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Life Theology

What Do ‘True Christians’ Believe about Homosexuality?

In the aftermath of the Phil Robertson-GQ debacle, one talking head, Wilson Cruz, spokesman for GLAAD (formerly called Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation), ignorantly said this in GLAAD’s statement to Robertson’s comments:

Phil and his family claim to be Christian, but Phil’s lies about an entire community fly in the face of what true Christians believe.

Let me state up-front: the way Robertson stated his position might “fly in the face” of what true Christians believe. His answer was unnecessarily crass. He put an obstacle in the way for people to listen to his perspective. This is not commendable. However, true Christians have always believed that living an unrepentant gay lifestyle is sinful. This is where Cruz is dead-wrong. Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox Christians all agree on this, and they always have. (By the way, so do Muslims, and the Dalai Lama.)

So what specifically do true Christians believe about homosexuality? Cruz, and others, might argue that Jesus never talked about homosexuality. So, he doesn’t condemn it, and neither should Christians like me. This is, in fact, a very popular argument. And a bad one.

Ancient Jewish culture did not celebrate homosexuality like Western culture does today. Though people engaged in homosexual activity, it was labeled as an abomination in the Hebrew Scriptures (Lev. 18:22; cf. 20:13). That did not change between the testaments. Even today, rabbis do not condone the practice. We can be confident there was no Jewish effort in Jesus’ day to get so-called “gay marriage” legalized. In the Gentile pagan culture, people were more apt to practice homosexuality (as is evidenced by Paul’s letters, one of which I will address below). Yet it was never seen as a viable alternative to heterosexual marriage.

When Jesus had the chance to talk about marriage (and thus God’s design for covenant, sexual relationships), how did he talk? Fielding a question about divorce, Jesus said this:

And Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart [Moses] wrote you this commandment [i.e. allowance for divorce]. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” (Mark 10:5-9)

The context is about divorce, but the point is clear enough: marriage was instituted by God from the beginning of creation to be a life-long union between man and woman. For those still waiting to hear the words “homosexuality” out of Jesus’ lips, you won’t hear it. You won’t hear it because, according to Jesus, there’s not a debate to be had. Marriage is for one man and one woman. Case closed.

Paul, speaking and writing authoritatively as an apostle of Jesus did talk about homosexuality:

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:9-10; cf. et al.).

What this means is that homosexuality (and a host of other sins!) are contrary to a gospel-shaped life. Each sin is contrary to the gospel in its own way. Homosexuality is contrary to the gospel because marriage is designed to be a picture of Christ and his Church (Eph. 5:32). When marriage is altered to serve sinful desire, it not only communicates, “Marriage doesn’t matter,” but it assaults the gospel by saying, “The gospel doesn’t matter.” This is why Christians get fired up in the marriage debate. It’s not that marriage in and of itself is the end goal (though some Christians come across that way). Rather, marriage is a picture of something far greater: the gospel! It is a live-action dramatization of the gospel: the husband (illustrating Christ) loves and self-sacrifices; the wife (illustrating the church) respects and defers ultimate leadership to her husband. This is the gospel in action. A Christ-centered marriage will be the best sermon a Christian couple can preach.

What this passage (1 Cor. 6:9-10 above) does not mean is that people who identify as gays and lesbians are “worse sinners” than anyone else. Let me put it simply: a person can be a Christian and have same-sex urges, temptations, and even behaviors just like a person can be a Christian and desire to lie (and engage in lying behaviors) to gain approval from her friends. How can this be? True Christians fight. Christians are people who continually repent of and confess the root cause of their sin and run to Jesus. Christians fight to believe daily the gospel promises that Christ is their new identity, he is their righteousness, his death provided their forgiveness, and he is working in them to change them to look more like himself. No one is immune to sexual temptation and sin, so Christians should stop acting as if same-sex attraction is in the “God-could-never-deal-with-that-sin” category. If the heterosexuals reading this are honest (along with me), we have sexual baggage, too. Christ deals with us in his kindness and calls us away from the lie of our (fill-in-the-blank) sexual temptation toward the fullness he offers us in the gospel. The way Jesus introduced his ministry is what the Christian life is about: “The kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15).

