“Change is not the absence of temptations but the raw spiritual ability to be holy, even in the midst of temptations.”
Christopher Yuan delivered a message during a breakout session at The Gospel Coalition’s 2019 National Conference titled, “Holy Sexuality: Sex, Desire, and Relationships Shaped by God’s Grand Story.” Yuan taught that sexual identity has become an idol within our culture, and sexual freedom has become the religion of the land as a result of our hearts being set in defiance against God’s perfect design.
Though sanctification is critical activity for every believer, the Christian life constitutes far more than the avoidance of sinful behavior. It begins with answering our ontological questions in terms of the imago Dei and developing a “theological anthropology”—recognizing that our identity is not defined by our sin, but by Christ.
The following is an uncorrected transcript generated by a transcription service. Before quoting in print, please check the corresponding audio for accuracy.
Christopher Yuan: We live in a world of infinite shades of gray, not just 50. Ambiguity is now a virtue. Sexual freedom has essentially become the religion of the land. The deception of our historical epoch is this. Your sexual desires define you, determine you, and should always delight you. Since the fall of Adam and Eve, the human heart has set itself in defiance against God’s perfect ways. And I love what John Piper said yesterday about idols because we have turned sexual identity into an idol. And yet, idols have no currency in heaven. And yet, this idolatry we find in the world and even in the church is on a collision course with the good news of Jesus Christ, just as my life was on a collision course with the gospel.
I came out to my parents in 1993. It was actually I told them, “I am gay.” This was my declaration. Amazingly, through that declaration, my mother first came to faith, and then afterward my father did as well. At that time, my unbelieving mother, though, rejected me before she came to faith, which is completely counter to the narrative that we hear today that somehow Christian parents are not able to, cannot love their gay children. But, I had the exact opposite experience. My mother couldn’t. My unbelieving mother couldn’t accept me as a gay son. And it wasn’t until she became a follower of Christ that she could do nothing other than to love me as God loved her, even when she was a sinner, even when she was powerless, even when she was His enemy.
So, it was after fully coming out of the closet that that sent me on the trajectory toward a disruptive path which involved promiscuity and even drug use. To be clear, not all gays and lesbians do drugs. Not all gay men are promiscuous. Some are, some are not. But, that is part of my story. And when I tell it, I have to be honest about that. But I also want to tell you that when you encounter Jesus, he will impact every aspect of your life.
So, I began experimenting with drugs. This was all why I was pursuing my doctorate in dentistry in Louisville, Kentucky. But like my classmates, I didn’t have much money and I needed to find a way to support my habit, and I did that by selling drugs. I sold to friends, classmates, even a professor. See, I actually thought I could live this double life of being a graduate student by day and a promiscuous drug dealer by night. But three months before I was to receive my doctorate, the administration expelled me.
I moved to the bright lights in big city of Atlanta, Georgia. There, I quickly I just kept doing what I knew how to do best, that was sell drugs. And I became a supplier to other dealers in over a dozen states. In addition, it was nothing for me to have multiple anonymous sexual encounters each and every day. Because according to the world, I had it all, money, fame, drugs, and sex. I had exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and I began worshiping and serving the creature rather than the creator. Because in my world, I had become god.
My parents had no clue that I was doing drugs or even selling drugs, but they knew my biggest need was know Jesus Christ as my Lord and savior. They tried to reach out to the love of Christ. Wanted nothing to do with it. They came to visit me one time in Atlanta. I told them to get out. They weren’t preaching at me, dealing me what to do, what not to do, but just the fact that God had so radically transformed their lives that they radiated Christ, that was offensive to me, and I told them to leave. I didn’t even give them an opportunity to call up their friends to pick them up.
Before my dad left, he gave me his Bible. It was all dogeared. I told my dad, “I don’t want your Bible.” But, he left it on my kitchen counter anyway and walked out the door. As soon as they left, I took my dad’s Bible and I threw it in the trash. I wanted nothing to do with the Bible and certainly nothing to do with God. After that visit, it was more than obvious to my parents that I was totally unreachable and completely hopeless. But, my parents committed not to focus on the hopelessness but upon the promises of God. And along with over 100 prayer warriors from their church, from their Bible study fellowship group, they began to cry out to God for me. My mother began to pray a bold prayer. “God, do whatever it takes to bring this prodigal son to you.”
