Conservative Evangelicals and Homosexuality - The Bible's Message on Holiness (Part 4)

The Bible is quite counter-cultural, in that it tells us not to follow our heart, or pursue our dreams or live for the moment, but to pursue holiness, righteousness and godliness. We find the command in both the Old and the New Testaments (e.g Leviticus 11:44-45; Leviticus 19:2; 1 Timothy 6:11; 2 Timothy 2:22; 1 Peter 1:15-16).

In previous posts in this series I've outlined that Christians believe in the authority of God over us and that evangelicals (perhaps especially conservative evangelicals) understand God to express his will for us in the Bible - his word. Now there are all sorts of things that Bible teaches us, but one of the consistent themes is that God wants his people to be holy, key to which is moral purity (see for example the context of Leviticus 19:2 in the holiness code and the contrasts being drawn in 1 Peter 1).

It's important to note that this is a theme, not primarily for everyone in the world, but for God's redeemed people. So, the law in Leviticus comes after the salvation of the Exodus. Similarly, the focus of 1 Peter is on the "elect" who have been born again and ransomed (1 Peter 1:1, 3, 18) - in other words those who have trusted in Christ as their Lord and Saviour. What we are seeing here is not salvation by works, but a salvation that leads to work, i.e. specifically to holiness, godliness and obedience. And it is important to remember that holiness is something that is empowered by the Holy Spirit in the believer (e.g. Romans 8:12-17; Galatians 5:16-26).

I think there are some implications of this. First, we can't expect that those outside God's people will seek to be holy or will agree with God's standards of holiness. It would be best for them if they did and we might want to seek a society that upholds these standards, but we won't be surprised to find that God's standards will alienate people who don't love God.

Second, we should therefore be very careful about letting those outside of God's people have much input when we're thinking about what it means to be holy. One of the great weaknesses of God's people, both in the Old and New Testaments and in all the history that has followed has been to follow the standards of those who don't trust God and let go of God's standards. I preached on Eli's sons in 1 Samuel 2 this week and I've been preaching on 1 Corinthians, both of which provide sad examples.

Third, for those who are trusting Christ, our identity comes from that relationship - we are called, by God's Spirit, to be a holy people. This means that conforming to God's commands in more important to us than is conforming to the culture around us. We've been studying Daniel in our Bible studies - think of the example of Daniel and his friends in Daniel 1, 3 and 6, as they stand firm for their faith in a hostile context. In a culture that worships individualism, rights and self-fulfilment, we need the courage to draw lines that say my supposed rights are less significant that God's rights over me and my individual freedom and self-fulfilment are really only found in my submission to Jesus as my king.

Now all this sets the stage for asking what God asks of me with respect to sex, sexuality and my sexual identity. As a conservative evangelical I will be asking what does the Bible say is the holy way forward in this respect. While I will consider the questions of exactly what the Bible says on this question in future posts, it is worth saying a couple of general things here.

First, holiness involves much more than our approach to sexual ethics. For example, the scope of the law in the Old Testament or the Sermon on the Mount in the New tells us that, as the author David Pawson has said (referring to Deuteronomy):

“God is interested in the whole of our lives. Living right is not just what you do in church on Sunday but concerns the whole of life. There is a right way to do everything. God wants people to be right in every area of their lives.” (Unlocking the Bible, David Pawson)

Second, this does include questions of sex and sexuality. For example, the phrase sexual immorality occurs over 30 times in the New Testament, indicating that there is such a thing as immorality (and therefore lack of holiness) in this area.

It is, therefore, entirely legitimate and indeed important to ask, what does the Bible teach me about living a holy life, with respect to sexual immorality and specifically the questions related to same-sex relationships and homosexuality. It will be to that question that I turn next in this series.

Other Posts in the this series:

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