October 1, 2017
HOMOSEXUALITY AND GENDER ISSUES
(5 of 12 in a series on Humanity, Sin, and the Person of Christ)
Preparing for this lesson has been difficult. Sure, it’s been difficult in that I had to do a lot of study that I haven’t necessarily done for earlier lessons. Much of my life has been the study of theology, so some of these earlier lessons I might have been able to get up and talk about without using notes. But not this one. This one required a lot of reading and thinking and studying of issues about which I wasn’t very educated, which does bring me to three book recommendations that I want to make right away. Concerning homosexuality, Sam Allberry’s Is God Anti-Gay and Ed Shaw’s Same-Sex Attraction and the Church are two excellent books, written by two faithful and obedient followers of Christ who struggle with same-sex attraction. And then concerning gender issues, Andrew Walker’s book God and the Transgender Debate is an excellent resource, written by a brother who doesn’t struggle with the issue of gender confusion personally but writes in a very biblically faithful and compassionate manner.
But when I say that preparing for this lesson has been difficult, I don’t primarily mean because it’s required a lot of reading, studying, and thinking. I mean it’s been difficult pastorally. It’s been emotionally difficult as I’ve been gripped with compassion for real struggles that people really have that in some cases that I’ve not thought about or prayed about as much as I could have. I’ve felt pain to think of my brother or sister in Christ perhaps struggling with sinful desires, wanting to live a holy life, and perhaps feeling like few if any are joining with them in the fight.
Let me try to picture what I mean by using a specific issue that is not going to be our focus this morning. Imagine there is a twenty-year-old girl at Union who believes she needs to look a lot different in order to be beautiful. Everything in culture says this by highlighting women who she believes look a lot different from her. Guys seem to be pursuing women who look a lot different than her. And every time she looks at herself, her brain tells her she needs to look different. Every desire within her is to look different.
Therefore, she begins the pursuit in unhealthy ways. She often goes with little to no food, or if she eats what she feels is too much food, she forces herself to throw up. And it’s beginning to take a toll on her health in a number of ways. Some of these ways people can see; others they can’t. And she knows it’s wrong. From the pulpit she hears sermons that quote 1 Peter 3:3-4: “Do not let your adorning be external . . . but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.” And she knows she’s disobeying that text. She reads texts like 1 Samuel 16:7 where the Lord says, “Man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” And she knows she’s disobeying the Lord and buying into a bunch of lies. And she begins to grow in dislike for herself, now not only for the way she looks, but for what she’s doing.
She’s wasting away. Looking in the mirror, she sees a reflection that to most people would signal not only someone quite thin but even thin to an unhealthy level. But she sees someone overweight. And she realizes she’s in trouble, but she doesn’t know if anyone else understands what she’s going through, how she feels, or how she sees the world. She thinks about talking to someone at church or one of her pastors, but she’s afraid that they’ll think she’s crazy or just tell her to eat better, and she feels hopeless and alone.
Now, as I noted, I’m not dealing with eating disorders or specifically anorexia this morning. But I wanted to start with that story for a few reasons. First, we all know that stories like that aren’t exceptional. In fact, sitting in this room, there are probably a number who have dealt (or are dealing) with something on the spectrum of that story I just described or know someone who did. Second, I think we understand that the feelings or desires the girl has in my scenario are real. They may not be feelings or desires that you can relate to. In fact, it may be impossible for you to comprehend how you can look in the mirror and see something far from reality, but you’ve either heard or known someone who can testify to how real this is. Third, I think we also understand that there are a number of responses to the girl in this story that would simply be utterly inappropriate. It would be wrong simply to say she’s crazy because you can’t relate to her struggle; or to act like all is well when she is sinning, endangering her health, and endangering her soul; or obviously to encourage her in her behavior, suggesting that she should give in to pursuing how she feels or what she desires; or to make her feel isolated because you may not be able to relate to her struggle or see that her sin is showing itself publicly in harmful ways that perhaps your sinful struggles don’t; or to want to distance yourself from her, though you see her drowning, because you’re not sure you have all the answers for her or aren’t sure you can give the time or energy that it’s going to take to bring her out of it.
