Ask For the Ancient Paths

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“Stand at the crossroads and look;

Ask for the ancient paths,

Ask where the good way is, and walk in it,

and you will find rest for your souls.

But you said, ‘We will not walk in it.” (Jer. 6:16 – NIV)

Jerusalem was at the crossroads when the prophet spoke these words to a people who had long ago tuned out the voice of God in the word of God. They were disoriented and on the wrong road – the road to destruction. God had lovingly sent messengers who were prophets – like Isaiah and Jeremiah – who warned God’s people of the consequences of rejecting God’s will by following after the idols of foreign peoples. But they would not heed His gracious warnings.

“I appointed watchmen over you and said,

‘Listen to the sound of the trumpet!’

But you said, ‘We will not listen.’” (Jer. 6:17 – NIV)

The Evangelical church is at a crossroads in our own times. As a church family we reflected on this in my sermon entitled “How is the Gospel at Stake in Same-Sex Marriage?” (July 12, 2015). In this blog post I seek to put in writing some of the more salient points from the message so as to multiply its reach for the church.

What exactly is the problem?

Some evangelicals are discarding belief that the Bible defines homosexuality as sin. I’m not talking about what the society is doing. I am talking about members of the visible church who have expressed support for same-sex marriage not simply as a legal societal reality but are suggesting the church should accept it and practice it. Among the many reasons offered for this about face (all which I cannot delineate in this short post) is the notion that this is a matter of personal conscience since it belongs in the category of ethics and not doctrine essential to the gospel.

While this is a clever argument, the fact is it touches upon our definition and understanding of sin, which has everything to do with doctrine essential to the gospel. The gospel is God’s power unto salvation – from sin. As such, it is not a secondary matter and as a result the very gospel is at stake in this debate (doctrinal not political). I offered three ways the gospel is at stake, the first of which I will reiterate in this first post.

The gospel is at stake because the gospel calls for repentance as well as faith.

If homosexuality is not deemed sin; there is no repentance and if there is no repentance of sin, there is no salvation. To repent is to turn from and forsake sin and to turn toward God. While repentance and faith are distinct they are inseparable. Both Jesus and the apostles preached the necessity of repentance and faith as essential components of genuine conversion (our human response to the gospel call). They are two-sides of the same coin. Repentance of sin was at the heart of the preaching of our Lord Jesus and the apostles (Mark 1:15; Luke 24:47; Acts 3:19).

“… I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Acts 20:20–21 – ESV)

But does the bible teach that homosexuality is a sin that needs forsaking? In 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8 Paul strongly urges his readers to live a life pleasing to God because God’s will is their sanctification (a holy and distinct life). In particular, they are to flee sexual immorality (Greek porneia). While the emphasis in this passage is upon monogamy, the term porneia encompasses various sorts of sexually immoral behavior including homosexuality as evidenced by several standard New Testament Greek Lexicons (cf. Louw Nida). Other biblical contexts closely link the term with homosexuality (Jude 7; 1 Cor. 6:9-11).

Paul makes very clear the consequences of rejecting this teaching. To disregard what he writes is not to “disregard man but God.” God is the “avenger” in these matters (1 Thess. 4:6-8). This refers to the coming judgment of God’s wrath upon any and all who reject His authority and continue in a life of unrepentant sinful practices, including homosexuality (Col. 3:5-6).

“For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.” (Ephesians 5:5–6 – ESV)

Some Evangelicals now hesitate to call individual men and women to repentance of homosexuality because they have embraced the narrative that this behavior is simply part of how they are “wired” and we can’t expect them to change their very nature. But repentance of all sin is the product of a changed nature that is the result of the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit in regeneration. This is true of every sinner who has come to faith in Christ.

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. 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.” (1 Corinthians 6:9–11 – ESV).

Here Paul briefly describes the awesome and gracious transformative power of the gospel. It not only brings about a new legal standing with God (justified); a new positional standing relative to the world (sanctified); but it also produces a moral transformation such that Paul can say “such were some of you” as he recalls their former manner of life. Throughout human history there have been many powerful testimonies of both men and women delivered by God’s grace from a life of homosexuality. Consider the testimony of Rosaria Butterfield in her illuminating book “The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert.

This does not mean that same-sex attraction will never again tempt every true believer who has repented of homosexuality and has been converted by God’s grace. All the sinful propensities and inclinations of what Paul refers to as the “flesh” are not eradicated in the new birth. Temptations of every kind continue to abound of both heterosexual and homosexual varieties (Rom. 7:13-24). But it does mean that the believer will be characterized as one who repents of any and all known sin and seeks by God’s grace to live a life pleasing to God (1 Jn. 1:9). The fact that Paul had to write this to believers who had responded to his own preaching should make that clear to all.

I pray we will all remember that repentance for each and every one of us was a God-wrought grace at the very threshold of the kingdom of God. It is not only “a mark that someone has done wrong but also a sign of the hand of God upon an individual” (Butterfield). It is a gift of God every believer experienced at the doorway of his or her salvation and continues to experience. One of the cruelest things we can do is to falsely assure individuals that they can have Christ and the kingdom without repenting of sin – including homosexual sins. This has been the devil’s lie from the beginning.“You surely will not die!”

Are you at the crossroads?

Are you debating whether we as members of Christ’s church should embrace and practice same-sex marriage? If so…

“Ask for the ancient paths, 

Ask where the good way is, and walk in it. 

And you will find rest for your souls”

To withhold a call to repentance of this sin is to distort the grace of the gospel and to rob it of its power. It is not the path of Jesus or the apostles. Instead of withholding a call to repentance we should gently and lovingly hold out the promise of salvation through faith in Christ and repentance of sin to all, and then trust our Lord to work in the hearts of those whom He is calling to Himself. This will not result in popularity in today’s cultural context (nor in Paul’s for that matter) but it is the good way and we must walk in it.

And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.” (2 Timothy 2:24–26 – ESV)

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