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. 

Everyday Talk, Everyday Discipleship

My wife and I live with two non-Christians, and a third is moving in this fall. These people don’t know much about Jesus. Their affection for Jesus is, practically, non-existent. When we talk about Jesus or pray or sing, they do not fall on their faces confessing their sin and praying for God’s Spirit to rain down mercy on them. Still, we’ve welcomed them as genuine members of our family. There are good days and bad days, but we love these people. Their journey to Jesus is a process. They have stony hearts and rebellious wills hell-bent on seeking their own glory, not God’s. They seek their own good, not that of others. We pray that someday they believe in Jesus and see transformation. But man alive, right now it’s not pretty. In fact, it can be downright unbecoming some days.

Can you imagine living with people like this?

Chances are, you do.

If you are a parent.

Our two, soon-to-be-three, non-Christian housemates are our beloved children. They are full-fledged members of our family, cherished and treasured above all else. Yet they did not come out of the womb singing “Just As I Am.” They aren’t Christians yet. They are members of a covenant household—Carly and I belong to Jesus—but they need conversion, just as we did at one point.

Having the perspective that we don’t just have two children but two non-Christian children (and another ready to move in), changes everything. Everything becomes evangelism and discipleship. Every conversation is a gospel conversation. Every failure or success is a moment for correction or instruction or encouragement or training. If and when our children do cross over from unbelief to belief in Jesus, this everyday and everything discipleship will not stop, but continue on quite organically.

If Carly and I are going to lead our non-Christian children to Jesus, it’s going to happen in the mundane, average, everyday stuff of life. A conversation here, a conversation there. While we walk and play and talk and read stories and watch movies and eat meals and drive and kiss ouchies and wipe away tears. Over and over and over again. It’s not going to be a one-time event or a once-a-week lesson at Sunday School. Those things can help, but it’s the everyday talk that will be the primary influence in our home. Deuteronomy 6:4-25 shows us the power of “everyday talk” in the home.

As parents in a big and fast society this is hard to handle. We want Chia Pet discipleship: after a few weeks gospel seeds start to sprout, the shekinah glory comes down, and our children are changed on the spot.

The reality is that it happens over a long period of time with lots of short, meaningful, gospel conversations that produce a lifestyle of discipleship

It happens on the way to Sunday worship, when Bailey asks me if God hears loud noises. I say he hears everything, so Bailey asks, “Is God in my heart?” Perhaps Bailey knows, deep down, there are things going on in her heart that no one knows and if God is in her heart, surely he’d “hear” those “noises,” too. Whatever the case, I say, “God is in your heart if you trust Jesus and love him.” Back to the radio. “Can you turn it up?” And we drive on.

It happens at the grocery store. Bailey makes a comment about the color of someone’s skin, simply noticing she looks different—a little darker—than we do. Everyone is made in the image of God and Jesus died for all people, not just the white ones. Back to veggies and ice cream and bread. And we walk on.

It happens when I’m unbecoming and selfish and hell-bent on seeking my own glory, and I turn to my blonde 24-month-old Hope and say, “Sweetheart, what Daddy said and did was not okay. Please forgive me. I need Jesus just like you.” Kiss. Hug. And we play on.

This is how discipleship happens. Look at the birds of the air. The grass of the field. Notice the sower. Consider this mustard tree. Do you see that mountain? Carly and I aren’t great at this. We probably aren’t even good at it. But we are learning and growing. We—the disciple-makers—are also being made, being changed. And it’s our prayer that, over time, by God’s sovereign grace, our everyday discipleship makes a few everyday disciples of Jesus right in our home.

The Way of the West and the Way of the Cross

Westerners, particularly Americans, love big. Big paychecks. Big business. Big burgers. Big houses. Big yards. Big contracts. Big stadiums. Big events. I suppose this is a human thing, of course. But we Americans tend to specialize in big.

Unfortunately, churches in America love big, too. We think that if just more people show up on Sunday, we’re growing. We think that if we had a successful outreach event on a Friday night, we’re doing evangelism. We think that if a large crowd gathers for an class, we’re making disciples. We think that if we just have more “big” events on the calendar, we are a spiritually active and healthy church.

But Jesus didn’t care much for crowds. In fact, he tried to get away from them. The big crowds and events were interruptions for Jesus. He embraced it, to be sure. He went out to preach to the crowds, but to Jesus, big crowds and big events weren’t the main thing. They were peripheral. To Jesus, real learning, real application, and real life change would happen in small, intimate settings. He had a band of twelve disciples. Three of them were his “inner circle.” He explained things more fully to them. He walked with them. He ate with them. He camped out under the stars with them.

Yet, in America, we like the glitz and glamour. We like to busy ourselves planning big events and then have the audacity to call it “ministry.” It’s the way of the West in the church. And it’s categorically different than Jesus’ method for spiritual formation. Now, big events aren’t bad. I like events. They can be a lot of fun. But when big events become a the thing, they become an ultimate thing. And only Jesus and his way is ultimate. Why do we think we can improve on the methods of the Master? His way is subtle, ordinary, slow, patient, and everyday. He talked about wind and water, figs and flowers, mustard seeds and sheep, virgins and vines.

But go a step further. Think about the end of Jesus’ life. He was alone. His disciples had left him. There was only one crowd and they were shouting, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Jesus died alone, with but a few women, and his beloved disciple John, standing beneath the cross. The way of Jesus—the way of the cross—is not flashy or glamorous. It’s not sexy or attractive or popular. It’s the narrow way—the hard way.

