Gender, Sexuality, and the Gospel (Part 3)

In my previous post on gender, sexuality, and the gospel, I wrote about three gospel principles/themes that come up in 1 Peter for Christians living in a culture largely opposed to Christianity. Based on those principles, in this last post, let me propose five basic ways we can engage our culture on the issues of gender and sexuality in a loving, wise, and winsome way.

Be Salt and Light
We were never called to redeem culture or create a Christian colony. We are called to be salt and light in a dying and dark world (Matt. 5:13-16). So Jesus, not politics, is ultimate. If we are salt and light, we not only have the opportunity and calling to tell the better story (my first post), but to live it. The simple truth is the Western church has not been exemplary in terms of sexual purity and marital health. We must do a better job of modeling what the gospel does to marriage, parenting, and singleness.

Being salt and light also means we must be vulnerable with our own sexual, relational, and gender brokenness. We can show people what we have been redeemed from to get the spotlight off of specific sins (i.e. homosexuality) and onto Jesus. Finally, being salt and light means we seek people’s reconciliation. To do this we must listen, ask questions, and sincerely thank people for sharing when they share intimate personal stories about their sexuality. This will earn us the right to have the harder conversations in the future and, hopefully, lead people to Jesus.

Focus on Root, not Fruit 
If your LGBT neighbor or friend talks to you about gender or sexuality and you go right after their specific sin then you only reinforce what they believe about their identity. You are agreeing with them that, in their totality, they are this gender or that or this orientation or that. And when you do this, you are only going after the fruit their life is producing. But we must go after the root.

What do I mean? The human problem is a worship problem. We sin because we are sinners. Thus we do not simply do bad things; there is something fundamentally wrong with us. We are bad. Romans 1—a chapter that zeros-in on homosexuality—makes it clear that we are all exchangers of true glory for false glory. It doesn’t matter if I am a heterosexual sinner or a homosexual sinner. Sin—the condition that inclines me to self and away from God—makes us worship something other than Jesus. That is the main problem of our LGBT friends. In the words of Rosaria Butterfield, a former lesbian turned Christian and pastor’s wife, “Don’t assume that the worst sin in your gay and lesbian neighbors is their sexuality. It is unbelief.”

Listen to and Challenge Cultural Narratives
Cultural narratives are stories that society tells that are assumed to be true but are actually myths. If we are going to persuade people that the gospel tells a better story than the culture, then we must show how the Bible intersects them but offers something far more meaningful and satisfying. In his recent book Preaching, Tim Keller lists several cultural narratives. I’ll summarize the two most applicable ones as they relate to gender and sexuality.

  • Identity narrative (“Be true to yourself”). This narrative tells us that being yourself is the ultimate virtue. The problem? No one is truly him/herself because of their independent, inner feelings. We are all products of our social environment. And if we are slaves to the changing tides of culture, we will never be be satisfied with ourselves. We will always be striving to achieve and become what we think (or others think) we should be. This is exhausting. The gospel, however, gives us a new identity in Christ, one that is received, not earned.
  • Society narrative (“It’s your choice”). This narrative tells us that individual choice is best for society. In this storyline, freedom means freedom from constraints. “I can do whatever I want,” is the mantra. Intolerance is the only sin in this storyline. The problem? Society actually cannot flourish unless people surrender their rights and personal choices. Furthermore, self-created meanings based on my “choice” are actually very selfish and intolerant of other people’s choices. The gospel, however, shows us that we become free when we submit to Christ who gave up his freedom and died in our place, thus giving us the power and motivation to sacrifice for others. 

So listen for these, and tell people the true and better story.

Be a Triage for the Wounded Refugees
If Holy Spirit is moving—and he always is—then we are going to see lost children leave the far country to come home. The church must be prepared to deal with people who leave the LGBT lifestyle. This also means that we must be prepared to give people room to struggle with same-sex attraction as they seek to understand Jesus. Yet for those who are ready or are already following Christ, while we must be prepared for people to struggle with their sexuality, we also must call them deny themselves and carry their cross. Whoever follows Jesus must surrender everything to him.

Know Where the True Battle Lies
Finally, we fail if we see people in LGBT community as our enemies—at least, our ultimate enemies. In some sense, people who oppose Jesus are our enemies. But the gospel gives us the power to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. And the gospel is also the only power to make enemies our beloved friends in Christ. Ultimately, our battle is not against flesh and blood but against spiritual forces in the heavenly places. And those forces have been defeated through the cross. We must pray and engage our neighbors knowing this reality.


