Monday, May 26, 2014

5. Homosexuality Is Sin (the Action, Not the Attraction)

So far in this series we've established that God loves homosexuals, that we must love homosexuals, and that we all sin every day. Additionally, we must treat homosexuals as individuals as opposed to simply being a part of some group.

In this post we'll look at the fact that homosexuality is sin. Homosexuality misses the mark by transgressing the law of God.

More specifically, the action of homosexuality is sin. This includes not just outright sexual behavior but also lustful thoughts. In other words, acting on homosexual temptations is sin. However, and I want to be clear on this point, homosexual attraction itself is not sinful. Some people struggle with homosexual temptations and attractions, but fight against these every day. When we see homosexuality condemned in the bible it is always those involved in the action who are mentioned.

Let's back up just a bit. We need to lay the groundwork for what God believes about human sexuality. God has made this clear in Genesis chapter 2. Even before the fall of mankind, God says in Genesis 2:24, "Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh." This verse is the basis for not only marriage in general, but also for all human sexuality. We know that this verse still applies in the New Covenant because Jesus himself quotes it in Matthew chapter nineteen when questioned about divorce.

God's design for human sexuality is for it to fall within the confines of a one man-one woman relationship for life. Any deviation from this is sin, whether it be heterosexual or homosexual deviations.

The scriptures are consistent that homosexual activity is condemned by God. Romans 1, I Corinthians 6, and I Timothy 1 illustrate this:

Romans 1:26-27, "For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error."

I Cor. 6:9-10, "Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God."

I Timothy 1:8-11, "Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted."

What, then, about homosexual attraction? If it is not sinful, then what is it? I believe it is a reminder that we live in a fallen world. We all struggle with various temptations that, if given in to, will be sinful. However, it actually honors God when we fight against these temptations by not surrendering to them. Only through the power of the Holy Spirit can we do this. Therefore, when a person is tempted toward homosexuality but resists this urge by turning to God for help, this actually pleases God.

Whenever we discuss this topic, let's make sure that we don't slip into the trap of thinking that homosexuality is some sort of unforgivable sin. God is far more gracious, loving, and forgiving than we are. He is ready and willing to forgive any person who is involved in even the most despicable forms of sexual perversion (if the individual genuinely turns to God in repentance and faith).

Our culture tells us today that we cannot both love homosexuals and believe their behavior is wrong. We're told that we either accept the behavior or we're bigots. Well, culture must never determine what we Christ-followers believe. Since God believes homosexual behavior is sinful, so must we. Let's go out of our way to lovingly serve any homosexuals that God brings into our lives. At the same time, we must never fail to remember that their behavior is sinful.

(Just a quick reminder to keep us humble: we all sin every day).

Sunday, May 25, 2014

4. Homosexuals Are Individuals

When we watch the news we frequently see homosexuals portrayed as groups. Such-and-such a group is fighting for such-and-such a right, etc. The battle lines are drawn, with homosexuals on one side and conservatives on the other. The groups line up for war.

When we buy into this way of thinking it is difficult for us to see homosexuals as individual people. We must make every effort to overcome the simplistic thinking that suggests that all homosexuals are the same. As with any group, its members are diverse. If we, as Christ's church, are going to make a positive influence on homosexuals, we must begin by treating them as individual people.

Let's focus for just a moment on one key difference among individuals within the homosexual community: some struggle with their homosexuality while others embrace it (and there are likely others who fall somewhere in the middle of this continuum). Some homosexuals are not comfortable with their feelings and fight against them each day. On the other hand, many homosexuals have completely given themselves over to this lifestyle. They live it in every sense of the word. Many of those in the middle probably do not know what to do. I use this one example to illustrate that homosexuals are not all the same.

We always need to treat all people as persons as opposed to simply members of a larger group. Only when we do this can we truly get to know them. Without knowing them we will have little to no success in reaching them with the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is only Christ who can free them from their homosexual cravings.

To sum up: we must treat homosexuals as individuals. As long as we treat them as a group we will make no substantive impact upon their lives.

The Dark Side Always Loses...

For a brief respite from my current series on homosexuality, please enjoy this fun Star Wars themed video that reminds us that the dark side always loses in the end:

Friday, May 23, 2014

3. We All Sin Every Day

As we think about homosexuality, we must remember that we all sin every day. Frankly, we all probably sin, at least in thought and/or intention, every hour. If we know Jesus Christ, we should be sinning less frequently than before salvation, but nevertheless we still sin.

The apostle Paul laments his struggle with sin in Romans chapter 7. At the conclusion of the chapter Paul rejoices in his salvation by exclaiming, "Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!" Paul needs this salvation because of his propensity to sin.

God does not excuse sin. R.C. Sproul put it well when he described sin as cosmic treason. All sin is an affront to God. This is why we all need a redeemer and advocate. Each of us needs Christ.

As humans we have a tendency to rank order sins. For whatever reason we generally think of homosexuality as one of the "worst" sins. My guess is that we do this because it grosses us out. Since it seems nasty, it must be really bad. Although we may think this way, it has little biblical backing. God wants us to reject all sin because it is all rebellion against him. We must deal with the sin in our own hearts before casting proverbial stones at others.