So in this “vice list” in 1 Corinthians 6 (cf. 1 Tim.1:10; Rev. 21:8), Paul is talking about people who find their identity in sin: sexual immorality, idolatry, homosexuality, greed, alcohol, swindling, etc. A 20-something who claims to be a Christian but sleeps with his girlfriend and wastes his days and nights on the XBox and shows no signs of repentance does not find his identity in Christ. He is in the same precarious position as an openly gay or lesbian person who professes faith in Jesus yet fails to acknowledge that homosexuality is contrary to a gospel-shaped life. Both find their identity in something other than Jesus. Both people are suppressing the truth and exchanging the glory of God for created things (Rom. 1:18-23). They may not be true Christians, therefore they should examine themselves to see whether or not they are truly in the faith (2 Cor. 13:5).

A person who finds their identity in Jesus, however, will listen to Jesus’ words. And listening to Jesus’ words means repenting and going to him by grace through faith, rejecting the lies of sin, and fighting to continually believe the promises of the gospel and live in a manner worthy of Jesus.

Categories
Life

A Bigger Vision Than Our Own Holy Huddle

Chances are, you are/were a Boy Scout or know someone who was in Boy Scouts or know someone whose brother was in Boy Scouts. For the past century, Boy Scouts of America (BSA) has shaped the life of thousands of American boys. Now, that may be changing in some Christian circles. Why? Back in May, the Boy Scouts of America changed a 103-year-old policy to allow members and leaders of any sexual orientation.

Christians and other conservatives were astonished, despite the fact that the BSA still maintains “a longstanding policy against any discussions of sexuality within the organization.” People who have generations of Boy Scout blood flowing through their veins have walked away. In response, an alternative scout group was organized and launched earlier this month. Trail Life USA was founded “to be the premier national character development organization for young men which produces Godly and responsible husbands, fathers, and citizens.” The unashamedly Christian group coined the motto, “Walk worthy.”

Many of us are inclined to applaud and say, “Way to stand up for biblical values!” Or, “Thank you for protecting our sons!” Or even, “What a testimony to the truth of God’s design for sexuality!”

And yet I wonder: Who will shine like stars among a crooked generation? Who will proclaim the excellencies of Christ to those who are not yet God’s people? Who will be Christ’s witnesses to the ends of the earth? Who will live radical, holy life as exiles so as to provoke the question, “Where is your hope?”

You see, it is all-to-easy to retreat and start our own Christian version of Boy Scouts or anything else for that matter. There is little support for that kind of vision in the Bible. In fact, I find zero support for it.

What if our went deeper than biblical “values”? What if it aimed higher than security and protection for children? What if our vision was a dangerous and complex one without simple formulas? What if our vision was to image the One who left his sanitary home to live among filthy sinners? What if our vision was to image the One who ate and drank with sinners, not to burden them, but to give them a glimpse of the freedom of grace? What if our vision was to image the One who did not simply call people to repent, but loved them toward repentance. 

This One–Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of God–did not ask for his Father to take his people out of the world (John 17:15). No, he commanded his people to be salt and light in the world. That is very hard to do if you willingly run away from those who actually need salt and light. The apostle Paul was obviously familiar with Jesus’ teaching, for he writes about this very thing in 1 Corinthians 5. He says, “I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people–not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one” (vv. 9-10, emphasis added).

The admonition, then, is not “flee from the gays in the world.” It is, “If a Christian brother (or sister) is not living in accordance with his confession (i.e. not repenting of sin), then you must not allow him to remain in the secure confines of the local church, therefore giving him false assurance that all is well with his soul.”

Creating a holy huddle may produce moral, disciplined, and respectful young men. But it will hardly produce men who know how to relate to lost people and saturate a culture with the gospel. How do I know this? Because I am recovering holy huddle member. Though not as a scout, I lived a life of seclusion and avoidance of “bad people.” During high school and college, I avoided “sinners” like the plague so I would not become like them and because, honestly, I felt uncomfortable around them. Now, as an almost 29-year old pastor, I am unlearning my tendency to avoid messy, sinful, lost people.

