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Why does the reformed view of sanctification change when we start talking about SSA?

A recent article highlighted by the Aquila Report concerning discussions in the PCA about same-sex (homosexual) attraction included a few sentences which have me deep in thought.

The Lord does not save people in sin but from it, reaching into the depths of a sinner’s heart. In every person who has trusted in Jesus Christ, the Spirit tackles sin of every kind. The Savior so reorients the heart that it is impossible for a converted sinner to live and think as he once did.

And

For a “Christian homosexual” to announce a never changing sinful desire is to place himself outside the covenant of grace.

If you read the article, I will point out that the author’s representation of how Revoice speakers have talked about homosexual lust is not consistent with what I have heard. I think he misrepresents them quite a bit. I have heard much discussion of repentance at Revoice, and I have heard much humble praise of the God who has already forgiven participants for their sins, who has paid the full penalty of their sins upon the cross, who has made a way for participants to no longer be defined by their sin internally or externally, but to be defined by their forgiveness in Christ and His robe of righteousness that they now wear. I often think critics don’t actually listen to Revoice sessions. Here’s a good one if you want to know some of what is taught/believed.

Bekah Mason’s testimony starts around the 30 minute mark (a discussion of hope after the previous night’s theme of lament over sin).

But rather than advocating for folks to accurately reflect what Revoice does and does not believe, I am more curious (and concerned) about an emerging understanding of sanctification in my reformed circles that does not accurately reflect the reformed understanding of sanctification that I learned when I moved away from Independent Baptist Fundamentalism into Reformed/Calvinistic churches.

Are those who claim Christ but continue to struggle with homosexual temptation outside of the Covenant of Grace?

As a baseline for a succinct, Reformed view of sanctification, I am going to refer to the one in my Reformation Study Bible, edited by the formidable R. C. Sproul. I LOVE my Reformation Study Bible. I strongly agree with this entire article. You can read the entire entry here.

Here are a few excerpts.

Regeneration is a momentary act, bringing a person from spiritual death to life. It is exclusively God’s work. Sanctification is an ongoing process, dependent on God’s continuing action in the believer, and consisting of the believer’s continuous struggle against sin. …

Believers find within themselves contrary urgings. The Spirit sustains their regenerate desires and purposes, but their fallen instincts (the “flesh”) obstruct their path and drag them back. The conflict of these two is sharp. Paul says he is unable to do what is right, and unable to restrain himself from doing what is wrong (Rom. 7:14–25). This conflict and frustration will be with Christians as long as they are in the body. Yet by watching and praying against temptation, and cultivating opposite virtues, they may through the Spirit’s help “put to death” particular bad habits (Rom. 8:13Col. 3:5). They will experience many particular deliverances and victories in their battle with sin, while not being exposed to temptations that are impossible to resist (1 Cor. 10:13).

The thing I take home from the article highlighted at the Aquila Report (which is consistent with the main thrust of the criticisms I’ve heard against Revoice from the conservative end of the spectrum) is simply that you should not, in Christ, still be struggling with same sex attraction, and if you are, you most certainly should not be vocal about it. You should not praise God He has forgiven you. You should not find encouragement from others who are enduring against that temptation.

But our reformed view of sanctification is that believers will indeed “find within themselves contrary urgings.” Though the Spirit sustains those who experience same-sex attraction, their fallen instincts may very well “obstruct their path and drag them back.” And “the conflict of these two is sharp.”

“This conflict and frustration will be with Christians as long as they are in the body.”

Y’all, that’s R. C. Sproul, the editor of The Reformation Study Bible. We all still struggle against sin after we are in the Covenant of Grace. WE ALL STILL DO. To say otherwise is to reflect a false belief more like Paula White than the Apostle Paul. Around my area, that is a Pentecostal Holiness view, not a reformed one.

