27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.
Seldom people look at the matter of sin deeply as the matter of desire. Often what is understood is only that sin is a matter of behavior. As long as one does not actually practicing sin then one does not sin. Such is the common understanding. Tendency, desire, hidden thought, hidden motive, and so on, is not considered sin. Many people try to separate the desire and the actual conduct
While it is true that desire is not the same with the actual action, the two are connected very strongly. Because the act, normally, is the result of the will. There are cases when the act does not match the will, but most likely for those cases the circumstance around the event is gravely overwhelming. Such as the time of war for example, or crisis situation when emergency call is needed, a split second decision, all those terrible events that can temporarily alter the reasoning of man and even the character. We are not discussing extraordinary circumstances here. We are discussing the common circumstance. Commonly people act following their will. However, I must say here, that even within extraordinary circumstances we are held accountable for whatever it is that we do. If it is sin, then it is sin, regardless of the circumstance. However the value of the sin will certainly be greater if committed under normal circumstance, because of the unlikely detachment of will and action during normalcy.
I want to focus now especially on the matter of homosexuality. This issue has been hot, especially in North America, especially after the decision by the US Supreme Court in 2013. This issue has been extremely hot among Christians ever since. As we all know, the hotness is due to the clash between the desire of the world to promote homosexuality as natural and the orthodox teaching of the Scripture that declares homosexuality as unnatural and therefore sin. This issue weighs heavy in the heart of many Christians today. A lot of Christian leaders have compromised the orthodox teaching. So they change their mind on the unnaturalness of homosexuality. Now they begin to say that it is somehow OK. Though they do not readily say that homosexuality is natural, they would quickly say that it can be tolerated based on love.
The common compromise today is to say that homosexual tendency in itself is not sin, whereas the homosexual practice is indeed sin. At first read, such statement appears to be right. People would readily agree with such statement. With the common framework of the world that sin is only a matter of behavior and not a matter of the heart, certainly that statement is logically right. But if we carefully listen to the Scripture, we will know that it isn’t the case. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus points out that the matter of sin goes deeper than merely behavior. For Jesus, the Lord of lords, the Creator of the universe, God himself, sin is a matter of the heart. Action follows the heart. Jesus says in Matthew 5:28: “28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” With this clear example, Jesus is saying that the seventh commandment has already been broken by simply lusting over a woman. The man does not have to act upon his will. He has committed the sin in his heart. In short, sin is sin whether it is acted or only committed in the heart. Sin is sin whether it is just the tendency or it is practiced. If we listen to this word of the Lord Jesus Christ carefully, then we immediately will know that the compromised statement above is totally wrong. To be concrete, based on the words of Jesus, homosexual tendency in itself is then sin. It doesn’t have to be practiced for it to be sin, the existence of the tendency, desire, will, is in itself sin.
Like all other sins, homosexual tendency too is sinful. Jesus gives the example of committing adultery. The same rule applies to all others, such as lying, stealing, killing, and so forth. One is guilty of sin just by desiring to lie. One is guilty of sin by desiring to steal. One is guilty of sin by desiring to kill. The list goes on. However, this does not mean that then there is no hope for the person with the tendency. On contrary there is hope. For we all have sinned. The Apostle Paul says in Romans 3:23: “23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” We all have within us some sort of flaws one way or another. One has the tendency to lie, another person has the tendency to steal, still another to murder, or to commit adultery, or to desire what is unnatural such as homosexual activity. As early as Adam and Eve, they both already had the tendency to deny responsibility. And as early as Cain, he already had the tendency to murder. Now, the hope is that Jesus, the Son of God, the Savior of the world, has died on the cross to atone sinners of their sin – whatever sin, except the unforgivable sin as described in the Scripture in Matthew 12:22-32. And this hope is true.
Compromising the truth leads us to a greater sin. The compromise above leads a lot of people astray. Many then, based on such compromise, continue to nurture their desire for homosexual activity thinking that it is OK as long as they do not commit the actual act. Whoever it was who first made the compromise, they have undermined the power of sin. And more terribly is that they have undermined the word of God. First, the word of God cannot be compromised. Homosexual act is sin. Homosexual tendency too is sin. It is not merely a consequence of sin. It is sin. We can’t reduce its weight. What is declared as sin is sin. It is God’s province. It is not within our authority to change God’s declaration. The only thing man can do, though it should not be done, is deceiving oneself. Romans 1:26-27 declares:
26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; 27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.
The truth of the word of God cannot be reduced by man, how much more by human logical error. Paul is consistent with the Law as Moses wrote.
