Chapter 4 of Sexuality & Holiness: Remaining Loving & Biblical in a Rapidly Shifting Culture
Several years ago, I was asked to teach our youth on what the Bible says about homosexuality and same-sex relationships. This was at a time when the transgender and non-binary movement was not yet in full flow, and the conversation on sexuality was mainly focused on being heterosexual, homosexual or bisexual.
At the end of the meeting, I was approached by one of the girls who regularly attends our youth group – a girl who, for the record, could have her pick of any young man she wanted. Not only is she beautiful on the outside, but she is also equally so on the inside.
She seemed so excited by the session, and she was so thankful to me for saying that our church would never turn away someone on account of their sexuality, even if we do not affirm it. She was overwhelmed almost to tears that I taught the message that we would do as Jesus did in showing love and choosing to journey along with anyone of any sexuality.
As soon as this girl started speaking with such excitement in her voice, I sensed instinctively that she did not consider herself to be heterosexual. It seemed to touch her so deeply. Like a champagne bottle being shaken and released, she was gushing as if the pressure she had been under had finally been released. It didn’t take long before I was made aware by several of her friends and family that I was right.
It changes everything when it is someone you have watched grow up and someone you love dearly. It may not have changed my biblical understanding, but this experience increased my compassion greatly towards all those who grapple with this issue.
This set of circumstances also brought new discussions to the table, causing myself and the church leadership to ask key questions we had not asked previously.
Will we allow practising homosexuals to serve in our church?
And, if they are vocal on social media in a way that goes against our church’s core values and statement of belief, how might we address this lovingly?
In the end, still more questions had to be answered:
Is it really a sin these days to be anything other than heterosexual?
Didn’t Jesus call us to love all people, regardless?
And is it right not to affirm someone based on their sexuality when they say they were born that way? After all, it’s not as if they are harming anyone… How would I like it if someone told me not to fancy my wife? Effectively, that’s what we are doing when we tell a community of people that they must deny what they consider to be their natural impulses towards another consenting human being…
Is this really right and just?
So, to clarify the main questions we are asking here, I want to phrase them in other words:
- Is anything other than heterosexual relationships a sin according to the Bible?
- Is the Law of God still relevant when it comes to the LGBTQ+ debate in the Church?
I hear you say, “I mean, of course the Law of God is clear on this, but we are no longer under the Law but under grace, right? So, the Law doesn’t count anymore on this sexuality issue, surely?”
We’ll consider these two questions in this chapter because it is vital that we get to the bottom of this.
Surely, the Law is done away with?
Some key verses in Leviticus say:
If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They are to be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.Leviticus 20:13, NIV
Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable.Leviticus 18:22, NIV
Anyone reading these verses in Leviticus, at face value, will find it hard to deny that God is not pleased by same-gender sexual relationships.
In fact, these very verses with such inflammatory language could steer many professed homosexuals away from Christianity, and even those heterosexuals who may sympathise with the homosexual community.
But the question remains… Does the Law still apply now that we are under grace as is expressed in Romans 6:14 (NIV) by the apostle Paul:
For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.
Paul takes this even further in Galatians 5:1 (NIV), saying:
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free, stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.
Furthermore, this raises yet another question:
Should Christians with my view towards homosexuality examine whether they are hypocritical?
I cannot deny that there are other laws listed within the Old Testament Law of God which I do not keep and do not intend to (and I’m sure this applies to other Christians too). For instance, the Law also forbids those observing it to wear clothes made from two different materials (Leviticus 19:19).
How many of us follow this particular law, I wonder?
In his book, God and the Gay Christian, Matthew Vines asks a reasonable question on this matter:
Why do Christians find it easy to disregard most of the law, yet hold to the law on prohibiting homosexual practice?
It’s a fair point, one which we will unpack in this chapter.
I wonder, would those of us who hold to Leviticus, as our reasoning for not accepting homosexuality, shudder if we were to read James 2:10 ? A verse where James starkly reminds his readers that, if you hold to one part of the Law, you’d better hold to the lot:
For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.
So, the real question behind this issue is whether the Law does still apply to Christians today?
Some of it, all of it, or none of it?
Galatians 3:19 (NIV) says:
So, this verse would imply that the Law was only given until Jesus, the seed of Abraham appeared (see Galatians 3:16). Can we then accept the interpretation that the Law was abolished with Jesus and that the conservative view of homosexuality as something sinful in God’s eyes is no longer relevant?
