M. W. Bassford
The most famous example of homosexual activity in the entire Bible occurs in the early part of Genesis 19. There, two angels in human form come to the city of Sodom and pretend to be travelers seeking hospitality. The patriarch Lot invites them into his home, but at evening, the men of Sodom come to his door and demand that he yield up the travelers so they can rape them. Shortly thereafter, the entire city is destroyed by fire from heaven.
For millennia, students of the Bible have taken the point. Indeed, the word “sodomy” has passed into our language as a description of unnatural sexual activity. In recent times, though, this traditional view has come under attack.
As part of the campaign to destigmatize homosexual behavior, many have argued that the true sin of Sodom is instead defined by Ezekiel 16:49, where God reports that the iniquity of Sodom is the failure of its inhabitants to provide for the poor and needy despite having the resources to do so. The argument goes that this shows that the same-sex desires of the men of Sodom weren't the problem at all.
However, that isn't all that the Bible has to say about Sodom. In Jeremiah 23:14, God says that the people of Jerusalem sinned in the likeness of Sodom by committing adultery, walking in lies, and strengthening the hands of evildoers. More familiarly, Jude 7 testifies that the men of Sodom committed sexual immorality and perversions.
So what is the sin of Sodom? Is it hardheartedness? Adultery? Lying? Promoting wickedness? Homosexual lust?
The only possible Biblical answer is “all of the above”. As Genesis 13:7 says, the people of Sodom were evil, sinning immensely against the Lord. This teaches us something fundamental about sin. In the lives of the wicked, the problem is never just one isolated sin that they are committing. The problem is an entire life lived in rebellion against God.
In fact, this same truth is evident in the lives of those who practice homosexuality and defend their practice today. It's not like they are getting everything else right about following God and just have this one little issue. Instead, spiritual problems are evident everywhere.
Certainly, all of them call evil good. Almost all of them are indifferent to biblical teaching about the role of women in the church. They don't teach the truth about what we must do to be saved. Many of them, perhaps even the majority, have no interest in obedience and only make the argument to show what hypocrites Christians are.
Homosexuality was definitely part of the problem in Sodom. However, the real problem was a heart problem, an unwillingness to submit to the authority of God. If this unwillingness is present in our hearts, the precise expression that it takes doesn't matter much. As Jude points out, the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah provides an example of punishment by eternal fire, and that's where all of the disobedient are headed, whether their sin lines up precisely with Genesis 19 or not.
Genesis 7:11-24 tells the story of the greatest cataclysm ever to overtake the earth. Because the wickedness of man was great on the earth, God sent a flood to cleanse it by destroying everything that lived on the land. In this flood, every human being died except for eight. The patriarch Noah, his wife, his three sons, and their wives escaped the deluge because Noah had obeyed God and built an ark for their salvation.
This event has great spiritual significance because it shows that God will not allow the wicked to go unpunished. However, it has even more significance for believers because it is a type of our salvation. In 1 Peter 3:18-21, the apostle compares the rescue of Noah's family to our rescue through baptism. This evening, let's explore this comparison to gain a better understanding of being saved through water.
I believe there are four main ways in which these two events are similar. First, we must recognize that, as in the days of Noah, judgment is coming. The apostle Paul predicts this in Acts 17:30-31. Here, he urges everyone to repent because the day is coming when Jesus will judge the world, as proven by His resurrection.
In both of these cases, the timing of judgment is uncertain. God warned Noah about the flood 120 years before the event and waited patiently while he constructed the ark. God continues to wait patiently in our day, but only He knows the day and the hour when His patience will come to an end and His wrath begin.
As Peter predicted would happen in 2 Peter 3, some take God's patience as an opportunity to scoff. Because He has not destroyed the world with fire yet, they assume that He will never do so. When Noah tried to warn others during those 120 years, all of them had the same reaction. They did not believe that judgment would ever come, so they continued to live wickedly. Tragically, they realized their mistake only when it was too late to do anything about it. Today, we must be wiser than they were. Otherwise, we will be destroyed in the judgment of fire as they were destroyed in the judgment of water.
Second, Jesus warns us that only a few will be saved from the judgment. Look at Luke 13:23-24. We don't know how many people were alive when the flood came, but it certainly was many more than 8! Nonetheless, the number of the saved didn't reach double digits. In Luke, Jesus is asked if only a few will be saved, and His answer is essentially “Yes.” This is the nature of the judgments of God. Only a remnant is saved, while the many are destroyed.
