Last week, when Susan and I went to Chicago for a Pastoral Leadership Institute Immersion that our church sent us to, we went a couple of days early to do some touring around. Late one afternoon, we were walking north in a green space along Lake Michigan and we headed we decided to head towards the Navy Pier to find a restaurant where we could have dinner. To get there, we had to cross over the Chicago River which empties into Lake Michigan. The app that I was using that day said that we could take a short pathway over the river to get to the Pier. Signs were pointing us toward a different and longer pathway, but we ignored the signs and followed this app because the app had served us well up to that point. But when we got to the spot where the walking path would cross the River, we found the way blocked by a construction fence. So we had to back track a couple of hundred metres and then go over the Chicago River on a sidewalk beside a busy roadway. The app, which had given us good directions in the past, no longer worked anymore and we had to find our own way using the signs that were placed around us.
Sometimes it can feel like that is what has happened in our world. The societal standards for human sexuality have changed so much in a relatively short period of time that it can feel like the old ways that we used to use to sort out human sexuality issues don’t work anymore. For example, within some of your lifetimes, you have seen homosexuality activity go from being an illegal activity driven, it was thought, by a psychotic illness to being a protected right under the law. So what does faithfulness look like for a follower of Jesus given all these changes that have happened? And how can the Christian Church be a source of light and hope to a world that is so different from what is was just a short time ago?
These issues about human sexuality are very, very difficult because they are deeply personal. Most of us know likely someone who is gay or transsexual. For some of us that person is someone who is very close to us: a dear friend, a child or grandchild. And for some of us, this issue is even more personal because we are the one who is struggling with same-sex attraction or feelings of gender dysphoria. And maybe we have tried to pray away our temptations, but nothing has changed. Those intense feelings are still there and perhaps you are feeling tormented to the point of considering suicide. If you are in that situation, please, please, please, phone your local Health Crisis Line. (Here in the Lower Mainland that number is 1-877-820-7444.) If you have a friend or family member whom you suspect may be at risk of committing suicide, please download the Suicide Prevention App and access the resources that are there.
My goal for this post is to give you some biblical teaching that will help you to be faithful in a changed world. My prayer is that The Christian Church would help people to thrive in all aspects of life through a relationship with the God who saves, renews and restores. That includes wanting people to thrive in the area of their own personal sexuality. That mean that people need to clearly understand what God says about sex and about our place in the world so that we are able to thrive in God and point others toward the God who can help them thrive.
Some resources that have helped me to as I have prepared this post are The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert by Rosaria Butterfield, Holy Sexuality and the Gospel by Christopher Yuan, A War of Loves by David Bennett, and Gay Girl, Good God by Jackie Hill Perry.
Let’s start with a bit of a review. In my first post in this two-part Holy Sexuality series (Holy Sexuality 1: A Biblical Foundation), there were three main concepts: the Image of God, Original Sin, and Holy Sexuality. All human beings have been created by God and we all bear the image of God, and that image on us means that every human being is of infinite worth. When our first parents, Adam and Eve, disobeyed God, it resulted in a dramatic corruption of human nature which is called Original Sin. Original Sin impacts all areas of our life and, without God’s saving work in our lives, it is impossible for us not to sin. So we cannot expect ourselves or others to align with God’s ways without God working in our lives.
Thankfully Jesus came into this world to pay the full cost of forgiveness for all our sins, including our sexual sins, and when we receive that forgiveness and live life with Jesus as our Lord and Saviour, then we are able to dedicate ourselves, with His help and leadership, to Holy Sexuality. Christopher Yuan, who coined the term “Holy Sexuality” defines it this way: :
“From Genesis to Revelation, in the entirety of the biblical witness, only two paths align with God’s standard for sexual expression: if you’re single, be sexually abstinent while fleeing lustful desires; if you’re married, be sexually and emotionally faithful to your spouse of the opposite sex while also fleeing lustful desires.”
Keep in mind that these words were not written by a white married male living a heterosexual lifestyle with several children. They were written by a single Asian male who had lived a homosexual lifestyle for years before coming to faith and being transformed by Jesus. And remember that the only way that we can aspire to Holy Sexuality is by placing our entire lives, including our sexuality, under the lordship of Jesus Christ and letting him have the lead in all things. That’s how we live as God’s faithful people in this world.
