Gender, Sexuality, and the Gospel (Part 3)

In my previous post on gender, sexuality, and the gospel, I wrote about three gospel principles/themes that come up in 1 Peter for Christians living in a culture largely opposed to Christianity. Based on those principles, in this last post, let me propose five basic ways we can engage our culture on the issues of gender and sexuality in a loving, wise, and winsome way.

Be Salt and Light
We were never called to redeem culture or create a Christian colony. We are called to be salt and light in a dying and dark world (Matt. 5:13-16). So Jesus, not politics, is ultimate. If we are salt and light, we not only have the opportunity and calling to tell the better story (my first post), but to live it. The simple truth is the Western church has not been exemplary in terms of sexual purity and marital health. We must do a better job of modeling what the gospel does to marriage, parenting, and singleness.

Being salt and light also means we must be vulnerable with our own sexual, relational, and gender brokenness. We can show people what we have been redeemed from to get the spotlight off of specific sins (i.e. homosexuality) and onto Jesus. Finally, being salt and light means we seek people’s reconciliation. To do this we must listen, ask questions, and sincerely thank people for sharing when they share intimate personal stories about their sexuality. This will earn us the right to have the harder conversations in the future and, hopefully, lead people to Jesus.

Focus on Root, not Fruit 
If your LGBT neighbor or friend talks to you about gender or sexuality and you go right after their specific sin then you only reinforce what they believe about their identity. You are agreeing with them that, in their totality, they are this gender or that or this orientation or that. And when you do this, you are only going after the fruit their life is producing. But we must go after the root.

What do I mean? The human problem is a worship problem. We sin because we are sinners. Thus we do not simply do bad things; there is something fundamentally wrong with us. We are bad. Romans 1—a chapter that zeros-in on homosexuality—makes it clear that we are all exchangers of true glory for false glory. It doesn’t matter if I am a heterosexual sinner or a homosexual sinner. Sin—the condition that inclines me to self and away from God—makes us worship something other than Jesus. That is the main problem of our LGBT friends. In the words of Rosaria Butterfield, a former lesbian turned Christian and pastor’s wife, “Don’t assume that the worst sin in your gay and lesbian neighbors is their sexuality. It is unbelief.”

Listen to and Challenge Cultural Narratives
Cultural narratives are stories that society tells that are assumed to be true but are actually myths. If we are going to persuade people that the gospel tells a better story than the culture, then we must show how the Bible intersects them but offers something far more meaningful and satisfying. In his recent book Preaching, Tim Keller lists several cultural narratives. I’ll summarize the two most applicable ones as they relate to gender and sexuality.

  • Identity narrative (“Be true to yourself”). This narrative tells us that being yourself is the ultimate virtue. The problem? No one is truly him/herself because of their independent, inner feelings. We are all products of our social environment. And if we are slaves to the changing tides of culture, we will never be be satisfied with ourselves. We will always be striving to achieve and become what we think (or others think) we should be. This is exhausting. The gospel, however, gives us a new identity in Christ, one that is received, not earned.
  • Society narrative (“It’s your choice”). This narrative tells us that individual choice is best for society. In this storyline, freedom means freedom from constraints. “I can do whatever I want,” is the mantra. Intolerance is the only sin in this storyline. The problem? Society actually cannot flourish unless people surrender their rights and personal choices. Furthermore, self-created meanings based on my “choice” are actually very selfish and intolerant of other people’s choices. The gospel, however, shows us that we become free when we submit to Christ who gave up his freedom and died in our place, thus giving us the power and motivation to sacrifice for others. 

So listen for these, and tell people the true and better story.

Be a Triage for the Wounded Refugees
If Holy Spirit is moving—and he always is—then we are going to see lost children leave the far country to come home. The church must be prepared to deal with people who leave the LGBT lifestyle. This also means that we must be prepared to give people room to struggle with same-sex attraction as they seek to understand Jesus. Yet for those who are ready or are already following Christ, while we must be prepared for people to struggle with their sexuality, we also must call them deny themselves and carry their cross. Whoever follows Jesus must surrender everything to him.

Know Where the True Battle Lies
Finally, we fail if we see people in LGBT community as our enemies—at least, our ultimate enemies. In some sense, people who oppose Jesus are our enemies. But the gospel gives us the power to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. And the gospel is also the only power to make enemies our beloved friends in Christ. Ultimately, our battle is not against flesh and blood but against spiritual forces in the heavenly places. And those forces have been defeated through the cross. We must pray and engage our neighbors knowing this reality.

Gender, Sexuality, and the Gospel (Part 2)

In this second post on gender and sexuality, I want to address what gospel-driven and Scripture-based principles give us a foundation for practicing a life of love and truth in the midst of cultural opposition when it comes to gender and sexuality (and many other issues, mind you). The general culture is quickly becoming more and more hostile to Christianity. While people’s values (i.e. what their heart truly loves and desires) in the culture have always varied and, typically, been opposed to the gospel, the norms (i.e. accepted behaviors) have not. We have had Christian norms for many decades. How do we respond now that our culture is not as favorable to Christian norms as it once was?

Our current cultural situation gives Christians an opportunity to not just tell a better story of gender and sexuality (that was the point of my first post), but to live a better story. To do this, we need to listen to a first century pastor who wrote to his beloved churches when they lived in a time of fierce opposition (much more fierce than what we are experiencing today). The pastors name is Peter, and his first epistle is all about holiness, submission, and suffering. It’s as instructive for us in the 21st century as it was for Christians in the first century.

