One of the biggest complaints I’ve heard against Christians is that we pick and choose which biblical laws we want to view as enforced and which biblical laws have be done away with. This complaint usually comes up in the arena of the homosexual debate. Christians are accused of wanting to enforce what the Bible says about homosexuality while in the same section the Bible says that disobedient children should be stoned. How can Christians be taken seriously if they can’t even follow their own rules?
Typically, this argument is rooted in a misunderstanding of the law given in Leviticus. The law given to the Hebrews in Leviticus consists of three aspects: ceremonial, judicial, and moral law. How do we identify these distinctions?
Ceremonial law pertains to how the Jews were to practice day to day worship. This aspect would be what we’d call religious law, not too unlike Sharia law practiced by Muslims today.
The next aspect of Jewish law is the judicial, or civil, aspect of the law. This aspect of the law includes the penalties that came along with violating God’s law. With this aspect of the law we read of some very extreme penalties for lawbreakers, many of which are considered barbaric by modern standards. Why were the penalties so extreme? Because God’s law was not something to be taken lightly.
The third aspect of the law was the moral aspect of the law. Here we see the purpose of the law. This aspect of the law spells out the “rights and wrongs” of the law. These laws are what God expects of His people.
Now, let’s take a look at the two passages which cause the confusion in regards to the topic of homosexuality:
You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination. (Leviticus 18:22)
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. (Leviticus 20:13)
We have two very similar passages here that address how God feels about homosexuality. But are they the same? Both call homosexuality an abomination but the passage in chapter 18 is missing a critical component; there’s no penalty in chapter 18, while there is in chapter 20. The absence of the penalty in chapter 18 indicates that this passage is part of the moral aspect of the law while chapter 20 is part of the judicial part of the law.
Now, why does any of this matter? Because Jesus was the final, perfect sacrifice (Hebrews 10:1-18), the ceremonial law has been abolished. There is no more practice of the ceremony; Christ has fulfilled it all. Because Jesus died as a propitiation (the act of making atonement to God) for sin (1 John 2:2), there is no more punishment from the law for those who are in Christ Jesus. The judicial law has been abolished.
Now, that leaves us with two aspects of the law fulfilled in Jesus. But what about the moral aspect of the law? Has this aspect of the law been abolished? Jesus addresses this in Matthew:
For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. (Matthew 5:18)
Since the ceremonial and judicial aspects of the law are fulfilled in Christ, that means that Jesus must be speaking of the moral law. And this law will never pass away.
So when Christians condemn homosexuality but don’t advocate stoning disobedient children, we’re not “picking and choosing” which laws to follow. We are following God’s moral law which Jesus said would never pass away until it was no longer needed, when His kingdom has come in its fullness.
And, for the record, Leviticus 18 condemns incest, bestiality, and child sacrifice as well. So we, as the Church, need to stop speaking of homosexuality like it’s the unpardonable sin. This sin is no different than adultery, laziness, or gluttony…and there is mercy and grace for all of these sins in the shed blood of Jesus Christ.