And the final reason I wanted to start with this story is because I personally am unfamiliar with what it feels like to be a female, struggling with desires that would lead to the pursuit of a dangerous eating disorder. In other words, I don’t know precisely what it’s like to stand in the shoes of that 20-year-old girl that I just described in that story. I don’t. And I don’t want to suggest I do. In other words, if you’re someone right now for whom that story is a decently accurate description of your day-to-day life, and you come to me as your pastor for help, I will say to you right now that I don’t know what it’s like in my innermost being to know the struggle you face. And I don’t want to minimize your struggle by acting like I do.
But I do know what it’s like to have sinful feelings and desires that cry out for you to indulge them. I know what it’s like, for example, to desire glory and praise and prestige and long for it. I know what it’s like to let that desire push me to the point that I perform some deed, secretly hoping that others will praise me for it. I have unrealistic fantastic images in my head of people looking at me, watching me live my life or perform some deed, and then getting together and talking behind my back about how great I am. And I know what it’s like to actually receive that praise, get credit and honor, be spoken of in pretty decent terms, and then waking up the next day and realizing it’s not enough.
In other words, I know what it’s like to feel sinful desires, give in to them, and then feel even emptier and needier than I did before. I know what it’s like to pray to the Lord and say, “Make my heart content,” and then wake up a few days later with a temptation coming from my very heart, screaming at me that I need something more, or thinking I’m alright until something unexpectedly comes along and reminds me that I’m not quite as achieved as someone else, and then the enemy begins whispering all kinds of lies.
In other words, I don’t know what it’s like to know that girl’s particular struggle in my story, but I can describe all kinds of very similar struggles in my own life that I know first hand. I don’t know what it’s like to feel like you want to end your life, but I know very well what it’s like to desire sins that I know would hurt people around me that I dearly love. And because I know what it’s like to feel the temptation to sin and to try to put to death sinful desires and because I know that the Lord has called me to live my life with and to fight for the holiness of my brothers and sisters who also know these struggles (though they may be different from mine in some ways), it makes me want to walk with grace, compassion, understanding, and a desire to help them walk in a manner that is honoring to the Lord as we link arms together and pursue the city whose designer and builder is God.
Now, I want you to take everything I just said in that long introduction and think about someone who struggles with feelings of same-sex attraction or gender dysphoria (which is the feeling or desire to be a different gender than the Lord has made you biologically) because that’s what I want to deal with over the next couple of weeks, and we need to feel the call to walk with our brothers and sisters who deal with these temptations to aid them in the pursuit of holiness. We also need to think biblically about these issues, which is my main goal today and next week. But before I dive into looking at these two issues, let me say that I’m dealing with these two things because these are two issues about which the culture is saying very much right now that is not in line with what the Bible says. I’m not dealing with these two topics because they always go together. Sometimes they do. I’ve been talking with a dear sister in Christ recently whose sister is both pursuing a homosexual lifestyle and is seeking to live her life as a man when God has made her a woman. But oftentimes they don’t.
So, with that said, I’m going to approach this by simply making a number of statements which I’ll elaborate on, some more than others. First,
God made humanity as male and female and pronounced it to be very good.
Now, what I mean by this is that when God created mankind, making man and woman (or male and female), he was showing that gender is a God-created, good thing that matches our anatomical makeup. In other words, God doesn’t create general human beings and allow us to choose whether we want to identify as or be recognized as male or female. He actually made you and me a male or a female, and the gender he makes us is identified by how he makes us biologically. In other words, there’s good reason why the ob-gyn can deliver a baby and immediately say, “It’s a boy” (or “It’s a girl”) without asking that baby what he thinks about himself. God actually makes us male or female biologically, that biological makeup tells us our gender, and that is good.
God created the reproductive activity of sexual intimacy to take place between one man and one woman within the relationship of marriage.
