I regularly receive questions regarding issues of what I call “practical” grace. Lately some of the most common questions have dealt with grace and homosexuality. Many pastors have chosen to shy away from answering similar questions, due to the immense controversy, but I personally believe that as this issue continues to gain increased attention both socially and politically, it is likewise important that churches and individual believers know how to respond to such questions. More specifically, I believe that it’s important to know what the Bible teaches regarding faith and sexual orientation/sexual identity, no matter how controversial the answers may be.
Additionally, I think this topic is important to address, because many homosexuals are in fact seeking a relationship with God, but have been isolated and segregated in the past, or simply made to feel this way, from the church due to hate speech, bigotry, and religious thinking. My hope is that by addressing properly and clearly what the Bible teaches about homosexuality, sin, and most of all God’s grace, that the church might once again be restored as a place of refuge and healing for all who are seeking a Savior.
With that being said, I would like to acknowledge from the start that issues of gender, sexuality, and identity are quite complex and usually trigger strong emotions on either side of the debate. In no way, especially in so few words, am I able to adequately answer all questions related to sexual orientation, but hopefully the below questions and answers will serve to give initial insight into what we teach and also provide much needed biblical perspective to readers wanting to understand a gospel oriented view of grace and homosexuality, etc. I trust not all will agree with my responses, but I very much hope that all will at least see this as a positive step in furthering the discussion.
Q: Are homosexuals welcome at your church?
Assuming they aren’t coming for nefarious reasons, absolutely everyone is welcome at any one of our Oasis’ churches. At Oasis, we aren’t focused on sin management or trying to uncover everyone’s deep, dark secrets, rather we focus on love and identity in Christ. People are very safe at Oasis to engage, learn, grow, and ask questions relevant to their lives. Our assumption is that every single person who attends one of our churches has “issues” to some degree; shortcomings, secret sins, or character flaws. It isn’t that we look at these struggles as if they don’t matter or aren’t important to God. Our character matters deeply to God, because it affects the quality of our lives and the lives of those around us. The difference though at Oasis is not in what we believe about sin or character, but rather in what we believe about God’s grace. Titus 2:12 says that grace “teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age”. At Oasis, we understand that the secret to life transformation and healing is experiencing God’s love and grace, and doesn’t come through finger pointing, fault finding, or condemning words – what unfortunately many people are used to finding at church. Grace doesn’t mean that we approve of homosexuality, but simply that we believe that every person, regardless of their behavior, has value and worth. Sometimes people hearing this will ask, “So you believe in going easy on sin?” My response is always the same, “No, I just believe God went hard on Jesus.” Make no doubt about it, sin can kill you, but Jesus is greater than our sin. The Bible teaches that Jesus became sin at the cross and received in himself the full payment and penalty for our sin through his death on the cross (Isaiah 53:11, 54:9-10). This is what we call the “Great Exchange”; that he took our sin and exchanged it for his righteousness. As a result, we now have peace with God and walk in his grace. In this way, we extend this grace to others, regardless of their struggles, because we trust God’s grace to lead people into truth and godliness.
Bottom line, if someone is coming to Oasis to hear the message and to explore their faith – that person is always welcome. If someone else, gay or not, is coming simply to cause problems, that’s a different story and a person like this, assuming they refused to stop whatever issue they were causing, would be asked to leave until their attitude or agenda changes.
Q: Nature versus Nurture? How does grace respond to this debate?
First off, the homosexual agenda needs for the answer to this question to be nature. If the answer is nurture, then homosexuality becomes a result of abuse, pain, and distorted emotions and thus something that can and should be healed. The temptation here is to make homosexuality about this debate, but it isn’t. Personally, I do believe that the primary cause of homosexuality is nurture, or lack thereof, (i.e. abuse, emasculation, bullying, etc.) but because of how pervasive I believe sin to be, I have no issue conceding perhaps some causality to nature, with the understanding that science is finding, and I believe the Bible confirms this, that our genes pass down programming and emotions on levels that we are just beginning to realize. (Please note – this is NOT generational curse teaching, which is unscriptural, and something altogether different.) So, if the answer is nurture, then certainly there is restoration and freedom in Christ. But if the answer is nature or both nature and nurture, what should this matter? If Lady Gaga is right, and we were all “born this way”, this still should not be an obstacle, for in Christ we can all be born again into newness of life. Our nature, that was once dead to God, can be made alive to God and filled with the fruit of righteousness (i.e. God’s kind of life – life as it should be).
As the church, we need to be aware that to many in the homosexual community, talk like this simply sounds like Christians are trying to change people. In order to be truly effective in reaching people with the gospel, especially reaching a group like homosexuals that have been subjected to decades of hate speech by the religious, we need to demonstrate and carefully clarify that our intentions in preaching the message go far beyond trying to make converts, and that our main goal is to see people renewed, restored, and full of the life of God. Grace and sincerity, not debate, are perhaps the greatest tools that we possess in reaching this community.
Q: Is homosexuality worse than other sins?
