Question: Many people use the argument that Moses imposed the death penalty on a man who was caught gathering wood on the Sabbath. Since gathering wood on the Sabbath is no longer considered sinful, let alone the death penalty as a punishment, then people say that the ordinance against homosexuality is no longer in force. Please comment.
Answer: I will be happy to address your question about the Law (of Moses) then and now, because the issue is well taken. If we can pick-and-choose which laws to follow today, doesn’t that mean that our choices are subjective? And if so, who is to say that homosexuality (or by extension, any sin) is wrong for today’s people? Doesn’t God’s grace displace the need for moral law enforcement? Before we begin this discussion, we must understand what the Law did and did not do. The Law did not introduce new things. It explained old things. Let us take the Sabbath as an example. God established this one-in-seven rest period during creation—a time preceding the Law of Moses by millennia.
“And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done.” (Genesis 2:2, ESV)
In Exodus chapter 20, God included the Sabbath rest in the Ten Commandments, beginning a period where God spelled out that which was already known to be good. We Christians take the idea of honoring God with that one-in-seven and make it Sunday, the Lord’s Day. As you can see, although we Christians have gone out of our way to differentiate ourselves from those who are under the Law by celebrating the Lord’s resurrection day rather than Saturday…we are not sinning! First, we Christians are not Sabbath breakers because we are not under the Law (Rom. 6:14), and we have no obligation to keep the Jewish festivals or days (Col. 2:16-17). Second, we are not thumbing our noses at God’s Sabbath. On the contrary. We are turning it to a Christian purpose! So, concerning the Sabbath, what we have done is all positive…but… (and this is a big but) skewing the man/woman relationship into a “whatever” relationship is all negative. Therefore, we should not consider that moral mayhem to be a parallel to our dealings with the Sabbath. As to their argument specifically, do not accept their premise that these two activities are in any way equal.
Let us consider an example that travels a parallel path to the man/woman relationship through the Law, the example of godly giving. How often have you heard Christians say something like, “Tithing is Old Testament business—it’s of the Law, and Jesus did away with all that. We are a people of grace who are not compelled to give a certain percent...” Quite a bit of that is true, of course. Christians are not under the Old Testament Law or its penalties…but we are still under the broader law-of-God. We should do right things—and Christian giving is a right thing. As seen in tithing, giving to God pre-dates the Law, and it was seen as a God honoring behavior for all godly people.
“And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. (He was priest of God Most High.) And he blessed him and said, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand!” And Abram gave him a tenth of everything.” (Genesis 14:18–20, ESV; Also, note the Melchizedek/Christ connection in Hebrews chapter seven.)
Once the Law came, however, the idea of tithing was developed in all its particulars, and penalties were assigned for non-compliance. That is what the Law did quite a bit. It took existing godly behaviors and spelled them out—broke them out into details and assigned penalties for violating them. So, the Law never changed the essence of a thing. It codified, particularized and explained, but it did not change the nature of its objects. Once Jesus died on the cross, and the veil in the temple was ripped in two (Mark 15:38), believers were no longer under the Law’s authority, but did our stepping out from under a particular jurisdiction change the essence of anything? When Christ died, did tithing become bad or did murder become good? No. Salvation was easier…that’s for sure! But behaviors did not change. They were either godly or ungodly still.
Like tithing, the man/woman relationship predates the Law, and the Law did what the Law does; it spelled out the behaviors, broke them out into specific details and assigned penalties for their violation—and some of those behaviors involved homosexuality. But again, when we popped out from under the Law and into grace, the essence of the man/woman relationship had not changed. It was God’s ideal at the beginning (Gen. 1:27). It was God’s ideal when sinful humans messed it up before and during the law, and it is God’s ideal in our time of grace. Nothing of God’s ideals ever changes…and it is strange to think that grace might somehow do this. Grace makes sinners look like Jesus. It does not make homosexuality look like normalcy. Again, to their argument, grace changes neither God’s attributes nor his ideals, so what was true at the start remains true forever.
Your question sounds as if some Christian people might be asking this, too. To them I say, we Christians are indeed free…but we are free to obey! Sure, we are also free from the penalty of sin (Rom.8:1), but we should think of that as a balloonist thinks of his ballast. If we keep it, we sink. If we shed it, we rise. In this we see the essential difference between liberty and license. We Christians are at liberty to serve, but we do not have license to sin. Remember, grace makes sinners holy; it does not make sin non-sin. What was good from God at the beginning, this man/woman relationship, should soar with grace—and not be weighed down by the ballast of calling good evil and evil good (Isa. 5:20). To their argument then, redefining terms that God has already clearly defined, but doing this under the aegis of “no condemnation,” is logically weak and biblically unconscionable.
So, is the Law against homosexuality still in force? If by in force you mean condemning for the Christian, then, no
(Rom. 8:1). But if you mean, is it against the Law of God? Then yes, it is still in force. Strangely, for the non-Christian it is almost a non-issue, since Adam’s sin and the resultant condemnation eclipses any personal sin. But for the Christian, although no sin can condemn him to hell, this does not mean that there will be no loss because of it—either in this world (via its natural or spiritual outfalls), or in the next (by lack of reward.)
Finally, although sins no longer have any weight as condemning for a Christian’s salvation, they still have weight as proof of that salvation, and will continue to do so until Christ comes again. Therefore, thinking that since the Law is fulfilled in Christ (Mat. 5:17), then nothing of the Law matters any more, is false reasoning (Rom. 6:1-2). While it is true that I no longer have to sacrifice a lamb to maintain a godly testimony, it is not true that I no longer have to restrain from murder to do the same. You see, these are two different categories of behavior. Christ’s sacrifice has made the sacerdotal aspects of the Law obsolete in that he has fulfilled them, but the truth and essence of godly behaviors continue as always.
I pray that this brief treatise helped, and I wish you God’s blessings as you continue in your walk with him.