I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. (Romans 12:1-2)
You can recall those times when your mother caught you misbehaving, and as an escape route you blamed your friends. It was always THEIR influence that made you stray.
And, of course, what did Mom say? “Well, if all your friends jumped off a cliff, would you do it?”
Mom had a point.
She still does.
Sometimes, conformity – going along with the group – is a very bad thing. Especially when it involves conforming to this wicked age.
This morning you and I come to one of the touchiest subjects in all of Scripture: sexual immorality. Now you and I will condemn stealing. We’ll condemn murder. But when it comes to personal sexual morality, you and I and what purports to be the church are adept at finding “escape routes.”
Our present evil age says, “God doesn’t care about what you do in your body sexually, so long as you don’t harm others.” And let’s be honest: this area is probably the place where you are tempted most strongly to conform to the world.
God says otherwise.
You and I are to obey our Lord – to be Christian non-conformists, as it were – especially in sexual ethics. First we’ll see the reason for our obedience to God. Second, we’ll explore the picture of a life of obedience. And third, we’ll see the effects of obedience.
This world, in its rejection of the one, true God, has set itself on a course for spiritual disaster. You and I, saved by the Lord Jesus Christ, are called to be different through our example of holiness.
In a world of deadly conformity, you and I must be non-conformists.
First you and I encounter the reason why we are to be obedient to our Lord in every area, but especially in the area of sexual ethics: He has saved us to be His people.
Certainly this theme is familiar to us by now. Obedience to God doesn’t earn you a standing before Him; it is evidence that you already have been saved by Him. But those few, and often-repeated, words – “I am the LORD your God” – contain tremendous implications for God’s people.
The one, true God had revealed Himself specifically only to Israel. He even brought Israel out of slavery in Egypt so they might inhabit the land He had promised them. They weren’t to walk in the patterns of the Egyptians, who didn’t know the Lord, but rather were to conform to what God said was proper – because He was God, He knew best, and He had done great things for them.
It’s a tremendous blessing to know the one, true God – the God who reveals Himself perfectly in Scripture and in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. Many people today claim to know “God” – but their god is NOT the one, true God of Scripture. Their god is an idol: something they have crafted for themselves. Their idol approves of every behavior; never makes judgments; and never makes demands on them.
St. Paul says in Romans 1 that because sin entered all of our minds after the fall of man, you and I naturally want to worship the creation instead of the Creator. We make a disastrous exchange: the one, true God for an idol. And that foolish exchange has implications for you and me, just as it did for the Israelites when they abandoned the Lord for idols.
When I exchanged my seminary robes for clerical robes, something changed in my life. All right, something major changed in my life! As a seminarian, one doesn’t have a lot of money, and he has to study a great deal and pass endless tests – but he doesn’t have the burden of overseeing an entire congregation. As a minister, I no longer have to take Hebrew tests or write Greek papers, and I receive a nice living. But the responsibility is considerable!
Exchanges have implications. When you worship the idol of this age, whom pagans wrongly call “god,” you are making a foolish exchange. You see, idols can’t give you life. They can’t give enduring moral laws that preserve life. They can’t bless you. They can’t give order to this world.
You have been created and redeemed by the one, true God who in His vast love chose to reveal Himself to you. To deny this God is to deny life, blessing and joy that can come only from Him and only by His ordering of your life.
In our passage today, secondly we see the picture of obedience: a person who stands apart from the world and who devotes his body, and his mind, to the Lord.
The laws in Leviticus 18 still bind you and me, because they were not done away with by the work of Christ. As a matter of fact, the New Testament picks up on these laws and expands them; what does Jesus say about even LOOKING at a woman with lust in your heart?
Most of these prohibitions seem obvious. You and I are nauseated at the thought of incest or of bestiality or of child sacrifice.
But then there are the ones we don’t like – the law against adultery, for one, which Jesus expands to mean lust in the heart. Our age especially hates God’s prohibition of male-male and female-female sexual relations.
