There are a number of ways in which all the important subjects in the world are actually all about the same thing — God and man, sin and salvation. That being the case, there should be a number of ways in which the subjects that have occupied a good deal of space on this blog for the last few months are all about the same thing as well. Let me take a crack at explaining why that is so.
This world is a screwed up place, but doesn’t like thinking of itself in those terms. The world is as screwed up as it is because it is convinced of its own righteousness, and coming face-to-face with its own unrighteousness is the most difficult operation in the world. Apart from a sovereign work of God’s Spirit, it is an impossible operation. Hearts made of stone can’t pump any blood, and the prophet Ezekiel assures us that the unconverted and unregenerate heart is in fact made out stone clean through.
That being the case, the stony heart does what it can do, which is level accusations against others in the spirit of malice, envy and vindictiveness. The best defense is a good offense. This way everyone can feel righteous for the time being on account of being an accuser, and we also have an explanation for the things that are wrong with the world, for we also have an accused — the other, whoever he may be this time.
Since the world is actually evil, we don’t have to make up accusations (although we still do that as well). There are many evils that are true evils and so they genuinely merit and deserve any accusation they receive. Thus the problem is not the guilt of the accused, which is often recognized despite ourselves, but rather the guilt of the accusers, which almost never is.
To molest a child is an appalling thing. There is no righteous way to relativize it into some kind of “not so bad” status. It is an evil simpliciter. At the same time, the Bible still says that not all sins are created equal. Some things are in fact worse than others, but which in no way justifies or explains away anything which is simply evil on its own level. The lesser of two evils is still evil. The greater evil never makes the lesser evil okay. It is worse to murder one hundred people than it is to murder one, but to make this observation is in no way an attempt to justify the murder of the one.
Another thing that would be worse than being a child molester, for example, would be to be a child molester who happened to be be a judge sentencing someone to hard time for child molestation. That would be worse. Double standards are wicked, not because they condemn the wicked, but rather because they insist on remaining wicked themselves while doing so. Scripture always stands against sin and evil, but it takes a particular stand against two-faced sin and evil. “Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things.” (Rom. 2:1–2, ESV).
As a pastor, I have in the past counseled and worked with child molesters. But I have also counseled and worked with people who have done worse things than that to children, and have received no criticism at all for doing so. For example, not only have I offered the body and blood of Christ to repentant sexual offenders, I have also offered the holy elements to repentant Christians who in the past have procured abortions. That would be something worse, would it not? All sin is bad, some sin is heinous, and some sin goes beyond heinous. But all sin, whatever it might be, can be washed away by the blood of Jesus Christ. If that is not true, then I need to get a more useful job than the one I have now, and start driving truck for UPS.
Now the free grace of free forgiveness for absolutely any repented evil is — bear with me here — simply deplorable. In every worship service, when I declare the assurance of pardon, without knowing what has come through the door, I am doing something outlandish. If we look straight at such words, meditating on what is actually being said, we see that free grace is actually freaky grace. We are not in Charn, and it is a completely different kind of deplorable word, but from the vantage point of pharisaical respectability, it is in fact a deplorable word.
But because we don’t want to face up to the outrageous nature of free grace, we do the only thing we can do, which is minimize some sins and magnify others, all while trying to stay on the right side of whatever line we are drawing. So we say that child molesters cannot really repent, or, if they do repent, they can never marry. We think that we would never do the scarlet letter thing, but all we have done is change the letter. The person is branded by their sin.
That is somehow their forever-identity. Not only so, but we also assign the forever-identity of “victim” to their victims.
We do this, not because we stand for the victim the way the Bible requires us to, but rather because the initial evil paved the way for us, and just as the molester groomed his victims, so now certain self-selected individuals groom them to become their ongoing victim pets. We do not want the free grace of the gospel to have authority to deal with sin, and so we have to cultivate a moral indignation that arbitrarily picks and chooses.
