Editors note: The purpose of this series is to help our readers understand what sin is, how serious sin is, and how great the grace of God, who offers redemption to sinners from sin and new life in Christ.
- David Dunham opened our series on sin with a look at sin and biochecmical brokenness.
- Zach wrote on overcoming a sinful theology of Lent and Fasting.
- Nick Batzig wrote on two dangers and three duties in confessing sin to one another.
- Dave wrote on indwelling sin, positional sanctification, and progressive sanctification.
- Dave wrote on living however you want a looking at Romans 6:1-2.
- Matt Perman wrote on the biblical evidence for original sin.
- Brian Hedges wrote on four thoughts on how sin does its work.
- Chis Poblete wrote on seven ways to wage war against sin.
- Today Matthew Fretwell writes on the question, “Can sin exist in the Church?”
This is a real question that I fielded recently from a young millennial. The answer seems easy to those who are awakened by the Spirit of God, but the answer is also deeper, deeper within the love of God and who the Godhead is. I love these conversations and as we spoke, the discussion morphed into how the modern church will “have” to accept the gay lifestyle. These questions don’t baffle me, nor did they mystify the early church.
If you live in Western society, you will quickly see the influence that liberal progressivism is having upon some within the evangelical church. The thought of sin and salvation is being viewed as a prehistoric dinosaur. The LGBTQ alphabet soup of everything-to-be-accepted, which is supposed to be hipster and cool, will infiltrate the church, so says Rob Bell. This isn’t so much a critique of Mr. Bell’s views of evangelical doctrine, but his views are one that is increasingly becoming more popular.
In his interview with famed TV Star Oprah, Bell stated, “One of the oldest aches in the bones of humanity is loneliness. Loneliness is not good for the world. Whoever you are, gay or straight, it is totally normal, natural and healthy to want someone to go through life with. It’s central to our humanity. We want someone to go on the journey with.”
I would agree with Bell. Don’t get me wrong, I, along with others, believe that Bell is an intelligent guy, but so were Schleiermacher, Bultmann, and Darwin (who all held seminary degrees). It’s not intellect that I disagree with; it’s his view of sin. Assuredly, as Bell notes, humanity yearns for connectedness and relationships. This is nothing new; when we prosecute murderers and those who refuse to cooperate with society, we place them in solitary confinement; we do the same with our children, “Go to timeout,” we say. But this is the problem with Bell, and the myriads of other evangelical leaders who yield to sin, compromise, and acceptance, as being loving.
This type of acceptance reminds me of when frogs plagued Egypt, and Moses asked the Pharaoh when he would have him to entreat God to take away the frogs, and he responded, “Tomorrow” (Exodus 8:10). Why not today? Why not now? Because living with sin for another day is unacceptable. It’s unacceptable because it appeals to the flesh. And the view of tolerance appeals to our desire for connectedness and self-worth, especially when we consider the alternative—which is the conviction of wrongdoing.
Evangelical progressivism would have us believe that God is love should be antinomian (i.e. grace covers all sins), and yet it even reaches beyond that; progressivism teaches that sin is not relative when it comes to the feelings of connectedness, loneliness, and love. Unfortunately, there can be no regeneration of the heart without the Godhead and without conviction of sin. The question, can the church co-exist with sin is buried in the view of the Trinity and what love truly is.
If God is love (1 John 4:8), a favorite verse of progressives, He is therefore love because He is its very essence and substance, always from time past, being unified with the Son and the Holy Spirit. But as Jonathan Edwards wrote, the “Holy Ghost is God’s love and delight…But the Holy Ghost being the love and joy of God is His beauty and happiness, and it is in our partaking of the same Holy Spirit that our communion with God consists (II Cor. 13:14).” The statement God is love proves that He is Trinitarian because love, in and of itself, is an interactive sacrificial devotion. Love is the very essence of God, and is in fact the only way we may know Him. As the Apostle Paul stated, “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:5 ESV). Therefore, there can be no feelings or understanding of love without the Trinity; anything else is a fickle attempt of filling human emotional loneliness. Love exists in the sending of His Son, which gives us the sending of the Holy Spirit, who convicts of sin.
The yearning that Bell describes is innate within each of us—it’s called a sin nature. That loneliness is ever exists until the Holy Spirit reveals to us the Son of God. As Augustine prayed, “God, you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you.” You may be thinking, “OK, fine, I’ll accept that, but what does that have to do with the church compromising with sin?” Everything.
The Body of Christ is Christ; we are an extension of the living Godhead on earth. For this reason, the gates of hell cannot prevail against the church (Matt 16:18). This means that the Church must be holy in its conduct, as He is holy (1 Peter 1:15-16); assuredly there is no blatant sin in God. Does this mean that the Church constitutes perfection?—only within the convicting power of the Holy Spirit and cleansing righteousness of Christ. Where there is no conviction of sin there can be no visible Body of Christ, the Church. For man, there is no reconciliation with God, or knowing His love, without the conviction of sin.
When Paul writes to the Corinthian church, he boldly proclaims “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor 6:9-10 ESV). All of these actions appeal to the flesh—to our loneliness—every one of them. We must remember that the first century church was filled with this lifestyle—every gentile was a convert of pagan cultural norms and values.
But the gospel is good news, as Paul continues, “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:11 ESV). There is no love of God without the Holy Spirit and Christ, for they always existed with Him, and in Him, and for Him (Rom 11:36). The words, “And so were some of you” proves that the Godhead transforms sin into righteousness and that the above-mentioned actions are unholy behaviors, which appeal to the loneliness of our flesh. Even if we’re born with them, as all men are born with sin, we yearn for wholeness in God, through Christ.
Sin must not and cannot abide within the Body of Christ, as acceptable. Do we struggle with sin?—certainly, we all do. But struggling and practicing are two different dynamics. The Church accepts all who struggle, and even loves those who practice, but cannot be in union with those who do not repent. The love of God encompasses discipline, which is the Holy Spirit’s working power. As Jesus spoke about Him, “And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged” (John 16:8-11 ESV). The beautiful convicting power of the Holy Spirit proves God’s love for us, “that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8b ESV).
 Edwards, Jonathan. “An Unpublished Essay on the Trinity,” Accessed March 11, 2015. http://www.ccel.org/ccel/edwards/trinity/files/trinity.html
Emerging from the culinary arts field as a restaurant owner and executive chef (Food Network), Matt’s journey from addiction to pastor is a miraculous narrative.
Feeling compassion to help other men struggling with addictions and life issues, Matt founded a non-profit ministry, Job 31 Ministries.
Matt is married, has three beautiful daughters and has authored multiple books. He serves as pastor at Oak Hall Baptist near Richmond, Virginia.
Matt is an advocate board member of Living Bread Ministries (LBM), a global comprehensive Church Planting organization that helps the poorest of the poor. LBM reaches the slums of the world and helps people break the chains of poverty.
Matt’s the Director of Operations for New Breed Church Planting and co-founder of a collaborative church planting and revitalization initiative called Planting RVA, in Richmond, Virginia.
Matt frequently writes about church leadership, planting, revitalization, health, and growth for Church Planter Magazine, Church Central, and Urban Church Planting.
He is currently pursuing a doctoral degree in churcplanting at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.