A few weeks ago, I ran across this article. To summarize, a longtime youth minister in a church of Christ in Pennsylvania molested a number of boys over a span of decades. In 2016, a couple of Christians confronted him about his misdeeds, and he broke down and confessed. He was charged with and convicted of multiple counts of corruption of a minor and indecent exposure. He then appealed.
Somewhere in the process, he “came forward” twice, and the elders of the congregation accepted his repentance and allowed him back into the congregation, much to the horror of the victims and victims’ families who still worshiped there. Currently, he is barred from attending services there by judicial order, which is one of the parts of his conviction that he is appealing.
As is always the case, this problem (and the larger problem of sex offenders in the church) is best solved by examination of the relevant Scriptural principles. Certainly, Christians are obliged to forgive a sinner who repents, but sinners must repent if they wish to be forgiven.
It is Scripturally appropriate to judge that repentance by its fruits. Does the sinner freely acknowledge his wrongdoing? Has he expressed remorse for the harm he has caused? Does his conduct show concern for those he has harmed? Is he doing his best to help them heal? Is he willing to endure inconvenience for their sakes? Or, conversely (as many sex offenders do), is he talking a good game while showing little evidence of repentance in his behavior?
Sadly, the latter seems to be true of this youth minister. Rather than accepting the courts’ judgment, he is seeking to minimize the punishment he faces for his crimes. Rather than showing concern for his victims, he seems intent on forcing his presence on them. I think any eldership would be justified in judging those fruits unworthy of repentance and refusing to accept him into fellowship.
Frankly, I would be suspicious of any Christian sex offender who sought to continue worshiping with those he had preyed upon. His presence could not help but cause distress to those whom he is supposed to love more than he loves himself. If there are literally no other alternative congregations, such a desperate expedient could perhaps be adopted. However, in the presence of alternatives, the offender would be best advised to seek to worship with brethren he had not personally harmed.
When the offender is forthright about his sin and no members have suffered directly, it is much easier for a congregation to admit him into fellowship. In such circumstances, the church leadership ought to consider both his interests and the interests of the congregation. No sex offender should be left alone with children, nor indeed left to himself anywhere in the building (though if possible, it’s generally a good idea not to leave anyone alone with children). If he stays in the auditorium and the lobby, no one will have any cause to be concerned about his conduct. Under those terms, the church can accept him as a brother without fearing that its children will be endangered.
Sin can be forgiven, but even after forgiveness, it can still have earthly consequences. A Christian woman is not required to accept her husband back after he has cheated on her, whether or not she has forgiven him. A congregation is not required to re-appoint an embezzling treasurer, even after he has been restored to fellowship. So too with pedophiles. Even after he has repented and been forgiven, the effects of his evil still continue, not only for others, but for himself.
Come, O Lord, with vindication;
For my service has been true;
In Your ways I have not wavered;
I have trusted only You.
Question me, O Lord, and prove me;
Try my mind, and test my heart.
For I keep Your love before me,
And from You do not depart.
I avoid the man of falsehood,
And I shun the hypocrite;
How I hate it when they gather!
In their midst I will not sit.
I have washed my hands uprightly;
At Your altar I will praise,
Loudly lifting up thanksgiving,
Telling all Your wondrous ways.
How I love Your habitation,
Where Your glory enters in;
Do not judge me with the wicked,
Those whose hands are full of sin!
Free from guilt, I will continue;
Save Your servant graciously!
Standing firm before Your people,
I will bless Your help for me.
During my last sermon, we saw that God, even though He is infinitely higher and greater than we are, desires a relationship with us. Anybody who believes in God, just about, will also believes this. There are millions who don’t bother to go to church, yet hope to spend eternity with Him.
However, God’s love and yearning for us is not the sum total of His nature. We also saw that God is a holy God. He is perfectly good, and He is perfectly opposed to evil. This notion, by contrast, is not nearly as popular. Very few of those people who want to go to heaven also want to consider that because of their actions, they might not be headed there.
As a result, if we want to share the good news with others, we also have to be prepared to tell them the bad news. Only if we confront the ugly truth about human evil can we appreciate the beauty of the sacrifice of Christ. In our third half-hour study sermon, then, let’s consider what the Scriptures tell us about the sin problem.
Understanding this problem begins with understanding that GOD EXPECTS US TO OBEY HIM. Here, consider Romans 2:6-8. There’s a lot in this passage for us to consider. First, it tells us that the day will come when God is going to judge every human being. He’s going to sort mankind into two groups: those who did well on the one hand, and those who did not obey the truth on the other. God knows everything and is perfectly wise, so every one of His judgments will be perfect.
