Once again, a brilliant post of Jesse’s has stimulated a lot of discussion. Yesterday’s post, in which Jesse shared four thoughts regarding Chick-Fil-A Day, sparked a ton of discussion in the comment thread.
Among other issues, a couple of commenters listed a number of popular arguments for why homosexuality is reconcilable with Christianity. For today and tomorrow, I’d like to address a couple of those arguments that I encounter most often. My hope is that I might serve those who erroneously believe that faith in Jesus and His Word can be reconciled with attempts to legitimize homosexuality.
The objection I want to address today basically boils down to this: “There are plenty other commands in Scripture that Christians don’t follow today, like the prohibition against mixing fabrics (Lev 19:19) or eating shellfish (Lev 11:10–12) and pork (Lev 11:7–8). So why not one more?”
First, I just want to observe that this kind of reasoning is patently unbiblical. The argument concedes that the Bible does indeed condemn homosexuality. We’re not getting an argument from these folks on that. They’re just giving a reason for why we should ignore more of what the Bible clearly says. “We disobey God’s Word all over the place. Why should disobeying His commands against homosexuality be any different?”
If you find yourself thinking this way, I just want to plead with you to realize that this is just not the way a Christian thinks about God’s Word. Someone who loves God in the Person of Jesus Christ does not look for ways to legitimize their disobedience or to free themselves from what He’s actually said. The one who loves God loves His Word. The Word of God is the delight of the child of God (see Psalm 119; Job 23:12; Jer 15:16). If God’s Word is something you feel you have to get around or escape, please examine whether you’re truly a Christian at all.
The Purpose of the Law
But aside from the fact that a Christian simply doesn’t reason this way, this objection fails to understand the purposes of the Mosaic Law, and how the Christian under the New Covenant is to relate to the Law given under the Sinaitic Covenant. This isn’t an easy theological issue, and so to some degree I understand the confusion over this issue. But Scripture gives a clear answer, so try to stick with me.
To Set God’s People Apart
For one thing, these civil and ceremonial regulations functioned to set Israel apart from all the other nations. No other nation cared about eating animals that didn’t chew cud or wearing clothes woven with two different fabrics. No other nation let a perfectly good day of work (and profits) slip through their fingers by resting on Saturday. In all these restrictions, God’s design was for Israel—His people—to be different than all the nations. And He wanted them to be different from the nations because He was different than the gods of the nations.
But God’s people are no longer confined to a particular nation. They are no longer bound by physical, national, or even cultural boundaries (Eph 2:12). The Church is not a civil government or a theocracy, but a spiritual building (Eph 2:21–22). Because of that, we’re not set apart by obeying laws about fabrics, foods, lengths of beards, and days of rest, but by our moral purity and holiness. We are to come out from all moral impurity and uncleanness, and are to be separate, for the Holy God walks in our midst (2 Cor 6:14–7:1).
To Point God’s People to a Savior
So, one function of the Mosaic Law was to set God’s people—the nation of Israel—apart in tangible, physical ways in order to show His own uniqueness.
But the Law was also given to Israel for another purpose: to illustrate God’s standard of righteousness, to show how far short of that standard His people fall, and ultimately to point them to a Savior to provide that righteousness.
Under the Mosaic Covenant, a right relationship with God depended on compliance with all of what He had said. If someone broke God’s Law, that was sin, and sin demanded a punishment. God made a provision to punish His people’s sin in a substitute, and so the sacrificial system was instituted. The consistent bloody exercise of animal sacrifice was designed to make clear to Israel that God was infinitely holy and that He took sin seriously. Day after day, year after year, all of Israel would offer sacrifices for their sins. And one thing they were supposed to come away with after doing that was that they could not live the way God required. God was holy. And they were hopelessly unholy.
Because of this, in Galatians 3 Paul calls the Law a tutor or a schoolmaster.
But the Scripture has shut up everyone under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed. Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith (Gal 3:22–24).
