I originally posted the following as a Note on Facebook, thinking that a civil conversation in my “virtual living room” might be possible. I was sadly mistaken.
If you elect to comment here, please do so in a constructive manner, without lecturing. These are my thoughts, and they may be wrong. Please consider that yours might be also.
I don’t think my specific opinions about homosexuality are important at all in light of much more foundational issues.
At the same time, the way one thinks about Scripture does have import; and that’s about the only facet of my doctrinal thinking I would cling to: whatever conclusion one comes to about any doctrinal point, that conclusion should be based on a comprehensive view that takes all elements of what Scripture has to say as part of counsel, without tossing out elements that are problematic or inconvenient. Frankly, “Well, at this point, I just can’t make heads or tails out of it” is a perfectly fine conclusion. The spirit will clear all things up at some point! “Now we see as in a mirror dimly,” as Paul said.
So… I don’t at all meet someone and start thinking, “Gee, in what way is this person rebelling against God? How is this person not stacking up to my notion of what’s right and what’s wrong?” Instead, I’m usually the one quelling idle speculation about personal fobiles, quirks, shortcomings… I tend to look for evidence of God’s spirit working in people, which you can generally find in just about anybody, regardless of religious disposition or philosophy. And whatever it is that God happens to be working in a person’s life is the most interesting thing about that person, and the most worth celebrating. So I celebrate it.
And then, if I have some actual personal contact with a person who doesn’t seem to have much going in the way of spiritual health, or exhibits out-and-out rebellion against their own convictions, that becomes a topic for prayer and special care in terms of love and compassion and patience.
Then if, after a fairly extended period of time, a fairly close friend or associate (believer or otherwise) comes to me and says, “You know, I’ve got this problem with ________. What do you think about that? Is that something you can help me with?”, then I might offer some opinion about what the Bible has to say about the subject. (Long before this time, of course, the person in question would already have found out I’m an ordained minister.)
A fundamental part of this process, for everyone, is this: If there’s evidence of God at work in someone’s life, the movement is toward being more like Christ — not stagnation, and in the vast majority of cases not regression (if we allow for the two-steps-forward-one-step-back pattern we all tend to exhibit). And that means people are going to change. People are going to run into God’s spirit revealing to them that things they used to think are perfectly hunky-dory are really not okay at all. And they are going to have to go through a lot of angst and hand-wringing about some of that stuff (and maybe over many many years or decades) before God brings them into not only a full understanding of the issue but a right way of seeing it spiritually.
So no one gets a free pass with stasis.
No one. Not me. Not you.
What’s important is not where a given person is at in his relationship with God, but that he has one, that it matters to him, and that he understands that God wants more for him than he could possibly ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20-21). That’s what concerns me with everyone I know. My own relationship with God doesn’t become the measure of someone else’s — and someone else’s doesn’t become the measure of my own. Everyone has got to deal with God at some point, and God goes about that differently with everyone.
If I want to compare myself to someone, I compare myself to Christ — and I’m a long way off from that yet. Aren’t we all?
What I believe Christianity says, distinct from other religions, is twofold: first, that sooner or later movement toward God, witting or unwitting, will go through Christ; and second, that the means of facilitating that movement is not human volition but God’s spirit itself.
Those are the truths that we need to speak in love.
That’s what I believe “not being ashamed of the gospel” is about — not being the public defender of specific doctrines or institutions.
We are not asked to speak doctrine to one another in love, nor dogma.
Joshua Ryan Butler is reported to have said, “God is not repelled by our sin. Our sin is repelled by God.” Having faith in what God can do is far more important than categorizing fellow sinners into those we can associate with and those we can’t, based on what we perceive as their particular sinfulness.
Now… ask me what I specifically think of homosexuality. I will most likely ask you, “Why are you asking?”
Declaring what “God’s rule” is in any particular area is a lot more complicated than “chapter and verse says…” To be sure, Paul says in Romans that, generally speaking, right and wrong are self-evident and that wrong-doers have no excuse. But the New Testament has plenty of examples of Jesus and his disciples breaking OT laws — and God apparently being a-okay with that. And, significantly, the major category of laws broken by Jesus and his disciples was those dealing with ritual cleanliness.
As Jesus taught, there are more important things than “being right with the law” because that won’t save anyone. We are saved on the basis of faith — and like the examples the NT cites, saving faith can often look a lot like David (murderer) or Abraham (polygamist, liar, etc.).
In general, I think God is far less disgusted by our sins than our neighbors are. He knows what our endgame is, and doesn’t get all knotted up over where we’re at right now — because he knows our hearts in ways we couldn’t even begin to fathom for ourselves, much less for our neighbor. “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” because “God so loved the world.” Christ did not die for us in spite of his nausea and revulsion. You won’t find that in Scripture.
Instead, coming closer to God bit by bit blasts away all the repellent stuff so that we look more and more like Christ. “He is faithful to complete the work he began” — and it will take some time. In the meantime, we are reckoned “new each morning” through the grace of God, and God looks at us and sees his son instead of the wretches we continue to be.
“Do we continue in sin that grace may abound? May it never be!” But we still have to be convicted of our sin before we can do anything about it; and even then, it may be a long while before we want to (or can) do anything about it.
GRAPHIC CONTENT ALERT. If you are queasy about sexual details, skip forward to END GRAPHIC CONTENT ALERT. But if you want a concrete example of how this progressive conviction of sin has worked in my own life, and may be working out in the lives of others whom you might find disgusting, read on.
