I’ve just added a new article in Dutch:
This translation was originally published here at Een in waarheid.
The English original can be found here: Are All Sins Equal?
I’ve just added a new article in Dutch:
This translation was originally published here at Een in waarheid.
The English original can be found here: Are All Sins Equal?
I’ve noticed that Christians sometimes soft pedal the Bible’s teaching about homosexuality by arguing that all sins are the same. In other words, my extra-marital heterosexual lust is no less a sin than the gay person’s homosexual lust. Sin is sin and it is all equally wicked.
In a sense this is true. It’s true in the sense of every sin being equally deserving of God’s wrath. What to us is a small trifling sin is in the eyes of God a tremendous offense. This is directly related to the holy majesty of the one sinned against. If you sin even slightly against infinitely holy majesty, you incur an infinite debt. But this line of discussion can’t go very far since, in the nature of the case, we’re not just slight sinners — see Romans 3:10-18.
As true as it is that every sin equally deserves God’s wrath, it is equally true that Scripture teaches that some sins are worse than others in God’s sight. This is immediately evident from the Old Testament law. Some sins, like blasphemy, were punishable with death, whereas others received lighter penalties. In Ezekiel 8:6, God points out to Ezekiel the great idolatrous abominations in Jerusalem. Then he says, “But you will see still greater abominations.” There are great abominations, and then there are greater abominations.
The Westminster Shorter Catechism captures the biblical teaching on this in QA 83:
Q. Are all transgressions of the law equally heinous?
A. Some sins in themselves, and by reason of several aggravations, are more heinous in the sight of God than others.
The Westminster Larger Catechism in QA 151 expands on this and explains what the aggravations are. They fall under four broad categories: from the persons offending, from the parties offended, from the nature and quality of the offence, and from circumstances of time and place. So, if you’re an older Christian who should know better or an office bearer, your sin carries more weight. If your sin was against a weaker brother, your sin is worse. If you broke several commandments in one go, that’s to be regarded as more heinous. If your sin was committed publicly, that’s worse than if it was committed privately.
As a quick aside, you might be wondering whether this is touched on in the Heidelberg Catechism. Well, it is, but just not directly. Some sins being worse than others is implied in Lord’s Day 36 on the third commandment. We confess that “no sin is greater or provokes God’s wrath more than the blaspheming of his name. That is why he commanded it to be punished with death.” So, blasphemy is worse than, say, adultery or false witness. Some sins are worse than others.
There is no doubt that Scripture describes homosexual lusts and behaviour as abominable (Lev. 20:13). The Bible uses strong language about these sins to impress upon us how God regards these things as completely contrary to his design for the human race. While heterosexual extra- and non-marital lusts and behaviours are sinful, they retain something of what is natural in that they involve the opposite sex. Homosexual lusts and behaviour are worse because they bring in the additional element of overturning what the Creator God designed to be natural. This is what the Bible is saying in Romans 1:26-27 — it speaks of trading in natural relations for unnatural.
However, when we speak about sins in terms of their heinousness, we ought always to remember that there is, in Scripture, a sin that is even worse than a homosexual lifestyle. As Greg Bahnsen once described it, “there is a sin worse than sodomy” in the Bible. It’s found in Matthew 10. Jesus sent out his apostles to preach and teach amongst “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” — God’s covenant people. While they did that, the possibility was there that they would meet with unbelief. In such a case, they were to shake the dust off their feet as they left that town — signifying that these people are unclean. Then Jesus adds in verse 15, “Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town.” Sodom and Gomorrah were notorious for their sexual immorality and “unnatural desire” (Jude 7). Christ was saying that there is something far worse than what Sodom and Gomorrah did: to be a child of the covenant and to reject the Saviour. To have God call you his own, for him to send you the Saviour with the glad tidings of the gospel, and for you to reject him — that is something God calls worse than homosexuality. It’s a warning to people in the church today.
Realize this: we all have sins great and small sinking us into the depths. Yet, no matter what our sins are, there is a Saviour whose atoning work is sufficient to wipe it all out. The saving work of Jesus is there for all who feel the weight of their sin and long for that burden to be lifted. Even as we speak about some sins which are more heinous than others, let’s also always speak about the grace which is super-abounding in Jesus Christ.
