Sam Allberry delivered a message at TGC’s 2020 Bay Area Pre-Conference titled “Sexuality, the Church, Grace, and Truth.” Expounding Mark 10:28–30, and in response to a question he received about how Jesus views homosexuality, Allberry explored how the gospel addresses people in committed homosexual relationships. First, he assumes people will leave things to follow him. Second, Jesus assumes the most costly things to leave will be familial and relational. But Jesus also says that however much a person must leave, it will absolutely be worth it.
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Sam Allberry: Well, sexuality, the church, grace and truth are what we’re looking at now. And those are four words that you don’t always associate with one another, but which should naturally belong together. I was speaking at a Christmas carol service at my church back home a number of years ago and someone came along for the first time. He worked in a nearby office and saw that the carol service was happening, thought he would come in to church and see what it was about.
And I had a conversation with him afterwards, where he said what any pastor or preacher would just love anyone to say after a talk. He said, “I was really interested in what you said about Jesus.” Great, good. Okay. I’m glad about that. He said, “Would it be okay if we met up and maybe had a conversation about what it looks like to follow Jesus. And he asked this apologetically as if it was somehow interrupting my day of what being a church pastor is meant to be about.
But I said to him, “I think I can probably allow, sneak out of the church building for a few minutes and talk to someone about Jesus. I think that’s probably okay.” So, we had lunch, he shared his story with me. He told me he was a gay man being in a long-term gay relationship. And he said, “So, I’ve got to know now, what does Jesus think about homosexuality?”
He said, “I don’t want to do any more investigating until I know where Jesus stands on this issue.” So I try to walk him through some of the things we’ve just been hearing of what Jesus says about human sexuality for all of us and for him. And he listened very thoughtfully and patiently and then said to me, he said, “My relationship is the best thing that has ever happened to me in my life. What could possibly be worth giving that up for?”
And I remember thinking that’s a good question. And I said to him, “That’s a really good question.” I remember praying, “Lord, that’s a really good question, a bit of help here would be good.” And the scripture that came to mind that I then took him to, I’d love for you to open up now is Mark chapter 10, verses 28 to 30. I shared this with him and we have continued to meet up several times since then. He’s not a Christian still, but he’s still thinking it through.
Mark 10:28, we’ve just had the account of the rich young man. He looked like he was perfect disciple material, and yet is not willing to leave behind what Jesus called him to leave behind. And so he leaves this encounter with Jesus discouraged and sad. And as we watch this encounter, we feel sad. We’re like this guy would have been such a great disciple. How come it’s so difficult?
Well, Peter, ever the emotionally intelligent disciple, decides this is the moment in verse 28 to talk about how amazing he and the other disciples actually are at being disciples. So he says in verse 28, “See, we’ve left everything and followed you.” He’s saying, “Jesus, I know that guy looked like he was going to be a great disciple. And yet it’s a bit of a pity he’s not being a disciple, but we are here. How amazing is that? Jesus, you are so welcome. Aren’t you lucky to have us on board?
And Mark tells us, Peter began to say this to Jesus and Jesus at some point just cuts in and says these words to him in verse 29, he says, “Truly I say to you,” which is Jesus-speak for Peter, “Shut up. Okay? I’m about to say something profound. So you need to not be talking right now. He says, “Truly, I say to you,” then makes this most extraordinary promise. He says, “There is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands for my sake and for the gospel who will not receive a hundred fold now in this time houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands with persecutions and in the age to come eternal life.”
Lots of things going on there. First thing to notice, Jesus assumes people will leave things to follow Him. That is basic discipleship. Jesus is always upfront about this. I love this about Jesus. He never buries this in the small print. He doesn’t do that thing like when you get a software update that says, “Check this box to indicate you have read the terms and conditions.” Okay, I know we’re not supposed to lie as Christians, but I say I have read them when I blatantly haven’t. And I have no idea what I’ve just let myself in for. There’s reams and reams of this stuff and you’re thinking, “I may have just given my soul to Apple.”
But I had already given most of it to Google. So to be honest, if there’s anything left over, Apple is welcome to have it. Jesus doesn’t do that thing. He says, even before people start following Him, he says, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself.” Not express himself, but deny himself, take up his cross and follow me. So Jesus is showing us discipleship does mean leaving things, turning to Jesus means turning away from other things.
Moreover, Jesus assumes the most costly things to leave will be relational and familial. And He gives this example of there may be someone who leaves house and brothers and sisters and mother, father, children, lands for the sake of Jesus. For some people, the gospel does involve that kind of cost.
