June 13, 2013

Beautiful Truth: How should Christians respond to homosexuality?

What happened to me posting more often?

When I first began putting together these thoughts, one of the top news headlines was the story of NBA player Jason Collins "coming out of the closet", announcing to the world that he is gay. The responses to this were, of course, varied. There were many who applauded his "courage", many who shrieked in disgust- others simply shrugging their shoulders and saying, "Who cares?" What I would like to do is examine each of these responses in light the Apostle Paul's letter to the 1st Century Roman church, and conclude by presenting what I believe ought to be the Christian response homosexuality.

Romans 1:25-27, 32
"They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshipped and served created things rather than the Creator-who is forever praised. Amen. Because of this God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion…
Although they know God's righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them."

Paul is very clear in his Romans, as the Bible is elsewhere, that homosexuality is a practice both condemned by God and worthy of His just wrath. There is a reason for this. Verse 25 says that our shameful lusts and desires stem from a rejection of God and substituting created things in His place. The rejection of God's truth in favor of lies gets at the very heart of what is meant by the Biblical term "sin."

It is important to note at this point that rejecting God is not only a damnable thing, it is also something of which we are all guilty (Rom 3:12, 5:12). God consistently characterizes such rebellion in sexual metaphor, referring to sin as whoring or prostitution (perhaps most notable in Ezekiel 16 where the terms "prostitute" or "prostitution" occur 13 times, along with other similar metaphors). Is it any wonder then that God, in His justice, would allow such spiritual whoring to play itself out in physical sexual sin? No. Homosexuality is simply a natural out working of rejecting God and His authority over all things, including our bodies. For the Christian, this means two things. One, we ought not to celebrate sin. Verse 32 of Romans one makes clear that God is just as upset about us approving of sin as He is about the committing of said sin. Both are results of rejecting Him. Secondly, we cannot simply brush it off with a "live and let live" or "who cares" mentality. Such passivity implies that we do not care about the sin of others. This is completely incompatible with a Christian mindset. Rather, we are to be compelled by the love of God, displayed to us in the Gospel, to share His love and truth with others. The good news of a God who cleanses sinners from their sin drives us to share the news of this forgiveness with those who need it. This will include recognizing and addressing their sin, not sweeping it under the rug or ignoring it.
Now, some folks may think they have this down. "Of course", they say, "Homosexuality is a sin, an abomination even. Look at Sodom and Gomorrah." This is a classic case of correct facts needing a clearer lens. This attitude presents an even greater danger that we may fall into. It is the pitfall of creating a special category of sin that only homosexuals fall into. This takes various forms in its outworking, from the person who posts angry social media updates about "the gays ruining America", to the extremes of a man holding a sign that says "God hates fags". Or it could be as simple as dropping a friendship when you find out someone is struggling with same sex attraction.
This is a wrong response. The inclination to call sin by its rightful name is good and necessary, especially in our culture that loves to blur the lines of right and wrong. But to do so in a way that emboldens other sins (such as our own pride) or misrepresents God and His word (which says He loved all sinners enough to die for them), is at very best, a misguided response. Why is it misguided? Because Paul makes no distinction between this sin and a number of others that are more "acceptable" in Christian circles.

Romans 1:28-31
"Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, He gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful. They invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless."

When is the last time you posted a Facebook status decrying the destructive effects of envy? Or tweeted the dangers of raising disobedient children? Paul places those on the same level as homosexual sin. Concluding his chapter on sexual morality in his classic book, "Mere Christianity", CS Lewis states this:
"I want to make it as clear as I possible can that the centre of Christian morality is not here. If anyone thinks that Christians regard unchastity as the supreme vice, he is quite wrong…All the worst pleasures are purely spiritual: the pleasure of putting other people in the wrong, of bossing and patronizing and spoiling sport, and back-biting, the pleasure of power, of hatred…that is why a cold, self-righteous prig who goes regularly to church may be far nearer to Hell than a prostitute. But, of course, it is better to be neither."
We do not excuse sexual sin. Nor do we isolate it, or withhold the grace that Christ freely gives.

As Christians, this leaves us with the question of how to respond between the ostrich technique of yesteryear, and the Westboro Baptist-style bigotry. What is the biblical way to address this particular sin, which is so blatantly trotted before us and pressed upon us? I believe the answer is three-fold.
We first must acknowledge the clear biblical teaching on this matter, and actually believe and accept it as authoritative. God has spoken, and where God has placed a period, we are not to replace it with a question mark. Homosexuality is sin. That's a good place to start, but the next two points are of equal import.

Secondly, we must hold up the biblical view of marriage as beautiful. In Genesis 2:23-24 we read this,
The man said, "This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called 'woman,' for she was taken out of man." That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.
The idea here in "one flesh" is far more than the physical consummation of their marriage, although that obviously is included. But we should notice here that the first song a human sings is a love song, it is Adam rejoicing over this beautiful gift given to him by God. Adam's response to the creation of Eve is a poetic overflow of emotion. This is, in part, because man is not made to be alone. We are made in the image of the Triune God (1:26-27), who exists in perfect loving relationship within Himself. We are by nature relational beings. When God creates woman out of man, He establishes this relationship of husband and wife as the most intimate of human bonds. "Bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh," Adam exclaims. This is not true of other men. Likewise, for Eve she is not bone of bone and flesh of flesh of another woman. There are incredible, God created and ordained, differences between men and women. These differences are not merely physical, but mental, emotional, and even spiritual. And they are designed to fit together uniquely in this marriage relationship in a way that two men or two women simply cannot relate. This is demonstrated beautifully in the Song of Solomon. You may object that the issue of marriage and the issue of sexuality are separate. However, this is an impossible separation to make in the Bible. God creates sex within the context of the first marriage, and sex outside of this context is explicitly forbidden in both the Old Testament and the New. This means that as Christians, we must not simply say "no" to what is wrong. We must grasp the beauty of what God designed in marriage; the picture of Christ and His church (see Ephesians 5). After we ourselves have seen it, we must labor to communicate this truth and its beauty to a world that is desperately "looking for love in all the wrong places." We have the truth, and it is stunningly beautiful. When we present a beautiful truth in ways that are ugly, we lie about the nature of the truth; in doing this, we trade one lie for another.

Thirdly, and finally, we must offer the Gospel. The solution to all sinful behavior, thoughts, and feelings is not in moral teaching or standards. Our failings before God, sexual and otherwise, can never be remedied by us. We need a substitute, and Jesus is that substitute. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:21 that, "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." Four verses earlier, Paul tells us what that means when it is applied to us personally by faith, "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!" We don't preach moral standards for people to achieve, we preach a risen Savior who was the only one who could achieve what was required. This is good news to all sinners, and the truth and beauty of the good news must be the motivator and tone-setter for all of our addressing of sinful behaviors, whether in public or in private. Man needs God, and apart from God we stay on our destructive and damning path of sin. To call sinners away from that darkness, we need to make mention of its darkness, but our focus must be on the glorious light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Always.

About Me

Follower of Jesus. Husband of one. Father of four. Pastor at Remsen Bible Fellowship (remsenbible.com).