More and more Christians and even self-proclaimed evangelicals (or former evangelicals) are affirming homosexuality as a viable lifestyle for Christians. We are used to this being a mainline issue and hearing about the discussions and debates happening in the United Church or in the Anglican Church. But now it feels closer to home. What used to be a mainline issue has become an evangelical issue. In recent days we’ve seen influential “evangelical” leaders come out in favour of gay marriage like Rob Bell, Jim Wallis, Brian McLaren, and Tony Jones. My own denomination recently had to part ways with a church and pastor that supported gay marriage.
One theme I’ve noticed amongst those who advocate gay marriage is that they hold up a picture of Jesus as one who always, continually offers grace to everyone, no matter who they are or what they’ve done. He is all-embracing, accepting and radically welcoming. Therefore, they argue, we ought to follow his model, and embrace, accept and welcome all people as well.
There’s much to commend about that view of Jesus. There is radical welcome and grace in Christ. But I believe that view is missing a crucial ingredient, without which it holds a distorted view of Jesus. So we need to look closer at the grace and call of Jesus.
1. Jesus took sin very, very seriously and so must we
He said “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea” (Mk 9.42). Sin is no light thing. We are in a dangerous place when we take sin lightly. Jesus goes on to say that if your foot, hand or eye causes you to sin, you should cut it off or gouge it out for “it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown in hell” (v. 47). Certainly Jesus is using hyperbole here, but only to emphasis the point of the utter seriousness of sin.
So when the Bible describes homosexual acts as sin (I Cor 6:9; I Tim 1:10; Rom 1, etc.), we need to take that very, very seriously. We need to take sin as seriously as Jesus did.
2. Jesus preached repentance
Jesus was first and foremost a preacher. He said “I must preach the good news of the kingdom of God to the other towns as well; for I was sent for this purpose” (Lk 4.43). When he began his ministry, Mark says “Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mk 1.14-15). The core message of Jesus’ preaching was to “repent and believe.” As he said elsewhere, “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”
The core of Jesus message included repentance, a naming and confessing of our sin and a turning from sin and to Christ. The radical message of Jesus was not grace for all, but grace for the repentant. It is the repentant tax collector who receives justification, and not the Pharisee (Lk 18.9-14).
3. Jesus welcomed sinners and expected repentance and transformation
Jesus did show radical grace to sinners, extending welcome to those who were unwelcomed by the religious leaders. He showed love and kindness to those who only received shame and scorn. But let’s not confuse that with accepting and promoting their sinful behaviour. He was a friend of sinners, but he also expected transformation and change.
Jesus calls Zacchaeus and initiated a gracious relationship with him, in spite of his sin and shameful behaviour. But this shocking grace doesn’t validate Zacchaeus’ lifestyle, but calls him out of it. When Zacchaeus, with an obviously changed heart, stands and proclaims that he will restore what he has taken, it is then that Jesus says to him “today salvation has come to this house” (Lk 19.9). As Jesus welcomes sinners he identifies their sins, calls them to repentance and extends forgiveness (Lk 7:36-49; Jn 5:14; Jn 8:11).
4. Where there was no repentance, Jesus did not extend that radical grace
Jesus loves the rich young ruler, which is why he calls him to leave his idolatry of wealth behind and follow him. Jesus’ love for the rich ruler is what leads to this call to repentance (Mk 10.21). Jesus is filled with sadness when the rich ruler walks away, unable to leave his idols behind. Notice what we don’t see. We don’t see Jesus chasing after him, lowering the bar, taking back his previous call to abandon his idols. The radical compassion and love of Jesus doesn’t remove the call to repentance but fuels it. It’s his love that motivates this call. Jesus welcomes everyone, but he doesn’t welcome their sin and their idols.
5. Jesus expected the church to be a place of repentance and growth
When Jesus pictures the church, he desires it to be a place for growth and transformation through repentance. Where there is sin, we have a responsibility to work for repentance and restoration (Mt 18:15-17). Jesus said “if your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him” (Lk 17.3). This is love. We love each other enough to rebuke and correct and forgive. Jesus is calling us to be a people who identify sin as sin, who value and pursue repentance, and who extend radical forgiveness and grace to those who repent.
If we say that Jesus was all about radical acceptance and grace, and we miss that Jesus was about repentance and transformation, we miss the real Jesus. We’ve created a warped picture of Jesus who embraces our sin. We’ve remade Jesus into our own image.
An Iceberg Issue
So the big issue below the surface with homosexual behaviour in the church is if we no longer require repentance of that which the Bible calls sin, do we still have the gospel? This is why homosexuality is not just a morality issue, but a gospel issue. When we remove repentance from the gospel, what are we left with?
David Short puts it this way: “It doesn’t matter what the sin is. To say that any sin is privileged and is no longer sin, what that does is it changes the basic structure of the gospel. The gospel begins with God’s sovereign grace and finishes with us being with him. In the middle of the gospel is this call to repentance. If you take repentance out of the gospel, you no longer have the gospel.”
This is not at all to say that there isn’t grace and welcome and embrace for those who struggle with homosexual sin. The beauty of the gospel is that there IS embrace and welcome, forgiveness and acceptance for any and all who repent and turn to Jesus. Those who would teach that there is acceptance and embrace without repentance offer a false acceptance. While the call to repent leads to true acceptance.
Whenever homosexual acts are mentioned in the New Testament, they are always categorized as sinful and wrong, but they also are always followed up with promises of forgiveness and restoration. For example in I Corinthians 6.9-11, Paul says “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.” Homosexual sin is not worse than others. It is not unforgivable. But when we cease to call any sin what God calls it, and when we no longer require repentance of sin, we have abandoned the gospel and the message of Jesus Christ.
For Further Study:
Wesley Hill, Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness And Homosexuality.
Voddie Baucham, “Gay is Not The New Black”
Jonathan Leeman, “Love and the Inhumanity of Same Sex Marriage”
Originally posted at Grounded in the Gospel.