Peace In Sexual Identity [Part 2]
Or 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, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 So Dr. Rosaria Butterfield is coming this Friday evening. She will give a one-hour lecture, telling her story. Then we’ll have an hour of open mic Q&A. So you can tell your friends that this will be interactive and the beginning of an ongoing conversation. As I pointed out last week, we can’t talk about sexual ethics until we first talk about personal identity. We’re all like Jason Bourne, trying to figure out who we are and not liking the clues we’re discovering. We need to go back to God who gave us our first and true identity. He created us in his glorious image. Then we wrecked it by our own folly. Now God is graciously re-creating us in the image of Jesus, as we turn to him. But it’s only when our God-given identity is clear that questions of sexual ethics can then fall into place. Today let’s take the next step. Some of us are wondering this morning, “Pastor Ray, what do you think of gay sex and gay marriage? What do you think about these burning issues here in our time?” Those are important questions. But there is an even more important question, a prior question that is often overlooked. If you’re asking about homosexuality this morning, I’m asking a different question. I’m asking, What is the most important event in all of human history? Until you’ve thought that through, you can’t understand why you answer your own questions about sexual morality the way you do. What’s more, everyone has an answer to this huge question of the most important event or moment or season in human history. Not that everyone thinks about it. Often the answer that dominates our thinking has just rubbed off on us somehow. But here’s an answer that’s widespread in our part of the world today and I’m sure is influential among us here. The most important event in all of human history was the Enlightenment and the rise of modern science and the emergence of political democracy and the insights of modern psychotherapy, and so forth. In other words, it’s been over the last 200 or 300 years that the human race has finally matured. We are now the grown-ups of history. Before then, “back in the olden days,” people believed in the Bible and the earth at the center of the universe and traditional authority structures in the home and the divine right of kings and the legitimacy of slavery and a rigid class system and repressive sexual rules that held us back in fear and bigotry. People back then had lots of crazy ideas. But we know better now. We’re finally free to think for ourselves. Now we can explore our options and figure out what works for us. Now we know all ethics are relative. Now we know that we’re acting out of our subconscious traumas from childhood. Now we know that we evolved from lower life forms, and there’s no end the progress awaiting us in the future. So we’ve moved on, and we’ll keep moving on, and we’ll never stop, until we build a world of peace and justice for all. It’s only a matter of time, because we are not only free now but we are freed – freed from the defunct ideas of the past. And we can do whatever we set our minds to. Now, if that’s how you see the whole flow of human history, then everything before the modern age was backward, and the sexual revolution that exploded in the 1960s was part of this larger movement from repression into liberation, and you have no reason to limit anyone’s sexual expression in any way whatever, because endless exploring is how we make further progress. But there are no limits, in your view. Any boundaries at all are an arbitrary throwback to a world that never should have existed in the first place. You can allow no limits on any sexual expression in terms of gender or age or even whether sex partners should be limited to human beings. If you believe we’re now riding the historical wave of freedom into a better future, you’ll inevitably trend in these directions for your sexual ethics. And what I’m saying is that this view of the most important turning point in all of human history is the dominant narrative in Western culture today. It’s a very powerful force in how we process not just sexual ethics but all of reality. But our modern Western narrative is not the only one. I understand that in our nation today, around 60% of people think society should accept homosexuality. But in Spain it’s 88%, and in Nigeria it’s 1%. In each case, there is a reason for what people think. We are influenced by our social environment. And who’s to say that one cultural narrative is better than another? So for all of us, the question of sexual morality starts with an even more important historical question that explains why we end up with whatever view we take. And this mega-question is, What do you think is the most important event in all of human history? Every one of us has an answer, even if we’ve never examined it. And this morning I’m not speaking primarily to my gay friends. If you are unsure of your sexuality or openly gay, thank you for coming to Immanuel. You’ve taken a risk in coming. We want to prove worthy of your trust. But this morning I’m speaking primarily to my Christian friends. We have many weaknesses. But our biggest failing is that we don’t fully believe the gospel. We say that Jesus is the most important event in all of human history, that everything before Jesus at best prepared the way for him, and everything after Jesus at best reflects him. We say that Jesus is the most important reality in our own lives. But we then contradict all that. We say we believe the gospel, but we treat modern psychotherapy as more insightful. We say we love Jesus, but we keep him locked up in the back room of our lives as if he were that eccentric uncle who’s an embarrassment to the family. We say we love all people for Jesus’ sake, but we treat sexually adventurous people like lepers, as if we aren’t. That’s hypocrisy. And the root of our problem is that our Jesus isn’t big