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How Are We to Respond?
Tough Stuff 2015
Do you know how many people live in the US? There are 319 million people. If you had to guess what percentage of the US population is homosexual, what would you say? In 2011, best estimates put homosexuals in the US at 1.7%, those who identify as bisexuals at 1.8%, another 8.2% who have engaged in homosexual sex at some point but do not identify as homosexual or bisexual, and transgender at 0.3%.
In 2012, Gallup did the largest poll ever of 121,000 people. This poll concluded that about 3.4% of America is gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender–slightly less than the estimate in 2011. Interestingly, the vast majority of the LGBT were aged 18 to 29, at 6.4% of respondents. In the first four months of 2015, Gallup did another poll of 58,000 people. The number was 3.8%, quite similar to the study three years previous. So population-wise, we’re looking at 2% gay and 2% bisexual, with a very small number of transgender, and about 11% of people said they have experienced some form of SSA.
Now my hunch is that your guess was way higher than the actual numbers–am I right? We see a lot about homosexuality in the news, on TV and in movies. It’s showing up in books and magazines. And we all know someone. Yet we also live in California. Right now, being gay has become cool. From Glee to The Imitation Game, gay characters appear regularly in movies and TV–Christians less so, though our percentages may be close to equal.
In fact, you have to watch something like Eddie Roman’s new film, Audacity, to see Christians engaging with homosexuals. In pop culture and in the news, Christians are usually portrayed as love-less and harsh. It’s not an undeserved reputation. So what are we to do? On Facebook, many profiles are flying a rainbow flag. On car bumpers and social media, the “Love Wins” slogan is visible. What are we as Christians to do?
We know that homosexuality is sinful–that is the clear teaching of the Scripture from Genesis 1 to Revelation 22. Yet churches and pastors are regularly embracing homosexuality as compatible with Scripture. How are we to respond to all this? The Bible must drive our beliefs. We spent last week talking all about what the Bible teaches about homosexuality. Ultimately, you have to decide–what is the authority in your life? How do you know what is true? Is it rooted in what our nation accepts and approves of? Is it grounded in your own feelings about what’s right and wrong, and true and false? Is it dependent right now on what someone else tells you, whether that’s your spouse, or your parents, or me? Is it based on what the majority of scientists tell you that we can know for sure? Do you accept what the Bible has plainly said, or is there another higher authority?
There are plenty of professing Christians that are comfortable with placing something else over the Bible, as the ultimate judge of what’s true and not. I am not one of them. FBC is not that kind of church. We believe that the Bible must drive our beliefs. The Word of God is the ultimate authority for our lives. Second Peter 1:3 says, “His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence.”
John 17:17, “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.” We are to be people of the book. Here in John 17, Jesus is praying that you would be sanctified/set apart/made holy by God’s Word–that it would drive your beliefs and your lifestyle. The Bible must drive our beliefs. So we must agree with God that homosexuality is sin–that He is not okay with it. The Bible must drive our response, and we often get this part wrong.
On the pendulum of grace and truth, we often swing heavy on one side. Truth becomes condemnation and wrath. Grace can become love and tolerance. You may be inclined to act like Westboro Baptist and hate everyone. Or you may act more like a Unitarian and just accept everybody. Jesus fell to neither of these extremes. John 1:14, “The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us . . . full of grace and truth.” This is what we aim for–to be full of grace and truth. To be amazingly loving and yet never compromising. This is your goal as a Christian. This is our target as a church. And we’ve declared the truth about homosexuality last week and today. It is a sin for which Christ died, a distortion of God’s design for relationships. And we need to declare more grace.
As a church, we should confess that we have often lacked love for homosexuals, and made the church more difficult for those who have same-sex attractions. I became a Christian in 1991, twenty-five years ago. In that time, I have heard condemnation of homosexuality without any offer of gospel hope. I have heard and told jokes with homosexuality as the target. There have been expectations for homosexuals that their sexuality would flip like a light switch. We have often created a culture of silence for those who are struggling. We have unintentionally cultivated a fear of man within the church, even more than God, so that some of you don’t talk about your struggles and temptations because you don’t know how people will respond. And now there are men who fear close relationships with other men, simply due to perception. These things need to change. We need to uphold grace and truth together. This happens by first acknowledging that . . .
a) Homosexuality is sin, and Christ died for it
We talked last week about how clear God’s Word is that homosexuality is sin. People may try to reinterpret the sinfulness of homosexuality and say that modern practices are distinct from what the Bible describes. But even non-Christians read the Bible and agree with the plain meaning of the text. They don’t accept it as true, but they do understand what’s written. A homosexual lifestyle is sinful. That’s the truth.
