We didn’t wear denim to Sunday evening singings. Or much of the color white any day of the week. We didn’t trade our skirts for pants even when the icy, Midwestern winds blew. We never bought wedding rings. Or TVs. Or make-up.
We were to be set apart, the elders said. Different. A holy people. And I ingested the notion that being thought of as peculiar was actually a win for the kingdom of God.
“You are to be holy to me because I, the Lord, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be my own.” -Leviticus 20:26 (NIV)
Rightly, our aim was holiness and righteousness. But, being set apart was something we wrongly took upon ourselves to accomplish.
Years later, my husband and I packed up our kids and our lives and started over in a new place. We found new expressions of faith and different denominations of churches. We had elbow room suddenly.
But, in time, we were faced with a realization: we’d just jumped from one small box to a little larger box. Because, here, in this little larger box, the expectation was often still the same—there were still holy measuring sticks, still the notion that peculiarity advanced His kingdom, and again the prevailing idea that we must, of our own volition, set ourselves apart.
It looked like this: We voted for the right political party. We didn’t drink certain things. We sent our daughters to camp with certain swimsuits. We used a certain version of the Bible. We hung out mainly with certain types of people and didn’t go into certain types of places and listened to certain types of music. And, women had a few more “certains” to uphold.
I began to see the human tendency to reach for the responsibility of sanctification, to wrap well-meaning hands around it and then drop it heavy on each other’s shoulders. It seems our sin-cursed hands just burn and itch to take on the burden of setting ourselves apart as well as inflicting that need on others.
But, friends, as one who’s lived under that burden and pushed it on others as well, I need to say—that’s not what being set apart is about. Praise God that being set apart can’t be an action we accomplish for ourselves. Sanctification is never a project we must undertake to gain His favor or the favor of onlooking Christians.
The restless hands of religion can’t accomplish in a lifetime what Jesus does in a whisper, direct to the core of our identity when He says, “You are mine, child.” When we know that we are forever marked and chosen, then being set apart becomes who we are as saints—no longer our objective, but our eternal identity.
No amount of good intentions or actions can realize the truth of that identity.
We can’t counterfeit the mystery of grace by managing our behaviors and sanitizing our appearance.
Because no images of righteousness can shout louder than that whisper of truth: being set apart is a matter of being His.
From that origin of identity, God works through us, compels us, and activates us toward holiness by His initiation, not ours, and for His good plans, not ours. It’s the living out of His ways and His truth that inevitably causes us to be set apart, counter-cultural.
He invites our surrender and ignites our belief, causing us to become. Then, we’re set apart.
“You are mine, child.” He whispers to you, to me.
Anne Dalhauser blogs at Front Porch, Inspired about surrendering everyday living for sacred purposes. She and her husband are founders of a ministry called The Bridge, focusing on missional living, discipleship, and intercultural relationships. She holds a MA in Teaching Languages (English and Spanish) and is a lover of words and the Word, culture and communication. She has five kids, a front door that can’t stay closed, and an abundance of messy, holy chaos in their neighborhood center/home in Iowa—of all places.