I was troubled this week to see a popular evangelical writer and her pastor husband, who have, to my knowledge, been doctrinally solid on a number of issues, speak out in favor of same-sex marriage. Unfortunately, this isn’t uncommon in modern evangelical America.
I get the temptation. I feel it myself, often. When you think about it, there are really only two ways for a person who even acknowledges any power in God’s Word to look at life: either one looks at human experience and one’s relationships through the lens of God’s Word, or one looks at God’s Word through the lens of human experience and one’s relationships. One lens, looking at God’s Word through human experience and one’s relationships, is significantly more consumer-minded, much more palatable in today’s culture. That one probably won’t get you in much trouble, or draw much negative attention. You will be affirmed by people who genuinely want what you have to say to be true, and you’ll get lots of likes on Facebook. You’ll probably be considered “brave” and “outspoken”, and probably sell more books.
The downside is that you have to do violence to Scripture, as well as the very people you’re trying to help, to get there. It is a gut-wrenching thing to tell people we love, people who are hurting and living in ultimately self-destructive lifestyles, that the way they are living, no matter how right it feels, will ultimately kill them. I know this from my own life, with people I love. It’s much easier to find a way to accept the lifestyle, find a way to render it normative, and avoid that gut-wrenching confrontation altogether: easier, less painful, yet ultimately completely unloving.
As it pertains to Scripture, it’s easy to think: Maybe I can find a way to read it so it doesn’t say what it really seems to be saying? Maybe I can limit it only to its historical context, or maybe group it with the other words around it, and find some commonality that really doesn’t apply in my friend’s or loved one’s, or my own situation? Maybe I can find an author who agrees with me? But, no matter how much I do that, the echoes of “Surely God did not say…”, the ancient lies of our ancient enemy in an ancient garden, come ringing through, don’t they?
The fact is that, while God takes me as I am through the blood of Christ, He never leaves me that way. Even when how I am now feels right. We live in a broken, fallen world, and our dying flesh will always tell us that what’s wrong feels right: that’s what broken flesh does. Broken flesh also finds its identity in itself, not in what God says about how He created it to bear His image. This, too, is broken and fallen. And, dying.
But, to think that being saved by the blood of Christ means I can continue to live any way I want is to embrace what Bonhoeffer called “cheap grace:” forgiveness without repentance, baptism without discipline, communion without confession. On the contrary, Bonhoeffer says, the grace of the gospel is costly because it condemns sin while justifying the sinner, bids a person to die to that sin, and cost God’s Son His life. Christ called it “taking up one’s cross.” The Puritans called it mortification of the flesh– sin is not to be managed, not to be handled, not to be endured, but to be killed: put to death, smashed like a “whack-a-mole” every time it rears its ugly head. No matter how painful that is.
The high-hanging fruit on my sanctification tree is anger. I struggle with it, and it will always be something I’m turning over to the Lord daily, probably until the day I die. I am painfully reminded of that struggle every day. But, no one who loves me would let me, as a follower of Christ, be an angry jerk to my wife, to my kids, to my co-workers, to my friends at church, then let me pass with claiming this is just how God made me, I’m saved by grace, and I need the freedom to live my life. We know this so intuitively about things like fighting anger, and addiction, and sex trafficking, yet when it comes to the biblical sexual ethic, we ignore Paul’s admonition that “you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your own body.”
Loving people struggling with sin is hard work, but beautiful, engaging, redemptive work. My wife has the hardest job in the world. I know I’m a hard guy to love. You all are hard to love (sorry- some are easier than others). But, to not bring God’s healing truth to people’s lives because of pain we as the Body of Christ may have brought, intentionally or unintentionally, in the past is like seeing someone suffering a painful, fatal disease, having the cure in the form of a uncomfortable treatment, and not rendering it out of a desire not to cause any more pain. That is not an act of mercy, or an act of love. Instead, we should ask forgiveness for the past, be contrite and humble, and lovingly, but always truthfully, seek to love better.
Sometimes I wish we as the church could be more user-friendly to the world around us on these tough issues. I sometimes wish Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, the disciples, the Reformers, believers today in China, Iraq, India, Africa, Myanmar, Indonesia, every culture and every people over the last 2,000 years and you and I could live completely at peace with the world. But, not at the cost of our lives, and the Kingdom of God, and the people we love, who God puts in our paths to pull back from the precipice. The world will always be at enmity with the people of God, in some sense, and the Church has never seen accommodation as the right call in retrospect, regardless of how expedient at the time. To live in Christ is to die with Him, too. For all of us.