When sin is still SIN!
If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ and again, ‘The Lord will judge his people.’ It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
Hebrews 10:2631 (ANIV)
In the letters page of a fairly conservative Christian magazine, which recently published an article looking at the question of homosexual partnerships, one letter-writer concluded-in his judgement of gay relationships-’However compassionate one may wish to be, the fact is that sin is still Sin!’.
No doubt the writer is not concerned solely with adherence to biblical truth. Underlying his concern is the worry, shared by many sincere Christians today, about the landslide collapse of moral values in our society, especially in the realm of sexual morality, as it is traditionally understood. At some point, he is urging us, we must stop and recognise the seriousness of sin. His words echo almost a sense of desperation that the line must be drawn somewhere!
Since Courage began considering a ‘new approach’ to the pastoral care of gay and lesbian people, I have always known we must be diligent in listening to the voice of God in case he wants to signal that we are going astray. The warnings of scripture as seen from the letter to the Hebrews, could not be more severe. We do well to take the advice of Oswald Chambers, who wrote in his book My Utmost for His Highest, ‘We must be obsessed with God’-so that nothing else can take his place in our lives. Nevertheless, whilst wanting to be sensitive to any correction that comes from God, I find myself questioning the notion that ‘sin is still Sin’. Is this statement really heralding a serious warning, with the gravity its speaker implies? Moreover, other people’s sins so easily seem to attract censure, especially where sexual matters are concerned, but rarely do we hear of Christians mourning over their own sins these days (Matthew 5:4). So when someone throws out a conversation-stopping remark like this, I am tempted to suspect that there is a hidden agenda, albeit unknown to them.
Too often, I believe, we tend to use the word ‘sin’ in a rather shallow sense. To speak of sin, placing our emphasis on transgressing the law, masks its real and underlying significance. This is much more worrying. In doing so, our words negate the Gospel message. Let me explain.
The fall of man
No doubt our tendency to connect the word sin with disobeying the law, as if this were its primary significance, comes from the story of the Fall of Man, when Adam and Eve disobeyed God by eating the forbidden fruit. It is clear, of course, that this single act of disobedience has had the most terrible consequences for mankind. But just a little thought on the subject should alert us to the fact that there is a far more important message here.
The importance of obedience-in perspective
Anyone bringing up children will know that some ‘acts of disobedience’ are in themselves fairly inconsequential, whilst others can be a matter of life and death. Tell a child not to eat too much chocolate lest it makes them sick could demonstrate an interesting object lesson for the child who disobeys and maybe an unpleasant mess to clear up afterwards! But then the matter is over and the lesson learned. But tell a child not to pick and eat toadstools found in a woodland is quite another matter. Failure to heed the warning not to eat potentially poisonous toadstools (which may look to the child like mushrooms) may result in their death! The heart-broken parents then grieve the loss of their child; the act of disobedience in itself, is hardly their uppermost concern! Similarly, the seriousness of Adam and Eve eating fruit that was specifically forbidden was far more than an issue of disobedience. Tasting the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil represented a bid for human autonomy; their disobedience was catastrophic for the human race. And the great tragedy was in becoming alienated from God.
At this point, I believe we should note that from the beginning God regarded man with dignity and respect. God did not treat Adam like a child. He did not say ‘you mustn’t eat the fruit-because I say so!’, like an irritable parent who does not want to be questioned. God explained the nature of the fruit-that it would impart the knowledge of good and evil, and also gave the reason for his warning -that man would surely die (Genesis 2:17,18). So when we focus on the fact of Adam’s disobedience as if that were the most important issue, we overlook the crucial point-that man fell in that moment from his place of unbroken trust and confidence in God. For mankind, there was no way back.
While I do not want to overlook the concern of many Christians-that calls for us to ‘draw the line somewhere’-I am writing this article to challenge the underlying assumption behind the warning that ‘sin is still Sin!’. The words may sound genuine enough, motivated no doubt by a desire to be uncompromising. But such sentiment belies the truth about man’s sinful condition-that we fail to recognise at our peril.