enough to change even us, much less anyone else. Let me ask every Christian here this morning, Why do you think you’re a Christian? What evidence can you see that you have undergone something as massive as a religious conversion? How has your Christianity changed you, including your overall narrative for processing reality? Or is your Jesus just a sprinkling of feel-good pixie dust on the surface of a deeply unconverted life? For example, if you suddenly discovered that there really isn’t any Jesus out there, he just isn’t there, how much difference would it make in the way you actually live? If it wouldn’t make much difference, then your obedience to him now is not obedience; it’s only coincidence. You’re just doing stuff that you’d do anyway, because it suits you, not because Jesus commands it. An uncommanded, self-defined religion, even with Jesus-talk, is not Christianity. It’s just you, using Jesus as an excuse. Or, in the language of the New Testament, Have you been washed and sanctified and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God, or did you make yourself what you are? My purpose today is not to convert my unbelieving friends. My purpose is to convert my Christian friends to the Jesus who is big enough to command center stage in all of human history and big enough to help us. The gospel claims that human history reached its defining breakthrough moment not 200 years ago but 2000 years ago when Jesus died on the cross for human evil and rose from the dead with power to renew the universe. When Jesus stepped immortal out of that grave in Jerusalem, he was himself the future of the human race and the rebirth of the cosmos. Everything in this world that is endearing and hopeful and liberating and humane was guaranteed for us by the death and resurrection of Jesus. And to deny that mega-event and replace it with Freud or Marx or anyone else is to align ourselves with Satan and all his brilliant strategies of oppression as the day of final judgment looms ahead when, without Jesus, we will stand naked before the wrath to come. But to accept Jesus for all that he is – that is when we are covered by his grace and included in the new humanity and promised our own place in his glory that will triumph over everything forever. That is not our culture’s dominant narrative, it is not the church’s dominant narrative, but it is the gospel’s narrative. And what happens in a Christian conversion is not simply that you pray “the sinner’s prayer” but that God draws you personally into the reality that exploded in this world at the death and resurrection of Jesus. We are washed and sanctified and justified. And we know it’s being made real to us when the gospel’s categories are no longer boring but amazing. We know we’re being touched by the most glorious breakthrough in all of history when it breaks through to us and, in spite of everything, we start feeling hopeful about Jesus. We still sin. We are still weak. But Christian conversion is a miracle that percolates down into all that we are, including our sexuality. We stop being embarrassed by the Bible as something regressive and we start becoming proud of it as something progressive. So my question this morning to every one of us is this. Have you been converted? Can you say, Yes, I still have many problems, but I have been washed and sanctified and justified by the miraculous grace of God? The healing of our city begins with the healing of us Christians, as Jesus becomes glorious enough to help us with our own sexuality. Will we Christians open up today to what only he can do? Let’s think it through. Verse 9: Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? That is serious. And Paul said it to warn us Christians. We know that God forgives, and we’re grateful for his mercy. But the forgiveness of God turns us around and gets us going in a new direction. We start stumbling forward into imperfect but real holiness of life. And this obvious turn-around is not optional. Even with our many failings, we experience something of the wonderful restoration that Jesus is. But without real conversion, do not think you will inherit the kingdom of God. Without real conversion, you will spend eternity in hell, shut out from his joyous presence, because, when Jesus stepped out of his tomb and through the gospel turned to you and smiled on you and called you to follow him, you chose to stay in the prison of your unrighteous desires. One of our members was recently in a great third world city. He told me of a community there that lives in a cemetery. It’s a filthy place. And a new neighborhood has been built for them not far away. They’re free to get up and move into new houses with good schools. But they’re staying in that place of death, because they aren’t free in their minds. My friend emailed me to say, “Poverty is not only the lack of physical things like food, shelter or water. It always includes a mindset as well. We all have poverty of some sort.” The deepest poverty inside us is not believing that a better life freely awaits us. In ourselves we cannot fathom what it would be like to get up and move in with Jesus. So we settle for sins that keep us from him, and then we blame him. That is serious. And look how Paul starts out verse 9: “Don’t you know that? Isn’t it obvious that you cannot have God and live a life opposite to God?” So, what could this look like for each one of us? Paul continues, in verses 9-10: Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. Apparently, we can be deceived. We can lie to ourselves. We can agree with the gospel in theory, without letting it rearrange our reality. There is a deception inside us, like a virus in our bodies, and we must be alert to its symptoms. What is it? It is the lie in my own thoughts that my particular sin, my favorite sin, my souvenir bit of hell that I don’t want to part with, my darling sin – God wouldn’t be so heartless as to take that away. Sure, I’m on his side in every other way. But that particular sin I make room for in my