“121” God Loves You Just as You Are
4/5/2016 4:20:25 PM
Galatians 5:13-17; 1 Peter 2:9-12
April 3, 2016
Rev. David Williams
Scripture: Galatians 5:13-17; 1 Peter 2:9-12
I have here a 10’ pole. Why? Because today we are starting a series on a very difficult topic. It is a topic many Christians would not touch with a 10’ pole. How many inches are in a foot? 12. So how many inches long is a 10 foot pole? 120. So our series title is 1 inch more than that, 121 inches. It is a very touchy subject, one which many pastors and Christian leaders have tried to address, but I think many have done a very poor job doing it.
Today’s topic is one which I know there is division about even among our own congregation. Having heard a few comments from different people over the years, I know that this is not a topic which we all agree on. It is not a topic which unifies us, but because it is such a taboo topic we have never really discussed it. This means that I know, even before I’ve started the series, that I’m going to make a lot of you uncomfortable. Some of you will disagree with me. Some of you will be very uncomfortable that I’m even talking about it. Some of you may even get mad at me! But that’s ok, as long as in our disagreement we treat one another with agape love. That means when you disagree with me, let me know well. Don’t just let it stew and fester. Don’t gossip about it with other people. Don’t let Satan use this topic to get a foothold in our church. Instead, come to me and tell me what, exactly, you’re feeling and what I said that caused you to feel that way.
As I navigate this difficult path, whether you agree with what I’m saying or not, please pray for me. Please pray that I hear from God what he wants me to share with you. Pray that I have courage to share it. Pray for the protection of my family who have already been experiencing spiritual attack as I prepare this series. And pray that everything we say to one another as a congregation is said with love and a genuine concern for the well-being of others.
[pic] Over the past 50 years, our culture in North America has undergone a seismic shift. Over these decades, secular culture has shifted further and further away from Christianity. Less than a lifetime ago, non-Christians still held predominantly Christian values, even though they were not Christians. But over the past number of years this has changed. Beginning in the ‘60’s, with the sexual revolution, a generation in North America started to live out the effects of no longer holding to Christian truths. They started to explore life and morality without a Christian foundation. And the gulf between Christian and secular culture has been widening rapidly ever since.
Christians, “the church,” have responded in a variety of ways. Some have lamented the loss of influence the church has in society. Others have attempted to move the church in the same direction society is headed in order to maintain that once close connection, an attempt to “modernize” the church and keep it “relevant.” Others have reacted in anger or self-righteousness, condemning the world and all who are in it, forgetting that we, in the church, were once a part of the world too.
As we struggle with this increasing difference, the irony is that we are actually moving to a position more and more like that of the early church. For the first 200 years, the church did not have special privilege or influence in society. The church was seen as a fringe group, outsiders, countercultural revolutionaries often viewed with suspicion and scorn. Yet in that context, the church thrived. Why? Because God and his love are very countercultural. And when people see God’s love genuinely lived out in a community of believers, they are drawn to it. So although these waters seem uncharted today, we are actually going back to a situation in which Christianity has shown that it not only shines, but conquers.
However, in the meantime, we need to figure out what it means for this generation to live counter culturally. We need to figure out how we live out our faith in Christ, how we live our agape love for ourselves.
One area in which the church does not have a good track record of agape love is the topic of this series: homosexuality. That’s the topic I don’t want to touch with a 10’ pole. That’s the topic over which we are silently divided. That is one topic about which the church and secular culture are so divided and the divide is growing.
This divide puts a strain on Christians. What’s right? What’s allowable? What’s wrong? What does the Bible say? Can we trust the Bible on this topic? What about my friend who’s gay? These are all very important questions that I hope, at the end of this series, you will feel better equipped to answer. But along the way, I want you to keep your minds open. I want you to avoid the temptation to get your guard up. I want to make sure you hear what I’m saying and not jump to conclusions about what you think I’m saying.
In addition, I know many of us have friends and family who experience same sex attraction. I know people in this congregation who experience same sex attraction. So every time I preach one of these sermons, my mindset is going to be, “Would I say this if there was an openly gay couple sitting in the front row? If there was an openly gay couple sitting in the front row, what would it mean to say this in a loving way?” If I can’t find a way to say it lovingly, then I won’t say it.
I’m also glad that this week the youth are joining us for the message. Why? Because our young people are the most consistently bombarded with our secular culture’s values and ideas. People who are still in school are being flooded with our culture’s message and ideals about all sorts of choices and lifestyles that Christians have very different ideas about. And it is rare that our young people hear a message that runs contrary to our culture. I want to invite the members of Flash, in particular, to ask me questions or email me questions you may have after this sermon. I would love to talk with you more about it.
