In a recent piece on polyamory, Preston Sprinkle and Branson Parler make the argument that there are “good things” in polyamorous interest. In their handling, the desire for community, togetherness, and romance can drive us into polyamorous practice, which Sprinkle and Parler technically call wrong. This is not a new form of argumentation. We’ve seen this argument in the debate over “gay Christianity,” for example. Some of what draws people to homosexual identity and practice, we hear, is positive—the desire for brotherly (or sisterly) affection, closeness, and intimacy.
You could call this the “sanctifiable sin” view. Sin is not wholly bad; there are elements of ungodly decisions and actions, in other words, that are positive. In fact, we may well end up in sinful territory out of good motives. We may want community, for example, and end up in polyamory; we may want brotherhood, and end up in a “gay” relationship; we may enjoy the gift of food, and end up eating gluttonously and getting drunk. We have a good motive, but it goes a little bit astray, ending up with a sinful outcome we didn’t intend.
We have had the “sanctifiable sin” view applied to sexual sins. But here is the question I want to ask: what about sins that are not culturally approved? Are they a mix of good and bad? My work here is connectional; I’m not aware of any present writer who professes to be an evangelical who makes the following points, so note that.
Throat thus cleared, here goes:
–Is there any “good thing” that happens in a senseless beatdown of an old person at a subway stop? Should we commend young criminals for their understandable passion, their youthful zeal?
–Is there any “good thing” that happens in genocide? Should we honor those who seek the purity of their country, and who try to honor justice and root out corruption as they understand it?
–Is there any “good thing” that happens in sexual molestation of a child? Should we deal with those who commit such acts by affirming their interest in children, and their acting on the blessing of sexual capacity?
–Is there any “good thing” that happens in rape? Should we commend a young man who rapes a young woman for the expression of natural manly aggression, and encourage him to see the positive elements in what he did?
–Is there any “good thing” that happens in a lynching? Should we look back on such an act and offer historical commendation of those who sought to strengthen their community, misguided as their actions may ultimately have been?
–Is there any “good thing” in a racist attack on another person? Should we commend such an attack for a focus on personal distinctiveness, and encourage people who speak in racist ways to know that they may partly be trying to pay homage to their background?
The answer to all of the above questions is this: no. No, there is absolutely nothing good in any of these wicked acts. While every person in God’s common grace finds both good and evil in their life, every deed I have just referenced is unspeakably evil.
I thus call the bluff of the “sanctifiable sin” crowd. They may not make the connections above explicitly, but this is where their doctrine must and will go in logical terms. If there are “good things” in sexual actions the Bible calls depraved, there must be “good things” in all sins. Someone might respond by noting that “consent between adults” is present in the aforementioned sexual sins, but that is an arbitrary standard. If something the Bible calls sin has positive elements in it, this must hold true for all sins. If you can find good things in behavior the Bible calls “abomination,” then you can find good things in any sin.
The church must wake up in our time. Pastors must see the danger of the “sanctifiable sin” hermeneutic and speak against it, clearly and unapologetically. Christians must not fall prey to such teaching. This is not a small issue, a quibble over doctrine. If you embrace this view, then you end up logically having to affirm goodness in all sin. This means, in other words, that you end up with an unsound and unbiblical conception of sin, which in turn means that you end up with a deficient and sub-biblical vision of salvation. In truth, your doctrine of God is really what suffers the most, because God begins to morph from a perfectly holy Creator and Lord, the just judge of the earth, into a sin-affirming force in the sky who doesn’t view as that bad.
It may sound well and good to say that “good things” are found in our sinful pursuits. It may even seem this way in our individual experience. But it is not true. As Christians, we sin not when we follow good desires, but when we grant evil desires power. Gluttony is not love for food with a little sinful twist at the end; gluttony is idolatry of food from start to finish. Jealousy is not friendship with some sin mixed in; jealousy is not friendship at all, but the corruption of it. Lust is not good desire for the opposite sex; lust is the corruption of God-glorifying desire for marriage, the replacement of a good desire with an evil one. We sin not when we want good things too much, or when we have good motives that end badly. We sin when we want the wrong things. Like Uzzah touching the ark of the covenant in 2 Samuel 6, when we sin we do something objectively wrong in the sight of Almighty God. As I argue in a full chapter in this recent book, sin is not part of a good thing; sin is the hijacking interruption of a good thing, the full corruption of a good thing, the temporal (or patterned) displacement of a good thing.
May God in his grace wake us up today. May he pour water on our face, and bring us out of our ethical malaise and our doctrinal slumber. May we reject the unsound argument that there are “good things” in our sins. There are no “good things” in our sinful pursuits; there is only evil. Praise God, there is one who is stronger than evil, stronger than our corruption, stronger than our straying wills. There is Jesus Christ, the God-man, the one who knew no sin, the one who is by his blood and resurrection our rescue from sin, Satan, death, and hell. Jesus is strong to rescue when we are unconverted, and Jesus is strong to help those who are his children, but wayward.