In a sermon I once heard, the preacher explained that the word ‘sin’ originated from an archery term meaning to ‘miss the mark’. When you stop to think of it, it is obvious that an arrow which misses its target is completely useless. It accomplishes nothing at all! For anyone practising archery today, missing the target might be disappointing; no doubt the keen hobbyist will want to hone their skills. However, when arrows were first invented, they were a man’s only means of long-range defence. To miss the target, whether it be a hungry wild animal that saw you as a tasty morsel for its supper, or a human enemy attacking you, your failure to hit the target could very likely cost you your life!
This demonstrates the essential truth about sin. The Bible teaches that we are all sinners-we have all fallen short of the glory of God. God’s judgement was declared when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit and the sentence was death. In ourselves, there is no hope of being restored to communion with God. Standing condemned, as we are, there is nothing whatever we can do to secure our redemption. Without a plan for our salvation we await our fate at the hands of the living God. And most people in today’s post-Christian culture are completely unaware of their peril.
The way of salvation
Fortunately, the glorious good news of Jesus Christ is that he has secured our salvation through the Cross. Forgiveness and redemption are now possible for all who turn to him. Knowing Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour provides the way of salvation, thanks be to God. Moreover the Gospel, which calls for a response of repentance and faith, reinforces the enduring theme throughout scripture-that the righteous shall live by faith! (Romans 1:16,17)
It therefore becomes clear that, according to Scripture, the righteous can be distinguished from the unrighteous by the question of whether or not they are believers from the heart. Something profound has to have taken place that affects us from the very core of our being-an encounter with the living God! As for some of the personal choices we make, as we go through life (especially regarding some of the relationships we may make), these can often be subject to criticism from others. The true believer, however, is concerned above all with pleasing God.
As Christians, one expects to see one’s fellow disciples of Jesus Christ live their lives according to his values and commands. From time to time, words of admonishment are both appropriate and necessary. But if you study the commands of Jesus, one theme is consistent throughout-they all reinforce Jesus’ summary of the two most important commandments-to love the Lord your God with all your heart and to love your neighbour as yourself.
A real temptation today
In every age, one of the great temptations for mankind is to embellish God’s Word with human ideas. Jesus accused the Pharisees of demanding obedience to their law (Matthew 23). He regarded the demands of their traditions as being something different to the life of faith that God requires.
As one who has been in Christian leadership for the past 14 years, I can understand the temptation very well! When Courage used to run a live-in discipleship course, we had what we called a House Manual, which spelled out what was required of house members, to ensure a common understanding of what we were trying to do. The house rules were simple enough, and to my mind entirely reasonable! But their very existence seemed to tempt house members to test out and flout the rules in the most innovative and exasperating ways! Each year we found ourselves trying to tighten up the rules to eliminate loopholes or the apparent scope for misunderstanding! So I can easily understand how the Pharisees might have felt. When you are in spiritual authority and need to oversee the behaviour of those you are responsible for, trying to enforce the law seems to be the only way of bringing about some sort of order. And grace is an attitude you try to maintain when you need to enforce the law! Otherwise everyone just does whatever they like.
In practice, we can so easily feel that unless we lay down the law, life will become chaotic! Whereas Jesus’ concerns were focussed on proclaiming the Kingdom of Heaven, encouraging people to prepare themselves to face God. He did not urge us to work through the issues of this life in self-improvement courses! This intriguing lesson, learned the hard way through the early years of the Courage ministry, was not fully apparent until years after God had graciously enforced the closure of the discipleship houses. At the time, we just could not understand it. The temptation was to blame ourselves and others: it seemed the result of failure on the part of the leaders, rebellion on the part of the members, lack of support for the ministry from the wider Church perhaps. In short, human failing seemed the reason for the downfall of the programme.
At the time I felt sure that God must have been as disappointed as we were. All those people who were unable to achieve righteousness on their own were now deprived of the support system designed to help them. Or so we thought. Interestingly enough, the relationships between many house members have been ongoing over many years since, while the programme seems to have been a failure. This suggests that the community we formed was fruitful because it provided a practical demonstration of acceptance and belonging where we learned, falteringly perhaps, to love and accept one another. So the older I get, the more convinced I become that God does not need our programmes at all. However good they may be, discipleship programmes are no substitute for the fundamental change of heart God is looking for. Whereas sincere love, acceptance and forgiveness among the brethren are the means that promote the change of heart which makes possible our redemption. But learning to love is far more challenging than developing programmes and imposing rules!
