The nature of holiness
In both biblical testaments, holiness is first a status conferred by God on those he has redeemed and drawn to himself (e.g. Ex. 19:4-6; 1 Cor. 1:2, 30; 6:11). It is also a calling to be lived out in obedience to his word, in separation from the world and its values (e.g. Lv. 19:1; 1 Thes. 4:1-8). Holiness is an expression of the covenant relationship in which God has placed us. We are to bear witness to a fallen world of God’s character and intentions for humanity by our distinctive, God-determined lifestyle (e.g. 1 Pet. 2:9-12). See my argument in Possessed by God.
The parameters of holiness
The parameters of holiness were established for Israel in the Mosaic law, where issues of sexual behaviour and interpersonal relationships are central. But the prescriptions of the law with regard to sexuality reflect the fundamental principles of Genesis about God’s purposes in creation. See Holiness and God’s Creation Purpose.
The parameters of holiness under the New Covenant are established by Jesus and his apostles (e.g. Matthew 5-7; 15:1-20; 19:1-12). They affirm again the foundational intentions of God for marriage and sexuality, as reflected in the creation narratives and the provisions of the Mosaic law. See What did Jesus teach about homosexuality?
Although Christians are not under the law, what the law essentially required is fulfilled under the New Covenant in ‘those who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit’ (Rom. 8:4).
New Testament teaching on sexuality and holiness is often given with reference to particular situations in the early church (e.g. 1 Cor. 6:9-20). However, the principles enunciated are above and beyond situational variables because they are rooted in the clear and unequivocal position of the Old Testament. See Holiness and Sexuality on the Pauline Writings and Same-Sex Unions and Romans 1.
Regulations and principles
There is a continuity of principle and intention in what is taught about sexuality in the Bible. The apostle Paul was relaxed about abandoning Old Testament regulations concerning circumcision, sacrificial rituals, and food laws, but not concerning matters of sexual conduct. These were understood to reflect God’s purpose for humanity in creation and were not limited to his covenant requirements for Israel as a distinct group among the nations. See The Interpretation of Scripture.
The penalty for unholiness
In the Mosaic law there were severe penalties for sexual sin (e.g. Leviticus 20), which are not applied to believers under the New Covenant. Nevertheless, the immediate penalty for serious cases of sexual misbehaviour amongst professing Christians is excommunication or exclusion from the fellowship of believers until repentance has been expressed (1 Cor. 5:1-5; cf. Lv. 18:29-30). The ultimate penalty for persistent sexual misbehaviour is exclusion from the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:9-10).
Some helpful books on homosexuality
R. A. J. Gagnon, The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics (Nashville: Abingdon, 2001)
C. Keane (ed.), What Some of You Were (Sydney: Matthias Media, 2000)
D. F. Wright, The Christian Faith and Homosexuality (Rev. ed., Edinburgh: Rutherford House, 1997)
T. E. Schmidt, Straight and Narrow? Compassion and Clarity in the Homosexuality Debate (Leicester: IVP, 1995)
B. Whitehead, Craving for Love: Relationship Addiction, Homosexuality and the God who Heals (Tunbridge Wells: Monarch, 1993)