In her desperation, she fasted every Monday for seven years, and once fasted 39 days on my behalf. She would literally spend hours every morning in her prayer closet, interceding for me, for many others. She knew that it was going to take nothing short of a miracle to bring this prodigal son to the Father. And a miracle is exactly what God did.
This miracle came with a bang on my door. I opened up my door, and on my front doorstep were 12 federal drug enforcement agents, Atlanta police, and two big German Shepherd dogs. I just received a large shipment of drugs, not my largest, but they confiscated all my money and my drugs and I was charged with the street value equivalent of 9.1 tons of marijuana. With that amount, I was facing 10 years to life in a federal prison. I started with a bright future amongst society’s finest, and I found myself in a ditch amongst society’s despised in the Atlanta City Detention Center. So, I tried calling home, and I did not want to make that phone call, as I imagined the earful that I was going to get on the other line. But, my mother’s first words were, “Son, are you okay?” No condemnation, just words of unconditional love and grace.
The apostle Paul says in Romans chapter two, verse four that it’s God’s kindness that leads us to repentance. Notice Paul isn’t saying that it’s God’s anger. It’s not God’s wrath, but it’s God’s kindness that leads us to repentance. And even on that miserable day, God was pouring out his grace and drawing me to himself through the words of my mother.
Actually, my mom was excited to get that phone call, if you can believe it or not, because I hadn’t called home in years. And she knew without a doubt that this was God’s answer to her prayers. So as she hung up that phone fighting back the tears, she knew she had to do like that good old hymn says. Count your blessings. Then name one by one. No matter what storm she was going through, she had to count her blessings.
So, she set the phone down. And next to the phone happened to be a calculator. She tore off a little piece of the adding machine tape, and she wrote down these first blessings. Christopher is in a safe place compared to before, and he called home for the very first time. As my years in prison passed, she kept adding to this list and counting her blessings. And this list is longer and taller than she is, both sides.
Three days later, I was walking around the cell block. And if I could be honest with you, I was really doing my best to stay to myself because I certainly didn’t want to mingle very much with those really bad people, those criminals. I passed by this garbage can. I was with this trash and thought, “This is my life.” I’m from upper middle class suburb of Chicago. My father has two doctorates. I was only three months away from receiving my own doctorate. I had it made. But now I found myself among common criminals, trash.
With my head down, I was about to pass by that garbage can, but something on top of the trash caught my eye. I bent over, picked it up, and it was a Gideon’s New Testament. I took that New Testament back to my cell, opened up that good book. For the first time, I read through the entire gospel of Mark. But, let me tell you, I wasn’t thinking, “This is the answer to my problems.” Actually, I simply thought that I’ve got a lot of time on my hands, and I better pass it somehow.
But as we know, what we have in our Bibles is not just ink on paper. But what we have in our Bibles, ladies and gentleman, is the very breath of God. And it is living, and powerful, and sharper than any double-edged sword, able to cut through the hardest of hearts, exposing my sin, my rebellion, and it wasn’t a pretty sight. And I thought things couldn’t get any worse. I was wrong.
Couple weeks later, I was called to the nurse’s office. The nurse sat me down, and I knew something wasn’t right. She was uncomfortably struggling with the words, so she wrote something on a piece of paper and slowly slid it across the desk to me. I looked down, and I saw three letters and a symbol. It read HIV positive. The days after were dark and lonely. I was sentenced to six years, much better than 10 years to life. But, news of my HIV status felt like a death sentence.
One night, I was laying in my bed, and I look up at the metal bunk above me, and someone had scribbled something. It read, “If you’re bored, read Jeremiah 29:11.” “For I know the plans that I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” You see, at the most hopeless point in my life, the Lord God was using the words penned by a prophet thousands of years ago to rebellious nation Israel to tell me that regardless of who I was and what I had done in my past He still had a plan for me. I had no clue where that plan was going to take me, but God gave me enough faith, enough strength to get through that one day, and the next, and the next.
My transformation was gradual. I really wish I could tell you that at that moment I said the Sinner’s Prayer, and then everything after that was perfect, like no more problems. Far from the truth. God was convicting me of my idols, which were many. The most obvious was sexual identity. The most obvious, actually was drugs. I mean, I’m in prison for that. That’s the most obvious. But within a few months, god delivered me from that bondage. God kept bringing to mind other idols, other dependency. And that one, my sexual identity, was one that I felt like I just couldn’t let go of.