But we also need the grace to say that homosexuality is part of why Jesus came to die. It is not just why He is coming to judge. It is also why He came to die. First Timothy 1:15, “It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners.” Jesus came into the world to live a perfect life of righteousness that you never could. He came to reconcile us to God–you and me when we were haters of God. Heterosexual and homosexual who were His enemies. Though completely sinless, He was put to death on the cross and bore the wrath of God for the sins of everyone who would ever hope in Him. So the first part of our response as Christians must be acknowledging that homosexuality is a sinful distortion of God’s creation, and that it is something for which Jesus came into the world to redeem.
Now it’s pointed out that Christians seem awful comfortable with divorce and gluttony, to be calling out the sin of homosexuality–and it is true. We are wrong to be comfortable with divorce, gluttony, unrighteous anger, worry, and being entertained by movies that glamorize sins for which Christ died. We need to be holy people, distinct from the world and culture around us. We need to be uncomfortable with respectable sins that others think are okay. But our neglect to deal seriously with certain sins doesn’t mean that every other sin also gets a pass. We need to speak and live in such a way that demonstrates we take the whole Bible seriously.
If Jeanette is constantly worrying and anxious, which is sin, then does that mean that she shouldn’t speak to her son who is addicted to painkillers? No! She needs to confess her sin AND speak the truth to her son. No sin is acceptable to God. Yet every sin is forgivable through the life and death of Jesus Christ. We all need mercy from the throne of grace.
In the news last week were Timothy Dreyer and Steven Pete. Dreyer is one of about 100 in the world who has super-dense bones that are very, very difficult to break. Pete is one of less than 50 in the world who cannot feel pain at all–nails, glass, burns, etc. Both have rare DNA that is being studied and analyzed to learn from it. They were both born this way. And that is the argument of some homosexuals–they were born this way. Or rather, God made me this way, so who are you to say it’s wrong? If you hear this, let me help you know how to respond.
There is currently no known genetic link to sexual identity, but even if there was–homosexuality is sinful. And Jesus died to free you from it. Genetics never trumps God’s revealed will. He has revealed what is true in the Bible—and that truth rules over everything else we learn. And nobody really believes that genetic predispositions remove your own responsibility. For example, it’s known that genetically, some people will be more bent towards alcohol and alcoholism. But that doesn’t mean that their drunkenness is now okay or acceptable to God. The nymphomaniac and the manic depressive both may have genetic predispositions towards certain feelings. But that doesn’t free them to act out however they feel, or to think that God will overlook their sins because they were born this way.
Homosexuality is sin. If we say that it is not, then you cannot trust anything in the Bible. You have done away with all biblical clarity and authority. You can continue to believe sound doctrine, but it has no genuine mooring. If you stand above the text, then you can make it mean whatever you want. Homosexuality is sin, but no sin is unforgivable except rejecting Christ.
Here’s the one thing you have to remember when talking to a non-Christian. Are you ready? They need Jesus. At summer camp, the unsaved boy doesn’t need a lecture about the message of his T-shirt. The unsaved girl doesn’t need a modesty talk. They need Jesus. When you’re talking to a non-Christian, it doesn’t matter if they are a homosexual or part of the Tea Party. They need to understand and put their hope in the Gospel.
This means understanding that there is a God who created all things. He made you to worship Him, and you have worshiped everything but Him. Since your birth, you have rebelled against Him, which is what sin is. Though you’ve done good things, they’ve all been tainted by self-interest and self-glory.
But because the Creator loves you, He sent His Son Jesus to Earth. He came as a man two thousand years ago. He was God, come as a perfect man, never sinning. And He was put to death by the plan of God and the schemes of man, so that He could bear the wrath of God for the sins of every person who would ever believe in Him. Jesus paid the punishment from God that you deserve. He died on the cross, was buried and then rose from the dead on the third day to demonstrate His power over death. This is what the Bible testifies to.