So the Law was designed to teach Israel that they could never meet God’s standard of holiness themselves, and that they needed to look outside of themselves—to Him—for the gracious provision of that righteousness. And God provided that righteousness in the Person of His Son, Jesus Christ. The Law was designed to point to Him!
That’s why when Jesus shows up, He can declare that all foods are clean (Mark 7:19) and work on the Sabbath (Luke 6:2, 5). It’s why God’s people no longer have to offer sacrifices in a temple—why when Jesus was crucified the veil of the temple was torn in two (Matt 27:51): because in Jesus, something greater than the temple is here (Matt 12:8)! Access to God would no longer be mediated by the regulations of the Mosaic Covenant, but by those of the New Covenant (Jer 31:31–34; Luke 22:20), whose mediator is Christ Himself (Heb 9:15).
That’s also why the Book of Hebrews declares that the Mosaic Covenant has been made “obsolete” (Heb 8:13): because the purpose for which that Covenant was given—namely, to set Israel apart and to point them to a need for a Savior—is fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Jesus is the point of the dietary laws. God’s people are no longer set apart by not mixing fabrics, they are set apart by being united to Jesus by faith.
No Longer Under a Tutor
So, the reason that Christians don’t have a problem mixing fabrics or eating pork is not because we’re picking and choosing which biblical commands we follow. Neither were the commands culturally conditioned. Rather, they were covenantally conditioned. It’s actually because those commands, which belonged to the Mosaic Covenant, have been fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ, who is the Mediator of a new and better covenant. We actually obey the commands of the Law not by carrying them out ourselves, but by looking to Jesus as their fulfillment and trusting Him to provide the righteousness that those commands couldn’t produce. That’s why Paul says in that same passage in Galatians 3:
Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor (Gal 3:24–25).
We are no longer under that Law which functioned for us as a tutor! To attempt to keep the dietary laws and other aspects of ceremonial worship would actually be to deny that Jesus’ righteous life and substitutionary sacrifice on the cross was sufficient to achieve God’s righteousness on our behalf. So when Christians exercise their freedom to mix fabrics or to eat shellfish and pork, we are not breaking the Mosaic Law. Rather, we are living obediently in light of its fulfillment in Christ (cf. Matt 5:17).
Why Homosexuality is Different
However, the commandments against homosexuality do not belong to the ceremonial or civil stipulations of an obsolete covenant from a bygone era. Yes, a prohibition of homosexuality is given in Leviticus 18:22. But that prohibition is repeated in the New Testament—God’s revelation for those living under the New Covenant.
- Romans 1:26–27 – For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error.
- 1 Corinthians 6:9–10 – Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God.
- 1 Timothy 1:9–10 – …those who are lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers and immoral men and homosexuals and kidnappers and liars and perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound teaching…
Whereas the New Testament declares the fulfillment (and thus the end) of certain civil and ceremonial laws of the Mosaic Covenant, these New Covenant Scriptures only reaffirm the Old Testament prohibition against homosexuality. This shows us that such a prohibition wasn’t applicable only to national Israel, but is also binding upon the New Testament people of God. And the reason for that is because the prohibition against homosexuality wasn’t designed to teach a temporary lesson, like the food laws and civil regulations were; rather, homosexuality in all ages tragically distorts the picture of the Gospel that marriage is designed to be. According to God’s own Word to His people, you cannot be in a right relationship with God through Jesus Christ while living an unrepentant homosexual lifestyle.
You Can Be Washed
But you certainly can be restored to a saving relationship with God through Jesus Christ by repenting from the sin of homosexuality. 1 Corinthians 6:11 says that some in the Corinthian church were homosexuals (cf. 1 Cor 6:10–11). “But,” Paul says, “you were washed.” They had been cleansed! Their sins were forgiven, not by pretending it wasn’t sin but by owning it and confessing it as sin, and by turning from it—forsaking it as something that dishonors God—and by trusting in Christ’s righteousness alone for acceptance with God. My prayer is that those of you reading this would be washed by the blood of the Lamb shed for the forgiveness of sins.