If you find help to endure against temptation toward pornography from other believers who are enduring against that temptation, then get encouragement to persevere through them. If you are a young mom struggling to love your children and endure against the temptation to anger or despair and you find help with other moms who are similarly enduring, loving their children faithfully even when their feelings don’t match it, then do! Are you a glutton? A thief? Do you have an ongoing anger problem that could lead to physical violence? I have a dear believing friend, a faithful lover of Christ and His word, struggling against this ongoing sin. Good grief, if you can find encouragement against ongoing temptation with other believers who regularly experience it, then DO. Why don’t tools we regularly use against other sins apply here?

If folks in our circles teach that believers struggling against ongoing homosexual desire are outside the Covenant of Grace, then we’ve got a big problem. This is going to be a big debate, one that I hope refines us, not destroys us, as there are crucial doctrinal issues involved around the nature of justification and sanctification. For my part, I don’t understand why a reformed understanding of sanctification doesn’t apply to homosexual believers with ongoing same-sex attraction?

Can someone explain it to me?

6 Responses to Why does the reformed view of sanctification change when we start talking about SSA?

  1. Karly Nelson January 30, 2020 at 10:55 am #

    AMEN WENDY! Thank you for always speaking so boldly, clearly, and graciously on stuff like this

  2. Eve Gleason January 30, 2020 at 12:15 pm #

    Well said

  3. Helen Cave January 31, 2020 at 12:46 am #

    Sometimes I wonder if the “positions” you describe reflect a lack of personal contact with people who live with real struggle. I’ve read articles and heard messages that lack love and compassion towards people whose circumstances don’t line up with the acceptable values and interpretations taught in some churches (and para ministries). Be it mental health or physical health issues, “have more faith” or “there must be hidden sin in your life” are common forms of advice. Comments about submission that make it hard for an abused spouse to share their experiences safely with another believer . . . “just trust God more”. It’s easier to offer 1-2-3 formulas to fix the “sin”. It’s like we have a hard time identifying even though God calls us to pray and care and love others. It is easy not to be involved. We add to peoples’ burdens by exhorting them with “pat solutions”. If the problem doesn’t affect us personally, we tend to be more judgemental & “black and white” until it is a close friend or family member that is involved with a type of sin we previously considered being a “worse” sin. Right now evangelical and fundamentalist churches seem to be focusing on developing “right” statements about various sexuality lifestyles. It seems to me that teaching about how to care and walk with people (whatever their struggle) often takes a back seat.

    • Wendy February 1, 2020 at 7:44 am #

      Yes, this is exactly my burden, Helen. I know too many real people, dear friends and children of dear loved ones, to talk about this without remembering that my words can either HELP them in their fight against sin or be a weight upon them that only pushes them to give up. Oh the weight we have placed on fellow believers struggling to believe, fighting for obedience. I have deleted a number of comments for this very reason. I will absolutely NOT allow comments on this blog that place weights on those already weary fighting off temptation.

  4. Helen February 1, 2020 at 1:48 pm #

    Another observation (that applies to a wide range of personal situations) is that some of us can be quick to put down a struggling believer without bothering to get to know them. We expect ongoing growth and change with little awareness of some people’s back stories (or life stories). Some people are born into circumstances that are far from nurturing or encounter challenges that are unfair, hurtful, or grievous. We all bear the scars of being born into a fallen world and we all have a fallen nature. But some people live with wounding that is much greater than what is the norm. To expect such people to progress in their Christian walk at the same rate as someone who has not known as much struggle and suffering is unrealistic. It is easy to point fingers and pronounce judgement instead of coming alongside people and supporting them with God’s grace, love, mercy. How much we need to pray for understanding and compassionate hearts towards others as we seek to encourage others to grow in God’s ways.

  5. Clarke Morledge February 7, 2020 at 4:04 pm #

    Wendy: You nailed the problem right on the head. I don’t understand this either. It is like a lot of Reformed folks suddenly become Prosperity Gospel advocates, the moment when SSA is even mentioned. Weird. Really weird.

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