This week, Bob Thune explores how the gospel drives discipleship from beginning to end by sharing his experience working with a friend, Ryan, who identifies as a transsexual. Read the first, second, and third installments.
Ryan started the dialogue by making it clear that he utterly disagreed with everything on the CD. Mike’s statistics were wrong, he hadn’t done enough research on gay issues, maybe he was never truly gay anyway, and so on. Had I been trying to change Ryan’s behavior, I might have been more apt to defend Mike or to enter into a gay-apologetic debate. But none of those things mattered. At this point, I wasn’t trying to convince Ryan that his lifestyle was wrong. I was trying to surface some deeper issues in his heart.
“Okay, so there was lots of stuff that you disagreed with. Did you invite me here to argue about that stuff? Or did you invite me here to talk about some things that you’re really thinking about?” With those few questions, I changed the focus of the conversation.
In discipleship, we usually talk about the wrong things. We spend all sorts of time talking about petty sins and surface issues, when the real battle is going on in the heart. You can talk about behavior and external circumstances all day, but unless you drag some heart idols out on the table, you’re just putting a Band-Aid on the problem. You can say it the way Jesus did: “Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45). Or you can say it the way Tim Keller does: “The root of every sin is a breaking of the first commandment.” The real question is not what we’re doing, but what god we’re worshiping. That’s why what your disciples want is much more important than what they know.
As we talked, I began to discern that Ryan’s dominant heart idol was pride. He wanted power, acceptance, love, control. He found these in his sexual identity. Before he accepted his transsexuality, he said he felt weak, unimportant, secretive. Now he had an identity. He was socially powerful. When he dressed as a woman, he put others on the defensive. He could judge those who disagreed with his lifestyle as being bigoted, unloving, or intolerant. He was in control. Now that I was beginning to see what he loved and worshiped, I could move the conversation in a direction that would address the disease and not the symptoms.
So how do you solve the problem of idolatry? Well, the right answer, of course, is to turn away from idols and turn to Christ. That is the ultimate goal: repentance and faith. But here’s the problem: We worship idols because we LOVE them. We crave them. They are more important to us than life itself. So merely saying, “Repent and believe!” can ring hollow. Sometimes smashing our idols requires surfacing the deeper wants in our soul that will pull us toward God, if we will only let them.
Ryan began to talk with Amy the bubbly Jesus-girl and me about some things on the CD that he did agree with. Mike had said that even during his gay years, he always wanted to be “normal,” to have a wife and kids and a house in the suburbs. Ryan desperately identified with that desire. He felt it would never be possible, because he was gay and transsexual. But deep down, the desire—the want—was there.
“Where do you think that desire comes from?” I asked.
“I don’t know.”
“Can I offer a possible answer?”
“Understand that I’m going to talk about this from a biblical point of view, because that’s my world view.”
“Yeah, I know. Go on,” he invited.
“I think the fact that you desire to be married and have kids proves that God has implanted certain instincts deeply within your soul. If you were born gay, and if there was no God, it would make no sense for you to desire a wife and kids. The existence of that desire testifies to the fact that you are made in the image of God, like the Bible says, and that sexuality is a deeply wired, God-given part of your identity as a human being. That means that it’s possible for you to change.”
“No it’s not. I don’t want to change. I’m transsexual. I have been ever since I can remember.”
“Then why do you want a wife and kids and a house in the suburbs?” I queried.
“I honestly don’t know.”
“I think there’s more going on there than you’re willing to think about.”
Ryan sat in contemplation for a few moments.
“What do you think it would take for me to change?” he asked. “I think you have a heart idol called Pride that you are worshiping right now. You are your own God. It will take a work of God’s grace to change you. You’ll have to come to the point where you decide that Jesus is trustworthy, and you allow him to reign in your heart instead of yourself. I realize that’s going to take some time.”
Ryan responded, “Bob, let me tell you why I don’t trust Jesus.”