Recently, a young woman who grew up in the church where I serve as a pastor declared she is “pan-sexual.” This particular badge of sexual self-identity was new to me, but because the moral ethos in the Olympia-Tacoma-Seattle corridor of Washington State is slightly left of Stalin, it wasn’t too surprising. For some time, I’ve been planning to address homosexual and transgender issues in two or three sermons. This “pan-sexual” declaration has accelerated my plans.
When I prepare topical sermons, I’m fond of structuring them around a series of propositions (“** things you need to know about the Holy Spirit, the Trinity, homosexuality ,” etc.). So, to that end, here are eight foundational things I believe evangelical Christians need to know about LGBTQ issue. This is not an academic article, and each point here could be expanded greatly. Instead, this is essentially a very rough draft of a sermon I’ll deliver later this Summer.
1. We’re all broken sexually
In a generic sense, every one of us is born as a criminal in God’s universe (Eph 2:1-3). We’re broken, and Jesus is the only One who can put us back together. This brokenness shows up in every area of our lives. It especially shows up in our sexual appetites and relationships. We’re broken sexually, just like we’re broken everywhere else.
So, we need to acknowledge that we’re sexually broken people. This brokenness isn’t what God wants and isn’t what God intends. When God brings someone into His family, He gradually reforms his sexual impulses and every other area of his life.
2. God defines sexual holiness
We don’t live the way we should. God gave us resources that tell us who He is, what He wants, how we got here, where this world is headed, how He plans to fix it, and how everything will end. These resources are the Holy Scriptures, which Christians have collected into the one book – the Bible. That resource tells us everything we need to know for a faithful life. It gives us the rules, the guardrails, for sexuality.
God’s people can’t have sexual relations with close relatives (father, mother, step-mother, sister, step-sibling, granddaughter, aunt, daughter-in-law, sister-in-law; Lev 18:6-16). They also can’t have relations with both a mother and her daughter, or even grandchildren (Lev 18:17). You also cannot marry your wife’s sister (Lev 18:18). You can’t have sexual relations with a women during her menstrual cycle (Lev 18:19). You cannot be unfaithful to your spouse (Lev 18:20). You cannot sacrifice your children, the God-given fruit of your marriage covenant, and murder them in homage to a pagan god (Lev 18:21). Homosexuality (specifically, male homosexuality) is prohibited; “it is an abomination,” (Lev 18:22). Bestiality is forbidden; men and women are specifically mentioned (Lev 18:23).
Because God has set His people apart to be different; to not copy the mores and practices of the unbelieving nations around them. Instead, “[y]ou shall follow my rules and keep my statutes and walk in them,” (Lev 18:4). Sexual immorality makes a person “unclean,” both morally and ceremonially (Lev 18:24). A nation which practices these vices will pollute the land itself. The punishment is excommunication. God wants nothing to do with such people (Lev 18:29); He exiles them and cuts off access to the atonement and forgiveness of the sacrificial system. “You shall holy to me, for I the Lord am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine,” (Lev 20:26).
3. God’s standards for sexual purity are applicable today
These Old Covenant laws about sexual morality are still in force today. It’s true that Christians in the New Covenant operate under a different legal system, but the new system shares common punitive offenses with the old. This “crossover” effect isn’t confined to the Scriptures. In the military, for example, servicemembers are subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice (“UCMJ”), whose punitive offenses are in Articles 77-134.
The UCMJ says it’s a crime to not obey a lawful order (Article 92). This is a military-centric offense; it doesn’t apply in the civilian world. So, it falls by the wayside. However, the UCMJ also says it’s a crime to commit rape. So does the local jurisdiction where you live. There is a crossover. The legal mechanisms to take care of this rape charge are different in the UCMJ and your local jurisdiction, but the act itself is a crime in both contexts.
It’s the same with sexual immorality.
- The Apostle Peter reminds us that “as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.’” This last bit is a quote from Leviticus. Peter thinks the Old Covenant law code is valid, in some sense.
- Paul has the sexual codes from Leviticus in mind when he writes to the church in Rome. He describes homosexual behavior as “impurity,” (Rom 1:24). He calls it “the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves,” (Rom 1:24). He says this conduct is the result of rejecting God (Rom 1:25), as if one’s conscience becomes seared and calloused when one deliberately casts God aside. Homosexuality is a “dishonorable passion,” whereby men and women commit “shameless acts” with one another (Rom 1:26-27).
- The Apostle Paul criticizes the church at Corinth for not disciplining a professing believer who has an ongoing sexual relationship with his mother-in-law (1 Cor 5). Where does Paul get the background to call this sexual relationship immoral? He gets it from the Old Covenant; specifically from Leviticus 18. Paul even echoes the Old Covenant precept of excommunication when he advises the church to “purge the evil person from among you,” (1 Cor 5:13).
