Spirituality Before Sexuality (Leviticus 18:1-30)
Topic: One Truth: Walk in Truth Passage: Leviticus 18:1–18:30
Spirituality Before Sexuality
(One Truth: Walk in Truth)
April 15th, 2018
I. Peer Pressure in the Present
Do you remember dealing with peer pressure when you were younger? Or if you are a young man or young woman, do you recall the last time you felt that pressure from your peers? As most of you know from personal experience, that pressure to conform is a very common feature of our school-age years.
But those of you who are adults this morning, let me ask you one more question: when was the last time you faced some kind of peer pressure? If we think carefully and consider the question honestly, I would guess many of us have experienced that same feeling, that same squeeze, in our adult years as well. Peer pressure is not just the stuff of playgrounds and High School locker rooms.
Listen to how one almost-forty year old blog writer expressed it: “I still experience peer pressure, which is ridiculous at my age. At this point in my life, I should be talking to my daughter about peer pressure, not living with it myself.”
Can you relate to this sentiment? As you're thinking about that, turn with me to Leviticus 18.
II. The Passage: "You Shall Not Do as They Do" (18:1-30)
Now, as you scan over the passage, you'll see that this chapter is thirty verses long. Not to worry, we will not be reading through all of it this morning. But before we look together at what's here, I want you to honestly ask yourself, “Do I believe God has something to say to me this morning through this passage?” Remember, even though it is a strange book, Leviticus is the word of God, AND...God still speaks through His word today, through all of it!
1. On Sexual Conformity (vs. 1-5)
So let's open our ears and open our hearts this morning as we look together at verses 1-5. This is what we read there...
And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying,  “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, I am the LORD your God.  You shall not do as they do in the land of Egypt, where you lived, and you shall not do as they do in the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you. You shall not walk in their statutes.  You shall follow my rules and keep my statutes and walk in them. I am the LORD your God.  You shall therefore keep my statutes and my rules; if a person does them, he shall live by them: I am the LORD.
Notice that God is talking with Moses about peer pressure. Did you pick up on that? And He is speaking to the people as creatures constructed to conform. God is speaking to them, and to us, as people for whom the question is not, “Will you or will you not conform?” Rather, the question is, “To what will you conform?” We are built to conform. That's just how we are. We were designed to be led, to serve, to worship. Thus we were built to conform.
And as we will see in the next set of verses, the issue here is specifically sexual conformity. The place from which they came, AND, the place to which they were going, both had practices, customs, perspectives, standards related to sexual behavior. The same is true for us today. No matter where you are coming from or where you are going in our culture, you will always be surrounded by voices promoting practices, customs, perspectives, standards related to sexual behavior.
But as God makes clear to the Israelites in these verses, those standards will always be at odds with His standards; always, no matter the person, place, or period of time in question. Why? Because we live in a fallen world; a world in rebellion against God. In rejecting God, men and women have rejected God's design for their bodies and their lives.
This is precisely why God is calling them in verses 4 and 5, as many might express it today, to put spirituality before sexuality. That means answering those 'meaning of life' questions first, then letting the answers guide us in terms of all our feelings and desires, including sexual feelings and desires. We often reverse these two things, and thus, look for a system of meaning and morals that fits with our existing feelings and desires.
But as God declares three times in these five verses, “I am the LORD (Yahweh)”, or “I am [Yahweh] your God”. That declaration is found all throughout the OT and most notably as the opening words of the Ten Commandments: “I am [Yahweh] your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” (Exodus 20:2) It is God's revelation as God, and as our Redeemer, as your Redeemer, that should drive you to accept the rightness and the goodness of His standards, in all areas, including our sexuality.
Believer, even as you talk with others about these things, before you talk about God as the creator of the body, as the creator of sex, and gender, and marriage, make sure you first talk about God as the One who created us for himself. As Augustine expressed it 1600 years ago: “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” Spirituality before sexuality.
