Exhortation for January 4:

Sexual immorality has marked all non-Christian civilizations. Leviticus 18 gives a laundry list of sexual sins ?Eincest, adultery, sodomy, bestiality?Eand ends with this exhortation: “Do not defile yourselves by any of these things; for by all these the nations which I am casting out before you have become defiled. For the land has become defiled, therefore I have visited its punishment upon it, so that the land has spewed out its inhabitants” (Lev 18:24-25).

One of the many things that Paul shared with non-Christian Jews was revulsion toward the sexual practices of the Greco-Roman world. Paul condemned men who “abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing shameless deeds” (Rom 1). And he was equally severe about other forms of sexual sin: “Do you not know that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, no effeminate, nor homosexuals . . . shall inherit the kingdom of God.” And again, “Flee sexual immorality. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body” (1 Cor 6). To pagan Greeks and Romans, One of the most bizarre and inexplicable things about the early Christians was their insistence on sexual purity, their insistence that sex was lawful only within the bounds of heterosexual marriage.

The sexual confusions of ancient Canaan and ancient Greece and Rome are still with us, and are becoming more apparent with each passing year. In late November last year, the highest court in Massachusetts decided by a 4-3 vote that the definition of marriage as the union of a man and a woman is irrational. The only possible reason for opposing the extension of marriage to same-sex couples, the court concluded, is “animus” and sheer bigotry.

In an important sense, this ruling is a good thing. The Massachusetts court is far more consistent than other courts. Decades ago, the US formally and officially rejected Christian standards for civil law, and there is little reason to think that marriage needs to be defined in Christian terms. The Massachusetts decision and the coming battles over gay marriage in the courts and legislatures of this country will have the salutary effect of sharpening the antithesis, the opposition, between Christian and non-Christian morality.

But the antithesis will be sharpened only if the church adheres to biblical sexual norms. And that is precisely what has NOT happened. How can we be surprised at the Massachusetts court when a few miles away an open homosexual serves as an Episcopal Bishop? And let’s not only think of the spectacular and public failures of the church. In many smaller and hidden ways Christians fail to keep God’s commandments regarding sex.

How can we be surprised that sodomy is celebrated in our culture when Christians are not sexually pure? With pornography widely available and widely used by Christians; with adultery nearly as common within the church as outside; with premarital and extramarital sex acceptable and tolerated within many churches ?E is it any wonder that the world is confused? To the extent that we are indulging in sexual sin, we are on the wrong side of the battle over gay marriage and we are aiding and abetting the enemy. The Massachusetts court has helpfully sharpened the antithesis from their end. It’s up to us to sharpen the antithesis on our side.

Over the next few years, there will be many legal and legislative battles over gay marriage, and those battles are important. Far MORE important, however, is repentance on the part of the church. Christian sexual morality became the standard of sexual behavior throughout the Western world because the world eventually followed the church’s standards of sexual purity. The Western world is still following the church’s example today, but the example we set is a very poor one. The world will recover some semblance of sexual sanity only when WE do.

More on: Theology

Articles by Peter J. Leithart

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