Desire and repentance

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.

God bless.

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11 responses to “Desire and repentance

  1. Yes, I can follow that argument and it makes very good sense. Thank you for that. In fact, it fits very well with what I am currently re-reading, that being Francis Schaeffer’s “True Spirituality”, especially his chapter dealing with sanctification. I had been hearing a lot about “repentant celibate homosexuals” and the description, in light of Dr Schaeffer’s writing also, had begun to bother me. Your post clarifies my concern and it would seem that the Church is selling out to secularism again by agreeing it is acceptable to ordain people in that situation. Oh, and those portly archbishops are not off the hook, either! We must all live by faith, moment by moment, claiming His promises that we may show forth His fruit here and now.

  2. I think it is also important to note that this is an issue of grace, and not a “legalistic” issue, as so many argue. There seems to be a healthy disrespect for God’s justice these days, because, it is argued, God is merciful and loving, so everything goes, He will forgive us no matter what. That is a gross misunderstanding of how God’s grace functions. God is just, which means that sin is punished. The only way that we are not punished is through justification by faith, when God imputes Jesus righteousness into us. That imputation is regeneration, at which time we become born again and the renewal process starts. When we are regenerated and justified, we are being sanctified, a journey that will only be complete in the eternal afterlife. That whole process constitutes the grace of God.

    Arguing that unbroken sin of any kind is ok, because God will save us no matter what, misrepresents the impact of grace. It is not being legalistic, in fact, it is the exact opposite. It is how we are saved from having to be legalistically perfect by having faith in the sacrifice of Christ, and through that faith, being made a new person.

  3. Preaching obedience to God’s Law is never “legalistic”, unless we teach it as the means of our justification. Jesus obeyed every letter of the law, and he was no legalist.

  4. Check out these posts to the Aniglican Mainstream forum here to see how shockingly far down the line TEC (The Episcopal Church) has strayed since their disobedient act of ordaining a practising homosexual against the overall rulings of the Anglican Communion. This is a sure case of one sin leading to another and another and another, and a startling illustration of the latter part of the first chapter of Romans.

  5. PL, you said in two sentences what I meant to say, and struggled to in a couple of paragraphs.

    Judah, you are right, some of those comments are shocking, and I can hardly believe that they would claim to have exclusive insight into the Word that no-one throughout the previous 2000 years of Christianity had. It sounds very much like one of the characteristics of a cult.

    Is there any hope left for the Anglican church, or is their already a split? I gather the same thing happened a few years ago in the Presbyterian Church in the USA.

    In South Africa the reformed churches split because of much more mundane issues, for example the administration rituals of communion, and the signing of hymns and Psalms vs hymns alone. Unfortunately, this very same issue is now threatening to rip apart not only the synod, but also individual congregations.

    Jesus is weeping in Heaven…

  6. Looks like we are all in agreement here… Homosexuality is a condemned practice (among others) in the Bible.. By anyone..

    The Law

    Leviticus 20:13 If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood [shall be] upon them.

    Leviticus 18:22 Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it [is] abomination.
    23 Neither shalt thou lie with any beast to defile thyself therewith: neither shall any woman stand before a beast to lie down thereto: it [is] confusion.
    24 Defile not ye yourselves in any of these things: for in all these the nations are defiled which I cast out before you:
    25 And the land is defiled: therefore I do visit the iniquity thereof upon it, and the land itself vomiteth out her inhabitants.

    Deuteronomy 23:17 There shall be no whore of the daughters of Israel, nor a sodomite of the sons of Israel.
    18 Thou shalt not bring the hire of a whore, or the price of a dog, into the house of the LORD thy God for any vow: for even both these [are] abomination unto the LORD thy God.

    Note: Some would have you think that the word “abomination” only refers to idolatry. But that would severly depend on how one defines both inclusively and exclusively what “idolatry” is and is not. According to its use throughout all of Scriptures, the main use refers to false gods and their images. But as we can clearly seen in Leviticus, abominations refer to general wickedness. The case can be made that anything thought or action that attempts to transcend itself above the Laws of God and against the Laws of God is a form of idolatry. And the First Commandment of God and Jesus bare this out…to love and obey God above all else.

    1Corinthians 6:9 Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind,
    10 Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.
    11 And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.

    1Timothy 1:9 Knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers,
    10 For whoremongers, for them that defile themselves with mankind, for menstealers, for liars, for perjured persons, and if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine;
    11 According to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which was committed to my trust.

    Ephesians 4:17 This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind,
    18 Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart:
    19 Who being past feeling have given themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness.
    20 But ye have not so learned Christ;
    21 If so be that ye have heard him, and have been taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus:
    22 That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts;
    23 And be renewed in the spirit of your mind;
    24 And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.
    25 Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbour: for we are members one of another.

    Ephesians 5:3 But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints;
    4 Neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient: but rather giving of thanks.
    5 For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.
    6 Let no man deceive you with vain words: for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience.
    7 Be not ye therefore partakers with them.
    8 For ye were sometimes darkness, but now [are ye] light in the Lord: walk as children of light:
    9 (For the fruit of the Spirit [is] in all goodness and righteousness and truth;)
    10 Proving what is acceptable unto the Lord.
    11 And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove [them].
    12 For it is a shame even to speak of those things which are done of them in secret.
    13 But all things that are reproved are made manifest by the light: for whatsoever doth make manifest is light.
    14 Wherefore he saith, Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light.
    15 See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise,
    16 Redeeming the time, because the days are evil.
    17 Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord [is].
    18 And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit;
    19 Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord;
    20 Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ;

    2Tim 4:1 ¶ I charge [thee] therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom;
    2 Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.
    3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears;
    4 And they shall turn away [their] ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.