The short answer here is, yes and no. From God’s vantage point, sin is sin. People mistakenly think that the Bible teaches in James 2:10 that all sins are equal, and although this is true in some ways, this is only part of the picture. What it actually states is that “whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.” This doesn’t mean that all sin is equal exactly, but that to commit one sin is to be found guilty of all sin. Obviously, without Christ, the consequencesof this are dreadful. So in this sense,to commit any sin, makes even a heterosexual man guilty of homosexuality. Because of this, homosexuality is no worse than any other sin. This should hopefully wake up some of the legalists out there who see homosexuality as the worst sin imaginable, since in the absence of Christ, they themselves, according to the law, are guilty of the same offense.
On the other hand, it would be foolish to think that horizontally, that is on earth, all sins are equal or that the consequences are the same. The consequences of lying are typically less than the consequences of sexual sin, but likewise, the ramifications of murder far outweigh those of both deceit and any sexual sin. In this way, homosexuality does have detrimental effects to one’s emotions, sense of self-worth, and at times, health.
All considering, I think it’s important that we keep in mind that the goal here isn’t to manage sin, rather to lead people into true,unhindered relationship with God. Sin management is shortsighted and stems from a performance driven view of sin that does little to actually restore and heal those who are hurting. To truly restore people, at a heart level, regardless of the sin, we must focus on identity in Christ, grace as God’s power for change, and most importantly the love of God.
Q: If all sins are equal, and we all sin, should homosexuality disqualify you for ministry?
In regards to homosexuality disqualifying a person for ministry, part of the problem here is that the question is flawed. The question begins by isolating homosexuality as a special class of sin, and thus makes it nearly impossible to answer the question in such a way that doesn’t trap Christians into saying that homosexuality is worse than all other sins. With this in mind, the better question is, does sin disqualify a person for ministry?
To answer that, let me remind us that in the New Covenant we understand that Jesus took upon himself the sins of the entire world and removed the dividing wall of hostility between God and man. As a result, when approaching God, sin is no longer our problem. With this in mind, we see that it isn’t sin that disqualifies a person for ministry; rather it is his belief about his sin that does. If sin disqualified us for ministry or Christian service, then we would all be disqualified, for all have sinned. To make sense of this, let’s look at 1 John 1:8-10 where it says, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make himout to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.” This means that a man or woman who has homosexual thoughts or feelings, but acknowledges these tendencies as sin or desires of the flesh, chooses to honor the word of God and takes responsibility for their own heart. This person, with time and grace, will find freedom and wholeness and I believe the church should model God’s grace towards them, by embracing them, as they would any other brother. On the contrary, to deny homosexuality (or gluttony for that matter) as sin and to embrace it as part of one’s nature is rebellion and as John states, “makes him (God) out to be a liar.” In this case, it is a man’s belief about his sin that disqualifies him, not sin itself. Referring back to the previous passage, John illustrates this in verse 8, where he states, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.”
On the other hand, in verses 9 and 10, John reminds us, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all righteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make himout to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.” The Greek word used here for “confess” literally means “to say the same thing”. Commonly, people think of the word confession as having to do with rehashing all of your secret sins to a priest or even to God, but biblical confession really has little to do with this. Biblical confession actually entails agreeing with God about our sin; saying the same thing about it that he does. Yes, we do this when we acknowledge that our sins are in fact truly sins, but we only fulfill the true definition of confession when we agree with God that our sin has also been covered by God’s grace and is no longer counted against us. One who either fails to acknowledge sin as sin or fails to confess their sin as forgiven in Christ, both fail to “say the same thing” as God and really have no business ministering to others, when they themselves are still not walking in God’s grace.
So to the person struggling with sin, but who desires to live for God, I would say: Simply agree with God that your sin was covered and paid for on the cross and receive his grace in your life. Jesus is your qualification, both now and forever.
Q: If you could share one thing with the Homosexual or LGBT community, what would it be?
To those in the homosexual and LGBT communities, I want you to know that at Oasis, our message is simple – God loves you and he’s better than we think he is. I also want you to know that God’s not mad at you, but crazy about you. In the book of Genesis, God gave Noah the sign of the rainbow in the sky, as a testimony of his promise and faithfulness towards all of creation. Isaiah, the prophet, takes this a step further in Isaiah 54:9-10, where God says, “To me this is like the days of Noah, when I swore that the waters of Noah would never again cover the earth. So now I have sworn not to be angry with you, never to rebuke you again. Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,” says the Lord, who has compassion on you.” In all of this hopefully it’s clear, God wants a relationship with you – with all of us. He wants to fulfill your hopes and your dreams. He wants to give you wisdom, truth, and his abundant grace. He wants to show you the real you. Not the person you see when you look in the mirror, but the real you; the deep reality and beauty that is in your spirit, beyond the sum of your sexuality and your outward behavior – the person you’ve been searching for all these years. He wants to show you who you were created to be. God is extending to you the greatest offer that there ever could be – to be made truly alive. But understand this, he won’t force himself on you, he won’t make you receive him. That is your choice – you must invite him into your life.
Let me close by leaving you with the words of John in John 3:16-21:
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.”
If you are interested in ordering more life giving resources from the Oasis Network For Churches or to receive additional information about starting a relationship with Jesus Christ, please visit www.oasnet.org or call 574.247.9800.