3 Reasons Sin and Holiness Can’t Coexist

water and fire

It’s not hard to look around and notice what used to seem so clearly right, and clearly wrong, isn’t always so clear anymore. In fact, if you consider yourself to be a born-again Christian, the chances are high that the majority of other people won’t believe the same way you do or if they do believe in the same general truth you do, it may be a slightly different version. My guess is that if we were to put together a box of crayons based solely on truths we find in culture, most of us would see a whole lot more gray crayons than black or white ones.

We’ve seen the political divisiveness happening during this election year, and unfortunately, we’ve seen the same happening among Christians when it comes to spiritual issues. Last week, Jen Hatmaker jumped into the fray after she gave a very honest interview with Religion News Service’s senior columnist, Jonathan Merritt, and offered her views on everything from same-sex marriage to this year’s presidential election to Black Lives Matter, abortion, and multi-ethnic adoption.

She was applauded by many, denounced by others, and at least one Christian retailer announced they were pulling her products from its shelves.

Jen is an Oklahoma Baptist University graduate, an Austin Texas resident, female evangelical author, speaker, blogger, HGTV star, mother, and pastor’s wife who describes herself as a left-leaning moderate. Women who follow her and read her books love her humor, her honesty as a mom and the passion she has for causes she cares about.

People, of course, can believe what they want to believe – even Jen. Sharing her views isn’t the issue – it’s the basis of her views that’s the concern. And when any leader begins leading others into rough theological waters where scriptural principles are redefined and compromised to fit a personal theology, or implies or says that what God said isn’t necessarily true, the truth needs to be loudly spoken lest others follow and fall.

Recognizing The Difference

There’s no doubt Jen Hatmaker has a big and generous heart. She yearns for social justice. She wants people to know they are cared for and loved. She desires to live in a world where others are safe, good, and whole. In fact, I found I agreed with her on a good portion of her basic thoughts regarding much of what she addressed in her interview. But I believe she has a serious problem with how her beliefs have developed and formed her actions and applications as a follower of Christ.

I don’t think Jen is by herself in terms of reaching the conclusions she has, for the reasons she has. But that’s also why it’s so important we understand the distinctions and differences between sin and holiness. When we do, we can recognize God’s truth over our own personal truths we’re tempted to apply when it feels better than living out God’s.

Over the years, when it comes to political issues that typically separate Liberals and Conservatives into two different camps, I’ve found it’s not really our desires that are to blame.  I think it’s safe to say we all want world peace, love, safety, wholeness, social justice, comfort, and joy.

What divides us is the application, and how we get there.

As followers of Christ, it’s so important we get there with solid theology, and not with theories we make up as we go, based on what feels right at the time. This means total reliance on solid, time-tested, scriptural truths and principles, instead of the ever-changing mores of culture and society coupled with our fickle hearts and reasoning.

So let’s look at three reasons why sin and holiness can’t coexist.

1. Only God is holy

Holiness is the complete absence of sin. Sin is the desire for freedom from God.

But according to Jen, sin can be holy as long as one is committed to God – despite living a sinful life. When she was asked whether or not an LGBT relationship could be holy, she said, “Yes”. It’s important to recognize that whatever our desire is for belonging, or for the comfort of others, or even in our love for others, we must call sin what it is: sin. We can’t redefine it to make ourselves feel better and say we are still being true to the Word of God.

Only God is holy (sinless). Throughout scripture, we are reminded that we are to seek holiness. We are told that we are made holy through the blood of Christ. However…

  • If we walk in intentional, repetitive, and unrepentant sin, that isn’t holy.
  • If we look for ways to independently define what is and isn’t right outside of God’s revelation, that isn’t holy.
  • If we base our righteousness on our own feelings and judgment, that isn’t holy.

Can an adulterous relationship be holy? Can an incestuous relationship be holy? Can a homosexual relationship be holy? Can drunkenness, and sexual trafficking, and pornography, and pride, and greed, and lying, and murder be holy?

The answer is no.

2. Only God can define sin

When we willingly and joyfully take part in the celebration of sin, whatever sin, in order to make others comfortable or to make ourselves feel comfortable, we are sinning and leading others to do the same. We cannot redefine what is and isn’t sin because sin is defined by God – not by us.

Let’s say, for example, I let my kids define what is and what isn’t a healthy meal, and then I let them act on that belief and definition. They’d choose pizza, cookies, and ice cream every time – and feel great about it! But as their parent, I know that as delicious as those foods can taste at the time, eventually, those junk food favorites are going to bring more harm than good to their bodies.

We can’t pretend and redefine an unhealthy food and pretend it’s healthy, and we can’t redefine sin to be something different than God has already defined it.

As Ravi Zacharias reminds us, relative or subjective moral reasoning never works.

In 1984, Francis Schaeffer published his last book, The Great Evangelical Disaster. He warned that we as the Church were at a watershed moment. We could continue down a dangerous slope of continued cultural accommodation so we would fit in, or we could lovingly confront culture with the truth of the Gospel of Christ.

Unfortunately, we chose the former and we now have a church that is essentially no different from the world. We can’t tell the difference.

  • We love the same things.
  • We worship at the same altars of sex and money.
  • We use the same language.

We fit in with the world.

But what did Jesus say about all that? No one can serve two masters. You’ll hate the one. You’ll love the other. 

Do we care more about loving the world than we love God?

Are we more concerned about being loved by the world, than being loved by God?

3. Only God can save us from sin

The dangers of what we’re seeing from the Jen Hatmakers of our day are the same dangers we see spreading so ubiquitously throughout the church today. We hold onto this desire to individualize and redefine scriptural truths and principles to fit whatever we feel is right in our own eyes and then we expect God to come alongside our pride and our sin and bless our selfish desires, instead of changing our desires to match His. We hold onto this idea that our mores and ethics are changeable and are founded on the shifting sands of time as Jen, and others before her, have implied.

Following Christ is about us conforming to His image, not Him conforming to ours.

The idea that our desires and lives inform and fashion our theology is a backward thought. Instead, theology must inform and fashion our desires and lives. As my friend and pastor, Michael Easley so often says, “Don’t let the world teach you theology.”

In the beginning, God created us in His image. Now we have decided to return the favor. But nothing could be more dangerous for our souls and our society. It’s time to really follow Christ. Only by following the truth of scripture can we do just that.

How are you speaking truth? Is it easier to apply scripture or follow your own personal feeling? How do you avoid doing the latter?