1 Corinthians 6:9-11 has been my defining passage of scripture for years now. So I was quite delighted to hear a sermon Sunday morning based on that passage. But I was also a bit surprised at the number of people who asked me afterwards what I thought about what was said. A couple of them were more pointed and asked how I squared what was said with some of my public statements on the homosexual condition. Overall I thought the sermon was quite good, but there were a few times I had to cringe inside. One statement had me stirred up until Tuesday, but all is calm now. I responded ‘off the cuff’ to the questions, but having had time to think about it, I have a few summary thoughts:
First, anyone who thought or thinks I would have any fundamental disagreement with the gist of the sermon means one of two things: either I have been very misunderstood, or I haven’t explained myself clearly. The sermon was expounding a passage that deals with the reality of initial conversion and what the speaker very correctly referred to as ‘definitive sanctification’. I have always believed a radical transformation takes place when a person is converted, including a homosexual. There is a clear and definite break with all that the gay lifestyle entails. The converted gay person thinks, speaks, and behaves differently than he did before he believed. That was certainly true of me.
Second, the crux of the passage is focused on the phrase ‘such were some of you’ (literally ‘and these things some of you were’). And of course the question this raises is what precisely is the nature of the change the passage is referring to? How does the change manifest itself in actual experience? What is its extent? However we answer that question, it can’t negate the fact that before making the statement Paul had just got on these converted people about some pretty serious sins they were committing or were in danger of committing. And it can’t ignore the fact that the Apostle who made this statement also made the statement in 2 Corinthian 7:1 to the very same people!
Third, this all emphasizes the difficulty we all have to deal with in actual Christian experience. It’s the difficulty found in the biblical distinction between definitive and progressive sanctification. Christians know they are not the people they used to be, but at the same time remaining sin often makes them feel like they are.
One brother who was talking to me asked about the extent of the change in a converted homosexual, wondering specifically about the persistence of the same-sex attraction for many after conversion. I knew he had lived a sexually promiscuous life before he was converted, so I tried to bring it home by asking him about the persistence of that particular sexual desire now that he is a Christian, and a married Christian! I pointed out that he had stopped ‘catting around’ after his conversion, but he had told me before about the ongoing battles he still has with that same sexual attraction that produced his former lifestyle.
It’s the same thing for the former homosexual. The change effected at conversion is not perfection or glorification!
Fourth, and now the ‘but’ (there has to be a ‘but’ you know). There were two or three statements that really made me wince. Once I even said ‘What!’ spontaneously under my breath, hoping no one heard me. That was in response to what was said about AA and alcoholism. I reacted as I did because I felt the statement to be very insensitive to those who have ongoing battles with addiction. To me it was an application of ‘such were some of you’ that went beyond what can be expected from conversion.
When is a drunk no longer a drunk? Is the answer ‘when he stops getting drunk’ or ‘when he loses all his inclinations for alcohol?’ If your answer is the latter, then you have just taken all hope away from many converted alcoholics.
Or when is an adulterer no longer an adulterer? Is the answer ‘when he stops committing adultery’ or ‘when he no longer has to battle sexual desire for women other than his wife?’ If it’s the latter, then my friend must be deceived about the truth of his conversion.
And when is a homosexual no longer a homosexual? Is the answer ‘when he stops living a homosexual life’ or ‘when he loses all same-sex attraction and becomes completely heterosexual in his desires?’ Well, you get the idea. If you have trouble with this one, take a look at a video posted a few days ago on Facebook showing the Christian minister Sam Allberry speaking before the Anglican Synod. http://rzim.org/global-blog/qa-with-sam-allberry-same-sex-attraction-synod-remarks/ If you have trouble with what you hear, then we have major differences of opinion about what ‘such were some of you’ means!
A couple of other statements concerning what Paul knew about monogamous gay relationships and concerning the unstated implications of everyone having a ‘past’ also bothered me a little, but I won’t take time with them here. I wanted to talk to the speaker afterwards about these things, but he was busy and I ran out of time. So I leave them at that. Plus this has already been long enough.
Fifth (and finally), this is such a big issue for me because of the anguish I know many same-sex attracted Christians have over their ongoing battles with this deeply ingrained propensity. It’s very real and for me, very personal. To interpret the phrase ‘such were some of you’ in a way that puts all such inclination in the past and looks at that ‘were’ in absolute terms will lead many battling Christians to despair. Take it from me. And what I see as a perfectionistic bent in much Reformed teaching on conversion is making me more and more uncomfortable in that world. But I am too Reformed to leave it.