"Do not be deceived…" – 1 Corinthians 6:9b
Following years of captivity, first by the Assyrians and later by the Babylonians, Jews were returning to their ancient homeland of Israel in the 5th century before Christ. Prophets of God like Ezra and Nehemiah chronicled this return, challenging the people to (finally) be done with idolatry, and to live holy lives pleasing to God so that they should never again need to go through such a time of purging.
One of the occurrences during this period of "captivity" was that many Jewish men had married non-Jewish foreign women. The marrying of a woman outside of Jewish ancestry was never considered a sin. The judge Samson did this as well as did Boaz, an ancestor of King David (and ultimately of Christ). But many of these non-Jewish wives were themselves pagan idolaters, an influence for unrighteousness. To the husbands of such women Ezra said, "Separate yourselves from the peoples of the land and from the foreign wives" (Ezra 10:11). The end of the book of Ezra recounts how the Jewish men took Ezra's challenge to heart and separated themselves from these women.
There was undoubtedly a lot of hurt that came from the actions of these Jewish men. Think of the broken hearts. What happened to the children of these relationships? If God desires MERCY more than SACRIFICE, the actions of these men didn't match that call very well.
But holiness is even a higher calling. We should be merciful, for God is merciful, and we should be sacrificial for God was very sacrificial (John 3:16). But it is holiness which is that to which we are particularly called: "You SHALL BE HOLY, for I am holy." That is both an imperative and a future indicative: it is a command and it is our destiny.
Some years ago I had a conversation with a medical doctor about back pain. He said that many that suffer back pain show little to no physical reason for the pain. Conversely, he said, there are those whose backs are visibly in terrible condition that express no discomfort at all. In much the same way, it seems to me, that physical, even genetic factors may be overcome by a person. Because a person has a propensity towards addictions does not mean the person must become an addict. Entities like Exodus (dealing with those who are leaving or have left a homosexual lifestyle) exist because people can overcome sexual inclinations. The church has all too often viewed those involved in sexual sins as being at odds with God, as if these people are desirous of being defiant of God or God's law. People like Pete Buttigieg (a practicing homosexual and probably the most outspoken self-professed Christian of President Biden's cabinet) has spoken at length about his deep-seated desire to live as a heterosexual male. For years he prayed that God would reorient his desires. Laura Perry has chronicled her life story of living ten years as a transgender male. But now she claims she has been transformed back to the gender assigned her at birth (she has written a book entitled Transgender to Transformed). So what are we to make of these two cases? Did Laura pray harder than Pete? Or is it that while Pete finally came to embrace his feelings, Laura has chosen to live a lie? It would seem to me that we will need to leave those questions unanswered. Or as St. Paul wrote, "So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God" (Romans 14:12). But to suggest that people cannot change or cannot overcome addictions, inclinations or feelings is false and flies in the face of the Bible’s oft repeated challenge to “repent” (i.e., change) “for the kingdom of God is at hand.” Such change may not be easy…indeed it may be quite painful (even as it was for those who in Ezra’s day were separated from their mates). But holiness – holiness as defined by God – remains the calling for the Christian.
We will go further into this next Sunday…