That is why no one has ever suggested to me that women who have obtained abortions in their past should be prohibited from marriage. No one has ever suggested to me that someone with three homosexual experiences in his teen years should be prohibited from marriage. No one has ever suggested that exposure to child porn should be a barrier to marriage. And why? Because some of those things might apply to too many of us, and that could become disruptive. We would rather accuse other people. And thus it is that we would rather accept the world’s categories and terminology than the terminology of the Bible (e.g. sociopath, alcoholic, pedophile vs. hard-hearted, drunkard, sexually immoral). But along with that terminology we unfortunately find that we have also quietly adopted the world’s hypocrisies about the whole thing. A thief is someone who has stolen something in the past, while a kleptomaniac is someone with an identity. A thief can repent. A kleptomaniac needs treatment. A drunkard can repent and become a new man. But once an alcoholic . . .
Sin is defined in the Bible as lawlessness. Sin is refusing to obey God. We sin when we refuse to obey His law, and we also sin when we refuse to obey His gospel. Sin is disobedience. And America has a sin problem. There is no rehab center for America to check into, and it wouldn’t do us any good even if there were one.
This is why we want to turn everything into a different kind of problem, one about professional credentials. We can assume authority over that, right? These are the kind of credentials that equip us to assign certain labels to certain people, and shuttle them off to rehab. And being normal is defined as being one of the people currently outside rehab. And the population of those “recovering” steadily grows. All this recovering, and yet nobody forgiven
Suppose a preacher offers the free grace of Christ’s blood to a man who has done an awful thing, but who has professed repentance. Our society wants to name him as a sex offender, as a pedophile, as a sexual predator. That is what he is, and that is what he must remain. Our generation does this because we need this category of contemptible outsiders over there so that we may remain comparatively righteous over here. But no — we are not righteous over here.
The nation that does this kind of thing, giving preachers the evil eye for offering grace to men who have repented of a great evil . . . is a nation that has not yet repented of far greater evils. At the Planned Parenthood protests on Saturday, one of my friends was chided by one of the PP counter-protesters for bringing his children to the event. His response was “I don’t take parenting tips from people who kill babies.”
The prevailing wisdom of our society is a wisdom that is not only fine with dismembering 50 million babies, it is a society that has fiercely resisted any attempts to defund one of the principal executive agents of those systematic executions. We have been confronted with the high wickedness of our unrighteousness, and yet we still want to think of ourselves as a righteous people. The highest court in our land solemnly authorized the butchering commence in 1973, and reauthorized it again about twenty years later. This last summer that same court, with all the black-robed gravitas it could muster, opined that a man can find fulfillment, must needs find fulfillment, by achieving sexual congress with another man’s sewage canal, and that he has a constitutional right to have this perversion decked out in the terminology of holy matrimony. This is more than a little bit like dressing a silverback gorilla in purple robes with gold brocade, assigning him the role of the Mikado, and then applying stiff penalties to anyone who laughs out loud during the performance.
Our behavior in these things is not just mildly inconsistent. We have hospitals that dismantle perfectly healthy babies on one floor, and that same hospital has a state-of-the-art NICU on another floor. This is a nation which has the bloodguilt of 50 million children on its hands, and yet has the effrontery to maintain agencies all across the country called Child Protective Services. Were there any representatives of CPS at any of the Planned Parenthood protests this last Saturday? Anywhere in the country? This betrays the same kind of careful legalistic and bureaucratic precision that those men showed who paid Judas showed. They paid him to betray the only sinless man who ever lived, and then when he returned the money to them in despair, were careful to put the money into the appropriate account. To have put it in the wrong account would have been a bad sin.
