March 30, 2018
It’s Good Friday. A good day for a crucifixion. Be warned, today’s entry comes in long and it will be controversial. Do me a favor and read through to the end, and if it offends you, sleep on it before you excoriate me with an email or decide to unsubscribe. Here we go:
What does love look like in an age of sexual brokenness?
Paul is not letting up or giving in. That’s one way to interpret the urgency of his increasingly stern admonitions. Knowing Paul, though, there’s a better way to understand him. Paul is not letting go. He refuses to let go of the truth of God, and he will not let go of people, especially broken people. He knows first hand the danger of self righteous religion. He comes at this not from a high perch of judgment but as the self identified “chief of sinners.”
What does love look like in an age of sexual brokenness?
It depends on who you ask. To the broken, love often looks like acceptance and accomodation. I mean, who are we to judge; right? To those who don’t identify themselves as broken, love looks like truth enforcement.
Holy love means simultaneously holding on to God and to people. What we see so often is a public clinging to one paired with a private letting go of the other. There is a way of holding on to God while letting go of people. It appears to be uncompromising and lives to carry the banner of biblical fidelity. Those who disagree are deemed “not my people.” There is also a way of holding on to people while letting go of God. It appears to be compassionate love and lives to carry the banner of prophetic justice and mercy. Those who oppose in the name of God are met with, “not my God.” Both approaches counterfeit love with a dangerous alternative.
If we asked Jesus what love looks like in age of sexual brokenness I think he would say holy love looks like uncompromising compassion. It looks like wholehearted abandon to God and tenacious clinging to people with a supernaturally stubborn refusal to let go of either.
So how do we do this when what the Bible seems to classify as immoral, bad and wrong are affirmed by the surrounding culture as moral, good and right?
The surrounding culture, under the zeitgeist leadership of the spirit of the age, will always try to reason with the church. I think that this, or something akin to it, is behind Paul’s opening salvo in today’s text:
6 Let no one deceive you with empty words,
It often happens under the seductive auspices of dialogue. We just need to listen better to one another. Who would ever say dialogue and the quest for common ground is a bad thing? It’s not—until it is. Where the quest for common ground leads to compromising the truth, the result is a partnership with darkness. So many Christians and so much of the church is now unknowingly caught in the trap of slow acquiescence. It’s how I understand Paul’s warning:
Therefore do not become partners with them; 8 for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light 9 (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), 10 and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord.
It is never compassionate to compromise the truth. In fairness, though, our commitment is not to the truth of the truth (as though the truth needs us to establish its authority) but for the sake of the power of the truth. The truth asks only for our faith that it may demonstrate and defend its own authority.
Think of it this way. If we know we have the cure to cancer we will not spend our time defending the authority of the cure. No! We will spend ourselves demonstrating the efficacy of the cure, which in the end will become the only convincing source of its authority. Translation: sin is terminal cancer and the truth of the gospel is the cure.
If we spent half as much time demonstrating the generative, creative, and healing power of Scripture as we have spent defending its authority, we would be living in a different church and having a different conversation with the surrounding culture. At minimum, we would be a refuge for those tossed to and fro by the culture’s endless waves of identity politics rather than serving as another wave machine.
To be clear, Scripture is authoritative. It’s just that God doesn’t need our defense. God needs us on offense. The gates of hell will not prevail against the Church not because it is on defense but because it plays offense.
11 Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. 12 For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. 13 But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, 14 for anything that becomes visible is light.
How might we participate with the light to expose what has been cloaked in darkness?
For starters, there’s the obvious and perhaps most uncompromising compassion of all: Offering the plain truth spoken in pure love.
Let me make an effort at that with respect to sexual sin and brokenness: Any intercourse, interactivity or intimacy of a sexual nature outside of a covenant of marriage between a man and a woman will result in injury and brokenness of a physical, spiritual, personal, relational, and emotional nature.