Not only does God create humanity as male and female, but he immediately shows why this creation of male and female is necessary by saying in the very next verse, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it . . .” (Gen. 1:28). That is to say, humanity simply cannot be fruitful and multiply apart from the male-female relationship. Two men cannot be fruitful and multiply, and two women cannot be fruitful and multiply. So, gender is God’s good and necessary gift to us.
We also see that this fruitfulness and multiplication of humanity was designed to take place within the marriage relationship of one man and one woman because in Genesis 2, when God creates the woman from the rib of the man and brings her to him, the text immediately says in the next verse, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24). Thus, the Lord immediately speaks of the man and the woman becoming one flesh as husband and wife.
God’s original design for children is to be raised by their father and mother.
This is an implication of the last point we made that it takes a man and a woman to be fruitful and multiply and that marriage is the relationship in which God has ordained for this to take place. But it’s also explicitly stated along the Bible’s storyline with instructions about fathers and mothers and the children.
And I want to mention this because considering the good of children may well be the strongest factor of showing our allegiance to Christ in this culture because the well-being of children is quickly being dismissed in society. Let me take a bit of an aside on this point and note that the reason government in our country had a vested interest in recognizing marriages and licensing them as a binding relationship is because they recognized that it is good and right for children to be raised by their father and mother, who are in a committed, lasting relationship. In fact, the greatest indicator that someone in our country will not grow up and live in poverty is that he or she is raised by his or her father and mother who are bound to one another in a committed marriage relationship.
Consequently, the change to focus on the desires and supposed happiness of adults instead of what is good for children has led to no-fault divorce where children grow up without their parents in a committed lasting relationship, homosexual marriage where fathers or mothers are seen as optional, and abortion where children are simply killed and removed from the picture. These three realities are different, but at their core they all hold to the idea that the supposed happiness of adults trumps the well-being of children, and our society has paid the consequences of this for years and will continue to do so. In any society that is going to prosper, the onus must be on adults to conform to the needs of children, not the other way around.1
Now, all of this deals with God’s intention and ideal. This is what is good. It’s good to recognize humanity as male and female, where our biological makeup perfectly aligns with and indicates to us our gender. It’s good to recognize that marriage is the relationship between one man and a woman who alone can have a reproductive relationship whereby children can be brought into a world where they are ideally raised by their fathers and mothers. This is God’s ideal, and we must never forget it because we began our course this semester recognizing that the Bible is God’s Word and is therefore trustworthy, true, and authoritative in our lives. We noted that wisdom begins with fearing God and bowing the knee to his revelation. And if we’re going to do that in relation to these issues, then we need to recognize these ideals given to us by God.
Of course, we also know that after Genesis 3 sin and death entered the world and brought all kinds of brokenness and sinful desires into the world. So, although I’m going to talk about the nature of sin in a couple of weeks, I need to say a few things about it now, namely,
After Genesis 3 humanity is made up of people with naturally sinful desires.
Again, I’m going to do a whole lesson on the nature of sin and sinful humanity after Genesis 3 in a couple of weeks, so I’m not going to say too much about it now, but I just want to note this reality. But I don’t know that there needs to be much arguing done to prove it. My guess is that all of us know that we don’t have to teach one another to sin. Lustful desires, prideful feelings, and covetous urgings come to us quite naturally. But I will give a bit of argument, briefly noting that “None is righteous, no, not one . . . no one does good, not even one” (Rom. 3:10-12) and that we are by nature “dead in [our] trespasses and sins . . . following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Eph. 2:1-3). And this has an implication for us, namely, that:
Our desires are not trustworthy guides for determining what is good and right for us.
I don’t think I need to add much to that. If our desires are often sinful this side of the fall, then it follows that they’re not reliable guides for what is good and right. But I want to note this specifically because that’s a bit counter-cultural to note that desire does not always equal what is right and good. In fact, it is easy to assume in numerous cases that my desires can often lead me astray.
