In the last couple of posts (see here and here) I tried to show that the Bible clearly describes same-sex acts of any variety as sinful because it is contrary to nature, God’s intent according to Divine design in creation. I also tried to show that there is no scientific consensus regarding the nature and origin of same-sex attraction; and that evidence, reason, and experience actually show that there are multiple factors at play that would include possible biological predispositions, but also psychological conditioning due to a complex web of personal experiences. Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience also clearly indicate that although we do not choose our sexual desires, we do have a choice as whether or not to act on them; and just because we have certain sexual desires it does not follow morally that we should act on them. In other words, again, the Bible is clear and the nature of same-sex attraction is much more complicated than to simply say, “born that way, end of story, now bake my d%$& wedding cake!” To talk about it as if it is more like race than other forms of sexual desire is misleading blatant propaganda.
Professor Richard Hays, renowned New Testament scholar, in his book, “The Moral Vision of the New Testament,” makes basically the same point when he says that he and his best friend from Yale, Gary, who was gay and dying of Aids, came to similar conclusions in 1989. Hays writes regarding the pressure for the church to condone same-sex relationships: “As a New Testament scholar I was concerned about certain questionable exegetical and theological strategies of the gay apologists. As a homosexual Christian, Gary believed that their writings did justice neither to the biblical texts nor to his own sobering experience of the gay community that he had moved in and out of for twenty years” (p. 380). Hays’ friend Gary, who at one time had been hopeful about the research that had claimed to find justification for some same-sex relations, came away after actually reading and considering the arguments believing that those authors had simply read their own wishful thinking into the Bible. Indeed, the greatest challenge to accurate biblical interpretation is not the foreignness of the original languages and the biblical culture, but the deceitfulness, the denial and rationalization of the sin sick human heart. This is not only true for homosexual sinners, but for all sexual sinners in general. In this post I want to discuss how we might faithfully and compassionately minister to all sexual sinners.
1. First we must recognize and humbly acknowledge that we are all sinners before God and in need of God’s forgiveness through the blood of Christ, and in need of God’s Spirit to give us new birth so that we can live no longer as sinners but as saints who are new creations in Christ. Homosexual sin is not the only sexual sin; it’s not even the most prevalent sexual sin, although it is certainly the most politicized by far. Because of original sin, the reality that we are all born with a predisposition toward sin generally, we are all disordered sexual beings in one way or another and to one degree or another. The only proper outlet for sexual desire for Christians is within a marriage covenant relationship between one man and one woman according to the teaching of Jesus (Matt 5; Matt 19; Mark 10) and the apostle Paul (1 Cor 7). I certainly know that I have fallen far short of Jesus’ standards in many different ways, as all have. Within the body of Christ we must judge others behavior, but we must judge rightly, not hypocritically or pridefully. As Jesus said, “First remove the beam from your eye , and then you can see clearly to remove the speck form your brother’s eye” (Matt 7:5 NET). (Note also that he didn’t say just ignore, much less affirm, the speck). Paul puts it this way, “Brothers and sisters, if a person is discovered in some sin, you who are spiritual restore such a person in a spirit of gentleness. Pay close attention to yourselves, so that you are not tempted too” (Gal 6:1 NET). So we must proceed in a spirit of humility and compassion in order to restore rather than condemn.
2. Preachers must be courageous to speak the truth in love. I think preachers have been far too squeamish for far too long to preach and teach sexual holiness, probably to preach about holiness in general as far as that goes. Nonetheless, the church has desperately needed to be a place of sexual education. Although there are some preachers who continue to insist that our doctrine of God is essential, but sexual ethics is non-essential, the teaching of the New Testament grounded in the witness of the Old Testament is that we should flee from idolatry and sexual immorality
(see 1 Cor 10:1-22). Assent to the creeds would only indicate that one is Christianish, as Wesley might say, and “almost Christian”; faithfulness to the creeds and the New Covenant of which they are a summary would indicate that one is, as Wesley might say, an “altogether Christian.” The teaching of Jesus is incredibly challenging, quite stark and gravely serious with regards to sexual ethics, and not to be taken lightly (see Matt 5:27-32).
