The discussion of homosexuality is a deeply personal issue. It is a personal issue because it involves people. And it involves people with whom we deeply care and love. I, like many of you, have close friends and family who openly identify themselves as gay, lesbian or transgender. And if you do not know anyone personally today, the probability is that you will in the very near future. Homosexuality and same-sex marriage have dominated the cultural conversation for the last several years and will continue to steal headlines in the coming years.
What would you say if a close friend or a grandchild came to you and said, “I am struggling with same-sex attraction and I do not know what I should do?” What would you tell him? Would you tell him it is wrong? Or maybe that it is not your place to judge? Or possibly that those desires are not wrong, but are part of who you are and should be celebrated? And what if it wasn’t a close friend or a grandchild, but a lost neighbor who says, “I think someone can practice a homosexual lifestyle and still be a Christian.” What do you tell them? These are the kind of questions our culture is asking and we have to be prepared to know how to answer them.
When someone builds a house, they first must lay the foundation. And only after laying the foundation can the builder frame the house. My prayer is that I will lay the foundation of Christian sexual ethic for all of God’s people and only then frame the conversation specifically in how we can thoughtfully and graciously engage in this sensitive issue. As a pastor, my main goal is for people to find their happy rest and ultimate joy in God. I want people to experience the salvation offered in Jesus Christ. I want everyone to be set apart as one of God’s people.
God’s People Must Pursue Holiness
God’s people have different standards. Eric Wilson has said, “To be human is to be beautifully flawed.” We all know what he means because we all know our flaws. We are very aware of our inner anger, bitterness and jealousy. We know the ugliness and sin in our own hearts. We know our flaws, but to be truly human is not to be flawed. In the beginning God made humans perfect without flaws, but the first man, our forefather Adam, rebelled against God rejecting His rule over his life. Thus, all humanity is under the curse of that rebellion. We all are sinners and need a redeemer. So God sent our redeemer Jesus Christ, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring the cursed to God by becoming cursed for us. After hearing this message in Acts 2 through Peter, the men of Israel, having been cut to the heart, asked Peter what must we do to be saved? He responded,
“Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” (Acts 2:38-39)
Repent and be baptized into Christ Jesus to receive the forgiveness of sins. This promise is offered to everyone whom the Lord calls to himself.
The calling of God is very important for the Christian. Peter uses this same calling language throughout his epistles,
As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:14-16)
And again in his second epistle,
Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 1:10-11)
Peter affirms that the Christian’s behavior confirms their calling to Christ. Their behavior reveals a changed heart and their true devotion to Jesus. As Martin Luther aptly summarized this concept in saying, “We are saved by faith alone, but the faith that saves is never alone.”
There must be a change. And that change must also include one’s sexual ethic. Paul writes to the Thessalonians,
For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you. (1 Thessalonians 4: 3-8)
The people of God must pursue holiness. Paul explicitly states, under the divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit, “This is the will of God for you, your sanctification.” Christians are called to experience sanctification or to be set apart or holy. The Greek word for sanctification in verse 3 is the same word used for holiness in verse 4 and in verse 7.
God’s people must pursue holiness, but how? Holiness is to abstain from sexual immorality, to control one’s own body, for God has not called us to impurity, but to holiness. God solemnly warns us that he will avenge those guilty of sexual immorality. Notice God has not mentioned anything about homosexuality, but has told all his people to pursue purity. The will of God for all people is sanctification. So before we begin the conversation about homosexuality, let us all take the plank out of our own eye before we remove the speck of sawdust in our brother’s. Are you pursuing holiness with your body? Are you avoiding visual sexual immortality on the internet? Are you avoiding written sexual immorality in literature (Fifty Shades of Grey)? Do you speak as aggressively against cohabitation as you do against homosexuality? Do you guard your eyes from sultry television or your ears from risqué music?
One of the biggest problems in the church is that we do not pursue holiness. And our lack of holiness has resulted in a worldly sexual ethic that has permeated the church. According to the Bloomberg.com, 75% of women have lived with their partner without being married by the age of 30. Cohabitation has become a norm in our culture. This trend is one of the reasons why the majority culture has accepted the homosexual position. It is much easier for someone to agree with the sin of others to justify their own sin.
God wants his people pure. Sexual purity is not man-made and oppressive, but a command from our all-wise, all-loving, gracious, heavenly Father. Verse 8, “Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.” We must pursue holiness. Hebrews 12:14, “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” Do not be deceived; God’s people must pursue holiness.
God’s People Must Pursue Grace
We are all going to struggle with sin. And because we will all struggle, we need to remember Paul’s exhortation to the Galatians,
Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:1-2)
Let me make three brief observations. First, when someone is caught in sin they need to be restored, not ignored. Second, they should be restored in a spirit of gentleness. Third, it is our privilege to bear one another’s burdens.
One of the most damaging things for the body of Christ has been the spirit in which we proclaim truth. We must speak gospel truth, but we must speak it in a gospel manner, full of grace and gentleness. The church has not been a safe place for people to share their struggles. It has been a place to experience condemnation. Jesus Christ did not come to condemn the world, but that the world would be saved through him.
Let me ask this, do you feel free to admit your struggles with your fellow members here, or are you afraid to share your burdens? If we are not free to admit our struggles, how can we expect our lost neighbors to share theirs? We have to work to cultivate an atmosphere of grace where we believe in the power of a gently spoken gospel to the sinner.