Imagine, for example, that you are looking at a room full of three-year-olds, and you give really dull pieces of cardboard to all of the children but one. And then you dump in the lap of one of the kids a bunch of shiny, new, exciting toys. If you’ve seen children, then you know that the natural desire of the other kids in the room, holding their dull pieces of cardboard, isn’t to sit back and give thanks for the blessing of that other children, rejoicing in the bounty of good fortune that he’s received. Their desire is to covet and take those toys. That’s why I only put pieces of cardboard in their hands instead of something like sticks because I didn’t want this illustration to get too ugly.
But it shows, doesn’t it, that our desires are not reliable guides for what is good and right. Now, let’s get more specific.
Two sinful desires we see this side of Genesis 3 are 1) a desire to pursue homosexual activity and 2) to identify differently or to pursue a different gender than God made you to be.
Now, I want to identify these desires as sinful because I think that’s the right way to speak of them. But I don’t say that so that if someone feels a same-sex attraction or struggles with feelings of gender dysphoria, then they need to understand that they’re in active rebellion against the Lord and are heading toward hell. Of course not. We’re not walking in active rebellion against the Lord simply because of desires that may be within us. But I do want to acknowledge that these desires are out of step with what is good and right and commanded to us by God.
In other words, if I have well up within me a desire to pursue another woman besides my wife, then that is a sinful desire. I’m not saying by that that because lustful desires may well up within me that I’m in active rebellion against God and should face church discipline. But I do want to recognize that this is a sinful desire that must be taken captive to Christ and forced to submit to him. When Scripture’s commands and my desires are at odds, my desires must never be allowed to rule but always bow in submission to Scripture, which brings me to my next point.
When gender dysphoria and homosexual desires are allowed to rule and are acted upon, an individual is sinning.
It’ll be easiest just to take this from one side of the equation in thinking about gender dysphoria, though it applies to both sides. But what I’m saying is that when a male, a boy or a man, decides that he is going to act upon a sinful desire to become a girl or a woman (though that is actually impossible) or be identified as a girl or a woman, that male is sinning.
He’s sinning because he is refusing to bow to knee to who God made him to be, a man. He is sinning because he is rebelliously determining for himself what is good for him instead of bowing the knee to what God has done. Now, as far as the Bible addressing this explicitly, there aren’t a great number of places that address this issue specifically. Paul does tell the Corinthians in 1 Cor. 11:14-15, “Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair it is a disgrace for him but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory?”
Now, if you want my lengthier explanation of why I think this reference to “nature” means in their cultural context, you can look at my sermon on 1 Corinthians 11:2-16,2 but what Paul is saying here is that in their culture men had short hair and women had long hair. And by Paul saying that nature itself (or their cultural context) teaches men that it is a disgrace to them to have long hair, what he is saying is that men should see it as a disgrace to look like a woman. In other words, men should strive to live and appear as men and women as women, and to do otherwise, Paul tells us, is disgraceful.
I’ll also add that manhood and womanhood is simply assumed as something that is good and should not be changed. For example, we saw last week in looking at 1 Timothy 2 that Paul gives instructions for what roles men are allowed to have in the church and what roles women are to have in the church, and he doesn’t provide any category for men becoming or acting as women or women as men in that context. Again, the teaching of the Bible is that gender is a God-given good reality and to rebel against it is sin.
The same is true in regards to homosexual practice. The Bible explicitly condemns this practice in numerous places. For example, Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality . . . will inherit the kingdom of God.” Clearly, practicing homosexuality is in the same sphere as adultery or idolatry, that is sinful acts that lead to condemnation. Also, Paul notes in Romans 1:24-32 that homosexual practice by men and women is not only sinful and worthy of divine judgment but that it is “shameless” and when given over to it, men and women are actually being given over in judgment. So, the Bible makes very clear that when desires of being a different gender or same-sex desires are acted upon an individual is sinning.
Now, next week I want to turn more positive, talk about redemption, hope, and walking in holiness despite battling sinful desires.