As I said in yesterday’s Daily Text, a sinner is a sinner is a sinner, but some sins carry more devastating consequences than others. Sexual sin is of that order. Its impact is deep and its effects are long-lasting. “Something about sexual sin breaks people more than other kinds of sin. Why? Because it cuts to the core of our identity, which is the image of God, and threatens to disintegrate us at the level of our personhood.”
Second, we can reframe the conversation. The Bible offers many redemptive frameworks to serve different contexts. Some frameworks are prophetic while others are pastoral. Some function well in a guilt oriented context. Others function well in a shame oriented context.
In my judgment, in this season of the present age, we need to shift sin and righteousness out of the shame-based, performative categories of immoral and moral; bad and good; even wrong and right. While these are legitimate categories and true, they can be unhelpful, especially in the shame-laden context of sexual brokenness. Sin and righteousness can be translated into the categories of broken and whole, sick and healthy, slavery and freedom, darkness and light, and the mother of all categories: death and life.
This is not about broken rules but breaking people; not condemning labels but creative love.
Third, to expose darkness with light, we can work together to de-stigmatize and de-shame sexual sin and brokenness. We can create safe places filled with safe people who have learned the art of the long term embrace which carries the supernatural healing power of holy love—come what may.
Fourth, we can gather our best thinkers and practitioners from across a broad spectrum of vocations to think creatively in interdisciplinary ways around personhood and identity, theology, psychology, and physiology to better understand the nature of human sexuality and to develop innovative solutions to recognize vulnerabilities and infirmities of a sexual nature early on, prevent sexual brokenness where possible and redemptively treat it where not. What the church needs today in the misguided and confused culture in which we live is a track record of transformation; an apologetic of real and sustained healing and wholeness.
Fifth, we can model pathways of uncompromising compassion for the many families in our midst who suffer and struggle with sexual brokenness in their members (and the many more to come owing to the cultural celebration of the ever increasing expressions of sexual brokenness). Parents must learn how to embrace children who struggle with sexual brokenness, regardless of the path they choose. Holy love requires neither conviction to be compromised nor conscience to be violated. Compassion can be mutually given and received despite irreconcilable differences and unresolved conflict.
Finally, and most importantly in the work of exposing the darkness with light, we can carry the Cross of Jesus Christ to the darkest places of pain and suffering and proclaim the gospel of grace to the sexually broken that though the damage may be great, it is neither permanent nor irreparable. By the grace of God through the blood of Jesus Christ, bleeding wounds become beautiful scars. At the Cross there is forgiveness, healing, recovery, restoration and transformation and the complete expungement of guilt, condemnation and shame. Many will receive such an invitation. Many more will not only reject it but respond with ridicule and rebuke. Uncompromising compassion loves both the same.
In closing, let me say I could be wrong. I write not from a place of strident certainty but deep conviction. I do not need to be right. Though my perspective is finite and fallible, I share it from a place of deep assurance that it represents an act of uncompromising compassion and holy love toward all who will read it, regardless of any reaction or response. Sexual sin is destroying people and decimating cultures and even nations. In that spirit, and at the risk of being experienced as insensitive and even offensive, I close with the following most difficult word.
To make accommodation for sexual sin and call sexual brokenness sexual wholeness is an act of defiance against the living God and an act of treasonous deception against the human race—the very image bearers of God. Both can be forgiven, but it will take generations to recover from the devastation now being unleashed.
It will take a great awakening. It’s why we sow.
It’s fitting that I publish this on Good Friday as I’m sure I will be crucified for it. Some of you will feel compelled to encourage me and others to excoriate me. Others will simply unsubscribe. Nevertheless, here I stand.
May it be received, or not, as a humble effort to “speak the truth in love” to the end that we might “grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.” Ephesians 4:15-16.
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. Amen.
No further questions.
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J.D. Walt, Sower-in-Chief for Seedbed, is a Bond Slave of the Lord Jesus Christ. firstname.lastname@example.org.