Conversion – God’s Work in our Ministry to the Homosexual Community

In four separate posts on WednesdayThursdayFriday and Monday, I’ve explained in basic form the nature of evangelical resistance to gay marriage, and highlighted three core principles for Christian ministry to the homosexual community: conversation, conviction, and compassion. We must be willing to engage and listen, and be unafraid of speaking the truth of the gospel into the lives of those we are listening to. Just as God loved us though we were His enemies who lived in defiance to the gospel, so must we love the homosexual community.


It’s through conversation, conviction and compassion that God does His great work: conversion. Look at John 4:40-42.

So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.”

Conversion is not our responsibility, but conversation, conviction and compassion. The fact that we struggle with those three should only reinforce how great the grace and power of God is to bring about conversion.

Yes, there is a strong resistance to the gospel in the homosexual community. But let not that resistance be due to our lack of conversation, conviction or compassion. Let us be the aroma of Christ (2 Corinthians 2:14-16), and let God do His thing as He will. Let us spread the seed, and let God do what only He can do.


One of the reasons why evangelicals have a hard time with ministry to the homosexual community, particularly in the south, is that we are more interested in winning the culture war in America than we are in seeing lost homosexuals come to Christ. We are interested in defending the institution of marriage in our country through elections, constitutions and courthouses when we should be defending it through personal evangelism to the homosexual community. Sometimes we have to be willing to be less conservative politically in order to be more like Jesus personally.


Conversation. Conviction. Compassion. Conversion. I hope these simple principles in John 4 will help you in your quest to share the gospel with the homosexual community, or at least challenge your current mindset towards them. It certainly has mine.

Compassion – A Third Principle for Ministry to the Homosexual Community

In three separate posts on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday of last week, I’ve explained in basic form the nature of evangelical resistance to gay marriage, and highlighted two core principles for Christian ministry to the homosexual community: conversation and conviction. We must be willing to engage and listen, and be unafraid of speaking the truth of the gospel into the lives of those we are listening to.


Perhaps the most disconcerting thing about the way the evangelical community, particularly in the south, talks about the homosexual community is just that: they talk ABOUT them, not with them. A lack of relationship with someone who is gay or with parents of gay children can only lead to harsh, insensitive or even hateful talk ABOUT homosexuals.

One of the things that is so remarkable about Jesus’ experience in John 4 with the Samaritan woman at the well is not only His willingness to have the conversation and hold firm to His convictions, but to love and serve her and her community with compassion. He got to know them (even as already knew everything about them), and knowing them earned Him the privilege of sharing the good news with them. This idea is woven throughout the entire passage, but is summarized well in verses 40 and 41.

So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there two days.

Note that the Samaritans were also interested in being with Jesus not just because He was compassionate, but because He spoke His convictions! It’s crucial that these two things live together when it comes to ministry to the lost, especially hard-to-reach or hard-to-relate-to groups like the homosexual community. When we speak the truth without compassion, we run the risk of being harsh and judgmental, and therefore we are tuned out. When we are compassionate without conviction, we water down God’s grace and justice shown in the cross. Jesus’ life and death become nothing more than a display of sentimental love. And as Flannery O’Connor put it, sentimentality is a kind of “softness that ends in bitterness.” Ironically, compassion without conviction eventually leads us to the same behavior as conviction without compassion.


One of the many blessings of serving in the local church is the opportunity to see people serve others, particularly others that they would normally never associate with. For some reason, evangelicals have little problem serving African or South American refugees. We have no qualms with sleeping in the slums of El Salvador to serve the orphans. We’ll adopt Ethiopian children and serve as foster parents. In other words, we can be very compassionate people towards many kinds of people, and we also share the truth of the gospel with such people without concern. 

Can we not apply this same compassion to the homosexual community? Why have many decided this is the community we are just not willing to serve? Are you willing to engage in the conversation? Can you speak the truth in love? If you do, God does wonderful things, which I will share about tomorrow.

Conviction – A Second Step for Engaging the Homosexual Community with the Gospel

In yesterday’s post, I talked about Jesus’ willingness to engage and converse with someone His people avoided and despised. Though the social norms for Jews in Jesus’ day called for them to avoid and hate Samaritans, Jesus not only engaged them on their turf, but chose a woman of ill-repute to speak with in broad daylight, and share a drink of water with!

Sometimes we fear engaging in these kinds of conversations, not because we are hateful or angry, but because we’re afraid of not being able to speak about our convictions without becoming emotional, or of losing our convictions in the midst of the conversation. We might also be afraid of hurting the person’s feelings in expressing our convictions. We might also be afraid of finding out that we really don’t believe them after all.

