I am going to use a word that is not very popular. Some people are deeply offended by it. SIN. There it is, that dirty word. Many years ago everyone knew what this word meant. Now, though, it seems that people think you are judgmental if you use that word.
The problem, of course, is that sin has lost so much of its meaning in our society. I guess that is a symptom of living in a Southern society that identifies itself mostly as “Christian” when in reality so many have no idea what that actually means. I mean we’re by and large not Jewish or Muslim, so we are Christian, right? Um, well, no. Without the understanding of sin, there is no understanding of what it means to be Christian.
Last week Dee and I went to look at a college, and on our way home, we opted to participate in the Chick-Fil-A appreciation day. What a brouhaha that was! I had no idea going into the day that certain groups thought Dan Cathy’s comments to the Baptist press in support of traditional marriage were actually hate speech. I was there to support free speech in our country–something that is actually guaranteed by the first amendment–in light of mayors of large cities declaring that Chick-Fil-A is not welcome in their cities. What a fight that simple day of support revealed. Even sadder, is that some gay people actually interpreted that support of free speech as hate for them. The resounding uproar–from both sides–was just crazy.
Deeper than the uproar, though, is that sin has lost its meaning. Let’s talk sex for a minute, shall we. (Yes, I know, this is also a bad word in some circles, but stay with me for just a minute, okay?) God designed sex as a beautiful expression of marital love. It was never designed to be used outside the bonds of marriage. Obviously, it has been abused since almost the dawn of time, but that does not make it right. When Dan Cathy says he supports traditional marriage, and in that same comment expresses thankfulness that he is married to his first wife, he is not expressing hate towards people. He is expressing appreciation for God’s mercy and for God’s design.
What is sad is that so many people think this is about homosexuality. On the surface, perhaps it is. But it is so much deeper. It is about a society that has lost its moorings. This will offend some people, and I am willing to risk that, because it is truth. Sexual sin is not just confined to homosexuality. I know far too many self-identifying “Christians” who have or are shacking up together without being married. Sexual sin is not confined to living together, either. I am guilty. I was far from pure when the Handy Man and I married. I so wish I could go back and not do the things I did. Oh, I looked like a “good girl”–most people would have assumed I was. I even rationalized it–I wasn’t as bad as the other girls. But God doesn’t judge us compared to other people. He judges us based on his law, and his law says not to commit adultery. Jesus defined it even more by saying it wasn’t just what actions we took, but the lusts of our hearts. Those addicted to pornography (and according to some statistics, this is a HUGE number and growing) are just as guilty. Those reading steamy romance novels (erotica like Fifty Shades of Grey come to mind) are guilty. Lust is lust. Whether you follow through on it or not, it is still lust, and Jesus said it was the same as committing adultery.
We have bought the lie that somehow if we are “born” a certain way, it justifies our behaviors. No, it doesn’t. Because here is a really hard truth: we are all born with a sin nature. All of us. Your sin may look different than my sin, but we are all born that way. And that is the crux of the matter. Perhaps there are some self-righteous types out there who are pointing fingers at the homosexual community and consigning them to a special place in hell (and yes, I will concede that those self-righteous people are out there), but that is not the truth. The truth is that we ALL deserve hell. We are all sinners. (And if sex isn’t your sin, trust me, every single person alive has broken the first commandment–the one that says we are to have no other gods before us–because none of us has loved God first and best every moment of our lives.)
That is what the grace of Jesus is about. We cannot be perfect. It is impossible. We sin. Jesus never sinned. He lived a sinless, perfect life. And that is why He was the perfect sacrifice. He literally stood in our place and took the punishment (including hell!) that we deserved. God’s law was appeased. It is like someone went into court on your behalf and paid your fine. Jesus went to the cross on our behalf, and He paid our fine. When God looks at the Christian (who still sins, by the way) He does not see our sins. He sees the righteousness of His Son in our place. Jesus literally transfers His righteousness to us. But only for those who completely trust in Him–and in Him alone–for salvation.