There are probably dozens of themes and principles we can extrapolate from this letter which would help us develop wise and winsome gospel-centered practices. But I’ll pull out just three of them. 

  1. Holiness in exile. Peter shows his readers that the gospel makes you a new people who live in a new way (1 Pet. 1:15). Because we have been saved by a holy God, we are called to live exemplary lives even while we are surrounded by people who are not following and obeying God.
  2. Submission in suffering. Peter shows his readers that the gospel frees you to model the submission of Christ and suffer with him because you are the people of a better nation (1 Pet. 2:1-12, 13-17). Even if human governments do not honor God, we are still called to honor the government. This doesn’t mean we disobey God, of course. But it means that even in suffering, we are called to submit, not disparage, slander, or overthrow our leaders.
  3. Expect trials and respond graciously. Peter shows his readers that the gospel reveals that if we belong to Christ, we should expect suffering and be gentle and respectful of opponents (1 Pet. 3:8-22; 4:12-19). In Peter’s words, it is not strange when hard things come! What is strange is that biblical norms were accepted for so long.  We should have expected the kinds of things we are seeing in the culture to have happened much sooner than they did. And while this decline happens and continues to worsen, our job is not necessarily to change the circumstances but point people to true hope in Jesus.

If these truths sink down deep it will lead to a radically different way of approaching the issues of gender and sexuality and, more importantly relating to the people who hold views which are at odds with the Scriptures. That will be our final post.

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. 

Pitfalls in Communication: Clouding the Truth

Part 3 of a 6 part series. View series intro and index.

It’s hard enough to communicate with people who have different worldviews and come from a different culture—whether they are from across the street or another continent. Communication gets harder when it travels over gender lines. Add to this fact that we usually arrive with personal assumptions about meaning, definitions, and what information the other person has at their disposal.

So you’d think to make things a bit easier, we’d always be honest. Nevertheless, we aren’t. This comes from a heart that desires to please man and exalt self. Obviously, there’s always the old fashioned lie. More than that, there are (at least) three other ways we cloud the truth.

The first way we cloud the truth is that we tend to withhold truths or facts that could damage our reputation. Most of the time, we get caught in our tangled web, and when asked why we didn’t speak up about a certain truth, we say, “Oh, that slipped my mind,” or “I didn’t think it was relevant.” We all know that when truth is inconvenient for us, our tendency is to simply pretend it doesn’t exist.

Instead of lying, we often mask or distort the truth. We call this “manipulating” the truth. This could look a lot like withholding, however it differs in that we tell the truth but put a subjective spin on it. More prevalent than that, however, is that we can use our charisma and charm and make something look good, if it’s bad, or make it look bad, if it’s good.

Changing the Subject
If you want to find out how honest a person is (or how intelligent they are!) pay attention to how often they change the subject. People who change the subject often likely want to avoid the truth. This technique, of course, is similar to the previous two types of clouding truth.

Changing the subject, on the other hand, is a way for us to have an excuse to say, “I didn’t withhold, manipulate, or lie!” We are essentially telling the truth. But the deeper truth is that when our friend asks us how our heart is doing from the burdens of family, work, church, etc. we say, “I’m okay. Do you want to go the game on Saturday with me? I have two tickets?” or “I’m fine. What kind of pizza do you want to order?” The problem with this is that it puts up an open hand to someone’s face to say, “You can come this far and no further. I don’t want you to really know me.”

If we are honest with ourselves, we’ll find out that, truly, we aren’t very honest all that often.

Distinguishing Between Love and Lust

Augustine of Hippo, the great Christian theologian of the 4th Century, struggled mightily with sexual addiction before his conversion to Jesus.  In his autobiography, Confessions, he writes about his problem between figuring out what was love and what was lust in his early life:

Bodily desire, like morass, and adolescent sex welling up within me exuded mists which clouded over and obscured my heart, so that I could not distinguish the clear light of true love from the murk of lust.

I doubt that this is uncommon for most people — especially for nonbelievers, but for Christians as well.  So often we “feel” with our bodies and seldom understand what true love is.

In Proverbs, Solomon says to his son, “For the lips of a forbidden woman drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil, but in the end she is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword.  Her feet go down to death; her steps follow the path to Sheol; she does not ponder the path of life; her ways wander, and she does not know it” (5:3-6).  Obviously, this “love” is really love.  It’s lust.  It’s deceptive.  It’s adulterous (7:19).  This “love” gets you place in line to hell.  This “love” will lead to death, not an abundant life.  It seeks to steal, kill, and destroy true happiness.

I’m not a counselor, or a doctor, or a pastor  yet.  But I know that true romantic love is rooted in the gospel of Christ.  It is reflective of Ephesians 5:22-33.  True love is about service and sacrifice and joy and delight and rejoicing in Christ, not the person.  C.S. Lewis talked about gifts from the Lord being “the sunbeam” and God himself as the sun.  The beam from the sun is not to be delighted in, the sun is.  In the same way, God’s gifts are like sunbeams.  They lead us to the greater glory of God himself.  That is what true love should do.  Lust only distracts us from God and causes us to be idolaters.

Seek your satisfaction in Jesus above all things, and soon the murky fog of distinguishing between love and lust will clear into a bright summer day filled with heavenly delight and joy, not guilt and shame.