A Call to Sexual Holiness
So do not act like the people in Egypt, where you used to live, or like the people of Canaan, where I am taking you. You must not imitate their way of life.
Leviticus 18 contains a series of laws that have to do with sexual expression (except for 18:21, which forbids child sacrifice). We might wonder why God didn't simply say, "Have sexual relations with your spouse only," rather than offer such detail in the form: "Do not have sexual relations with . . ."
The answer to this query comes in verse 3. God is leading the Israelites out of Egypt, where various forms of sexual immorality were common, into the land of Canaan, where the people do the very things Leviticus 18 prohibits. As verse 27 explains, "All these detestable activities are practiced by the people of the land where I am taking you, and this is how the land has become defiled." God was concerned that the Israelites would easily be tempted to imitate the Canaanites in their sexual impurity, so he spelled out graphically the relationships in which sexual activity was forbidden. He knew that his people were like young children who needed specific instructions and prohibitions.
Although our context differs considerably from that of the Israelites as they journeyed from Egypt to Canaan, we face an unsettlingly similar situation. We live today in a culture that endorses sexual activity outside of marriage. And, though our society still agrees with Leviticus 18 about some things, like the wrongness of sex with a close relative, our world presents us with new challenges to our sexual holiness, like readily available pornography.
Yet, the New Testament does not offer an updated, exhaustive list of sexual "don'ts," a new rulebook for Christian sexual ethics. Rather, it calls us to pervasive holiness in every part of life, including our sexuality (see 1 Thess. 4:3-8, for example). We are not to imitate the ways of our world when it comes to sexual expression. Rather, we are to devote our whole selves to God, including our bodies. We are to live each day with the realization that our bodies are temples for the Lord (1 Cor. 6:18-20). Thus, we have the obligation and privilege of honoring God with our bodies. When we take this high calling seriously, our desire to dishonor God by dishonoring our bodies will diminish. Rather, we will seek to give him all that we are, all the time.
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: What in our culture tempts us to set aside God's standards for sexuality? What helps us to live according to those standards? What lures us to adopt the ways of our fallen culture?
PRAYER: Gracious, holy God, you know how much our challenge today is like that of the Israelites. We live in a culture that invites us to enjoy sexual expression outside of the covenant of marriage. It cheapens sex and, as a result, encourages us to cheapen ourselves.
Forgive us, Lord, when we fall prey to the sexual practices and values of our "Canaan." Forgive us when we engage in sexual activities that are contrary to your will for us. Forgive us when we buy into the untruths of our culture, rejecting your Word because it is inconvenient, or because it calls us to a higher standard.
Help us, Gracious God, to be holy in every way, including our sexual practices and thoughts. When we stumble, may we confess and repent. By your Spirit, help us to discover how we can honor you with our bodies. May we come to see our bodies, not as toys to be played with, but as temples of your Spirit.
All praise be to you, Holy God, because you call us to your holiness. Amen.