I love Tim Keller’s writing. So often we do good things in a sort of self-salvation effort, or even worse, in an attempt to manipulate God to do stuff on our behalf. We define the values we think God should have. Keller says it so much better. Here is a quote from his book, The Reason for God:
“We have to recognize that virtually all of us begin our journey toward God because we want something from Him. However, we must come to grips with the fact that we owe him our entire lives just because of what he has done for us already. He is our Creator, and for that fact alone we owe him everything. However, he is also our Redeemer, who rescued us at infinite cost to himself. Any heart that has come to its senses wants to surrender to Someone who not only is all-powerful but has proved that he will sacrifice anything for our good.
We usually begin the journey toward God thinking, “What do I have to do to get this or that from him?” but eventually we have to begin thinking, “What do I have to do to get him?” If you don’t make that transition, you will never actually meet the real God, but will only end up believing in some caricature version of him.”
I believe that what Keller says is true. I see it all the time expressed in the Facebook statuses of people I know. One erroneous theologian expressed her opinion that because all people were made in the image of God ( straight, gay, or lesbian), we are all okay. She equated the idea that because she has warm-fuzzies for God, and because she sees nothing wrong with homosexuality, then God must also approve. The popular belief is that love is what you feel. Hmmm…the thing is that God said that the only reason we know what love is is because He first loved us. In fact, God goes so far to say that the test of whether we are truly of Christ (Christians), and whether we actually love Him, is whether we obey His commandments. (It sure helps to know what those actually are.) In order to obey, we have to want to obey, understanding, of course, that we will fail at times. When we reject God’s authority, when we reject his commandments, when we trivialize our sin, we are showing that we truly do not understand who God is, nor how bad we really are. We are in essence, believing in some caricature of God–we are creating a god we want to worship, rather than worshiping God as He has revealed Himself through His Word, the one who is our Creator and Redeemer.
This whole controversy over Chick-Fil-A is not ultimately about whether Dan Cathy is homophobic. (And for the record, I believe there is a huge difference between not agreeing with someone and hating or fearing them.) It is about the refusal of many, many people (even many of the ones who patronized Chick-Fil-A that day) to acknowledge that God has the ultimate authority to call sin sin. And He does. The list is long, and it includes things like: lying, murder, stealing, coveting, sexual immorality (and that is defined in many places in both the new and old testaments as including all sexual contact outside Biblical marriage–whether homo or hetero), gossiping, slander, and idolatry, just to name a few.
It is hard when you have friends and loved ones who are struggling with certain sins. It is hard when you love them so deeply, and when you know you also struggle with certain sins (perhaps not the same ones, but it is a struggle nonetheless.) What do you do with the message that repentance is a necessary fruit of salvation? We are not called to condemn. The Bible says that those who do not believe are condemned already. But we also cannot stress certain sins as being unacceptable while quietly accepting those sins we find culturally (or personally) acceptable. Homosexuality is bad, but addiction to porn is okay? Homosexuality is good, but human trafficking is bad? We can hold signs condemning certain people to hell while we gossip about people behind their backs? We can eat like gluttons at the church pot-luck while looking down on the alcoholic? We need to find the compassion to love those who are sinning, and yet proclaim the truth that sin is sin. So often people on opposite sides of this whole argument use ad hominem arguments…that is they try to negate an argument by pointing out a negative belief or characteristic of the person who makes the argument. It is a logical fallacy. I am not perfect. I sin. That does not negate the truth of what God’ s Word says when I share it.
This issue is not going away. We live in a post-Christian era, but in a region where most people have been to church, at least in their youth. Jesus speaking in Matthew 7:21, said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” In our culturally Christian society, where far too many people have been inoculated against real salvation because they have heard just enough to make them think they are safe, we need to recapture our moorings. We need to hear, “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 6:23) We need to hear, “ For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9) “ If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1John 1:8-9) And we really need to hear this one: “And hereby we do know that we know him, if we keep his commandments. He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.” (1John 2:3-4)
Gay or straight, we need Jesus. Predisposed to certain sins or not, we are still called to receive by faith his salvation and to repent of our sins. Repent (another bad word) means to turn 180 degrees from the direction we were heading back to God. Repentance doesn’t mean never being tempted. It means rejecting the temptation and returning to the Savior. Who (or what) is the object of your faith? Is it your heart that “loves” everyone? Is it your “tolerance” for all those who are different from you? Is it your open mind about marriage and sin? Is it a god who never condemns sin? Or is it Jesus? Jesus alone, as the object of your faith, has the power to save you, change you, and redeem you.