This should cause us to consider soberly our own beliefs about our salvation. I know all too many people who think that it doesn't make a difference what church you go to or even if you go to church as long as you're a good person. This is a very convenient belief to hold because it basically means that nobody has to do anything in order to inherit eternal life.
Sadly, it isn't true, and we can tell that it's not true because of the words of the Lord. If indeed being a good person were enough, then Jesus would have told His questioner in Luke 13 that in fact many would be saved. After all, aren't many people good people, at least in the sense of that phrase? In reality, only a few will be saved, and none of those will be saved because they are good people.
This takes us to our next point, which is that the righteous will not save themselves. Here, let's consider Titus 3:4-5. At this, some might raise an eyebrow. After all, didn't Noah build the ark that carried his family safely through the flood?
Not exactly. Let me explain. As you may or may not have seen, there is a consistent online debate about whether the ark was seaworthy. Some believers say yes; Skeptics say no. I think the debate is silly for reasons I'll get into in a little bit, but if we only compare the competing arguments, I think the skeptics are right.
According to Genesis 6, the ark was 300 cubits long. Even using 18-inch cubits, that's 450 feet. The longest all-wooden ship ever made, constructed with all of our modern knowledge of shipbuilding, was the S.S. Wyoming. From one end of the deck to the other, the Wyoming was only 350 feet long, but it eventually sank because wood isn't rigid enough to give stability to a hull that long. What, then, of an ark that is 100 feet longer?
As I hinted earlier, though, all of this is beside the point. There is only one reason why the ark protected Noah and his family: because God promised him that if he built the ark and went into it, he would be safe. If Noah had just been a weird dude who decided to build the ark on his own, he and his family surely would have perished along with the rest of the human race. Salvation did not come from the ark; salvation came from God.
In the same way, salvation does not come simply because we have been immersed in water. As Titus says, we do not save ourselves through works of righteousness. Instead, God saves us according to His mercy through the washing of regeneration, which is baptism.
There are those who claim that we teach works salvation because we insist upon the necessity of baptism for salvation. However, works salvation is not what we teach, nor is it what the Bible says. Apart from God’s mercy, none of us could be saved, whether we dunk ourselves in the baptistry or not.
Nonetheless, and this is our final point, we must obey in order to be saved. Let's read from 2 Thessalonians 1:5-9. Note that Paul identifies two groups as belonging to the condemned: those who do not know God and those who do not obey the gospel. It follows, then, that if we do not want to be condemned, we must both know God and obey the gospel.
This is no different than what we see in Noah's life. The ark didn't save Noah; God did. However, imagine that Noah had said to God, “You know, God, building an ark is a lot of work. I know You could save me without an ark, so I'm not going to build it, and I'm just going to trust in You to save me.” If Noah had said such a thing, assuming that he even lived long enough to see the flood, he would have been fish food!
So too for us. Baptism does not save us by its own virtue, any more than the ark saved Noah by its own virtue. However, Noah still had to build the ark if he wanted to be saved, and we still must be baptized if we want to be saved. That is what God has asked of us, and woe to those who refuse to obey!
To put things another way, heading into the final judgment without having been baptized makes just as much sense as waiting for the flood without an ark. In both cases, we might claim to be trusting God, but really, we're putting Him to the test, and we'll meet the fate that all rebels deserve.
Ecclesiastes was my father's favorite book of the of the Old Testament, and his favorite verse in Ecclesiastes was 10:1. At least, I think it was his favorite verse. It certainly was the one that he quoted most to my teenage self. To this day, I have no trouble summoning up, “Dead flies make a perfumer's oil stink, so a little foolishness is weightier than wisdom and honor,” from memory.
Now that I have a ten-year-old son, I also have no trouble understanding why he wanted to imprint that one on my brain. He worried that with my great cleverness and scant sense, I would get into some kind of mess that would blight the rest of my life.
Sadly, it isn't only teenage boys who are given to dead-fly moments. According to Genesis 9:21-22, you can be 600 years old and still be foolish. There, we see Noah, patriarch, preacher of righteousness, and Hebrews 11 hero of faith, planting a vineyard, getting drunk, and exposing himself. Thousands of years later, the descendants of Noah do the same kind of dumb stuff when they get drunk.
Sometimes, we manage disastrous foolishness when we are stone-cold sober. David did upon seeing one woman bathing on the top of her roof. Samson spoiled his perfume because of several different women. Judas blew it over 30 pieces of silver.
