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A Big PCA Correction by a Small Text

A Big PCA Correction by a Small Text

Written by David H. Linden |
Friday, November 19, 2021

Great reluctance exists in the PCA to embrace the simple truth that all of God’s people are being made holy in sexual desires, and that believing in this powerful grace is our duty. In this life, we have the covenanted hope of moving holiness in the direction of completion…To exclude such change in the category of sexual feelings is to say that Paul is wrong…“BUT our holiness has not been brought to completion!” I reply, “No one in the PCA says it has been or will be in this life.” We simply say with Paul that it is being completed. Bringing holiness to completion cannot mean that holiness is already complete. So let us stop reducing sanctification concerning sexual attraction to select persons, select sins, and a time later than the present.

One little text should settle the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) debate. When applied to Side B homosexuality, 2 Corinthians 7:1 speaks directly and with plainness. Here it is in 25 words:

Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God. 

Advocates of the current error esteem abstinence from overt sexual sin, yet they accept its unchanging influence in the heart and soul of celibate homosexuals. Greg Johnson said in a recent SemperRef article, The Gay Threat to the PCA, that for 31 years he has daily turned from homoeroticism to Jesus. In he said further: “I believe in mortifying indwelling sin and in progressive sanctification.”  This makes many of us in the PCA ask what effect progressive sanctification has on unchanging indwelling sin.

We also have TE Johnson’s word on a YouTube interview that his homoerotic orientation has “not shifted a millimeter.” [1]  He testifies often that he has never fulfilled his same sex desires. Yet this sinful tendency, which he admits is sinful, has lived in his heart undiminished for decades. Greg tells us that God has not changed his same-sex attraction. But did not the Lord say, “… The Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives” (Hebrews 12:6)? In other words, the Lord is active to develop his children into the image of Christ.

I write wondering how such claims can be made by a Christian role model with high office in the church when 2 Corinthians 7:1 speaks so directly of cleansing not only the body but also from defilement in our spirits. But let us begin where the text does.

Seeing we have these promises    This is a throwback to 2 Corinthians 6, where God promises to be our God, and declares that we are his people. In new covenant promises we are assured of the cleansing of our hearts, and of a soft heart in the place of the hard heart of an unregenerate person (Ezekiel 36; Jeremiah 31). Further, the Spirit writes his law on our hearts and produces real obedience to it in this life. When Paul said that we have these promises, he spoke of what supports a hefty transformation. We should believe these promises and expect this kind of change in persons who are called to be “ministers of a new covenant.” (2 Corinthians 3:6). Such change we must teach and exemplify.

Beloved    Paul expresses his love for the Corinthians in this epistle as vigorously as in any other letter, and here maybe even more so. In that church, and more precisely in that location, sexual sin was rampant. He speaks strongly of it in other writings, but in Corinth he battled it. And still he loved them – a vibrant evidence of his own transformed heart. Calling for their pursuit of holiness in 2 Corinthians 7:1 was just one more way that Paul loved them.

Let us cleanse ourselves    Usually, when sin is the topic, we think of the cleansing being done by the Lord. In regeneration he does the washing, as does the Word ever after.  Forgiveness is not a lonely gift; cleansing from all unrighteousness always accompanies confession in 1 John 1:9. Cleansing from every kind of sin is a wonderful promise. Our Confession rightly insists that sanctification is “throughout the whole man.” This includes our sexual nature and all our secret sins. We cannot really believe that there is the active work of the Spirit in our hearts if there is not a millimeter of progress, as in the case of Pastor Johnson. The Holy Spirit does better than that. Progressive sanctification has progress, or it is not progressing. Such an unbearable contradiction indicates either the Spirit’s failure – an impossible thing – or that salvation has not begun in that minister. Salvation absent would explain the absence of progress.

Paul calls on us to cleanse ourselves. His exhortation assumes realistic fear of the power of sin, and our need for confession and renouncing every form of our depravity. Sin snares; if we give it an inch, it will take a mile. So we, properly warned and authoritatively instructed, fight every dirty thought, every temptation, every source and opportunity of defilement, as we dutifully cleanse ourselves from it by resorting to the blood of our Savior. He can cleanse; he does; he will; and he will not mock us for our weakness. Through our Lord we find great grace at the throne with that name, because our great high priest has offered for us. We find not forgiveness alone, but grace to help even in our internal battles. This is just gospel, plain and simple. The cleansing is there, and we are to help ourselves to it by repentance, faith, and the means of grace.

Simply fighting our sins is not in itself terribly encouraging. Relishing the promises, works, and kindness of God comforts our hearts. The Lord said, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (John 14:23).  This is a cheerful word indeed. But we must not forget that bringing holiness forward requires cleansing our defilements, even though such cleansing will take a lifetime, and awaits the Lord’s appearance to complete it. It is an enormous inconsistency to have praise for partial cleansing, while leaving in place the defilement of unlawful sexual feelings, as if offset by good behavior. In spite of this discrepancy, some Side B apologists consider celibate gays to be outstanding models of Christian discipline – models, please note, which report no progress. Under such fiction, a veneer of no-sexual-follow-through has under it a core of corruption. Peter urged souls to be purified by obedience to the truth so that love can proceed earnestly from a pure heart (1 Peter 1:22).

