God has a special purpose when calling the saved for a holy way of life. It is to build His temple, which is a spiritual building of which each believer is part, exercising in it a holy priesthood.
Historically, since long before the arrival of Moses, the leader of each family was its priest, interceding and offering sacrifices to God for himself and its members (Genesis 8:20; 26:25; 31:54). When the children of Israel were freed out of Egypt, God said that they would be for Him a “kingdom of priests" (Exodus 19:6), if there was perfect obedience. But the people disobeyed the law, and God then limited the right to the priesthood to the family of Aaron, appointing the tribe of Levi to minister unto the priests, thus constituting a typical priesthood (Exodus 28:1).
King Solomon built a temple of stones in Jerusalem to be the house of God and the centre of worship. It replaced the portable temple, the tabernacle, which was a tent made by Moses centuries before following specifications that were given in detail by the LORD. Solomon admitted that it was only a symbol (1 Kings 8.27). Subsequently the temple of Solomon was destroyed by Nebuzaradan, head of the guard and server of the king of Babylon, but it was reconstructed by Zerubbabel seventy years later. It suffered serious damage with the invasion of the Greeks, but was repaired and made more sumptuous by the Arab Herod the Great to please the Jews. For centuries the priests of Israel, descendants of Aaron served in one or other temple, obeying the ritual determined in the Law given through Moses.
But both the temple and the rituals and sacrifices the priests made were only a shadow of truth. Their sacrifices could never remove sins (Hebrews 10.4). Jesus Christ offered, as High Priest, the one sacrifice acceptable and perfect that was His own blood. After His ascension, God established His spiritual and holy temple (1 Corinthians 3.17) where His Spirit dwells, immensely greater than the former, and a priesthood which is also spiritual and holy, to offer Him worship which is acceptable to Him (John 4.23).
The temple is the church of Christ, and all believers saved by faith in Christ are the priests, thus constituting a "kingdom of priests" (1 Peter 2.9; Revelation 1:6): what Israel could not achieve by the works of the law, Christ attained by the faith of those who belong to Him. Priesthood is therefore a birthright of new born of the Spirit, just as each descendent of Aaron was born into the priesthood of the Old Testament.
The main privilege of a priest is access to God. According to the law only the chief priest could enter into the place called the Most Holy Place, the Holiest of All, or Holy of Holies, and this only once a year (Hebrews 9:7). When Christ died, the veil which separated the enclosure from the rest of the temple, type of the human body of Christ (Hebrews 10:20), was torn without human hands from top to bottom. This act typifies the fact that the priests of the new spiritual temple have permanent access to the presence of God (previously represented by the Most Holy place) in the same way that Christ our Chief Priest has (Hebrews 10:19-22). The priests have it in spirit, but He in corporeal form (Hebrews 4:14-16; 9:24; 10:19-22).
In the exercise of his priesthood according to the New Testament, besides intercessions (Colossians 4:12; 1 Timothy 2:1), the believer offers sacrifices of the following nature:
His body, to be used by God according to His will (Romans 12:1; Philippians 2:17; 2 Timothy 4:6; 1 John 3:16; James 1:27);
Adoration and praise to God "the fruit of lips that confess His name", to be offered continuously (Hebrews 13:15; Exodus 25:22 "And there I will meet with you, and I will speak with you from above the mercy seat");
Their material resources (Romans 12:13; Galatians 6:6.10; Hebrews 13:2.16; 3 John 1:5-8; Titus 3:14).
Just as the priests of old needed to be physically cleansed to exercise their function, symbolising his sanctification, the priests of the new alliance should sanctify themselves in truth, by washing themselves with the pure water of the Word of God.
There are two totally wrong opinions concerning sanctification. One is that human nature is such that to be able to live for the Lord it is sufficient to have a new direction, a firm purpose and some change in habits. The second is that, upon new birth and having received something supernatural as the Holy Spirit, it is sufficient to remain passively waiting as God transforms one’s life doing all that is needed. Those holding this second opinion become very "pious", but never seem grow to become truly active, charitable and upright believers.
Through the new birth, by the incorruptible seed which is the Word of God, we really have a new nature, and we live that new nature by the power of the Holy Spirit. We are introduced into a loving relationship with someone who, without ever having seen, we love. But our love for Him makes us want to please Him, and we please Him when we grow in holiness, which requires a considerable effort on our part.
No doubt the great objective of salvation which is provided by the Lord Jesus is not only to remove the condemnation to eternal punishment, but also to separate us from the world where we live here. We are saved to live in heaven, but also to witness of our Saviour here.
The work of Christ on the cross resolved once and for all the problem of separation that had, because of sin, between God and those of us who believe. But as for our growth in holiness, as children of God, we cannot expect God to do everything possible for us. He left some things for us to do ourselves.
Firstly, it is absolutely necessary that all malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy, all slander and similar things are withdrawn by believer from his life in order to start to live in holiness. This depends on our willingness, and can be done through the exercise of personal discipline. But it requires much surveillance for them not to sneak back in.
Secondly, like pure milk to the newborn, so is the spiritual nourishment contained in the Word of God. It was prepared by God for our nutrition, without the contaminating additives offered by heretical and apostate churches. When it is read, submitted to meditation and applied in day-to-day behaviour, the believer will really grow to maturity, acquiring a holy character.
Finally, our relationship with Christ, the High Priest, obliges us to a close relationship with the other priests who also serve in His church: our brothers and sisters in faith. We must love them as Christ loved us: His unselfishness was such that He died for us while we were still sinners. Perhaps this is the most difficult thing that we must learn to do ourselves. It is the great commandment which the Lord Jesus left us: