You must not do as they do in Egypt, where you used to live, and you must not do as they do in the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you. Do not follow their practices … Do not defile yourselves in any of these ways, because this is how the nations that I am going to drive out before you became defiled. Leviticus 18:3, 24
Seven times in this chapter it’s repeated that the Israelites aren’t to behave like the nations who inhabited Canaan before them (verses 2, 3 twice, 24, 26, 27, 29 and 30). Likewise, Christians are called to be holy and live differently to those around them. Yet holiness isn’t some kind of super-spirituality. Rather it indicates uniqueness and separateness which comes from the way we conduct ourselves.
When Jesus prayed for his disciples and future believers, his prayer wasn’t that we segregate ourselves from the world but rather that God would protect us from evil (John 17:15). There would be little need for protection if we lived in a cocooned environment.
The Israelites weren’t able to retain their distinctiveness. They adopted the practices of the pagan nations around them even while they continue to worship God. When there was a new king who followed God’s ways exclusively, they introduced reforms but these were only adhered to outwardly (for example Jeremiah 3:10). Renewals rarely transformed people’s hearts. Even in our day, it’s easier to blend in with the culture rather than cultivate a God-honouring lifestyle.
Paul writes, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2). To be effective renewal must change our thinking and our attitudes so that it affects our daily life.