In truth, this blog is improperly titled. Last week, I dealt with the dilemma that many of us have felt as a result of both the statement and the retraction that was made by Eugene Peterson. I suggested the biggest problem we faced was what the church should do about people who identify themselves as homosexual and sought communion among the people of God.
But in truth, this is not the biggest problem we face. The real issue that Peterson’s statements highlighted the entire matter of church membership. But even more so, Peterson’s dilemma highlighted the matter of what we think about conversion.
For many years now, conversion has been taught without making reference to the question of repentance. Evangelism has been taught by calling men and women to invite Jesus to come into their hearts and forgive them of their sins. A number of Bible teachers and theologians have consistently reminded us that this is not sufficient conversion language.
Martyn Lloyd Jones said, “Conversion is the first exercise of the new nature in ceasing from old forms of life and starting a new life. It is the first action of the regenerate soul in moving from something to something.” This definition fits very nicely with the message of Jesus. Mark very nicely describes for us the beginning of Jesus’ ministry including His message: “Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’” (Mark 1:14-15)
This same message is further reiterated at the advent of the very first Christian sermon. Peter is preaching on the day of Pentecost, and is calling for conversion. “And Peter said to them, ‘Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’”
Furthermore, the juxtaposition of the words, “Repent” and “Believe” displayed in Jesus’ first sermon seem to indicate that Scripture thinks of these two things not as two concepts but rather as one. For how is it possible to believe if we do not renounce our former ways of living? The call to conversion is a call to turn from the pathway that we have been pursuing, to forsake it utterly and to throw oneself unreservedly on the mercy of God, accepting His mandate for our lives. This involves a genuine change of attitude, of viewpoint and of lifestyle. We now accept the gospel’s declaration that we have loved sin, but we are determined to love it no more.
And that brings me to the present debate. From my vantage point, it is hypocritical to refuse membership to practicing homosexuals, if we have offered up membership to couples living together outside of wedlock. For too long now, we have accepted open sinful practices without calling for genuine, heartfelt repentance.
Indeed, let me say it more forcefully. Whenever we have not called for repentance from all that displeases Christ, we have not preached the gospel, and we have not witnessed conversion. The Bible does not call us to be perfect. But it does call us to declare utter warfare on our own sin until it is put to death. Whenever this has not happened in a human life, there has been no conversion. Whenever the heart has not covenanted to be holy as our Lord is holy, we have not had a change of heart. And we remain in our sins.
I think it’s time to recapture this. And once having done so, we will be on safe ground when we seek to know what to do with unconfessed sin of any kind.