Selective Repentance


“You can’t just pick and choose which things the Bible calls sin. You either accept what the Bible calls sin or you don’t; you don’t get to pick and choose.”

I seem to be reading this a lot, usually in “discussions” about homosexuality.

Now let me state up front that this really isn’t intended to be an article about homosexuality, although that is a discussion that needs to happen.

It’s just that the just and proper attitude toward homosexuals is a hot topic these days, and so that is where this kind of statement tends to crop up.

So while I don’t intend to really discuss here what the Bible does and doesn’t say about homosexuality, I’m also not going to deny that this is the current context in which our attitudes toward sin and sinners are revealed. So apply what follows to whatever sin you want to.

So back to the statement about the things the Bible calls sin that we accept or don’t accept as sinful for ourselves .

Here’s the unvarnished truth: we all do it.

That’s just undeniable. There are many things that the Torah calls sin that most of us view as culturally conditioned and not applicable to us today. Orthodox Jews are the only ones in modern life who believe that the Torah must be followed in detail. The rest of us feel free to eat pork and shellfish, wear clothes of mixed fabric, and trim the edges of our beards.

Christians do so not only because we recognize that those verses are particular to the cultural context of ancient Israel, but also because we do not believe that we are bound by the Law, having been freed by Christ of its demands and recognizing that we are saved by grace and not through works of Torah-keeping.

Yet some of us still like to cherry-pick the parts of the Torah that support our beliefs about other people’s supposed sins while ignoring the parts that don’t support our beliefs.

Stop it.

It’s called proof-texting, and it’s not allowed. It’s harmful and dangerous.

I believe that the Levitical laws have much to teach us still today and do indeed point to and address problems that exist in every culture, but to get to those things requires a more sophisticated hermeneutic, i.e. method of interpretation, than cheap proof-texting.

And by the way, it does no good to appeal to Romans 1 to show that the Levitical law about homosexuality is different because it’s also in the New Testament, which is binding on Christians.

In addition to “men committing shameless acts with men” Romans 1 also includes among the symptoms of idolatry the following: gossip, strife, deceit, faithlessness and rebellion against parents, among others.

Pretty sure we can all find ourselves in Romans 1.

To judge another person of one sin in Romans 1 while being guilty of others in that same chapter is ridiculous beyond all measure—which is the point of Romans 2:1.

We are all selective in our sin-calling. Some of it is necessary, some not, but it is disingenuous to accuse another person of doing it, saying that it’s not allowed, and then do it yourself.

But the real problem is not selective sinning but selective repenting. It infuriates me when some people say that in order to be saved you have to admit your sin, repent of it, and ask God to forgive you of it, and if you don’t, well, then you aren’t forgiven. Hence—here’s the infuriating part—its impossible for practicing homosexuals (or insert whatever sin you want here) to be Christians, since they obviously aren’t sorry, haven’t repented, and therefore aren’t forgiven.

Really? Who then can be forgiven? We all continue to sin, which reveals that there are some things of which we haven’t repented. If we had, we wouldn’t be still doing them.

Well, some say, of course you are going to continue to sin, but you have to admit it’s sin, feel sorry about it, and make a heartfelt effort to ask for God’s help in overcoming sin, which practicing homosexuals clearly aren’t doing.

There are two things wrong with that. (Actually, more than that, but I’ll just mention two.)

First, we are all practicing sinners, every one of us, so again, we don’t get to cherry-pick which sins are disqualifying if they are practiced and which ones aren’t. If doing a sin disqualifies one person, doing any sin disqualifies every person.

Second, true biblical repentance isn’t just when you admit that what you are doing is wrong, and it isn’t just when you are sorry that you are doing it.

True repentance is when you stop doing it.

You’ve perhaps heard that the image of repentance is of a person heading in one direction, realizing it’s wrong, then turning and heading the other direction. Staring in the other direction doesn’t do anything, you have to actually start heading in the opposite direction.

Just as it doesn’t count when you want to be obedient and decide to be obedient but don’t actually obey, so it also doesn’t count if you want to be repentant, decide to be repentant, but don’t actually stop doing the thing you are repenting of.

All of us are in the same situation—we have repented of some sins, we are in the process of repenting of others, we are still struggling to repent of still others, and we are utterly failing to repent of still others, even as we admit they are sins and are sorry we are still doing them.

And we are all equally unrepentant of still others, some of which we don’t recognize as sins at all—they are just “who we are.”

We all do it. All. Of. Us.

And there are some things in our lives that others say the Bible calls sin and we simply disagree with their interpretation of the Bible and refuse to let their definitions of sin rule our lives.

So none of us—seriously, NONE OF US—are any different than anyone else, gay or straight, gossip or not, adulterer or not.

Which means that none of us are in any position to judge one another.

And certainly none of us are in the position to decide who has repented and who has not; whose repentance is real and whose is not; who is really saved and who is not.

That’s the Original Sin of Genesis 3, when Adam and Eve wanted to decide for themselves what is right and what is wrong.

It’s the sin of Cain as well, who thought he knew who deserved to live and who deserved to die.

The point of these passages is that we shouldn’t take upon ourselves prerogatives that belong only to God.

Only God can see inside the human heart, so only God is able to judge true repentance, true acceptance of Jesus, true belief.

To claim those things for ourselves is tantamount to blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, which, the last time I checked, was the only unpardonable sin.

In the end, we are saved by grace, not by repentance. Repentance is important, for without it we still live as slaves to sin, but in terms of our forgiveness by God and our acceptance by him, it’s a non-factor.

We should all be grateful for that, given how inconsistent and spotty is our repentance.

It’s God’s choice to forgive, and it’s a unilateral choice, not tied to our repentance or lack thereof.

That’s what grace means, right? It’s a gift on God’s part, not related to anything we do.

We who have received such an amazing grace, how can we continue live gracelessly toward other sinners?

© Can Stock Photo Inc. / Colecanstock

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