‘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. It is even possible, in my opinion, that some things which would be evil for me are not forbidden to others. 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 the representatives of Christianity.

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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