However, there’s something more that this passage implies. Notice that Paul describes evildoing as disobedience to the truth. In other words, God isn’t going to punish anybody because they look funny. Instead, He is going to pour out His wrath on people who have failed to live up to a true standard. Scripturally speaking, we can call this standard “the law of God”.
There are two ways that we can learn God’s law. The first is by reading it in His word, which is the perfect statement of that law. The second, though, is that moral sense that every one of us has in our hearts, a moral sense that God put there. The whole world over, everybody knows it’s wrong to murder. Everybody knows it’s wrong to cheat on your spouse. Everybody knows it’s wrong to lie. People can drown out the voice of their conscience, they can disobey it, but it’s always there, and God expects even people who haven’t read the Bible to listen to it.
When we don’t do what we know is right, we sin, and SIN IS LAWLESSNESS. John tells us so in just as many words in 1 John 3:4. John here, of course, is not concerned with the laws of humankind, which may be righteous or unrighteous. Instead, he is concerned with the law of God, and every sin we commit is a violation of that law.
This is important to recognize because people often don’t want to admit that their conduct is sinful. Yeah, they slept around all the time before they got married; yeah, they just lied to their spouse because they didn’t want to get into an argument, but everybody does that, right? That doesn’t make you a bad person, right? That doesn’t make you a sinner!
Well, yeah it does. This is the same standard that we apply to human law. After all, if a man gets caught breaking into somebody else’s home, when he’s on trial, the fact that he didn’t kill anybody is irrelevant. You don’t have to be a murderer to be a lawbreaker. It’s enough to be a thief.
In the same way, none of us have to be Hitler to be a sinner. We only have to have sinned. Any sin, whether we think it’s significant or not, turns us into somebody who has broken the law of God.
The result of this is that ALL OF US HAVE SINNED. Here, let’s look, of course, at Romans 3:23. God is perfect. His standard for righteousness is perfection. None of us have lived up to that standard because at some point, every one of us has sinned. God is glorious in His perfection, but all of us fall short of that glory.
In my experience, people often don’t want to admit this about themselves because they want to hold on to the self-image that they are good people. All of us read that passage in Romans 2 about how God deals with the righteous and the wicked, and there’s some part in all of us that says, “Yeah! I’m in there with the righteous people!”
The problem is, though, that every one of us knows better in our hearts. We proudly hold ourselves up as righteous while refusing to consider all the evidence that we are not—and there is a lot of evidence against all of us! None of us are people who have sinned once or sinned twice.
Instead, every one of us has lives that are marred by a continual pattern of selfishness and pride. Over and over again, we’ve proved that we care more about ourselves than about God and His law. We knew the right thing to do, but repeatedly, we’ve chosen not to do it. In other words, because of our actions, every one of us has become someone the holiness of God can’t tolerate. That’s where we are without Jesus. We are sinners, plain and simple.
That’s not a little problem. That’s a great big problem because SIN LEADS TO DEATH. Look at Romans 6:23. As always, Paul’s language here is significant. He tells us that the wages of sin is death. A wage is something you earn. When I worked at McDonald’s back in the mid-‘90s, every two weeks, I got a paycheck containing my wages for the past two weeks’ work. If I hadn’t worked, there would have been no wages.
So too, all of us must admit that death is something we have earned with our sin. God is not being arbitrary or unfair in condemning sinners. We knew better, we could have done better, but we chose not to. We don’t get our paycheck until the end of our lives, but if we continue on in our sinful ways, we will surely receive death as our just due. Nor is this some mere physical death penalty. Instead, it is spiritual death, an eternity spent far from the presence of God in the torments of hell.
However, as this verse points out, there is still hope for the human race. The hope isn’t that we can earn eternal life. Because all of us are sinners, we have already failed to do that! Instead, our hope is that we can receive eternal life as a gift from a loving and merciful God.
How can that be? How can a God who cannot stand sin in His presence receive sinners into His presence for eternity? The answer is that we can have eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord, and future sermons in this series will explain exactly how.
Job 16 begins Job’s next retort to his increasingly snippy friends. He sarcastically notes that if his position were reversed with his friends’ positions, he too could look down at their misfortune. After this, Job returns to his primary theme. His troubles have one source: God. God has attacked him directly and turned him over to his enemies, even though he has done nothing wrong. Ultimately, only God can justify him and prove him right.