Unfortunately, the church has taken a back seat to the world in terms of sex education, and the world, now in the driver’s seat, has taken much of the church on a joy ride on the wide road headed for destruction. We must take a back seat no more! We must teach the truth beginning with the positive, the beauty and blessing of sexual holiness, found in chastity in singleness and marriage. We must also warn of the dangers of sexual sin, temporal and eternal, in accordance with the witness of scripture. We must call people to repent of sexual immorality of every variety, to offer them the forgiveness found in Jesus Christ and ensure that they truly receive it along with new birth by the Spirit, who enables and empowers us to live holy lives of self-denial on the narrow way that leads to life. We also must help parents teach their children at appropriate ages the blessing of God’s prescribed way; and we must teach sexual holiness to our youth as they enter into middle school.
With two middle-schoolers myself now, I am well aware of the many pitfalls and powerful temptations that exist for them. I have seen Instagram posts by seventh graders with sayings like, “Give her a shoulder to cry on, and pretty soon she’ll have a d&#% to ride on!” Some kids in the middle school are a part of an internet group called “the c&$% swallowers club”. We mustn’t be naive. Preachers, talk to the parents and with their consent help teach the kids in your church! It should be a major topic in every confirmation class!
3. We must teach the truth about sin and salvation in general. Cheap grace will not do! It is itself a tool of the enemy. Grace is more than just forgiveness, it is also transformation through the new birth and empowerment through the Holy Spirit. An over-realized eschatology will not do either. That is, we must not give people the impression that salvation means instantaneous and complete deliverance from all of the power of sin now. This can only lead to hopeless despair. Believers will still struggle with sin, but as people equipped and empowered by the Spirit to be an overcomer until we receive the final victory in the resurrection. Salvation is a past event in the sense that we are “saved” the moment we believe, but the Bible also teaches us that salvation is also a process in this life as we are still “being saved” as we anticipate in hope the day when we “will be saved” finally and fully at the return of the Lord. On this side of the resurrection we will still have to battle the forces of evil, beginning with our own remaining sinful inclinations. We will daily have to take up our cross and deny ourselves on the narrow way with our eyes firmly fixed on Jesus, “the author and finisher of our faith” (Heb 12:2). (Rev. Chad Hotlz just recently wrote a wonderful reflection on overcoming sinful desires using the “Twilight” vampire movie as an illustration).
We must encourage believers, including ourselves, not to give in to the temptation to lay down our cross of self-denial and pull up our recliner of self-indulgence. There will be plenty of temptation to cozy up and get comfortable with our sin. Likewise there will be plenty of well-meaning false teachers happy to bring a nice warn blanket to make us more comfortable in our “La-Z Boys”. This calls for wisdom and discernment. We must help disciples to become fully equipped for every good work through the teaching of the whole counsel of God so they are no longer tossed to a fro by every wind of doctrine and are able to stand firm against the wiles of the devil (see 2 Timothy 3; Acts 20:17-35; Eph 4 -6).
4. We must be welcoming, patient, and abundantly forgiving of all sinners. We should welcome all people regardless of the particular sins with which they struggle, but without condoning any particular sins no matter how popular, fashionable, or entrenched they may be, and without singling out any particular sinful sexual desires as worse than others. Homosexuality is certainly not the only sinful inclination that we should help people to master by the grace of God. The church needs to warn people generally of the dangers of incubating and reinforcing lust within their own hearts and minds through fantasy fueled by the various forms of soft and hardcore pornography in the culture today.
I myself was exposed to hardcore porn at a very young age, long before the advent of the internet. I have struggled with lustful thoughts ever since, although since 2006 I have been free from the grip of pornography addiction. My new birth broke the chains and daily prayer, Bible study, worship, and Christian fellowship have helped me to renew my mind to be transformed. The frequency and intensity of lustful thoughts have been greatly diminished and my desire to please God greatly increased. As a result I have found abundant fulfillment and thankfulness in my one and only covenant relationship with my wife. The illicit desires have not gone completely away, but they no longer bind me and control me. When they arise in my heart I nail them to the cross and put them down by the grace of God! Since 2006 I did succumb to temptation with regards to pornography a couple of times, but I repented and confessed my sin to receive the ongoing cleansing of the blood of Christ. It is an ongoing battle, but it is a battle worth fighting in light of the war that has already been won in Christ. Because of him and through him we can conquer sin and vanquish the enemy!
