You may have heard by this point that a Knoxville pastor has called for the government to round up and execute LGBT people. I realize this happens seemingly on a regular basis – God’s name being defamed by this kind of hatred, judgment, and superiority. However, this is in our city. And it’s making national headlines. Most concerning is that this pastor claims many Christians agree with him but are simply too afraid to speak up for fear of offending others.
To put it simply, I disagree with him in the strongest terms possible. In this blog post, though, I want to be clear exactly why I disagree.
What Is Legacy’s Response?
We believe the Bible is clear that no two people are all that different, period. We believe Jesus is an equal opportunity rescuer. If anything, His compassion specifically targets the marginalized and disenfranchised. This includes all categories, cultures, and colors.
Likewise, no one’s dreams are safe.
As the Apostle Paul says, knowing Jesus is worth more than anything in this world (Philippians 3:4). As Jesus says, He is worth so much that we should sell everything we treasure to follow Him (Matthew 13:44). Whether I think a large savings account will satisfy me, or a comfortable retirement, or a woman or a man, or success, fame, or power, Jesus calls me to sell all of that and follow Him. This is His call to people of all categories, cultures, and colors.
Most of us don’t need much convincing that this world doesn’t satisfy very well. However incomplete this world’s comforts might be, though, leaving behind something so immediate that we can see and touch for a God we can neither see nor touch is incredibly foreign for all of us. It seems foolish to be frank. It feels offensive to our hearts, which want to be in control and comfortable. But those of us who leave behind the world’s comforts to follow Jesus find deep satisfaction in Him.
What grieves me the most is how easily we all become hypocrites. The fundamental belief of Christianity is that I am so far gone, Jesus Himself, in full innocence, had to be punished in my place. I am so far gone, another Person has to rescue me at an incredible cost to Himself. This leaves no room for pride whatsoever. If anything, I see myself as worse than my neighbor, not better.
But Paul goes even further in the beginning of Romans 2 to say that I’m not even all that different than my neighbor no matter who they are. Why? Because anything they do that I might judge them for, I actually do the exact same things! Ironically, Paul says this immediately after purposefully luring prideful Christians to judge gay people as worse than themselves in Romans 1. Far from judging my neighbor, I have to realize that I’m actually extremely similar to my neighbor. Far from judging you, I can only say that I believe I desperately need Jesus every moment of every day.
Will you join me in forsaking our deepest dreams in this world to trust Jesus as better and more beautiful?
If you have a friend who is LGBT, please give them a hug, apologize for this kind of message coming from the church, and tell them you love them. Share your weaknesses, and give them a place to relate to how the gospel has transformed your heart to love and trust God when you don’t understand Him. Give them the only message that will bring rescue.
So What Does The Bible Actually Say?
The pastor who made the inflammatory remarks was claiming inspiration from the Mosaic law in Leviticus as justification for his statements. I feel it’s irresponsible not to address this head on as to whether it’s biblical to share his desires or not. The problem is that he claims not only that his desires are at the center of God’s heart but that many if not most Christians share them and are simply too afraid to say so. I can say unequivocally that I do not share his beliefs in any way and that I consider them grossly unbiblical and God-defaming.
First, that pastor is quoting Mosaic law as though it were still in effect, even though it was given to ancient Israelites many millennia ago and has been fulfilled by Jesus. Second, this pastor acts as though the Law were God’s preferred interaction with mankind, even though we know that it is not. Third, he seems to take pleasure in condemning others with those Laws with no fear or repentance for how he, himself, also breaks it daily (a direct contradiction of Romans 2).
But this leaves a glaring question: What is the role of the Old Testament law and the Old Testament in general?
What Is the Law’s Role in God’s Plan?
The primary intent of the Old Testament and the Law it contains is to show us just how much we need Jesus. Contrary to what we might think, the law was never the ultimate interaction with mankind God desires. I know this for several reasons. First, if punishment and reward were God’s primary goal, we never would’ve had Eden in the beginning where mankind walked intimately with God. We also never would have a promise or need for Jesus to obey the full intent of the Law on our behalf. We wouldn’t have a heaven defined by unhindered intimacy with Jesus without any need of rules.
We can also figure this out from the structure of the Old Testament, particularly the first few books. God starts off by simply telling mankind to trust Him. Mankind rebels against the only law there is, and we try to become gods ourselves. God immediately deals out punishment, a promise to rescue them, and rules. God’s people are taken captive in Egypt, and they turn aside to worship Egypt’s idols. God rescues them and promises that if they obey, they will become His treasure, a stand-out nation where each and every person is a priest communing with God (Exodus 19:4-6). Mankind distrusts and disobeys, and immediately God hands out punishment, a promise to rescue, and more rules. Instead of a nation of priests, His people become a nation with priests. Rules always coincide with further separation from God. By contrast, in 1 Peter 2, we find God saying instead that because Jesus obeyed, we are now His prized possession and a nation of priests. The law points to Jesus.