Gender, Sexuality, and the Gospel (Part 2)

In this second post on gender and sexuality, I want to address what gospel-driven and Scripture-based principles give us a foundation for practicing a life of love and truth in the midst of cultural opposition when it comes to gender and sexuality (and many other issues, mind you). The general culture is quickly becoming more and more hostile to Christianity. While people’s values (i.e. what their heart truly loves and desires) in the culture have always varied and, typically, been opposed to the gospel, the norms (i.e. accepted behaviors) have not. We have had Christian norms for many decades. How do we respond now that our culture is not as favorable to Christian norms as it once was?

Our current cultural situation gives Christians an opportunity to not just tell a better story of gender and sexuality (that was the point of my first post), but to live a better story. To do this, we need to listen to a first century pastor who wrote to his beloved churches when they lived in a time of fierce opposition (much more fierce than what we are experiencing today). The pastors name is Peter, and his first epistle is all about holiness, submission, and suffering. It’s as instructive for us in the 21st century as it was for Christians in the first century.

There are probably dozens of themes and principles we can extrapolate from this letter which would help us develop wise and winsome gospel-centered practices. But I’ll pull out just three of them. 

  1. Holiness in exile. Peter shows his readers that the gospel makes you a new people who live in a new way (1 Pet. 1:15). Because we have been saved by a holy God, we are called to live exemplary lives even while we are surrounded by people who are not following and obeying God.
  2. Submission in suffering. Peter shows his readers that the gospel frees you to model the submission of Christ and suffer with him because you are the people of a better nation (1 Pet. 2:1-12, 13-17). Even if human governments do not honor God, we are still called to honor the government. This doesn’t mean we disobey God, of course. But it means that even in suffering, we are called to submit, not disparage, slander, or overthrow our leaders.
  3. Expect trials and respond graciously. Peter shows his readers that the gospel reveals that if we belong to Christ, we should expect suffering and be gentle and respectful of opponents (1 Pet. 3:8-22; 4:12-19). In Peter’s words, it is not strange when hard things come! What is strange is that biblical norms were accepted for so long.  We should have expected the kinds of things we are seeing in the culture to have happened much sooner than they did. And while this decline happens and continues to worsen, our job is not necessarily to change the circumstances but point people to true hope in Jesus.

If these truths sink down deep it will lead to a radically different way of approaching the issues of gender and sexuality and, more importantly relating to the people who hold views which are at odds with the Scriptures. That will be our final post.


Gender, Sexuality, and the Gospel (Part 1)

Over the next week, I’m going to write three posts addressing gender and sexuality through the lens of the gospel. In this first post, I want to provide an overarching biblical vision for gender and sexuality that will help explain why Christians believe what they believe about these issues.

Why do Christians believe that transgenderism and same-sex relationships (and marriage) are wrong? It goes beyond “proof-texting,” meaning, this is about more than a couple isolated verses here and there in the Bible. Yes, there is Leviticus 18 and Romans 1 and others. The text of Scripture is clear (even non-Christian scholars agree).However, the biblical vision for gender and sexuality is just that: a vision. it is an entire narrative that is woven throughout the fabric of the Bible. It’s a picture of the good life, the life God intended for us.

The Bible is, first and most of all, a story. It’s a story of God’s creation and, consequently, his redemption of that creation. In the beginning, when God created the universe (Gen. 1-2), what we see is that God has designed the world to work in complementary pairs. He makes light and darkness, water and land, night and day, evening and morning, and so on, finally culminating in the creation of mankind as male and female. And the beautiful union that happens between male and female constitutes marriage. So we see that from the very beginning, gender and sexuality were designed by God to be complementary, not uniform.  

As the biblical story continues, what we come to find out is that the male-female union is a reaffirmation of the goodness of creation and a living parable of God’s intention for gender, sexuality, and, consequently, marriage. Ultimately, the complementarian nature of each gender and the male-female union are signposts for how God relates to his people. We see this foreshadowed in Hosea and the Song of Songs in the Old Testament and fully revealed in Ephesians 5 in the New Testament. God does not use our gender, sexuality, and marriage as an analogy of his relationship with humans because it’s convenient. It’s not like God said, “Hey, marriage seems to be a hit with them, so I’ll use that as an analogy.” No, God created and designed gender, sexuality, and marriage with the express purpose in mind that it would point to to the relationship of God with his people through Jesus. That’s the ultimate marriage. That’s why gender and sexuality matter. 

Now when we get to the end of the story in Revelation 21, what we come to see is that the New Jerusalem comes down out of heaven. And what does it come looking like? As a bride adorned for her husband. This Bride, the Church, is prepared and given to her Husband, Jesus Christ. On that day, everything God has planned and Christ accomplished will be made consummate. Thus our gender and sexuality and marriages are pictures of an ultimate reality—something that has happened in Jesus and something that Jesus will finalize when he returns. 

It’s clear then that what Christians believe about gender and sexuality go far beyond a few verses here and there. It’s a whole narrative that’s showcasing the beautiful vision God has for his people, our life together, and our life with him. 


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.


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.