Love Doesn’t Imply Approval – The Distinction Between Nature and Behavior

Overview

This morning, my social media feed contained a “report” ostensibly from some local television station showing a little girl wearing a KKK robe and hood with the Chick-Fil-A slogan – Eat Mor Chikin – written on it. Below the picture was a quote supposedly from Chick-Fil-A’s management saying, “We hate blacks, too.” Obviously the story was a total fabrication, easily refutable from a number of fact-checking websites. But what stood out in my mind was the word “too” in the alleged quote. The implication is that since Chick-Fil-A management/ownership has a well-known public stance in favor of traditional (monogamous, heterosexual) marriage, and opposed to so-called gay marriage, then Chick-Fil-A must therefore hate homosexuals. It reminded me of a brief exchange one afternoon at work. One of my coworkers who knew of my Christian faith, and my Bible-based opposition to so-called gay marriage asked me point blank, “Do you hate homosexuals?” I quickly answered with a resounding “No!” Then after a brief pause, I added, “Just homosexuality.”

The distinction is vital. The Bible makes Jesus’ direction to Christians crystal clear. He calls us to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love our fellow human beings as we love ourselves. He goes on to say, that the entirety of God’s will for us that He proclaims to us through His Word is embodied in these two simple principles (see Matthew 22:39-40). But Jesus’ command to love our neighbors doesn’t imply that we should encourage, condone, or even tolerate all of our neighbors’ behaviors, nor should we engage in these behaviors ourselves or even entertain the thought of them. For example, one of my dear loved ones drinks excessively day-by-day, oftentimes even driving while intoxicated. I love the man dearly, but Jesus certainly doesn’t call me to support this bad behavior as a token of my love.

God’s Word Clearly Condemns Homosexual Acts as Sin

Although many (even some ostensible Christians) would vehemently deny it, the Bible also makes it clear that the practice of homosexuality is one of the behaviors that we must not condone. God clearly calls it a sin. Chapter 22 of the book of Leviticus is devoted to God’s commandments regarding sexual immorality. In particular, verse 22 says – “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman. It is an abomination.” This verse makes it clear that God specifically forbids homosexual acts. The apostle Paul verifies this prohibition in Romans Chapter 1, and 1 Corinthians Chapter 6. In Matthew Chapter 19 Jesus Himself, answering a specific question from the religious leaders of His day about divorce, reiterates the only form of sexual practice condoned by God – between one man and one woman within the confines of marriage. It should be noted that Jesus also reiterates in this passage God’s prohibition of heterosexual acts outside of marriage (fornication), and between partners not married to each other (adultery) – both of which are commonly accepted and practiced even within the ostensible Christian church of today, to our shame.

But we need to be very careful in several respects when we invoke the Holy Name of Jesus in support of any principle:

First, we must always remember that all of us are sinners. The Bible makes this clear. King David was dead on target when he wrote in Psalm 14 that there is none righteous who seek after God. Indeed, it was for this very reason that Jesus came to Earth – God in the flesh dwelling among us. He took the rightful punishment for our (universal) sin upon Himself just as the prophet Isaiah foretold:

All we like sheep have gone astray;

We have turned, every one, to his own way;

And the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. [Isaiah 53:6]

All of us are indeed most abominable sinners, whose rightful punishment for our sins is death. Yet God, in His infinite love, saw fit to sacrifice His Son in our place as payment for our sins. The apostle Paul summarized this concept most concisely in his first letter to the church in Corinth:

9Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, 10nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. 11And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God. [1 Corinthians 6:9-11]

Second, God makes no distinction between these various behaviors, condemning them all as sins. Human beings are immensely talented at recognizing bad behavior in others, while completely overlooking and rationalizing our own sins. God certainly calls homosexual acts an abomination, but He doesn’t condemn them any more or less than He does a man coveting another man’s wife, for example. In fact Jesus says that if a man lusts in his heart after a woman other than his wife, it is equivalent to actually having adulterous sexual relations with her. In short, none of the behaviors (or thoughts) that God condemns as sins is any better or any worse than another.

Finally, when we take the Bible as a whole, and in context, it is clear that God’s intent and thrust throughout is to restore us to Him, through repentance of (turning away from) our sinful thoughts, words, and deeds. One of the most dangerous aspects of modern, western, ostensibly Christian thought is the idea that God loves us so much, and so unconditionally, that it doesn’t matter whether we choose to practice those things which displease Him. This blasphemous idea is perhaps best summed up in the works of Rob Bell, particularly his book Love Wins. Once again, God’s Word is absolutely unambiguous in this regard, condemning not only those who practice sinful acts, but those who condone them (see Romans 1:18-32).

Indeed Jesus, God the Son, came to Earth, died on the cross, and rose again on the third day in order that we might be forgiven of our sins, not so that we might continue in them, but rather that we might turn from them as a demonstration of our love for Him in response to His demonstration of love for us on the cross. Jesus said that if we love Him we will keep His commandments (see John 14:15 and John 15:10). Indeed, Jesus calls us to turn away from our sins and repent of them. Having said that, though, Jesus demonstrated His love for sinners by hanging out with them, and instructing them in His commandments instead of simply allowing them to continue in sin, knowing He would eventually die on the cross for the very purpose of forgiving our sin. In fact, He was called out by the religious leaders about this:

10Now it happened, as Jesus sat at the table in the house, that behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Him and His disciples. 11And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to His disciples, “Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
12 When Jesus heard that, He said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 13But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.” [Matthew 9:10-13]

This passage makes it clear that Jesus’ intent was that sinners turn away from sin, not continue in it.