Jesus knew of no such fear in His conversation with the Samaritan woman. Look at the verses in John 4 where He clearly expresses the truth to this woman.

  • Verse 10 — Jesus replied, “If you only knew the gift God has for you and who you are speaking to, you would ask me, and I would give you living water.”
  • Verses 13-14 – “Anyone who drinks this water will soon become thirsty again. But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.”
  • Verses 17-18 — “You don’t have a husband—for you have had five husbands, and you aren’t even married to the man you’re living with now.”
  • Verses 21-24 — “Believe me, dear woman, the time is coming when it will no longer matter whether you worship the Father on this mountain or in Jerusalem. You Samaritans know very little about the one you worship, while we Jews know all about him, for salvation comes through the Jews. But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship him that way. For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.”
  • Verse 26 — “Then Jesus told her, “I Am the Messiah!”

This is not because the woman didn’t challenge Jesus. Verse 12 strongly implies that she thought Jesus was just a little too big for his undergarments: “Do you think you’re greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us this well? How can you offer better water than he and his sons and his animals enjoyed?”

So think of the obstacles Jesus faced.

  • His own people, even His disciples, openly questioned Him for passing through Samaria, much less stopping and conversing with someone.
  • The woman’s morality was sub-par at best, and Jesus was alone with her in a public place.
  • The woman had just enough pride to openly question Jesus.
  • Jesus’ worldview was completely different from hers.

These are all similar to the kinds of excuses we use when asked about talking about Jesus with the homosexual community. “My parents would go crazy.” “My church can’t handle this.” “If I was found with a group of gay people, others might suspect I am gay too.” “Have you ever tried talking with them? They are impossible to talk with.” “I don’t even know where to begin with them.”

Nevertheless, Jesus speaks His mind. He engaged in the conversation, and used the opportunity to speak truth to a lost woman, which included not only the truth of how to really worship God (“You Samaritans are wrong, technically speaking”), but also as to the woman’s sinful life.

So when the conversations allow, we must not be fearful of speaking the truth of the gospel. We must share our convictions.

But the spirit in which we deliver that truth must match the content of that truth.

I’ll talk about that spirit on Monday.

Conversation: Step One in a Strategy for Ministry to the Homosexual Community

In yesterday’s post, I attempted to explain to the homosexual community why evangelicals resist gay marriage. That resistance, however, cannot lead Christians to hate or avoid the homosexual community. Rather, Christians must love and serve them better than any other.

I believe that Jesus’ interaction with the Samaritan woman in John 4 serves, in principal, as a model for ministry to the homosexual community. There are four principles present in this passage that I want to explore over 2 or 3 more posts. The first of those principles is conversation.


Conversation

Jesus, compelled by the Spirit and an unquenchable desire to obey the Father, willingly chose to go through Samaria on his way elsewhere. While going through Samaria made great sense geographically, many Jews walked around in order to avoid Samaritans. For the sake of brevity and your levity, I won’t go into the details as to why there was such bad blood between them, but know this: the Jews regarded Samaritans as half-breeds at best, and there was a long and sordid history of what we would consider acts of terror between them.

But Jesus could care less about the social norms Jews created to justify their angst toward Samaritans, and followers of Jesus should do the same when it comes to the Christians and the homosexual community. Have you ever been encouraged to avoid someone who is gay because they are gay by Christians under the guise of holiness? Jesus was not that kind of person.

In contrast, Jesus engaged in public with a Samaritan woman of known ill-repute, and even asked her to share water with Him from the same well (John 4:4-26). Willingness to engage someone in conversation on their turf is a significant first step in ministering to them. This is a principle that applies not only to ministry to the homosexual community, but to our culture at large. The model of “come to my church event that is safe” is by no means dead, but is, I suspect, increasingly ineffective.


So are you willing to engage? Are you willing to have a conversation about something simple … even as simple as water? Are you willing to risk criticism and judgment from others in your own camp in order to be more like Jesus? Will you have a conversation?

If you do, you will not have to compromise your faith. Like Jesus, you can have the conversation and maintain your convictions, as I’ll explain in my post this coming Monday.

Christian Resistance to Gay Marriage

If I were gay, which I’m not, I would be terribly confused, dismayed and angered at the evangelical community for a myriad of reasons, but two of which are paramount: their resistance to gay marriage and the spirit of fear and anger they harbor towards me.

