LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Last week, Albert Mohler appeared on the CNN program “Out Front” with Erin Burnett to talk about Chick-fil-A and the gay marriage debate. In the course of the discussion, Mohler explained briefly what the Bible teaches about moral renewal in the life of a Christian.
In short, he argued that the same Christ that redeems sinners also helps them to “change” – i.e., to put aside those things the Bible defines as sin. Burnett’s response was astonishing at one level and not surprising at another. It’s no surprise that she would be in favor of gay marriage. It is astonishing, however, that she would be so overtly dismissive of basic Christian morality – as if it were completely outside the bounds of rational discourse.
Burnett couldn’t believe that a Christian would suggest that homosexuals can or would even need to “change.” In the course of her remarks, she told Mohler that his statements were “crazy” and “hateful.” As usual, Mohler did a fantastic job representing the gospel and parrying the push-back from a hostile host.
There is a key take-away from this exchange that Christians need not to miss. What Mohler contends for is something that all Christians will have to contend for if they wish to be faithful to Christ. The focus of this particular conversation is homosexuality, but the implications of Burnett’s dismissal go beyond that single issue. Her incredulity calls into question what Christianity teaches about the nature of salvation.
The Bible teaches that Christ not only saves sinners from the penalty of sin but also from power of sin (Romans 6:14). That means that genuine Christianity inevitably results in a changed life on the part of the one who trusts in Christ. From the moment of conversion, the Spirit of God progressively transforms Christians into the image of Jesus Christ (Romans 8:29; 2 Corinthians 3:18). Without this kind of holiness, no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14). To reject God’s purpose of holiness is to reject Christianity altogether (1 Thessalonians 4:7-8).
What the Bible teaches on this matter is not aimed only at gay people. It goes for all sinners, gay or straight. Every person who receives Christ and believes the gospel must change.
They cannot remain the sinner that they were without calling into question the validity of their conversion. As one preacher put it, “If the faith that saved you didn’t change you, then it didn’t save you.”
This does not mean that sinners become perfect all at once. There’s no waving of a magic wand to make one completely sinless in this life. It is not that way for any sinner, including gay ones. The work of sanctification is a progressive work that extends over the course of one’s life. There are stops and starts, triumphs and failures along the way. But it is nevertheless the mark of a Christian that he is working out his salvation with fear and trembling, knowing that it is God who is at work in him both to act and to will according to God’s good pleasure (Philippians 2:12-13). For many gay people who come to Christ, it may be a life-long struggle. But the Bible teaches that they will have what they need for the fight (2 Peter 1:3) and that they are not bound by this sin any longer (Romans 6:6).
What Burnett dismisses as “crazy” and “hateful” is at the heart of the Christian faith. To deny that the gospel can change sinners – even homosexual ones – is to deny Christianity altogether. That is why Mohler’s answer was profoundly and biblically right. He didn’t give any ground on this issue, and neither should any Christian who wishes to give a defense of the hope that is in him (1 Peter 3:15). It is neither crazy nor hateful to suggest that gays can change. It’s the essence of love that God enables them to do so.
We won’t be able to please all the people all the time. And that means that, occasionally, we may have to take our lumps. As the world rages against God’s Word, we must stand firm to uphold it. And we must not be surprised when scoffers denigrate our faith as folly and nonsense. “For the word of the cross is to those who are perishing foolishness, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18).
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Denny Burk is associate professor of New Testament at Boyce College, the undergraduate arm of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. This column first appeared at his website, DennyBurk.com.)