I think it is key to look at Jesus’ words regarding the Law as the final authority on the matter:
Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them.Matthew 5:17, NIV
Now, many would say that Jesus has completed the Law and done what we could not, and that He conquered it on the cross. However, if God in His wisdom chose these laws to be the code for human life, why would He suddenly do away with them and change them, particularly in regard to Leviticus 20:13 and Leviticus 18:22?
Are we to claim that what was an abomination to God thousands of years ago has suddenly changed?
Has God changed His mind?
Did the LORD lie to the prophet Malachi when He said to him:
I the Lord do not change? So, you, the descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed.Malachi 3:6, NIV
It would seem to me that Scripture does not lie, and God does not change. It would also seem to me that logically, if God does not change and He was not for homosexuality yesterday, then logically, He is not for it today.
So, let’s return to the Law with this understanding of God’s unchangeable nature.
Is it still relevant to us?
Some of it?
All of it?
None of it?
God’s Holiness Code
It’s worth noting that the part of the Law which deals with homosexuality is known as the part that deals with the Holiness Code – which arose in Old Testament times concerning ritual purity.
Some have tried to suggest that the Holiness Code began in response to idolatry, which included child prostitution practised in the surrounding nations. However, the problem with this idea is that firstly, it cannot be proven true, and secondly, it cannot eradicate the consistent message in Scripture that does not affirm same-sex relationships. The Holiness Code of which Leviticus 20:13 and 18:13 are a part, actually flows out of Leviticus 19:2.
Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: “Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy.”Leviticus 19:2, NIV
God gave these laws which form the Holiness Code to ensure that His people, Israel, kept themselves pure from the unholy practices of the surrounding nations. They were to stand out as different and holy, something that we see echoed by Jesus when He instructed His followers to be the light of the world, a city on a hill that cannot be hidden (Matthew 5:14).
John Richardson points out in his book, What God Has Made Clean, that the Law was always intended to be temporary, until the coming of the Messiah (whom the Law pointed to), and that much of the Law would be completed once and for all in Him, Jesus Christ. He states that the Law was made up of three different elements that played a different role, referring to ceremonial laws, civil laws and moral laws.
First, Richardson points out that there were ceremonial laws for the atonement of sin which were conducted by the priests on behalf of the people. However, these ceremonial laws came to their completion in Christ as is confirmed by Hebrews 10:8-10 (NIV):
First he said, “Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them”– though they were offered in accordance with the law. Then he said, “Here I am, I have come to do your will.” He sets aside the first to establish the second. And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
Next, there were the civil laws, which included commands such as clothes must not contain two kinds of material woven together or laws on how to deal with incidents where negligence had led to death, and many others too numerous to cite in their entirety here. Richardson concludes that these laws were only for the immediate benefit of the nation of Israel; that they might be set apart from other nations as evidenced in Exodus 19:5 (NIV):
Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine.
So, ceremonial laws were accomplished by Jesus in His sacrifice, being the once-and-for-all atonement, the sacrificial Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, affirmed by John 1:29 (NIV):
The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”
This means we no longer require the regular religious rituals performed on our behalf by a priest – which would have occurred in the Old Testament times. They have been made redundant as Jesus, the great High Priest, has become for us the once-and-for-all sacrificial lamb; making us holy by the shedding of His precious blood and inviting us into the ‘Most Holy Place’, which we enter into by faith and repentance (Hebrews 10:19, NIV).
The third sets of laws, in contrast to the other two, were the moral laws, and Leviticus 20:13 is included as one of them. Alongside outlining the Holiness Code, these moral laws also dealt with a sense of fair practice when trading with others (Leviticus 19:36). Such laws were not only instructions, but importantly, they revealed part of God’s character which He intended His people to imitate and to continue to abide by.
As Richardson states, the way in which believers today are to follow these moral laws is not to be as a Pharisee, prescribing a legalistic tick-the-box way of life. Rather, it is by living out a life which celebrates, honours and demonstrates God’s kingdom-character through genuine commitment to Christ Jesus.
It was Christ, who brought an end to the written Law, and in doing so would bring about a new obedience of the heart, explained by Paul (who himself originally came from a Pharisee background) in Romans 2:15 (NIV):
They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.