Job 17 continues Job’s complaint. He begins by asking his friends, if they won’t believe him, at least to protect him from others who are making false accusations. For this too, Job blames God. It’s God’s fault that he has been afflicted so much that the righteous assume he has done something wrong. Really, though, none of those people understand the truth. Job concludes with a lament that nothing is left for him except to die.
Job 18 contains the next reply of Bildad. Bildad doesn’t appreciate the tone that Job is taking with them, and he outright asks Job if he thinks his friends are stupid. After this, he embarks on a by-now-familiar recitation of all the bad things that happen to wicked people. Because they don’t know God, they are destroyed. Bildad’s implication is that because Job has been brought so low, he must have done something to offend God, whether or not he will admit it.
Job 19 contains Job’s next speech in the exchange. He asks how long his friends are going to falsely accuse him. They don’t know Job’s actions. If Job has indeed sinned, it’s a secret from them. They’re just assuming because of Job’s disgrace.
In this, though, they acknowledge something that is Job’s main theme. God is responsible for his predicament. God doesn’t answer when he cries for justice. God attacks him like a hostile army. God makes all of Job’s friends, relatives, and acquaintances hate him, even when Job pleads for mercy. Job also wants his words to be preserved, so that at last when God appears, He will vindicate him. In this, Job warns, there is danger for everybody who accuses him falsely. God will condemn them.
Psalm 26 defines righteousness and its results. The first three verses are a plea from David to God to vindicate him, a plea that David is not afraid to make because he knows he has been faithful to God. Vs. 4-8 defines David’s righteousness. Rather than associating with the wicked, he spends his time in God’s house worshiping him. Vs. 9-12 contain David’s plea to God to rescue him from the wicked because even though the wicked are not righteous, he is.
Like many Christians, I’ve watched the flowering of the #MeToo movement with some bemusement. On the one hand, I wholeheartedly agree that no man should ever use his power to take sexual advantage of a woman. On the other, I cannot help but feel that those who have spent decades undermining the sexual ethics of the Bible are reaping what they have sown.
Let me explain. As with (almost?) all men, I have a fleshly side when it comes to sexual sin. The temptation to seek pleasure, whatever the cost to me or to others, is a strong one. However, it is more important to me to please Jesus, and I know that Jesus expects me to deny myself, take up my cross, and follow Him.
As a result, I strive daily to put the flesh to death. What’s more, I’ve learned from experience that even though self-denial can be unpleasant in the short term, in the long term, it leads to a richer, more fulfilled life.
However, according to the Sexual Revolution, sexual autonomy and fulfillment is the highest good. “Whatever turns you on,” is a value so fundamental to our society that it is rarely even stated anymore. Men who practice self-denial for religious reasons are fools in the world’s eyes.
Sadly, once the door to pleasure-seeking has been opened, it is open. The dark side of male sexuality that men of God imprison is allowed to run amok, and the consequences are predictably disastrous. There are probably millions of men in this country who are more concerned with sexual fulfillment than with anything else. Whatever they can get away with, that’s what they’ll do.
Even men who are less crass than that are still extremely vulnerable when it comes to self-deception. The modern hookup scene is a murky, ambiguous place. When a man is animated by his strong desire, and when he has been told that satisfying that desire is the most important thing in life, it is very easy for him to resolve every ambiguity in a way that allows him to do what he wants to do. It’s very easy for him to close his eyes to the harm he is doing women, to turn his mind away from considering such things. Such a man can do great evil while still convincing himself that he’s a “good person”.
Today, these harms are more obvious to secular America than they ever have been before. They’re responsible for the rise of consent culture: “Is it OK if I do this to you?” “OK, how about this?” Such rules of engagement, no matter how faithfully practiced (and I have my doubts about that), can never create more than a shadow of the trust and understanding that exist in a godly marriage.
A true solution to the problem must be much more fundamental than that. Marriage is an institution older than the Bible, and it flourishes around the world. It has survived because it works. It restrains the darker impulses of men (because every husband with a shred of understanding soon learns the truth of “He who loves his wife, loves himself.”), and it offers women security and protection in their intimate relationships. It is admirably adapted to the flawed, fallen human condition, and no better solution to the problems of unchecked sexuality exists.
Tragically, this truth has so far escaped the fools who have spent decades undermining the institution of marriage in America, who are so fixated on sexual freedom that they countenance even the slaughter of unborn children. However, actions have consequences, even for those who refuse to see them. The unbridled pursuit of sexual license has done immense harm to men and women alike. We can only hope and pray that its advocates will see the error of their ways before the damage to our national fabric becomes irreversible.