Hard questions part 3: Thus sayeth the LORD

All right, let’s get this out of the way right now:

Does the Bible say that Christians are supposed to kill homosexuals?

No, it doesn’t.

Okay, okay, calm down.  There is quite a bit to say on this because I want to make sure I handle the Scripture rightly on this.  Once again, for a subject commonly engaged with a great deal of emotion and where personal experience is valued over transcendent truth, I desire to take it out of that and into the realm of the testimony of the text.

Homosexuality is forbidden in the Mosaic law, in Leviticus 18:22: “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.”  Leviticus 20:13 gives the punishment for this act: “If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them.”  But again, as mentioned above with regards to Qur’anic commands to execute homosexuals, this is not a command given to all people anywhere to carry out as they wish.  This is given to the people of Israel, within the framework of the Mosaic law, to be carried out in that legal system.

That system, of course, does not exist any longer in the sense of the ancient nation of Israel.  There is a country called Israel that occupies roughly the same area geographically, but they do not hold themselves under this law.  But what about Christians?  How do we regard these passages?

Some, such as homosexual apologist Matthew Vines, have attempted to claim simply that “Christians don’t think that Leviticus and Deuteronomy apply to them any longer, so we can just ignore those passages.”  But if you actually read the entire Bible, you notice two important things: 1) Leviticus contains much more than just this passage, including many concepts Christians continued to consider as necessary to Christian living such as obedience to parents and right treatment of sojourners, honest weights and measurements, and of course, the command to love your neighbor as yourself.  These are not concepts that Vines or others would reject out of hand, yet because they have not examined the text closely (or they have, and simply believe they know better than the authors of Scripture), they wind up making an argument that is not defensible when you look at how Christ viewed the Scriptures.  For further discussion of this very important issue, go here and download the MP3s.

There are different divisions within the Mosaic law, and we see it carried into the New Testament and into our lives today in relation to that.  When you read Leviticus and Deuteronomy, you see civil laws, ceremonial laws, and moral laws.  Ceremonial laws would be ones relating to things like ritual purity, like laws about food cleanliness and how priests are to prepare themselves before giving sacrifices in the tabernacle.  They were focused on the way that the nation of Israel worshiped.  Civil laws would be in regards to things like theft, murder, and sexuality.  They kept order within Israelite society, both in stating what was criminal as well as giving punishments.  Moral laws would be more fundamental, and were related at their most basic level to God’s nature as Creator and the one who has given order to all things.  At their base, they are a representation of who God is.  There is overlap between these laws; for example, the laws against adultery or theft can be seen as both civil (in that they carried civil penalties and were dealt with by the rulers directly) as well as moral (because they transcend the specific nation of Israel and are connected to the nature of God in creating and providing for His creation).

But how do we handle the law today? I hear you asking impatiently.  In general, Christians believe in what can be termed “the three uses of the law.”  There are those who misunderstand or disagree with particulars within this, but historically this is how Protestant Christianity has regarded the law.  I want to turn you over to someone much more qualified than myself, Dr. R.C. Sproul, with this excerpt from one of his books posted at the Monergism website:

The first purpose of the law is to be a mirror. On the one hand, the law of God reflects and mirrors the perfect righteousness of God. The law tells us much about who God is. Perhaps more important, the law illumines human sinfulness. Augustine wrote, “The law orders, that we, after attempting to do what is ordered, and so feeling our weakness under the law, may learn to implore the help of grace.” The law highlights our weakness so that we might seek the strength found in Christ. Here the law acts as a severe schoolmaster who drives us to Christ.

A second purpose for the law is the restraint of evil. The law, in and of itself, cannot change human hearts. It can, however, serve to protect the righteous from the unjust. Calvin says this purpose is “by means of its fearful denunciations and the consequent dread of punishment, to curb those who, unless forced, have no regard for rectitude and justice.” The law allows for a limited measure of justice on this earth, until the last judgment is realized.

The third purpose of the law is to reveal what is pleasing to God. As born-again children of God, the law enlightens us as to what is pleasing to our Father, whom we seek to serve. The Christian delights in the law as God Himself delights in it. Jesus said, “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15). This is the highest function of the law, to serve as an instrument for the people of God to give Him honor and glory.

Jesus established His church on the foundation of the Gospel.  By His work on the cross, Jesus completed the work of the law by living a perfect life and offering Himself as the perfect sacrifice.  By His death on the cross He serves as the propitiation, the complete payment for sin, for all those who believe in Him:

For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.

Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said,

“Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired,
    but a body have you prepared for me;
in burnt offerings and sin offerings
    you have taken no pleasure.
Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God,
    as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’”

When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), then he added, “Behold, I have come to do your will.” He does away with the first in order to establish the second. And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.–Hebrews 10:1-14

The church still carries with it the moral law, but it does not serve as a national government passing out punishments and executing offenders.  Rather, the church is to call everyone to true worship of God and repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.  The law, as Dr. Sproul mentioned, serves to convict the unbeliever of his guilt before God, but it cannot bring life.  No one can observe the law perfectly and find life in that observance, but we can have faith in the One who did observe perfectly and died in the place we who have broken the law so many times.

The church does not execute offenders.  Those who are not a part of the church are not in question.  Rather, the church holds the authority of excommunication, to put out someone who claims to be a Christian but lives instead in unrepentant sin.  For example, Paul commands the Corinthians to carry this duty out in response to the sexual sin of one of their church members:

It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife. And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you.

For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing.When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.

Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside.“Purge the evil person from among you.”–1 Corinthians 5:1-13

This doesn’t mean that God doesn’t care about sexual morality outside the church, but Christians are not to carry out judgment against unbelievers as though we expect them to behave like Christians.  This is something that in the West, in our societies that were founded on at least significant elements of the Christian worldview, believers have not done well at carrying out, as we tend to expect that everyone has the same concept of morality.  But the fact is that we are no longer the majority viewpoint, and as with the Israelites living in exile in Babylon, we need to do much better at showing love to where we live and seeking after its good.  There is a major element of this that involves speaking truth into situations where lies are loved, but we will get to that.

But the church does not execute sinners.  Individual Christians are certainly not empowered to carry out such an act, and to do so demonstrates that such a person is using the name of Christ to cover over their own desires, rather than submitting to Jesus as Lord.  Within the church, we do exactly what Paul says above: if someone calls himself Christian and a part of the church, and yet refuses to obey the call to holiness and instead pursues his own desires, that person is to be removed from the assembly and “delivered to Satan for the destruction of his flesh.”  He is treated as an unbeliever, which means that while he is not allowed to partake of the benefits of the body of Christ, he is pursued with love and the Gospel is the focus of discussion and engaging with him.  Not like some kind of cult attempting to exert personality and behavioral control, but to remind him that he has been saved out of this sin and to return from it is to return to slavery.  As Paul writes in the next chapter:

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.–1 Corinthians 6:9-11

The church to whom Paul addressed this letter was made up of people who had come from all sorts of backgrounds of sin.  All of them had tasted the absolute bitterness of that sin, they had experienced the hopelessness and the waste that is idolatry, and then they had heard the Gospel.  And in that message they had found that their Creator had renewal and freedom waiting for them.

I’m going to dig into that more in the next part, as we discuss the issue of how a Christian can look at a homosexual as being in sin and engaging in behavior that will bring God’s judgment, and yet mourn with them and show them love in the aftermath of the murder of so many.

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