Those guardrails from Leviticus still apply today. God doesn’t change. His character is fixed, and He defines morality and righteousness – not us.
4. God can forgive
Christians need to know that God can forgive sexual immorality. He can forgive any crime. He forgave a murderer named Paul. He forgave a disciple who abandoned Him and cursed Him. He forgave the Roman soldier who helped to kill Him. He forgave the woman with five husbands, who had abandoned her previous spouse. He forgave homosexuals (1 Cor 6:9-11). He forgave a cheating tax collector, whose theft had pushed untold numbers of struggling families and desperate businessmen into poverty and despair.
God can forgive. He’ll forgive anyone who comes to Him for mercy and forgiveness.
5. God can change a person
When a person becomes a believer, he experiences a spiritual birth. His heart and mind are made new. His soul is brought to life. A person who is in the flesh cannot please God, but the Spirit changes the mind and heart so he wants to please God by doing what He says. He makes you a new person.
The Apostle Paul explained that Christians, who can behold the glory of the Lord with unveiled faces (unlike the Old Covenant saints), “are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another,” (2 Cor 3:18). The “image of God” in man is structural; it’s the constellation of attributes, character, nature and make-up in us that enables us to have right relationships with God and with one another, in God’s family. That image has been ruined, but when God saves a person He sets about to restore it, bit by bit. When Paul says a Christian is being “transformed into the same image,” he means God is reforming and restoring your nature, character and make-up so these relationships with God and His people can be like they ought to be. Of course, the job isn’t ever done – but He’ll chip away at it.
This reformation proceeds according to the Lord’s standards. This is why He works with us to “put off the old self with its practices” and to “put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator,” (Col 3:5-10).
God can change a person, bit by bit, to not crave a homosexual or sexually immoral relationship. After all, Christians have been cleansed by “the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit,” (Titus 3:5).
6. Christians must never wear their sin as a badge of self-identity
The Apostle Paul makes Christian self-identity the cornerstone of his first letter. He borrows this sense of communal identity from the Old Covenant and imports it right into the Christian church:
- He says Christians are a chosen race (1 Pet 2:9); their individual ethnicities are subsumed under their identity as children of God.
- Christians are royal priests (1 Pet 2:9); mediators who represent Christ to the world. Collectively, believers are part of a brotherhood of priests who represent God’s royal kingdom.
- More than that, all Christians are part of God’s holy nation ( Pet 2:9). Christians from all over the world, from all cultures, backgrounds and walks of life – they’re part of something that transcends temporal geo-political boundaries. They’re fellow citizens in God’s country.
- Christian are a special people who belong to God (1 Pet 2:9); again, the earthly divisions and swallowed up in God’s family.
Christians are a family; a covenant community of people whose most basic job is to “proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light,” (1 Pet 2:9). Any Christian who characterizes her faith by an adjective that marks out a particular sin (“gay Christian,” “trans Christian,” etc.) is either being self-defeating or is glorifying in something God hates. A sinful struggle should never become a badge of conceptual self-identity. Rather, Christians should glory in their unearned status as covenant members, priests for God, and members of His family. Or, as one song expresses it, “I’m a child of God! Yes, I am!”
7. Talk with LGBTQ people; not at them
The Lord often works through relationships. You build a relationship by earned trust. This takes a long time. Christians won’t reach people caught in the grip of sexual deviance by self-righteous indignation from a distance. There is a way to build relationships to earn the right to speak truth in a person’s life, without being a prig, while being firm and faithful to your Christian convictions. This isn’t the article to explain how, but there is a way.
The sexual codes in Leviticus were directed to covenant members; to people who already had some sort of relationship with Yahweh. Unbelievers in the New Covenant era don’t have that relationship to God’s law. They’re outside the family. This means many things, but one thing it means is that acknowledgement of God’s law as a legimate source of authority is not a common “point of contact.”
Talk with people, not at them.
8. The world will always hate the Gospel
No matter how delicate your relationship with an LGBTQ individual is, you’ll be derelict in your duties if you don’t evangelize him. And when that happens, no matter how sensitive, nice and polite you are, the Gospel will make people mad. There’s nothing you can do about it. “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you,” (Jn 15:18).
Whatever else needs to be said, I believe these eight principles are correct. Christians need to somehow thread the needle between sugary sweetness and bloviating self-righteousness. I think these points can help.
Tyler Robbins is a graduate of Maranatha Baptist Seminary, a DMin student at Central Seminary (Plymouth, MN) and a pastor at Sleater Kinney Road Baptist Church, in Olympia WA. He’s also an Investigations Program Manager with the State of Washington. He blogs as the Eccentric Fundamentalist and is the author of What’s It Mean to be a Baptist?