So, I was reading through the Bible, and it was so clear to me that God loved me unconditionally. I kept reading, and I came across some passages, three in the old, three in the new, that seemed to condemn that core part of who I was, my sexuality. So, I went to a chaplain, and I asked him his opinion. And to my surprise, this chaplain actually told me that the Bible doesn’t condemn homosexuality. And he gave me a book explaining that view. So with much curiosity, I took that book in the hopes of finding biblical justification for homosexuality. I had that book in one hand and the Bible in the other.
And just think about this. I had every reason in the world to accept what that book is claiming to justify the way I had been living. But, God’s indwelling Holy spirit convicted me that those assertions from that book were a clear distortion of God, His word, and His unmistakable condemnations against same-sex relationships. I couldn’t even finish that book, and I gave it back to the chaplain, which meant I turned to the Bible alone. I went through every verse, every chapter, every page of scripture looking for justification. I went through the whole Bible. I went cover to cover several times. I had time. I looked, and I looked, and I looked, and I couldn’t find any.
So, I was at a turning point, and a decision had to be made. Either abandon God and His word, live as a gay man, pursue a monogamous same-sex relationship by allowing my attractions, get this, by allowing my sexual attractions to dictate not only who I was but also how I lived or abandon pursuing a same-sex relationship. How? By freeing myself from my sexual identity, but not allowing my desires to dictate who I am, and live as a follower of Jesus Christ. My decision was clear and obvious. I followed Jesus.
As the days, and the weeks, and the months of abstinence passed, I realized that my sexuality should not be the core of who I am. I told myself before God loves me unconditionally, and that’s true. But, don’t we as sinners, don’t we like to add to God’s truth. I added, “So therefore he doesn’t want me to change.” Similar to when your friends say, “God loves me just the way I am, so leave me alone.” But after reading through the Bible, I learned that unconditional love is not the same thing as unconditional approval of my behavior. Let me say that again. Unconditional love is not the same thing as unconditional approval of my behavior. My identity should not be defined by my sexuality. My identity shouldn’t be grounded in my desires. My identity is not gay, is not ex-gay, is not even heterosexual for that matter. Because my identity as a child that’ll live in God must be in Jesus Christ alone. God says, “Be holy for I am holy.”
I had thought that if I were to become a Christian that I would have to become a heterosexual, that somehow the more sexually attracted I were to women, the more of a Christian man I would be. But, I realize that even if I had opposite-sex attractions, I would still need to flee temptation. I would still need to put to death my sin nature. So actually, heterosexual is not goal. Besides, God does not command us, “Be heterosexual for I am heterosexual.” But, neither did God say, “Be homosexual for I am homosexual.” Rather, God said, “Be holy for I am holy.” So therefore, the opposite of homosexuality is not heterosexuality. That’s not the goal. But, the opposite of homosexuality is holiness. As a matter of fact, the opposite of every sin struggle is holiness.
I don’t need to focus upon whether I’m tempted. We will be tempted. Jesus Christ himself was tempted. I don’t need to focus on whether I’m going to struggle because we will struggle. But, I need to focus upon living a life of holiness and living a life of purity because change is not the absence of temptations. Does not promise you, “Come to Jesus, and you’ll never be tempted again.” No. Change is not the absence of temptations, but change is the spirit raw ability to be holy even in the midst of temptations. Because the ultimate issue is not whether I’m struggling, not whether I’m tempted, but the ultimate issue is that I yearn after God in total surrounded and complete obedience.
As I began to live this life of surrender and obedience, God began to reveal His plan for my life. And he called me to full-time vocational ministry while I was in prison of all places. And I realized it didn’t matter where I was, whether I was in prison or out of prison, because my calling would remain the same regardless of location. And with that change of heart, God did another miracle. He shortened my sentence from six years to three years, which is almost unheard of in the federal system.
So with only about a year left of my prison sentence, I knew that if I was going to continue on in ministry after prison, I better learn more about the Bible than just prison religion. So, called collect to my parents, told them, “I think God’s calling me to ministry.” And I asked them to mail me an application to the only Bible college I had heard of at that time, which is in Chicago called Moody Bible Institute. But, there was silence on the other line because I think they both dropped their phones. They mailed the application in to me to prison. I was so excited when I got it, tore it open, began filling it out until I got to the last page where they asked me for references. Not from anybody, but these had to be people who knew me as a Christian for at least one year. I had some slim pickings in prison, but I was able to persuade a prison chaplain, a prison guard, and another prison inmate toward my reference to Moody.