Don’t you love how we rationalize sexual sin today? “Well, I was made to think about women – what’s wrong with that?” … “What’s wrong with men ‘marrying’ men? God doesn’t care about what you do in your body, after all.”
Yes, He does! Yes, He does! He came to earth, in the midst of our misery, IN THE FLESH so that He could buy back your flesh from death.
Men, your lust for women is no more acceptable in God’s eyes than another man’s lust for or sexual activity with another man. Young women, your sexual promiscuity is NOT a badge of honor; it is a shameful act forbidden by the Lord. And certainly, homosexual activity is a detestable thing in the eyes of Almighty God.
Against what the liberals say, the finest biblical scholarship informs us that neither Moses nor Paul was talking about homosexual prostitution in these passages. And Paul actually knew something about the “orientation argument”: that homosexual people claim to be born that way.
All those academic arguments ultimately don’t matter.
What matters is what God plainly says in His Word and has revealed plainly in nature: the only acceptable context of sexual activity is between a husband and wife.
Young men, your illicit sexual activity with young women is JUST as sinful as homosexuality. God cares what you do in your body.
Even if scientific inquiry one day finds that homosexual people were “born that way,” their lusts and behavior still would stand opposed to the Word of God. Genetics, remember, were tainted by the fall, just as trees and animals and human relationships bear the awful imprint of human sin and its consequences.
Stand apart from the crowd. Don’t approve of – or practice – what this God-ignorant, idol-crazed world approves and applauds.
Purity and chastity before marriage; purity and fidelity within marriage: those are God’s unchanging demands on you.
Third, we see the effects of obedience (and of disobedience): blessing (and cursing).
The Lord has given you and me the rules of sexual morality in Leviticus 18 and in the New Testament not because He hates us but because He loves us and wants the best for us.
Simply put, if you obey the commandments of God, you will live. You can’t earn eternal life; it is the gift of God through Jesus Christ our Savior. But if you want to enjoy life, you’ll walk by the commandments of God, not after the shallow and foolish patterns of this age.
The Lord is serious about obedience to His Word in all of your life, especially in terms of sexual morality. The Israelites exchanged the worship of God for idols, and He had them vomited out of the land. Vomiting is perhaps the most-forceful action your body can take. Imagine the land using that same degree of force to cast out the rebellious, filthy Israelites just as it had done to so many morally filthy peoples before them.
The same thing is true today: you and I can enjoy blessing in our land if we will submit to God’s eternal truth. Of course, America is NOT Israel. We cannot and must not equate the two. But if we want more-stable families, healthier children who know what commitment to God means and an overall stronger society, we would be wise to stand apart from the culture and with the Lord in terms of sexual morals.
Honestly, many of you in this church today might not be struggling with the inclination to homosexual sin, but this passage still has weighty implications for you. The more you husbands and wives allow lust to creep into your heart, the less-satisfying and God-honoring your marriage will be. If you unmarried folk give in to sexual license, be assure that it will affect your future marriage negatively.
As with every aspect of your walk with Christ, the more you cozy up to sin, the further you will move from the only One who can give you fulfillment and direction in life.
Dare to be a non-conformist!
The world couches its approval of sexual sin in terms of “love.” In fact, the non-Christian world hasn’t a clue what love really is.
Love your friends living in heterosexual sin. Love your friends living in homosexual sin. Don’t destroy them with your words or think you’re better than they in any way.
But love them to the fullest, the way Jesus wants you to love them: tell them about sin … and about him. The same Savior who bought you back from sin can buy them back. This love demands speaking up in a conformist, intolerant age. Speak up anyway. Speak the words of life.
And look into your own heart and at your own life. All too often we as believers tend to categorize homosexuals and to let heterosexual sinners – including ourselves – off the hook.
Your lust is as equally heinous as homosexual lust. Your sin is as detestable as theirs.
Perhaps you need to confess something to God this morning: a wandering heart, a wandering eye, a wandering life.
Don’t conform to this dying world. In your body, conform to the image of Jesus: the one who obeyed his Father. The one who lived a truly blessed life.
The only one who can give you the blessing of life.