We are introduced to the Apostle Paul at the stoning of Stephen. This is before his encounter with Jesus on the Damascus Road and his conversion. In fact, this incident in his life introduces him in Acts, and then tells how he became a persecutor of the church. What is Paul’s role at the stoning of Stephen? “And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul” (Acts 7:58 ESV). Paul isn’t throwing stones at Stephen, but his presence at this scene is sympathetic with those who do. The text then reads, “And Saul approved of his execution” (Acts 8:1 ESV). Paul approves of the murder of Stephen and so participates in the sin by his approval.
Paul uses the same word “approves” in Romans 1:32. In this section of Romans, Paul has described humanity which has failed to acknowledge or give thanks to God. He depicts a downward spiral of wrong behavior, and he concludes the section with a series of sins. We are not really convicted of sin until we are convicted of specific sins. But notice the end of the list.
Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. (Romans 1:32 ESV)
I don’t think we can mistake Paul’s statement. To approve sin is sin
In our current world, the definition of tolerance has changed. It used to be that tolerance involved the ability to kindly disagree. We granted the other freedom of speech and were willing to compete in the marketplace of ideas for the minds of people. The new tolerance means acceptance of other views as true or at least as true as your own. Failure to do that is viewed as being intolerant. Obviously, the person who believes in moral absolutes cannot agree with such a position, but he or she can be tolerant in the older definition of the term.
The first century culture would have accepted Christianity, if only Christians would have recognized the pagan gods as valid ways to truth. Christians couldn’t do this without compromising their faith, and some paid with their lives. We face a similar conflict, although we are long way from the persecution of the first century. Our culture will tolerate a compromised Christianity, one that will acknowledge many ways to truth and the validity of all values. But here’s the rub. To approve sin is sin.
Our goal should be to approve of what God approves and disapprove of what God forbids. We must stand for truth and morality as revealed by God. That approach will be unacceptable to many people in our society, and we must accept the fact that there will be opposition to us. But we must not fall into the trap of approving sin. To approve of sin is sin.
— Russ Holden