A friend sent me a meme on Leviticus 19:19. The meme was confrontational. Much, much more than the one below! Its point was simple. Since Christians wear polyester and cotton socks (or cotton and wool!) which are a blend of two materials – they break Leviticus 19:19. ‘Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material.’ So, how can Christians say anything about sexual ethics or anything else that might spring from Leviticus as a standard since they break the rules themselves?
The meme is right. Christians break the clothing laws! And, what’s worse the food laws, inheritance laws and lots of others. So, what is going on?
3 points come together
1. The point of the Leviticus laws and Old Testament laws
These laws on food, clothing, sexual, ethical, financial dealings etc from Leviticus and elsewhere were given to the Jews, God’s people, to make them distinct from the nations around them and to teach the Israelities (the Jews) that they were God’s people. The Israelities were God’s people and were to be set apart and special for God – holy. The food, clothing, sexual, ethical, financial, slavery and many other laws were given to show this distinction. Every time a Jew put on clothing, cooked a meal, went shopping at the market, sowed a field or thought about sex they were reminded by these cascading laws that they were God’s people, set aside for him.
I am the LORD, who brought you up out of Egypt to be your God; therefore be holy, because I am holy. Leviticus 11:45
These laws taught God’s people that holiness meant difference and distinction. They taught what it meant to be set apart and special for God.
However, God’s plan was always to allow people to wear poly cotton socks.
2 The Bible has one huge awesome plotline
The Bible has one huge awesome plotline. It can be summarised in two parts as promise in the Old Testament and fulfilment in the New Testament. The promise and fulfilment centre on Jesus.
When Jesus came, he made it clear that he fulfilled the Old Testament. All of it.
Jesus said to them, "This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms." 45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46 He told them, "This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. Luke 24:44-48
The apostle Paul puts it like this:
For no matter how many promises God has made, they are "Yes" in Christ. And so, through him the "Amen" is spoken by us to the glory of God. 2 Corinthians. 1:20
Jesus was consistent in this idea. He claimed to be the lamb of God, fulfilling the Old Testament lamb. He claimed to be the temple of God making the physical temple redundant. He claimed to be the true man of God fulfilling the nation of Israel.
3 Jesus changed everything by pouring out the Holy Spirit
Fulfilling the Old Testament was big, really big.
With this, Jesus was bringing a radical change. When Jesus came, one of the biggest and most astonishing changes was that after his death and resurrection he poured out the Holy Spirit. The coming of the Holy Spirit means God’s people are holy and different – from the inside out.
Here’s the promise from the Old Testament for God’s people.
I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. Ezekiel 36:26-27
And here is the idea applied by Paul in the New Testament:
But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Galatians 5:18
Anticipating this reality Jesus declared all food clean, over turning all the food laws. (Mark 7) Why? Food isn’t unclean, holy or unholy. It doesn’t change a person’s holiness. For food goes into the stomach and is expelled. In the Bible’s understanding of humanity, it is the heart of a person that is the centre of ethics, decisions and thinking. This is a person’s spiritual heart not their organ that pumps blood. What needs to be changed is the heart and the only way that happens is by the spiritual change that comes from the Holy Spirit given by Jesus.
This principle then explains why Christians wear poly / cotton socks. It is also why a Christian would eat chilli-jam crab or throw a few prawns on the bbq. The true difference and distinction – holiness - comes from Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit. It does not come from missing out on seafood or by buying only cotton undies. That time is past!
Does this mean Christians are just picking and choosing which laws they like and don’t like? I.e. they now want to wear poly cotton socks and eat pork bellies but they arbitrarily don’t like sex with animals so they want that law kept. Is that how it works?
Five things come together
1 Jesus reveals God’s standard by his death on the Cross. Jesus was crucified and faced God’s anger at sin so people could be forgiven and the Holy Spirit would poured out. Clearly, then holiness really matters to God. People are saved by trusting Jesus’ death but they are saved to be a holy people for God, putting sin to death because it has been defeated.
2. New Testament teaching shows that the time of the law is over for the Spirit has come. It is from the transforming work of the Holy Spirit that true change comes.
18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. (Galatians 5:18-25 NIV)
The issue here is not what you wear on your body but what is it that fills your heart. This heart change might then influence what you wear because you care about honouring your body and other people.
3. New Testament teaches explicitly and implicitly that the Old Testament laws are now redundant: food laws, eating laws, inheritance laws, temple laws and many others. They are redundant because Jesus and the apostles taught they were about the external (food laws) or they are redundant because Jesus fulfilled them. (See the discussion on the sacrificial system and priests in Hebrews 7-10).
Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. 17 These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. Colossians 2:16-17
And a touch later
Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules: 21 "Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!"? Colossians 2:20
And they are redundant because the time of the political, national kingdom of God is over. The nation of the Jews was a phase in God’s plan that is over. An important phase but it is over. Now the focus is on the new people of God drawn from every nation.
Here (in Christ) there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. 12 Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Colossians 3:11-12
4. The time of the law is over but the laws of the Old Testament revealed God’s character of holiness and the way he wanted his people to treat others. And so there is continuity at this point. In this sense they are not redundant at all! This passage from the New Testament could be clearly connected with many Old Testament passages and laws.
When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. Colossians. 3:4-6
We can see from this single passage wearing poly / cotton socks are not where the action is at. The heart of the action is what is going on in the heart and how are God’s people treating other people and this world. This is the difference and distinction God longs for in light of Jesus.
Let me say again these ethics or rules for holiness don’t save people – only Jesus’ death does that. Rather, they show how God wants his redeemed people to live by the power of the Holy Spirit.
5. God’s desire for how humanity are to live to honour him and each other is something that arches over the whole Bible. It was revealed even before the law was given to the Israelites in Exodus, Leviticus and so on. God showed his pattern for humanity right from the start from his word. Sometimes this was explicit such as one man and one woman being united as one flesh in Genesis 2. Sometimes these truths are shown by the narrative. Take the death of Abel. There is no law given by God but the context of people being made in the image of God in Genesis 1 and the severe rebuke by God to Cain show that God considered every human life precious to him.
How should we summarise all this? What’s the take home?
Here’s the take home and here is what I comment almost every time I see a meme or question about the law in the Old Testament.
The Bible has one awesome plotline. The Jews were given laws to make them distinct and different – to set them apart as holy and teach them holiness. But when Jesus came he fulfilled God’s plan for holiness. He showed that true holiness is a heart attitude toward God that is only possible because he, Jesus, pours out the Holy Spirit to change God’s people from the inside out.
So, Christians, go ahead and wear those poly / cotton socks and underwear but live for God and show his holiness whenever and where ever you wear your poly / cotton socks and underpants. And if you’re not a Christian – look to Jesus. He is the standard and source of holiness in our world. He is the distinct difference we need.
 Which is just the same as the Old Testament. Keeping the Old Testament laws isn’t what saved someone. God rescued his people out of Egypt and told them ‘Since, you are now my people here is how I want you to live as my people!’ Keeping the laws showed that you thought you were one of God’s people who was already saved. You were God’s people by his grace and mercy and you lived under the law to show you were one of his people.