Today and tomorrow, I want to answer those two questions, presuming someone who is gay is reading. The answers are not long or complicated, but simple and straightforward


Question number one: Why are you against gay marriage?

Why are evangelicals so bothered by it? Why don’t some Christians bake weddings cakes or make flower arrangements for gay couples? Why will Southern Baptist chaplains in the military not perform any ceremonies or weddings for gay couples?

We’re NOT motivated by hate (more on that tomorrow).

We’re NOT motivated by a sense of moral superiority (we don’t think we are better than you).

We’re NOT following Levitical law (we’re not blindly following someone else’s law).

We are against gay marriage because it strikes at the heart of the gospel … the “good news” of who Jesus is and what He has done to save us and make us right with God.

How, you ask, does a marriage between two men or two women do that?

What you need to understand is that Christians believe the purpose of marriage isn’t about the two people getting married. The main reason two Christians get married has nothing to do with either of them. It’s not about satisfying ourselves or thinking that we complete the other person. Marriage for Christians is about showing the world how Jesus (the “husband”) loves the church (the “bride”), mainly by dying for her on the cross.

This understanding of marriage comes from Genesis 1-2 and Ephesians 5:31-32.  Here’s the passage from Ephesians, which references Genesis 1 and 2:

31 As the Scriptures say, “A man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.” 32 This is a great mystery, but it is an illustration of the way Christ and the church are one. 

So, when two men or two women want to marry, we’re heartbroken because we see a direct repudiation of the very thing God did to save sinners.


But our heartbreak should in no way lead us to act in anger or hatred toward you. In fact, just the opposite should be the case: we should serve you … love you … befriend you … just as Jesus did us. Our conviction should lead to compassion.

It’s terribly ironic, isn’t it? When someone or something strikes at the heart of the gospel, Christians are most challenged to live out that gospel in order to prove that it’s true.

And I will try to explain that to you and my Christian readers tomorrow.

Holiness and Homosexuality

Homosexuality is all the rage … at least in the news these days.  My thoughts are grounded in Isaiah 6:1-7:

In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: 

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” 

And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” 

Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” 

————————————————————————————————-

The purpose of this post (and therefore the foundation for any comments you might make):

  • is NOT to give a biblical theology of sexuality
  • is NOT to make a political statement about sexuality

Rather, my intent is to speak to people on both sides of the issue thru the lens of God’s holiness.  In short, I believe what all of us need is solid dose of the holiness of God, and I’m using Isaiah 6:1-7 to administer it.

————————————————————————————————-

First, the text establishes the fact that God is holy.  He is the “thrice holy,” transcendent, righteous and sovereign Lord of the Universe.  Verses 1-3 make this abundantly clear, and we agree with the seraphim:  “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” 

Second, the text establishes that all people are NOT holy.  We are all finite, filthy, mortal, unrighteous people.  Regardless of our sexual orientation, political views, etc., we are ALL definitively UNCLEAN.  We are, in this sense, THE SAME.  This is very clear in Isaiah 6:5 — Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”

Third, recognizing we are unclean takes place when we look honestly at ourselves in light of our HOLY GOD, not anyone else.  In view of God’s holiness, Isaiah isn’t primarily concerned with anyone else’s standing before God (“I am lost, I am unclean”), but he is at least aware that those he dwells in the midst of are equally unclean (“I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips”).  As God’s chosen prophet of judgment, Isaiah never points the finger and declares himself less sinful, but he doesn’t compromise the truth of the nation’s sin either.  It’s also fascinating that, in view of God’s holiness, Isaiah does not compare himself to the standard of fellow Israelites.  People aware of God’s holiness and, therefore, their sin, are not given to consider themselves as better than others who are also sinful.  As D. A. Carson states, “The holiness of God discloses our rebellion and dirty nature to us in a way that mutual comparisons among the members of the rebel race never can.”

Fourth, the text establishes that only a gracious and merciful act of God can cleanse unholy people.  In Isaiah’s case, a burning coal in the hand of a seraphim placed on his lips cleanses him and atones for his sin (vv. 6-7).  In the case of all believers, it is by grace through faith in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ that we are made new creations who are declared righteous before God and empowered with the Spirit to wage war on sin.

————————————————————————————————-

In light of these four truths, I offer the following points of application for all of us, specifically towards how we think and talk about homosexuality.

First, all must seek to know and understand the holiness of God.  Start with your Bible, yet R. C. Sproul’s “Holiness of God” is an excellent text to start with outside of the Bible.