Thankfully, that is not the case for every single one of us, but there will be some people for whom actually allegiance to Jesus will mean they are no longer welcome back in their community. But notice as well, as Jesus considers the prospects of that, He doesn’t say of someone who makes that kind of sacrifice yet, it’s just going to stink on this earth for a few years, but don’t worry, at the end, you’ll get to heaven.
No. Jesus says, “However much that person might leave, it will be worth it. Even in this life. He says, “No one has left all of that, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time and in the age to come, eternal life. However much we might leave for the sake of following Jesus, we will always receive more from Jesus than we ever leave behind for Jesus. Whatever it is we leave behind, He will replace in godly kind and in far greater measure.
And again, He casts this in familial and relational language. This whole business of receiving back a hundredfold, this is not Jesus’ way of going, “Hey, if you give me a dollar, I’ll give you a hundred.” But He is saying relationally, He will generously give to us. So the person who loses the house and brother, sisters, and so forth will receive a hundredfold houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, lands.
And yep, you get a side order of persecution, whether you ordered that one or not, that’s just bundled in. In other words, Jesus is promising relationship. When he talks about houses, He’s not saying, “Hey, if you become a Christian, you will have an amazing property portfolio.” He’s saying, “There will be buildings that you can go into where you will feel that you can belong. There will be lands that are, in a sense, yours because that’s where you’re always welcome.”
So let me give you a thought experiment. I want you to imagine that someone who has been perhaps all their adult life heavily involved in gay relationships comes to faith in Jesus Christ and turns up at your church. Maybe they come to faith in Christ through the ministry of your church. I hope that’s not a difficult thing for you to imagine but here they are, newly converted in your congregation.
And let’s assume in this particular thought experiment that they are not welcomed back in the community from which they’ve come. But there they are, in your church. Now, according to this promise in Mark 10:29-30, that person should be able to say, as a result of being in your church, that they now have more family and not less than they had before, that they have more community and not less than they had before, more intimacy now than they had before.
And here’s what I want you to imagine. I want you to think of that scenario and I want you to think, could I imagine someone saying that in that context as a result of being in my church? I don’t know your churches, this is not loaded. If your answer to that question in the privacy of your own mind is you’re thinking to yourself, “Well, in all honesty, there’s tons of stuff our church is amazing at, but actually no. That person probably would not say they now have more of those things than they had before if they were in my church.”
Friends, if that is the case, we’re calling Jesus a liar. Well, maybe you’re thinking, “Actually, do you know what? Our churches is hopeless at so many things, but we are genuinely Christian family to one another. We’re a pretty dysfunctional family, but we are an actual family to each other.” I think they would say that in my church. Then your church is living proof Of the truthfulness of this promise of Jesus. Your church is non-ignorable testimony to the fact that following Jesus is always worth it.
So if our churches are to be places of grace and truth, when it comes to issues of human sexuality, what do they need to look like to embody this hundredfold promise? Three quick things, each begins with C. I told you I was from the church of England. Three points beginning with the same letter is fundamental. Just occasionally, I’ll come across a passage that doesn’t split into three points and it sends me into a spiritual crisis. Three marks of a church that embodies that a hundredfold promise. The first is clarity.
In other words, we need to be teaching the very kind of things we’ve just heard in that previous session. It is very easy for pastors to dark these issues. But the fact is, if we are not taught in our churches how to think about these issues, it’s not that we’re not going to be taught. It’s just that we’ll get our teaching from our culture around us and our culture is far better at discipleship than we are.
Paul could leave the city and the church in Ephesus with a clear conscience because he could say to them, “I taught you the whole counsel of God. God has spoken on these issues. We need to understand what he said. We can’t avoid these issues however difficult they may be.” And nor is evangelism an excuse for avoiding this. I remember hearing a pastor in the UK whose church gets lots of visitors. It’s a trendy church to go to if you’re a celebrity in London. And I remember this pastor saying, “Well, we don’t ever want to speak on this issue because we will lose that evangelistic opportunity we have.”
And I remember thinking, “Listen, don’t seek a platform for the sake of the gospel if you’re not willing to lose that platform for the sake of the gospel.” And being unashamed of the gospel does mean being unashamed of all of it. We must have clarity. It is not pastorally helpful to leave people with any kind of uncertainty about what the scriptures actually say. That is not doing anyone any favors. So that’s the first mark. We must have clarity. We do need to understand these things.
Secondly, we must have compassion. It is very clear, as we had this so just wonderfully taught to us just now, it is very clear that every single one of us is a sexual sinner. All of us are fallen in our sexuality. And so the gospel really does level the playing field on this. And therefore, we can feel for one another in our own various different forms of sexual brokenness.
You may have a set of temptations that I’ve never even thought of and would never ever be an issue for me. But as I hear you explain to me what you wrestle with when it comes to your sexuality, I may not know what it’s like to wrestle with that, but I do know what it’s like to be a sexually broken, fallen human being.
