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Collin Hansen: Jesus said many things that are hard to hear. He issued many commands that are hard to obey. He taught many parables that are hard to understand, but maybe the most powerful, the most counterintuitive word he has for us today comes in Matthew 10:39 where he says this, “Whoever finds his life will lose it and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” So, that means when we’re lost, we’re found, a truth that only makes sense in the gospel. That’s the theme of a new book I’ve edited for The Gospel Coalition. It’s called “Lost and Found: How Jesus Helped us Discover our True Selves.” It’s a collection of testimonial essays from authors such as Joni Eareckson Tada, Sam Allberry, Quina Aragon, Jason Cook, Bernard Howard, and many others.
And it includes the testimony of my guest today on “The Gospel Coalition” podcast. Christopher Yuan is probably best known for his book “Out of a Far Country” but he’s also written a new book called “Holy Sexuality and the Gospel,” one that I also strongly commend to you. So, Christopher joins me on “The Gospel Coalition” podcast to talk about the mystery of life, the apologetic of love, the challenge of parenting, and more. Christopher, thanks for joining me on “The Gospel Coalition” podcast.
Christopher Yuan: Thanks for having me on, Collin.
Hansen: Well, Christopher, let’s just start out with this, when and how did you realize you were lost?
Yuan: Well, you know, the funny thing is, I would say from probably many people, you’re lost and you don’t know it. So, it took many years for me to realize my condition before a holy God. My need for someone to stand in my place to be righteous because I couldn’t. When you don’t know you’re lost, you don’t know you need God’s grace. And it was a long, long, arduous, tough path that brought me to that point.
Hansen: Was there a specific culmination moment where there was a sense of despair or was it a dawning realization over the course of time? What did that look like for you?
Yuan: Yeah, you know, I mean, conversion is so different for many people and, for me, it was pretty gradual. So, my story was I wasn’t raised in a Christian home so I didn’t have any of that background or understanding that we are sinners. So, from a young age, I wrestled with not only just identity, who am I? Being Chinese, my parents came here to the U.S for graduate school. So, I wrestled with that question, who am I? And compounded by that was the fact that I experienced attractions toward the same sex. So, with all that confusion and being born in 1970 and being raised in this ’70s and ’80s, sexuality was not something that was talked about. People were not openly gay so that made it even more difficult for me.
So, I wrestled with that secretly for many years and most of my childhood, on through high school, college. And it wasn’t until I was in my early 20s that I came out of the closet. I was living in Louisville, Kentucky, pursuing my doctorate in dentistry there at University of Louisville, and there I came out of the closet, and I broke the news to my parents. And, you know, what’s amazing so is how God used that crisis to bring me to faith. Initially, my mother could not accept it. And this is what’s so really neat about my story is, you know, you hear in the narrative today that evangelical, conservative Christians who follow Scripture cannot and are unable to love their gay children and they reject them. But, Collin, I had the exact opposite experience. My parents rejected me while they were unbelievers, as a gay man, and it wasn’t until my parents became Christian that they loved me as God loves us. While we were powerless, while we were sinners, while we were his enemies, He still loved us.
So, it’s just so amazing how the Gospel can so radically transform not only ourselves, but how we view others as well. So, I thought my parents had lost their minds, lost their marbles and wanted nothing to do with their Christianity. And I was living in Louisville and pursuing my doctorate in dentistry, but also partying. I got involved in drugs also, some drug dealing, was eventually expelled from dental school and moved to Atlanta. I kept doing what I knew how to do best at that time, sell drugs. Eventually, I was arrested.
So, this whole time my parents were praying for me. They had no clue the depth of, you know, my kind of rebellion and doing drugs, but they knew that I needed to know Christ above anything else. And they prayed for that miracle that God would turn this hardened heart into a broken heart. That answer to prayer came with a bang on my door and I was arrested by the federal drug enforcement agents and found myself in federal prison, never thinking that I would end up there.