From every defilement    I am saddened to read that the Missouri Presbytery has adopted a novel distortion of the sovereignty of God the Spirit. (See here and here.) In contrast, we have these promises and are assured that we may be cleansed, and we may cleanse ourselves, and we must. Such sanctification goes on in every believer every day in some way whether we see it or not. So it is with alarm that we discover that God supposedly has some inscrutable and undisclosed right to leave a child of his to wallow in sexual sin, as he may chose. We are told of a divine choice not to sanctify, a divine right exercised now and then concerning some (or many, or most?) who suffer from same-sex attractions.  That is a mockery of genuine sanctification, because it has God breaking covenant. (That presbytery needs to repent.) Our cleansing is supposed to be from every defilement, not just most of them. No minister should broadcast that he has no change in his spiritual growth away from sinful sexuality, and then have his presbytery defend that defilement as the Lord’s secret prerogative in his particular case. We do not believe is some oh so special sin. Let us never overturn 2 Corinthians 7:1 by slogans which present God as unresponsive, such as the Lord’s failure when some seek to “pray the gay away.” Such arguments shock the angels, none of whom ever had a sin forgiven. They must now marvel at the patience of God while some in the PCA neglect cleansing grace and cleansing duty as they churn up justifications for sins not being weakened.

Defilement of body and spirit    We encounter an intractable contradiction in the Side B homosexual position. Its supporters drive a wedge into salvation from sin by hailing holiness in external life, while sinful sexual desires sit in the inner man as unchanged as ever. This partitioning of a Christian’s life disparages the wonderful work of the Holy Spirit whose primary strategy is to change the heart. They downgrade God’s promise to produce Christ’s likeness in us. They decline relevant new covenant promises, which are the foundation for cleansing ourselves from every defilement of spirit. Instead they offer a lesser cleansing which overlooks sexual sin in the human spirit. External holiness is not real holiness. Reducing promises by limiting their application is just old fashioned unbelief. God does not know how to break a promise, and we cannot teach him. If the Son sets us free, we do become free indeed (John 8:36).

Satan whispers that cleansing in our spirits is not needed, that sexual desire is unchangeable, and that only in behavior can cleansing be expected. Further that relief from it is so rare, we may give up hope and let it go for this life. After all, it is only an attraction, and God will fix it later, not now. Such teaching in the PCA is disgraceful.

In this context, it is indefensible to describe ministers as faithful who have not found any cleansing from this defilement. When a minister has a lifelong sexual appetite for another male we are not supposed to question whether he is a holy man. This is theological baloney. When no progress within is even claimed, the debate is over, or it should be.

Sin in the heart will emerge; it is not so weak as to have no effect on us. All the sins in us will find expression, but our Savior died to deliver us from our evil “inclinations,” no matter how much a part of us they may be. Meanwhile many men, who tried so hard to be just good Side B gays, succumb and become the husband (or wife) of some male partner. Sexual sin in the pressure cooker of the heart will find a way to get loose. 2Corinthians 7 teaches cleansing must reach into the inner man.

Bringing holiness to completion    Our view of the Christian life is so out of whack these days that if you say to some that personal cleansing of ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit is part and parcel of bringing holiness to completion now they will wonder what you have been drinking. Words like perfectionism, the error of Wesley, and triumphalism will erupt. You will be told that you fail to account for remaining sin, and that your doctrine of sanctification is over-realized. Sentences like “cleanses us from all unrighteousness,” though resisted, will not be objected to when recognized as Scripture. What causes heartburn is the idea that every believer is being strengthened to some degree, and every sin is being weakened to some degree. Arguing for this essential element of reformed doctrine irritates the enablers of homosexuality in the pulpit.

Great reluctance exists in the PCA to embrace the simple truth that all of God’s people are being made holy in sexual desires, and that believing in this powerful grace is our duty. In this life, we have the covenanted hope of moving holiness in the direction of completion. This is just good Westminster and Biblical thinking. To exclude such change in the category of sexual feelings is to say that Paul is wrong. At this point fervent objection may rise, such as: “BUT our holiness has not been brought to completion!” I reply, “No one in the PCA says it has been or will be in this life.” We simply say with Paul that it is being completed. Bringing holiness to completion cannot mean that holiness is already complete. So let us stop reducing sanctification concerning sexual attraction to select persons, select sins, and a time later than the present. The same man who wrote 2 Corinthians 7:1 wrote, “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:23). That is not triumphalism; it is just Paul on the extent of our salvation.

In the fear of God    We should fear that a publicly proclaimed testimony of unmitigated sin (as in not “a millimeter” of improvement) contradicts salvation itself. The Lord warns, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me” (John 13:8). (Greg, you should pay attention to that verse.) To some he will say one day, “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of iniquity.” God will not be mocked by anyone boasting of no change in any sin and getting away with it. We have a deficient fear of God. In our day, our majestic God has become a lightweight in our minds. But the Lord who made heaven and earth says, “… This is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word” (Isaiah 66:2). In the fear of our holy God, let us be about cleansing from all of our defilements. The verse is short but says much. Here again are these 25 words from the Lord: Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.

David Linden is a retired Minister in the Presbyterian Church in America; he lives in Delaware.

[1] Rev. Johnson often speaks of a shift to heterosexual desires, and he can claim that in his case that that has not occurred. My point is that the desires he would change from are sinful desires and are current according to his own confession of a homoerotic inclination. It is not a sin when a man is not attracted to a women. It is evil for a man to be sexually attracted to another man.

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