The great devotional writer Oswald Chambers said this, “You no more need a holiday from spiritual concentration than you heart needs a holiday from beating.” We must remain vigilant. We need to be constantly paying attention to the spiritual forces in our lives and to the drawing of our own hearts.
Are we being obedient to God or not?
This is what Leviticus 18 is about. The people of Israel had just come out of a pagan land and culture, and they were about to enter into another pagan land and culture. And God’s people were to obey God alone and not fall into the sins of the people of the land.
God’s people were to live holy lives. They were to be set apart and different – peculiar, even, in the eyes of the other nations.
This is a very difficult thing for humans to do. “Everybody else is doing it,” we might argue in our defense. If everyone else is doing it, it must be OK. There must be no harm in it.
And our parents would say, “If everyone else jumped off a cliff, would you jump off a cliff, too?” Case closed.
But the case is not closed, and we know this. It is very hard to resist the pull of the world’s ways. And the reason it is very hard to resist the pull of the world’s ways is because we tend to like the world’s ways. We are sinners – every one of us.
God calls us to live lives of holiness. But in our hearts, we want to pursue our own thing. And the world appeals to this desire. It beckons us with promises that it will satisfy every physical desire we have.
And it promises to like us more if we live according to its standards instead of God’s.
And so Leviticus 18 is incredibly applicable for today. We are God’s people, and we are living in a culture that lives according to standards that are different than God’s. And God calls us to obey him despite the way in which the world is moving.
“I am the Lord your God,” he said. He said this to open the chapter, and he said it to close the chapter. This is an important phrase. This is a statement of God’s sovereignty. God is in control. And not just that, God has chosen his people out of the world to be his and to receive his blessing and to bless the world.
When he told the Israelites, “I am the Lord your God,” he was reminding them that he had done good things for them, and more good things would come to them. They were a special people because they had a special relationship with the Creator of the universe.
But they were to live as the Creator designed them to live – and to not follow the sinful practices of the world.
A little bit of a history lesson is in order here. The Canaanites were the descendants of Ham, one of the sons of Noah. The most important part of Ham’s story is in Genesis 9, where Noah got drunk and lay naked in his tent. And Ham walked in.
“And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father and told his two brothers outside. Then Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it on both their shoulders, and walked backward and covered the nakedness of their father. Their faces were turned backward, and they did not see their father’s nakedness. When Noah awoke from his wine and knew what his youngest son had done to him, he said, ‘Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be to his brothers.’ He also said, ‘Blessed be the Lord, the God of Shem; and let Canaan be his servant. May God enlarge Japheth, and let him dwell in the tents of Shem, and let Canaan be his servant’” (Genesis 9:22-27).
Ham and his descendants, the Canaanites, were cursed because of the lack of respect that Ham showed to his father, Noah. Rather than discreetly covering over his father’s nakedness, Ham further exposed it. I don’t think any physical sexual act occurred here, but it did lead Ham’s family down a long descent into sexual depravity.
Where Ham violated the order of creation – where sons were to honor their fathers – so his descendants violated the order of creation in their acts toward one another. The snowball rolled down the hill and grew bigger and bigger.
Hundreds of years after Ham’s sin, the Canaanites had built into their culture a whole range of immoral actions.
One of them was incest. This violated the creation order. You can notice how the euphemism of “nakedness” is used for sexual intercourse here. To “uncover” one’s nakedness meant to violate that person sexually.
Another of the Canaanites’ sins was the flagrant violation God’s laws of ceremonial purity – typified by sex during a woman’s “menstrual uncleanness.” According to Leviticus 15, this rendered a person “unclean” for period of time. God’s people were to remember God’s holiness – his own super-cleanness – and the sacredness of blood, which belonged to God and was used for atonement. The Canaanites, of course, disregarded all of this.
Another sin of the Canaanites was the sin of adultery – sleeping with someone who is married.
Another sin of the Canaanites was the turning over of their children to the false God of Molech. This likely is a reference to child sacrifice. But it also could be a turning over of their children to the pagan shrines, where the children would serve as ritual prostitutes.
Another sin of the Canaanites was the sin of homosexuality – yet another violation of the creation order. Men were not to have sex with men, and women were not to have sex with women.
Finally, another sin of the Canaanites was the sin of bestiality. This, too, violated God’s creation.
We can stop here consider the application of this text for our lives today. All of these sins remain in our world. I saw an article recently about a man who wanted to marry his adult daughter. This is incest.
The flagrant ignoring of God’s ceremonial law – now centered on the shed blood of Jesus Christ – is rampant in our culture. People don’t try to live holy lives.
Child sacrifice is rare, but not unheard of across the globe. Of course, adultery is common in our culture, as is homosexuality. Bestiality even is discussed in some circles.
But our culture wants to pull us into this way of living – to declare something that’s not holy as something that is holy.
This is most obvious right now with the issue of homosexuality. Homosexual acts are sinful. That’s made clear right here in Leviticus 18. It shows up again two chapters later in Leviticus 20:13: “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.”
Homosexual acts were declared sinful in the Old Testament, and they still were sinful in the New Testament.
Jesus in Matthew 5:17 said he did not come to abolish the Law or the Prophets but to fulfill them. Jesus fulfilled the ceremonial law on the cross. The moral law remains the same. Jesus carried out the moral law in his own life, and empowers his followers to do the same. God’s creation order remains the same as it always has.
Homosexual acts still were sinful in Matthew 19, when Jesus described what marriage is: “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matthew 19:4-6).
Homosexual acts still were sinful in Romans 1. The apostle Paul said, “For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error” (Romans 1:26-27).
Homosexual acts still were sinful in 1 Corinthians 6. “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).
Homosexual acts are sinful. So is incest and adultery and child sacrifice and bestiality and anything that runs contrary to God’s will or to his created order.
But as the apostle Paul notes, there is hope for us all!
In 1 Corinthians, Paul was writing to people like the Canaanites. These were people who had fallen into sin. “And such were some of you.” But they were saved out of that sin by the blood of Jesus Christ.
Remember the Day of Atonement in Leviticus 16. The priests washed themselves. The man who took to scapegoat, which symbolized the people’s sins, out into the wilderness – he washed himself. The one who burned up the remains of the sin offering outside the camp – he washed himself.
And Paul said to anyone who turned to Christ in faith – and who turned away from the world’s ways – “You were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” Our sins are washed away by the blood of Jesus Christ!
And so we need to remain crystal clear about sin. It is what it is. It violates the commands of God. It is a turning inward toward oneself and away from our Creator.
But God has provided a way for anyone who would turn back toward him. And that way is Jesus Christ. Jesus paid the price for all of our sins. Anyone who takes refuge in him is blessed (Psalm 2:12). The world lies and tells us we will be blessed if we follow its ways. God says, “Blessed are all who take refuge in him” – the Son of God.
After we come to know Christ and are filled with the Holy Spirit, we begin better to recognize the difference between God’s ways and the world’s ways. And yet we still can become lax.
And so we remember again the words of Oswald Chambers, “You no more need a holiday from spiritual concentration than you heart needs a holiday from beating.” Pay attention. Read your Bibles. Listen to the Holy Spirit. Don’t fall for the lies of the world that tell you it will like you better if you take a holiday from your spiritual concentration.
Commit yourself to obeying God. “I am the Lord your God,” he said. “You shall therefore keep my statutes and my rules; if a person does them, he shall live by them: I am the Lord.”