A reader named Bubleeshaark left a reply on my post on Leviticus and Homosexuality (click here and scroll to the end of the comments). Regarding his attempt to argue for the legitimacy of using Leviticus to define homosexuality as a moral sin, this is my most helpful response.
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My friend, it is obvious that you earnestly desire to live for God, and that you want more than anything to experience God’s deliverance from sin. I don’t want anything I write to interfere with your dedication to God and your desire to living a completely Christ-like life.
Christian brother, I don’t know if you struggle with same-sex attractions or not. There is nothing in your reply to suggest that you do, and it’s actually irrelevant. But that doesn’t mean that you don’t struggle with sexual temptation. Almost everyone does.
Masturbation and Guilt
When I was in junior high and high school I used to buy a Playboy magazine every month, sneak it up to my room, and masturbate. I squirreled away several magazines under my mattress. But when I was overcome with guilt, which was inevitable, I would throw them all away–hiding the evidence of my sin. Later I would start buying them again.
This continued, with some variation, after college, and well into my adult years. I remember experiencing incredible remorse and regret many times after using pornography. Several times I tossed a magazine down a storm drain rather than bring it home. I was often crippled with guilt, absolutely crippled.
When I was crippled with guilt, I was no good for anyone or anybody. I felt like I was useless for God to ever use, because I fell into masturbation over and over again, like a pathetic, unrepentant worm. I doubted my sincerity as a Christian, sometimes doubting my salvation. I was nothing but a self-centered ball of self-loathing. I felt hopeless and defeated, like a failure, because I had masturbated yet again.
In my mid- to late-twenties I realized that I couldn’t stay in this condition of spiritual paralysis, being out of commission, of no use to God or anyone God loved for months at a time. As I read the Bible, I discovered something Paul wrote in Romans. And he didn’t just write it once—he repeated it several times. You can read these verses in context in Romans 7, but together they are one of Paul’s major conclusions.
As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. (Romans 7:17)
Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. (Romans 7:20)
God knows you, and he knows the difference between you and the sin nature that dwells within you. He knows that you do things that you don’t want to do, he knows why, and he does not condemn you for it. God is able to distinguish between the real you and the sin nature that dwells within you and so often overrides your better systems.
My friend, you don’t have to worry about pleasing God. You don’t have to worry about trying to live a sinless life. “Where there is no law, sin is not taken into account.” The sin that troubles you so — God doesn’t take that sin into account. He’s forgiven you for it, so why do you continue to moan and wail? If God has thrown even the memory of your sin into the deepest sea, why do you dredge it up and beat yourself up over it?
God will never love you less than he does now. There is nothing you can do to increase his love for you. Nothing can separate you from the love of God. You don’t have to avoid his condemnation, because God knows that your carnal nature is not you, not the real you. That is the meaning of Romans 7: 17, 20. It is because of this fact, that it is no longer you yourself who sin but the sin nature within you that causes you to sin, that Paul writes this:
Therefore, there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1)
All you have to concern yourself with at this point are, basically, these three things: 1) the Law of Love, 2) Walking in the Spirit, and 3) Keeping a Clear Conscience. (click here)
I’m going to shift gears here. This is more of a personal testimony, and not a theological treatise. I have not discussed Romans 7:17 & 20 in terms of how they relate to everything else in the letter to the Romans, or even just chapter 7. Suffice it to say, God used Romans 7 to deliver me from the crippling paralysis of guilt that had defeated me for so long.
Our Need for Emotional Scapegoats
When Aaron has finished making atonement for the Most Holy Place, the tent of meeting and the altar, he shall bring forward the live goat. He is to lay both hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites—all their sins—and put them on the goat’s head. He shall send the goat away into the wilderness in the care of someone appointed for the task. The goat will carry on itself all their sins to a remote place; and the man shall release it in the wilderness. (Leviticus 16: 20-22)
Basically, all of Israel’s wickedness and rebellion was placed on the scapegoat. The scapegoat then bore the symbolic punishment for Israel’s sin and was driven into the wilderness, isolated and remote. The scapegoat had not sinned–it was innocent. But the innocent scapegoat satisfied some primal need to punish someone, anyone, for Israel’s unconfessed and unrepented sin.
As Christians we need to stop scapegoating our gay and lesbian young people and driving them into a hopeless wilderness. As Christian parents we must love and accept our gay sons and lesbian daughters and stop disowning them, rejecting them, refusing to have their partners over for Thanksgiving dinner, and the like. This was not how Jesus treated the social rejects of his time. Quite the opposite.
Now, according to the New Testament Letter to the Hebrews, Jesus takes the place of the Levitical scapegoats and sacrifices. Our sins have been placed on Jesus the cross. You can find this in Hebrews 9 and 10:3-4.
But the blood of bulls and goats cannot take away sins. It only reminds people of their sins from one year to the next.
Today, as always, Christians have a lot they feel guilty about. Some of their sin is real, and much of it is manufactured and unreal. Have you heard any of these laments from your pastor or on the radio or television?
We fail to live holy lives. We have failed to evangelize as we ought. We fail to influence society as we should. We have failed to maintain sexual purity. We fail to keep our marriages together. We have failed to keep our entertainments God-honoring and pure. We indulge in coarse talk and filthy jesting. We fail to maintain a good witness to the world.
Christians have many things, both real and imagined, to feel guilty about. And a 2,000 year old Jesus story just doesn’t provide the emotional release that a real, live, flesh-and-blood scapegoat does, and we have a whole population of them. The most popular emotional scapegoats today are gays and lesbians. Despite all our individual failings, weaknesses, and sins as Christians, there is one virtue to which we can adhere and prove our faithfulness to God: to be against homosexuals, homosexual marriage, and the homosexual agenda.
And it’s so easy to symbolically drive the scapegoat into the wilderness. For most of us, all we have to do is vote. See what we can say to ourselves?
“We failed to hold the line against abortion; our divorce rates are higher than those of non-Christians; our own children live together without the sanctity of marriage; we’ve lost control over the morality of television and the movies; our own pastors, evangelists, and priests may be sexually immoral; I may be sexually impure; but there are a couple of things that I do indeed do: I don’t tolerate homosexuals in my church and I vote against gay marriage.”
After reading your comment, I’m afraid that you are caught up in the evangelical scapegoating of homosexuals. Your comments don’t seem intended to help you or me to walk in the Spirit, or learn how to love our neighbors the way we love ourselves, or keep clear consciences, or to encourage anyone. They seem designed to preserve an authority that allows you to prove who is right and who is wrong in a war of words. Specifically, this authority is preserved as a way to put down a small group of people (about 3% to 5% of church members and the general population), which allows us to avoid loooking at ourselves and our own struggles.