Romans 3:23 says all people have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. I don’t care what your sexual orientation is, you are a sinner. It also says, all who receive it are justified freely through the grace given to us in Jesus Christ. I don’t care what your sexual orientation is, if you repent of your sins and trust him, you are redeemed and made whole and holy in Jesus.
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The Bible & Homosexuality Part 3
Once more, if you have not read the first or second sermons on this subject, please go back and do that now. I guarantee, you will not understand what I am saying or where I am coming from if you do not. I really mean it.
I want to reiterate why I am preaching on the subject of homosexuality at this point. It is not because homosexuality is particularly worse than any other sin. It is not because I want people to go around condemning gay folks. I don’t even think it’s a good idea for Christians to be focused on one particular sin. The reason I have been preaching about it is because, plain and simple, the issue of homosexuality is being used these days to undermine the bible. The problem is not homosexuality, or homosexuals. The main problem is that Christians don’t seem to know how to properly understand the bible, and this issue is merely the most prominent example of it today.
So, some people say things like this: “But aren’t there many parts of the bible that we ignore today? Don’t we sort of pick and choose what we want to obey?”
This is one of the great dangers for Christians concerning this issue; this is, in fact, one reason I am preaching about it. There is great confusion about all this in the church today.
Let me put the problem to you this way. Say we agree that we will simply pick and choose parts of the bible, more or less as we please.
You say: I’m going to ignore the parts where it says homosexual behavior is sinful.
I say: I hate you. (I don’t, I’m just using this as an example).
You: But Tom, Jesus told us to love one another. In fact, you just shared a lot of scripture two weeks ago that told us we ought to love and forgive each other.
Me: I’m ignoring those parts of the bible, just as you’re ignoring the parts about homosexual behavior.
Here’s another one:
You: I’m ignoring the parts of the bible where it says homosexual behavior is sinful.
Me: I’m ignoring the parts of the bible where it says murder is sinful.
We could do this all day. But let’s cut to the bottom-line with one more example.
You: I’m ignoring the parts of the bible where it says homosexual behavior is sinful.
Me: I’m ignoring the parts of the bible where it says Jesus is the Messiah and that through him we have forgiveness, grace and salvation.
You see, if this is what we really think about the bible, we have no basis for faith in Jesus Christ, and no reason to be Christians at all. If you really think we can just pick and choose according to our whims, then who is to say that Jesus really died to forgive your sins? Who is to say God really created the world? Who is to say that Jesus really is the Messiah? Can’t we pick and choose whether or not those things are true? If we simply pick and choose what we want to from the bible, we are not Christians in any meaningful sense.
In fact, to decide for ourselves what we will consider right and wrong is to nominate ourselves for the position of God. Listen carefully here, because this has been seriously twisted the other way. You may have heard someone say: “Who are you to say that homosexual acts are sinful? Aren’t you playing God?”
My answer is, “I am nobody. I have no right to say such a thing. In fact, I don’t say such a thing. I am only submitting to what the bible says.” We might properly ask “Who are you to say it is not sinful?”
When I say, “According to the bible homosexual acts are sins,” I am not speaking on my own authority. I am not setting myself in the place of God. I am merely repeating what the bible says. In fact, I am only humbly agreeing that what God said through the bible is correct.
But when someone else says “I don’t believe it is a sin, as long as it is done in love,” that person is actually setting up herself in the place of God. She is saying, “I am going to determine what is right and wrong. The bible says X, but I disagree. I am saying Y.” Now, she may protest, “I am not the only one who thinks that way. Others agree with me.” OK then, she is setting up polytheism – many gods. She and the others who think like her are saying that they have the authority of determining right and wrong; an authority that is held only by God himself.
There is another option, taken by many. You may prefer to just throw your hands up and say, “Man, I don’t know. I don’t think it’s my place to decide these things.” But actually, such a person is making a decision. He is basically saying, “I know what the bible says, but I’m not going to say for sure that I agree with it. I’m not willing to let the bible determine right or wrong in this situation.” In other words, he has the authority to ignore the bible. He is saying, in essence, “the bible doesn’t have the authority to say that.”
Now, when it comes to picking and choosing, let’s be fair, and consider all the angles. It does seem like there are things in the Bible that Christians no longer pay attention to, doesn’t it? The bible says we shouldn’t eat pork, and yet Christians today don’t worry about that. You might say, “Tom, if you eat bacon, aren’t you picking and choosing, and putting yourself in the place of God?”
Actually, no. I’m not the one who decided it was OK to eat pork. In fact, it was Jesus declared all foods clean in Mark 7:18-23. The freedom to eat whatever we want is affirmed in Acts 10:9-16 and also Acts 15:28-29, and 1Corinthians 8:8 and Romans 14:1-3 and other places. In other words, I didn’t pick and choose for myself – I was guided by the New Testament in interpreting the Old Testament. In eating pork, I am still submitted to the bible.
Some people might say, “But isn’t that just your interpretation of the bible, not the bible itself?”
