Christianity is all about sin and grace. About recognizing what horrible, sinful people we are – and about knowing there’s a God who loves us anyway, who forgives our sin and calls us to follow him. But sometimes, especially in the presence of significant cultural pressures, we can lose sight of that. I fear that in our campus conversation about faith and homosexuality, we may have lost sight of what our faith is all about. So I want to beckon us back to the ugliness of our sin and the greater beauty of God’s grace, and its central position in our discussion of homosexuality.
First, let’s reflect on the reality of grace. In case you didn’t know, I’m pretty sinful. I am quarrelsome, prideful, disobedient to authority and rebellious to my parents. I struggle with lust – including pornography. I am a wretched man – if my good works are like filthy menstrual cloths (Isaiah 64:6), how much more so my sin! I may seem good outwardly, but I deserve every condemnation and punishment imaginable. And so Christ, the loving and just God, looks at me, sees my imperfections and condemns me. I fall short and must pay for my sin. His justice demands it!
But then this same God, the just judge, takes my condemnation upon himself. Wow! He assigns me my penalty, and then takes it upon himself – that I might be adopted into his family. And that is grace: not that we deserve new life, but that we don’t. Not that we’re good people, but that Christ has assigned his goodness to us.
This is at the center of Christianity: our sin and God’s grace. We must emphasize both. Redemption is meaningless without the fall. Our new identity in Christ is nothing special if not for our identity as wretched sinners.
Enter the issue of homosexuality. Now, with the depths of our sin and the heights of God’s grace at the forefront of our minds, let us delve into this extremely important and divisive issue.
Scripture is quite clear: sexual activity – both physical and mental – outside of a marriage between a man and woman, is sin. Whether it is activity with/about the same or opposite sex, it is sin. Additionally, our sinfulness is natural. The doctrine of original sin means that we are born sinners, and that sin is natural for us. Therefore, sexual sinners – along with all others – stand condemned. The holiness and justice of God demands it: sin cannot be forgotten, only punished.
Enter grace. On the cross, Christ took our justly deserved condemnation upon himself – the entirety of the condemnation for our sin, including all sexual sin. The wrath of God against the sin of the world was poured out on Jesus at the cross. And he offers us grace, if only we follow him. It is offered to heterosexuals and homosexuals alike. What a sweet, beautiful and undeserved gift!
And now, after realizing and receiving such immense grace, following Jesus is our greatest pleasure. Because of his unmerited love towards us, we love him back (1 John 4:19), and slowly and imperfectly walk with him. As Christians, we follow Jesus now, not our old (though constantly present) sinful desires. We have replaced our slavery to sin with adoption into the family of God.
But following Jesus is hard. Our natural sinful desires – including the desire for sexual activity outside of a marriage between a man and woman – must be denied. We will struggle with and stumble into sin. We may even struggle for a time with believing that what God calls sin is really sin (such as acting on same-sex attraction). And that’s okay. Sanctification is a process, not an event. Perfectly following Jesus is impossible – we just imperfectly walk with him along the way.
However, imperfectly following Jesus is different than purposefully following our sinful desires. If we come to the point where we are intentionally and habitually living in sin, or we deliberately call righteous what Christ calls sin, we are no longer following Jesus and must repent. A Christian is a sinner saved by grace, following Jesus in new life. Habitual and willful sin or disbelief is not new life. If we will not ultimately turn from our sins and follow Jesus, submitting to his Lordship, we are not Christians.
This is the Christian life: denying our sin, and clinging more and more to his grace. It is a hard and difficult journey, but it is the purpose of our lives. We cannot focus only on sin, or only on grace, but both. By grace we leave behind ourselves, say goodbye to our sinful desires and run after Jesus together, to the family and eternal inheritance we don’t deserve. It’s a hard path, but we have a wonderful guide, whom we forever shall worship in awe of his amazing grace, which overcomes our sin.