So amazingly, Moody actually accepted me. I was released from prison July. Praise the Lord. I was released from prison July of 2001, and I started the very next month in August of 2001. So, imagine to the surprise of my classmates when I answered their question, “What did you do this summer?” Graduated from Moody 2005. Went on to my master’s next to Jesus at Wheaton College graduate school. Received my doctorate in ministry in 2014. Then, I had the immense honor of coauthoring a book, as Christ just mentioned, called Out of Far Country: A Gay Son’s Journey to God, a Broken Mother’s Search for Hope. Actually, we found out a few years ago that Christian high schools have been using this as a text book. This teacher even emailed us. He’s like, “I have the hardest time making my students read any textbook, but not this.” So, we’re really blessed that God is still continuing to use not our story but the story of God in the lives of broken people.
My new book, Holy Sexuality and the Gospel, just came out in November of last year. That actually, in essence, was a continuation of my first book. So, think about my first book as a book for the heart. The second book is a book for the head and for the hands. Because I think oftentimes we want to love right, and love the gay community, and we want to do right, but we do right or try to do right before we think right. And when we don’t think right before we do right, actually, we could be doing wrong, even with the best intentions.
So, my goal in doing this was to not to do what other people have done. There’s a lot of books that are very pragmatic on how to love or how that may be focusing on being friendship, and I think we need to … We need to step back and begin with some biblical theological foundation more so than just what do these six passages say because other books have done a great job in doing that. Kevin DeYoung has a good kind of summary of all these books, What Does the Bible Really Teach About Homosexuality. So, books have done that well, but I think we need to realize that that can’t be our only answer. A robust theology of sexuality can’t be built simply on what’s not allowed.
For the Christian life, it is much more than simply the avoidance of sinful behavior. Our day-to-day life is not what I shouldn’t do. Because if scripture prohibitions are the only lens through which we see things and which we live, we could very well miss the gospel. So, my hope, actually, is not to touch on these six passages, kind of doing exegetical work, but actually using systematic and biblical theology to help undergird our understanding so that we can be compelled into action. Because I know right away people think, “I’m not a theologian.” We’re all theologians. Well, I need something really practical. There’s nothing more practical than good theology. Actually, I would argue it’s bad theology that leads to apathy. So, I think it’s foundational for us to do this.
Rosaria Butterfield, I think, for me, is like the most important voice on this issue of sexuality. But, I think she did a great job in one of the first books that really undergirded this conversation on sexuality with philosophy, theology, and world view. So, that was my goal. Actually, my subtitle I wanted to be Sex General Relationship Shaped by Biblical and Systematic Theology, but by publisher shot me down. I don’t know why. I would’ve bought the book.
So, how do we build this framework well? And in my ministry with my parents … Actually, it’s our ministry. I get to travel around the nation, around the world as a two-generational ministry. How cool is that? God has really given us back the years that the locust have taken away. So, we really do. Actually, I have a policy. I don’t travel alone. I’m single, so my mother … She’s in the back. Can you say hi to her? She’s my prayer warrior. She’s always there. She’s heard me speak thousands of times and probably bored of my speaking. But, we do speak together, as well with my dad who’s at home right now.
But, in our ministry to parents, we often have the honor of being able to listen to stories. There was one mother. It was really interesting. She was really hurting and broken. Kind of through sobs, she was explaining to me how she just wished her son to be normal. And in those situations, you just listen. You listen, cry, pray. Really, not that much we can say. She was kind of explaining more, “I want my son just to be normal.” That was one explanation she talked. As she kind of explained more, she said she had another son. “Why can’t my gay son just be like my other son, just normal.” This other son was expecting a child, but it turned out to be out of wedlock.
Somehow, in this mother’s grieving, her moral compass had been thrown off. She failed to realize that her idea of right was actually wrong. Our idea sometimes of normal isn’t moral. In her view, her gay son was not okay, but her fornicating son was okay. And like many today, this grieving mother equated normal that is all forms of heterosexual relationships, all form of opposite sexual relationships as the norm, as something that actually God would bless as moral and good. I just want my son to be normal.
I find this, unfortunately, to be bit more common than we’d like in the church. For decades, even some Christian counseling for those with unwanted same-sex attractions have been to develop a heterosexual potential. My goal is to help this individual to develop opposite-sex attraction. But, does the Bible truly promote heterosexuality in all its forms? Yes, heterosexuality, that might constitute the correct direction. And yes, marriage can be considered a form of a heterosexual relationship, but it is not the only form of heterosexual relationship.