Second, pray for humility in light of your increased understanding of God’s holiness.  This will lead heterosexuals to see their sin, homosexuals to see their sin, cultural warriors to see theirs, etc.  We cannot see God and not see our sin.  We cannot see our sin if we are making mutual comparisons between ourselves.  Making those mutual comparisons breeds pride, when what we need is humility.  Pray for it as you seek to develop it by seeking the holiness of God.

Third, in this humility, speak the truth in love.  Isaiah was deeply conscious of his personal sinfulness, yet also aware that others were sinful as well.  In this humble state, he was able to speak authoritative truth to a sinful people in an identifiable way.  He, too, would bear the judgment of God he was preaching about.  In light of this, I offer two suggestions for those on both sides of this issue.

  • To my fellow conservative evangelical Christians, this means that the most loving people in this discussion should be the conservative evangelical Christians.  Also, the most stalwart defenders of biblical truth in this discussion should be the conservative evangelical Christians.  The reason is simple:  “The fundamental explanation of our conversion was not that we were wiser or morally superior to others in choosing God, but that God chose to have mercy on us and intervened in our lives, revealing our need for His provision of the gospel. Our salvation is owed completely to the sovereign grace of God” (C. J. Mahaney).  The nature of our salvation dictates the nature of our lives … that we lovingly communicate truth.  Therefore, while Christians are to be grateful that, in many states, the definition of marriage has been constitutionally defined, the manner in which we have gone about publicly debating it has been hurtful in many cases.  Granted, we cannot ultimately control the perceptions others have of us, but who among us would say that the world clearly understands we love homosexuals?  Both love and truth are required in light of the Gospel, and we must learn how to do this better not only in person, but on the web as well.
  • To homosexuals or others sympathetic to their cause, I ask you to speak openly and honestly about the real goals of the movement to legally recognize homosexual marriages.  I’ve been around long enough to know that if you give a mouse a cookie, he’s going to want a glass of milk.  It’s not as if the homosexual movement would end should homosexual marriages be officially recognized.  Kevin DeYoung is right: ” It will keep mounting until all accept and finally celebrate that homosexuality is one of Diversity’s great gifts. The goal is not for different expressions of marriage, but for the elimination of definitions altogether.”  And even if this isn’t the “goal” per se, it certainly is the final result, whether it is the intention of this movement or not.  This is just one example of how homosexuals or those sympathetic to their cause could be more forthcoming about the motives and/or inevitable outcomes of their desires.

Finally, let all Christians concern themselves first with the war with sin before the war for the culture.

  • The Christian life by the Spirit is a personal struggle first and foremost … it is a war against the sin of the flesh.  If it’s not a struggle against sin, it’s not a Christian life we are living.  “Walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16).
  • Practicing homosexuals who would call themselves Christians must come to terms with the fact that homosexuality is a deviant, sinful behavior.  No legitimate, biblical hermeneutic allows one to say with integrity that practicing homosexuality is not sinful.  Kevin DeYoung is right:  “We do not help each other in the fight for holiness when we allow for righteousness to look increasingly strange and sin to look increasingly normal.”  Therefore, while a Christian may certainly fight against homosexuality by the power of the Spirit, he or she may not redefine it so that it’s not seen as sin.  Practicing homosexuals who call themselves Christian should listen more to the Spirit and less to President Obama who shamefully called upon Jesus and the Christian faith to inflame this culture war and lend support to sexually deviant behavior and redefine biblical terms and institutions.
  • Christians who recognize the truth of homosexuality and have a zeal for protecting the sanctity of marriage in our culture must first and foremost have a zeal for putting their personal sin to death in their flesh.  If the zeal for the sanctity of marriage in our nation were as strong as the zeal for personal holiness before God, brought about by life in the Spirit, I dare say that any culture wars would take care of themselves.  Such a commitment to slay sin would lead to more church signs that said, “We love homosexuals” and to churches with members who, of course, vote to support marriage amendments in their state.  It is possible … NECESSARY … that we love our enemies and defend the truth.
  • It’s disingenuous for either side to lament that the other side is fighting a culture war when neither side is fighting the personal sin war.  Rachel Evans can lament this war all she wants, but until BOTH SIDES are fighting the war against sin, it’s disingenuous to lament that one side or the other is fighting it.

————————————————————————————————-

If the holiness of God is first and foremost in our minds and hearts, the entire discussion regarding homosexuality in our culture is flipped on its head.  It becomes infinitely more honest and loving, and could actually give glory to God rather than seemingly take away from it.

Maybe the conversations would, indeed, look more like this and this.