When God is in charge of the programme ...
The trouble is, we all tend to be impatient to see ‘results’! Hard though it may be to admit even now, we were tempted to feel, along with generations of God’s people, that if we left the agenda to Jesus to run, nothing would happen! It was therefore up to us to take the initiatives-as ‘really committed Christians’-to make things happen. So we conscientiously endeavoured to give God a helping hand, feeling sure he would reward us for our best efforts-with success in fulfilling our objectives. After all, we just wanted to see people changed into Christ-likeness-defined in our minds (let’s be honest) more by being hard-working, prosperous, middle class, heterosexual, church-going folk, who married and raised nice well-behaved families. That, surely, would gladden God’s heart and we would be the salt of the earth.
To be sure, such endeavours are in line with the unspoken desire of many Christians today-to work for a safe, civilised and efficient modern society. But as John Eldredge points out in his intriguing new book Wild at Heart, there is nothing in the Bible to suggest that God’s plan for me, as a Christian man, is to become ‘a really nice guy’! Yet in reality, the ‘Christian’ agenda, as manifested in many of our churches, has little to do with the proclamation of the Gospel. And the protest, ‘ ... but sin is still Sin!’ has nothing whatever to do with the way of salvation, nor does it contribute one iota towards ‘attaining’ true righteousness. The way of salvation cannot be attained; it is revealed-to those who seek God, not those who seek social respectability. Let us remember that there are some extremely disreputable types in the Bible (just study the character of those listed in Hebrews 11); but they are considered heroes of the faith nevertheless-because their faith in God was counted as righteousness.
So where then is the place for judgement?
At this point, some readers may be asking an understandable question: ‘Are there any circumstances in which you would judge another? After all, didn’t Paul tell us to expel the immoral man? Didn’t Jesus command us to expel the sinner who would not own his fault?’ (Matthew 18:1517) Jesus went on to say we should treat such a man as you would treat a pagan and a tax collector!
Undoubtedly there are times when some form of judgement is necessary, but rarely do we handle those times well, with either Jesus’ or Paul’s priorities. The reality is that ‘the moment of parting’ is most often determined, unfortunately, by the obduracy of one or other person, when one insists on their own agenda at the expense of another. More often than not, the time we decide to part company is when our patience runs out with someone we are in dispute with. Worse still, we are often dishonest enough to hide our real feelings behind theological or psychological arguments! On reflection, Jesus spent a lot of his time with pagans and tax collectors. Not a favourite pastime amongst many of us as Christians today! But then Jesus came to save sinners, not the righteous.
Why be good at all?
So what’s the point of bothering to be good? Why make an effort to study and obey the law if God is just going to let anybody into the Kingdom of Heaven who professes that they believe? Isn’t this the very definition of antinomianism1?
To my mind there are two primary reasons for studying God’s laws and endeavouring to live in obedience to them. Firstly, if we love the Lord and want to live a life that is pleasing to him, there is no better way to find out how than to study his Word, and (with the help of the Holy Spirit) learn to live by the values expressed in the law. I use the term ‘values’, because while most of us would agree that the Ten Commandments remain inviolable as they stand, clearly some of the law needs reflecting on and updating to be workable in today’s world. If you doubt me, try studying Leviticus 20: almost all the transgressions listed there, including adultery, require the death penalty, which would be anathema to us. So why do we tend to seize on verse 13 as if it were the only law in Leviticus relevant to us today? Why not proclaim verses 7 and 8, which are absolutely relevant to us-for all time? But then of course those verses would challenge everyone; we could no longer get away with making gay people (or any other minority group) the scapegoats for all of society’s ills!
Secondly, we live according to the law for the good of society and to ensure its stability. But underlying that, we must remember that unless our efforts to live by God’s values are motivated from the heart by our love for the Lord and for our fellow man, then our endeavours to live in obedience to God merely make us self-righteous like the Pharisees, not truly righteous before God. Unless faith is the foundation of our obedience, we live by the strength and determination of man, not the power of God. The difference in effect is like night and day!