And it says that if you confess your sins to God and put all your hope in Jesus, that you will be completely forgiven and reconciled to the one who created you. His Spirit will come into your life and radically remake you. He will change your heart and He will change your behavior–all to get you ready for life in Heaven with God. That is the truth of the Gospel. That is the deepest need of every man and woman–Democrat, Republican and Libertarian alike. That is the starting point of every conversation.
Now because many more people experience some form of same-sex attraction than those who identify as homosexual, let me begin by speaking to the least active. So what do you do if you are a Christian and you experience same-sex attraction? First, don’t confuse solid friendship with attraction. You can have amazing relationships that are non-sexual. First Samuel 18:1, “Now it came about when he [David] had finished speaking to Saul, that the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as himself.”
In many countries I have traveled in, you will see two men walking down the street holding hands–and they are not gay. In Russia, you will see men give one another a full kiss on the lips–and they are not gay. The message of our culture is that relationships always move towards sexual-ness. The message of Scripture and the norm for most of the world is something different. It is possible to have a deep love for someone else that is not sexual. I say that because some people who wrestle with same-sex attraction feel that way due to the amazing relationships they have with someone of the same sex. And I want you to know that you don’t have to sexualize a friendship. Don’t confuse solid friendship with romantic attraction.
I know that’s not everyone, but it is what happens to some. And so don’t get weirded out if you see two guys who are close friends. And don’t be surprised if you do get asked about that close friendship you have. Now for those whose attraction has moved to desire or to lust or even to action . . .
b) Change is possible–your struggle may be ongoing
I’m betting that some of you enjoy wine. But can we agree that every 6-year-old thinks wine is universally disgusting? Even you wine lovers–your tastes progressively changed. Some of you grew up listening to classic rock, but now sometimes you actually enjoy reggae. Some of you grew up in a household that spoke Spanish and English, but now you barely remember any Spanish. And others have picked up a third language.
We all change over time. Few women can get into their wedding dress twenty years later. Fewer men can put on their high school team uniform even ten years afterwards. You show up to your high school reunion and many people look and act way different than you remember them.
In our church, there are adulterers who are now faithful. In our church, there are people who’ve had severely dark days, but now feel hopeful. Sitting around you, there are cheaters and liars and abusers and addicts–but God has changed them. It hasn’t been easy for them. It doesn’t mean they don’t have hard days. But change is possible–even for homosexuality. In 2001, the United States Surgeon General David Satcher issued a report stating that “there is no valid scientific evidence that sexual orientation can be changed.” God’s Word says something entirely different. God promises that you can change. You. Can. Change.
Last week, we read 1 Corinthians 6:9 to 10, but we didn’t get to the best part—verse 11. “Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, 10 nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 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.” This is the BEST!
Despite what science says, God is more powerful. You can change–God’s Word says it. The testimony of those around you today demonstrates it. You can read about one woman who did in Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert, by Rosaria Butterfield. An activist lesbian was saved by the gracious witness of a pastor and his wife over the span of about three years. Some years after that, she found herself falling in love with a man–a man headed into ministry, and she is now married with kids. That could be your story–but it might not be.
Sam Allberry has written a great little book called, Is God Anti-Gay? He is a single male who is attracted to other men. He is also a pastor who advocates and believes everything we have taught last week and this week. Though he has prayed that God would change his desires–for many years since his conversion to Christ, he remains attracted to the same sex. He believes that change is possible, but for him it may be a lifelong process.
At a church in the northwest I served at, I saw many people come to Christ and be transformed. And it was interesting–one man’s tongue was instantly transformed, suddenly free of foul language. But lust towards women remained a battle for him. Another single man’s lust for women was radically altered so that he didn’t struggle with porn or sexual lust. But an unhealthy desire to earn lots of money remained strong. Another man saw almost nothing change right away, but progressively over time, his thoughts and actions have become more and more like Christ’s so that his past is barely recognizable.
When you are saved, God may radically change you, or He may progressively change you, or He may have you fight that sinful temptation for the rest of your life. Change is possible, but your struggle may be ongoing. I don’t know what God has planned for you. I can say that reparative therapy is not the solution–that is counseling and therapy that seeks to change the attractional desires of an individual through psychology, social pressure, behavior modification and aversive treatment.