2. On Sexual Conduct (vs. 6-23)
Now if we move forward with an open ear and an open heart in light of God being God, and his standards being right and good, then what we discover in verses 6-23 are the specifics. Having address the idea of sexual conformity, God now wants to talk about sexual conduct.
Remember, Leviticus is a book about unholy people like us living life with a holy God in our midst. Yes, the book talks about sacrifices and priests, provisions to cover the people's sin. But it also talks about a path away from sin, away from that which polluted and jeopardized their place with God. So what we find here is a description of what should not be done in the area of sexual practice.
Now, we won't look at everything here, but I do want you to notice how this section breaks into two smaller sections. Verses 6-18 deal with sex and marriage in light of family relationships, and verses 19-23 move through degrees of prohibited sexual expression. Let's talk briefly about each of these sections.
If you scan over verses 6-18, you will see how God unpacks the prohibition he gave in verse 6: “None of you shall approach any one of his close relatives to uncover nakedness. I am the LORD.” To “uncover nakedness” is a way of talking about the intimate knowledge only a husband and wife should have of one another. Therefore, this is describing someone who, in seeking sex in these ways, brings dishonor by exposing that which is reserved for marriage.
I think the first example makes this clear...verse 7: You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father, which is the nakedness of your mother; she is your mother, you shall not uncover her nakedness. Not only are all of these prohibitions directed toward the men of a household, both fathers and sons, but the language used points us back to Genesis 2:24, which reads: Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.
So a son who would seek to sleep with his mother is violating not only her, but also his father, since the mother and father are “one flesh” according to Genesis 2:24. The same is true for all the rest of the kinship categories in verses 8-18. This is what I mean: while there are many things that can be said against broadly or narrowly defined incestuous relationships (including the abuse of power of a family leader), the key here is how God designed sex. As Genesis 2:24 describes it, He designed it as a way to forge a family connection within marriage. Thus one flesh unions have no place among those who are already your own “bone and flesh”.
You see, sex between a husband and wife not only creates an important bond, but also a brand new family unit (remember the man leaves his parents' household to form a new one). And of course, sex also serves to create a new family line through offspring. Therefore, to violate the sanctity of God's design with other family members, not only hurts an existing marriage, but also potential marriages; AND it creates painful fractures within a family.
So again, there are many biblical ways of speaking against what is described here. But the language in this section seems to be rooted in Genesis 2:24 and aimed at protecting the integrity of a family, and the integrity of future branches of that family tree.
Now, I believe verses 19-23 represent a kind of 'catch-all' conclusion, connected broadly to this topic of sexual practice. If you look at the issues covered in those verses, you will see they start with possible violations within a marriage relationship, then move out from there, farther and farther from that covenant relationship between one man and one woman.
In regard to verse 21, it is unclear what exactly is being described here, but given the context, given the progression away from the created order in these verses, I think it's very possible that offering one's offspring to the false god Molech was an idolatrous ritual that, in addition to child sacrifice, also involved some kind of cultic sex. So this section moves from ritual impurity, to adultery, then possibly to idolatry, then to homosexuality, and finally to bestiality.
Now again, those who live by the sexual standards, by the sexual perspective of our culture, probably find this list both confusing and offensive.
And that confusion is understandable, since all of us can struggle with the idea of ritual purity. We might wonder why prohibitions related to menstruation and adultery are put next to each other in this section. Remember, verse 19 is just a restatement of 15:24. And chapter 15, along with chapters 12, 13, and 14, was all about the possibility of ritual corruption through all sort of skin diseases and bodily discharges. All of it can be very confusing.
What's important to remember is how other parts of the OT, and so many places in the NT, help us distinguish and affirm what is a Hebrew ritual here and what is an enduring moral warning; that is, what belonged to a temporary system designed to teach the Israelites about holiness, and what belongs, even today, to the sexual standards to which God will hold all of us accountable.