I am in no way excusing sin of any kind. Rather, my point is to encourage all of us to be humble as we discuss homosexuality. We must never come pridefully to this issue, as if we are somehow free from sin. Instead, let's remember that we were once lost, apart from God's goodness. Only because of God's mercy and grace do we know him.

We're all sinners. We're no better than homosexuals. Anything good we have is a free gift of God.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

2. We Must Love Homosexuals

God is a god of love. He loves all people. This includes homosexuals.

As Christ's followers, it is our duty to love as God loves. We will never be completely successful in this, but we should try. In fact, the love of Jesus ought to be a natural outpouring of our relationship with Christ. In Galatians 5 we read that the fruit of the Spirit is "love, joy, peace..." Notice that the first mentioned is love. As God regenerates our hearts and we respond to him in faith, something amazing happens. He turns our hearts from stone to flesh. This enables us to truly love in a Christlike manner. Christlike love is compassionate, sacrificial service.

As we read through the bible, especially the New Testament, we see God's expectation again and again that we will be loving people. God does not give loopholes for those we are allowed to not love. As difficult as it is, we're even expected to love our enemies. In Matthew 5 we're instructed by Jesus, "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." This is only something we can do through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Nothing we do matters apart from love. I Corinthians 13:1-3 says, "If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing."

Love is the number one characteristic of the Christian.

In light of all this, it is clear that we should love homosexuals. Regardless of how we are treated in return, our response must be the love of Christ. Many homosexuals are kind people. Some are not. It doesn't matter. As Christ's people, the way we interact with others does not depend on how they treat us. Our attitudes and actions depend on our relationship with Jesus. He loves homosexuals.  God has changed our hearts so we can do the same. Now we must. There are no loopholes.

Monday, May 19, 2014

1. God Loves Homosexuals

This is the first post in my series entitled Ten Thoughts on Homosexuality. When I use the term "homosexual," I'm referring to both males and females who are sexually attracted to people of their own sex.

My first thought is this: God loves homosexuals.

Theology must begin with God. What God thinks should always determine what we think. Frankly, what we believe matters not at all if it does not stem directly from what our Creator believes.

We can learn much from God about God himself. In Exodus 34:6-7, God describes himself to Moses, saying, "The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children's children, to the third and the fourth generation."

We can learn much from the above passage. One key is that God is "abounding in steadfast love." We will return to this passage later in this series, but for now I want to point out God's description of himself as a God of steadfast love.

In the New Testament (I John 4:8), we read that God is love.

When we study the gospel accounts we encounter Jesus Christ, the most loving person of all time. Jesus routinely went out of his way to show love to all sorts of people. All these people were sinners, like you and me. Jesus showed compassion by talking to and caring for many, many different people. For example, in John chapter four Jesus encountered the Samaritan woman at the well. Christ broke several different social customs by talking to her. He showed her love despite her sin.

It's important to note that Jesus never left people in their sin without confronting them about it. This, however, does not mean that he didn't love them. Rather, it showed his love. Also, Jesus' harshest words were not for the sexually sinful; instead he aimed those at the religious leaders of his day.

The God of the universe is also a God who loves people. It's clear that he loves sinful people; if he didn't, then he wouldn't love anybody. God does not love sin, but he does love people who sin. That is a key difference.

Since God loves sinful people, we can safely conclude that God loves homosexuals. This must be our starting point as we think through this issue. How God thinks must directly determine how we think.

It is a profound thing that God loves homosexuals. This will be the foundation for the remainder of this series.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Ten Thoughts on Homosexuality

My favorite sculpture is Rodin's The Thinker. It shows us a man who is obviously pondering something significant. I wish we Christians did more of this. It is my belief that the majority of Christians do not think through difficult issues. Instead, they simply believe what they've been told by somebody at some point in some place. As followers of Christ we need to know both what we believe and why we believe it. As our culture increasingly wars against Jesus Christ, we must be prepared with robust answers to life's difficult issues.

One issue that is being thrust upon us is homosexuality. It is not going to go away. Rather, the topic is increasingly in the news. Also, homosexuals are, if not growing in number, at least showing their homosexuality in more public ways. For example, it is now fairly commonplace for me to see homosexuals holding hands as they walk around Savannah's historic district. This was not the case just five years ago.

I love sports. Because of this I follow sports on the internet on a regular basis. The latest huge sports story is that of Michael Sam, the first openly gay player drafted into the NFL. This is a big deal. It is such a big deal that I couldn't avoid it last week no matter where I looked for sports news. This is just another example of how our society is changing.

As Christ's ambassadors, we must know what we believe about homosexuality and why we believe it. We also need to be ready to engage our culture at large and homosexuals in particular with the good news of Jesus Christ. This is our responsibility.

In light of this I'm putting together a relatively brief (at least in lengths of particular posts) blog series entitled Ten Thoughts on Homosexuality. Yes, the series title is dull. I hope the posts won't be; you be the judge - the first "thought" will appear tomorrow.