You see, the only way we will transform pockets of culture and see people repent of sin and believe in Jesus is if we saturate those pockets with the gospel. Retreating and avoiding will only confirm what non-Christians have believed for years: Christians only want to escape this earth and go to heaven, so they create their own little cultural bomb shelters while they wait for Jesus to return. 

Homosexuality is wrong. Period. No ifs, ands, or buts. But taking your ball and going to another court will not draw the Boy Scouts or anyone else to Jesus. In fact, it will only push them farther away. Have you ever yelled at a blind person for walking into a parked car? Probably not. What did you do? You had compassion on her, walked up to her, grabbed her hand, and tenderly, yet firmly said, “I will show you the way.” The same is true for helping the spiritually blind.

So Christian scouts, if you are reading this, the BSA is full of sinners who need Jesus, just like you. You belong to Jesus. You know Jesus. Declare his excellencies to those who don’t belong to him and don’t know him yet. Do it up close. On their turf. In their troops. It is by no means safe and sanitary. But Jesus’ mission to purchase your redemption was not safe or sanitary either. As his ambassadors, it should not be any different for us.

Categories
Reviews

Review: Is God anti-gay?

Sam Allberry. Is God anti-gay? And other questions about homosexuality, the Bible, and same-sex attraction. United Kingdom: The GoodBook Company, 2013. $7.19 (Amazon). 89 pp.

In the past several months, there have been many frequent and heated conversations about homosexuality. Too many to recount or rehash here, of course. As long as there are people on the earth and sin dwelling in the hearts of those people, the debate will continue.

Thankfully, Sam Allberry, associate minister of St. Mary’s Church in Maidenhead, UK, has contributed to the conversation in a most biblical, thoughtful, compassionate, and helpful way. Allberry’s book, Is God anti-gay? is a part of the “Questions Christians Ask” series being published by the GoodBook Company. While no book can be the “definitive” statement on anything for anyone, Allberry’s book will be a resource Christians can turn to for years to come as they wade their way through the deep waters of the homosexual debate.

The most important thing to know about the book is that its author, Allberry, battles the sin of same-sex attraction (SSA). This changed the game for me as a reader. Allberry is not simply an author penning a response to a distant controversy. He is a front-line warrior in the midst of real battle against sin, fighting to believe God’s word despite what his flesh and the culture tell him. Allberry helpfully noted in the introduction that he is “far more than my sexuality” (7). He writes about another appetite beside his sexual one: he likes to eat meat, but “carnivore” does not express the totality of his identity. This is an incredible insight—one that I have noticed the gay/lesbian community tends to ignore. This needs to be brought up time and again when Christians discuss this issue.

Let me briefly highlight several strengths of the book:

  1. It breathes Bible and Gospel. Allberry is faithful to Scripture. His second chapter on “The Bible and Homosexuality” and a lengthy sidebar on how to interpret Old Testament laws (57-60) pack the punch. The whole book, but these sections especially, rightly interprets what the Bible says about homosexuality. Allberry also plainly shows that the gospel is the only answer for those who are gay and struggle with SSA. Right from the get-go, Allberry sets the tone, “God’s message to gay people is the same as his message for everyone. Repent and believe [in the gospel]” (8).
  2. It puts homosexuality on par with other sins. Allberry is clear: according to the Bible, homosexuality no more condemns a person than adultery, theft, or any other sin. Homosexuality is not in a category all its own. In one of my favorite lines in the whole book, Allberry writes, “In fact, the situation is worse than many people might think. God is opposed to all sexual activity outside of heterosexual marriage.” The larger evangelical community—particularly pastors and those who are politically engaged—would do well to remember this.
  3. It is overwhelmingly compassionate. This book is a far cry from the Christian response of yesteryear to homosexuality. Because homosexuality is not the unpardonable sin, Allberry can live compassionately toward gays and those with SSA.  It helps that Allberry is applying these truths daily to his own life. He goes to great lengths to encourage the reader to love and welcome a gay person without affirming their sin.
  4. It is unapologetically community-oriented. This is not a book that will tell Christians how to turn people from gay to straight. That is not the point, after all. A church’s goal in ministering to gay people is to start “at the center,” that is, with Jesus’ death and resurrection (63). Thus, the point is to help gay people encounter Jesus, primarily through the loving relationships seen and experienced in the church. The church is the place where a gay person, or couple, will “come under the sound of the gospel” (45).
  5. It is intensely practical. Allberry gives good news—gospel—over and over. But he also gives practical guidance for how to help gay people/couples feel welcome in the church, how to respond when a friend reveals he is gay, and how to share the gospel with gay people. We would do well to learn from Allberry’s wisdom here.

