Let me start out by saying this post is apolitical– that is, it’s not taking a stance on the political issue of marriage, but looking at a prevalent theological attitude.
Somewhere along the way, evangelicals have come to say that homosexual sin is the unforgivable sin. Not so much directly in those words, but certainly in our actions. Sometimes, when I hear Christians speak on the subject, I get the picture of lepers in the Old Covenant, shunned outside the camp, and only let back in when they are clean again. In the same way, our churches shun unregenerate homosexuals from coming until they have “become clean” and repented of their homosexuality. Only then can we let them inside our church. Most of us would deny this, but does our speech not condemn us? Let us ask ourselves what our reaction would be to a homosexual couple coming to our church and holding hands. Would our reaction show them 1) that we love them and 2) we condemn that lifestyle as sinful? Or would it show that 1)we condemn that lifestyle? Yes, there is something missing from the last statement, and others will pick up on it far before we pick up on it ourselves.
Let me explain something here. I am not talking about members of a church who fall into this sexual sin. Certainly, in this case, we should follow the doctrine of Church Discipline for the unrepentant set forth in Matthew 18 and 1 Corinthians 5. I would not only say that is the appropriate way of dealing it (starting with going to that person individually first) but that more churches need to follow it. That is not up for debate with me. What I am talking about here, is how do we handle the situation when it comes to unregenerate visitor? What about in our personal relationships with people? Do some of you refuse to even be friends with homosexuals? I just ask so that you can reflect on these questions and guage where your heart is in these matters. Some of you may not have any friends that are homosexual, not because you refuse, but simply because you are never around them. For those of you who do, I ask you, do they know you love them? Do they know that you think that lifestyle is a sin? Do they hear the gospel?
My friend Brad has written an excellent blog post on what it means to love people. To really love someone, you love them where they are, in their unregenerate state, even if they don’t convert. Otherwise, that person (or place) just becomes an agenda, and from there a priority on a checklist. That is not true love. Yes, we want to see people come to Christ, as He is the only way to salvation. Again, that is beyond dispute. My question to you is, are you willing to love people, even if they never convert?
So why have we taken to this mentality? Well, certainly there is a lot of reasons, and I won’t pretend to cover them all. One reason is that the issue is on the cultural forefront now more than ever, so more time is being spent discussing it. This isn’t a bad thing, we must engage our culture on these issues, specifically when we are counter-cultural to the prevailing idea. Another reason I think that we have taken the mentality we have is the prominence of the discussion in Romans 1, which I will come back to shortly.
At this point, let me assert my belief that homosexuality is a sin, and the wages of sin is death and deserving of God’s just wrath and punishment. I am not calling for ecumenicism here, especially from confessing believers. Sin must be dealt with. Certainly, I think Paul is clear in several areas that it is a sin, but even beyond that, I think we can follow the example that Jesus gives us when He was confronted with questions on marriage: go back to the original relationship that serves as our model. When confronted with divorce, Jesus responded by asking what Moses said. The pharisees and others responded by quoting from the Law, but Jesus one-ups them by also quoting from Moses- the creation narrative and Adam and Eve. From the model of Adam and Eve in the garden, pre-fall, I think we can see what marriage is designed for. At this point, several may make that “God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve, har har” joke. Don’t. Is it true? Yes. Is it particularly helpful? No. It sounds incredibly demeaning and insulting. And you sound like a unloving jerk. Instead, talk about why you think Adam and Eve are a model for relationships on the authority of the Bible and Jesus. The situation can’t really be adequately explained in a redneck one-liner. That being said, I do want to take a look at Romans 1.
I think that one of the reasons people elevate the sin of homosexuality is because of its prominence in Romans 1. For more on whether Paul means homosexuality in this chapter and others, please see Mike’s post at Ev Epheso as he interacts with the book Dirt, Greed, and Sex by Countryman here.
The context of Romans 1.18ff is that God’s wrath and righteousness is being revealed against ungodliness, sin, and unrighteousness. Paul here is zeroing in specifically on gentiles, who were outside of God’s covenant, and did not have the Word of God. Paul is making the case that even though they did not have specific revelation, they are without excuse, and that God is just to punish them in their sins. In the next two chapters, Paul levels the playing field, discussing why Jews are in the same boat even with revelation, and finally that all are without excuse as a summation. One of the things that Paul mentions is that while the gentiles did not have the revelation of God’s word, they were able to know God’s attributes through nature, though it was not enough to save them. In fact, it led them to make idols out of creation instead of worshiping the creator. In other words, they flip the created order on its head by worshiping creation itself and not the one who created it. Paul then turns to homosexuality. The question we should ask ourselves is why? He mentions other sins that people do as well, why so much attention to homosexuality?
Not because it is the worst of all sins. I don’t think Paul has in mind a certain degree of sins, which culminates in homosexuality, as if idol worship is a slippery slope that leads to homosexuality and if you’ve reached that point you can’t return. No, I think instead that Paul discusses homosexuality somewhat at length here because it represents the idea that Paul has just discussed: the perversion of what is natural. Homosexuality is a sin before God because it flies in the face of the purposes that He has created sex for, and it’s design. It has taken creation and placed it before the creator. It is a form of idolatry that says we don’t need God, we don’t need or care about His design, we will go after what we lust for and want and places our lusts and desires above God. And isn’t that what idolatry is? The placing of something inferior to God (which is everything) as superior to God? Paul is not saying that homosexuality is the worst of all sins, culminating from every other degree of sin, but instead that homosexuality is a picture of how we distort creation, nature, and God’s plan and design. It is one of many sins that gives us a picture of what Paul has been saying.
Friends, it is my prayer that if you find yourself saying that you have sinned against God by not loving people the way you should, that you would repent and turn from your ways. Again, I am not saying that you shouldn’t treat homosexuality for what it is, a gross sin, upon which the righteousness and wrath of God is being revealed. That is absolutely true. However, I also think that it is absurd in most cases to cause the unregenerate to change when they have a heart of stone. They will continue to have a heart of stone until the Lord changes their hearts, through the proclamation of the Gospel. I ask you, how will they hear the Gospel if the feel nothing but judgment and hatred at our churches? Of course, hearing that we are sinful is uncomfortable, I’m not saying to water down the truth of the Gospel. What I am saying is that a thief, or an adulterer, or any other unsaved person should feel the uncomfortableness of the Gospel. Yet, they should also feel the love of Christ: God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
No, homosexuality is not the unforgiveable sin, but it is a sin, which means that whoever practices it must find forgiveness in Christ alone. Then, by the power of the holy spirit, that person can find freedom from the power of sin.