June 1, 2005
“Immoral Sexual Behavior Condemned”
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Leviticus, chapter eighteen. (Phil, we are working through the Book of Leviticus. This summer we're in the holiness code, so you can pray for me as you think of me Wednesday night after Wednesday night.) And we're in a hard passage, as Ed has already said.
Let me outline this passage for you before we read it, and then we’ll try and briefly explain and apply the passage.
There are four parts, at least, as we outline Leviticus 18. The first part comes in the very first two verses. The first part is very much like the prologue to a covenant statement in which God announces who He is; and the announcement of who He is supplies the motive, the rationale, for everything else that flows following in that covenant relationship which is being defined or described. And so the first two verses give us that prologue to the whole chapter, which in fact supply the whole and most important reason for the following of the way of life that is described in the rest of the chapter. So the first portion of the chapter is in verses 1 and 2.
Then in verses 3-5, we have an explicit declaration on God's part that His people are not to live like the peoples of the world, with regard to their immorality. In other words, Israel is not to copy the immorality of its surrounding cultures, but is to be deliberately loyal to the moral standards of the God who has announced Himself in the first two verses of the chapter. And so we see that in verses 3-5. And so Israel cannot say, like the little boy, “but everybody else is doing it!” God says, “I know everybody else is doing it. You are not to live that way.” Then in this long section from verse 6 all the way down to verse 23, we see a catalogue of sexual sins which are prohibited to the people of God, even though they are commonly practiced by the cultures around them.
And then finally, fourthly, you look at verses 24 down to verse 30. You see a declaration on God's part of the certainty of His judgment against this kind of sexual immorality.
Let's look to God's word; and, before we do, let's ask for His help and blessing, in prayer.
Lord God, we thank You for Your word. We pray that You would speak to our hearts by that word; that You would grip us by Your word, Your teaching, and Your grace to believe and live Your truth. And we ask this in Jesus' name. Amen.
Hear God's word.
“Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘I am the Lord your God. You shall not do what is done in the land of Egypt where you lived, nor are you to do what is done in the land of Canaan where I am bringing you; you shall not walk in their statutes. You are to perform My judgments and keep My statutes, to live in accord with them; I am the Lord your God. So you shall keep My statutes and My judgments, by which a man may live if he does them; I am the Lord.
“‘None of you shall approach any blood relative of his to uncover nakedness; I am the Lord. You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father, that is, the nakedness of your mother. She is your mother; you are not to uncover her nakedness. You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father's wife; it is your father's nakedness. The nakedness of your sister, either your father's daughter or your mother's daughter, whether born at home or born outside, their nakedness you shall not uncover. The nakedness of your son's daughter or your daughter's daughter, their nakedness you shall not uncover; for their nakedness is yours. The nakedness of your father's wife's daughter, born to your father, she is your sister; you shall not uncover her nakedness. You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father's sister; she is your father's blood relative. You shall not uncover the nakedness of your mother's sister, for she is your mother's blood relative. You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father's brother; you shall not approach his wife, she is your aunt. You shall not uncover the nakedness of your daughter-in-law, she is your son's wife; you shall not uncover her nakedness. You shall not uncover the nakedness of your brother's wife, it is your brother's nakedness. You shall not uncover the nakedness of a woman and of her daughter, nor shall you take her son's daughter or her daughter's daughter, to uncover her nakedness; they are blood relatives. It is lewdness. And you shall not marry a woman in addition to her sister as a rival while she is alive, to uncover her nakedness.
“ Also you shall not approach a woman to uncover her nakedness during her menstrual impurity. And you shall not have intercourse with your neighbor's wife, to be defiled with her. Neither shall you give any of your offspring to offer them to Molech, nor shall you profane the name of your God; I am the Lord. You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination. Also you shall not have intercourse with any animal to be defiled with it, nor shall any woman stand before an animal to mate with it; it is a perversion.
“‘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 the land has spewed out its inhabitants. But as for you, you are to keep My statutes and My judgments, and shall not do any of these abominations, neither the native, nor the alien who sojourns among you; (for the men of the land who have been before you have done all these abominations, and the land has become defiled); so that the land may not spew you out, should you defile it, as it has spewed out the nation which has been before you. For whoever does any of these abominations, those persons who dos o shall be cut off from among their people. Thus you are to keep My charge, that you do not practice any of the abominable customs which have been practiced before you, so as not to defile yourselves with them; I am the Lord your God.’”
Amen. And thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon our hearts.
I want to say very briefly tonight about this long and convicting, and sobering and somewhat embarrassing passage to read aloud, especially in mixed company, especially in an intergenerational group like tonight, that it is God's word. And so it is meant for our profit, for our instruction, for our growth in grace and our living in righteousness. And so there are four things that I want to draw to your attention, and the first is the motivation for Christian living…the motivation for Christian living.
