were in that predicament. 

Please don’t think I’m tooting my own horn. I am not! I let my opportunity to honor God slip away. Onlookers might have thought my actions to be somewhat holy in this broken world. But as I walked out of the store and back into the sunshine, it dawned on me what had happened. I immediately regretted not giving God credit for setting up such an apparent divine appointment. 

Still, God used that teachable moment to show me how to do it better next time. He didn’t shake His finger at me in disappointment, belittle, or shame me. He didn’t condemn me for failing to be distinct in a world focused on self-promotion. Instead, He gave me better words to say next time in similar situations.

God once again proved His love for me by desiring to spend time with me. He displayed His holiness by knowing what I needed to work on and then having the power to put His plan into motion. He allowed me, the girl He had already made holy, to find my personal Sabbath rest so I could focus on His work, not mine.

God is the one who is holy and makes us holy! We can’t do it for ourselves, but we can embody holiness by walking with Him to become more like Him.

“Set yourselves apart to be holy, for I am the Lord your God. Keep all my decrees by putting them into practice, for I am the Lord who makes you holy.” (Leviticus 20:7-8 NLT)

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