One thing that may surprise you as we go through this series is that I may never actually preach on a scripture passage that mentions homosexuality. If I do, it will be at most 1 sermon. Why? Because many people who have thought about this topic have already decided on these verses. They either hold to them rigidly or dismiss them out of hand as untrustworthy or unbinding. So we’re going to come at this topic sideways.
Please turn with me to our two passages this morning. The first is Galatians 5:13-17.
Turn over to 1 Peter 2:9-12
Because we are coming at our topic sideways, or from a different angle, we are not going to do our usual thorough examination of our text. Instead, we are going to draw some principles from our texts, examine what they mean and then apply them to our topic in question. While not modelling how to fully examine a text, we will be modelling how to do theological reflection on a text. That is, we will be drawing out theological principles from the text that the author intended to teach, but applying those principles to a new situation, or a new topic that the original author probably didn’t have in mind when writing. This doesn’t mean it’s an inappropriate use of the text, it just means we are using texts that indirectly shine a light on our topic. That means there are aspects of our texts that we will not be exploring because we are only interested in how the texts’ principles apply to a specific topic.
First, let’s draw some lessons from our Galatians passage. Paul says that we have been called to be free, but that we are not to use that freedom to indulge our sinful nature. Remember, Paul is writing to Christians. He is writing to people who have already put their faith in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins. So there is something somewhat startling here, which is our first principle. Even Christians have sinful natures. Salvation in Christ immediately saves us from the eternal consequences of sin. However, it does not immediately save us from the indwelling power of sin. That takes time and is a process called sanctification, which means being set apart for God and living as he intends for us to live.
In verse 16 he goes on to say, “live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other….” There are two principles here I want to draw out. First, and maybe obviously, our sinful natures have sinful desires. This applies to Christians! Even Christians have sinful desires. Now, maybe that comes as a surprise to you, but if you’re honest with yourself, you know you have sinful desires. Perhaps the surprise is not that you have sinful desires, but that all the Christians around you have them too.
If we all have sinful desires, what makes Christians different from non-Christians? Christians are called to live by the Spirit and not gratify their sinful desires. This is the first countercultural principle we find in our text. You see, in our society, anything goes. All desires are gratified. We never deny ourselves anything. We are constantly told, “Do whatever you want. Do whatever feels good. As long as nobody gets hurt, you can do anything you desire.” Actually, given the popularity of a recent book turned movie, even if somebody is hurt, as long as they give consent first, it’s still ok to satisfy the desire to hurt them!
Our culture doesn’t believe in sin, let alone sinful desires. If you don’t believe in sin, then how can desires be bad? If you want it, have it. So this is one of the ways that Christians are to live counter culturally. We are called to evaluate our desires, not just give in to them. We are called to evaluate our desires based on what God has revealed to us in Scripture and not satisfy those desires that are contrary to the Holy Spirit.
And here’s the tricky thing. Giving in to our sinful desires often, if not always, feels good. It is pleasurable. If sin wasn’t pleasurable, at least on some level, it wouldn’t be much of a temptation, would it? But hundreds of times a day, our culture sends us the message, “Do whatever you want. Have whatever you desire. If it feels good it must be good. Don’t deny yourself anything. Certainly don’t let anyone else deny you anything you want.” Our culture uses its freedom to indulge the sinful nature whenever, wherever and however it wants. Christians are to live differently.
Paul tells us that as Christians, we are to live by the Holy Spirit and in so doing we will not gratify our sinful desires. And, being a realist, Paul says that this is hard. There is a conflict going on between the Spirit at work in us and our sinful nature. Christians experience conflict and enmity within themselves when it comes to their sinful desires. That there is even a conflict is part of what sets us apart from secular culture. Our secular culture doesn’t experience this conflict because they automatically give in to any desire they have. There is no conflict because there is no voice saying “No!” to their desires.
Now let’s consider what Peter has to say in his letter. Writing to Christians, Peter says, “You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God….” These are all terms used to describe Israel in the OT! Israel was God’s chosen people. Israel was God’s holy nation, a people belonging to God. Now, the church, Christians, are to fulfil the role ancient Israel once fulfilled.
What is our primary purpose as the people of God? To declare the praises of him who called us out of darkness into his wonderful light. Notice, we were once in darkness. That is, we were once part of the sinful world. But God has called us out of that to be a light to the nations. God has called us to be different from the world in order to set an example to the world. The role of Israel in the OT was to be a light to the surrounding nations. They were to be very different from the surrounding cultures in order to demonstrate God’s love and character to them. The church, now, has the same role.
