Wednesday, December 15, 2010

When One's Definition of Sin Becomes Relevant, One's Dying to Sin Becomes Irrelevant

Our church hosts weekly meetings for people who are struggling to handle the pain their addictions to certain activities brings them. We are a host church that practices love and grace to all those who darken our doors, accepting the sinner wherever he or she is in life. We teach those who come to our recovery and restoration ministries how the greatest pleasures in this life come from our personal relationship with God through faith in Jesus. Jesus (a contraction of the Hebrew "Jehoshua" which means "He shall deliver") is the Messiah (Greek: Christ), the One anointed by God to deliver us from the bondage of our sins and the false belief that real pleasure comes from crossing boundaries God has drawn for our good.

Periodically we have hosted a ministry called Exodus International, a ministry of men and women who have struggled with homosexual sin, but are learning what it means to look to Jesus in faith that He will deliver them from their sins (Matthew 1:21: "You shall call His name Jesus, for He will deliver His people from their sins"). We open our arms to the people who come to conferences sponsored by Exodus, many of whom are not even sure that homosexuality is even sin. Ironically, many adulterers who come to our Celebrate Recovery meetings are not sure their sexual activity is wrong either ("How can something that feels so good with someone I love so much be considered 'sin'?").

Al Mohler published today an excellent article entitled So Why Is Incest Wrong? Mohler writes about David Epstein, a professor of political science at Columbia University. Dr. Eptein's wife also teaches at Columbia, and he previously taught on the faculties of Harvard and Stanford. Last week, Dr. Eptein was arraigned before a judge in Manhattan, charged with a single count of felony incest. According to authorities, Professor Epstein was for several years involved in a sexual relationship with his adult daughter, now age 24. Reading the statements by Dr. Epstein's attorney, arguing that Professor Epstein loves his daughter and that there is nothing unhealthy about a consensual, incestuous relationship between adults, I reflected back to something I had read earlier.

A little over three years ago three former leaders of the Christian ministry Exodus International, apologized for their involvement in Exodus and renounced their belief that homosexuality was "sin."  The three early leaders of this Christian ministry, Darlene Bogle, Michael Bussee, and Jeremy Marks, each explained what brought them to their change of heart. Darlene is very specific about the event that caused her to see that "what she had been teaching (i.e. "homosexual behavior is sin") was dead wrong." She writes:

As I was teaching at an Exodus Conference, a woman walked in and sat on the front row. She had long curly black hair and an infectious smile. Her eyes locked with mine, and although the books say there is no such thing as love at first sight, my heart knew better. Her name was Des. I walked to the other side of the room, recounting my journey of healing by rote, but my brain was whirling with thoughts and emotions that I thought were dead. Imagine, if you can, my shock and horror when I realized in that moment, that what I had been teaching was a lie!
I think Darlene has given us a prime example of the importance of everyone defining sin the way God defines it. The Apostle John writes "Sin is the transgression of the law" (I John 3:4). Since nobody but radical, orthodox Jews would argue that the ceremonial, sacrifical and and civil "laws" given by God for Israel to observe are still in force, the question becomes "To what law does God hold us?"

In other words, how do we know what "sin" is?

The young lawyer asked Jesus this same question, and Jesus responded that loving God and your fellow man are the two laws upon which all the law of God are built (Matthew 22:40). But that begs the question: "Are homosexuality, adultery, drunkenness, sexual immorality, stealing, incest, and other specific activities wrong?" Listen, again, to the Apostle John: "But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and sexually immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death" (Revelation 21:8). The New Testament Scriptures set forth the objective standard of God in about as clear a fashion as one could hope.

It would seem to me that the problem people in our culture and world have today is the unwillingness to define sin the way God defines it. The issue with people in evanglical churches is that we often wish to add to the law of God things that God never said ("don't put a woman in leadership," "don't drink," "don't dance," "don't go to movies," etc...)  but the problem with those outside the church is that they wish to take away from the law of God.

God has said homosexual behavior, adulterous behavior, drunken behavior, incestuous behavior, stealing, lying, idolatery, murder, sorcery, and other specific behaviors are outside the boundaries of moral behavior He has established His law for mankind. We all cross the line. He sent Jesus to deliver His people from the bondage, penalty and temporary pleasures our transgressions bring by opening up to us to an understanding of the eternal  pleasures we will find in our relationship with the Deliverer, Jesus Christ.

When a person's definition of sin becomes relevant (i.e. "the moment I saw my lesbian lover I knew that my teaching on homosexuality was wrong"), then one's dying to sin becomes irrelevant. Why die to sin when I can't even call it sin? The danger of allowing our definition of sin to become "relevant" is that we lose the power and pleasure of any relationship with the One whose name, title, and function is to deliver us from those very sins that put us in bondage in the first place.

Before, however, we condemn the homosexual, or the adulterer, or the drunkard, or the gambler, or all other "sinners" by pointing our proverbial finger, we might pause to consider this same Jesus has called our pride, our selfishness, our backbiting, and a host of other activities we seem to revel in sin. How can we who know the intrinsic worth of Jesus find fault in those who refuse to die to their sins when we struggle to die to our own?

My prayer is that today, like everyday, Jesus will convince me that I am the greatest of all sinners. My belief in the presence of sin in my life is the glue (faith) that ties me to the Person and work my Deliverer.