Or… The Law under Christ
Okay. This one might be a bit… theological. But it needs to be said. And I’ll try to make it interesting. I don’t to this very often, but over the past few days several people have “slammed” my sexual orientation via references to the Law of the Judaic Covenant, of the Old Testament. Now I’m the first to say that the Law has it’s purpose: I respect it, and the nation of Israel. My ex-wife was enrolled in “Jewish and Modern Israel Studies” when we met. We were thus great compliments when we were married (I was the New Testament scholar, she was Old). And that does actually come in to my application of this article.
For a long time, I tried to deny myself and to “fake” heterosexuality; I know, I know, most of my friends will not believe that. (And those who are not my friends can refrain from comments on that score.) I worked as the assistant pastor of a conservative church in Pennsylvania, at Penn State, and I was married… to a woman… for ten years. (Our main pastor at the campus church was rabidly anti-gay, and the fact that I managed to work with him meant I must have done a decent job of lying to people.) Anyway, after ten years my wife decided to leave me: she said that I just wasn’t ever going to relate to her in the way that she wanted/needed, so our marriage was over. It wasn’t until I started dating men that I realized what she had wanted all those years. I’m hard-wired for emotional, loving, sexual relationships with men, not women.
So I started to “come out”. I figured I had tried it the way everyone wanted me to: now it was time to follow my heart. That does not start to deal with the mental anguish as I approached my relationship with God. I looked at a variety of verses as they’re expressed in our translations of the Bible. I looked at the original Greek; although it was possible to mess with a variety of interpretive methods, I was still stuck with an overall perspective. There were just too many “clobber” passages, teaching against queer love: particularly in the Old Testament. The New Testament was passable, but the Law was difficult. I did not feel hated by God, but I was not sure how the disconnect had happened.
Then I discovered Galatians 5:1-5. Basically, Paul is talking about “freedom” (Gal 5:1); and telling us that once we have discovered freedom through Christ, not to be “subject again to a yoke of slavery.” (5:1) Specifically, he is talking about the “slavery” of following the Law. Now this is a nice thought, and something we should aspire to: but Paul then goes on. And he pulls no punches. If you try to please God by keeping the Law, you have misunderstood what Christ has done and are effectively neutralizing his work in your life. “Christ will be of no benefit to you” (Gal 5:2) He says this multiple times. He is not just talking about “circumcision”, the direct translation: he’s speaking in metaphor. Circumcision is representative of any law, any jot or tittle, that you might try to follow to please God.
So, if you try to keep the law: Christ is of no benefit for your. (Gal 5:2) What he has done on the cross is not accessible to you. You are “under obligation to keep the whole Law” (Gal 5:3) That includes everything. The food, the fabrics, the words. No-one can do this. That’s the whole point of the gospel.“You have been severed from Christ” (Gal 5:4) If you try to follow the Law, you’re saying that Christ is unnecessary.“You are seeking to be justified by Law” (Gal 5:4) Same as above.“You have fallen from grace” (Gal 5:4)
Interestingly this is the only time this phrase appears in the Bible. It is, perhaps, the “unpardonable sin” that is described in Mark 3 and Mathew 12. Both speak of a sin against the Holy Spirit. And if you are wilfully, egotistically, trying to follow the Law and justify yourself, you have missed the point of what God has done for us. Since the Holy Spirit is the one who teaches, comforts, edifies and enlightens, you are ignoring this person of the Trinity.
Repeating and following this logic backwards a bit: if we try to follow the Law, we are trying to justify ourselves by the Law. We are saying that Christ’s work is not sufficient… or that we don’t need it… because we are sufficiently wonderful to be able to even try to follow the Law, and actually achieve it. The Law is not something you can only do a part of: it’s all or nothing. Much though we in our generation talk about the “ethical laws” and the “ceremonial laws” in the Old Testament, neatly dividing the “essential” from the “just for show”, the Bible does not support this in the least. Biblically, it’s all or nothing. And if we have essentially said that we don’t need Christ… he will not be there for us. “Christ will be of no benefit to you.” When you stand before God, you will have to apply this personally. And if your life has been based on following the Law and not following Christ, you will be in for a rude awakening.
So now: for the personal application. I’m gay, and I recognize the OT prohibitions against being gay. However, when I actually try to follow that rule… why? Why do I do that? Because it’s part of the Law. That is the ONLY reason. I’ve read all the claims that it hurts partners and families; causes sickness and depression and suicide: this is all nonsense. (Check on my post on statistics if you don’t believe me.) The only “negative” thing that is borne out from homosexuality is that children are not produced: and since I believe that the world is overpopulated, I see this as an added bonus. So the only reason I might follow this prohibition is because it’s in the Law. And if I do that, “Christ will be of no benefit to me.”
So there are two conclusions I come to, for anyone following Jesus and believing the New Testament. One is that it’s not only not necessary to follow the Law: it’s downright bad. Following the Law gets in the way of our relationship with God. That’s why “legalism” is looked at so negatively; why the Pharisees were the object of Jesus’ wrath. If I try to follow a single law because it’s a law: I’m failing as a Christian. So I don’t. That’s why I’m free.
But there is a second conclusion. If anyone tells me that I’m ***** (I can’t repeat some of the names I’ve been called on Gather) because I am gay and I don’t follow the Law… well, they are actually in the same boat. That’s one of the reasons I treat people so harshly that argue with this principle. They are worse than unbelievers and atheists (I mean that only in he fondest of ways, Chuck: really). It’s one thing to just not believe that what Christ has done is valid, or enough… or even happened. It’s quite another to believe it, and, taking that knowledge… to ignore it. To trample on Christ’s memory and his work and teach that we need to also follow the Law. Because there is no such thing in this regard as an “also”, or a “backup”. It’s one or the other. And if you’re trying to follow the Law, you’ve chosen the wrong one.