Monday, December 6, 2010

Grace is Greater Than All Our Sin

As believers, we should constantly be asking questions and searching for truth.  Often times our studies reveal unusual answers.  Once upon a time, a friend and I went head-to-head over the issue of homosexuality, and I have never asked more questions and studied harder in my entire life.  Tonight, another friend sought my wisdom over this very issue, and I felt like all that I had learned three years ago was for this moment.  I wanted to share my thoughts with you, all the while praying that whenever you find yourself with questions, that you purposefully seek an answer because you never know when God will want you to become the teacher.

I see the world in black and white; there is right and there is wrong. I've always been this way with my faith, too, so the issue of homosexuality has always been a no-brainer: it's a sin. The Bible is pretty clear about that. As I've grown and matured as a believer, however, I've had to sharpen my understanding over many issues. I pray that my studies shed some light in the darkness.

First, as a believer you have to decide one thing above all else: Do I believe the Bible is inerrant? I do. I believe that God, through divine inspiration gave us the Bible, whole and perfect (2 Timothy 3:16-17). There are some believers that do not believe this, and therefore take liberties with how we apply the truths taught within the text. That is a dangerous slope because the less we believe the Bible is God’s perfect love letter to us, the more we find ourselves playing by our own man-made (read: sinful) rules and throwing out godly truth. First and foremost, one must decide where he or she stands with regards to the Bible. Do you accepts the whole book as truth? If so, then you must accept the content regardless of how it makes you feel.

Second, when we come face to face with sin, as humans, we usually only have a few reactions: repentance, shame, grief or anger. Because we are all human, we have a bent toward the later three; repentance only comes from God and it is not in our nature.

Thirdly, just because homosexuality is a sin, however, does not mean that all homosexuals are going to hell.  Are you confused yet?  Understanding and accepting this truth helped set me free: Homosexuals are born homosexual!  In Psalm 51:5, David writes,"Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me."  We are all born with a sin nature, a propensity for sin, that sets us apart from God (See also Romans 3:9-11).  For some that may mean anger, others lust, others still selfishness.  The difference in all of it, however, is the choice we make to either give into our sinful desires (anger turns into murder, lust turns into sexual immorality, selfishness into idolatry) or to pray for deliverance from the temptation. James 1:14-15 outlines the process clearly:
 Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am being tempted by God";
for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone.
 14But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust.
 15Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin;
and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.
 16Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren.
 17Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above,
coming down from the Father of lights,
with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.
 18In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth,
so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures.
 19This you know, my beloved brethren But everyone must be quick to hear,
slow to speak and slow to anger;
 20for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.
 21Therefore, putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness,
in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls.
 22But prove yourselves doers of the word,
and not merely hearers who delude themselves.
 23For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer,
he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror;
 24for once he has looked at himself and gone away,
he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was.
 25But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty,
and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer,
this man will be blessed in what he does.
So, there are some Christians out there who are homosexuals, some even practicing homosexuals because they are still unwilling to give their entire sinful nature over to Christ. We all have some sin that we hold on to, theirs is just more obvious. For me, personally, I have an angry heart (didn't see that one coming, did you?)  Over the years, I have gotten really good at controlling it, but eventually my anger boils over. I know God’s truth, and I know that the anger that I carry around is a sin and of the devil, but I am a work in progress. That sin is no different than a homosexual’s sin … we just like to think it is because we’re human and it is our nature to measure things in degrees. God doesn’t do that, though, so we have to find ourselves in a place where we recognize sin and rebuke sin, but we learn to love the sinners, trusting God to deliver them.

It’s simply not our job to shame people out of their sin, but in our own lives we must seek out the sins we have allowed to linger because, "I am only human" or "it's just my nature," and turn them over to God. I have heard it said that once we are Christians, we can no longer say, "it's just my nature" because in Christ, we are new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17), transformed by grace!


Megan said...