And remember that heterosexuality is not equivalent to marriage, nor is marriage equivalent to heterosexuality. Because, what is heterosexuality, being attracted to some of the opposite sex, being sexually intimate with someone of the opposite sex? That’s a pretty broad definition, so broad that I could be sleeping with half a dozen women. That’s considered heterosexual, right? I could be cheating on my wife with another woman. That’s consider heterosexual. I could be living with my girlfriend. We’ve been together for several years, and we’ve never been with anyone else. We have a couple children together. That’s also considered heterosexual, but all sinful in God’s eyes. God would never use a category that included so much sin.
Because when we celebrate this, we could be celebrating sin. For some, people even consider those success stories. I met a young man, and he was a young adult’s pastor. He was telling me about one of the people that went to his church. He was also a young men, also, kind of similar to myself, lived as a gay man for many years. And this individual became a Christian. So, this young adult’s pastor was walking with them, I guess, helping him or hoping that he would develop opposite-sex attractions because this individual wanted to get married.
So, he’s telling me this story. Totally honest. He was telling me the story. They were driving down the road on the highway and happened to pass by a billboard that was advertising an adult bookstore, and on it was a scantily clad woman. Pastor was driving, and this individual was in the passenger seat. This passenger in the individual seat who was coming out of same-sex relationships and said, “Wow. She’s hot.” The pastor even said, “In any other situation, I would’ve gave a Christian rebuke. But actually, in that moment, we celebrated.” The objectification of women or any person is never right. Lust is lust. Sin is sin.
So by simply stating that heterosexuality is right or is God’s standard without any qualification, actually, we could be tacitly endorsing sexual immorality even when we don’t mean to. Certainly not all forms of heterosexual behavior are sinful. Yes, the union between a husband and wife is blessed by God, but that’s not equivalent to heterosexuality so broad. So, it’s not heterosexuality because it’s too broad, and in our world of ambiguity let us not be ambiguous as well. So, it’s not heterosexuality too broad enough. Homosexuality is rooted in the fall, and that also isn’t something that we can hold up as a standard. Then, what is it? Holy sexuality?
What is holy sexuality? So, that’s the title of my book. So, it’s not Holy Sexuality, Batman, even though that’s what we wanted. It’s Holy Sexuality in the Gospel. But, we wanted to have on there … Holy sexuality, what is it? When I read through the full counsel of God, there’s actually only two paths that God has called us to be on. One path, if you are single, how do you live regarding your sexuality? You’re going to be faithful to God by being sexually abstinent. If you are not single and you are married, how do you live faithful to God regarding your sexuality? You live faithful to God by being faithful to your spouse of the opposite sex. So, holy sexuality is chastity in singleness and faithfulness in marriage.
What I realized was there was no term that included both of these, chastity in singleness, faithfulness in marriage. Those are the only two paths that God has put out for us for us to be on. If you’re single, chastity. And why I prefer chastity over abstinence is abstinence is simply saying what you shouldn’t do. Chastity is not only saying what you shouldn’t do, but it’s also … It’s talking about purity and holiness. So, chastity and singleness, faithfulness and where’s … Why did I choose faithfulness as opposed to chastity? Because I think faithfulness is more about faithfulness regarding you’re not just sexually, but emotionally, relationally, all of that. So, it’s being faithful to your spouse of the opposite sex if you’re …
And, notice that I’m saying two paths. I don’t say two options, because I often hear that. Because, well, I don’t have that option. I don’t view these two paths because God puts us on these paths, not us. When we try to put us on a certain path, I think that oftentimes is when we can go into error. If you try to become married apart from the will of God, mistake.
I was actually just in Jackie Hill-Perry’s great workshop, which, by the way that’s another book you … I’m giving you lots and lots of books you guys should read, but these are wonderful book, Jackie Hill-Perry. She was asked about whether we should encourage people to get married. I’m like, “What she said was I want to yell amen.” But, this is a more white congregation, and not … If it was African-American, we would have. So, we have to do that with our inward voice.
But, I love that. And it’s like, no. We’re going to encourage people to follow Christ. Die to yourself. Live fully for Christ. So, it’s two paths. God puts us on either path. It’s not really our choice. Because honestly, I mean, when I hear people say, “Well, I didn’t choose singleness,” and it’s like, of course you didn’t. Because I’ve never met anyone who was born married. Think about it. Never. You just are. It’s default. It’s not your choice. Because if you think about it, we begin single, and we will also end single. So, I hate to bring the news to you, but as Jesus says in Matthew 22, we will all be single in eternity. But you know why? We will be wed to the lamb of God.