We are a nation, a rebellious house, one that refuses to repent. We are a nation that has doubled down in the face of every challenge to its monstrosities. We attack those who call us to repentance. And part and parcel with this refusal to repent is the ongoing need to accuse others, in order to maintain a sense of our own righteousness. And so this is the generation which sets up the arbitrary definitions of who shall be the current pariah. Right now, the charage of pedophilia still works — but not for long. Pedophilia is driven by irrational lusts, just like a bunch of other new constitutional rights, and that great idol of irrational lust has already been erected in our national temple. This means that within a few years the pedophiles will be supplanted by someone even more despicable — an evangelical florist, say.
Now we could remove the inconsistencies by applying strict justice across the board, no exceptions, no carve-outs, no deferments, no loopholes. That would be called the Day of Judgment, as seen from the perspective of all the goats.
The only other way to remove inconsistencies is to offer a radical gospel, a gospel that has everything to do with the merit of Jesus Christ, the new man, the new way of being human, and nothing to do with the merit of the old Adam, or any of his filthy progeny. This gospel offers salvation to all men, but the effect of the offer is to level all men in their sin. Whoever breaks the law at one point is guilty of all of it (Jas. 2:10).
The bulldozers of the law leave everything pretty flat, for God intends to build a great city here. “For God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that he might have mercy upon all” (Rom. 11:32). “But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe” (Gal. 3:22).
If we accept this offer of salvation, the only kind of salvation that exists, we must relinquish all our old hypocritical and self-serving identities. We are to put off the old man. Our old sins are in fact true sins as biblically defined, but they do not represent the identity of any regenerate Christian. A man who is truly converted has a responsibility to find his identity in Christ. There are only two identities — Adam and Christ. An Israelite, two hundred years after the Exodus, should not name the new town south of Jerusalem that he planted anything like Little Egypt.
But those who preach this gospel of grace can easily be accused of naivete. How dare they? Who do they think they are? But we often forget just how outrageous Jesus really was. We use Bible phrases “tax collectors and sinners” easily, and it sounds bibley enough, and so we just say it. But the tax collectors of Jesus’ day were pariahs, outcasts, quislings, marooned by the indignant righteous in the leper colony of their despicable feasts and parties. The names of local tax collectors were read aloud with contempt in the synagogues. They were social rejects, political outcasts, and religious apostates. Tax collectors were prohibited from testifying in Jewish trials. They were the lowest of the low, lower than a snake belly in a wagon rut. And when Jesus, the Holy One of God, came down to dwell with us, these are the people He decided to hang out with (Luke 15:1-2). Holiness behaves differently than we would have predicted, differently than we did predict. He then called one of these characters to be an apostle. As you can imagine, that really stirred up the comments section of The Twelve, the famous blog that Judas, not Iscariot, maintained for the group.
Jesus then responded with three parables — the lost coin, the lost sheep, and the lost son. What we need to understand is that Jesus was, by these parables, answering the outrage of the faithful, and doing so in a way calculated to generate even more outrage. We would see this if we dared read the parables without the high gloss holy-speak varnish.
We have to remember that it is pretty easy to lose the support of the faithful. This is because the faithful, taking one thing with another, are sometimes wobbly, frequently faithless. “This thou knowest, that all they which are in Asia be turned away from me; of whom are Phygellus and Hermogenes. The Lord give mercy unto the house of Onesiphorus; for he oft refreshed me, and was not ashamed of my chain” (2 Tim. 1:15–16). Those who were so concerned to save their names are namelessly called all those in Asia, while the name of the man who didn’t give a rip about his name is given to us, and two thousand years later we still hold it in honor. Onesiphorus was a dude.
This is because the faithful are frequently tempted to think that “the best testimony ever” is actually a bad testimony. But it remains a good testimony, even if the faithful ditch. In some cases, it remains a good testimony especially when the faithful ditch. Somehow we have come to think that a Savior who opened wide the gates of forgiveness to courtesans and centurions, to tax collectors and other collaborator riff raff, and who closed those same gates to the respected theologians, big draws on the conference circuit, men who graduated from Bag O’ Snakes Seminary, is a Savior who is finicky about His reputation. He even saved a bunch of the Pharisees.