Q: In the matter of sexual sins, how does the church keep a proper balance between condemning sin and the deep, deep compassion needed, in order to communicate God’s love to these sinners?”
A: Adultery, homosexuality, live-in relationships, masturbation, pornography, sexual lusting—all these sins are frequently “hot topics” for discussion. Rarely does a day go by without one of these sexual subjects being debated on at least one of the daytime television “talk shows.” The exposure of “other respected opinions” has led many in our society to question the firm position of Scripture against these sins. For this reason, Christians today need to take a bold stand in condemning sin as sin, lest anyone be deceived in thinking that societal and cultural changes redefine what “moral” and “immoral” is in the eyes of God. Strongly condemning sin as sin is in actuality showing deep compassion for a person who is caught up in such an act but does not realize that repentance is needed. Only when one sees his or her “lostness” in respect to sin, can the sweet message of Christ’s forgiveness be applied and then find a home in the heart.
Writing to the Corinthians, a congregation which seemed plagued by sexual sins, the Apostle Paul did not mince words: “Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (I Cor. 6:9-11).
It is important for us to observe that Paul speaks of those believers in Christ as once being adulterers, homosexual offenders, etc. Following their repentance and trust in the Savior, this pattern of deliberate sinful lifestyles ceased because of their love for Christ in justifying them by his grace.
To those caught in a sexual sin, either on a one-time occasion or successive occasions, the full forgiveness, of Christ is to be offered them when the Law of God has convicted them of their sin. To the woman caught in the act of adultery, Jesus assured her repentant heart of freedom from condemnation and then lovingly directed her to a new, sanctified life: “Go now and leave your life of sin” (John 8:11). David, who had committed adultery with Bathsheba, was immediately restored in his relationship with God, after making confession of his sin to the prophet Nathan. Nathan announced to him God’s absolution, even though he also reminded David that his forgiven sin would carry a consequence for this present life (II Sam. 12).
The beauty of Christ’s grace is that it covers all sins, no matter how heinous in nature and in reputation they may be. No doubt there is a despicable prejudice exhibited by many today against those who were once heavily involved in sexual sins but now have been brought to repentance. We believers need to fight hard against this tendency to not fully accept such a repentant sinner back into the fold. Upholding the status of full restitution for the penitent is just as necessary as upholding the matter of condemning sin as sin.
Proper balance in applying the Law and Gospel to people’s lives is an ongoing challenge. Dr. C. F. W. Walther reminds us: “The Word of God is not rightly divided when the Law is preached to those who are already in terror on account of their sins, or the Gospel to those who live securely in their sins.”
Genuine love and concern for the individual’s soul will mean that the application of God’s Law and God’s Gospel will be precise and be presented in their fullness. After all, it is the power of the Gospel and not the strength of a “Just Say No” campaign that offers promise for real, lasting change.