In the end, this book is a biblical and pastoral response to the question, “Is God anti-gay?” What is the answer? It is an emphatic, “No,” of course. God is against sin and rebellion—whether of a homosexual or heterosexual nature. The call to rebels one and all is the same: “Repent and believe in Jesus.”

I commend this book to you, your church, your pastor, and any friends you have who are gay or struggle with same-sex attraction. It will be well worth your time and theirs.

Categories
Theology

Rob Bell, Homosexuality, Marriage, and the Gospel

You have probably heard by now that last week Rob Bell approved of so-called gay marriage. This should not be a shock. In fact, it was only a matter of time. In his promo video for Love Wins, he undermined the atonement of Jesus. In the book Love Wins, he preaches a judgment-less gospel. The next obvious progression would the perversion of his morality (i.e. his social morality, not his personal morality). This would especially be true for his view of marriage. If you get the gospel wrong–which Bell has shown he does–you will get marriage wrong.

The problem is that Bell’s a nice guy. He’s cordial and welcoming and a good story teller. You see, no one said that false teachers had to be ruthless and insensitive. People are not going to believe and follow a guy you wouldn’t want to have over for dinner. But a guy like Bell? People get in line because he’s nice.

And he’s nice about the way he talks about relationships. Bell says he is “for marriage…for fidelity.” We all should be. But the kicker is that he is for marriage whether it’s between opposite or same gender couples. Is his conviction wrong simply because the Bible says sex and marriage are reserved for one man and one woman? Well, yes and no. The Bible is clear on marriage, but even more than that, the gospel itself demands we reject so-called gay marriage. Why? Marriage is a reflection of the gospel. A distorted view of the gospel will lead to a distorted view of marriage. A distorted view of marriage reflects a distorted view of the gospel. Bell distorts the gospel, so he will logically distort marriage.

Marriage is meant to be a living drama of Christ’s love for his church. In Ephesians 5, Paul says that marriage is a mystery–not a “riddle” mystery, but a mystery in that the meaning was hidden and only uncovered when the gospel came in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus is the Groom. The Church is the Bride. It’s not Jesus married to Jesus or the Church married to the Church. Man and Women reflect this, and the pattern was established at Creation with Man, the groom, and Woman, the bride (Eph. 5:31; cf. Gen. 2:24). Any perversion of this is an assault on the gospel–on Jesus himself. If there’s any reason evangelicals should be passionate about the marriage debate, that’s it.

Wrong views on justice, hell, wrath, sexuality, marriage, and a thousand other important issues are only symptoms of a greater problem. When Bell rejects marriage as one man and one woman, he rejects the gospel itself, and vice versa. The problem is not primarily thinking so-called gay marriage is acceptable. The problem lies in a fundamental misunderstanding of who Jesus is and what he came to do.

Rob, I doubt you will ever read this or hear of me, but if you do, know I am praying for you.

Related Posts

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Theology

Jesus, Paul, Homosexuality, and Identity

You have heard the argument before—or maybe you have argued this way: “Jesus never talked about homosexuality. So, he doesn’t condemn it.”

