My good friend and sister in Christ, Judah, from Judah’s Journal has dropped by and asks a very important question based on my last couple of posts on the ordination of homosexuals:
“What if that celibate homosexual was also repentant? The desires may be there as temptations which are resisted as sinful – just as we are all sinners and have to resist sinful desires. Are any of us eligible to be ordained ministers, all of us afflicted with a sinful nature with sinful desires?
I am very much against the ordination of practising gays to the clergy as has happened in the Anglican Communion. But I believe there are some Christians who have homosexual desires against which they struggle, knowing that to be sin, and are repentant of such sin. They may be more successful at celebacy than another who is heterosexual but struggles with gluttony, pride, covetness, etc.
What argument can you give for disallowing the celibate repentant homosexual (if you do) but not the rest who are sinners?”
I do not want to answer this lightly, because both the question and answer contains some key points about the Christian faith. I want to deal with it in parts to make sure we address all the issues.
1. Repentance – I said in my original post that unrepentant homosexuals should not be ordained. Judah then asks, in short “What about repentant homosexuals?” Obviously, to answer this question, we need to understand what repentance means.
It is evidently very important. because it is the first words that Jesus mentions when He starts His teaching to the people:
Mat 4:17 From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
The Greek word for repent is metanoeō. It comes from two root words – meta and noieō. A direct translation is “to perceive afterwards”. Afterwards (meta) implies change in the mind (noeo, nous), which is the place of moral reflection. Repentance is often confused with confession of one’s sins, but there is a distinct difference. One cannot repent one’s sins, but one repents “of “or “from” one’s sins. Read correctly then, it means “to turn away from one’s sins”.
Repentance is something we cannot accomplish on our own, but is granted by God:
Act 5:31 God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.
Act 11:18 When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.”
Rom 2:4 Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?
2Ti 2:25 correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth,
So in summary, repentance is a demand from Christ to turn away from our sin, and the ability to do so is granted by God, in order that we may live.
2. Celibacy – The concept of celibacy is essentially a Roman Catholic concept applicable to their view of justification by works. Celibacy says nothing about desire. It is about control of sexual desire, either homosexual or heterosexual. The key question is whether the act is distinguishable from the desire. We read in many places that it is not:
Col 3:5 Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.
Mat 5:27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’
Mat 5:28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
Mat 15:19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.
From these passages it seems clear that the intent is as good as the deed. Celibacy is a struggle to not do the deed, but does it address the sinful desire? Would we want to ordain people who consider murder, fraud, theft, rape, adultery etc. as acceptable to think about, or would we want them to be as disgusted with those things as God is? According to the passage from Colossians above, entertaining these sinful desires is the sin of idolatry.
3. Born again – It is unthinkable that we would want ordained clergy that is not born again. The reason that it is relevant to this conversation is the part of the question about struggling with sin. Why is it important that we be born again?
Joh 3:3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
We are not saved if we are not born again. But what does that look like? What does it really mean to be born again? A clear description can be found here:
Joh 3:5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.
Eze 36:25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you.
Eze 36:26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.
Eze 36:27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules
As we saw earlier, repentance is granted by God. We cannot repent if we are not born again, because we would have no way of recognizing and being convicted of our sin. Our character, our very nature will still be subject to the flesh, and be unable to turn away from it. Being born again means to be made totally new, and being cleansed of our idols.
4. Sin – So what then of those who have been born again, who have repented, yet still sin, as all of us do? This takes me back to Romans 6, which I quoted previously:
Rom 6:1 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?
Rom 6:2 By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?
V2 is a rhetorical question. Typically, those questions do not demand answers, they make statements. And statement in short is: We can’t. Those who have died to sin cannot continue to live in it. It is logically exclusive, you cannot be dead to something, and then still do it. And it is not a mechanical automatic thing, it is a real change:
Rom 6:13 Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness.
You present yourself to God, through Christ, as righteous and alive in Him. You do not, and cannot, present yourself as persisting in sin. We are saved from sin by the grace of of God through the death of Jesus.
5. Sanctification – We believe that we are saved because we have been given new hearts, and those hearts will continually repent from our sins Through the process of sanctification we are progressively being made holy like Christ.
Col 3:10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.
We are being rebuilt in the image of the One who created us.
Rom 8:5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.
Rom 8:6 To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.
Rom 8:7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.
Rom 8:8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
Rom 8:9 You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.
The work of the Spirit is to help us please God. It is the Divine Helper, the One who helps us overcome the idols of the flesh, those sinful desires which the mind is set on, and helps us turn more to God, every day.
6. Summary – We are all in deep debt to God. He chooses to save us by sacrificing His son on the cross, to pay the ultimate penalty which we all deserve. When God chooses us, He makes us new. He implants the penalty paid through grace in us, He forgives us our debts. When that happens, we are irrevocably His, and irrevocably new. Sin of any kind, even though we may still commit it, disgusts us to the point of illness, and we struggle against it daily. Jesus calls on us to turn away from our sins, because that is the power He grants us through His death. After His death He sent us the Spirit to teach us, and progressively re-create us in His very image.
Retaining any part of a sinful life knowingly is unrepentant and prideful. To say that one may consider a sinful thought or desire as acceptable, if one just does not act on it is making a mockery of the regeneration that God has promised us. It is a compromise, a desire to hang onto an idol. It is to deny the power of God to truly change us through His grace.
No-one who describes himself as a Christian, especially not those who are called by God to lead His people in instruction, worship and prayer, can turn a blind eye to the explicit condemnation of sinful desires, and the way in which we know those desires are to be treated.
I know that no-one is perfect. I know that many, including myself, struggle with the desires of the flesh. Our culture and society is fine-tuned for fleshly pleasures. But ultimately I cannot desire to serve both God and my fleshly desires. One cannot think the things of God while having lustful or adulterous thoughts.
Therefore, to state that celibate homosexuals should be allowed to serve as clergy is to compromise on the side of sin. It is to deny that God has the power to also grant repentance from that sin. It is to deny that the death of Christ was effective to transfer sanctifying grace to those people. It is to say to God: “Look at me, I serve You and the idol of homosexuality, or any other sin.”
For me, it is unthinkable that one can be a confessing, practicing Christian, and yet live in unrepentant and unbroken sin. It is clearly not what we know from God. Yes, we sin, but we confess and repent, and try with the help of the Spirit to not sin any more. And as time goes by, we will be successful, because that is what God promises.
As a direct answer then, I do not believe there can be such a thing as a repentant celibate homosexual. If he had truly repented, there would be no need to speak about celibacy. He would have turned away from the desires in such a way that the very thought of sinful sexual conduct will be disgusting to him.
I hope that helps clarify the issue.