I took this week off from my church to attend another congregation in town last night, so I slept in this morning. I was IMed by an acquaintance of mine who asked me to pray for him because he was in love with Jesus and not with the church and that he felt like if he loved Jesus enough, he’d stop walking away (I’m going to assume he meant “sinning,” which seems a safe bet given that he’s an evangelical).
There are several underlying assumptions in the preceeding statements, most of which are accepted as truth by evangelicals and which are completely unbiblical and are damaging to many, especially those who are attracted to the same gender (which, by the way, I’ll refer to as “gay” here, not caring to get into a battle over semantics).
The first assumption is, perhaps, that one can love Christ apart from His Bride in any sort of ultimate sense. Whether my friend meant this or not, I’m not going to speculate. Rod Rosenbladt has spoken specifically to this issue in an excellent lecture he gave entitled The Gospel for Those Broken by the Church. He postulates that in sharing the gospel with someone who has been hurt by the Church, one should present Christ apart from the Church, simply because it is indeed Christ who saves by His atoning work on the cross, not affiliation with an organization. Of course, affiliation with the Church does come about, but that, to Rosenbladt, is a separate issue in dealing with the cast out.
Since I feel that Rosenbladt has dealt with this topic sufficiently and is far more qualified to speak to such matters, I’ll defer to him.
The issues to which I would like to speak revolve around the second part of his statement. If one wants to look at the objection that “love brings about obedience,” then one must determine whose love and whose obedience are being viewed. As Christians, if our love for Christ brings about our obedience to Christ, then Christ had no purpose for dying for our sins.
The Apostle Paul tells us in Romans 7 that he is grieved by the lack of obedience he shows to Christ, doing the very thing he hates and not doing the very things he wants to do. He erupts at the end of this confession, “Who will deliver me from this body of death?” and immediately praises: “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.”
Our love for Christ does not bring about our obedience to Him. There is love which constrains to obedience, but it is not ours. It is Christ’s. There are works which justify us before God, but they are not ours. They are Christ’s. And the beauty of the gospel is that Christ obeyed perfectly in my place, dying in my place (Phil. 2:8), has been raised that I might know resurrection (1 Cor. 15:17-19), intercedes on my behalf to the Father (Hebrews 4:14-16, 8:1-2) and seals me with His Spirit (Eph. 1:13-14).
All of these things demand a response of gratitude, but as such, is not a “get to work!” sort of responsibility. Rather, our service flows both from gratitude and from the power which the Spirit gives us, to will and to work for His good pleasure (Phil. 2:12-13). This is an important distinction because confusing command and grace (or law and gospel) at this point creates the very kind of confusion my friend is expressing.
So, since I’m gay and evangelical, let me apply this to the gay issue.
If I struggle against porn or masturbation or hooking up unsuccessfully, then I have reason to doubt my salvation and would see a need to “get saved again” or to walk away entirely from the whole system, if I were to follow the logic found in my friend’s questions.
However, nothing is ever so uncertain as this. The confirmation of my salvation is not found in the warm feelings I have toward God (although, those might be nice), nor in how often I want to be in church (though, it’s nice to want that, too). My salvation is something which happens apart from me, so even when I stumble in sin, I can rest in knowing not that Christ has winked at my sin or looked past it into my heart (that would not be good news at all), but rather that my sins, not in part, but the whole, were nailed to the cross…and I bear them no more (thank, Philip Bliss!). Paul puts it another way in Galatians 2:16-21, but it’s the same idea.
My right standing before God does not waver according to some sort of accounting of my works. My love for God is not what keeps me close to Christ…it’s His righteousness and love for both me and God which draws me closer to Him. If I am lusting over a friend, I am able to repent because of the work Christ is working in me, which ultimately was begun and finished at the cross. That is, most decidedly, good news.