We also need to preach and teach the word regarding premarital sex, adultery, divorce, and all other forms of sexual immorality including of course, homosexual behavior. Some have referred to the attempted justification of homosexual sex to be the beginning of a slippery slope, but the truth is, as others have recognized, the first slip down the slope probably began with no-fault divorce. That’s when marriage was first redefined to be more like a glorified high school fling with a modern marriage certificate just a fancier version of the “will-you-go-with-me-check-yes-or-no” note that kids pass around in classrooms. That’s a bit of hyperbole for sure, but it certainly changed the marriage landscape enough that Christian adults with kids think “I love her/him, but I’m not in love with her/him” is a valid enough justification for divorce. We have to do better; we have to teach better all across the board; but we certainly shouldn’t use failure in other areas to justify further rebellion against the will of God for his New Covenant people. Sinners will inevitably seek to justify sin, but the man or woman of God should preach and teach so that people are convicted of their sin and then point them to the only Savior who will forgive them because his Son died for them, to the Spirit who will transform them so that Christ will live in them, and to the Lord who will lead them like a shepherd in the way that leads to eternal life.
5. Thus, the church needs to be prepared to work with people all along the Christian journey. In many churches this is difficult because for many church-goers now, one hour of worship a couple of times a month is about all they are willing to do. This is a major problem in itself; nevertheless Christians need the rest of the body to help build them up in love. This also is difficult in churches they may be divided with regards to what constitutes sexual sin. Regardless, pastors need to take a stand on truth and righteousness in spite of the potential conflict. I don’t believe it wise to continue to pretend that this is an indifferent matter when scripture repeatedly and consistently warns that unrepentant sexual immorality will exclude one from the kingdom of God. People need prayer partners, opportunities for accountability groups, and access to and support for therapy and rehabilitation programs if necessary.
Ministries like Karen Booth’s through “Transforming Congregations” is a good example and much needed in more churches. Chad Holtz’s testimony and the help he received through “Pure Life Ministries“, as well as the “Recovery at Dayton” ministry that he got started at his local church are also great examples. Moreover, for all of the “pray-the-gay-away” straw man attacks against ministries and therapy geared toward helping people with unwanted same-sex attraction, this is also still an important ministry that churches should be aware of and support. Contrary to mischaracterizations or misguided attempts to help, the goal of such ministries is to help those who struggle to be faithful to the New Covenant standards for sexual holiness, not to cure them in this life of all illicit desire or to replace homosexual attractions with purely heterosexual attractions. The later, however, may and has happened for some as a by-product of seeking God’s grace to be chaste (see a response to attacks on such therapy by Robert Gagnon and Andrew Comiskey). “Restored Hope Network” is an faithful example of this type of ministry.
Is it really that big of a deal?
The controversy over sexuality in the church and society is such a big deal because it is a big deal. The issues do in fact strike at the very root of the Christian faith. How else could you honestly characterize it when scripture repeatedly warns that unrepentant sexual sinners will not inherit the kingdom of God, so often topping the list of vices in the respective texts that carry that warning. It’s also becoming more and more obvious that gay marriage laws and special protections for sexual orientations is clashing mightily with the free exercise of the traditional Christian faith in society.
The message of the book of Revelation is quite pertinent and extremely poignant here, especially for those who may be tempted to compromise with the culture and an apostate church or just remain silent because of intimidation. Revelation 21:7 indicates that the New Heaven and New Earth is for those who “conquer.” The message of Jesus to the churches in chapters 2 and 3 shows that this means remaining faithful in the face of cultural pressure, threats to livelihoods and lives, to compromise with idolatry and sexual immorality. Hence, Revelation 21:8 specifies those who will be excluded from the New Creation and cast into the lake of fire, soberly beginning with cowards and the faithless, but also quite conspicuously, again, including unrepentant sexual sinners. This is serious business; the man or woman of God must be bold and courageous enough to show genuine mercy by warning sinners and snatching them out of the fire (Jude). “Let us then be true and faithful, trusting, serving everyday,” because, “just one glimpse of him in glory will the toils of life repay!”
Just before I was getting ready to post this, I happened to see this powerful testimony that was wonderfully fitting. I leave you with a powerful testimony from a ministry called XXX Church. Someone gave a porn star a “Jesus Loves Porn Stars” Bible. A word from Jesus from Revelation 2:18-29 changed her life and set her free! Praise God!!!!!