These past few weeks have been a new reality for our church. We launched into a discussion about what Jesus would say to different icons in our culture and ultimately what He would say to us. It’s been a grace-filled season. One of the concerns and questions that I have received a few times can be summed up in this: “Is Westside soft on sin?”
Ultimately it really only matters how God defines and speaks about sin and then consequently how His people think about it.
One of the key passages in the Bible that has been used to build a theology of sin is Romans 1. Paul writes this book to a very secular society. Rome in his day had fell off the deep end in terms of immorality. People were doing whatever they felt was right without any regard to moral standards or human decency. They had replaced any knowledge of God with their own self-gratifying needs.
Paul uses this setting to begin a discussion about grace, righteousness, holiness, and how God and His church should view sin.
In Romans 1:16-17, Paul tells us the point of the entire book of Romans: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”
Right from the beginning Paul tells us that salvation does not happen by how we live, but by how we believe. We are made right before God in faith of Christ’s work on the cross.
Then Paul launches into one of the most in-depth dissertations on sin. The full text is below and worth reading. My summation is as follows:
God is not happy when we suppress truth with our sinfulness. He knows our lives were meant to be better and He so desires that we would live according to His perfect and eternal will. Matter of fact, Paul makes the case that the created world displays God’s best for us. In other words, look around at His creation (not what we have created), and you will find His best intentions, His best laid out plan for our lives.
But we, even seeing all that He intends for us, still live according to our own desires, according to our own knowledge which eventually and slowly decays.
As a result of our continued ignorance of God’s ways, Paul tells us that God gives us over to whatever we want to do. Anything goes. God doesn’t leave, His best intentions are still seen all around us in His creation, but we ignore it and we ignore Him and so He lets us go the way we want to go.
By the way, when we remove God from our collective consciousness, all that is left is our body and soul – no spirit. As a result we are dominated in our thinking with our sexuality. The flesh supersedes the spirit and becomes the ultimate guide for our lives. We do whatever “feels” right.
In this context Paul uses the examples of homosexual acts, envy, murder, strife, lying, gossip, disobedience to parents, etc. And what He is showing us is that all of these things are the natural result of the lack of knowledge of God. And none of them make Him happy. None of them are His best intention for us. All of them eventually lead to death and separation from God.
Now what the Church has done is used these passages to justify judgmentalism. We all remember the “fire and brimstone” preachers that scared us to heaven. Passages like this were used all the time to scare people. But that’s not the point of why Paul wrote these words. It wasn’t to label certain people “sinners”, it was to show that all of us are or were living like this. In the very next section he writes:
You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance? (Romans 2:1-4 NIV)
We have a nice chapter break in our Bibles, but there was none when Paul wrote this. Funny isn’t it, how Christians even separated certain passages from others. My belief is that this was as much part of Chapter 1 as what we just looked at.
But notice the last line in verse 4: “God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance.” Wait a second. I thought it was God’s judgment that leads me to repentance. I thought it was my realization that if I don’t do the right things I don’t get in. No. It’s God’s very patience, forbearance, and kindness that leads people to realize they need a savior.
My prayer for Westside is not that we would be soft or hard on sin, but that we would show our world the kind of patience God really has and that He is slow to get angry but quick to show mercy. That view doesn’t empower me to sin more, but it inspires me to live for Him and the best He has for me and to follow His word and His way. To not live for myself, but to love His way and His word.
Let’s keep the dialogue going.
The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles. Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen. Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error. Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them. (Romans 1:18-32 NIV)