If we are truly led by the Spirit of God, then as we love and serve our fellow human beings in the name of Christ, we are privileged to play a part in setting people free-free to worship God, which in turn may encourage them to live a better life. But if we usurp the Lord’s role of arbiter and judge, imposing our own views, then we are actually building nothing more than a salvation cult! And there are not many people around these days who want to join!
But what about ‘the sin that enslaves’?
‘Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles ... ‘
Is the writer to the Hebrews not urging us to get our lives right, and choose to obey God’s commands, resisting those things that are forbidden? ‘Be holy, [because] without holiness no-one will see God.’ (Hebrews 12:14). Yet being holy is simply this: to be single-minded in our devotion to Christ. How this works out in practice will vary from one person to another. Paul tells us (Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 10:2333) that we must live according to our conscience, guided by the Word and the Holy Spirit. But there are indeed certain kinds of sin that entangle.
Let me give an example of a common temptation today where a form of sin that enslaves can so easily take a hold-where one’s conscience and walk with God (or lack of it) determines the outcome. Some years ago, at a time when the ministry was desperately short of funds, the National Lottery was started. I had never been drawn towards gambling before but at this time, though I knew it was frowned upon, I could not think of one convincing argument against it. The financial pressure was such that I experienced a bizarre feeling (that can seem almost reasonable under intense pressure) that I had a duty to go in for it-to try and win some money if I could. I sought God on the matter, but at the time he said nothing. So I tried going in for the lottery a few times. I even won some money on the first few occasions (just £10 or so), which kindled a hope of winning a larger amount. As this pursuit grew increasingly attractive to me, I found myself becoming preoccupied by the relief I would feel, if only I could pay off all the bills and get out of difficulty. I even schemed how I would invest money for the future development of the ministry, so that we would never get into such a tight corner again. It seemed such an attractive proposition!
A few weeks passed and I won nothing more. I began to feel increasingly dissatisfied: I still faced financial crisis, yet no relief came. So I sought God with a greater urgency: I just prayed one morning, ‘Lord you must tell me what you think of this’. I began looking through the gospels and within a few moments I found these words of Jesus: ‘Watch out! Be on your guard against every kind of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.’ (Luke 12:15)
As I thought about it, I asked myself, what is the worst thing that could happen if I cannot pay my way or find the money I need? I could go bankrupt! Perhaps surprisingly, in that moment, the thought of losing my relationship with God became a vivid and infinitely worse scenario. So I made a decision to trust in God alone for my financial supply, even if I became bankrupt. The loss would be slight by comparison. At once I felt empowered in a new way to give up this foolish lottery. For me this was a rhema word-a living and active word-that I needed right then to help me find a godly way through this moral dilemma. After this revelation, for a long time I could not bear the sight of a lottery stand! God carried me through that tough time in other ways, and has proved his steadfast faithfulness, which we discover when we trust in him alone.
But without the prompting of the Holy Spirit, no doubt I could have become addicted to a practice that would have drawn me away from trusting in God. This is what I believe the New Testament writers mean when they warn against the sin that enslaves, for that kind of sin draws us back to living by our wits.
Having said that, I once met a woman for whom entry in a competition resulted in her winning a car that she desperately needed; she shared her gratitude for God’s provision. I believe it would therefore be presumptuous to conclude that God prohibits all competitions which offer a prize and make a law out of it. The point is that the Gospel calls us to repent (turn away) from living out of our own strength and become worshippers of the Lord Jesus-whose strength is made perfect in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).
Without love we are nothing!
The temptation for any of us to be legalistic is immensely strong, relentless in fact. And if Christian leaders fall into this temptation, the result is a legalism which cripples Christians, suffocates a life of faith, stifles our witness for the Gospel and prevents us from being fruitful or bringing glory to the name of the Lord Jesus. Sincere seekers of God’s ways discover that unless we are dependent on God’s grace and motivated by love we are-nothing! (1 Corinthians 13).
Loving the sinner while hating their sin
This amazing grace continues to worry us though. Almost as popular in the Christian vernacular is the theologically-correct-sounding statement: ‘Well of course Jesus loved the sinner didn’t he, but he hated their sin!’.
