I’ve noticed recently there seems to be a trend amongst many Christians who would claim the Bible as their authority of endorsing same-sex relationships. The other day, for example, I was reading about Matthew Vines’ book God and the Gay Christian. Last year, Steve Chalke came out in favour of same-sex marriage, and there have been others.
I don’t want to deal with the Biblical case for or against same-sex relationships here (I’ve talked a little bit about it before), but I just want to pose a few questions which people who like to talk about the Biblical case for same-sex relationships don’t talk about very much (or at least, not as far as I can see). These are all aspects of the gospel which I think are pretty key to what it means to be a Christian, although none are directly linked to sexuality.
1. Christians should bear their Cross. Jesus is pretty uncompromising when it comes to what we have to give up to follow him. For example, in Mark 8:34-35 Jesus says: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.” Similarly in Matthew 10:37-38: “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me.”
Why do I say this? Because so much of what I hear from the Biblical pro-gay camp seems to say, “God couldn’t possibly have given us a choice between heterosexual marriage or lifelong celibacy.” But it seems to me that this is massively understating the difficulty of the Christian life and the sacrifices it requires – for every Christian, not just those who are attracted to people of the same sex.
Christians are to deny themselves, follow Christ out to the cross and die there with him. In Galatians 2:20 Paul says: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
2. Christians are not promised fulfilment. No Christian is promised everything that they want in this life. Nowhere in the Bible does it promise that we will get what we want, nowhere does God promise for any Christian to have a husband or wife. In fact, the Christian life can be pretty hard. Rather than fulfilment, Christians are promised persecution, hardship, and suffering.
In fact, similarly to the first point – rather than being fulfilled, our model is Christ Jesus and his sufferings. Romans 8:17: “Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” Or 1 Peter 4:13, “But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.”
Christ Jesus was not married, and he suffered terribly to the point of death. Many Christians in the past have done the same, and indeed are doing the same this very moment all around the world. As Martin Luther said, “They gave our Master a crown of thorns. Why do we hope for a crown of roses?”
God does not promise us fulfilment – God desires us to be holy (1 Peter 1:15-16), to be like him. However, if you look at the Living Out website, you’ll find that there are Christians there whose experience has been that radical self-denial actually leads to life in an unexpected way. “I came that they might have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10) – ironically true life is only found when we deny ourselves.
3. Our desires are all wrong. The Bible consistently paints human beings as people who have, in some respects, ‘gone wrong’. The Fall affects everything about us, including what we actually want – our desires. This is literally all over the New Testament, and the epistles in particular. For example, 1 Peter 2:11, “Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul.” Ephesians 4:22-24: “put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” One more, 1 John 2:16-17 “For everything in the world – the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life – comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives for ever.”
Those are just three examples from three different New Testament writers (Peter, Paul and John). You could pretty much pick a page at random in any of the New Testament epistles and you would find something similar. Christians are constantly told that our desires need to be transformed in line with God’s will for us. This includes everything: yes, including sexuality.
This post is getting long, so let’s move on swiftly.
4. Christianity is radically counter-cultural. I don’t think there is a single instance in the Bible where Christians are instructed to learn from the world, morally speaking. A lot of Biblical pro-gay arguments seem to be using ‘trajectory’ language, saying something like “the Holy Spirit is speaking through culture”. I’m not sure that the Bible ever talks about Christians listening to the world in that way – in fact it’s more the reverse. For example, James 4:4 “You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.” Or, Hebrews 13:13-14, talking about having a home which is not on earth: “Let us, then, go to [Christ] outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.” Similarly 1 Peter talks about Christians being foreigners and exiles in this world.
The general picture is that ‘the world’ is not for God, but is actually against Him.
5. We are promised false teachers and teaching. Finally, the Bible promises that there will be many false teachers who do not preach the gospel. For example, in 2 Tim 4:3-4 Paul says, “the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather round them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.” Even Jesus himself said, “false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect.” (Matthew 24:24). Paul said to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:30 “Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them” – in fact in the previous verse he calls them “savage wolves“.
The point is, we know that false teaching will happen and that God is opposed to it (see e.g. Revelation 2:6, in addition to the above). So the question is, how do we know what is false teaching and what is not, especially when it comes to the area of sexuality in the modern world? The upshot of this is, I think you need to have an absolutely bombproof Biblical argument for being in favour of same-sex relationships. As I understand it the Biblical pro-gay case is being made on two fronts: (1) God is loving, and so wouldn’t do that to people who are same-sex attracted; (2) Scripture does not prohibit same-sex relationships as we know them today (i.e. permanent, stable, faithful). The first one we’ve talked about already, the second one is – at best – an argument from silence.
Is that enough to change the position the church has held for the last 2,000 years?