In August 2015, the Free Reformed Church of Launceston asked FRC Baldivis to declare a day of prayer in view of the pressures towards same-sex marriage and other breaches of biblical norms on sexuality and marriage. FRC Baldivis agreed to declare a day of prayer for the Free Reformed Churches of Australia on 12 February 2017. I chose to preach on 1 Corinthians 6:9-11.
Beloved congregation of Christ,
If our federal government had gotten its way, yesterday we would have gone to the polls to vote in a plebiscite on so-called marriage equality. We would have been voting on whether or not the Australian government should allow for same-sex marriage. However, the other parties blocked the plebiscite. They want to have a free vote in parliament on the matter. We shouldn’t be thinking that this matter is done and dusted. Labour, the Greens, and even some from the Coalition are still pushing for a free vote. It would probably only take a change of Prime Minister to make it happen, and given how often this country has been changing prime ministers in recent years, don’t hold your breath.
Meanwhile, the media is also putting enormous pressure on our society to allow for homosexual people to get married. While I was in Cairns, I watched a bit of a TV show called Bride and Prejudice. Maybe some of you have seen it. It’s about “forbidden marriages,” couples getting married against their parents’ wishes. One of the couples is two men, Chris and Grant. Grant is an American, and his parents are supportive. Chris is an Australian, and his parents are totally against the marriage. His mom is a Jehovah’s Witness and his ex-military dad is portrayed as just another Aussie bigot. The show creates sympathy for Chris. And also for Chris and Grant as a couple. After all, they have to travel all the way from Australia to Palm Springs, California in order to exchange their wedding vows. TV shows like this prepared the way for same-sex marriage in North America and TV producers know that this has power to change things here in Australia too.
In August of 2015 the consistory [of the FRC Launceston] sent a letter to the church at Baldivis asking for a Day of Prayer in view of efforts in our nation to allow for same-sex marriage. The church at Baldivis is the church for calling Days of Prayer. They considered the matter and agreed to call for a Day of Prayer in our bond of churches for today. It’s not only because of same-sex marriage, but also because of other pressures on biblical norms regarding marriage and sexuality. We think of sexual activity before or outside of marriage, pornography, divorce, gender confusion, and so on. Today, we will pray for our nation. We’ll pray here in church, but you’re also encouraged to pray at home with your family, and as an individual. We must plead with the Lord to have mercy on Australia. We have to beg him to restrain the forces of evil which continue to threaten our national well-being.
But in connection with that, it’s also good for us to be reminded from God’s Word about the norms that God has established for marriage and human sexuality. That’s why we’re looking at this passage from 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 this morning. This should be a well-known passage to us. When we’re faced with the issues we’re facing today, our thoughts should go to what God’s Word says here. This passage is clear about what’s sinful. It identifies various sinful behaviours and tells us what the consequences are. But it also offers hope with the gospel. Through the good news of Jesus Christ, there is a way for people to be delivered from sin. There’s not only a way for us to be delivered, but also a way for this nation we love.
The passage tells us of two types of people: unbelievers and believers. It shows us not only how they are different in principle, but also how they must be different in practice. You could say there’s both description and prescription. And so I preach to you God’s Word from 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 with this theme: There’s to be a radical contrast between unbelievers and believers.
We’ll consider what characterizes:
We sometimes think that our society must be one of the worst that’s ever existed. Morally speaking, can there have been a worse time in human history? Knowing your history helps you to keep everything in perspective. If you know something about the history of Corinth, that helps you realize that the wickedness of our day is more of a revival than an innovation. It’s a revival of evil, not the appearance of something that’s never been seen before.
The city of Corinth had a reputation, even amongst pagan Romans and Greeks. It was originally founded in the time of the ancient Greeks, and then re-established in the time of the Roman Empire. It was a port city and, as a result, also a party city. It was a place to have a good time, a place to get drunk and go crazy. Corinth had wide-spread prostitution, male and female. Some of that prostitution was associated with the worship of Roman gods. You’d go to a pagan temple and the worship involved sex. Homosexuality was accepted as normal in Corinth, both for men and women. Men would often be involved in homosexual relationships with boys. Marriage was not really respected. Corinth in the days of Paul was a cesspool of vice and the ugliest forms of paganism.
The gospel came to Corinth sometime in the early 50s. Paul was part of the way in which that happened, but others were involved too, like Priscilla and Aquila, as well as Apollos. The gospel came and there were people who heard the good news of Jesus and believed it. They turned from their sin and turned to Christ. By the time Paul wrote this letter, the Corinthian church had only existed for a few years – perhaps even only three years. The people to whom he was writing were still baby Christians.
