Thursday, April 28, 2016

What means Jesus' mercy to the sexual sinner?

Often Jesus is seen as sympathetic to those caught up in sin.  The adulterous woman from John 8 is usually cited with the words "then neither do I condemn you..."  But it is too quickly forgotten how Jesus follows that with "Go and sin no more."  Jesus' outreach to sexual sinners such as this adulterous woman is often understood as some putative license to sin sexually.  In fact, it is not at all permission to continue in that sin.  That Jesus ate and drank with sinners, in particular those sexual sinners, is testament to the judgment of Jesus they, every bit as much as the exploitative tax collectors, were also in dire need of being called to repentance.  Apart from this repentance, they would not inherit the Kingdom of God that Jesus proclaimed first of all by His very presence. No, Jesus did not relax the commands with respect to sexual sin but intensified God's ethical demand for holiness even as He reached out in love to those who violated this demand most egregiously.

The popular image of Jesus is that, unlike the keepers of the Law and the custodians of the moral requirements of that Law, our Lord shrugged His shoulders at sin and wickedness, that He was rather sympathetic to those who found the requirements of the Law too burdensome, and that He was willing to disregard the Law in favor of a higher principle (love, for example).  In fact, our Lord Himself addresses such misunderstanding in Matthew 5:17-20 (not to abolish the Law but to fulfill it).  Furthermore, the fulfilling of the Law does not eliminate it.  The Law remains to curb in the extremes of human sinful desire for the protection of all people and it continues to mirror to us our lack, our failure, and our sins -- thus pointing us to Him who has no lack of righteousness, who did not fail to obey it perfectly, and whose only sins were those borrowed from us so that He might pay for them once for all.  Finally, the much misunderstood and maligned third use of the Law guides the hearts of those whom the Lord has redeemed by the power of the Holy Spirit not to fear holiness but to love it and to seek it with all heart, mind, body, and strength (though always understanding it will be an imperfect obedience always and ever fully dependent upon the alien righteousness of Christ).

Rachel Held Evans has written often and more recently upon the subject of Jesus and those who live upon the fringes of Christianity, due, in her mind, to the narrowness of churches that seem to forget Jesus' concern for those far removed from sexual respectability.  I am suggesting, however, that Jesus didn’t die on the cross to preserve gender complementarity. Jesus didn’t die on the cross to ensure that little girls wear pink and little boys wear blue. Jesus lived, taught, died, and rose again to start a new family in which Jew and gentile, slave and free, male and female are all part of one holy Body. Certainly there will be those who reject the gospel because of the cost of discipleship, but let it be because of the cost of discipleship, not the cost of false fundamentals, not because they've been required to change something they cannot change.  (emphasis hers)

Not because they've been required to change something they cannot change...  But surely this is exactly Jesus' point.  Scripture often has lists of sinners who shall not inherit the Kingdom of God.  They must change.  Though they may be powerless to change, our Lord is neither powerless nor unwilling to effect the change.  Our Lord connects us to His death and resurrection not for symbolism but to kill what is already dead and to bring new life from that death.  It is a regeneration only our Lord can do for we have no power except to live the death that is our fate chosen by our first parents, condemned by our sins and miserable in our inability to redeem ourselves.  He changes us, who belong to Him now, who are not our own but His, to glorify God in our bodies.  If this is true for thieves, liars, coveters, murderers, idolators, adulterers, and the like, why is it not also true for those whose desires do not mirror God's creative purpose and plan?  Jesus is replete with calls to deny yourself and follow Him and St. Paul insists that self-denial is the hallmark of God's redeemed people (Titus 2:11-14 and Colossians 3:1-17). 

The ethical calling of Christian life never reverts to the desires unworthy of the Kingdom but transforms His people through the renewal of mind and heart to reflect the desires born of life in this Kingdom by the Holy Spirit.  Our Lord's mercy for the sexual sinner is in no way a justification for continuing in this (or any) sin but the start of the conversion which is never complete until God brings it to completion in the life which is to come.  If Scripture would caution us that giving and taking of a spouse and having children belongs only to this life, then surely it means also that sexual desire itself is temporary.  The burden imposed upon those whose desires do not reflect God's will and purpose in creating them male and female is not eternal for this too shall pass away when our desires are fully and finally fulfilled in Christ alone.

1 comment:

Janis Williams said...

The first use of the Law seems to be in the background (I'd not totally lost) with most. It is there to "curb" us. People like Rachel Evans tend to ignore this. She wants to ignore there is an actual list. This leads to the ease with which they ignore the second use. They like make sin out to be some ephemeral thing which changes with culture. Therefore, the third use of the Law becomes being a nice, tolerant "Christ follower."