So understand–God’s Word does not advocate solutions like the world offers. It simply says that God will change His children. Romans 6:22, “But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life.” The means are surprisingly simple. Second Thessalonians 2:13, “But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and faith in the truth.” Sanctification (life-change) happens by the work of the Holy Spirit in your life. And it happens as you have faith in the truth of God’s Word.
No matter the causation of homosexuality–hormonal, developmental, genetic, social, cultural, environmental, experiential . . . God’s word is clear that it is both sinful and changeable. Whether you are predisposed towards alcohol or people of the same gender, the innate desire doesn’t grant you a free pass on obedience. First Thessalonians 4:3, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality.”
The lie of our culture ties your identity to your sexuality. You cannot be a happy single if you have unfulfilled sexual urges. You cannot have a healthy marriage if you do not have good sex. You cannot live with joy if your sexual desires are left unfulfilled. Our UC campuses now ask incoming students what gender they most identify with. Your identity is tied to your sexuality. This makes far too great a deal of your sexuality. Who you are is not defined by what your sexual desires are. If sex defines your joy and your sorrow each day–if the acceptance of your sexual desires is a high priority to you . . . and that could be in your bedroom with your spouse. Then your sexual identity has likely surpassed your Christian identity.
Your sexuality is not like your ethnicity. Guys–a tragic accident can leave you a eunuch, but it cannot make you a Jamaican. Hormones can radically alter your affections, but despite what Rachel Dolezal says, a white girl cannot become black. Your sexuality is not your identity. And even your ethnicity is not to be your identity. God’s desire is for “follower of Christ” to be your identity.
God’s desire is not for you to be single. This is not a message of mere abstinence. God’s desire is not for you to be married. This is not a message of heterosexual marriage. God’s desire is for you to be more satisfied with Him than with any relationship this world can offer. Get this–in the future, what eventually awaits you is not your friends, family and loved ones. What awaits you is life with Him or life without Him–that is going to be how joy and despair are defined.
As pleasing as sex is now, it is a pale shadow of the joy awaiting you. He did not make you for loneliness, but He did not make you for sex either. He made you to enjoy Him. Can you be concerned and satisfied by Him alone? That is a question for homosexual and heterosexual alike. That is a question for singles and marrieds. Can you be concerned and satisfied by God alone? Maybe God will change you.
There are many Christians who have led active homosexual lifestyles, who were saved by Christ and progressively sanctified. They moved from active homosexual to celibate Christian, and over the years found their own hearts changing to appreciate and eventually love someone of the opposite sex. There are other Christians who have chosen a life of singleness because their desires for the same sex haven’t changed.
God may change you–He can and He does. But He may not. Can you be satisfied by Him alone? He is more satisfying than anything else. That is the unified message of the Bible. Psalm 16:11, “In Your presence is fullness of joy; in Your right hand there are pleasures forever.” Do you believe this? This is the message we must present to every homosexual and to every heterosexual. This is the message that every person who struggles with same-sex attraction must embrace. And because that is so contrary to our culture now . . .
c) Persecution is likely–our current peace is unusual and atypical
In the 1700s and 1800s and early 1900s, the US had war internal and at its borders. It is only since WWI that we have been free of armed conflict nationally. Looking at the broad scope of history, the peace we experience right now is unusual. One of the aims of our country’s founding settlements was freedom from state religion. They sought that because most countries do not experience religious freedom. Historically, the present peacefulness that we live in culturally, socially, governmentally is unusual.
Nowhere in Scripture are Christians promised to live in a place where they have freedom of speech, freedom of worship, etc. In fact, we’re almost promised the opposite. Second Timothy 3:12 says, “All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” Persecution for our faith is what is promised in Scripture. For a long time, Christians in America have struggled to identify what persecution looks like in their own lives. We can read Voice of the Martyrs and get a sense for what persecution looks like in other parts of the world, but here it seemed rather safe.
We would tend to define persecution as being passed over at work, being excluded from popularity at school, being slandered and gossiped about by others. And those are forms of persecution. They reveal the enmity of the world, how they hate us. But storm clouds are gathering and greater forms of persecution seem to be drawing near. Jesus promised this in John 15:19 to 20, “’If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you. 20 Remember the word that I said to you, “A slave is not greater than his master.” If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you.’”