They were babes in the faith, “infants in Christ,” and it showed. You just have to read through the first chapters of this letter to see the issues they were dealing with. There was division and disharmony, infighting. Then in chapter 5, we find that the church was even tolerating stuff that the world would find disgraceful. There was incest – a man who called himself a Christian, a member of the church, sleeping with his step-mother. The church turned a blind eye to it. No discipline. Then chapter 6 describes even more ugly stuff in the Corinthian church. People who called themselves Christians were suing each other in court. Church members were engaged in lawsuits amongst themselves. It was shameful. Look, the problem was not that the Corinthian church existed in the world, the problem was that the world was in the church. In some key ways, the church was indistinguishable from the world. In some ways, they were even outdoing the world’s wickedness.
That was the problem that the Holy Spirit was addressing in our text. It wasn’t the world’s wickedness as such, but the fact that the church was joining in with the world, and in some ways even surpassing it. It’s a pretty sad situation when the church is living worse than the world. How can a church like that bring honour and glory to God?
Verse 9 has Paul asking a rhetorical question. A rhetorical question is one where the answer is obvious. “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?” Of course, they know that! They know it because Paul and others taught it to them. When the gospel came to Corinth, the missionaries taught that you have to turn from your sin and turn to Christ in faith. You can’t keep on living in sin if you become a Christian. They knew that – they knew it with their minds, but their lives were saying that some of them didn’t know it with their hearts. They didn’t really know it in the most meaningful way. So this rhetorical question is meant to remind them.
They’re reminded that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God. What this means is that the person who lives in sin is not going to receive the blessings of living under God’s rule into eternity. What it means is that the person who loves their sin and won’t hate it and fight against it is not going to have eternal life. The person who clings to their sin and won’t let go of it is not going to heaven. That’s true of people out there in the world, but here the Holy Spirit is especially applying these words to people in the church. Today it’s still true, also for us: the unrepentant and unrighteous church member will not inherit the kingdom of God — will not be saved. You see, what first characterizes an unbeliever, whether in the church or outside, is the lack of repentance. It’s the unwillingness to forsake sin.
What sin does is deceive us. That’s why the next words of our text say: “Do not be deceived…” Sin is all about deception. It’s about making you deny reality and live in a fantasy. Sin came into this world through the deception of Satan with Adam and Eve. Sin continues to exist because of lies and deceit all around us. When the Holy Spirit says, “Do not be deceived,” he recognizes that there’s a real possibility that we might be deceived. We need to recognize that too. For the Corinthians, they lived in a society dominated by the lies of the devil. We do too. The world we live in lies to us constantly. Do you see it? Are you aware of the way the world is trying to bringing us away from God’s reality and into fantasies? Think of that show Bride and Prejudice. That show wants to deceive you. It wants you to sign on to the cause of so-called marriage equality because you feel sorry for Chris and Grant. It wants you to be okay with gay marriage because these men are feeling hurt when Chris’s parents won’t support them. It plays on your emotions and tries to change your mind through your feelings. Do not be deceived! Be aware of the ways that sin lies to us, whether it’s our own hearts, or the lies of society around us. Loved ones, see the lies for what they are and reject them.
In Corinth, the lie was that you can be a wicked and sinful person, and everything will be okay. Our city tolerates just about anything. No worries. In the Corinthian church, the lie was that you can still live like the world, or maybe even worse, and you’ll still go to heaven, still inherit the kingdom of God. The lie was that the holy God can’t be all that serious about sin. In verses 9 and 10, the Holy Spirit emphatically speaks truth to the lie.
He’s finished with generalities. Now he becomes very specific. There are specific sins of the Corinthian world which characterize unrepentant unbelievers. They’re named and we’re not left with any doubt. The Holy Spirit could have left it vague, but he decided to have Paul lay it all out. Now before we look at these specific sins, the list is not comprehensive. Other habitual sins could have been mentioned: like blasphemy, for instance. But the focus here is on the predominant sins in the Corinthian context, sins which predominated in the world and were also challenging the church. Some of these sins are also challenges in our world today. Unless they repent, all who live in these sins remain under God’s judgment. They will not inherit the kingdom of God. Instead, they will inherit his wrath for eternity.