I already entered the fray yesterday with Believing Homosexuality is a Sin Does Not Make You a "Homophobe" or a "Bigot." That post was a simple rejection of the way our culture is increasingly attempting to push any dissenters on this issue to the margins. The ten posts in the series will be different. My intention is to put forth ten basic yet important thoughts about this topic. It will not be groundbreaking. However, because homosexuality is thriving in our society, we need to be prepared to discuss it. This series is a small attempt in that direction.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Believing Homosexuality is a Sin Does Not Make You a "Homophobe" or a "Bigot"

Our culture is changing at an astonishingly rapid pace. We've now moved to the point where homosexuality has gained, at least in the realm of political correctness, favored status. To say anything against the gay lifestyle and agenda is to be labeled a bigot. In fact, anyone who doesn't do metaphorical back flips about homosexuality is being pushed to the margins.

Our culture is bankrupt. Do not believe its hype.

Believing that homosexuality is a sin does not make you a homophobe (to use a popular term) or a bigot. Just because secular society throws around those accusations it does not make it so. If you dare to stand for biblical truth, remember that you are simply believing what God believes on this issue.

God's no homophobe or bigot, and neither are you.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Love the One You're With

We often make an all-too-common mistake as Christians: we incorrectly believe we need to do "big things for God."

These "big things" can include going on overseas missions trips, taking part in complex church programs, or even leading some sort of ministry that touches the lives of hundreds. Any of these "big things" can be fine, but they are not necessary.

Anytime we treat another person with the love of Christ we are doing something significant for God.

You probably have a busy life. Almost all of us do. I work about sixty hours per week. It is difficult to find time to meet with other believers or reach out to the lost in my community. What, then, can I do? I can love anyone I come into contact with. Due to my work schedule I'm around my co-workers a lot. Instead of thinking of my work as something I only do to make a living, I can and should think of it as a primary location to lovingly serve others.

To quote a song that means something far different, love the one you're with. Whoever you meet in your daily activities, love them. This will, of course, mean different things in different circumstances. However, when we are kind to others and give service as is appropriate, God is pleased. I'm convinced that our Lord simply wants us to love the one we're with, regardless of situation.

Don't worry about trying to do "big things for God." If you will just love others by giving sacrificially of self, you will be doing exactly what you should. We can take comfort in the fact that God takes joy in our doing simple yet profound things for Him.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

A Significant Problem with Detailed Statements of Faith

Faith is important. Apart from faith in Jesus Christ, no one can be saved.

In the life of the early church the confession of faith was, "Jesus is Lord!" However, as the years progressed statements of faith became increasingly detailed. After the Protestant Reformation, group after group wrote its own distinctive confession. One primary example of this is the Westminster Confession of Faith (among many, many others).

As I look around the Christian landscape, I see a significant problem with these lengthy statements of faith. The problem is that they leave no room for a person to change his mind on an issue. Let's say a Christian says that he agrees with a certain statement of faith. Later, upon a further study of scripture he changes his mind on that issue. Uh-oh. What is he to do? This would be no big deal; however, many local churches require their new members to agree with their specific statement of faith. If this Christian no longer agrees with that confession, does he then have to withdraw his membership?

This, of course, brings up the problem of "membership" in a local body of believers. That's for another day.

To sum up: lengthy statements of faith allow no room for believers to change their minds on an issue. In this way, they actually discourage bible study and the asking of hard questions. The body of Christ would be much better off by simply sticking with "Jesus is Lord!" as our confession. Christ is all we need, and that statement is all we need.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Descriptive or Prescriptive?

This is a long-asked and argued question. Is the New Testament description of church life simply that? Is it only telling us what happened? Or, is it much more than that? Is it telling us what church life should look like today?

After pondering this for several years I've come to a conclusion: I don't know. Some things in the N.T. seem to lean toward simply a description while others point more toward how we should live now as well. It's difficult to come to over-arching conclusions to this question.

I do, however, know one thing. As readers of the bible, we let what we like/enjoy/prefer today influence how we interpret scripture. When we find a passage in the N.T. that describes what we like today, we say that what we are reading is prescriptive. However, when we come across a passage that shows something we do not like and/or do, we say that that passage is only descriptive.

A short reading about the early church in the first few pages of Acts shows this. We tend to like the togetherness they had. We enjoy reading about their getting together for the apostles' teaching, fellowship, the breaking of bread, and prayers. Those things we say are prescriptive. However, we don't like so much how the early church got together every day and how they shared all they had. Those must just be descriptions (so we say).

We must be both careful and consistent in how we read the bible. Honesty is also critical. We all take many preferences and opinions to scripture. This does not mean that we are unable to understand what God is teaching us through the bible. However, it does mean that we face challenges.

When it comes to the description/prescription issue, let's be careful. An awareness of our own preferences is important. Let's not allow what we want the text to say determine what it actually says. Too often this is what determines our answer to description vs. prescription.