Thanks for your thoughts on this, Ashley! A lot of truth and wisdom in here. I think more Christians (of the repenting type) need to come to this kind of understanding. I would just want to clarify and state strongly that *most* homosexuals that we see in media and advocating for that type of lifestyle are not repentant at heart. They are attempting to justify, or ask everyone to decide that their particular vice is not a sin. I recently read the transcript of Larry King's interview with Jennifer Knapp, and it was very apparent that she is not at all repentant of her behavior and lifestyle, but seeks it to be accepted because she was made that way. No other sin can be talked of like this, like you said. "God made me with an angry heart, so he must be okay with me hitting my wife." No way. Not even really true... God didn't make man like this, it was man's choice to invite sin and destruction into the world. It's confusing because a person who claims to believe the Bible, mostly, thus claiming to be a "believer, Christian" can also claim that God would never want them to deny the way he made them and what will make them happy. We as disciples of Christ must make a distinction between people who LIVE by the words of Scripture in seeking repentance, and those who don't. It's all about repentance and sanctification, the active pursuit of that, for God's glory only.

Megan said...

Hey! I guess my first comment can be summed up with this question. Do you believe there can be practicing homosexuals that are born again? I'm having a hard time with that. I agree that people who are born with that "thorn in their flesh" will struggle all their life and likely will stumble, but as long as their heart is trusting in the redemptive power of Christ and their heart longs to be rid of that sin, I would definitely see them as a repentant disciple of Christ, actively trying to avoid sin. Just like me. Not always succeeding, but trying. : ) And I wouldn't consider this person a practicing homosexual. Seems like anyone who is practicing sin on a regular basis, with or without a guilty conscience, is not experiencing or seeking the redemptive power of Christ. Does that make sense? As long as our sin is more dear to us than Christ, I don't see how we can be considered his disciple... What do you think? Can you clarify your thoughts on that for me? (You don't have to publish either of these, just wondering what you think...)

Erin said...

True. Thanks for posting. This is exactly how I feel and recognizing it is the same as my sin with my mouth or the constant battle I have with spending money. I have had to choose to fight with God's grace everyday instead of giving in and saying that is just who I am. Well put.

Ashley said...

Megan, thanks for your thoughts. I'm not sure if you remember having these conversations via email with me several years ago?! I do agree with you, that I cannot wrap my mind around a practicing homosexual truly being a disciple of Christ.

When I said that some were even practicing homosexuality, I didn't mean to imply as an active, unrepentant lifestyle like we typically see. I meant more that like many of us, they are still allowing their temptations to turn into desire and then sin like James stated. We all fall prey to doing that.

I understand that this particular sin is usually addressed so differently within our culture because so many folks no longer recognize it as a sin and therefore see no reason why they should be repentant. That's a toughie because it seems so clearly that they're rebelling, not being transformed.

Again it all goes back to how we view the Bible, is it true or isn't it? Ryan tried clarifying that just because we fail to fully understand does not mean we are unable to have salvation. He felt that while we can receive Grace and salvation, we can still be a poor disciple because we don't fully understand God's truth ... it's mysterious. That's not to say we should accept ourselves however we're bent because that seems counterproductive to being transformed in Christ. I guess, though, that it's still all a process. Unraveling all the lies of the world and accepting Christ's truth can take time. I wanted to write this to get people to start seeing that we evolve in our faith because 10 years ago I would never have said most of this ... it took others being patient with me and teaching me. I wanted to pass that teaching on.

Does this make any sense? Lol.

Megan said...

Thanks, Ashley. That does make more sense. Thanks for taking the time to clarify what you're thinking. Something we heard in a David Platt sermon on Sunday I think is applicable to this discussion. He was talking about the name of the Lord, Yahweh, and how so few of us every sit and gaze at the Lord. How if we truly behold his holiness and glory, our sin becomes disgusting to us. We will want to flee from it, to hurl it out of our lives. I know it doesn't always happen like this, but I know people who have been radically and instantly freed from deep rooted sin struggles of adultery, eating disorders, and other things. I'd love for believers to not settle for "This will be a life long struggle" and really ask the Lord for this kind of radical freedom from sin, because He surely is capable of it, you know? :)

Ashley said...

Couldn't agree more! As I talked this over with Ryan last night, I heard myself say, "I want to believe in instant transformation, but that just doesn't seem realistic." As I walked away from that conversation, I was unsettled because that little comment showed a true picture of my own faith. Even as I seek to understand God more, I find myself still tied down to worldly expectations and outcomes. Had sad!

When we see the overwhelming power Jesus had over sinners as he encountered them throughout the gospels, we see a complete and utter transformation. These sinners no longer struggled with their sins, Christ freed them from all bondage!

Thanks for commenting and sharing and helping me refine my own understanding of sanctification. I think the biggest problem the church faces is exactly as Platt put it, we no longer stand in awe and wonder of our Creator.