I was a pornography addict from the time I was 10 until the time I was 35 (1997). Hard core porn, magazines and video. Not just a little, either. And even when I would go cold turkey, which might last for eight or ten weeks, I was still masturbating every single day — often several times a day — while fantasizing about pornographic sex. All the while I knew what I was doing was wrong — very wrong. Sometimes I indulged wilfully and rebelliously; most of the time I was disgusted with my inability to control my lusts and “tastes.”
The circumstances were unique, but God delivered me from the porn addiction literally overnight — while I still had a porn stash in my bedroom. So please don’t believe that God is powerless over the sin you invite into you home, your life, or your heart. One day I couldn’t get enough — the next night I had no need for it. And after that happened, I got out my porn stash, took it to the trash, and have never indulged in porn since, much less been tempted by it — not even while handling it and taking it to the trash.
(Note that this experience was 100% was due to God, and is, in my experience, completely outside the norm. In counseling dozens of other men about porn, I have not heard of another instance of instant, permanent deliverance… just as, in the same way, most people don’t get miraculously cured of cancer. Some do, however. You might be the next.)
This did not, however, change much about my sexual impulses. I still was a chronic masturbator, and regularly indulged in pornographic fantasy. I also knew this was wrong, but seemed powerless to do much to control the urge.
While Jenn and I were dating, I confessed this problem to her, and with her help and God’s (through prayer, and through a healthy romantic relationship) my masturbation came under control.
After Jenn and I married (1999), however, I would still engage in masturbation whenever the urge seemed reasonable, notwithstanding the fact that Jenn and I have always had a great sex life. I did not think this to be wrong in the least; nor did I think it wrong to fantasize about women other than Jenn while I masturbated.
After two or three years, I was finally convicted of the sinfulness of fantasizing about other women. I confessed to Jenn that I had been doing so, asked her forgiveness — and stopped doing it. I marvelled that I had never before thought of that as sinful, as the equivalent of adultery.
I was still, however, masturbating as I felt “the need.” The urge was rarer, but I was still pretty much doing what I wanted to do as a free agent, not as a marriage partner.
Finally, around 2004 when Jenn was really ill, I became convicted that masturbating privately, without consideration of who I was as “one flesh,” was wrong. I confessed to Jenn that I was still selfishly pursuing my own sexual urges, and asked her for forgiveness.
Now Jenn is aware of when I masturbate, which is very rare and tied to episodes when Jenn is dealing with issues that preclude love making.
END GRAPHIC CONTENT ALERT.
I could offer more details from there, but you get the drift: God continued to work on me over a period of decades, progressively revealing to me the layers of my sinfulness. The words of others, the Scriptures I read, the sermons I heard — all these things allowed the Spirit to work in me to convict me of layer after layer of sin.
The one thing that did not happen: I did not have someone continually hectoring me about my sinfulness or calling me disgusting, nauseating, or an abomination. Jenn, in particular, continued to love me as I was, and prayed for me in patience, letting God do the heavy lifting.
What God expects us to do for others, in love, is sow seeds. That has to happen with gentleness and care (as you know if you have ever sown seed), trusting that seed knows what to do, that water knows what to do, and that soil knows what to do. It’s up to God to do the rest, even soften the soil.
Scripture does tell us to “plow our fallow fields” and “break up the soil” — but that’s something between the soil and God, not the sower of the seed.
Unfortunately, most of what we see in “truth speaking” amounts to a scorched-earth policy. Hurl some seed at the soil, then follow up with a flame thrower. The soil ends up sterile, and the seed is consumed.
If you sow seed and the response you get is “Well, I don’t believe _________ is a sin,” aside from recommending Scriptures to look at, in a helpful fashion, there’s not much else you can do without doing harm. Just keep sowing seed gently, and trust in God.
If the response you get is “I do agree that my behavior is sinful. But I don’t seem to be able to help myself,” then you can rejoice that the seed has taken root. Do all you can to help it grow.
If the reponse you get is “It may be sinful, but I’m following my heart” or something of that kind, and the person in question is a believer, that’s another can of worms — but even there, you’re into a Matthew 18 style of church discipline, not a regimen of hectoring, bullying, and castigation from (equally imperfect) peers. Even the fate of Ananaias and Sapphira, remember, was the Spirit’s doing.
Regarding temptation and sin… Jesus didn’t live a sinless life because he was better equipped to resist temptation — it was because he knew the tools better (the spiritual armor of Ephesians 6), and how to use them. And he knew God’s will with greater clarity. We, however, have the same Spirit Jesus had — it’s his spirit after all, which he said was the reason he must die (John 13-17); without his death, we would not have full access to the Holy Spirit, the Comforter.
Take a close read of the Sermon on the Mount (all three accounts) and note how there’s no mistaking that Jesus calls his followers not to “pretty good” or “close enough for horsehoes” or “my momma always said” — but to perfection, just as our Father is perfect. If that wasn’t the goal, Jesus needn’t have died; and if Jesus died so that we could “press on” to that “higher calling” and “greater gifts” through the Spirit, we demean his death by selling another gospel — the “gospel” that says, basically, all God asks of us is to be New and Improved Hebrews rather than an entirely new creation, clothed with Christ.
The struggle with sin described in Romans 7 is sandwiched by the description of the spirit-filled in life in chapters 6 and 8. “Everyone sins” and “Jesus did things we can’t” are just excuse-making, I believe. We dare not accept the reality of Romans 7 as a foregone conclusion that God is powerless to reconcile. It’s a tough pill to swallow, but think hard about it.