What’s more, we have to understand that our world lives in darkness. Our secular culture lives in darkness. That is why they are constantly sending us messages that run contrary to God’s desires for us. That is why they are constantly feeding us images, lessons, and ideas that run against what the Spirit is trying to teach us. So we must be very wary of the logic of our culture. We must be wary of the lessons they teach, of the messages they send. And this is part of the conflict we experience as Christians. We are being given two contradictory messages: the messages of our culture and the messages of the Spirit.
Peter understands this tension. He uses the images of being aliens and strangers in the world. This is quite appropriate! When we live by the Spirit instead of by our secular culture’s standards, we are alienated from our culture. We are different. We stand out. People look at us as strange. They shake their heads at what we say, do and believe. In particular, in our contemporary culture, they can’t believe that we don’t do whatever feels good. They can’t believe we deny ourselves anything. They are baffled by our attempts to resist our sinful desires. And they are scandalized when we suggest anybody else do the same!
And that is the hypocrisy of our culture. They believe anything goes, you can believe and do whatever you want, except suggest that somebody else shouldn’t do what they want. Any belief is fine except the belief that we should resist a desire or deny ourselves a pleasure. When we start talking that way, our culture reject us, calls us bigots, busybodies, zealots, killjoys, etc. They angrily and sometimes violently tell us to shut up and mind our own business.
Peter goes on to say, as aliens and strangers in the world, abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. Interesting that Peter is making the exact same point as Paul! He speaks of war between our sinful desires and our soul. He sees the conflict, the struggle within us when it comes to our sinful desires vs our newfound life in the Spirit. He says we should not gratify our sinful desires because they are in conflict with the Spirit now dwelling within us. They are at war with our souls.
Instead, we are called to live such good lives among the pagans, that is, among our secular culture that doesn’t know God, that even though they accuse us of doing wrong, they may see our good deeds. A couple principles to draw out here. First, we will be accused of wrongdoing when we live contrary to our surrounding culture. This can be a hard fact to swallow. It can be a very difficult, painful thing to experience. But when we choose to live for Jesus, when we choose to live according to the Holy Spirit instead of our sinful nature, we are not only alienated from our surrounding culture, but they will accuse us doing wrong because of it.
Peter says that we are to live such good lives, such lives of agape love, that even when the people around us accuse us of doing wrong, they will see the good we do. Another way to put this is, “Live such good lives among non-Christians that their accusations against you gain no traction.” Let your good lives outshine their accusations. But that doesn’t mean they won’t still accuse you. And that can be very painful.
So how do we apply these principles? How do we apply them in general, but also how do we apply them to the topic at hand, homosexuality? The first application is that God loves you just as you are, and too much to let you stay that way. We have sinful desires, and God loves us anyway! We were in darkness, yet God called us out of darkness into his marvellous light. He loved us while we were in the darkness. God loves us just as we are, sinful creatures that we be. And yet his love for us is so great that he does not want us to stay the way we are. He wants us to grow, to be changed, transformed, renewed and redeemed. That’s why we are to no longer gratify our sinful nature, but instead live by the Spirit. There is a struggle within us, but that struggle is for our good so that we are changed from what we were to what we will be when Christ returns and sin is extinguished from the world. And that has to be the underlying principle behind our approach to sin in all its forms, including but not limited to homosexuality. God loves us even if we have same sex attraction. God loves us even if we give in to that attraction and act on it. But God also loves us so much that he doesn’t want us to stay as we are but to be transformed and renewed.
Second, there is a gulf between us and our surrounding culture. Peter describes this as being alienated from our culture, we are aliens in the world. He describes this as being strangers in the world. This means we will lose friends in the world when we live according to the Spirit and not our sinful nature. The world will accuse us of all sorts of wrong doing.
One of the biggest examples of that gulf is the Christian belief that not all desires are good and not all desires should be satisfied; that some desires should be resisted. When we say this out loud, or even just demonstrate it in our lifestyle, we speak against our culture and its foundational beliefs. This offends our culture and calls out our culture for its indulgence. If we don’t satisfy every desire we have, then we are saying that other people shouldn’t gratify all their desires either. Self-restraint calls into question our culture’s most deeply held belief. And that will make us enemies of our culture.
This also means that we must be careful listening to the messages of our culture. We need to be diligent to run our culture’s messages through the filter of Scripture. Because our culture still lies in darkness and we have been called out of that darkness, we need to be thoughtful about what our culture teaches us. We will be different from our culture in a variety of ways and will disagree with our culture on a variety of topics if we live by the Spirit.
