There is so much tension and turmoil in American society and the Church today regarding homosexuality. Has all of history and the fullness of the Biblical writing and teaching been wrong on the topic of marriage and sexual relationships? In the name of love pastors are embracing same-sex marriage as a God-honored unification, churches are hiring practicing homosexuals as pastors and the Biblical texts are being labeled as misunderstood at best and culturally irrelevant at worst. And those who adhere to traditional Biblical teaching and understanding are being labeled as bigots and hateful.
Handling this issue in a God-honoring way has become a focal point for many. And the point is well made that if you have not had to deal with the topic in your own family or church, you should be prepared because you will have to deal with it sooner or later.
But I suggest that we need to take a look at the root problem: sin. All sins are not created equally. Yes, any sin will merit an eternity of damnation – as eating a piece of forbidden fruit broke forever the relationship with man and God (Gen 3). But the sin of gluttony is not dividing the church as homosexuality is. The sin of pride will not get you fired from your job like embezzlement will. Selfishness will not send you to prison like murder will. But in reality, we cannot allow unchecked sin in any of its forms.
Temptation in and of itself is not a sin. If a person has homosexual desires but does not act on them, he is not guilty of fornication. If a person struggles with lust but takes captive his thoughts and does not have inappropriate relations with the opposite gender, he is not guilty of adultery or fornication. If a person loves food but controls himself and does not overeat, he is not guilty of the sin of gluttony.
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. But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.
– James 1.13-15
Secondly we need to consider the issue of labeling and association. When does it become appropriate to label a person by their sin? If a person does not want to admit something and tells what society might deem a “white lie”, does this make him a liar? Or does the habit of regularly lying make one a liar? If a person gets in a fight and his punch leads to the other man’s death, is he a murderer? Or does the intentional volition and repeated act of killing make one a murderer? If you sit down and eat an entire box of cookies one time, are you a glutton? Or do you have to overeat every day?
When we are the children of God, He has redeemed us and paid the penalty for our sins. We are redeemed and we are saints. We are Christians who fight temptation and sin. And when we are convicted of sin, we cannot be marked or identified by it. We cannot give in, make peace with it, and be a liar, a murderer, a thief, a glutton or a homosexual. We can be believers who struggle with the temptation to lie, murder, steal, overeat or lust towards the same sex. We can even fall to our temptations to lie, murder, steal, overeat or fornicate with the same sex. But we may not make peace with our sin. The call of Christianity is to die to ourselves, die to our sinful desires and make war with sin. This war is so important that Jesus says,
“If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell.”
– Matt 5.29-30
If we fight sin and if we refuse to label ourselves or others by the particular sin by which they are tempted, then we will never get to the third and final phase which is acceptance and enculturation. There are subcultures that accept and praise most every fetish and sin. Whatever your particular temptation, you can find a “support group” that will endorse your sinful behavior. And when we choose to label and define ourselves by our tendencies, we fall into the subculture and lose all perspective. One can struggle with homosexuality, and even give in to temptation without being active in the GLBT community.
So when do we break fellowship with someone? Is it at the very onset of the temptation? If so, then there would be no person in the Church, because we are all tempted by our own lusts. Is it when a person commits the sin by which they are tempted? If your child comes to you and confesses that he struggles with lying, you encourage him to speak the truth. Always. Boldly. When you catch him in a lie, you confront him about it. And this is where the decision is made. This is where communion is determined:
If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that BY THE MOUTH OF TWO OR THREE WITNESSES EVERY FACT MAY BE CONFIRMED. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.
– Matt 18.15-17
Jesus gives us three opportunities to repent and remain in good standing with the Church and Christian community. If you confront your child in a lie and he will not repent, then you bring someone else with you to confront the sin. If he still will not repent then you take it to the church. If, before the church, he chooses to continue lying and will not abandon the sin, then he is to be kicked out. Fellowship is broken. Paul says,
But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler—not even to eat with such a one.
– 1 Cor 5.11
He is speaking directly to one who would claim to be a Christian but is unwilling to repent from sin. In the surrounding verses he says that the sin of those who do not claim to be Christians is up to God to judge. We are only responsible to remove the wicked man from our midst – and that is one who says he follows Jesus but embraces sin.
So the charge is simple. It is to find our identity in Christ and fight your temptations. If you struggle with homosexuality, do not label yourself as a homosexual. Your sexual temptation and orientation does not define who you are. Your forgiveness and redemption in Christ does define who you are. You are a Christian, a child of God, who struggles with lust for the same sex. If you struggle with lying – even small, white lies – do not label yourself a liar. God has redeemed you and will give you the strength to die to your sin. If you love food, do not label yourself a foodie or a glutton! You are a Christian whom God is enabling to care for your body and eat responsibly.
But we also must be purposeful to not label our brothers and sisters. If you know a person’s temptation, help him fight it. Do not enslave him to it by labeling him and expecting him to fall. And when a person does make peace with their sin, whatever it may be, that is when we remove him from our midst. Because he now has a god and an identity more valuable to him than Jesus. And we cannot and should not associate with any so-called Christian if he has another god.