If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. – Hebrews 10:26-27
A few days ago, the Evangelical Alliance UK (EAUK) discontinued the membership of the Oasis Trust. The reason was, according to the press release, due to “a campaign to change the Church’s historic view on human sexuality” (a campaign fronted by Steve Chalke, whom I blogged about when this issue first came up and again recently). The reaction to this move has been huge and polarised: some people, such as myself, think the EAUK made a good move: in an acceptance of same-sex relationships, I believe Chalke has made a clear step away from a traditional evangelical understanding of the authority of Scripture. On the other hand, many have commented that it’s incredibly sad for the EAUK to be dividing on this issue when Christians who hold the same understanding of Scripture can legitimately disagree on this (see Gillan’s post over at the God and Politics blog for a good articulation of this view).
The main criticism people are making of the EAUK is that they are being divisive around a secondary issue. It’s a bit like baptism: some evangelicals believe it’s OK to baptise infants, others think you can only baptise someone when they’re old enough to make their own confession of faith. Insisting upon conformity on this issue is to exclude a large number of evangelicals, and is spreading discord and division needlessly.
Now I don’t want to talk about the EAUK’s response to the issue per se, but instead talk about the nature of sexuality as a ‘secondary issue’: personally I don’t think this is an issue that Christians can disagree over. This is partly because I think the Bible couldn’t be clearer on this issue, but also because I think we cannot just agree to disagree on matters of sin – particularly when it’s concerning something as serious as sexuality.
Firstly, let’s look at the verses I quoted at the top (this time quoting the whole paragraph):
If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think someone deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” and again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
The argument here is simple: if someone under the old covenant (i.e. the Old Testament) rejected the law of Moses, they died “without mercy”. “How much more”, the writer argues, do Christians deserve to be punished if they reject the forgiveness that is offered to them in Christ Jesus? Deliberately persisting with sin is like “trampling the Son of God underfoot”. Ouch.
So, if Christians deliberately keep on sinning, they have “only a fearful expectation of judgement and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God”. Those words are pretty unequivocal. Although no Christian is perfect, any Christian who deliberately and intentionally goes on sinning can expect nothing but judgement. I have to say those words make me feel pretty uncomfortable, because I know there are plenty of times in my life when I sin – yes, even intentionally. The difference is, those times are not a cause for celebration; I can and should repent and pray to God for forgiveness and the ability to live a new life in Christ Jesus. That doesn’t mean I won’t sin again, but it means that I must every day live out Paul’s words: “walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16). Christ died so that we might receive forgiveness of sins, not so that we might go on sinning. As Paul says in Romans 6:1, “Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means!!!! [Emphasis not original, but would have been if Paul had had access to word processing software and the exclamation mark. He might have used a few more exclamation marks, in fact. And capitals.]
The whole Christian life is about repentance and faith – see how Jesus summarises it in Luke 24:47: “repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations.” So, Christians do not have liberty to go on sinning deliberately. Once someone has found forgiveness in Christ Jesus, they must take up their cross and follow him daily.
But what about sexual sin? Well, let’s be honest here, sexual sin is a pretty big deal. I think we have some understanding of this even in contemporary British culture – witness how gleefully the tabloids will report news of someone who’s been caught having an affair, for example. But the Bible does place an emphasis on sexual sin as well. Now please don’t misunderstand me – I’m not wishing to turn it into a ‘red letter sin’: as James says, “whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it” (James 2:10). However, it does seem that the Bible places an emphasis on sexual sin, amongst other things.
To take one example from the Old Testament, have a read through Proverbs 1-9 and notice how many times sexual sin (in this case, adultery) is mentioned. Notice how serious the consequences are, for example Proverbs 2:16-19:
Wisdom will save you also from the adulterous woman,
from the wayward woman with her seductive words,
who has left the partner of her youth
and ignored the covenant she made before God.
Surely her house leads down to death
and her paths to the spirits of the dead.
None who go to her return
or attain the paths of life.
That’s serious business, isn’t it? It’s the same in Proverbs 5:5, where it says of the adulterous woman: “Her feet go down to death; her steps lead straight to the grave.” If you read through Proverbs you will see that this is consistent with the message of the rest of the book. Sexual sin, in this case unfaithfulness, is a serious business.
The New Testament also picks up on this. I will limit myself to three brief quotes:
But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people … For of this you can be sure: no immoral, impure or greedy person – such a person is an idolater – has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. (Ephesians 5:3, 5)
Marriage should be honoured by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral. (Hebrews 13:4)
Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-10)
Those three quotes all associate particular sins with God’s judgement, and in fact the first and the last quotes indicate that such people will not inherit the Kingdom of God. How, you may ask, do any of us come into the Kingdom of God?
In that last quote, Paul goes on to say in the next verse: “And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” The point is, we were like that. But through repentance and faith, through Jesus Christ, Christians have been washed and justified.
Let’s take a step back for a moment. Let’s assume for the sake of argument that the traditional view (sex is reserved for one man and one woman in a lifelong relationship) is correct. Let’s say that God really did mean that. If what I have said above is true, anything else is potentially excluding people from the kingdom of God. If traditionalists are right on this issue – and, as I said before, I think the Biblical case is pretty much cut and dried – then to be in an organisation which allows a view which might exclude people from the kingdom of God is unthinkable.
To not take a position on this is to take a position. If same-sex relationships are blessed by God, then the traditionalists are mistaking God’s will and forcing people to adopt a celibate life for no good reason. If same-sex relationships are not blessed by God, then ‘revisionists’ are excluding people from the Kingdom of God. By not taking a position, an organisation is implicitly allowing that both of those are actual possibilities.
In summary, given all of this, I think any organisation calling itself ‘evangelical’ must take a position on sexuality. Either something is a sin, or it isn’t. Let’s have no more of this secondary issue fudge.
Update: Since starting to write this blog post, the Evangelical Alliance UK have issued a statement saying: “Nor was the issue the evangelical (or indeed the Evangelical Alliance’s) position on human sexuality or the redefinition of marriage”. See the link for more info.