So that was really the beginning of my journey of recognizing my lostness and just being confronted with God’s word. I found a Bible in the trashcan, of all things, and it was a Gideon’s New Testament, began reading it, and it really revealed my rebellion against a holy God, against the government, against my parents. I also got some news that I was HIV positive, and God uses crises to get our attention and to help us realize our need for Him.
So, it was there in prison that I recognized my need for Christ, but also, more importantly, this journey on sexuality because, at first, I thought I could have both. I thought I could be gay and I could have God as well. But as I was, again, confronted with God’s truth from scripture, one of the first things that I recognized that I think is so important for us as Christians to also realize is how sexuality has been conflated with personhood. And my whole world was gay. Everything about me was gay, my friends were gay. I lived in apartment complex that was 95% gay men, I went to a gay Kroger, gay gym. So, the world around me and my culture was telling me, “You are gay. This is who you are.”
But what I realized was that that is the wrong identity. And when we put our identity in the wrong thing, false thinking comes, false behavior, false teaching. And as Christians, we often want to approach our gay friends with, “Well, this is sinful behavior.” When I think we need to step back and talk about who are we? We’re created in God’s image. That image, unfortunately, has been distorted by the fall and Christ came to redeem us and restore that image. And so, that was really foundational for me in my journey as a Christian, that identity piece.
Hansen: So, you mentioned this question of identity, which is so incredibly pervasive. We’re often told that we’ll find ourselves in that identity by looking inside ourselves for that meaning and purpose and identity. What did that look like for you when you looked inside yourself to discover that identity? Or did you not do that? Did you just look to your community for that?
Yuan: Yeah. You know, it really was both because it’s been so ingrained from education. If you go to public schools and you go to a secular state university, it’s really a given that this is who you are. I am gay. I am straight. And now there’s just a plethora of choices for us to identify by. And this is also where I struggle with people who might continue as Christians to say, “I’m a gay Christian. I’m a gay celibate Christian.” I mean just the fact that you have to use another modifier to modify the first modifier I think reveals that it could be problematic. But also, by using these modifiers, it gives a signal that you connect more with that community than or just as much as that community as with the Christian community, which is the family of God. And I do, personally, find that problematic.
Hansen: Let me talk about one of the other popular common sentiments that you hear, that you’ll often hear. So, one of them we just discussed right there that you find yourself by looking inside yourself for meaning and purpose and identity, and then that is often then affirmed and externalized within a community that shares that identity. Just what you described right there. But there’s another common perspective that I wonder if you could help us to understand, how to talk about with our neighbors and how to understand ourselves.
Justice Anthony Kennedy of the Supreme Court, U.S. Supreme Court first gave us this phrase in 1992, “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.” He and the majority on the Supreme Court used that reasoning to uphold legal abortion in 1992, overturn bans on sodomy a decade later, and ultimately, in Obergefell v. Hodges, mandate gay marriage across the country. And I wonder just that phrase, that concept right there, how do we explain to friends, to family, to neighbors why that view, this sense that at the heart of liberty is the right of each person to define our own concept of existence, meaning, the universe and the mystery of life, how do we explain that that concept simply can’t deliver on its promise?
Yuan: Well, I think it gets to the question of essence. This truly is an ontological question, “Who are we really at the core?” And I don’t want to confuse it with what we do because I would say many people, if you were to ask people on the street, even people in our own churches, “Who are you?” Probably one of the first things people would say, like maybe if it’s a mother, she would say, “I’m a mother.” Or, you know, maybe someone, they will say it’s their job, you know, “I’m a doctor, I’m a nurse.” And I would argue that many of these things that we would identify as, I don’t know if that’s really essential of who we are. It’s aspects. It’s part of our experience and of our past, things that we might do, but it’s a metaphysical question that comes down to, “Who are we at the core of, you know, of our being?”
And scripture has an answer for that. And, you know, beginning in Genesis, Genesis 1:27, “We’re created in God’s image” and that sets us apart from all of creation. And that essential aspect is not something that we choose or we figure out or that we need to create. That’s a lot of pressure for us to put on ourselves that I need to find purpose in my life. I need to find who I am. I need to find, you know, the real concept of existence for myself, when God has really provided that for us in scripture and pointed at us too, Christ too is the perfect image of God for us to put our faith in, and to live our lives for.