Verse 9 first mentions the sexually immoral. This is the broadest term the New Testament uses for sexual sin. It covers every way in which the Seventh Commandment might be broken. The sexually immoral habitually lust after people they’re not married to – that includes through pornography. The sexually immoral unrepentantly engage in sexual activity with people they’re not married to. Sometimes that’s before marriage – pre-marital sex of any kind, not just the sexual activity that normally results in babies, if you get my drift. Those who are sexually immoral will not inherit the kingdom of God – they will not live with God in fellowship forever through Jesus Christ.
Then Paul mentions idolaters. Remember that in Corinth idolatry and sex went together. So there’s a direct connection between being sexually immoral and committing idolatry. There’s not going to be any room for rationalization: “Oh, I wasn’t really being sexually immoral because I was worshipping Aphrodite.” For us today too, we have to realize that sexual sin also involves idolatry. We may not have a temple to a goddess, but the nature of sexual sin is always worshipful. Our society has turned sex into a god. We’re tempted to do it too. If we buy into that lie, there is no inheritance in the kingdom of God.
Adulterers will also not inherit the kingdom. Adultery is when you’re married to someone, and then give yourself to someone else outside the marriage. It usually starts with emotional adultery and then transitions to physical, sexual adultery. Adultery accounts for a great number of the divorces in our world today. In the church too, adultery is often the reason behind divorces. God hates divorce and God hates adultery. Therefore, he is not going to have unrepentant adulterers in his kingdom. Are you tempted to commit adultery? I beg you: don’t. If you get stuck in that sin — and it’s easy to get stuck in it — you won’t have a place in God’s kingdom.
Then we have “men who practice homosexuality.” The original Greek actually uses two terms here. If you look at the note in the ESV, it says, “The two Greek terms translated by this phrase refer to the passive and active partners in consensual homosexual acts.” This then refers to people who are actively in homosexual relationships. It’s not speaking about Christians who might struggle with same-sex attraction, but about those who are actually engaged in homosexual activity. There’s a long background to the biblical view on this. Let’s pause here and review that.
Homosexuality appears after the fall into sin. It was not part of God’s original design for this world. The first mention of homosexual behaviour is in Genesis 19 with Sodom and Gomorrah. The men of Sodom wanted to have homosexual relations with Lot’s guests. That was partly behind God’s judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah. Now sometimes you’ll hear people say that it was their lack of hospitality that led to God’s judgment, not their homosexuality. Well, the little book of Jude tells us different. Jude 7 says that these cities underwent punishment because they “indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire.” You can’t get around that.
The rest of the Old Testament likewise describes homosexual behaviour as an abomination in God’s sight. Leviticus 18:22 says, “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman, it is an abomination.” Someone might say, “But that’s in the Old Testament. It’s in the Mosaic law, so it doesn’t apply anymore.” Anyone who says that needs to read Romans 1. There, in the New Testament, the Holy Spirit says that homosexual lusts and activity are dishonorable and unnatural. Homosexual activity, whether among men or women, is shameful according to Romans 1. Loved ones, the Bible is clear. First Corinthians 6 is not the only place that says it. The whole Bible testifies that God views homosexual lusts and activity as sinful. When you give yourself over to that lifestyle, you’re not a Christian. When you commit yourself to identifying as a homosexual person and living a homosexual life, you will not inherit the kingdom of God.
The world around us tells us lies about this. The Bible tells us the truth. The Bible teaches us that we can never accept this. Since it goes against God’s plan for the good of our race, we should do everything we can to fight against efforts to normalize homosexuality, especially in regard to same-sex marriage. Look, if the Bible tells us that homosexual behaviour is sinful and destructive, then obviously same-sex marriage is too. If it comes to a free vote in Parliament, we’re going to need to mobilize. We’re going to have to contact our elected representatives and present the case against it. Do everything we can.
Let me say one more thing. Following the biblical teaching on this doesn’t allow for us to be rude or mean-spirited towards our homosexual neighbours. I know, by holding to what the Bible says, they’ll already think we’re rude or mean-spirited. They’ll call us homophobic or bigoted or whatever else. But we’re still to treat people with respect. People who identify as homosexuals are still created in the image of God. We’re called to love them, not hate them. We can’t approve of what they do, but we can still pray for them and be kind to them as much as we can. We ought to long for the opportunity to share the gospel with them, and to see them believe it and have their lives changed by it.