Nor should we today think that we are immune simply because we're churchgoing Christians who don't have the Holy Spirit chronicling our every misdeed. The devil loves to sow all of our paths with consequential temptations, and he loves even more to fool us into thinking that the sin won't be consequential if we commit it. David didn't think he was signing up for anything more than a one-night stand. Judas thought he could make everything better by giving the money back to the chief priests and telling them that Jesus was innocent.
Neither was correct. Today, the two facts that Christians are most likely to repeat about David are that he was a man after God's own heart and that he committed a great sin with Bathsheba. In the case of Judas, we don't even think about him proclaiming the gospel, casting out demons, working miracles, and doing all the other things that apostles did. We only remember his impulsive treachery.
So too, our dead-fly moments often are what stick in people's minds about us. What of the devoted husband and father who cheats that one time and gets caught? What of the gifted preacher who couldn't get along with the elders? What of the woman of God who couldn't control her temper with her sister or her sister in Christ? Decades later, the isolated foolishness is remembered more than the wisdom and honor.
When a little foolishness can be so powerful, the only solution for us is to avoid all foolishness. Any of us can spoil the testimony of a godly life with only one ill-chosen act. When we are tempted, then, we must remember the stakes. The devil would love to number us with Noah and all the rest. However, if we stick to the paths of wisdom, he will never get the chance.
Genesis 22 contains one of the strangest stories in the Bible. There, God commands the patriarch Abraham to take Isaac, his only son, and sacrifice him on Mt. Moriah. This seems utterly unlike God. Throughout the Bible, He is the Helper of the helpless. The Law of Moses describes sacrificing one's children as an abomination. In Romans 1, Paul condemns those who are without natural affection.
Nonetheless, God commands Abraham to commit this abomination, to deny his natural affection, and to do that at which the heart of nearly any parent would revolt. We would expect such an instruction from the lips of the evil one, not the God who is wholly good.
Despite what has been asked of him, Abraham continues to obey. He takes Isaac to Mt. Moriah, ties him on an altar as as a sacrifice, and has his hand upraised to slit his son's throat before God stops him. He is willing to surrender even his only son if that is what God asks.
In Hebrews 11:17-19, we gain more insight into Abraham’s thinking. He knew that God had promised to give him countless descendants through Isaac, and he trusted that God would keep His promises. Thus, he concluded that if he obeyed God and killed Isaac, God would raise his son from the dead. He believed that God was capable even of resurrection; if that was what had to happen for God's promise to be fulfilled, God would do it.
As it happened, Abraham was wrong about God's plan. God never intended for him to complete the crime of killing his own son. However, Abraham was right about God. He believed that God was faithful, acted in accordance with that belief, and was rewarded for his faithfulness.
Thankfully, God does not ask any of us to present our children as burnt offerings! However, there are times when He asks us to do things that are confusing or difficult. Isn't it terribly hard to ask Christians who experience same-sex attraction never to act on that attraction, not even once? What about when we pray and pray for something, but as months and years go by, the answer to our prayers is nowhere in sight?
In these predicaments and many others, we might have our own ideas about why God is doing what He's doing. God has forbidden this because of X; God is not giving me what I ask for because of Y. These assumptions may be right; they may not be. Sometimes, though, we get so attached to our assumptions that when they prove to be wrong, we stomp off in a huff like Naaman did when told to bathe in the Jordan.
However, we don't have to be right about God's plan either. In fact, it may be that God is testing us by doing something different than we expect. Certainly, that was true in Abraham’s case.
Instead, we simply have to be right about God. Like Abraham, we must believe that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him, and we must have the courage to do it. If we do, even if we are completely wrong about what He is doing, we are certain to find His blessing.
As all of us are doubtless aware, we are currently in the middle of Pride Month, a celebration of a number of different lifestyles the Bible condemns as sinful. In case we have forgotten, anytime we shop at a chain store, displays and decorations all remind us. I would not be surprised if, in the years to come, Pride Month develops the same kind of national presence as the holiday season.
Many brethren find this spectacle deeply distressing. What are we supposed to do when we see ungodliness being exalted everywhere around us? As always, the word of God gives us the answers we need.
In the first century, Christians were a tiny minority in a society that celebrated ungodliness too. Let's consider, then, one Christian’s reaction to such display. Let's turn to Acts 17 to see how Paul conducted himself in Athens, a city full of idols.