As I alluded to earlier, the simplest way to figure out what is and is not permitted by God, what is and is not right and good, when it comes to God's design of us and God's desire for us, is found in Genesis 2:24 (a verse used by both Jesus and Paul in this same way): any sexual activity found outside the covenant bond of marriage, marriage between one man and one woman, is considered sinful.
3. On Sexual Consequences (vs. 24-30)
And as we know from God's word, sin has always consequences. That's what God wants to make clear in the closing verses of this chapter. Verse 24 and 25 sum it all up...
“Do not make yourselves unclean by any of these things, for by all these the nations I am driving out before you have become unclean,  and the land became unclean, so that I punished its iniquity, and the land vomited out its inhabitants.”
The Israelites had been redeemed from slavery in Egypt in order to go back to the land of Canaan, the land promised to their forefathers. But the Canaanites, and other nations who had lived in that land for hundreds and hundreds of years, had been judged by God because of their wayward and wicked sexual practices. God had endured their evil for centuries, but was about to pour out his judgment; specifically, God was going to drive these nations out, giving the Israelites both victory over them and possession of the land.
But the same fate would be experienced by the Hebrews if they adopted the sexual practices, customs, perspectives, standards of these corrupt people groups. As God makes clear in verse 28, don't follow their ways, lest the land vomit you out when you make it unclean, as it vomited out the nation that was before you.
Now, it's important to remember, when we look at everything God has revealed in His word, we discover the Promised Land of the OT was ultimately a picture of the new heaven and the new earth (Hebrews 11:8-16 is a good place to read about this idea). So if that's true, then even today, sexual conformity to the world's standards, leading to sexual conduct God deems sinful, will lead to painful sexual consequences. Paul makes this clear in I Cor. 6:9–10...
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.
III. How Will You Live?
All this should drive us back to verse 5. Remember what it said? You shall therefore keep my statutes and my rules; if a person does them, he shall live by them: I am the LORD.
Brother, sisters, friend, in light of these things, how will you live? I ask that question with two meanings in mind. First, I'm asking you (and myself), how will you live your life, each day, when it comes to God's design and God's desires? We are constantly enticed, constantly pressured to accept the world's sexual ethics. But God has something far, far better.
And yet, which of us has not struggled in these matters of conformity and conduct? Which of us is innocent? It is the reality of our impurity, that drives us to the second sense of that question: how will you live? (i.e. how will you experience the fullness of life from/with God?)
Did you know Leviticus 18:5 points us directly to Jesus? Not only does Jesus use its language in Luke 10:28, but Paul uses this verse twice to help us see our need for Jesus. In Romans 10:5 Paul states, For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them.
But there's a serious problem with that kind of righteousness: none of us are innocent. We have failed, and we will continue to fail. It is precisely this dilemma that Paul describes in Galatians 3:10–14. Look there, if you would. We read in 3:10...
For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.”  Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.”  But the law is not of faith, rather [here it comes] “The one who does them shall live by them.” [but here's the good news] Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.
How shall we live, how shall we experience the fullness of life from/with God? By faith alone. Faith in Christ alone. Only by trusting in Him can we be righteous, and thus, live in God's presence forever and ever. Paul might have warned about the eternal fate of “the unrighteous”, of “the sexually immoral”, but he went, in the very next verse, to remind them of the good news: 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. (I Cor. 6:11) Did you hear that, if we are in Christ by faith, sin can never jeopardize our place with God!
So how shall we live in light of this chapter? First, we should reject the world's perspective and practice when it comes to sex. We should do this in light of the rightness and goodness of what God has revealed. But acknowledging our failures, and knowing we will not experience eternal life by perfectly keeping what God has revealed, we should, second, embrace the redemption that only Jesus can give sinners like us.
Does accepting Christ's righteousness mean we should no longer live righteously? Absolutely not! As Paul said in Romans 6: How can we who died to sin still live in it? What Jesus has done for impure people like us, should cause us to walk the path purity all the more, motivated by love, gratefulness, and new eyes that grasp the goodness of God's design and what He desires for that which He has made. Let's thank God for Leviticus 18!