Verse 10 describes others who won’t inherit the kingdom. Unbelievers characterized by thieving won’t. Those who are greedy won’t. Notice with this one how there’s a heart issue explicitly mentioned here. Greed is something that lives in the heart and is not always visible on the outside. You can hide greed. But if you’re hiding greed in your heart and holding on to it and living with it, the kingdom of God is closed to you. Drunkards are mentioned next. If you think it’s okay to get drunk every weekend, you’re not a Christian bound for heaven. If you think it’s okay to get drunk at any time, the Holy Spirit says you’re out. Revilers are people who use abusive language. They treat people with disrespect. In connection with today’s Day of Prayer, it’s fair to say that if you constantly treat homosexuals (or anyone else) with abusive and hateful language, you will no more inherit the kingdom of God than they will. Last of all, there’s mention of swindlers. These are con-artists. They trick people and defraud them. As long as they don’t repent, swindlers are also barred from the kingdom.
It’s quite a list and again I remind you of two things: the list is particular to the situation in that church in that time. It’s not comprehensive. You might go through the list and notice that your pet sin is missing. You might congratulate yourself on still being an heir to the kingdom of God. You’re deceiving yourself if you do that. Read the whole Bible and you’ll find that any sin not repented of results in your name not being on the list of kingdom heirs.
Second, let me remind you that it is not the case that having committed any of these sins in the past automatically results in your disqualification from the kingdom. I’m sure there’s someone here who’s been sexually immoral, who’s worshipped idols, been drunk. Perhaps some have robbed or swindled. We may even have people here who have engaged in homosexual activity. The passage tells us that all these things are sinful, but that’s not all. It also tells us that you’re only disqualified from a kingdom inheritance if you stay in these sins and don’t turn from them. If you don’t repent and hate your sin, forsake it, then yes, I have to warn you: you’re not going to heaven. But if you hear this and you go, “Oh, I hate it that I did that. I just hate it. I hate it because I know God hates it. I cast contempt on it. I don’t want to ever do it again. I want to live in Christ, I want to live for God’s glory.” If you say that, you have absolutely nothing to fear. You’re going to receive the inheritance promised to Christians.
That becomes all the more evident as we take a closer look at verse 11. Here we find what characterizes Christians.
First of all, the Spirit says through Paul, “And such were some of you.” Christians can have a past. Some of the Corinthian Christians had a past life. They used to be characterized differently. Some were sexually immoral, others idolaters and adulterers. Some had engaged in homosexual lifestyles. Some had been thieves, greedy, drunkards, revilers, and swindlers. They had a past life. But the past was in the past. “Such were some of you.” The word “were” here is crucially important. They’re not these things any longer. A change has come. That change has everything to do with the gospel. What characterizes Christians is what God has done for them in the good news.
There are three gospel things mentioned in verse 11.
“You were washed” – all those things mentioned in verses 9-10 are dirty and unclean. When you do those things, you’re filthy in the eyes of God. That’s true of any sin, not just the ones mentioned in our text. Sin muddies us, pollutes us, soils us. We need washing and the gospel is what provides that. By believing in Jesus Christ, sins are washed away with his blood. We are made whiter than snow in God’s eyes. All the filth is gone, and there’s nothing but purity and holiness. The washing is what God does for believers. He did it for the Corinthians, he does it for us, and he’ll do it for anyone who takes hold of Christ by faith. If anyone says, “I’m a dirty sinner in God’s eyes, I need washing with Christ’s blood – O God, please wash me and make me clean” — if anyone says that, God will hear and answer. He will wash and purify the dirtiest sinner.
“You were sanctified” – sometimes sanctification in the Bible is speaking about the process of becoming holy. But there is another way that the Bible speaks about sanctification and that’s what we find here. This is what we call definitive sanctification. When God chooses someone, calls someone, works faith in someone, and so on – he is setting that person apart from the sinful mass of humanity. He is setting that person apart as his chosen child. All who truly believe in Jesus Christ are definitively sanctified in this way. The true Christians in Corinth too were sanctified by God, marked as his, set apart as his own beloved people. Formerly they were enslaved to sin, but now they’re God’s children. God does that through the gospel.
