There is one story that almost anyone who has spent any time in a church can retell: the prodigal son. The story is of a young man who decides that he wants his inheritance before his father dies and thus shames his family and dishonors his father. He takes his half of the money and goes to another city where he squanders it all on “loose living”. When he was bankrupt a famine hit the land and he hired himself out to feed the pigs (unclean animals to the Jews, a great disgrace) and was so hungry that he desired to eat the pigs’ food. Finally he decided to return home and ask to become a servant for his father because he knew that his father cared for his servants! As he returned, the father saw him and ran out and greeted him in the street and threw a big party. The older brother scoffed and was angry because he had never been thrown a party, but the father loved both sons and entreated the older son to rejoice that the wayward son had come home (Luke 15).
The two sons are often the subjects of sermons and teachings. The younger son represents many who fall in love with the world but after realizing that it does not satisfy return to the Church. The older son represents those legalists who are unwilling to offer grace and rejoice when the sinner repents. But what about the Father? He represents God and His love for both dispositions.
The last few days I have seen many articles being written about dealing with an adult child who comes out as homosexual. John MacArthur speaks directly to Church Discipline and confronting the sin. A blogger named Benjamin L. Corey refutes MacArthur states that MacArthur does not understand grace because (he assumes) that he would be more lenient to other sins and instead we should accept the child and the sin. Russel Moore takes the position that everyone is inclined to sin and the inclination alone is not enough of an issue to break fellowship, but that we should disciple him if he is a believer and love and teach him the Gospel if he is not a believer. Sexuality does not define our relationship with our children, he says.
Unfortunately, none of these teachings are painting a wholistic picture. None of them look at the complexity of the issue. Moore is absolutely right. Our sexuality does not define who we are. MacArthur is also right, if a believer chooses a lifestyle of sin, he is to be disciplined by the church! And Corey also is right that grace should govern our interactions with our struggling brothers and sisters. I wrote yesterday on the simple question, “When do we kick them out?“.
Coming out as homosexual is not enough insight into the situation to know how to respond. When a person comes out as having homosexual desires we must first ask the question: Does this person confess to be a Christian? If the answer is yes, then we must secondly ask the question: Is this person choosing to give in to his temptations or is he fighting the sin? Having the temptation alone is not sinful. Just as having the temptation to lust after the opposite gender is not sinful. Or the temptation to stealing, lying, gluttony, selfishness, pride or any other sin of the flesh you can name. This is the person about which Moore speaks. This person you encourage in discipleship, you welcome into your home and fellowship, you love and hold accountable.
If the person confesses to be a believer but is choosing to deny the Scriptural teachings of sexuality, this is the person to which MacArthur is speaking. You kick them out of the fellowship with the hope of their repentance! You watch the road, have the calf fattened and ready for the party when he comes home and you welcome him warmly when he repents. But you wait for him to repent.
If the person does not confess to be a believer, he does not want to be in the church anyway, and this is the person to which we pay no attention his specific sin. We love and preach the Gospel regardless of sin and disposition to any who do not yet know Jesus and His offer of salvation, like Corey says. Even if we were able to modify the behavior of any sinner in any sin, if he does not know salvation by faith through grace, he will become a white washed tomb full of dead bones destined for an eternity in Hell (Matt 23.27).
The father of the prodigal son gave his son the freedom to go. He did not pursue him in his debauchery and he was not down in the pigsty with him. He was watching the street, He had the calf fattened and ready to slaughter, He forgave him and welcomed him home as soon as he repented, but He did not approve or partake in the sin.
Corey makes a profound point. The church is lax towards common sin. The problem is not then that a stand would be taken against specific sins like homosexuality, the problem is that we excuse and gloss over others. God will not overlook any sin. Jesus Himself said that we will give an account for every careless word that we speak at the final judgment (Matt 12.36).
What have you muttered under your breath? Who have you spoken ill of? What profanities have slipped out when you hit your thumb with a hammer or were being goofy with friends?
“Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?”
– Gen 18.25
God’s standard is perfection. He broke fellowship with Adam and Eve and condemned all of humanity for eating a piece of fruit. Did you ever eat a cookie that your mom forbade?
The church needs to respond. We need to understand grace and accountability. I have struggles. You have struggles. We all have temptations and tendencies that we must daily put to death. My pride, if excused and accepted will keep me out of Heaven just as much as someone’s homosexual practices. But the Holy Spirit gives us the ability to fight pride and homosexual lusts.
The church also needs to understand discipline. If one will not repent of pride or homosexuality, he has no place in the fellowship. Why? Because God does not tolerate sin. No matter how socially taboo or socially acceptable it is.
The problem is not that we hate sin too much. The problem is that we hate sin too little and we hate sin disproportionately and that we do not exemplify loving accountability and refuge for those who are seeking to know God and grow in maturity and put to death the deeds of their flesh (Rom 8.13).
What is your god? Is it the God of the Bible? If so, are you seeking to obey Him in every aspect of your life? And that by putting to death pride, selfishness, anger, lust… That alone is the mark of a Christian. No Christian is without sin. No Christian is above temptation. And we gather to worship and a God who forgives and enables us to obey.
“By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
– John 13.35
“If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.”
– John 14.15