22 You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination. (Leviticus 18:22)
13 If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them. (Leviticus 20:13)
Matthew 5:28 points out the hidden and unseen sin. Sin is not just an act. It is much deeper than just an act. It is the desire, the tendency, that breeds the action. The word of God cannot be discounted. Undermining the word of God is dangerous. Twisting it for the sake of compromise is even more.
Second, the power of sin is great. Undermining it is a grave mistake. Deceiving oneself by saying that homosexual tendency is OK is like burying an active nuclear bomb under our house. They are delusional to think that it is harmless. A little instability might spell disaster. A little leak might cause great harm. Continuing to think that homosexual tendency is OK might cause further destruction. It is not OK. It is sin. And as Paul has said, for the redeemed, we are dead to sin (Romans 6:2). Even the homosexual tendency, the redeemed has died to it. How can the redeemed say that homosexual tendency is OK as if one is still alive to it? If one is in Christ, then he is dead to sin. The deception that homosexual tendency is not sin will tempt the person into nurturing it. If it is not a sin, then there is no reason not to nurture it. It is not a sin after all, so they thought. This is a huge slippery slope. This statement provides the excuse to explore further deception. One then cannot help but ask the question: “if the tendency is not sin, how come the action that results from it is sin?” That is a valid question. And I do not think that one can answer satisfactorily with that being the case. Thus, pretty soon, it will open the door widely to the excuse to practice the tendency. After all, there is no reason against the practice if the tendency is not a sin. It would be inconsistent to say that the tendency is not sinful, while at the same time to emphasize that the action is. No! The compromise doesn’t work. We should not compromise in the first place. Homosexual practice is sin. Homosexual tendency is also sin. We can’t water down the word of God just because we feel bad about those who have the homosexual tendency. In the same way we can’t excuse the tendency to murder just because we feel bad that those people who have it have it in their gene. Sin is sin, no matter what.
If we start on the right foundation, then we may proceed to the next level. The next level is the ministry toward these people. Granted that in the past, Christians acted harshly toward them. But the mistake of Christians in the past should not become the ground for excusing homosexuality. How much more to say that it is not sin. A mistake is a mistake. It has to be addressed. The brutal act and treatment must stop. We do not kill people anymore. Now, the death penalty as stipulated in Leviticus is clearly the just punishment of the transgression. But as God’s church today we are not executing such kind of punishment anymore. We still speak of it as sin. We still proclaim the end result of such sin, the same like any other sin, which is death. But we are not the executioners any more. We are tasked with a different task. Our task is what Paul calls as the “ministry of reconciliation” in 2 Corinthians 5:18. Again, we still speak that the result of sin is death (Romans 6:23), but we do not stop there, instead we also proclaim of the grace of God in Jesus Christ. The Leviticus Law stands, it is the truth, the wages of sin is death. God doesn’t downgrade his Law. His justice is perfect. But God is also a gracious God. So we proclaim God’s grace in Christ Jesus.
Before we discuss further on the grace of God in Christ, we need to address the problem of overemphasizing grace in our era today. Today we have in our face, the tendency of Christians dismissing anything about judgment. They do not want to picture God as the God of justice, the God who demands complete obedience of his people, the God who executes and punishes the guilty. They reject the God of justice. Instead, they only want to accept the God of mercy, the God of grace, the God of love. This partiality is very disturbing. Because God has both characters. God is both just and loving. Justice is demanded. It is never discounted by God. The death of Jesus on the cross is the proof of God’s demand for justice. If God is only grace then Jesus did not have to die on the cross. But no, in the kingdom of God, grace does not work alone. Grace works side by side with justice. Without justice, grace cannot exist. Without the death penalty of the sin of homosexuality, one cannot understand the meaning of God’s grace in Christ Jesus. For grace presupposes justice. Therefore, in the last analysis, when God’s servants proclaim grace, they must also properly proclaim God’s justice. Contrary to the demand of this age, which only wants the message of grace and love. Such partial proclamation will only result in cheap grace and cheap love.
With the right understanding of grace and justice, we can then talk about the ministry to the sinners, which includes those who are homosexually inclined. Pay attention that I use “ministry to sinners” as the bracket here. Simply because we are all sinners. Homosexuality is no more special sin than committing adultery. It is sexual sin. Or what the Scripture refers as “sexual immorality” (cf. 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, 18; 10:8; Hebrews 13:4; Jude 1:7). Homosexual sin becomes extra special because of its perversion combined with the past treatment religious people, including Christians, did to those people. Its unnaturalness does not go unnoticed. But ministering to the homosexuals, those practicing or not, must start with the understanding that it is a sin. It must start by acknowledging that those who even have the tendency are sinners. Complaining that it is not fair to label them sinners based on the reasoning that they are created that way by God is no more insulting than to say that people who have the tendency to murder are not sinners because they too are created by God in that way. It is called pride. Wanting to elevate oneself at the expense of God’s holiness. No! Everyone must humbly repent. Understanding that each has sinned. Even in the womb, before any act can be committed, we have sinned against God. David speaks about it very vividly:
5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
and in sin did my mother conceive me.