So, holy sexuality. It’s these two paths. And honestly, I’m not really presenting anything monumental. Nothing really new. It’s just biblical. I mean, yes, this might be a new phrase you never heard about. But, it’s really simply just articulating what God has … I mean, from Genesis to Revelation, clearly throughout scripture, it’s either chastity in singleness, faithfulness in marriage. So, this term holy sexuality is really meant to simplify and disentangle the complex and confusing conversation around sexuality, hence my book, black and white. It’s not as complicated as we make it. It was very intentional as we were designing our … I wanted the inside of the book to communicate clarity, and I wanted the cover to communicate clarity. There is really no ambiguity when it comes to God’s perfect ways, especially related to sexual purity. Because here’s the truth, God’s standard of holy sexuality is good news for all.
So instead of determining on how we ought to live based on our sexual desires, we need to really base it quite simply upon our call to holiness. But, you might ask, “Well, what’s the harm in it? What’s the harm if an individual wants to get married and he might be experiencing same-sex attraction? What’s the harm in maybe helping this individual to develop opposite-sex attractions?”
Let’s say there’s a young lady and she wants to marry. Then, she maybe came out of a lesbian relationship. But, she knows it’s not God’s will, and she wants to marry a man. So, shouldn’t it be kind of natural that we help her to become attracted to the opposite sex?
So, I disciple men at Moody, and many of these men want to get married. I teach at Moody Bridal institute, so, I mean, that should go without saying. But, here’s the truth, sexual desire should never be the bedrock of any marriage. When I disciple young men who want to marry, whether they have opposite-sex attractions or same-sex attractions, I never focus upon sexual desires, that somehow you need to develop stronger sexual desires for the opposite sex. If a young man wants tO marry, you know what’s the best way to prepare for marriage? Be a godly man. If you’re a young woman and you want to marry, be a godly woman. My goal is simply to point people to Christ because I can’t do anything. I can’t change a heart. I can’t make anyone holy. Only God can. So, my goal is simply to point them to the only one that can make any difference in their lives, not me.
Holy sexuality, chastity in singleness, faithfulness marriage is really good news for everyone. And like I said, I’ve been teaching at Moody for 11 years, amazingly. God has a sense of humor because I never, never even thought when I was Moody or in seminary that I would teach. It was actually the last thing. I had a professor of mine call and ask, “What are you doing?” This was after I got my master’s or right before I was getting my master’s. I’m like, “If you know, let me know, because I have no clue.” He asked if I would teach. I did the kind of typical Christian no. I’ll pray about it. And this is the problem, I did. I did. So, I’m now teaching in the Bible and theology department. So, I went from prisoner to professor. How about that for a resume?
But, minister, I love ministering to youth and young adults. And a big question that they often ask is, who am I? I think that’s a question that we all ask ourselves. Who am I? It’s a question definitely we asked ourselves when we were teenagers. Adults going through midlife crisis ask themselves that question. If you’re an empty nester, kind of now what is my purpose in life? Who am I? For some, self-identity is something that is a lifelong struggle, lifelong quest. Some people find their identity in their work, in sports, in hobbies. Still others find their identity in their sexuality. Yet, do these substitutes for identity truly describe who we are, or what we do, or what we experience?
I think too often we make our identity not untruly who we are but on what we do or what we experience. And more specifically, sexuality, should that be who we are or does sexuality truly describe how we are? Sexuality shouldn’t describe who we are, but it should describe how we are. Because how we answer that question, who am I … Because we talk a lot about identity. So, let’s not even use that word identity, but let’s just add to that question who am I. Because how we answer that actually will greatly impact many facets of our life. It impacts how we think, the choices we make, the relationships we build. Our thoughts, our actions are all influenced at some level by how we answer that question. Who am I? And that kind of suggests a close relationship between essence and ethics. Essence, who am I? Ethics, how shall I live?
There’s when you have a flawed understanding of who we are, that will result in a flawed understanding of how we live. Flawed essence results in flawed ethic. Personhood affects practice. Practice affects personhood. That’s why this question about who we are and how sexuality relates to this or doesn’t or shouldn’t relate to it is of utmost importance. And we miss that. When we have a gay friend, how do we approach it? First of all, how do I tell him this is sin? As if morality will get you into heaven or as if heterosexuality will get you into heaven, right?