If you actually try to live according to this philosophy, you soon discover its impracticality. If we are offended by ‘the sin’, really we mean a lifestyle issue of ‘the sinner’. How else could we make a distinction, since we are all sinners? If we hate the sin, sooner or later we will hate the sinner too! Alternatively, if we really do care about ‘the sinner’, then care for the person means that as we try to understand what leads them into their transgressions, before you know it, you find yourself making excuses for them.
This is what many of my critics think Courage is doing-loving and understanding gay people and therefore concluding that what they do must be OK. Well even I can see the dangers there. But this does not mean that we should somehow all be striving towards achieving a perfect balance-between loving the person but hating certain kinds of actions that we believe we should officially be disapproving of.
If we genuinely love someone, the fact is that we tend to be favourably disposed towards them. We are gracious towards them. We are not looking to find fault with the things they do. But if we find fault with a person, because of some characteristic we dislike, it soon becomes hard to approve of anything they do!
Since love motivates us to try and win the heart of the object of our affection, grace (including God’s grace), tends to be biased towards understanding. Therefore, far from conveying an important truth, the suggestion that we should ‘love the sinner, but hate the sin’ says more about the speaker’s attitude, but actually amounts to-nothing at all.
There must be a sense in which Jesus loves the sinner while hating the sin, but what Jesus hates is not a specified catalogue of transgressions or graded types of wrong-doing. He hates the reality of sin-the fact that man is fallen-and separated from the Father. Worse still, left to our own devices, he knows we would remain separated for eternity! So, motivated by love for each of us, Jesus came so that we might be reconciled to God-and that reconciliation is made possible through the cross and appropriated by faith, not by trying to be good.
Is being gay a moral issue?
This is a question that many Christians consider to be a sin-even to ask! The common view is that of course it is a moral issue! The Bible is crystal-clear: homosexuality is a sin, an abomination no less! This is not the place to spell out the arguments for and against these assumptions. I have written about this before and there are many good books and articles on the subject2. For now I just want to reiterate that I believe pastoral imperatives make this a question we can, indeed must consider. God’s sovereignty is not diminished by sincere questions.
Our mission is to reach men and women of a homosexual orientation. In view of the problems that being gay or lesbian produce, allow me to propose for the moment that to be gay is not, in itself, a moral issue, but something people cannot help, like being dyslexic for instance. Though we are all responsible for our actions, my own observation over many years, is that far from being a distinct, volitional moral choice, sexual orientation seems to be more to do with our personality type and is beyond the control of the individual. Nobody I know chooses to be gay, or straight for that matter. In fact if choice were involved, most would undoubtedly choose to be straight, if it were genuinely possible (as opposed to conforming to a zealous religious idealism).
In my school days (1950s and 60s), dyslexia was a condition that was not generally understood. Consequently, dyslexic people were often dismissed as being dim-witted or simply lazy. Prejudice against the condition, that few people even acknowledged, never mind accepted, made life for dyslexic people very difficult. However, as dyslexia has gradually become better understood, it is apparent that with appropriate help, some dyslexic folk can excel in certain areas of life better than those without the condition. In Bible times, nobody would have noticed dyslexia because the ‘condition’ is only recognisable in a society that is dependent on being able to read and write; where to be able to ‘get on’ in the social milieu of our times, dyslexia is a potential handicap.
Similarly, in Bible times nobody would have noticed a person of a homosexual orientation because society considered that it was a person’s duty to marry and raise children. Whether the individuals felt like marrying or not was never a matter for discussion! Whereas in today’s world, men and women have a more equal status and birth control is widely available, so we have choices before us that never existed in the past. Today, those who wish to marry look for a relationship that is founded on mutual love, respect ... and sexual attraction. The question as to whether a person experiences sufficient attraction and sexual chemistry to warrant making the commitment of marriage can become a very real one. In fact, a self-conscious awareness of the direction of one’s feelings of sexual attraction has become a major issue today, in a way that was never the case in previous generations.