So get ready–you will need to stand firm. Gay rights is just an opening skirmish in a greater battle. Will you stand firm for Christ in the days ahead? Will you uphold what the Word of God plainly states, even when it goes against our nation? You may say that you won’t deny Him, but will you instead compromise the authority of Scripture? Separation of church and state, the right to vote, even freedom of speech–it is all granted and revocable. We are not owed anything.
The more that our culture veers away from Christian morality, the more unacceptable your faith and hope in Jesus will become. You will be told that you are on the wrong side of history, that you will regret adhering to such hateful beliefs. And I am not just saying this to the heterosexuals here. If you put to death your desires for the same sex, you will also experience opposition and persecution. If you talk openly and transparently about your desire for others of the same gender, and then talk about the greater desire you have for Christ that restrains you from action, you will be persecuted. But the promise of Scripture is that Jesus will return and we will ultimately triumph. Amen?
This means that right now, the decline of morality is Gospel opportunity! Marriage is not the ultimate battleground. Our enemies are not the men and women who appear to be destroying it. The battleground is the Gospel. The way to transform a city or a culture is not by laws that force compliance with our moral code. People need Jesus, not a new set of morals. Our mission is evangelism. Our mission is conversion.
Do not be content to vote and to oppose legislation. Do not be satisfied by your personal support of Christian businesses. Those are good and fine things–but they do not change people. Be careful not to replace patience, love, prayer and faithful Gospel witness with bitterness, and hatred, and politics and social activism. First Peter 3:13 to 16, “Who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled, 15 but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; 16 and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame.”
This is your charge. This is the passage to have in your heart. Even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. Be “ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account . . . with gentleness and reverence.” Live in such a way that those who slander you will be put to shame. In 197 AD, Tertullian was a relatively new Christian, trained in Roman law, writing to the emperor to plead that Christianity was not subversive to the Empire. As part of his argument he says, “The blood of martyrs is the seed of the church.” The more you attack us, the more we grow. This is the truth that 1 Peter bears. We need a wartime mentality.
This is not our home. Life is not about our comfort. Christ is returning–He is our King, and we are living in a foreign land. God was not caught off-guard on June 26 when SCOTUS provided constitutional protection to gay marriage. This change will further separate the wicked from the righteous. As persecution increases, false professions of faith will grow fewer and fewer. The Church will be increasingly filled with people whose only hope is in Jesus Christ. A Christian marriage will look all the more unusual and distinct from the world around us. A Christian who lives in holiness and righteousness is going to look crazy different from the world around them.
Just pretend you know Jerry. He makes a high 5-figure income. He doesn’t have a boat or a dirt bike. He drives a Honda Accord. He exercises three times a week, and isn’t addicted to Pepsi or Starbucks. He gives regularly to church, and spends a week of vacation each summer on a missions trip. He’s been married for about 23 years so far, and he doesn’t look at porn ever. About once a month Jerry finds an opportunity to share the Gospel with somebody at work. With that simple life, do you realize how crazy different Jerry is from the world around him?
The worse our culture goes, the more radical your normal life is going to look as you follow Jesus. Our students already feel this–it is difficult to live as a Christian in Junior High and High School. The pressure to compromise your faith is always there. The pressure to compromise sexually is always there. The pressure to remain silent is always there.
Too many families are isolating themselves from the world around us. We are called to be distinct—not invisible! Have you ever seen a gay pride parade? Just picture whatever part of it you remember. They show us in a very distorted way what it means to live distinctly. There is no apparent fear of man. There is no cloak of invisibility. They let shine who they really are. Can you be so bold? Can you fear God more than men? Can you stand firm in your faith without hiding in the foothills of Montana?
The core issue of our nation is not gay marriage. It is not about sexual politics or gender politics. The core issue that Romans 1 identifies is pride. A love for creation has supplanted a love for the Creator. The rejection of God has become manifest in a rejection of God’s design. We see this in the exchange of natural relations for unnatural.
Our country is declining, but every country in the history of the world does. God will use it for his glory. It will not be surprising to hear of Christians losing their jobs, their businesses and their homes. Judges and clerks will quit when asked to marry those who they cannot. Executive officers will be forced out for their views. Small business owners will be sued. And eventually, we may find that some of us are imprisoned for our failure to bow down.
Philippians 1:27 to 29, “Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I will hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel; 28 in no way alarmed by your opponents—which is a sign of destruction for them, but of salvation for you, and that too, from God. 29 For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake.”