life and can’t imagine living without – God wouldn’t ask me to give that up, would he? Every one of us has something we don’t want to give to the Lord. That’s why Paul lists a number of sins here. And his list isn’t exhaustive. He doesn’t mention assassins, for example. This is a fill-in-the-blank list, with plenty of room for every sin you and I excuse with self-deceiving lies. But it doesn’t matter if the whole human race disagrees with 1 Corinthians 6:9-11. The unrighteous will never inherit the kingdom of God. So, we who say we love Jesus – why are we defensive for any sin he died to oppose? Two observations about verses 9-10. One, sexual sin is not the worst sin. All these sins, and more, are deal-breakers with God. But the worst sin, according to the gospel, is rejecting Jesus. And there are many ways to reject Jesus, including living “a good Christian life.” In her novel Wise Blood, Flannery O’Connor says of the main character, “There was already a deep black wordless conviction in him, that the way to avoid Jesus was to avoid sin.” But all kinds of sinners who move toward Jesus for mercy always find him to be kind. Jesus said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). Two, forgiven sinners coming to Jesus, while they aren’t perfect in this life, neither are they deceived. They know now what they want and what they don’t want. And what they long for and rejoice over is newness of life in Jesus. A wise man long ago put it this way: The difference between an unconverted man and a converted man is not that one has sins and the other does not; but that the one stands in solidarity with his cherished sins against a dreaded God, and the other stands in solidarity with a reconciled God against his hated sins. Are you clear about that, or are you lying to yourself? Have you turned to Jesus as the defining center of your identity and sexuality and everything with total openness to the full impact of his mind-renewing gospel? Is your Jesus big enough and wonderful enough to hit you that hard with his love? The wonderful thing is how he receives anyone with any past who simply comes to him. Verse 11: And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. Paul does not say, “And such are some of you.” My friends who call themselves “gay Christians” must not realize they’re calling themselves “unconverted converts.” It doesn’t work that way. Every real Christian is able to say, at some level, “Such was I. But I was washed and sanctified and justified by a miracle of God, and I’m not going back.” Is that you? The man we now call St. Augustine lived for years in sexual sin. And he couldn’t stop. He felt imprisoned within his desires. He was frustrated with himself. He kept asking, What holds me back? Why do I keep telling myself I’ll decide tomorrow? Why not now? But he was stuck. So how did he change? He tells us in his famous prayer to God called The Confessions: “You drove [my lusts] from me, you who are sweeter than all pleasure.” What happened? Jesus made himself real to Augustine. He washed Augustine’s heart with true pleasure that redefined Augustine’s psychology of desire. So one day as Augustine was walking through town, a former girlfriend saw him and called after him, “Augustine, Augustine, it is I!” He turned and said gently to her, “But it is no longer I.” What verse 11 is talking about is real. Jesus comes to us broken sinners and washes us clean, he sets us apart to God, he justifies us by his merit. Why did it stick for Augustine back then, and why does it stick for millions today? Because it is not an act of human willpower. It is not turning over a new leaf. It is a miracle from above, which is why Paul includes “in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” The greatest reality in all of human history enters into us at our point of need and creates right there a new human being who loves God. Has God performed that miracle for you? He can. Today. And on terms of grace. The proof is not your sinless perfection. The proof of God’s grace in you is your reverence for Jesus as the sacred reality at the center of your heart. It’s something you didn’t cause. It’s something that happened to you. Jesus came down from above to set your feet on a new path, and you’re forever grateful. That is Christian conversion. Are you a desperate wreck whom Jesus has touched with a love you don’t deserve but you’re so glad to have, or are you just a nice person getting by somehow? If you are all you are, however clean on the outside, Jesus said, “Prostitutes will get into the kingdom of God before you do” (Matthew 21:31). Maybe the reason why some Christians aren’t wholehearted for Jesus is not their sins but their Jesus. They have the wrong one. They have some little Jesus they picked up along the way, but not the Jesus of the Bible. The real Jesus makes some sinners say, “Oh, for crying out loud, you mean I can have him, for free, forever? I’m all in!” And the real Jesus makes other sinners run in the opposite direction. But a blasé mild approval at a safe distance is not Christianity. Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field” (Matthew 13:44). The miracle of Christian conversion makes us too happy about Jesus to care about losing our old life. If you’re thinking, “But I’m in too deep. I’ve sinned too much. He can’t help me,” that’s why verse 11 heaps terms upon terms. God wants to assure you that he has enough grace for you, whoever you are, whatever you’ve done. God has a gentle washing for messy sinners, a beautiful sanctifying for hypocritical sinners, and a free justifying for guilty sinners. There is more mercy in him than there is sin in you. So here’s what I’m hoping for today. I’m not hoping that we’ll knuckle down and finally behave properly, because our problem is not behaving badly; our problem is miniaturizing Jesus. The only Savior in all this universe is offering all that he is to all that we are right now. So let’s do this. Let’s hand ourselves, as we really are, over to him, as he really is.