"If there is found in your midst, in any of your towns, which the Lord your God is giving you, a man or a woman who does what is evil in the sight of the Lord your God, by transgressing His covenant, and has gone and served other gods and worshiped them, or the sun or the moon or any of the heavenly host, which I have not commanded, and if it is told you and you have heard of it, then you shall inquire thoroughly. Behold, if it is true and the thing certain that this detestable thing has been done in Israel, then you shall bring out that man or that woman who has done this evil deed to your gates, that is, the man or the woman, and you shall stone them to death." (Deuteronomy 17:2-5)We have heard Christian missionaries depict the hostile attitude taken by other nations against the Gospel of Christ and against Christianity. For example, there are many countries that are closed to the Gospel and expel anyone attempting to preach Christianity. In other countries Christian missionaries have faced threats, harassment, and even death for preaching the Gospel. And in some countries, if someone does convert to Christianity, they are targeted for excommunication and even death; often at the hands of their own family members. As people living in the west, it is hard for us to understand cultures that appear to be so afraid of outside influences and who do all in their power to isolate themselves from what they see as corrupting ideas and influences. To us, they seem out of step with the rest of the world while, to them, we are the infidels, the apostates, the agents of evil.
Before we become too harsh in our assessment of them, we must remember back to a time in our own religious history, when those who departed from serving God, or advocated the worship of foreign Gods, were tried, judged, and stoned to death. Ancient Israel had a "no tolerance" policy for other religions. As a nation, they had one national religion, and heresy was a capital offense. Even in the early days of the United States, some of the original thirteen colonies also punished heretics with death.
While there are many religions around the world that advocate such treatment and punishment of infidels, Christianity is different. The laws instituted by God for the Nation of Israel has as its purpose the preservation of the fidelity, truth, and obedience of Israel. The goal was to eliminate outside influences that could tempt the Israelites from their service and devotion to God to serve and follow after another. God knew that they were susceptible to outside influences and temptations, that is why He set forth laws to cleanse such temptations (and tempters) from the land. So what has changed with the advent of Christ and why do we not (or should not) persecute heretics nor execute holy war on infidels? The answer has to do with the fact that we are so easily defined.
"'If a man carries holy meat in the fold of his garment, and touches bread with this fold, or cooked food, wine, oil, or any other food, will it become holy?' And the priests answered, 'No.' Then Haggai said, 'If one who is unclean from a corpse touches any of these, will the latter become unclean?' And the priests answered, 'It will become unclean.'" (Haggai 2:12-13)Our natural progression is always downward, never upward. Left to ourselves, we naturally trend towards the carnal, foolish, and evil forces in this world. Even when surrounded by Godly influences, the natural inclination of the flesh is to draw away from God and towards the appetites of the world. Even though the Israelites had God's pure and perfect law, it was not enough to save them from their own sinful natures. When it comes to the enticements of sin, the law is too week to save us.
"For, on the one hand, there is a setting aside of a former commandment because of its weakness and uselessness (for the Law made nothing perfect)." (Hebrews 7:18-19)While the law was good and perfect, it could not keep us from sin and from the influences of the world. Then came Jesus. What I find most fascinating about Jesus is that He was not defiled by the world and those around Him. There is the story of the woman who had the issue of blood.
"And a woman who had been suffering from a hemorrhage for twelve years, came up behind Him and touched the fringe of His cloak; for she was saying to herself, 'If I only touch His garment, I will get well.'" (Matthew 9:20-21)By Jewish law, Jesus would have become unclean when the woman touched Him, but instead, He simply turned to her and pronounced her healing, "Daughter, take courage; your faith has made you well." (Matthew 9:22) Something has changed in Jesus where we are no longer enslaved to the temptations and influences of the world, rather we are able to resist them and to live in a way that is pleasing to God. We have exchanged the law and its weakness for something that has real power.
"For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit." (Romans 8:2-4)Jesus was not defiled, not because of some new law, but because of the life that was inside Him. His righteousness did not flow from an external law but from an internal and incorruptible life inside, and if we have received Jesus, then we too have this life inside us.
"For through the Law I died to the Law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live , but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me." (Galatians 2:19-20)Thanks be to God who had freed us from the law and given His life to us that we might truly live. This is our hope that, even in an evil and perverse world, we can still overcome by His life. "You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world." (1 John 4:4)