This wasn’t a new thing dreamt up by Paul either; the prophets spoke of it hundreds of years in advance of Jesus’ birth and ministry:
Ezekiel recognised it.
I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.Ezekiel 36:26, NIV
So did Jeremiah.
“This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time” declares the LORD. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.”Jeremiah 31:33, NIV
And the same message occurs in Hebrews, in the New Testament:
This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.Hebrews 10:16, NIV
Is the Law done away with today?
The Ceremonial Law? Yes!
The Civil Law? For sure!
But what about the Moral Laws which reveal the character of God? No way!
We have seen that God’s recurring message in the Bible is that these Moral Laws have been written on the heart of every believer, and it is by living by the Law of the Spirit that we can be closer to God and filled with His Holy Spirit. It is by living a life where we do not grieve the Holy Spirit. It is why Jesus addresses the heart of the believer in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6-8). God still expects every believer to live by His moral Holiness Code; when a believer does this, they are, as Paul says in Romans, ‘a law for themselves’:
(Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.) This will take place on the day when God judges people’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares.
(Romans 2:14-16, NIV)
What Paul is saying is that when a believer who is not under the written Law, lives a life which flows from the Holiness Code within the Law, they are honouring God. Not because they are told to in obeying a specific written law, but because they are choosing to do so out of relationship with the Holy Spirit. ‘Their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them’ (Romans 2:15, NIV) – this is the witness and guidance of the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer.
It is what is known as being Spirit-led or ‘life in the Spirit’ which is something Paul repeatedly talks of throughout his letters to the Church (see Galatians 5:16-18, NIV).
Based on what we have considered regarding the Law, I believe it would be dangerous to say that Leviticus 20:13 can be ignored: As this would constitute rejecting a moral law which reveals part of God’s character and design for His creation, something we will explore further in subsequent chapters.
A note of challenge
All this brings me to say, it has become far too easy to paint conservative believers with a brush of either being so-called legalistic and prejudiced in their attitudes, or utterly lacking in love and compassion.
Is this really true – or a fair judgment of such individuals?
Do pastors and individuals keeping to this conservative view set out to be prejudiced, to be legalistic and unloving?
I doubt it.
As I have already stated in this book, personally, I would love to be able to affirm same-sex relationships. It would be so easy to do it and would mean I was never in a place where I could be accused of a lack of compassion when it came to a question of sexuality.
However, when I read the Bible, I cannot find permission to do so anywhere. In fact, there doesn’t seem to be anything positive said about same-sex relationships at all.
For this reason, I am left with the same decision that Peter and the apostles made in Acts 5:29 (NIV):
Peter and the other apostles replied: “We must obey God rather than human beings!”
Proverbs 9:10 (NIV) says, ‘The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom’, yet I wonder if this is something we are really living out in today’s international church doctrine?
It saddens me hugely to say exactly the opposite; that so many churches and believers seem to have lost their fear of God. They appear to be willing to throw aside the Word of God and to compromise on what it says in order to make friends with culture.
Is this the correct approach?
Surely, God should come before culture?
I believe that God is calling us to ensure we keep Him in His rightful position, as God and Lord of our lives.
Let’s not sidestep the fact that:
He is God Almighty, not ‘God all-matey’!
Therefore, before we run ahead with the vision to fill our churches no matter the compromises to our walk with Jesus, let us first ask ourselves how we can ensure our churches continue to be filled with His Holy Spirit; that we neither quench His Spirit nor deny His instruction.
The Christian life was never meant to be easy.
One of the most controversial things Jesus told His followers is that the world would hate them (and us), His Church, just as it hated Him:
If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.John 15:18-19, NIV
Therefore, we must be two things simultaneously: wise in what we do embrace yet loving and compassionate in what we do not.
The Law does not count for nothing in our New Testament covenant lives.
It still counts for everything because the part of the Law which outlines God’s Holiness Code is as important today as it was in Old Testament times.
The question is whether we are willing to take it seriously and allow God to take our sometimes-hardened hearts and shape them after Himself
Mike is Senior Pastor of Reigate Baptist Church in Reigate, Surrey. He and his wife Rachel have three children and together serve their community, lovingly and faithfully. Mike is passionate about pursuing Jesus and pointing others to Him, helping the Modern-day Church of believers to know and love Him better.