The gospel of Jesus Christ flips the values of the world upside down. It calls us to something radically different. Are we willing to die alone? Are we willing to give everything for a few and lose ourselves—our reputation, our prestige, our ambition—in order to truly gain it all? Or will we—the church in the West—continue to pursue the big, the flashy, the marquee, the eye-catching. Will we be a slave to events and big crowds? Will we forget the way of the Master?

A (Brief) Political Manifesto

I recently attended a political event which was distinctively Christian. It was designed to inform Christians on the current political trends and issues related to family in New York State. I had mixed emotions during the event and as I’ve reflected back on it, not much has changed. But it got me thinking about how faith, the church, and politics intersect. I’ve thought about this before, of course, but this time I had a tangible experience that helped solidify some of my thoughts a bit more. After the event, I had a chance to write a reflection that is a sort of political “manifesto.” I pray it’s helpful to you.

We have been given an unbelievable privilege to live in a democratic republic. I believe Christians should participate in the democratic process. I believe individual Christians should participate and infiltrate the political arena and shine the light of the gospel there as we should in education, business, entertainment, the arts, law, etc.

I believe we should pray for our leaders, whether we agree with them or not. I believe we should submit to the authorities and honor them.

I believe that nearly everything Christians, in general, and pastors, in particular, say and do has political connotations and repercussions because our primary allegiance is to Jesus, not our country or any political party. We serve a different King; we are citizens of another country. We give to Caesar what is his, but ultimately, we give to God what is his, namely us. This is profoundly political in a general sense.

I do not believe pastors should tell their congregations who to vote for. I do not believe churches should run or fund political campaigns or endorse any particular candidate. Rather, church leaders should so teach and lead and equip the congregation so that they understand the Christian worldview and how the gospel changes everything. This will help people make informed, just, and godly political decisions.

I do not believe the kingdom comes through legislation, political power, coercion, or propaganda. We are salt and light. Salt used to preserve is unseen. It only takes a small match to light up a dark room. Our influence is subtle yet constant. Our movement is marginal yet powerful. The church is a city on a hill that cannot be hidden. That is, we are the picture of an alternate city in all our earthly cities. We want justice and shalom for our cities in this world, and sometimes legislation and political action can help. William Wilberforce and the abolition of slavery in England is a prime example. But we realize legislation cannot change hearts, and we realize the perfect society will finally come when Jesus returns. So we live together as a picture of that city to come and call others to join us. We desire and look for a new country, and I believe we were made for that country, that city—a city whose gates will never be breached and whose King never needs re-election.

Foot Washing and Cross-Bearing

Have you ever washed someone’s feet? I have. A couple times in various contexts. It sounds gross. But it wasn’t. Really. In our day, our feet are protected from wear and tear. We drive or ride to get to work, school, and home. We rarely walk more than a hundred yards and when we do, we wear Nike or Keen. What’s more, our streets and sidewalks don’t have slop and feces and trash on them. Feet today are as clean and cared for as they have ever been. So washing someone’s feet today is not as offensive and disgusting as it could be.

But back in the first century, it was. It was down right rank chore. It was reserved for the lowest person on the household totem pole. Nobodies, house servants, washed feet. Feet which had more than jam between toes (let the reader understand). If this kind of foot washing was a profession today, you can bet Mike Rowe would give it a shot.

In John 13, Jesus and his disciples eat their last meal together. Things were tense: Jesus said someone was going to betray him. But at one point, it got a little awkward. Master Jesus strips himself of his outer garment, drapes a towel around his waste, gets on his knees and starts and starts scrubbing the filthy, fecal feet of his disciples. And then he says, “If I have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.” Everyone is offended. Or perplexed. Later in John 13, Jesus says, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another” (v. 34). As a matter of fact, if the disciples love as Jesus says, the world will know they follow Jesus (v. 35).

So what’s this all about? Was Jesus really telling his disciples to become literal foot washers? Didn’t Jesus know that shoes and boots would be invented and our feet would be protected and clean(er)? Is Jesus saying that the ultimate sign of love is to wash someone’s dirty feet?

Foot washing is a parable. An illustration. A foreshadow. Of what?

The cross, of course. That’s where John’s story is going. On the cross, Jesus goes low in humility–much lower than he deserves–and deals with all the muck and mire and trash and feces in the disciples’ lives and ours. That is “how” Jesus loved the disciples. Not merely by washing feet but by washing them in giving himself up for them. Elsewhere, John writes, “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sin” (1 John 4:10). As a servant who washes feet strips down and forfeits their personal dignity, Jesus was striped of much more than his robes and dignity. He lost his connection to the Father because he became sin, a curse for the disciples, for us so that we might come to God. He washed away the muck, yes. But he became the muck. He lost it all. He radically gave himself up. In washing their feet, he gave up his rights to be “the man,” and he became the servant. In dying for their–our–sins, he became the man on the cross. That is love. Foot washing equals cross-bearing.

But Jesus doesn’t just give up himself so we don’t have to. He gives himself up so that we can. And if the disciples, if we, love this way–radical, self-giving for the good of others–the world will know we belong to Jesus. You want to follow Jesus? You get to wash feet. You get to die. That’s what true love is. We love without any fanfare. Without any recognition. Without anything in return. Friends, this is a high calling. May God help us!

And then there’s that word in John 13:35, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” The world might be able to argue against our doctrines and worldview, but it will not be able to argue against our love. The world may object to justification by grace and prayer to a God we can’t see, but it will not object if we lay down our reputation, power, control, resources, comfort, convenience for others. The world may not like the idea of a Triune God being worthy of all glory and praise, but it will always be attracted to radical, humble, everyday self-sacrifice.

People may not join us, but they will know we have a different Master. A Master who serves. A Master who washes feet. A Master who bears a cross. Let’s be people who follow our Master.