I remember speaking to a group of pastors back in the UK once, the topic they’d given me was how we share the good news of Jesus with our gay friends. And as I was sharing a few of these things, one of the pastors said to me in the middle of the discussion he said, “Listen, how can you talk to a gay man without being disgusted by him?”
And I thought about it for a moment. So many things, one could say in response, but I said to him, “By being more disgusted by your own sin, brother. I don’t know about you. When I was a kid, I was taught that if you point your finger at someone, you’ve got three fingers pointing back at you. There’s some theological truth in that. That the person in the parable Jesus told who walked around thanking God that he wasn’t like other people was a person who didn’t go home justified.
Paul in 1 Timothy refers to himself as the chief or worst of all sinners. He says, “Here is a trustworthy saying, worthy of full acceptance, Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners of whom I am the worst.” Now, that’s amazing.
I don’t think Paul had had a survey done or the entire first century church to see who was more sinful than everybody else and then it turns out it was him. I don’t think that’s what happened. I think Paul is showing this that when you know your own hearts, it really is harder to believe there is someone else out there, more messed up than you are. And if that is our posture, we will be people who are able to, on the one hand, not compromise what the Bible teaches, but, on the other hand, we will be the kind of people who others will feel safe confessing sin to.
The gospel shows us that sin taints every part of our lives. My favorite dessert back in the UK is apple crumble. I think you call it apple crisp over here. And I remember going around to visit some friends once on a Sunday lunchtime. And they said, “Oh, we’ve made apple crumble for you for dessert.” I was thinking excellent, wonderful, what a great day. And they then said, “We’ve done something a bit different with it this time.” And I was thinking, “Why? Why would you do that?” I don’t know what it was they had done to it, but it really was disgusting. Put Plutonium in or something like that.
But here’s the thing. It didn’t matter which part of the crumble I took a sampling from, the whole thing tasted horrible. It didn’t matter if I took some from the bottom bit or the top bit or from this side of the dish or that side of the dish. Whatever they had done to it had ruined the whole thing. I really am a lovely guest to have round, by the way, most of the time.
And sin does that to our lives. It taints everything. It means there’s no area of life where we can say to Jesus, “I don’t need your help in this part of life.” And that is true for every single one of us when it comes to sexuality. All of us are fallen, all of us are broken. If I can put it this way, no one is straight. We’re all skewed in one way or another.
And when we are very aware of our own sin, we become more sensitive to the sins of others. And the danger with us Christians that sometimes we receive the teaching that the Spirit’s come to convict the world of sin and so we do feel very deeply convicted about other people’s sins.
But when we’re convicted about our own sins, it makes us compassionate. It makes our churches great places to come, whatever your kind of sin. Clarity, compassion. And then the third thing, coming back to Mark 10, is community. That promise Jesus gives us in Mark 10 is unusual because there’s a sense in which it depends on us to fulfill it. We’re not meant to read those words and go, “Oh Jesus. He’s just so nice. How nice of Jesus to promise these things.” We’re meant to read it and think, “Oh, hang on a sec, maybe Jesus is talking about my house. Maybe it’s my land that He is promising to this other disciple? Maybe I am the father or mother or the brother or sister or the son and daughter that Jesus is promising to someone who, apart from the people of God, would have no family of their own.”
Now, we often refer to churches, our own churches, as the church family. We had better not use that word if we’re not actually backing it up with action. A friend of mine once said he wonders if we use the language of being a church family because it’s good PR rather than because it’s true.
We’re referred to repeatedly in the New Testament as the household of God, the family of God, we’re brothers and sisters, not in some kind of honorary sense, but in a spiritually real sense. Paul says to Timothy to treat older members as fathers, older women as mothers, younger men as brothers, younger women as sisters in the Lord. He doesn’t say, “Treat older men as distant uncles or younger men as third cousin, twice removed type thing.” We’re not just family. We’re meant to treat one another as close family.
And the more we do that, actually, the more we give the lie to the various cultural assumptions we see around us, if being faithful to Jesus for some of us might mean that we don’t ever get married, if our churches genuinely are places of community, we will be showing the world that a life of singleness is not a life without love.
I had a pastor once say to me, “You’re making gay people live a life without love.” And I remember thinking, “If the only way of getting love in your church is to be married, your church stinks.” But when our churches are what the New Testament calls our churches to be, what a profound witness to Christ that is. And I love it when I hear a non-Christian say, “I can’t stand what you guys believe but you know how to love each other.” So how can we be a hundredfold church? Clarity, compassion, and community. Amen?
Sam Allberry: Amen.