Last of all, “you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” Justification – I love to preach on it. This is such a rich and beautiful part of the gospel. This morning, we can only touch on it. Justification is God’s one-time declaration that we are right with him because of what Christ has done in his life and death. When we embrace Jesus as our Saviour, the heavenly Judge declares that we are righteous. He says that we have everything we need to live with him forever. We have perfect obedience in the life of Christ has lived for us. We have forgiveness through the death of Christ on the cross for us. All of it is guaranteed in the resurrection of Christ. The resurrection was God’s way of saying that he accepted Christ’s work on our behalf. The Judge says that believers are right with him, and we’re adopted into his family. We are heirs of the kingdom of God! Our Father has bequeathed us his kingdom. We have this in the name of Jesus Christ our Saviour, and it also comes to us by the Spirit. The Spirit is the one who gives faith so that Christians take hold of Christ for salvation.
So these Corinthians with a shady past had been washed, sanctified, and justified by God. The gospel had changed their standing before God. What characterizes Christians is the incredible work of God in their lives, bringing them to Christ through repentance and faith.
Implied in these verses is the idea that the Corinthians have to be who they are. They can’t go back to being like the world. They have to be different, because of what God has done in their lives by his grace. God has called them to be different. Christians in the church can’t walk like the world does. If we’ve been washed, we can’t wallow in the muck. If we’ve been set apart, we can’t try to erase the distinction God has made with us. If we’ve been justified, we can’t act like we’re still accused sinners outside of God’s family, living under his condemnation. So that’s one important take-away from this passage: if you’re truly a Christian, more and more the past has to be in the past. That’s a process, but it’s an essential one. Without that process, no one is a Christian.
Another important take-away from this passage relates to our current situation. We have real hope to offer this world. Look at those words again in verse 11, especially at the beginning, “And such were some of you.” There is hope for change in the gospel. People’s lives can really be changed, and that happens through the good news of Jesus Christ. On this Day of Prayer, just think of one or two people you know who are lost. They’re not Christians. Perhaps they’re living in one of the ways described in our text. Maybe it’s a different way. But they’re without Christ. They haven’t been washed, sanctified, justified. Do you know someone like that? Think of that person. On this Day of Prayer, I would encourage you to pray for that person by name, intently and specifically. Pray for God to open their heart for the gospel. Pray for the Holy Spirit to do his work of regeneration. Pray for that person to see their sin and misery and their need for Jesus. Pray that you would have opportunities or more opportunities to share your gospel hope with him or her. Ask God to give you love for that person, and also courage to speak, wisdom to say the right words at the right moment. Loved ones, God hears these prayers and he will do surprising things with them. Expect it. But pray. If we want to see our beloved country repent and follow the Lord, it starts with us praying for individual fellow Australians, caring for them, and sharing the gospel hope. No one is beyond that hope. The Corinthian church testified to that. “And such were some of you.”
Loved ones, our world is dark and seems to be getting darker. You could look at that and just resign yourself to it. You could be passive and just say, “Oh well, the Bible said it would get worse and worse, so there’s no point in fighting it or saying anything.” That would be a wicked response. It’s wicked because it shows no love. Do you love your country? Do you love your neighbours? Shouldn’t we care about the welfare of our land? If we care, shouldn’t we do something? Shouldn’t we say what we can when we can to stem the tide of wickedness? Shouldn’t we at least pray? AMEN.
I’m working on a full review of this great book by Greg Koukl, Tactics. Today I want to give another sample of his approach. This is again in view of the current discussions regarding same-sex marriage here in Australia, but believers elsewhere can benefit from this too. Koukl writes:
I have a friend who is a deeply committed Christian woman and whose boss is a lesbian. That in itself isn’t the problem. My friend has the maturity to know that you can’t expect non-Christians to live like Christians. The difficulty is that her boss wanted to know what my friend thought about homosexuality.
When someone asks for your personal views about a controversial issue, preface your remarks with a question that sets the stage — in your favor — for your response. Say, “You know, this is actually a very personal question you’re asking. I don’t mind answering, but before I do, I want to know if it’s safe to offer my views. So let me ask you a question: Do you consider yourself a tolerant person or an intolerant person on issues like this? Is it safe to give my opinion, or are you going to judge me for my point of view? Do you respect diverse points of view, or do you condemn others for convictions that differ from your own?” Now when you give your point of view, it’s going to be very difficult for anyone to call you intolerant or judgmental without looking guilty, too.