It’s an old argument and a tired one. It’s tired because ancient Jewish culture did not celebrate homosexuality like Western culture does today. How do we know? Though people probably engaged in homosexual activity, it was simply known to be wrongIt was labeled as an abomination in the Hebrew Scriptures (Lev. 18:22; cf. 20:13). That did not change between the Testaments. Even today, rabbis do not condone the practice. We can be confident there was no Jewish effort in Jesus’ day to get so-called “gay marriage” enacted as law. In the Gentile pagan culture, however, people were more apt to practice homosexuality (as is evidenced by Paul’s letters, one of which I will address below).

When Jesus had the chance to talk about marriage (and thus God’s design for covenant, sexual relationships), how did he talk? Fielding a question about divorce, Jesus said this:

And Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart [Moses] wrote you this commandment [i.e. allowance for divorce]. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” (Mark 10:5-9)

The context is about divorce, but the point is clear enough: marriage was instituted by God from the beginning of creation to be a life-long union between man and woman. For those still waiting to hear the words “homosexuality” out of Jesus’ lips, you won’t hear it. You won’t hear it because, according to Jesus, there’s not a debate to be had. Marriage is for one man and one woman. Case closed.

Paul, on the other hand, speaking and writing authoritatively as an apostle of Jesus did talk about homosexuality:

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. (1 Cor. 6:9-10, et al.)

What this means is that homosexuality (and a host of other sins!) are contrary to the gospel. Each sin is contrary to the gospel in its own way. Homosexuality is contrary to the gospel because marriage is designed to be a picture of Christ and his Church (Eph. 5:32). When marriage is altered to serve sinful desire, it not only communicates, “Marriage doesn’t matter,” but it essentially tries to falsify the gospel by saying, “The gospel doesn’t matter.” This is why Christians get fired up in the marriage debate. It’s not that marriage in and of itself is the end goal (though, I admit, some Christians come across that way). Rather, marriage is a picture of something far greater: the gospel! It is a live-action dramatization of the gospel: the husband (illustrating Christ) loves and self-sacrifices; the wife (illustrating the church) respects and defers ultimate leadership to her husband. This is the gospel in action. A Christ-centered marriage will be the best sermon a Christian couple can preach.

What this passage (1 Cor. 6:9-10 above) does not mean is that people who identify as gays and lesbians are “worse sinners” than anyone else. Let me put it simply: a person can be a Christian and have same-sex urges, temptations, and even behaviors just like a person can be a Christian and desire to lie (and engage in lying behaviors) to gain approval from her friends. Why can this be? Both people are fighting. Both people are continually repenting of and confessing the root cause of their sin and seeking to cling to Christ by faith. Both of these people fight to believe daily the gospel promises that Christ is their new identity, he is their righteousness, and his death provided their forgiveness. No one is immune to sexual temptation and sin, so Christians should cease acting as if same-sex attraction is in the “God-could-never-deal-with-that-sin” category. If the heterosexuals reading this are honest (along with me), we have sexual baggage, too. Christ deals with us in his kindness and calls us away from the lie of our (fill-in-the-blank) sexual temptation toward  the fullness he offers us in the gospel. The way Jesus introduced his ministry is what the Christian life is about: “The kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15).

So in this “vice list” in 1 Corinthians 6 (cf. 1 Tim.1:10; Rev. 21:8), Paul is talking about people who find their identity in sin: sexual immorality, idolatry, homosexuality, greed, alcohol, swindling, etc. A 20-something who claims to be a Christian but sleeps with his girlfriend and wastes his days and nights on the XBox and shows no signs of repentance does not find his identity in Christ. He is in the same precarious position as an openly gay or lesbian person who professes faith in Jesus yet fails to acknowledge that homosexuality is contrary to a gospel-shaped life. Both find their identity in something other than Jesus. Both people are suppressing the truth and exchanging the glory of God for created things (Rom. 1:18-23). They may not be true Christians, therefore they should examine themselves to see whether or not they are truly in the faith (2 Cor. 13:5).

A person who finds their identity in Jesus, however, will listen to Jesus’ words.. And listening to Jesus’ words means repenting and going to him by grace through faith, rejecting the lies of sin and fighting to continually believe the promises of the gospel.