Hansen: We’ve discussed a few different ideas here and lines of argumentation, ways to be able to engage in dialogue with neighbors, but I wonder, we’re you won to Christ by any particular arguments or perhaps where there particular acts of love that compelled you? How did that work out in your own experience?
Yuan: But when it came down to, for me, it wasn’t simple arguments or truth that brought me to faith. It really was the patient and persistent witness of my parents who did not really bring up much truth, they lived it. And I knew their belief. I knew that they believed in a god. I knew that they believed in Jesus Christ. I knew what they believed when it comes to sexual morality, but they lived that first, and they exemplified the love of Christ. And that unconditional love to me, that, you know, unconditional love didn’t mean unconditional approval of my behavior and the way I lived. But it was hard because I rejected that. I wanted them to reject me because then it would just be much easier for me to then reject them, and I couldn’t, but it was their persistent love that they…before they preached the Gospel, they lived the gospel.
And I was able to see the gospel played out in their lives as they were radically changed. My parents were changed. For example, just in their own personal lives, they were themselves, their marriage was quite broken. On the outside, things look good but as I knew from home life, things weren’t good on the western front, and things were very much…it was a battleground. Just to see how they had changed, it was the reality of the Gospel in their own lives. And it was tangible for me that I saw that. But, of course, I still rejected it being, you know, just typical young adult, you know, that was imbibing in post modernity, I thought, “Well, it’s good for you, but not for me” that this is my truth, that I need to create an, you know, like Justice Kennedy says, “I have the liberty to choose and to have concept of my own existence” and then I did.
So, I guess, a good lesson for us is sometimes when things seem hopeless, which they were for me, you just continue to faithfully live the Gospel, be transformed, experience daily renewal. And it was…my parents, they didn’t need to preach at me, they just exuded, you know, God’s reality, His grace, and what Christ meant to them.
Hansen: Well, let’s speak to Christian parents there and speaking out of that experience that you’ve had with your own parents. There’s just incredible pressure right now on Christian parents, parents of all beliefs to affirm their children, even at young ages when they live at home, if they want to transition genders or pursue romantic partners of the same sex. They’re told, the parents are, that if they don’t approve this, they’ll risk losing a relationship with them, with their kids. Or even worse, they may end up hurting their children to the point that their children will turn to self-harm. Or we’ve even seen some cases where the courts have removed children from their parents in those situations. So, how do you counsel parents trying to navigate this new normal?
Yuan: Yeah, I think, it’s really, it’s becoming more and more of a challenge to be a parent today, especially in our culture, especially in a school system that often views parents as the problem and not part of the answer. Too often parents are viewed to be a hindrance, parents are viewed to be ignorant, and the government and the schools need to come in to educate parents on how to raise their own children. So, it’s becoming much, much more, and it’s going to intensify, I believe. I think parents need to really understand what love looks like. I believe there is so much confusion today about what is love. Even in the gay community, you hear the mantra, “Love is love.”
But I argue what does that love look like? Because not all love is equivalent nor does it look the same. I believe that what makes love looks different is that what truth it is grounded in. Love isn’t standing on it’s…it can’t stand on its own. Love always stands on a foundation of truth, on some ground which would be our worldview. Our worldview shapes our love. And without knowing what is our worldview or without addressing that worldview, this is why love looks quite different. I mean even, you know, even the angry maybe pastor standing at the corner, yelling at those in the gay community or you know, the gay pride parades, “Turn or burn,” I bet you they will argue that they’re doing it out of love. I think maybe sometimes maybe a little bit of a misguided understanding of love. But I don’t think love is the question, but the question is what does love look like?
