On Jan. 7, a new law (Bill C-4) went into effect in Canada banning “conversion therapy,” defined as any “practice, treatment or service designed to repress or reduce nonheterosexual attraction or sexual behaviour.”
The law forbids any form of advice or admonition that challenges such behaviors or tendencies. All such counsel is now illegal, whether “offered by professionals, religious officials or laypersons.”
In other words, it is now a serious criminal offense in Canada to portray homosexuality or transsexualism as sins to be mortified rather than badges of identity to be embraced, affirmed and celebrated.
That means, of course, that Christians are not permitted to declare what Scripture clearly teaches.
Furthermore, this law formally makes it a federal offense (classified as a hate crime) to call a transgender person or a homosexual to repentance. Those who defy the statute can be imprisoned for up to five years. The bill also makes it a crime—punishable by two years in prison—even to recommend or advertise any church or program that urges people to conform their identity and behavior to the Biblical and social norms of their biological sex.
It is impossible for faithful Christians to obey such a law. The conversion of sinners is at the very heart of the work God has given the church to do in this fallen world. Everything else we do as a body of believers (our worship, our fellowship, our service for the Lord) could be done more perfectly in Heaven. But Christ gave us a commission to reach the world with a message of conversion and a promise of salvation from sin. The church is the salt of the earth and the light of the world. Christians are heralds of the Gospel, the powerful message by which the Holy Spirit converts sinners.
To come to faith in Christ is to be born again. As Jesus told Nicodemus, “You must be born again” (John 3:7). Scripture says, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). That means sin is no longer the Christian’s master. Sin is an enemy to be resisted—not a quirk of nature to be coddled and justified.
Scripture is absolutely clear about this, and no text is more definitive on the subject than 1 Corinthians 6. Starting in verse 9, Paul writes: “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God” (verses 9-10).
That is not a list of unpardonable sins. The church at Corinth consisted of people who were converted out of lifestyles of fornication, idolatry, adultery, effeminate sexual practice, homosexuality, thievery, covetousness, drunkenness, slander and extortion. Paul says to them, “Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God” (verse 11). This was a whole congregation of converted people. Before they came to Christ, their characters and reputations had been tarnished by every kind of sin from sordid sexual perversions to common vices that some would deem socially acceptable—even relatively respectable.
But Paul’s point is that those who were genuinely converted among them had been delivered from all those sins. They were repentant sinners. They recognized the exceeding sinfulness of sin. They had experienced the Gospel’s power to free them from sin’s slavery, cleanse the conscience and transform a hardened, sin-stained heart.
That is the very nature of the church. Every true church is a congregation of converted sinners. We are under obligation to call other sinners to repentance, and to proclaim the truth of the Gospel boldly through our lives and in our public testimony. Like Peter and John, “We cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20).
Governments can make laws all they want, but they will never dictate to the church what its mission is. The church has a solemn duty to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ so that sinners might be converted. It is a mission of mercy. James 5:20 says, “He who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.”
The church is not a charity. It is not a political entity waging a moral crusade. We are not campaigning for superficial reforms or cosmetic changes in society. “Redeeming culture” is not the heart of our God-given task, no matter how many times evangelical leaders use that cliché. The church’s task is to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ so that sinners can be converted. Christ Himself gave the church that commission. In Jesus’ own words, repentance for forgiveness of sins must be proclaimed in His Name to all the nations (Luke 24:47). That, again, is the whole purpose for which the church is in the world.
Any attack on this operation of converting sinners to Christ is an assault on God, on Christ, on the Holy Spirit, on the Bible and on the church. Such efforts, even from government officials, must be met by the church with 100% resistance, precisely because we are obliged to obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29). Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to some novel piece of federal legislation that contradicts the Lord’s own clear instructions, any authentic believer should be able to judge (Acts 4:19).
Sinners must be converted or they will not enter the Kingdom of God. Any sin that an unconverted person is unwilling to repent of will condemn that person to a Christless eternity. That is Paul’s central point in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10. To remain silent while people are perishing is to ignore the damning, soul-destroying nature of sin. But sin’s bondage is never more powerful than under the various lifestyle sins and self-indulgent sins that Paul lists in those verses. It is neither charitable nor commendable for someone who knows the Gospel to remain silent about the destructive nature of certain sins just because it is unpopular (or in the current case, illegal) to call those sinners to repentance.
Notice what Paul says the Gospel accomplished for those Corinthians who had lived all their lives under the bondage of soul-destroying sins. He reminds them, “But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11).
He’s describing a true and thorough conversion. This is not therapy. This is not a drawn-out program of behavioral modification through some psychological treatment. Although he names three aspects of conversion, he is not describing a process. These are three features of a supernatural event that takes place in a moment, when the sinner passes from death unto life. Washing is the removal of guilt and cleansing of the conscience. Sanctification means liberation from sin’s bondage, thus setting the convert apart from sin and giving him an appetite for holiness. Justification gives full forgiveness and covers the sinner with a garment of perfect righteousness.
If you are in bondage to sin, no matter what category of sin it is, when you come to Christ and lay hold of salvation by faith, you will be washed. With all the filth washed away, the Lord will plant His holy presence in your life. And in that same instant you will be justified—meaning He declares you righteous. He will credit the full and perfect righteousness of Christ to your account.
That is what the term conversion means, according to Scripture. The Gospel is the instrument of divine power by which God accomplishes that change in a sinner’s life. And no government can ever make any law that will stop the true church from proclaiming the truth that God uses to convert sinners. ©2022 John F. MacArthur
Scripture quotations are taken from The New American Standard Bible 1995.
John MacArthur is the pastor-teacher of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California, and chancellor of The Master’s University and Seminary. His teaching is broadcast internationally through the Grace to You media ministry (gty.org).
Photo: David Torres/Grace To You