Why is this important? Because we want to be popular. We want to be liked. We want our culture to accept us. Nobody likes being an alien or a stranger. Nobody likes not fitting in. So we will always be tempted to go along with our culture in order to avoid the pain of being alienated or ostracised; of being criticized and ridiculed for being different.
Specific to the topic of homosexuality, we will be accused of being homophobic if we say anything negative about homosexuality. If we say that homosexual desires should not be gratified, we will be called homophobic, bigots, haters and the like. Because we are telling people there are some desires that should not be satisfied, even if satisfying them feels good, and our culture doesn’t want to hear that.
Unfortunately, many people calling themselves Christians are homophobic. They are haters. They are bigots. They carry signs that say, “God hates gays” and the like. But that is completely wrong. That hardly fits into Peter’s command to “live such good lives… that they see your good deeds.”
The Christian response to homosexuality is not to hate homosexuals or tell them God hates them. That’s not living life filled with good deeds! It is not living by the Spirit. In fact, it demonstrates a complete lack of agape love. It shows that we have forgotten that we, too, one lived in darkness. God called us out of that darkness, but that does not mean we are to hate those still in the darkness. Instead, we are to live such good lives that they see our good deeds and, one day, when Christ returns, they will praise God for our good deeds.
Another way to put this is that we are to live lives filled with such good deeds that we win our culture over by them. Not by arguments necessarily, but by our lifestyles of loving God and others so much. We need to love those still in darkness just as God loves them. And we need to pray and work for their transformation through the Spirit just as God is transforming us. God loves them just as they are, and too much to let them stay that way.
“[Christianity] is a separate voice, a voice in the wilderness, an alternative society to the prevailing culture and status quo.” [Scott McKnight, 1 Peter, p. 136] This means we will think, believe and act differently from the culture surrounding us. It means we won’t satisfy every desire we have. It also means that when people hate us for it, we won’t hate them back! The desire to get revenge, the desire to hate people for hating us, is also a sinful desire we are not to gratify!
Instead, we are to live holy lives. We are to live differently than the world around us. We are Christ’s hands and feet in the world, his representatives. And if he loves people who are in darkness still, then we must love them too. We must be different and set apart, we must be holy. One great description I found of holy living says this, “Holiness is a thirst, a drive to know God in his fullness and an unashamed commitment to obey God whatever it costs and wherever we are.” [McKnight, p. 138] That unashamed commitment to obey God means we will be ridiculed and hated by some who do not know God, who don’t want to know God, who don’t want to live by the Spirit, but instead love gratifying their sinful nature. That is, those still in darkness will hate us for living in the light.
“Holy living ought to be a characteristic symbol of what identifies a Christian.” [McKnight, p. 138] Our thirst for God should make us stand out. And that thirst for God means loving the unlovely, loving those ensnared in sin, loving those still in the darkness. It doesn’t mean agreeing with them. It means being primarily concerned with their well-being, in particular their spiritual well-being.
Why is it that this has not been the reputation of the church in recent years? Because when it comes to indulging our desires we usually indulge them too. Far too often Christians give in to their sinful desires too. And this kills our credibility when we speak out about one particular group of people who struggle with one particular kind of sinful desire. We are not living holy lives, we are not living lives filled with good deeds. We are living self-indulgent lives, giving in to greed, materialism, the pursuit of pleasure, not denying ourselves what we want. Too many Christians give in to sexual desires of all sorts. So it seems hypocritical when we suddenly draw the line when those sexual desires are for people of the same sex.
The biggest problem the church has when speaking on the topic of homosexuality is that it is one of the few areas in which we suddenly want people to exercise self-restraint. We don’t do it in other areas of our lives, like credit card debt from buying everything we desire, lust, gossip, greed, lying, etc. We are not living as God’s chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God. We are too interested in fitting in with our culture and we enjoy our culture’s attitude towards our desires- that they should all be satisfied.
But God loves us too much to let us stay this way. God is calling each of us to live a Spirit-filled life, which means not using our freedom in Christ to gratify our sinful desires, but instead fighting those desires to live by the Spirit. If those desires are greedy, we need to fight them. If those desires are for power, we need to fight them. If those desires are to fit in with people and be popular, we have to fight them. If those desires are lustful, we have to fight them. If those desires are lustful for people of the same sex as us, then we have to fight them too.
But we can’t expect our culture to understand us when we resist these desires. We also can’t expect our culture to resist their sinful desires either. It is only through the Spirit that we can resist our sinful nature. And our culture doesn’t have the Spirit! But we can love them. We can love them with agape love just as God loves them. And we can hope, pray and strive for them to come to know Christ so that they, too, can be transformed. Just as God loves you, God loves them just as they are, and too much to let them stay that way, no matter what their sinful desires are. Amen.
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