This line of questioning trades on an important bit of knowledge: there is no neutral ground when it comes to the tolerance question. Everybody has a point of view she thinks is right, and everybody passes judgment at some point or another. The Christian gets pigeon-holed as the judgmental one, but everyone else is judging too, even people who consider themselves relativists. (Tactics, 77-78).
Koukl’s approach exposes the truth: calling Christians who have biblical convictions about homosexuality judgmental or intolerant (aside from the question of how they might express those convictions) is actually a form of personal attack — also known as ad hominem. The approach described above helps to defuse that fallacy and make room for a Christian to humbly, yet boldly, speak the truth.
Each year I teach young people in my pre-confession class how to defend their faith. I’ve long been convinced that they need to know not only what they believe, but why. They should be able to give good reasons for their faith — in line with 1 Peter 3:15. So I teach a unit on apologetics. Ever since starting, I’ve used Richard Pratt’s Every Thought Captive (ETC) as the textbook. There are a lot of things I like about ETC, but especially the last few chapters are weak in some respects. I’ve been on the lookout for something to replace it.
I’m just about finished Tactics by Gregory Koukl and I think I’ve finally found something better than ETC. I was a bit skeptical at first about whether it would be compatible with a Reformed approach to apologetics, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised. It’s more focused on the practical side of engaging unbelievers and their arguments, and so far I’ve found little to quibble with.
Here in Australia, things are heating up for a plebiscite later this year regarding same-sex marriage and there are those wishing to silence the voice of Bible-believing Christians. Koukl has something to offer believers as they face hostility from “progressives.” Australian Christians may face the kind of scenario described here and Koukl shows a good way to respond. This extended quote comes from chapter 6:
Once in a dorm lounge at Ohio State University, a student asked me about the Bible and homosexuality. When I cited some texts, he quickly dismissed them. “People twist the Bible all the time to make it say whatever they want,” he sniffed.
I don’t recall my specific response to him that evening. I do remember, though, that I was not satisfied with my answer. On the drive back to my hotel, I gave the conversation a little more thought. I realized it made little sense to argue with his comment as it stood. It was uncontroversial. People do twist Bible verses all the time. It is one of my own chief complaints. Something else was going on though, and I couldn’t put my finger on it at first.
Suddenly it dawned on me. The student’s point wasn’t really that some people twist the Bible. His point was that I was twisting the Bible. Yet he hadn’t demonstrated this. He had not shown where I’d gotten off track. Rather, he didn’t like point, so he dismissed it with a some-people-twist-the-Bible dodge.
I quickly wrote out a short dialogue using questions intended to surface that problem. I also tried to anticipate his responses and how I would use them to advance my point.
Here is what I came up with:
“People twist the Bible all the time to make it say whatever they want.”
“Well, you’re right about that. It bugs me, too. But your comment confuses me a little. What does it have to do with the point I just made about homosexuality?”
“Well, you’re doing the same thing.”
“Oh, so you think I’m twisting the Bible right now.”
“Okay, now I understand what you’re getting at, but I’m still confused.”
“Because it seems to me you can’t know that I’m twisting the Bible just by pointing out that other people have twisted it, can you?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean that in this conversation you’re going to have to do more than simply point out that other people twist the Bible. What do you think that might be?”
“I don’t know. What?”
“You need to show that I’m actually twisting the verses? Have you ever studied the passages I referred to?”
“Then how do you know I’m twisting them?” (Tactics, 94-95)
Koukl’s approach here is helpful in exposing ignorance. A lot of people have been told that “fundamentalist Christians” twist the Bible to support their views on homosexuality, and because a professor, teacher, media figure, or some other authority said it, it is automatically accepted as true. Many people have never studied the matter for themselves and we should call them on coming to the table with that basic failure.
However, it may happen that you will meet someone who claims to have studied the passages in question. In this post from 2014, I describe my experience as a university student in the 90s. These days, more than ever, you do need to be prepared to face people who claim to be Christians, but have no qualms about homosexuality and the entire LBTQ enterprise. You will meet liberal revisionists who believe that they can be Christians and affirm sexual perversity. They’re often familiar with the passages and they think they know how to square a circle. To prepare for answering them, read (and then bookmark) this helpful essay by Dr. Greg Bahnsen. Bahnsen will give you what you need to answer back, “Who’s really twisting Scripture here?”