In this passage, in verses 1 and 2, God gives an absolute motivation for ethical behavior to His people–His ancient people, Israel, and His new people, the people of the new covenant–all those who rest and trust in Jesus Christ, whether they be Jew or Greek or slave or free, or male or female, from whatever tribe or tongue or nation–He gives the standard for the motivation for our life before God. He argues in verses 1 and 2 that God's people are to live this way because–how does He put it?–“I am the Lord your God.”
You know, the Bible actually gives us many legitimate biblical motivations for why we do what we do. Did you hear Phil in his report say one of the things that motivates him is thankfulness to Jesus? That's clearly a biblical motivation. We find that all over the New Testament. In fact, I would argue it's almost impossible for a Christian to eradicate that motive entirely from any motivation we have for doing anything in life. It's sort of [woven] in there with everything else that we do, but the Bible gives various legitimate motivations. And of course, there are also illegitimate motivations in life.
You know, the older I get and the more I think about why I do what I do, the more illegitimate motivations I see sneaking into why I do what I do. Very often I may do the right thing for the wrong reason. I may have a very selfish and self-interested reason for doing something that is right – and it looks right in your eyes, but the reason that I do it ( God knows my heart) may not be the pure motivation, the pure reason that He would have me do it in the word. And so we need to think a little bit about why we do what we do.
I. The God-motivation for Christian ethics — Live this way because I am your God.
One very obvious motivation for why we do, why we obey, why we love the word of God, why we obey the directives of the word of God is because of gratitude. We’re grateful to God because of His mercy to us. We may be motivated by a realization of the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ to us. In fact, Jesus makes it clear, doesn't He, that those who have received mercy will be merciful because of the mercy they've received. And so the grace of God motivates our graciousness.
But you know, one of the great motivations that we learn sometimes in our very earliest childhood is “because I said so!” Ever had your Mom tell you that?
“Well, why do I have to take out the trash?”
“Because I said so.”
And you know what God is saying here, fundamentally, to the children of Israel? ‘The reason that you are to live this way is because I am the Lord your God.’ Notice that it is an objective motivation.
It's very interesting. In reading some of Ford Vox, this fellow who's just invented his own new religion over in Birmingham, Alabama (by the way, what a rotten place to invent a free-thinking atheistic religion! I mean, he ought to move to San Francisco! You know, in Birmingham they've got Baptist churches on every corner, and they serve waffles and eat normal things. He needs to move to San Francisco or some other more exciting place to start a free-thinking religion)…but, one of the interesting things that he said in his writings was, “We don't want to do what is right because some god told us to do what is right; we want to do what is right because we feel that it is right.”
Now, let me tell you what, my friends – I don't want you to do what is right because you simply “feel” that it is right. Because, let me tell you, what you feel is right may not be what Person “B” feels is right; and it may not be what I know is right. I want there to be something more substantial as a motivation for doing what you ought to do than “feeling” that it is right. And isn't it interesting that that's exactly what God gives His people here? He says, ‘Let me tell you at the outset, here's why you’re going to do what I'm going to tell you to do. It's because I'm God.’ It's the ultimate divine ‘Because I told you – that's why you’re going to do it.’ “Because I'm God” – there's your Argument No. 1 why to live this way: “Because I'm God.”
Now, you notice that at the end of that argument there's no counter-reply! “Because I'm God.” That's it. That ends the discussion. That's why you’re going to live this way. “Because I'm God. I am the Lord your God.” Boy, what a great lesson for us to learn! The God-motivation for Christian living — we live this way because He is the Lord our God.
II. It is our life that shows our allegiance to God.
Secondly, if you look at verses 3-5, notice that it is stressed that our life, rather than merely our words, our claims, our professions…it is our life that shows our allegiance to God. God is saying in verses 3-5, ‘Keeping my commands, even when you are counter-cultural, even when you are out of step with the cultures in which you live, that is what shows who truly trusts in Me. That is what shows who truly loves Me. That is what shows who is truly loyal to Me. Professing Me with your lips is not what ultimately shows that you love Me, that you worship Me, that you’re loyal to Me. It's the way you live. That's what evidences, that's what manifests, that's what shows that you’re My people.’
“You shall not do what is done in the land of Egypt…nor what is done in the land of Canaan… You shall not walk in their statutes. You are to perform My judgments, My statutes, to live in accord with them. I am the Lord your God. So you shall keep My statutes and My judgments, by which a man may live if he does them; I am the Lord.”
And so God is saying to us that living the way He teaches us to live in the word, that is the way we manifest that we love Him, we trust in Him, we worship Him, we're loyal to Him.
That is not the way, by the way, that we are saved. If it were, we would all be going to hell. It is, however, the way we manifest that we have been saved by His grace. The way you show you've been saved by grace, the way you show that you belong to God, the way that you show that you love God, is you live His word.
Now, that's so vitally important for us as we embark in this particular area, my friends, because it has become commonplace even in our conservative culture to assume that many, many Christians, especially young people, will be true Christians and yet live at odds with the sexual morality which is defined here in Leviticus 18. In other words, it will be assumed that one can be a true believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, and that you can live in sexual immorality. And you can see that God is not allowing that option here.