  7. We talk about the Anglican Communion which consists of a very large family of Anglican/Anglo-Catholic/Episcopal churches representing different provinces from around the globe. The churches of the different provinces are very much divided on this issue.

    There is to be another sitting of the Lambeth Conference of Bishops and the Primates of the Anglican Communion later this year where it will be seen if the Communion can hold itself together. The Episcopal Church (TEC) could well be removed from the Communion for going against the Lambeth Resolution which forbids ordination of gay people. When you read more about their new Presiding Bishop (a woman) then you will discover the extent of heresy in that church. See here. But the liberal agenda has seeped into most of the provinces and it is not certain how the vote will go.

    The churches on the African continent are the most traditional/orthodox and do not believe they can continue in communion with TEC. They have a very strong voice. So the split is there anyway, between and within churches, wether that will be formalized or not.

    The Anglican Church in NZ is known to be heavily infested with liberalism – women priests, first woman bishop, ordination of practising gays in defiance of the Lambeth Resolution, as well as liberal doctrine – and my own local parish is too much that way for me to belong. Many like myself are rendered “homeless” when it comes to the church in which we were raised, and there is much sadness and grief in that being so.

  8. Gman, you and I and John and PL are in agreement. The liberal revisionists will take the same Scriptures you have quoted and deny the meanings that we so clearly see. They discount the Apostle Paul, the OT law, and say that Jesus never mentioned gays. They push their own secular views as equal to Scripture and tell us that the Holy Spirit has led them to such beliefs, and we are simply backward fundamentalist homophobes. Their spiritual blindness is simply incredible, matched only by their arrogance and total unbelief. They use the words of Christianity, but not the real meanings at all. They honestly do have an entirely different religion. Have a look here at the nonsense being propagated by a female Episcopal priest who claims she is also a Muslim. It absolutely defies belief! How can someone like that possibly understand those Scriptures in the way that you and I do?

  9. Judah, yes I too am quite amazed how these liberals twist and thwart the scripture to their own lustful thoughts.. And then call those who oppose their beliefs the extremists and evil doers.. I always remember David in Psalm 56:5 where he says that people are always twisting his words. Almost sounds like something we are going through today with this topic..

    Unfortunately, many forget that God’s word is written for their own benefit. God wants to see them live long and prosper as in Deuteronomy. Not die in their sins..

    Deuteronomy 4:40 Thou shalt keep therefore his statutes, and his commandments, which I command thee this day, that it may go well with thee, and with thy children after thee, and that thou mayest prolong thy days upon the earth, which the LORD thy God giveth thee, for ever.

    I think what people don’t realize here is that the average male homosexual lives only until the age of 42.. That right there is telling us something.. There is a reason why God set it up they way he did, and if we go against the grain the only one to blame is ourselves..

  10. Great blog, John. One thought though, if we can’t put the words “repentant celibate homosexual” together, then we also can’t put the words “repentant celibate heterosexual” together either.

    We are all to be celibate until marriage regardless of our desires, that’s not just a Roman Catholic concept. Sex outside of marriage is sin, the Bible is clear on that.

    If you are stating that a person who has once lived a homosexual lifestyle becomes a Christian and then stops engaging in homosexual activities should not be a member of a clergy then I have to respectfully disagree with you. That is, unless you are also saying that a person who, prior to becoming a Christian, engaged in pre-maritial heterosexual sex cannot become a member of the clergy either. We cannot be against one and not the other, as they are the same in God’s eyes.

    One other question, how is repentance granted by God when Jesus was issuing a command to the people to repent? Christ didn’t say “Accept repentance, for the kingdom of God is at hand.” This might just be differences in our theology (I come from a Wesleyan-Arminian background), but I believe repentance must come from the sinner. Then God, through Christ, enables us to live life without having to revert to our pre-Christian lifestyles, but only AFTER we have expressed to him our sincere desire and committment to turn from our sins.

    Just my thoughts! Your blog is thought provoking, and I thank you for that.

  11. KJ, thanks for dropping by and the comments. I addressed most of them in the preceding posts, so I don’t want to repeat myself fully. I also don’t mean to offend you, but I don’t think you read what I said carefully.

    Homosexual behavior of any kind is sinful, and unless one deals with the desires that lead to the sinful acts, as well as the sinful acts, then one is still living in unbroken or unrepentant sin. Heterosexual behavior inside the institution of marriage is so ordained by God, so any equivocating of the two is simply wrong. But I do agree with you that unrepentant adulterers are not to be clergy, and frankly, they stand under churchly discipline as well.

    This is why I say that the argument I made seemed to have passed you by. Homosexuality, whether in thought or in deed is sin, regardless of any comparisons with heterosexual behavior. Furthermore, anyone living in unrepentant or unbroken sin should not lead the church of God.

    You seem to want to stop with the deed and ignore where sinful desires are clearly addressed as idolatry. And yes, anyone who regards anything as bigger than God cannot be clergy, or even a saved Christian, for that matter. If someone who engaged in pre-marital heterosexual intercourse did not repent, and still continues to do so, and still openly harbors those desires, they are indeed not fit for leadership, because it is still idolatry.

    Celibacy does not address the whole problem. But when put in the context of this discussion, i.e. the celibacy of clergy, then it is an RC invention. I know we are told to be celibate until marriage, but that is a different context to this discussion.

    Lastly, about your question about repentance, I quoted the Scriptures that showed that God grants repentance. What in a sinful man leads him to want to repent? And how do you actually do that on your own? Because if you can repent out of your own, why don’t you use that same force that leads you to repent to just stop sinning altogether and become righteous before God?

    Thanks again for your thoughts, and you are always welcome.

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