Before we turn to the important distinction between a person’s character or nature and a person’s behavior, note that there is no Biblical allowance for the reasons a person might act sinfully. We don’t get a “pass” from God because our motives might be considered honorable by some. The sinful act remains what it is regardless of the motivation. Stealing is condemned as sin even if one steals from the rich to give to the poor. Telling a lie is wrong in the eyes of God, even if one does so to spare another’s feelings. Similarly, the practice of any sexual acts except heterosexual, monogamous sex between one man and one woman who are married for life is condemned by God in His Word, regardless of whether the participants are in a “loving, long-term relationship” or simply strangers who come together for one night. Recently, some have sought to rewrite the Bible to include such a distinction, in order to justify practicing what God has clearly forbidden in His Word in no uncertain terms.

The Distinction Between Nature and Behavior

Clearly we have seen that the Bible forbids the practice of homosexual acts along with many other human behaviors. Yet, if followers of Jesus (or anyone else) point out that God has condemned homosexual practice as a sinful abomination, we are called “haters.” In fact, anyone who calls out any sinful practice is labeled a hater.

As Christians, we are called to oppose sinful behavior – in thought, word, and deed. We are called to struggle against our own sin first and foremost, but also to point out sins which we observe others committing, and to oppose them. Opposing the practice of sin is not hateful. It is truly loving of our neighbors to help them in their struggle against sin. Indeed, if we are indifferent to sinful practices we are aware of in another’s life, or even worse if we condone or encourage such behavior, that would be truly hateful since we know that apart from Christ the unrepentant sinner is condemned to die.

But we need to draw a careful distinction between the practice of sin, and the nature or character of our brothers and sisters (and indeed ourselves). As we have seen, a sinful character is an integral part of human nature. Yet we are called by God to struggle against sin – including the sin of homosexual practice. As Katherine Hepburn’s character in The African Queen – Rose Sayer – so aptly put it, “Nature, Mr. Allnut, is what we are put in this world to rise above.” Clearly God loves us regardless of our success or failure in our struggle against sin. In fact, He loves us so much, He was willing to sacrifice Himself on the cross so that we might be forgiven of our sins. He did that even knowing that we would fail to fully repent. This is clearly stated in Romans 5:8 – “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

As Christians, we are called to imitate Jesus by loving our neighbor unconditionally while still opposing sin however we may. Sadly, in some cases even those who profess the Name of Jesus clearly do hate the people they oppose, not just the sinful acts they decry. A case in point is the Westboro Baptist Church with their infamous “God Hates Fags” demonstrations at military funerals. Clearly, these people were not obeying Jesus’ commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves, nor were they abiding in His love for sinners as we are called to do. Those who seek to defend and promote the practice of homosexuality are quick to point this out. Professing Christians often play into their hands by allowing personal hatred to control them.

During the recent heated national debate about homosexual marriage, many of its proponents drew a parallel with the days of the civil rights struggle in the United States, which some ostensibly Christian leaders along with the rank and file of many so-called Christian churches, particularly in the South, adamantly opposed. The hatred expressed by these “Christians” against black people during their struggle for equal voting rights, educational opportunity, housing, etc. was clearly a despicable rebellion against Jesus’ command to love all people. This is the parallel that those who fabricated the Chick-Fil-A story were hoping to expound, when they put the words, “We hate blacks, too!” into the mouths of Chick-Fil-A managers/owners.

But the parallel is invalid. Our race is part of our innate nature. Hatred of someone simply because of their race is clearly disobedience of God who calls us to love everyone even as we love ourselves. But the practice of homosexual acts even between “committed, loving couples” is a sinful behavior in which the participants make a conscious choice to partake. We have seen that it is condemned as an abomination by God, and we are clearly called to oppose it, being careful all the while not to let our righteous abhorrence of the sinful act become hatred of the people committing it. By the same token, opposition to the sinful behavior doesn’t logically imply hatred of those who do it. True Christians don’t demonstrate hatred for homosexuals simply by opposing homosexual behavior any more than they do hatred for women by opposing abortion. Quite the contrary. As we have seen, humbly pointing out someone’s sin to them is an indication that you truly love them, not hate them.

Note that the idea that people are born homosexual isn’t a valid excuse for homosexual behavior even if it is true. A drunk who gets behind the wheel of a car and accidentally kills someone is guilty of sinful behavior, and a violation of human law even if he can prove that he has a genetic or environmental predisposition to alcoholism. As we have seen, all human beings are born with a sinful nature. God understands this and love us despite ourselves. But our sinful nature doesn’t excuse our bad behavior, whether it be sexual sin, covetousness, deceiving people in business, or dishonoring our parents. God hates our sin in all its flavors despite His knowing that we are sinners by nature. He still desires for us, and even commands us to rise above our sin, and promises to empower us for the struggle against our sin.

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