The point is not that a person has to be perfect to be a Christian; the point is not that there is no forgiveness for sin; it is simply that the Bible, from Old Testament to New, from Moses to Paul, won't let you create a third category of Christian: the Christian who lives in blatant, unrepentant defiance of God's will. The pagan, good Christian, and the Christian who lives in blatant defiance of God's will — you won't find that category in the Scripture. And that means, my friends, that as a body, as a gathered body of believers, we need to exhort one another to stand with God, to stand with Christ, to stand with the Scripture in our living and press home the urgency of that in the area of sexual purity to our young people.
Now, friends, many of our young people are either at or just coming back from what is called “First Week,” and many of our own young people may well have been involved in sexual immorality. It should not be so, and we should care about it, because we're people of The Book.
III. Sexual purity is a part of living for God
Thirdly, look at verses 6-23. In this brutally honest and blunt section, notice how God makes it clear that sexual purity is a part of living for God. It's a part of living with God. It's a part of being a believer in the one true God.
In this catalogue of prohibitions, you will notice that every manner of fornication and adultery is prohibited; every manner of incest is prohibited; every manner of homosexuality and bestiality is prohibited; child sacrifice for the sake of fertility rites, which was so common in Canaanite culture, is prohibited. All these various sexual immoralities, all these immoral sexual behaviors are condemned.
You know, we have lived for a long time in a world that says your private world and your public world do not need to match. You can be a perfectly productive citizen in the public world, and you can live however you want in your private world. And isn't it interesting that God says, ‘That is not the way with My children. They are integrated. They are whole. They’re the same inside as they are the outside.’
And notice as well — isn't it interesting, my friends? — that these prohibitions…you know, some people get on the Book of Proverbs because the Proverbs seem to blame women for immorality. Notice where the exhortation is placed in this passage. Consistently it is placed to the men. “You shall not do this…you shall not do this” …against women. There is, of course, the prohibition against bestiality and against homosexuality, but the bulk of the crimes that are forbidden here are crimes of men against women, in circumstances where men can wrongfully use their power. And isn't it interesting, God says, ‘Not in My people, you don't!’
So often we work with Christians who have been crippled in their own ability to appreciate the glory of the goodness of the heavenly Father because of their experience of an earthly father who did not manifest the glory and goodness of the heavenly Father. And isn't it interesting that God is saying, ‘That's not what men are going to look like in My culture. In My culture, men are going to act towards women with care; they’re going to treat them with dignity as those who have been made in the image of God; they are not going to use them as objects of their gratification. They’re going to manifest in their relationships, even in their sexual relationships…they are going to manifest, they are going to image, they’re going to reflect the glory of who I am.’
Isn't it interesting that He does that? But He also requires that we be privately and publicly an integrated, godly, righteous person. He won't let us off the hook to act one way in public and another way — even in this very intimate, discreet, usually hidden part of our private world — He will not allow that to happen.
My friends, don't think that these sorts of things, as shocking as they are to hear read aloud in Lowe Hall on a Wednesday night at First Presbyterian Church, don't think that these are uncommon issues in Mississippi. They’re not. There's not one thing in this list that those of you who've been involved in counseling for any amount of time have not seen, and seen regularly, in Mississippi. These are not things….I mean, isn't it interesting that Moses is having to write these things to people who heard God speak the Ten Commandments?! So, don't be surprised that there are problems in our own culture. There are.
IV. Sexual abominations and immorality will bring God's judgment.
Finally, notice that God makes it clear that participation in these sexual abominations, in these immoralities, will bring His judgment. At one level, Moses is explaining the work of Israel in cleaning the Canaanites out of Canaan. Have you ever struggled with that? How in the world can God send His people in to commit genocide against whole populations of peoples who have occupied this land of Canaan long before the people of God came there? How can God do that? How is that right? Well, Moses is actually explaining that to you. Their sin had become so odious in God's sight that He, as it were, had appointed another purge like He did in the days of Noah. It's a horrific thought, isn't it? But that's what Moses is saying: that God's judgment will justly fall on those who practice those abominations. It's not surprising, is it, that if you chart the history of civilizations, when civilizations degenerate into these kinds of abominations, it is not long before they disappear. We’re seeing it in our own culture today, as we've seen it in Western Europe, and as we've seen it in other parts of the world. God will bring judgment. Paul confirms that, doesn't he, in Romans, chapter one. The Lord will not suffer to be mocked in His universal standards of right and wrong.
God bless His word to us, to respond in faith and obedience. Let's pray.
Lord God, thank You for Your word. Teach us by it; humble us before it; use it in our hearts and lives, that we might live before You and with one another in a way that honors the truth that You are the Lord our God. We ask it in Jesus' name. Amen.
Would you stand for God's blessing — and then, Phil and Marsha, come up front so folks can greet you.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you, from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.