Christians have been studying the bible for two thousand years. Over that time, several simple rules have developed for how to interpret and understand the bible properly. Mostly, they were developed to keep people from twisting the bible to say whatever they would like. I refer you to my sermon series “Understanding the Bible,” where I explain these rules and how to use them. These rules of interpretation are not complicated, but it does take some time and mental effort to apply them consistently and thoroughly. A lot of people simply can’t be bothered to do it.
My interpretation of what the bible says about homosexual behavior was carefully and thoroughly developed in harmony with those basic, well-recognized Christian rules. My interpretation is also in harmony with that of virtually every Christian thinker in history until about the year 2000. Come on, now, let’s be honest: most of the culture, including President Barack Obama, claimed to agree with this straightforward reading of the bible as recently as 2008. In other words, it is not simply my personal opinion about what the bible says. I got there through careful bible study and interpretation, and found that virtually all Christians in history had arrived at the same conclusions before me. I am not just picking and choosing. I am going through a careful, well-established, scholarly process of consistent interpretation.
Frankly, I do not see this from those who disagree with me. For instance, one the arguments against the verses in Leviticus (18:22 and 20:13) goes like this. “Those verses are in the section of the bible known as the holiness codes. It includes things like not eating shellfish, or wearing cloth made of two different kinds of fibers. Christians don’t pay attention to that stuff anymore.”
Actually, the verse about shellfish is in Leviticus chapter 11, nowhere near 18:22 or 20:13. The verse about the blended cloth is Leviticus 19:19, twenty seven verses apart from 18:22 and thirty verses apart from 20:13. You cannot seriously argue the same textual context for blended cloth and homosexual sex.
But let’s slow down a minute and consider: what else is in this section of scripture?
A lot of Leviticus chapter eighteen is spend on forbidding various kinds of incest. 18:20 forbids adultery, 18:21 forbids the burning of children alive, 18:22 forbids homosexual sex and 18:23 forbids sex with animals.
If you argue that homosexual acts should not be considered sinful because these verses are found in the “holiness codes,” you must also argue that it should not be a sin to commit adultery, burn your baby alive, rape your children or mate with animals. I’m sorry for the graphic nature of these words – they are right there in the bible, and I think if you cringe at the thought of making these activities legitimate and “moral” among Christians, you should do the same for the activity in 18:22.
Now, let’s look more carefully at the verse for blended cloth.
15 “You must not act unjustly when deciding a case. Do not be partial to the poor or give preference to the rich; judge your neighbor fairly. 16 You must not go about spreading slander among your people; you must not jeopardize your neighbor’s life; I am Yahweh.
17 “You must not harbor hatred against your brother. Rebuke your neighbor directly, and you will not incur guilt because of him. 18 Do not take revenge or bear a grudge against members of your community, but love your neighbor as yourself; I am Yahweh.
19 “You are to keep My statutes. You must not crossbreed two different kinds of your livestock, sow your fields with two kinds of seed, or put on a garment made of two kinds of material.
Remember, the argument about homosexual sex is: “It’s in the same section as the part about blended cloth, so we don’t have to listen to it.” But these (above) are the verses right next to the part about blended cloth. By that logic, we shouldn’t have to love our neighbor, or be just to the poor. If you do away with the part about homosexual acts, you must surely do away with “love your neighbor,” and “do not hate.”
Now, there are reasons that we wear polyester blends today, and yet still maintain that we must love our neighbor. But we don’t just say, “That thing about blended cloth is outdated.” There is a careful process of interpretation involved in determining why the ancient Israelites were not to blend different types of fibers, and what the principle is behind that verse, and how that principle still applies, even today, though it applies differently to us than to the ancient Israelites. After that careful process, we find something encouraging and instructive from the verse about blended cloth, but also we find that it is now OK to mix cloths. We go through the same process with the verses about not hating, and loving our neighbor, but in those cases, once we have done the work, we find that the underlying principles apply to us in exactly the same way they applied to the ancient Israelites.
Once more, I refer you to my series “Understanding the Bible.” Virtually anyone can do this work of responsible bible interpretation, but it does take time and effort. I want to say, as kindly as possible, if you are not willing to go through the effort of first learning how to do, and then engaging in, careful, consistent bible interpretation, you ought not to go around throwing out scraps of verses and poorly-thought theological-sounding arguments.
Of course, the verses from the New Testament which I shared last time are just as clear. If we wanted to eliminate homosexual activity from those lists of sins, we would have no choice but to also eliminate adultery, murder, slave-trading, lying, stealing, greed, drunkenness and more.
It is true, some Christians focus on homosexual behavior, and ignore some of the other things, like greed, for instance. I say, “shame on those Christians!” Neither one is worse than the other, but according to the bible, both are sins in the eyes of God, and it is wrong to give one a “pass” while condemning the other. This is not a legitimate approach to the bible either. However, the fact that some people do this does not change what the bible actually says.
Once again I want to close with a reminder of God’s incredible grace to all sinners. Romans 3:23 says all people have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. I don’t care what your sexual orientation is, you are a sinner. It also says, all who receive it are justified freely through the grace given to us in Jesus Christ. I don’t care what your sexual orientation is, if you repent of your sins and trust him, you are redeemed and made whole and holy in Jesus.
Next time, we will close this subject with some final thoughts about grace particularly for gay Christians.
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