Let us accept for a moment the supposition—which I do not actually accept, by the way—that the Revoice organizers meant well. Let us assume honest misunderstandings all around. That is still no reason to let the misunderstandings stand, or to let them go unaddressed. This is because at some point, when confusion is in the ascendant, the misunderstandings will in fact grow among honest observers. And this is why many conscientious Christians are troubled about how to answer what they hear coming from the supporters of Revoice. And so let me address what I believe to be the central confusion.
Is Temptation Sin?
When we state the question this way, the answer to it is “obviously not.” It was not a sin for Adam to be tempted in the Garden, and it was no sin for the Lord Jesus to be tempted in the wilderness. For anyone who accepts the authority of the Scriptures, there is a species of temptation that is entirely free of sin.
“For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15).
Now when it says that Christ was tempted “in all points . . . like as we are,” are there any borders to this? Any boundaries? And the answer to that question is obviously yes. There are at least two exceptions, two areas where Christ did not experience temptations that we as fallen men experience.
One exception would be temptations in the graduate school of sinning. Certain sins cannot be alluring without an antecedent pattern of sinning. They require an extended time of hardening the heart.
“I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification” (Rom. 6:19, ESV).
There is a kind of lawlessness that leads to more lawlessness, and there is a “more lawlessness” that depends for its existence on a prior pattern of lawlessness. There are certain sins, in other words, that live at the end of a dead end road, and it is a long and windy road, and it takes a while to get there. So then, Christ never experienced the temptation to cannibalism, for example. He never experienced the impulse to molest little boys and then murder them. He never went through any internal battles over embezzling money from his father’s carpentry business in order to support his gambling habit.
The second great exception would be temptations that arise from a flesh that is already corrupted, already sinful. Paul warns the Colossians about this:
“Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry” (Col. 3:5, ESV).
Every Christian at the Revoice conference, and every Christian who would not be caught dead at the Revoice conference, has residing within him certain things that are “earthly.” The AV has “your members which are upon the earth.” Your members, So, Christian, what are your members? Paul goes on to itemize some of them, but they include evil desires. And, not to put too fine a point on it, the desire for sex with a member of the same sex is an evil desire, the desire for romance with a member of the same sex is an evil desire, and the desire for some comfort cuddling with a member of the same sex is an evil desire. And because it appears that we are living in a generation that needs to have everything spelled out, the desire for him to give you a back rub when you are feeling stressed is an evil desire. C’mon.
The duty that each Christian has, that of mortifying these internal stinking corruptions, is a duty that Jesus did not share with us. He did not have to do that. He did not have to mortify desires that could only arise in a fallen creature’s heart.
When tempted to throw Himself off the Temple, or to bow down to Satan, or to make the stones into bread, He was going through temptations that an unfallen man could experience. Adam experienced them, and he did do what the serpent wanted him to. He did bow down. He did take something that looked like it was good for food. He did test God by seeking to become “as God.” These are temptations that an unfallen being can experience, and which Adam and Christ both experienced. Adam fell, and Christ stood, but they both experienced the same kind of onslaught. But for both of them it was an onslaught from outside.
We contend with the world, the flesh and the devil. They contended with the world and the devil, both of them making an appeal to unfallen flesh. Their temptations were therefore different from ours in that particular respect. Being tempted to sin when you know exactly what being in sin is like, and being tempted to sin when you have no experience of being in sin, are two very different conditions. We therefore must not take the encouraging word from Hebrews (that our high priest was tempted also), and then turn it into a perverse argument for pampering our own internal lusts. And Revoice is an exercise in lust-pampering.
This is particularly the case as the church is currently being confronted with a spiteful world that is constantly demanding that we celebrate and applaud same sex intercourse as an occasion for pride. We are living in a climate where you can lose your job for failing to applaud, or find yourself in some nightmare with Human Resources. Given this climate, and given the fact that the coalitiony-reformed in North America have a backbone like an underdone maple bar, what would you predict might happen?
That’s right. I would predict that someone would propose a way out for us. Why, look! Here it is! Somebody is going to suggest a means of making the pressure of the temptation go away without having to actually resist the temptation. We don’t want to fight this temptation—instead we want someone to propose a workaround. And that is what the PCA is doing. By allowing this conference to pass without discipline, the PCA is ensuring that the next round is going to be far, far worse.
Don’t believe me? Just wait ten minutes. There are other lusts waiting in the wings. So far they have been waiting their turn, but one thing you can be sure of—lusts don’t stand in line very well. Patience is not their strong suit.
And Now a Word From Jude . . .
This morning Nancy and I were reading from Phillips’ translation of the New Testament, and a passage we read from Jude reminded me of what we are actually dealing with in all of this.
“These men are a menace to the good-fellowship of your feasts, for they eat in your company without a qualm yet they care for no one but themselves. They are like clouds driven up by the wind, but they bring no rain. They are like trees with the leaves of autumn but without a single fruit—they are doubly dead for they have no roots either. They are like raging waves of the sea producing only the spume of their own shameful deeds. They are like stars which follow no orbit, and their proper place is the everlasting blackness of the regions beyond the light” (Jude 12-13).
The stated purpose is to encourage the alphabet Christians (LGBTQP and don’t forget the plus) “so they can flourish” within the technical boundaries of the historic Christian doctrine of marriage and sexuality. This is like trying to solve the crisis of world hunger by proposing that we starting growing corn on asteroids.