Therefore, I believe that being gay cannot, in itself, be a moral issue. The real question is, how do we live and develop relationships that honour God? And Christians who are also gay need to be granted the dignity to be allowed to seek God for themselves and determine what is right practice before the Lord, rather than be treated as pariahs because those who cannot identify with the issues believe their own view of scripture must therefore be the right one! The flaw in such thinking is that it comes from human pre-judgement, not faith-and ‘everything that does not proceed from faith is sin’ (Romans 14:23).
A life of faith will take us through many adventures and all kinds of dangers. If we are to have a prophetic voice in our time, we will face some uncomfortably confrontational situations too. But maintaining the status quo is nowhere on Christ’s agenda, judging by the life and example of Jesus and the early apostles!
By contrast, as long as we imbibe the false notion that living out of our own strength pleases God and promotes the cause of the redemption of fallen man, then we will be living a life that denies the Gospel, presenting ‘ ... a form of godliness but denying its power!’ (2 Timothy 3:5). This is what I believe the writer to the Hebrews meant when he said ‘If we deliberately keep on sinning ... ‘. To live as if the grace of God were no more than a nice comforting idea that draws us towards God-while our core belief is that our whole Christian future depends upon devotion to self-discipline and obedience to God’s law (especially over sexual matters)-then we are indeed trampling the Son of God under foot, treating as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant and insulting the Spirit of grace (Hebrews 10:29)! I fear that the person who argues that ‘sin is still SIN’, perhaps unwittingly, betrays just such a belief.
In summary: we study the scriptures to understand God’s character and learn how to live. We reflect God’s character and honour Him when we trust in Jesus and love one another. We are naturally concerned that in a fallen world our society lives according to the rule of law, otherwise there is anarchy. But let us be clear: Paul taught that laws are given for the lawless (1 Timothy 1), while grace is given that we might know the salvation of God-who is able to work all things together for good for those who love him and are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28). And love covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8).
The real issue at stake is the proclamation of the Gospel!
The debate over homosexuality is merely a tactic in the contemporary spiritual battle to misrepresent the Good News. Because if the Gospel is true and Jesus Christ is Lord, then all who believe are saved by grace, through faith alone. So to maintain an anti-gay stance is wholly inappropriate for the Christian Church.
Even so, to argue that a gay person’s need for companionship is legitimate and allow the possibility that gay relationships might not require repentance, still worries many Christians. Let us look at a parable to illustrate my point:
An invitation to a wedding feast
In his Parable of the Wedding Feast (Matthew 22:114), clearly taught for the benefit of the Pharisees with whom Jesus took issue, we see that the king invites everyone to the banquet-both bad and good. There is no virtue in ‘being good’ to qualify; those initially invited were all condemned as ‘unworthy’, because they were indifferent to the king’s grace, warmth and generosity of heart.
The offence of the Gospel, so clearly apparent in this parable, is that all are welcome, if they simply accept the king’s invitation and use the wedding garments provided. Whether or not the guests were good enough to come was never questioned. Jesus then reveals, through the incident of a man who refused the wedding garments, the terrible consequences of presumption. We have no right to come to God on our own terms; we can only come thanks to God’s provision of righteousness (symbolised here by the wedding clothes provided without cost to the one invited) received with a grateful heart.
Finally, Jesus concludes that ‘many are called but few are chosen’! What does this mean? Notice that just three chapters later, in Matthew 25:3146, as Judge, Jesus explains that he will choose some and reject others: the sheep and the goats are separated according to whether or not they share Christ’s values. And what are those values? The ‘sheep’ feed the hungry, give a drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, care for the sick and visit those who are in prison. Notice that the ‘sheep’ do not even recognise that they did this; their actions came from the heart. In Micah 6:8 we see something similar: ‘What does the Lord require of you? To act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.’
The only real hope for society ...
So the Christian who is genuinely concerned for society, who wants to ‘draw the line’ on sexual matters, or any other, will know in his/her heart that the only real hope for our society lies in making known the true sovereign Lord who is merciful because, as we read in Proverbs 29:18, ‘Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint ... ‘.
It takes a truly humble man or woman with a heart of love for others to communicate that grace. A life of faith then brings about personal moral transformation; preoccupation with the law spawns a lifeless conformity.
The true disciple of Christ learns to recognise the difference.
Preoccupation with sin ...
