Friday, February 7, 2014

Why is this one so special?

In his gospel, Matthew summarizes John the Baptist's message as "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Mat 3:2). Then he summarizes Jesus' message the same way: From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Mat 4:17). The apostles continued the gospel message of repentance and forgiveness of sins, including both Peter (Acts 2:32) and Paul (Acts 17:30). So repentance must be a pretty significant part of the gospel message.

In Christ we are given new birth, and our repentance is fitting for our new godly nature. Christian repentance involves a change of action - the thief must no longer steal, but work diligently to have more to give (Eph 4:28). But the change is not merely of the external actions, but of the inner desires and attitudes that drive them. The Christian former thief will not only repent of stealing, but of covetousness and dishonesty, to be replaced with ever-increasing diligence and generosity. You may be inclined by nature towards anger, wrath, or malice (Col 3:8), but they are to be repented of, replaced with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience (3:12).

Repentance is not just for actions, but for character, attitudes, desires, inclinations. Jesus illustrates this with murder (Mat 5:21-26); the act is sinful, but so is the inner hatred which produces it, even the thought of demeaning him as a fool. And Jesus makes it abundantly clear that this is true for sexuality as well. Adultery is sin, and so is the inner lust which produces it (5:27-30). It doesn't matter how strong your sexual desire is by nature; lust is sin, and sin must be dealt with through repentance. Even thoughts and attitudes, even those of a sexual nature, even if you were born that way.

Yet for some reason we are supposed to believe that there is one special sin for which repentance is not to be encouraged or pursued - the sin of homosexuality. The assertions span the spectrum from "the desires are OK as long as you don't act on them" to "there's nothing wrong with it at all", but all of them share a common assumption, that this particular sin is so deeply ingrained in a person's nature that repentance is impossible, if not undesirable.

He can't repent. He shouldn't even try to repent. He was born that way.

At this point I can't help but wonder how anyone, especially a professing Christian, could say something so hateful. We would be aghast at a doctor lying to a patient, denying that he needs the one medicine which could (and would be guaranteed to) save his life. How much more reprehensible is it to deny a man the sure and only hope for his soul!

The biggest problem with the "born this way" exemption from repentance is that we are all "born that way". That is, we are all born sinners, dead in our trespasses and sins, children of wrath. Our sinfulness may manifest in different acts or lusts in each of us, but we all have the same core problem - we are vile sinners who will be judged by a holy God. And the only hope - the only hope - any of us has is the atoning work of Jesus Christ, who was put forth as a propitiation by his blood, who was delivered up for our sins and raised for our justification, who became sin on our behalf so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. In his great mercy God saves those who have faith in Christ, raising them to newness of life, forgiving their sin, sanctifying them, granting them repentance. To deny this possibility to anyone - to lie to them and tell them they don't need it - is beyond cruel.

Brothers, let us have faith that the atoning work of Christ is strong enough to redeem the vilest sinners. Even homosexuals. Even you. Even me. Let us not deny anyone the glorious hope held out by 1 Corinthians 6:9-11.

"Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.

And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God."


Michael Coughlin said...

At this point I can't help but wonder how anyone, especially a professing Christian, could say something so hateful.

Great line. Your post reminded me of this tweet.

Chris Hohnholz said...