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Telling the Truth, Truthfully

A disturbing challenge facing the contemporary Church from within is the falsehood that the Gospel grants freedom to behave and hold beliefs that suit one’s own feelings and desires, no matter that the Holy Scriptures identify such behaviors or beliefs as sin. This is a cheapened view of God’s love and mercy, a “grace” abruptly emptied of power to forgive and restore. It’s not God’s “grace” at all, but rather a lawlessness that provokes His wrath and invites His condemnation.

Freedom from sin (the Gospel’s fulfillment, “gifted” to us) is never freedom to sin. Sin occurs when God’s Law, explicitly given in the Scriptures, is broken by us rebellious, unrepentant sinners. And — no surprise here — we sinners love to rationalize our sinful behavior, or at least minimize talk about sin.

God is love — but such love does not compel the Church’s indecisive silence or acceptance of sin. Faith-driven repentance leads to a halting of sin. The outcome of repentance is the forgiveness and life that God freely provides for the sake of Jesus His Son. God’s love compels faithful, serious Christians to speak out of love for our neighbor, even when such speaking is uncomfortable. A church or pastor who can’t or won’t address the problem of sin and the plight of every sinner (dealing with our inborn sinful nature), lovingly and clearly from God’s Word, is not worthy of the name “Christ.”

Consider our current culture wars over marriage and human sexuality. As a member of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, I (and the congregation I serve) believe and teach what our church body professes from God’s Word alone: the only sexual relationship acceptable to God is one that takes place between one man and one woman in the context of lifelong, monogamous marriage. The Lord Jesus Himself affirms this “narrow” understanding of marriage and sexual behavior (Matthew 19:1–12). The Biblical texts consistently indicate that all other sexual relationships — adulterous, in extramarital cohabitation, homosexual, or anything else outside of a one man/one woman marriage context — constitute sinful, immoral behavior. Mutual consent and/or a lifelong commitment between sexual partners, as wonderful or beautiful as these may be, do not negate this assessment.

As Word-confessing Christians, we don’t have a menu of “choices” on this question, even when such other choices might be less personally painful or appealing for their appearance of “fairness.” There’s no prejudice or phobia here; only God’s love and our love for the neighbor whose soul is at risk, embedded in the plain meaning and eternal relevance of God’s Word. This is no naive fundamentalist or literalistic understanding of the Bible, but rather the studied result of centuries of careful consideration of the Scripture’s original Hebrew and Greek texts, taking into account not only the technicalities of their grammar and literary genres, but also their social-historical context and the original audiences to whom they were addressed. What undergirds this understanding is the positive contention (itself given in the Scriptures) that God’s eternal Word and His loving, perfect will are not to be changed or trifled with. “The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the Word of the Lord remains forever” (1 Peter 1:25).

Yes, God is love. Jesus loves all of us poor, miserable sinners (that’s me, too), no exceptions. The Holy Scriptures make this good news abundantly clear. According to the Gospels of the New Testament, Jesus had no problem spending significant time and having frequent personal interaction with “gross sinners” — His disciples and enemies included!

But the same Gospels clearly show that Jesus unequivocally calls upon those whom He loves — every individual — to cease living in sin, whether in words, thoughts, or actions. For good reason: sin separates a person from God. Responding to the unbiblical behaviors and beliefs that He observed, Jesus offered stern warnings such as: “Repent, for the kingdom of the heavens is at hand.” “Go and sin no more.” “Woe to you, brood of vipers.” To a generation intent on manipulating the truth of God’s Word, Jesus recalled the Old Testament prophet Isaiah: “These people honor me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” Never once did Jesus pronounce that the universal standards of morality set forth in God’s Word had been — or ever would be — altered, loosened, or abolished.

No church, pastor, or Christian has the authority to make such a pronouncement today. Instead, we have been called to tell the truth, truthfully.