Law always comes directly after disobedience. It is a response to sin and a means to show us our need for Jesus. God prefers simple trust to fuel our obedience, and when we proved ourselves incapable of this, He gave future promises that pointed to Jesus … and rules. Law is a means to an end and not an end in itself. But how exactly does the law show us Jesus?
It might surprise you, but one major purpose of the law was to cause us to sin more (Romans 5:20). This is made more clear in Romans 7, where Paul says, “I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, ‘You shouldn’t covet’ […] For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me.” The law is mostly meant to make our sinfulness more obvious, not to be God’s desired interaction with mankind. I cannot know my need for Jesus unless I see how needy I truly am. The law tells me not to do something, my flesh says, “Oooh, I should do that!”, and in the end, I’m left crying out, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24). That’s why we have the law – to lead to that exact question. The Law is a giant, desperate question mark. And the answer is Jesus. Only in His rescue can my heart change. Only in His embrace can I come to a place where I simply trust Him. When I trust Him, I have no more need of the law to threaten me or reward me (1 Timothy 1:9; Galatians 3:24-26). A desire to please God is now written directly on my heart, and I obey Him gladly and not under compulsion (Hebrews 10:16; 2 Corinthians 9:7).
If you look at the law, it’s painfully clear that its justice is not meant to be complete. It is quite obviously not the look and feel of a world that expresses God’s nature. We find one place, for instance, where if a man beats his servant nearly to death, but the servant survives, nothing at all is done to the master (Exodus 21). That isn’t full justice, nor is it fully reflecting God’s heart. We know clearly how God feels about people in power mistreating those under Him and the severe judgment that will come because of that (Colossians 4:1; Ephesians 6:9).
The law was serving as a means to catch harsh masters in their sin. How? By highlighting how easily a master will treat his servant harshly in the ways he is “allowed” to. The law says that if a master beats his servant near to death but the servant recovers, there is no punishment. What this does is leads harsh masters to live by the letter of the law in their ugly hearts, thinking they’ve “gotten away” with something. But what they’ve really done is condemn themselves all the more through what they thought was a loop hole.
The law was never intended to be God’s final rule or to provide final justice. God Himself is His rule and His final justice (Deuteronomy 32:25; Romans 12:19), and it is most deeply expressed to us through Jesus and revealed to us by the Holy Spirit. Yes, the law is both good and perfect (Romans 7:12), but it is good and perfect for what it was intended to do. It was not intended to save or to change. It is not the end but a means to it. The law was given to provide some general justice for ancient Israelite society (a justice that stood worlds above its adjacent nations at the time by the way). It was also given to make our sinful hearts more obvious, and most of all it was given to lead us to Jesus.
In general, the entire Old Testament is a foreshadowing of Jesus, a giant arrow pointing to Him (Colossians 2:16-17; Hebrews 10). Jesus fulfilled the Law in at least three ways. First, He obeyed where we could not and because He exchanged places with us on the cross. He gave us the blessing He alone could earn through His perfect trust, and He took on Himself the curse we earned with our ugly hearts. Second, He became the “substance” the rituals of the Law were pointing to (like sacrifices, atonement, and priesthood). We no longer formally Sabbath because Jesus Himself is our rest. We do not tithe to the letter because Jesus has bought all of us, not just 10%. We no longer sacrifice because Jesus is our final Sacrifice. Third, He fulfilled the intent of the law by changing our hearts’ deepest desires. He transformed us from rebels who hat God’s rule into children who trust Him deeply. With our new hearts we finally want to obey God, and we do not need further threats or promises to make us do it from the outside. We have trust rising up from the inside.
What This Means for This Pastor’s Teachings
God has absolutely no desire whatsoever to threaten LGBT people into obeying under penalty of death in our society. The Old Testament law is not His desired rule over mankind. It existed in its time for its purposes, the main one being to show us our need for Jesus. We know beyond any doubt that God desires to use His good news of Jesus to change our hearts first and foremost from rebellion to trust. Only in our rescued, transformed hearts can we possibly obey. In fact, we are already dead in our sins. Just like Adam, we are dead (separate from God, lost, unable to truly see God) in our sins until Jesus rescues us through His gospel message.
In short, our calling is to show off Jesus and to seek people being transformed from the inside out by the gospel. Trying to change people from the outside using punishment and reward is shown to be a failed model of change by the entire Old Testament, whose sole purpose is to lead us to see our desperate need for Jesus. Further, Romans 2:1 is extremely clear that no two humans are all that different. We all do ultimately the same exact things, and we can understand one another deeply. Empathize with your neighbor, whether they are LGBT or otherwise.
Be a friend. Relate to them, and let the gospel be clear through your weaknesses and neediness. It’s your need that highlights God, not your strength or superiority. Yes, they need change, but it’s the exact same change you constantly need even now as well. And you both find that change and satisfaction by staring at Jesus and the incredible person He is.