‘Neither Do I condemn you’: How I have come to Approach Sexual Sin

I will begin today’s blog post by defining ‘sin.’

I am no expert, but my friends who are familiar with Greek tell me that the Greek word used to describe sin in the book of 1 John is ‘hamartia.’ It basically means, ‘Missing the mark.’ It reminds me of Romans 3:23, which says ‘For there is no distinction: all have sinned and fall short [miss the mark] of the reputation of God.’ I do not view sin so much as a vile thing that we ought to be ashamed of (although it is that). The real problem with sin in my view is that we miss the mark–the best in Christ–that God has for us. Sin is a barrier to the experience of living ‘abundantly’ (John 10:10). I hate sin not only because it is wrong. I hate sin because my Father hates it.

Concerned about sin? Yes, for it is the tragic barrier to real living.

We come now to sexuality. What is a sexual sin? A sexual sin is simply an act or disposition towards sexuality that misses the highest mark–for God’s mark is always highest, best, and most lovely–for sexuality. This of course begs the question: what is God’s mark for sexuality? If I am to strive to be perfect as my perfect Father in heaven desires, what does it even mean for me to be perfect in my sexuality? Jesus gives us a clue in the sermon on the mount. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.” (Matthew 5:27-30 ESV)

Jesus is clear that true holiness will involve a kind of sexual perfection that does not even sin in the mind. For Jesus, the enemy of ‘holy matrimony’ is not inappropriate sexual affairs, but inappropriate imagination. Before an act can be committed, it must be imagined and desired. Jesus is striving for holiness.

Now does this mean that if we mess up, that’s just it, we’re going to hell? No. Not if the first letter of John has anything to say about it. ‘My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.’ (1 John 2:1 ESV) Jesus himself elaborates here. ‘Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.’ (Matthew 12:30-31 ESV) Every sin and blasphemy, including sexual sin, will be forgiven people. (In my view, even the blasphemy against the Spirit would be forgiven if only the blasphemer would cease to blaspheme, but that is perhaps a topic for another time.)

Okay. There we go. Our terms, sin and sexual sin, are laid out very generally. That’s all fine and dandy. A bit too philosophical, perhaps, but well and good. There is, however, another part of the story that is important for our answer, and that pertains to my story, my background.

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Most of my life, I’ve been a very worrisome guy. Worry seems to be the final frontier for the power of God’s Spirit in my life. May I submit to his purpose for me.

Much of worrying for me pertained to theological issues. I was a young earth creationist, and I believed the people who weren’t were suppressing the truth. I was a deterministic thinker set on Calvinism, and I believed that it was just for God to create people only to torment them forever and ever. I was unsympathetic to alternative interpretations of the Bible to those to which I had been conditioned in my younger days. I believed God was true, but I was terrified–sometimes horrified–of the picture of him that I had so long carried. When the Bible said God desires all people to be saved, I didn’t believe it. When the Bible said God was love, I did not believe it. Anyone with this kind of psychology would feel like I did, at least, so I presume.

When it came to sexuality, I was probably just worried about myself and my friends. I didn’t want us to do the wrong things. I didn’t want us to forsake God. I wanted things to be ‘ok.’

I think I was still wrestling with these thoughts. My meta-cognition is not keen enough for me to recall to what extend I had become more laid back about these issues, but I do have a few guesses.

I began to believe that which I had originally professed, that God is love. I began to believe–for the first time, perhaps–that God loved us ‘while we were still sinners.’ If that is true, what is the difference between my sexual sin and someone else’s sexual sin? Before the cross of Christ, sin and his child death are less than nothing. They have no existence when pitted against grace. I guess I finally came to believe the following two verses:

“Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 5:20-21)

I realized that before the power and the presence of Jesus Christ our Lord, no sexual sin has power over anyone. (Philosophically of course, people still sin sexually, so has sin won? On my view, no, but again, that may be a topic for another time.)

The point, dear reader, is this. I’ve come to a point in my walk with God in which I utterly trust him to do that which is right. I am not afraid to commit myself or my friends into his loving hands. If I or my friends should fall sexually, I have no doubt that God is able to more than infinitely restore us.

Practically, this means:

1) It is no longer my role to condemn. A person’s sin, I believe, is between himself and God. There is only one man for whom I may speak on the day in which God judges the secret thoughts of men, and the man is me. Will I try to help others? Yes, of course, but I must help them in the ways in which Christ approves, and apparently, he does not approve of the kind of judgments so often rendered by humankind.

2) It is absolutely my role to demonstrate love to others by keeping doors open for our relationships. If my friends are doing something wrong, I am confident that God can use me to help, even that he can speak without my voice. My actions themselves are a voice in the mouth of God, or so it would seem to me. Would I be demonstrating my love by offering a condemnation that God has forbidden me to give? No. I think not. I will let the Spirit speak to a person’s sin. I will speak to the hearts of people by loving them at the same time that God does–while they are still sinners.

3) It is written in 2 Timothy 4:1-8: “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.” The appearance of Christ was and is an altogether lovely thing to all that is the good creation of God in this world–including sexuality. I cannot preach a loving thing in an unloving manner. If I am to be concerned about sexual sin, I will do so on the Lord’s terms–through the renewal of my mind, that by testing I my discern that which is excellent and pleasing to God. (Romans 12:1-2)

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It is not so much that I am less concerned about sexual sin than that I am more confident in the power of God through grace. As I pray for myself and my friends and for sexuality on earth to be conducted as it would be in heaven–in holiness, the fear of God, and out of a desire to love, for love is the cardinal virtue with faith and hope–I lack no confidence that he who began a good work in us will bring it to completion in the day of Christ.