When I identified as a gay man, my whole world was gay. All my friends were gay. I live in apartment complex that was 95% gay men. I worked out a gay gym. I shopped at gay Kroger. My whole world was gay. Everything. All my friends told me this is who I was. This is the core of who I was. Everything and everyone around me affirmed that. So you see that this issue goes beyond just simply bad exegesis or interpretation of a few passage. This understanding, this ontological question is much more important than simply how shall we live because it impacts that. Because being gay, when we say being gay means this is who I am, it really reveals a deeper philosophical and theological misunderstanding. And it’s a faulty presupposition that points to essence when it shouldn’t point to essence.
Some people even say this is the core of who you are. Matthew Vines, gay activist, says, “This is who you are. It’s simply a part of who you are.” He says, “As humans, our sexuality is the core part.” The core. Should sexuality, or sexual and romantic desires, be the core of who we are? In this conversation around sexuality, this subtle shift from what to who has created a radically distorted understanding of personhood.
Honestly, I don’t see of another sin issue that’s so closely linked with sin that we have taken sin and made it who I am. I don’t see that. If you’re a liar, that’s not who you are. That’s what you do. If you are an adulterer, I don’t see that as who you are, but that’s what you have done or what you may still be doing. If you are a murderer, that’s what you have done. I don’t see that as who you are. But somehow, when it comes to sexuality, we have conflated sexuality with who we are when in actuality it should describe how we are. So, we have elevated experience to in essence become God. So in other words, sola experientia has won out over sola scriptura.
So, who am I. Who are we? Who are you? This really, really fundamental ontological question is really foundational to wrapping our heads around this topic of same-sex attractions because we can’t even properly and even begin to understand human sexuality until we start with theological anthropology. What is theological anthropology? I mean, that’s multifaceted, but what does that relate to sexuality? Image of God, doctrine of sin. We always need to start there. Why? I mean, what’s kind of the implications of that? Well, first of all, image of God, when we understand that everyone is created in the image of God, that should be an indictment for those Christians who disdain the gay community, or treat the gay community as somehow all the people that are ruining our country and this world.
You know the term gay agenda? I never even heard of that phrase until I became a Christian. My agenda was simply to be who I was. I had the wrong understanding of who I was. But, I think it’s a condemnation for those people who claim to be Christians and yet somehow forget that everyone is created in the image of God, and that means everyone is value in God’s eyes, that everyone has value. Does that mean that we shouldn’t warn people of sin? Of course not. But, I don’t think that should necessarily be the first thing to do. I mean, would we do that with a neighbor who’s living with his girlfriend? Here’s a casserole. You know you’re living in sin. Not good pre-evangelism, by the way. Then why for some reason do we think that that must be the first thing, one of the first things, that we share with our gay neighbor or gay coworker?
I mean, if we’re going to talk about the wrath of God, let’s do it like D.L. Moody did. D.L. Moody, people even say at that time that he was the only one who was qualified to preach on hell. Do you know why? He did it with tears. Are you preaching? When you talk about our own brokenness, do you do it with tears? So, image of God, but also having this incorrect diagnosis that somehow we forget about sin nature. How many of y’all have ever heard that the root cause or root causes of homosexuality is absentee father, dominant mother, or abuse in one’s childhood? Anyone hear that before? And this kind of comes from a framework, reparative therapy, conversion therapy. And if you’ve heard or read any of my work, I’m not an advocate.
But, I do need to make a caveat. Although I’m not an advocate, I’m also not one to support government making it illegal. First of all, what does government know about psychology or anything, I mean, for that matter? I mean, if that’s not government overreach, I don’t know what is. But, root cause, in other words, a deficient and imperfect childhood is somehow the culprit for same-sex attractions. And yet, Christians, we often blindly accepted this as the supposed root causes without any critical difficult reflection.
Often, studies are mentioned. But unfortunately, I think these studies show correlation, not causation. And I know in this room, I’m going to guess, that some of you have a loved one who’s gay. Maybe you have a son or daughter. And I know oftentimes parents have asked, “What did I do wrong? How could I have prevented this?” Please hear me. It’s not your fault. You could’ve been a perfect parent. Your children are still sinners. Look at Adam and Eve. Did they not have a perfect father? Did they not have a perfect environment? They still rebelled. What makes us think we can do any better?