First, we see Paul talking to, not just about. Consider his behavior in Acts 17:16-21. Note that Paul didn't come to Athens intending to preach at all. He has only traveled to the city after having been driven out of Berea and is there to wait for Silas and Timothy. Interestingly, this meeting never happens. Silas and Timothy only catch up with Paul after he moves on to Corinth.
As far as we can tell, he doesn’t stay in Athens for very long. However, even this brief delay bothers him. Athens is an extremely idolatrous city, and he finds the evidence of idolatry distressing. There is a synagogue in Athens, and the Jews there would have been as anti-idol as Paul was. The synagogue is not the only place that Paul visits, however. He also goes to the marketplace and reasons with the idolaters.
In our day, it is easy for us to stay in the synagogue, both real and virtual. It's easy for us to come to church and complain about how awful Pride Month is to people that we know already agree with us one hundred percent. It's just as easy for us to go on our social-media platform of choice and make the same complaints to Christians and other conservatives all over the country.
However, there are two problems with confining ourselves to what is easy. First, like gossip, it tends to produce self-righteousness in our hearts. The more we condemn somebody else’s sin that does not tempt us, the more we begin to believe that we are more righteous because we don't know that temptation. We start sounding like the Pharisee in the parable of Luke 18, who thanks God for making him better than the sinners around him. If we are not careful, self-righteousness will lead us to trust in ourselves and not in Jesus.
Second, complaining about sinners to other Christians never saved anybody. We are sneering at people who are drowning in sin without even checking to see if they want to be rescued! Obviously, reaching out to sinners can be hard on the ego. In Acts 17, many of the sinners treat Paul with contempt, and different sinners treated Jesus the same way. However, when the value of the soul is so great, who are we to stay silent lest our egos get squished?
Notice, though, that Paul doesn't make his appeal in a contemptuous or perfunctory way. Instead, he seeks common ground. Look at Acts 17:22-29. All the way through this sermon, Paul is doing his best to come to Gentile idolaters on their own terms. He praises them for setting up an altar to an unknown god. He quotes their own poets to support his argument. He doesn't call them to repentance until he has gotten buy-in already.
We can and should do the same thing, even in the context of Pride Month. On one level, Pride Month is about celebrating everyone as valuable and special. You know what? We celebrate that too! The Bible teaches, and I believe, that everyone who is lesbian, gay, bi, trans, queer, or any other letters out there is precious, infinitely valuable, and loved by God more than we can imagine.
In fact, we can make that argument more strongly than the world can. Pride Month arose because of the horrible way that many of those people were and are treated, often by those who claim to be Christians. Let me add, by the way, that such displays of mockery and contempt are just as evil as the sins they purport to be condemning. Pride Month is an attempt to balance the scales, but the problem is that it offers no better reason to feel good about yourself than what others are saying about you. When the parades are over, then what?
Christianity, by contrast, teaches that everyone is infinitely precious, no matter what others say or do. We are created in the image of God, and Jesus was willing to die to redeem us. This means that every one of those people with pride flags has an intrinsic worth that is greater than the world and everything on it. Pride Month does not and cannot offer an assurance like that. We don't come to them because they are disgusting and need to clean up their act. We come to them because we love and value them simply for existing.
Finally, we must point sinners to Jesus. Look at how Paul concludes his sermon in Acts 17:29-31. He has shown that he respects the idolaters of Athens, but they still need to repent, and they need to repent because Jesus has risen from the dead.
This must always be our appeal. People in the world shouldn’t become Christians because Christianity uniquely affirms the value of everyone, even though it does. They should become Christians because God has made this Jesus whom they crucified both Lord and Christ.
The Lordship of Jesus, as proven by the resurrection, matters for two reasons. First, it means that whoever we are, we can rely on Him for salvation. As the Hebrews writer says, He saves to the uttermost. It doesn't matter what we've done. We can be as wicked as wicked can be, but His grace is great enough to erase all our sins. When Jesus stands between you and the devil, the devil isn't going to get through!
However, Jesus as Lord doesn’t only offer grace. He also demands submission. The day will come when He will judge everyone on earth. This is the great tragedy of Pride Month. All of those people celebrating their sin, for all of their value and their worth, are facing eternal condemnation. God is not willing for any of them to perish, but all of them will perish unless they repent. If we want them to be saved, we must tell them both that repentance is possible and that it is necessary. The reason for both of these things is Jesus.