But how can we be faithful in a world where the dominant worldview is so different from ours? Because not only has our society rapidly changed in terms of sexual standards. For centuries, Christianity was the dominant world view of the Western world. It was culturally advantageous to be a Christian because it was thought that that was how good citizens were made, by going to church, it was there that you could build relationships that could lead to a better job or more business for your business. And it was the Christians that made the societal rules. For example, the Lord’s Prayer was prayed in public forums like classrooms and municipal council chambers.
All that began to change rapidly about 60 years ago, and now Christianity is on the margins of society. The societal rules are no longer made according to Christian standards. So how do we faithfully navigate what is for many of us a strange, new world?
We begin by remembering that being marginalized is not a problem for the Christian faith. Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36a). He did not come to gain political or cultural power. Jesus came to this world to save it by humbling Himself to the point of dying on a cross. Jesus’ gift of love for the whole world ran counter to what all of us tend to do. He gave up what He had for the sake of others so that others could have what He had: a place in God’s family as an infinitely loved and unconditionally accepted child of God.
For three centuries, Christians lived as Jesus did. When everyone else was fleeing the ancient cities because a plague had struck, the Christians went into those cities to care for the sick and the dying, even though it cost some of them their lives. When babies were abandoned on the local garbage heaps by non-Christians because it was inconvenient or uneconomical for them to have an extra mouth to feed, it was the Christians who went and picked up those babies and raised them as their own. When those in power began to persecute Christians for for being different, those followers of Jesus steadfastly confessed their Christian faith and willingly gave up their lives when they were led into the arenas to be fed to lions and other wild animals or to be killed by gladiators. And their faithful witness inspired others to also follow Jesus. As the Christian apologist Tertullian wrote, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.”
Even as they lived selflessly and sacrificially, Christians also recognized that God works through the authority of government leaders, even pagan dictators. In chapter 13 of his letter to the church in Rome, Paul wrote, “Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God” (Romans 13:1). What we often fail to remember is that the leader in power at the time that Paul wrote this was the Emperor Nero, who was a pagan dictator and who would later persecute Christians. In fact, it was under Nero’s reign that Paul himself was beheaded in Rome. The biblical guideline that Christians have used down through the centuries is to obey all government authorities, unless those authorities call us to disobey God. Then we must “We must obey God rather than human beings!” (Acts 5:29). But we must be prepared to suffer the consequences for our civil disobedience. And the motivation for such disobedience is not concern for our own rights and privileges but concern for the safety, well-being and wholeness of others, the poor, the weak and the marginalized. We are not focused on ourselves for we know that our life is forever safe in God’s loving care. We have been freed by Jesus to act out of concern for our neighbour.
Things radically changed in 313 AD, when Emperor Constantine declared religious tolerance for Christianity in the Roman Empire, and again, in 380 AD, when Emperor Theodosius I made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire. Thus began what has been called the Era of Christendom, when Christianity ruled over the culture and society. But that Era is now over.
I believe that the time has come for Christians to go back to their roots and forget about privilege, perks and power. It is time for us to once again sit at the feet of our Master Jesus and be so filled by Him and His love that it overflows in concern for the welfare of others. We don’t want people to be bullied because their sexual orientation is different from normal. We don’t want people to commit suicide because they feel as though they are a woman trapped in man’s body or a man trapped in a woman’s body. We don’t want people to have their lives complicated by heterosexual sin outside of marriage. We want something better for the people around us. We want something better for ourselves.
And we know that the only answer to all our sexual temptations and problems is Jesus. We know that that the something better we desire for ourselves and for the world is freely available to us through Him. Jesus wants to give you healing and wholeness in all areas of your life, including your sexuality. And Jesus gives us His healing and wholeness as we rest in His love and let Him live His life through us. So whatever your struggle with sexual sin may be, I encourage you to rest in Jesus and His infinite love for you, for He is our source of hope, wisdom, guidance and life. He will help you to be faithful in a changed world. Amen.
(This message was shared at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church in Langley BC on Sep 29, 2019.)
 Christopher Yuan, Holy Sexuality and the Gospel: Sex, Desire, and Relationships Shaped by God’s Grand Story (Colorado Springs: Multnomah, 2018), 48.
 This quote is found in Tertullian’s Apologeticus, Chapter 50.