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Sacramental Odyssey: What I learned from visiting a Roman Catholic Mass

Having been raised Protestant, my exposure to the Roman Catholic Church has been fairly limited, aside from a single mass that my family visited once while on vacation. The usual Protestant dogma concerning Catholics — veneration of Mary, emphasis on tradition and rituals, nominal faith — is upsetting to me, because it sells Protestants short of the approach to Christianity that dominated in the Western world during the first 1,500 years after the life of Christ.

I offer two ideas below that I believe would benefit Protestants–myself included–to consider.

  1. Roman Catholics may venerate Mary, but do not many Protestants venerate Scripture? “The Bible is the final authority”, it is often stated. That may very well be the case, but for what, and to what end? Without God, without Christ, the Bible is just one of many very old collections of religious texts. Maybe the same goes for Mary in Catholicism. Without God, without Christ, Mary would just another ancient person, no more extraordinary than Homer or Nero. All that aside, if one is to admire any historical figure of Christian faith, Mary would definitely not be a bad choice, especially if we are to believe anything that is written in Infancy Narratives of Matthew and Luke.
  2. Emphasis on tradition and rituals. I’m surprised to see this criticism emerge from Protestantism — particularly from American evangelicals (the religious community in which I was raised), whose most popular theologians seem remarkably incapable of divorcing their inherited theology from what the Bible actually teaches. To take an obvious example: how is it the case that many evangelicals believe that Genesis 1 offers a literal account of creation (the earth was created 10,000 years ago without evolutionary processes), while simultaneously believing that when Christ says “this is My Body” when referring to the bread of His Last Supper, it is metaphorical?

Introductory thoughts completed, here’s what I did learn visiting a Roman Catholic Mass this evening:

  1. Roman Catholics love to pray. During mass, each member of the audience is expected to pray and to relish the delightful reading of Scripture and well-written liturgy.
  2. Roman Catholics appreciate church history. The clergy trace their succession of Holy Orders all the way back to the Apostolic age. A strong emphasis is placed on specific saints in Christian history that, in my view, has the potential to inspire the Catholic to live a life worthy of the good news.
  3. Roman Catholics go to great lengths to beautify the place of worship. In an age in which the doctrine of the beauty of God is oft hidden beneath the doctrine of the wrath of God — in my view beautiful itself, if properly understood — Catholicism presents a refreshing break from any spirituality unconcerned with beauty.
  4. Roman Catholics feel very much in touch with the Global Christian movement. Time would fail me to speak of the benefits of this attitude, especially in light of Jesus’ prayer in John 17, many of Paul’s statements throughout his letters, and the letters of John.

I believe that Protestants should look for ready allies in Roman Catholics who are hungry for the kingdom of God to rule on earth and the peace of Christ to rule in hearts.

Speak Friend and Enter: A Welcome to gandalfsbeardblog

Greetings! And welcome to gandalfsbeardblog.

“David Abrams” is the pen name that I will use for the purposes of this site. Aside from Biblical (and science fiction ^_^ ) allusions, the name has no real relationship to my identity.

I was raised and homeschooled in an Evangelical Protestant family, the oldest of six kids (not a Catholic or Mormon family). It would not be possible for me to overstate the gratefulness that I have for the way that my parents raised me in the fear of God. Throughout my life, my hobbies have included Christian studies, Islamic studies, philosophy, science, fantasy (hence ‘gandalfsbeard’), science fiction, music, video games (especially the 3D renditions of The Legend of Zelda), running/jogging, and more. The love of my life said “I do” to me recently and for that I am evermore amazed and thankful. I hold a B.S. in biochemistry and am currently studying organic chemistry in pursuit of a Ph.D.

Throughout the existential crises of my life I have lost many philosophies, but Christianity (Christ) has stuck with me. I remain utterly convinced that God–the mind behind our cosmos–is revealed in Jesus Christ and that his message–the gospel (‘good news’)–is actually the answer to the world’s problems. Unfortunately, it is my present opinion that Christianity has in many respects turned into ‘bad news,’ a far cry from its humble and profound beginnings. It is my desire to devote my life to contending for what I believe to be the truth of the matter, that “in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.” (2 Corinthians 5:19 English Standard Version.) The God who loves while we are still sinners asks us to do the same. What kind of world would it be if we all became a Christ to our neighbors–the reality of neighborhood is made fortunately, painfully obvious by our modernized, globalized world–not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to them the message of reconciliation? To this end I toil and strive, because I have my hope set on the living God, who is the savior of all people. (1 Timothy 4:10.)

It is my yearning that my blog–one of many in an internet age–may be but one of many whispers from the Spirit of Christ in your life, calling you to the God who is love. (1 John 4:8.)

“For I am not ashamed of the good news, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”” (Romans 1:16-17)

“Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in every way. The Lord be with you all.” (2 Thessalonians 3:16)

Reconciliation: The Meaning of Christianity (Primer 1)

All Biblical quotations from the English Standard Version translation unless otherwise noted.

“For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 14:17)

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.” (2 Corinthians 5:17-19)

“Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2)

The suggestion of Christ? Not the suggestion, but the *law* of Christ.

“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” (James 1:27)

Religion that is pure and undefiled before the Father is this: to believe the right things? No. To visit the marginalized in their pain. To be a suffering servant–a Christ–to someone else, “that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:10-11)

“For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” (1 Peter 2:19-25)

“This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.” (1 John 1:3)

“If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him.” (1 John 2:29)

“Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” (1 John 4:8)