God’s People Must Pursue Truth
The issue of homosexuality goes far beyond whether someone feels accepted or condemned by the church. We can pursue holiness in our lives and speak with grace, but still can be condemned for believing in the truth. The Christian does not live for the applause of the world, but for the pleasure of an almighty God. I realize I have not yet established that homosexuality is a sin, but it is the clear testimony of Scripture that homosexuality is indeed a sin. Romans 1:18-28,
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.
For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.
Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. (Romans 1:18-28)
This is the longest passage addressing the issue of homosexuality. Let us take a few moments to look at Paul’s main argument.
Paul grounds his argument in the God’s creation. God is the Creator and the Sustainer of everyone and everything. The testimony of creation, both the physical world we see and our inner thoughts we experience, reveals to us the truth. Everyone knows the truth, but does not live by the truth. Instead of obeying the truth written on our hearts and seen in the world, people choose to suppress the truth. When people suppress of the truth, they exchange God’s glory and His way for another. And in response to people’s rejection of His way, God “gives them up” to live the way they want without Him.
God gives them over to their passions and desires because they exchanged the truth for a lie, worshiping the creature rather than the Creator. The argument is not grounded in culture, but in creation. There is the natural order of creation established by God in the beginning and there is an unnatural order that goes against God’s established creation. Paul claims that homosexual desire is unnatural to Creation, verses 26-27,
For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.
Homosexuality is a sin because it is contrary to nature and against God’s clear intent of the creation of male and female.
The proponents in the church for the normalization of homosexuality reject the clear reading of the text and reject what the church has believed about this text for 2,000 years. They argue that Paul is not referring to all homosexual relationships, but only lustful and promiscuous ones. The only way to get to that interpretation is to read it back into the text, rather than read it at face value. Romans 1 is not talking about the type of relationship, but the type of relations. There are natural relations and unnatural relations.
Christians are called to submit to God’s truth. Scripture is our highest authority and helps us interpret our experience in the world. The proponents of homosexuality subvert Scripture under their experience or they suppress the truth in scripture under their own experience. Two individuals may both experience same-sex attraction, but their interpretation of that experience will determine if they are pursuing God’s truth or being true to one’s self. One person has same-sex attraction, but trusts God’s word revealed in Romans 1. He realizes that those desires are unnatural and they must be learned to be kept under control so they can pursue holiness. The other person has same-sex attraction, but interprets those feelings differently. He believes that because he has those feelings, they must be given by God and to deny them would be to deny who they were created to be. And yet, we all have desires that are natural to us, but that are against God’s created world due to our sin nature.
The issue will always be whether people choose to obey God or suppress the truth. As Christians we are called to pursue God’s truth, which means we have to strive to live our lives in line with the God’s Word. The question is, “what are we going to give preeminence in our lives? Will we interpret our actions by God’s Word or merely by our own feelings?
Remember this issue is a deeply personal issue. I am not saying that the struggle will not be difficult. Life in a fallen world is difficult, but as Christians we have to strive to live in light of the Bible. As a church we have to allow people the freedom to wrestle with God and the text. We have to empathize with the struggle. We have to make this a safe place for people to share their struggle while affirming the clear teaching of Scripture. This is true for those who experience same-sex attraction just as it is for those who experience opposite-sex attraction to someone that is not their spouse. We cannot elevate our experience over God’s Word.
God’s People Must Proclaim Truth
If we allow a revisionist interpretation of Romans 1, we will eventually lose the gospel itself. Romans 1:16-17 says,
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” (Romans 1:16-17)
We are not ashamed of the gospel for it has the power to change people’s lives. If we exchange the truth about God for a lie, we will abandon the only power that can save us. The gospel clearly states that we are all sinners. We are full of sinful desires that are contrary to nature, thus God had to come and give us a new nature. This is the promise held out in the gospel. If we would turn from trusting ourselves and our sin to God, He will save us.
This is the message we have to share to those who are struggling with same-sex attraction. God is offering Himself. God wants us to find our joy and our peace in Him. God is not withholding something from those who struggle with same-sex attraction, but is offering them something far better. God’s way, revealed in the creation, is not oppressive, but perfect. True pleasure is not found in following our desires, but in following God. Listen how God desires to reward those who seek Him,
And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. (Hebrews 11:6)
You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (Psalm 16:11)
Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart. (Psalm 37:4)
God wants us to give us far more and far better than our earthly desires. We must proclaim the truth that true and lasting joy is only found in God. Meditate on the lyrics of the great hymn of the faith: Trust and obey, there is no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.
Those of you who want to affirm people’s choice to follow their desires is understandable. It springs from love and acceptance. Although it is driven by compassion and love, it actually turns people away from a far greater joy and happiness than the satisfaction of their desires. In encouraging people to follow their earthly desires, you lead them away from eternal delight. 1 Corinthians 6:9-10,
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.
Do not be deceived; the will of God for our life is sanctification. We must turn from our sin and pursue holiness. And when we do, we allow verse 11 to wash over us like a flood, “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” This is what God offers the world and this is what we must hold out to the world.
It does not matter where we are or what we have done. It does not matter what our past sin is, if we turn to Christ we will be washed, sanctified, and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. If we sacrifice the truth, we sacrifice salvation. Let us not minimize the truth, but maximize for the glory of God. Have you been washed? Have you been sanctified? Have you been justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ? This is a deeply personal issue understood by a deeply personal God who has sent a deeply personal Savior. Trust and obey, there is no other way to happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.
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