You know, the primary goal of a Christian parent is not necessarily to produce godly children. That’s not your main goal. You know what’s your main goal, parent? To be a godly parent. You can control that. You’re not God. We need to remember that the gift of faith, of justification, of salvation are not yours to give, mom and dad. You be godly. Point your children to Christ. Not to say that bad childhood has a detrimental effect on us. It does. But, I see those more as catalyst to the main cause of our sin nature. Catalyst is not a cause. Because when we begin focusing upon the secondary issues, it distracts us from the main issue.
When you’re not feeling well, you want your doctor to diagnose you correctly, right? If your doctor doesn’t diagnose you correctly, you most likely will not be able to treat you correctly. But, I think we’ve diagnosed this incorrectly treating this as a developmental disorder, trying to dig into one’s past. But, honestly, that’s more Freudian than biblical, because it’s quite simple. Sin is the problem. Christ is the answer.
And yet, I get kind of people who push back and say, “Well, that sounds too simple.” Doesn’t salvation also sound too simple? The more we try to fix ourselves, and save ourselves, and make ourselves holy, the more we will fail. That doesn’t mean you don’t do anything, but that means that you do things only empowered by the grace of God.
This is a great understanding of grace, and I’m going to quote John Piper again. I don’t know if I’m going to get exactly right. But, he said, “Grace is not just forgiveness of sins. It’s the ability to sin no more.” So, grace is not just pardon, it’s power. And it’s when we live in that power grounded in grace that we will recognize that sin is the problem. Sin is the problem. Christ is the answer.
But also, we’re talking about this ontological question. Who am I? I made it core. One question that we hear from the world, and actually also from Christians. Are people born gay? I mean, I’ve been this way as long as I remember. Parents, they’re like, “Man, I mean, when my kid was just a little toddler, I could sense something different.” Are people just born gay? And if we just look strictly at scientific studies, and there’s been a lot, studies on causation of a same-sex orientation, nothing to date has been proven or replicated. And honestly, we are far from figuring out what exactly are the causes. We are far from that.
But, looking at science is not enough. We need to look at God’s word. And God’s word tells us that we’re created in the image of God and that we all have a sin nature. Was that a choice? Did you wake up when you were three and be like, “You know what? I’m going to be a sinner. Why not. I’m going to take on this sin nature”? No. Not a choice. Psalm 51, David, “We’re all born into sin. In sin did my mother conceive me.” Not a choice. Does that mean then that we’re born … people are born gay? No. Because note that a predisposition is different from a predetermination. I think we all might be born with a certain predisposition. But that doesn’t mean that no matter what happens you will give into that or you will do that. Innateness doesn’t also mean that it’s permissible, for being born a sinner doesn’t make sin right.
But even though on the lack of just so much scientific … such a lack lot of scientific evidence that people are born gay, there’s still almost certainty in pop culture that people are born gay. And though we can point them to the lack of evidence, there’s something more even important and profound that is just our gospel foundational truth. That even though you think or your friends might think that people are born gay, you know what Jesus says? You must be born again.
So, it doesn’t matter whether you think you’re born an alcoholic. You must be born again. Doesn’t matter you think you’re born a porn addict. You must be born again. Doesn’t matter if you think you’re a liar or cheater. You fill in the blank. You must be born again. That is not a message just for the gay community. That is a message for the world. You must be born again. You are a new Christian. The old is gone, the new has come. There’s nothing more gospel than that.
Because to be honest, when I was living as a gay man, do you know my biggest sin was not being in a same-sex relationship. My biggest sin was unbelief. That is what separated me from God. So when we approach our gay loved one, our lesbian coworker and we want to share them biblical truth, share them the power of the gospel. And even before you do that, live it. Before you preach the gospel, live the gospel. Because it is in this gospel that we are changed. Let’s pray.
Father, we thank you for Jesus. We praise you, Lord God, for the gospel, something that we did not deserve. God, I ask that every person here in this room, here at Gospel Coalition at this conference, Lord, that we would never, never fall out of love with Jesus and the beautiful message that he died for. God, enable us in our brokenness, even in these difficult conversations that we have that are often pointed, that often try to trap us, or to get us to debate, Lord, help us to not focus upon simply morality, but help us to focus simply on Jesus. Lord, we love you. Help us to love you more. And we ask this is in the beautiful matchless name of Jesus the Messiah. And the people of God said Amen. Thank you.