I heard this term in relation to a conversation about gay marriage. I wasn’t sure what this actually meant and how it differs from sin in general. Is it just sin that breaks a covenant? If so is that an argument that homosexuality is okay now that we are in a new covenant? Or does this particular sin cross over into the new covenant as well?
That’s a new term for me. Care to elaborate your findings so far? Or help us define what it is.
Sorry I don’t have any findings on it myself. I only heard it in passing in a conversation online. So I’m not sure what it is myself.
Hi, Luna. I cannot be sure what the term “covenantal sin” meant to those involved in the conversation you overheard, so I really cannot speak to what that is according to how they meant it. However, I can say that sin is sin regardless of whether or not a covenant is in place. Sin is simply anything that goes against God’s design and His ways. It could also be defined as anything which violates God’s purpose. This is what defines what is right and wrong, not only for those who follow the Lord but also for those who don’t, which is why they will be under God’s judgment and wrath if they do not repent and turn to Christ. Wrong does not suddenly become right because of a covenant. To think that just because we have entered into a new covenant some sin becomes becomes okay is to misunderstand, the new covenant, the old covenant, and how the Old Testament and New Testament confirm and uphold each other. The new covenant does not make sin okay. It provides a way for people to be reconciled with God in right relationship with Him through that which was required for sin: a perfect, sinless sacrifice–that of Jesus Christ. When someone repents and accepts Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, that person is now “covered” in a legal sense by Christ’s righteousness. God has accepted his righteousness on our behalf. However, that does not mean that sin is okay because we now have the righteousness of Christ. Paul says on this matter, “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:1-4, NKJV).
Some may see that some things in the Old Covenant were fulfilled in Christ and may mistakenly think that means that the law was fulfilled so that those things which were sinful are now not, but, again, that would be a gross misunderstanding of the way in which the old covenant and new covenant confirm each other, and it would show a major lack of diligence in study on the part of the any proponent of this line of thinking. Certain things like the sacrificial system put into place in old covenant were fulfilled in Christ, which is why we must no longer go about the business of the gruesome practice of sacrificing animals on altars. The sacrifice of Christ put an end to all of that because, of course, he was the perfect sacrifice that the old sacrificial system only foreshadowed.
Added to this, the resurrection is the power living inside of us through the Holy Spirit, given to help us come to a fuller knowledge of God, therefore helping us to discern what is good and right and to avoid and cease doing what is sinful. So, anything that was sin in the Old Testament, such as homosexuality, remains a sin even in the new covenant.
Hopefully this helps answer your question. Unfortunately, there are those proposing and teaching that the Old Testament is no longer to be heeded due to a lack of understanding the Old Testament and how it fits into the whole redemptive history and plan. This, I think, is a major cause of dismissal of parts of the Old Testament that clearly outline God’s design for different aspects of life. But even Paul confirms and makes clear the sinful state of homosexuality in Romans 1:26-27, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, and 1 Timothy 1:9-10.
Thanks for another great question, Luna! Let us know your thoughts
From what I can gather/guess, covenantal sin refers to actions that violate the terms of a covenant (i.e. a relational contract). The action may not in and of itself be morally wrong, but it becomes wrong by violating the terms of the covenant. For example, the Law required the observation of certain festivals (ex. the Passover) and events (ex. the Year of Jubilee) that were particular to the Mosaic Covenant. The Israelites were expected to observe such events not because failing to do so was inherently wrong (people outside the covenant were not expected to observe them), but because the covenant stipulated that the observation of such events was among their responsibilities in return for God’s provision and protection. Thus, in failing to live up to their end of the covenant, they were breaking their collective promise to God.
Many people today are uncomfortable with the Bible’s condemnation of homosexuality because modern notions of justice make it seem mean and intolerant to tell gay people that their affection for each other is sinful. A common method of circumnavigating this difficultly is to try to restrict the sinfulness of homosexuality to certain contexts. For example, people might claim that homosexuality is not wrong if it is consensual, or that the Mosaic Covenant forbids it for historical reasons that do not apply to us now (ex. cultural norms, the need to perpetuate family lines, contemporary understandings of homosexual relationships, etc.). The first argument fails because it attempts to impose modern ethical standards onto biblical standards when the two are incompatible; in Scripture, if an act (such as sex outside of the covenant of marriage) is intrinsically wrong, then consent only creates two guilty parties instead of one. The second argument fails because it ignores appropriate context clues within the text of the Torah.
Look up Leviticus 18, where homosexuality is first expressly forbidden, and you will find not a mishmash collection of unrelated laws, but a body of related prohibitions that is clearly distinct from the texts that precede and succeed it. With one exception (child sacrifice to Molech), each of the forbidden actions relates to sexual activity; this is, in fact, the Torah’s definitive passage on sexual immorality. Not only is homosexuality forbidden without qualification and called “an abomination,” it is shortly followed by the following passage (Leviticus 18:24-30, ESV):
"Do not make yourselves unclean by any of these things, for by all these the nations I am driving out before you have become unclean, and the land became unclean, so that I punished its iniquity, and the land vomited out its inhabitants. But you shall keep my statutes and my rules and do none of these abominations, either the native or the stranger who sojourns among you (for the people of the land, who were before you, did all of these abominations, so that the land became unclean), lest the land vomit you out when you make it unclean, as it vomited out the nation that was before you. For everyone who does any of these abominations, the persons who do them shall be cut off from among their people. So keep my charge never to practice any of these abominable customs that were practiced before you, and never to make yourselves unclean by them: I am the Lord your God.”
This passage makes it clear that the prohibited actions (including homosexuality) are not merely covenantal sin. Instead, they are sin to people outside the covenant, they are sins that pollute both the people who practice them and the land they live in, and they are sufficiently offensive to God to warrant the genocide and expulsion of the Canaanites (and the Israelites, if they practice them with impunity); in other words, they are moral sins.
We can actually go further. If we turn to Mark 7:20-23 (Matthew and Luke have similar passages), Jesus makes the following statement:
And [Jesus] said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”
There are a few things to note here. First, this statement takes place within the context of Jesus overturning the traditions of the elders (ritual hand-washing) and, implicitly, covenantal regulations (dietary laws); at the same time, it maintains that certain actions are morally wrong, including sexual immorality (which encompasses all illicit sexual acts and cannot be restricted to adultery, which separately specified). Given that Jesus assumes that His audience knows what He means by “sexual immorality,” and His audience was made up of devout Jews whose worldview was centered around the Torah, we can only conclude that Jesus is assuming and validating the Torah’s standards of what constitutes sexual immorality, which includes without qualifications homosexuality.
So while the argument that homosexuality is permissible under certain circumstances sounds tolerant and loving, it simply does not hold up to biblical scrutiny. Not only does it impose a modern, secular standard of ethics onto a text that does not share them, it fails to account for textual contexts that indicate the universality of the Old Testament moral laws that were validated and reinforced by Christ’s teachings. While there are many regulations in the Torah that were important in setting Israel apart as a covenant people but do not apply to us as people of the new covenant, homosexuality simply isn’t one of them. And at the end of the day, it is not loving to encourage our brothers and sisters in Christ to act sinfully. “Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth” (I Corinthians 13:6, NIV).