I received a recent comment a few levels down on an older post that spoke candidly to a hidden belief of many Christians. One that is divisive and contrary to the greatest commandment of loving God and our neighbor as ourselves (Luke 10:27). We sometimes need to be reminded to consider the plank in our own eye before condemning the speck in the eyes of others (Matt. 7:3-5). I should say that as a direct result of my response (reframed below), the reader, under a private note, strongly and repeatedly referred to me as having a “liberal nonbiblical theology”. I offer this background insight only to point out the divisiveness of this topic and its impact on evangelism in America.
As Christians, we are called to love everyone regardless of how they express their sin nature. One of the areas in today’s culture where this seems to be most challenging is when Christians hold a belief that a particular sin, such as homosexuality, will condemn someone to Hell for eternity. In this specific instance, the writer noted above, stated,
“Sexual issues are Core Issues ruling out one from entering heaven… God gives us an Unconditional Guarantee of a list of Sins that if a person lives in them, if they die in them, NO Entrance Into Heaven is Possible.”
A Biblical Christian Response
Our Sin Nature
I am not sure which “list” of unforgivable sins the commenter was referring to but for discussion’s sake, let’s say it is…
Mark 7:21-23 For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”
In that list are things like coveting, envy, pride, and foolishness. Was he suggesting that only “sexual immorality” keeps someone out of Heaven… but God will give the rest a pass for the born-again believer? Or, was he suggesting instead that the saved no longer have any “pride” in their heart or can’t be considered “foolish” as a condition for entrance into Heaven? The verse below from Romans remains in effect, post-salvation.
Romans 3:23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
Perhaps another set of verses from the Bible could have been what he was referring to….
1 Tim. 1:8-11 Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted.
To that, I would ask, who wrote 1 Timothy? Most believe it was Paul… That would be the same Paul who lamented in Romans “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” because of his continuing inability to resist sin (Rom. 7:24). Rather than condemning himself to Hell for an inability to resist his sinful nature, Paul offered praise toward God whose Son paid the price for his sin. Even those behaviors some perhaps find most offensive. Paul speaking…
Romans 7:18, 25 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out… Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.
What About Sins of Omission
Beyond the sins we continue to actively commit after salvation, we also regularly exhibit sins of omission. As believers, we don’t follow the example of the Good Samaritan in every instance, we ignore opportunities to engage in the Great Commission with friends, family, neighbors, and coworkers. From the perspective of Scripture, we, as Christians, are serial sinners of omission.
James 4:17 So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.
Holy Spirit as a Resistance to Sin
Many believers suggest that once saved, because of the Holy Spirit as our internal Counselor, we have a greater resistance to continuing with a past sinful nature. I believe that to be largely true. It is part of the changed life that others should see in us, post-salvation. Conviction of sin and repentance is evidence of the Holy Spirit working in our lives.
However, it is also true that bad behavior still continues after salvation. We believers lie, we are prideful, jealous, and at times, profane. Our tongues remain a restless evil, by gossiping, and slandering others. We can be gluttons, drunkards, and so on. Finally, we live in a world that not only fosters these covert sins but, as mentioned above, we can further ignore opportunities to help the needy, build relationships, and share God’s love in an intentional way, thereby exhibiting sins of omission as well.
Perhaps we have the power to do better, but our faith is smaller than a mustard seed and, as with Paul, our hands do not always do what our mind and Spirit tell them to do (or not do). This can certainly be equally true with “sexual issues”.
The point is that Biblical Christians are serial sinners who do not always recognize or acknowledge, much less repent, of our sins.
The real watershed issue my commenter was getting at by referring to “sexual issues”, where one “lives in them” and therefore will subsequently be denied entrance “into Heaven”, is the concept of unrepented sin. What is significantly missed in his assessment is that outward behavior is not the same as inward acceptability of that behavior. When a believer knowingly sins (outward) there should be a sense of uneasiness that he is not in conformance with God’s will (inward). Like Paul above, though his behavior can be contrary to God’s will, his mind and Spirit are in opposition to that behavior.
Our desire to be in fellowship with God may not always have the power to stop our sinful behavior, but it should press us to repent of the sins we do commit.
We Are Judged on What We Know
Finally, l left the commenter with one other, admittedly controversial, consideration regarding the issue of “sexual issues” and eternal life…
Say a gay person agreed to Eph. 2:8-9 and Rom. 10:9-10, sincerely prayed the “Sinners Prayer” and repented what he knew to be his sins. He demonstrated sanctifying growth in all other areas of his changed life. What if he “got saved” in a progressive Christian church that reinforced, rather than tried to extinguish, his sexual orientation? He was taught by those he respected that his lifestyle was not at all sinful. He was told the term “sexual immorality” in the Bible was more an issue of promiscuity rather than orientation. Would he go to Hell for truly serving God but missing out on compliance with traditional theology?
This is not necessarily a situation of unrepented sin more than it is a lack of knowledge that one is committing a sin. Once saved, in my view, we are judged on what we know to be true and just. There is no question that part of the Holy Spirit’s role in the world is the conviction of sin (John 16:8). However, those who remain focused on spiritual milk rather than solid food (1 Peter 2.2) may not have the necessary tools to understand the Holy Spirit’s conviction in their own lives. We repent based on what we are convicted of.
Acts 17:30 The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent
I guarantee that every saved Christian that has ever lived has had some error in their theology. God is too big, life is too nuanced, the Bible too complex and, in some cases, a flat-out mystery for that not to be the case. Christians are held accountable for what we know, not what we don’t know.
Finally, and most importantly, in those areas where sin, (to lie, to be angry, to ignore opportunities to share God’s love, to be sexually immoral) God has provided a solution through grace, not works, based on a heart-change, not the law (Gal. 2:16) so that we can come to Him as filthy rags (Isa. 64:6) and be forgiven and saved (Eph. 2:8-9, Rom. 10:9).
Romans 6:14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.
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