This is the doctrine of the original sin. It is a huge mistake to say that the tendency is not sin, only the practice is. Even for the redeemed, to have tendency to sin is in itself sin. That is why we need to repent from time to time. Not that Jesus needs to be crucified over and over again in order to atone us. But that we ought to realize who we are and our submission to God. Christ’s sacrifice is done once and for all (Hebrews 10:10-14). This then means that the message we channel to sinners are consistent since the beginning of time, which is God is just that he has to punish sin, and the wages of sin is death, but God desires to save us so he sends his son into the world to satisfy God’s demand for justice and to provide grace and salvation to those who believe. And this is the same message we ought to speak to the homosexuals too. Not camouflaging its sin by saying that the tendency is OK but just don’t practice it. Such deception will damage the poor souls even more. It endorses inconsistency. Those people will be split in their personality. They will be disintegrated. Some people have become aware of the impossibility to separate the will and the action, the tendency and the practice. So some of them have begun to ask that if the tendency is not wrong, then perhaps the action stemming from the tendency is not wrong too. There is no reason actually to say that the tendency is not wrong but the action is wrong. It is absurd to say so. So, it is either the tendency and the action is both wrong or not wrong at all. The Scripture says that both are wrong. Both are sin. If we are for God, then we will obey God’s word. But if they are not for God, they will manipulate the word of God for their own advantage. Or they will just reject God’s word outright. One can’t be for God and not for God at the same time.
With that start, then the ministry to the homosexuals, the same as to other sinners, must lead toward repentance. And the repentance leads to the realization that since we are in Christ then we have died to sin. Therefore, the extent of the ministry must include the instruction not to nurture the homosexual tendency just like other instruction to other sinners not to nurture greed or lies and so on. And it also must include the guidance to dwell in the word of God. Submission to God is a must. God commands obedience (cf. John 15:1-11; 2 Corinthians 10:6). Denying oneself, carrying one’s cross, and following Jesus is necessary to truly become Jesus’ disciples (Matthew 16:24; Mark 8:34). The ministry can’t be done properly without realizing the real meaning of sin. The ministry of reconciliation won’t work if people do not think and feel that they have sinned. If they have not sinned, then they do not need reconciliation. They then do not need forgiveness. For they do not need to repent from anything. And this is the message projected from the compromise that claims that homosexual tendency is not sin, the homosexual practice is. Certainly, the compromise is very damaging.
Now, the homosexuals might not be able to have a natural tendency as long as they live in this broken world. To force them to have the natural tendency would not be wise either. The practical and pastoral advice then is for them not to practice it. That is a good practical and pastoral advice. But it is not ground for then saying that only the practice that is sin. The advice will still need to be implemented. The tendency must not be nurtured. We cannot, just because we feel bad about ourselves, then bend over backwards to deceive ourselves into thinking that our tendency is no sin. What is sin must be called as sin. Self deception will not solve the bad feeling. It is just a temporary ecstasy. It is a sleeping pill. Now, Paul says:
18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
We might not be able to heal homosexual tendency now in this broken world. But for sure in the new heaven and the new earth it will be taken care of by our God. The hope is real. We groan together, though our groaning might be of different issues, but we groan together. We are waiting for the redemption of our bodies. This body of death must be redeemed in its completeness. And we will be clothed with the body of glory when Christ Jesus comes the second time. Therefore, the ministry, just like the ministry to all other sinners, is to point all of us toward the hope that is in Christ Jesus. We all endure the suffering until our time is up. We continue to be faithful and obedient to the Lord Jesus Christ. The homosexuals, as well as the murderers, the liars, the adulterers, and so on, groan together as we are redeemed in Christ for the redemption of our bodies. No the solution can’t be compromise. The solution can’t be then to say that homosexuality is no sin – or that homosexual tendency is no sin. No, it is sin. But we have hope in Christ. That in the world to come, we will no longer have sin, be it tendency or actual action. So believing and trusting our savior, we wait patiently. We wait even as we endure the suffering. We deny ourselves and we carry our cross daily as we follow our Lord Jesus Christ obediently. Amen.
- The Business of Christian Education XCIX -