The citizens of Springfield overwhelmingly voted to allow gambling in their city, but before the vote could be final, everyone in the hall turned to Marge because she seemed the person most likely to throw a wet blanket on the idea. Marge stood up and said, “Once society declares something to be OK, it’s no longer a sin.”* Everyone cheered and gambling was OK’d for Springfield.
It is said that the best humor is founded in the truth, but is there truth in what Marge said? Not really. It is true that society acts that way—even the society within the church—but there’s no indication in Scripture that God acts that way.
Do we want him to? At first blush, the answer could seem like “yes”. See, I want God to evolve where my sins are concerned, but not where yours are. Well, if you’re a good friend of mine, I’ll be magnanimous and let your sins slide, but let’s be careful ‘cause there’s that guy over there who I can’t stand and I’m kinda hoping God will hold his sin against him!
I was recently pointed to a blog by a pastor who was setting out in four easy steps what he would do if his child were found to be overcome by a sinful lifestyle. The four steps were:
1] You’ll know it. i.e. he wouldn’t hide his child’s sinfulness from the world, but broadcast it for all to see. In other words, he wouldn’t pretend that his child wasn’t sinful.
2] I’ll pray for them. Because this is what a loving parent does. (Can I get an “amen”?)
3] I’ll love them. See the last numbered point.
4] Most likely, I already have sinful children. It is the pastor/blogger’s opinion that his child was born with the sin already a marked part of his/her personality and there’s nothing that can be done to change that.
OK, I have to admit here that I have fudged the facts of the dude’s blog just a little. He never referred to the behavior in question as a sin. Either he—like Marge—has decided that since society has deemed it OK it’s not a sin anymore, or, maybe it is still a sin but God’s not going to be as uptight about such things as he used to be.
Either way, that’s a mighty big leap. Now, I will admit that the church has treated as sinful things that the Bible doesn’t say are. [Gambling’s a good example. I think gambling’s a waste of money and I see no good coming from it, but there is no where in Scripture a “thou shalt not gamble” commandment or anything that even comes close.] We’ve also had a bad habit of engaging in things that the Bible specifically says are sins, like gossip and slander. So I can’t get on any moral high horse and claim “we of the church are always right about this!”
Still, look back at that fourth point (with a glance at the first one). What if Biblical scholars of the last two thousand years are correct and the behavior in question is sinful? I’ve seen some pretty tortured reasoning to say it’s not, but let’s say that—in this case—the scholars were right and the sin is still a sin? What should we do?
2 & 3 are spot on! I’ve got two kids myself and both of them are sinners. (They come by it naturally: their parents are sinners, too.) I pray for them on a daily basis (waking time, I pray for them on an hourly basis, sometimes minutely). I love them. I always will. But I won’t accept the sin in their lives. One of the things I’ll always pray about for them is that God will convict them of their sin—GOD will convict—and they will repent out of their love for him.
What I won’t do is parade their sin in front of others. I have no desire to either shame them, or pretend that their sin isn’t sin (which is what I believe the point of #1 is). As to #4, our modern culture tells us that we are born with or genetically predisposed to some behaviors, therefore they are not sinful. It’s a comforting thought, but it’s a non sequitur. Just because you can’t help gossiping or murdering does not make you any less culpable. And that old non-Biblical saw of “love the sinner, hate the sin” gets easier every time we downgrade a sin to “possibly a less-than-ideal idea”.
“Wait, Sam! You mean my son Willard, who was born with a need to gossip, is going to be held accountable for that?!? That’s not fair!”
Why not? Willard is a human being, right? He’s not a hound dog, unable to resist the siren call of a female in heat. Sure, it might mean that he feels a little unfulfilled for the rest of his life because he is morally bound to not gratify his every whim, but a] that’s a small price to pay for eternity and 2] we of his family (physical and congregational) should try to lift him up and help him find fulfillment and love in non-sinful ways. Willard might go to his grave still lusting after a juicy bit of gossip, but not getting gossip won’t kill him. (This seems terribly unfair to our modern ears and sensibilities, where we expect every desire to be met—and quickly! “30 minutes or it’s free”, that’s our motto.)
I’ve gotta admit: I love God’s grace, but it sure is confusing! You mean God doesn’t want to hold any of my sins against me? But wait, you’re saying he also doesn’t want me to continue in sin? Wouldn’t it be easier for me to pile up the sins so he could show me more grace? (See Romans 6 for an answer to that question!)
Our culture is going to continue to call what is sinful not. Grace is going to continue to be watered down—who needs it if the behavior isn’t really sinful, after all?
So, as much as I love grace, I understand the appeal of legalism. [See my blog on the topic at http://garisonfitch.blogspot.com/2014/07/the-appeal-of-legalism.html] It’d be easier to just pronounce judgment on all sinners … except that, to paraphrase the great Andy Taylor, “If I was to throw out all sinners I’d better reach around and get a holt of my own britches!”
There’s not an easy solution here because everyone I know is a sinner, and me most of all. It’s not my place to condemn anyone. It’s also not my place to let the people around me continue in sin. So every day is a tightrope walk between loving acceptance and Godly challenge … and maybe that’s the beginning of the key: instead of always chastising someone for their sin, challenge them (and me) to live upward. Let’s don’t any of us settle for what we are, but strive to let God work us into what we should become.
*May not be an exact quote, but I’m sure I’m pretty close.