The worst danger before us in the homosexuality debate today is our preoccupation with sin rather than a preoccupation with the God who has made possible our salvation. Let us not be obsessed with sin and how to live rightly, according to our own understanding (or more likely our cultural preferences). This preoccupation with our own attainment of sin-less-ness is in itself a form of idolatry. If we must be obsessed with anything, let it be with the worship of Almighty God. Then our light (our hope) will shine for all to see.
The greatest temptation
The greatest temptation for the Church today is not that we are ‘sliding down the slippery slope’, or ‘compromising God’s standards’; the greatest temptation for us is to overlook Jesus’ commission-to make it known that the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand, and to urge our fellow man to be prepared. Nobody else is going to do this! So if we get more worked up about social trends than Jesus’ desire to reach people who do not know the Gospel, then our spiritual concern is not authentic. As Paul wrote, ‘If it is only for this life we are saved, we are of all men the most to be pitied.’ (1 Corinthians 15:19)
Who appointed you or me to judge?
No doubt there will be many gay and lesbian people who will fall under God’s judgement. They will be accompanied by a multitude of ‘straight’ people (there are so many more of them!). But I believe there will also be gay and lesbian folk in heaven who, along with their ‘straight’ brothers and sisters, have learned to love their enemies, bless those who curse them and reward evil with good.
And where will we stand? As judge of all who do not conform to our vision of what a Christian should be like? As self-appointed arbiter of what gay men and women, who sincerely love one another, can get up to in bed? Or will we be the man or woman who longs above all to make the Good News known to anyone who will listen? If this is our concern, we will trust in the Holy Spirit, promised to us and to all believers, to guide us into all truth.
I believe we should welcome, not fear, the challenges our modern society brings. I see God using the changes as an opportunity to break down our traditional Western religiousness, to reach people’s hearts in a fresh way. Not everything about Victorian Britain (which inspired many of our ideas about sexuality) was good. Britain may have been more ‘Christian’ in those days, in the sense that there were more church-goers and at least a nodding acceptance of Christian values. But there was also a very great deal wrong with Victorian Britain, with many attitudes and practices accepted then that we would consider appallingly unrighteous today.
As long as we see sin in terms of transgressing God’s law, grandiose statements such as ‘Ahhh, but sin is still SIN!’, or ‘Let’s love the sinner but hate their sin!’ serve as a kind of ‘short-hand’ for speakers who prefer to appeal to a turn of phrase to assert their opinion, rather than give authentic biblical reasons for their concerns. In speaking thus, such words embody a whole attitude-assuming what has not been proved- rather than conveying a true concern for righteousness (living by faith) and godly living (loving our neighbour). And when the issue being judged is one as important in its impact on people’s lives as their basic need for human companionship (for fear that ‘sex’ might somehow be involved), the underlying motivation is highly suspect! Jesus warned that we will be judged on every idle word (Matthew 12:36,37).
For those of us who are Christian and gay, let us work out our salvation with fear and trembling. For those of us who consider ourselves to be straight, let us abandon the policing role we so eagerly yet presumptuously adopt, or we may be the ones who fall into the hands of the living God! We have been warned!
If we remember that Jesus declared, ‘I will build my Church and the gates of hell will not prevail!’ (Matthew 16:18), we may rejoice that our task is to be a messenger of Good News, not a guardian of moral purity.
© Jeremy Marks, July 2002
Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. ‘Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened.’ But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behaviour in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. It is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.
1 Peter 3:1318
The following books are just a very few of many possible titles that could have been included, but may be of interest to the reader wanting to look at arguments other than just the traditional ones about what the Bible has to say regarding homosexual relationships:
Theology and Sexuality, edited by Eugene F Rogers, Jr. (Blackwell Publishers)
Homosexuality and Christian Faith: Questions of Conscience for the Churches, Walter Wink (ed.) (Augsburg)
What the Bible Really Says About Homosexuality, Daniel A Helminiak (Alamo Square Press, San Francisco)
Reluctant Journey, George S. E. Hopper (available from the author at: P.O. Box 5846, Basildon, SS15 4GS)
Permanent, Faithful, Stable, Jeffrey John (Darton, Longman and Todd)