By Rev. Ryan J. Ogrodowicz
It can turn the world upside down for the Christian to hear a family member admit to a same-sex relationship. Suddenly, a once peaceful bond is now complex and strained. Your conscience might be conflicted, but now begins the burdensome task of dealing with a person you care deeply about but who practices sin, violating the faith. It is not always easy to find the answers on how to engage such a person. As society continues to grapple over sexual ethics, it may appear as if there are only two options for the Christian: Embrace homosexuality for fear of being labeled an unloving bigot, or condemn all homosexuals to hell for practicing the “unforgiveable sin.“
You might be wondering where God’s Word stands in all of this. And you might be thinking it’s a little more complicated than either always condemning or always embracing, and you’re right—it is. The reason is that not every sinner is the same.
Now your Lutheran alarm might be sounding. What does he mean “not every sinner is the same?” Doesn’t Scripture say “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3: 23)? Doesn’t the Psalmist tell us that “no one living is righteous before you” (Psalm 143: 2)? Of course, this is true. Everyone is corrupted by the sickness of sin, with no exception. Sin has desperately polluted the heart, mind and flesh of every person on earth. No one can escape this without God’s deliverance and help through the person and work of our Lord Jesus Christ.
When I say sinners are different, what I mean is that some sinners are very comfortable in their sin, while others have been called to faith through the Gospel and now actively seek God’s forgiveness and refuge. The Word of God is clear. Homosexuality is one of a host of other sins excluded from the kingdom of God when the sinner remains unrepentant (1 Corinthians 6: 9-11). We see this in those advocating the same-sex lifestyle, claiming it to be God-ordained while having neither convicted consciences nor the desire to change. For such people the law needs to be preached in order to give them knowledge of their sin and the realization that sin condemns us before our holy and just God. Approving sin is the exact opposite of this, and is anything but acting out of Christian love, and does no favors to the one dead in his or her trespasses.
That being said, there are some homosexuals who are perfectly aware they are fighting a force outside their control—a fight hard enough to cause physical ramifications and even suicide. People have killed themselves because they found no way to cope with a same-sex desire. What anyone tormented by sin needs to hear is that all of his or her sins have been richly paid for by the blood of Jesus at Calvary’s cross. This message, the message of Christ crucified for our justification, is what needs to be heard by the tormented sinner. The Law will only continue to accuse. It is the Gospel that brings healing and forgiveness to the sinner in the depths of woe and despair.
So when do you attempt to gently but firmly show someone their sinful behavior and when do you console them with the sweetness of the Gospel? If already you’re finding this difficult to do, you are not alone. Even the most seasoned pastor can wrestle with how to apply God’s Word. It’s difficult. Better yet, it’s impossible without the aid of the Holy Spirit, who alone is the teacher of this art. C.F.W. Walther once said, “Only the Holy Spirit, in the school of experience, can teach people how to deal with this doctrine…the proper distinction between Law and Gospel is the greatest skill that any person can learn.”
As with any correspondence, having an open chain of communication is important. Being a friend genuinely concerned about a friend or loved one’s spiritual well-being may, by God’s grace, provide an opportunity to help. By all means, invite them to church. They, as do all sinners, need to be in the presence of Christ on Sunday morning confessing their sins and receiving God’s forgiveness. Also, when speaking the law to somebody, it does not have to come across in anger or self-righteousness. On the contrary, the Christian can be firm in his or her conviction and faith while being gentle and compassionate. As the Word says, “Always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3: 15). You can gently, lovingly and compassionately proclaim God’s Law to a sinner in need just as much as you can declare the Gospel.
Finally, know that we never get all of this right. We never treat our neighbor perfectly. Sometimes we say too much; other times we say too little. Sometimes we’re bold to the point of being downright scary. Other times we hide in the shadows. Whenever you’re struggling with what to do and how to do it, pray for God’s guidance; ask for His wisdom. Be patient, repent, and receive His forgiveness in Christ. The great thing in all this is that our assurance comes not from our work towards others, but rather by being baptized into the One who has died to free us from the condemnation of every sin, vice and affliction— our Savior Jesus.
And this is good news for all of us.
Rev. Ryan Ogrodowicz is the pastor at Victory in Christ Lutheran Church located in Newark, Texas. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.