I am going through the M'Cheyne Reading Plan and came to Leviticus 20.
This chapter describes the penalties that come from engaging in sexual immorality and illicit worship.
As I was reading it, I can see how a religiously-minded person could almost make a checklist of these commands and then come away thinking, "I'm doing alright..I must be holy...I haven't slept with another man...I haven't committed adultery...I haven't lay with any animals..I'm doing just fine."
But wait, Jesus says “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart." (Matthew 5:27-28 ESV)
Who can honestly stand before a holy God and say they haven't ever looked at a woman with lustful intent -- or likewise: a woman who has not looked at a man with lustful intent?
Leviticus 20 describes the doing of such acts as "depravity" and "perversion" and an "abomination." And to make the point that these sins are deadly serious, the threat of death and stoning and blood are given as a warning. This is the reality of the Lord's justice for those who persist in sexual immorality and perversion.
And the push for purity only intensifies in the New Testament.
Jesus takes sexual immorality serious, adding to his clarification of adultery that "If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell." (Matthew 5:29 ESV)
This reminded me of Jonathan Edward's Resolution 22, which says
"Resolved, to endeavor to obtain for myself as much happiness, in the other world, as I possibly can, with all the power; might, vigor, and vehemence, yea violence, I am capable of, or can bring myself to exert, in any way that can be thought of."
Note the word violence. I think Edwards is recognizing here the seriousness of sin and being holy as the Father is holy. The pursuit of holiness is the indirect pursuit of happiness, and we are to pursue that with all the violence against sin in us that we can muster, by God's help. Edwards is recognizing that we must be killing sin or sin will be killing us.
These commands are not to be viewed as a burden. They are God's gracious guard-rails in our life that keep us from plummeting off the cliff. If God did not warn us, he would not be a loving God.
Now think of the Cross. This is how serious God views sin. He poured his wrath out onto Jesus for all our sin and perversities and depravities. He took the stoning and the consequences of our sin on himself so that we can be declared righteous before a holy God.
"Consecrate yourselves, therefore, and be holy, for I am the LORD your God. Keep my statutes and do them; I am the LORD who sanctifies you." (Leviticus 20:7-8 ESV)
"You shall be holy to me, for I the LORD am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine. (Leviticus 20:26 ESV)
God will have a people - His Bride, the Church - that is holy and being made holy by the Holy Spirit that he has given them.