And so, for a parent who wants to love their children, we need to realize that love does not mean acceptance of whatever our children do or whatever they think. We accept our children because of who they are, that they are created in God’s image, they are our children, but that doesn’t mean that we need to approve and accept of everything that they want to do or they are doing. And really making the focus not upon their rebellious behavior, whatever it is, whether they are not honoring or whether maybe it’s an older child involved in drugs, whatever it is, or maybe if it’s a child who’s wrestling with their sexuality. Those really aren’t the core issues. What the core issue is, have they put their faith in Christ and is their faith, their anchor?
Hansen: Let me follow up. Last question here. You mentioned that we all have to make that decision. Are we going to trust our faith in Christ? Are we going to follow our desires? And I think, specifically, especially when you’re talking about same-sex attraction, it sounds like you’re trying to help people to understand that by following Christ your same-sex attraction, those desires, specifically, are not necessarily going to change. They may change, but they’re not necessarily going to change. But I wonder, I think in many ways that’s going to be a decision that a lot of people when they face that they’re just going to say, “I’ll tell you what, I mean, my faith in Christ is abstract, but my desires are ever present. I’m going to follow my desires there.” Help us to understand in a broader context of discipleship, how, as we follow Christ, our desires for Him do fan into flame. They do grow there. So maybe those same sex attraction desires, they don’t necessarily change, but that disposition toward loving God and loving the things of God, that does change. The more we taste it, the more we want it.
Yuan: Yes. Yeah. Very much so. So, you know, I always want to put our conversation about human sexuality and same-sex attractions in the context of theological anthropology because we cannot understand human sexuality without beginning with theological anthropology. We’re created in God’s image, but also the reality of the doctrine of sin, Original sin, the consequence of the sin of Adam and Eve and the fall, and how that has not only made us guilty in Adam but also, we now have a sin nature. So, when people ask, “You know, well, do you still experience attraction toward the same sex?” I want to first help people understand, well, as a Christian, will we no longer be tempted with sin?
I think that’s an important question for us to then…that helps it put things in context of what really is occurring at conversion. We are set free from the bondage of sin, but that doesn’t mean the eradication of any possibility of being tempted. So, experiencing the temptations toward the same sex, that might not go away. But this is the change. So, this is how we define change because often times when we think change is being eradication, no longer experiencing any temptations. But change, like you say, Collin, once you put your faith in Christ, there will be a change. Our desire for Christ should grow and amplify and flourish and deepen. That doesn’t mean then that there won’t any be struggle with our flesh anymore. That’s going to be the constant, Romans 7, that this constant battle between our flesh and the spirit is real in the believer.
John Owen talks so much about indwelling sin. You know, the reality of not just talking about original sin and then not just talking about a sinful behavior, but the battle that we all have, and how Paul talks about that we need to put to death the deeds of the flesh. That isn’t just a one-time deal, but it is a constant real battle. But also, with that being said, that doesn’t mean that it is going to be like a moment to moment, every, kind of, you know, day of your life struggle. There’s going to be ups and downs.
I use an example, for most men, they don’t experience attraction toward the same sex. However, for most men, they have opposite-sex attractions. And so, that reality, that predisposition, that propensity means that though they may be married, that their desires for their wife are desires that are pointed in the direction that God would bless. However, the desires and the temptations that men might experience toward other women who are not their wife, that isn’t something that is experienced every moment, every second of the day.
I love what John Piper said about the reality of understanding grace. That grace is not simply forgiveness of sins, which we all get, we all grasp and then celebrate, but it’s not simply the forgiveness of sin, but it’s the ability to sin no more. So, grace is not only pardon, it’s power. If we really recognize that on a daily basis and recognize that we have an advocate, we have someone who has been in our shoes, who was tempted in every way, but was without sin, that he walks with us and he really struggled to the end that that is the one who was fighting in our place and empowering us to sin no more, that’s a great victory right there.
Hansen: Amen. You’ll get a lot more of this from my guest, Christopher Yuan, in his new book, “Holy Sexuality and the Gospel.” Also check out his chapter in our book together called “Lost and Found: How Jesus Helped us Discover Our True Selves.” Christopher, thank you for joining me on “The Gospel Coalition” podcast.
Yuan: Thanks for having me.