Jesus Christ is the Same
Yesterday, Today and For Ever
‘Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever. Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings. It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace, not by ceremonial foods, which are of no value to those who eat them.’
Hebrews 13:89 (NIV)
As a young Christian tossed around as I endeavoured to interpret the many apparently conflicting messages life seems to convey about the nature of God, this verse and a study of the character of Jesus brought me real stability. I found lasting security in worshipping and keeping my eyes upon Jesus, our life-giving and in every respect wonderful Saviour.
By contrast with the unchanging nature of God, for us sinners change is the enduring theme for our lives-change into Christ-likeness.
Unless some extraordinarily life-changing event occurs, we are usually still distinctly recognisable as the same person all our lives. Our personalities do not generally change much. So for many of us, change in response to Christ is all about refining our lives from ungodly habits. At one level that is important, but as I get older, it becomes clearer to me that it is our heart-attitude that needs the greatest refinement if we are truly to reflect the Saviour we love and worship.
The Truth Sets us Free ...
What are some of the unchanging characteristics of Jesus that we find reassuring? In keeping our focus on his sacrifice on the cross-the means of salvation for all who believe, we find reassurance in meditating on his sovereignty, his mercy, compassion, loving kindness, faithfulness, his commitment to us ... the list is endless. The reminder that he will also be our Judge is not so reassuring if we are far from him but, for all who are walking close to the Lord, there need be no fear (1 John 4:18). That is as long as we are not taking a complacent attitude. Jesus will complete the work he has begun in us (Philippians 1:6).
Our Sexuality is a Gift from God
When it comes to issues of sexuality, many insecurities can surface for us. It is tempting to suppress any thoughts about the matter, especially when the issue is homosexuality. Over the years however, I have found that the most fruitful path in my ministry has been to face the feelings of being ‘gay’ from a place of security in the love of Christ. Honesty, vulnerability and dependence on the grace of God enable us to embrace our sexuality as something God-given, rather than treating this important aspect of our make-up as a monster inside needing to be repressed. To be sure, unbridled sexual passion can lead to all kinds of evils. But when we are submitted to the Holy Spirit, embracing our sexuality as something God gave us and fully understands, brings us to a deeper understanding of what God our Maker is truly like. We should remember that one of the main proofs of authentic Christian doctrine is the belief that Jesus came in the flesh (1 John 4:2); he is not a disembodied Spirit but is fully human as well as divine, identified as a man and, we must assume, fully integrated with his sexuality.
For so many of us, unfortunately, a schism has developed between our minds and hearts. Our minds, our hearts, our souls, our bodies and our sexuality must become reintegrated if we are to be fully human and reflect the image of God in which we are made. It is a tragedy that too often it is guilt, induced by religious conviction, that causes this schism! So to deny or repress our homosexuality, to try to drive the feelings away, even just to put them on the shelf, only serves in the long run to make us more alienated from God and ourselves. Of course, to carelessly indulge ourselves has the same effect-and self-destruction comes more quickly!
The Unending Divide ...
Where homosexuality is concerned, this concept of integration poses a huge problem for many Christians. We are all likely to be agreed on the importance of living a holy life pleasing to God. This means recognising and holding to the strong emphasis throughout Scripture on the importance of shunning sexual immorality for all of us. Therefore, one group of Christians feels it is wrong to give any consideration to exploring same-sex relationships for fear that anyone who does so will quickly find themselves in a compromising position. Other Christians take the view that they must work out before God a Christian response to their sexuality which may mean becoming involved in a gay relationship. Coming very much from the conservative viewpoint in the past, I now believe God is calling Courage to become more inclusive of Christians across the spectrum of opinion. Needless to say, that places us right in the firing line where the ongoing debate amongst many Christians today is concerned. But Jesus called us to take the narrow way (Matthew 7:13,14), a road characterised by compassion and concern for the dignity of God’s creatures, rather than a party spirit.
Many non-homosexual people feel an instinctive antipathy, if not outright repugnance towards the subject. For them, it is exceedingly difficult to work out a rationale for accepting homosexual people that does not sound like a slippery slope to a moral landslide. Unfortunately, the only acceptable ‘way of compassion’ in the eyes of many evangelical Christians is to insist that gay people must ‘change’. At the very least this means to desist from any pursuit of their desires. Ideally ‘change’ means to become ‘normal’ (which is ‘heterosexual’ in most people’s minds). This ministry style was depicted rather graphically in a recent ‘Witness’ programme on Channel 4 entitled ‘Going Straight’ broadcast on 25th June, 2000. This portrayed a ministry in Wichita, Kansas setting out to rescue men and women from homosexuality. Unusually, from my experience of the media, the programme seemed to be freer from bias than many because no actual comment was made, just a recording of the actual conversations between participants. Certainly the dedication and sincerity of all was beyond doubt. But the end results were most depressing!
Such an agenda, to most gay people, is not only offensive but crushingly oppressive too, hence the anti-Christian attitude of many gay people, who (unsurprisingly) see Christians as their worst enemies! For many homosexually-orientated folk in our Churches, for whom the fear of rejection is enormous, there appears only to be one choice-to utterly repudiate their feelings and search for a miracle cure! This assumption, based on self-rejection, is neither healthy nor realistic. The question in my mind now is whether or not that agenda is biblical at all. Could it be that utter repudiation of homosexuality comes more from a cultural perception of how relationships ‘should’ be, which is another thing altogether?
Oppression of one sort or another against people who are ‘different’ whether by reason of race, colour, gender, class or sexual orientation has been endemic in established Churches for generations. This spirit is in opposition to the gospel and we must repent of it. Thanks to God’s unchanging faithfulness and commitment to complete the work he has begun in us, Jesus exposes such dogma. He reminds us that he loves all people unconditionally, gay or straight, and that it is a work of saving grace that people’s lives are transformed into his likeness. Change, for us, is still very much on God’s agenda because as sinners we fall short of his glory. But the kind of change God has in mind for the homosexual person may not turn out to be quite what we first thought!
An example of this tension came up last year when the press published the story of Dr Roy Clements, the Baptist minister from Cambridge, reporting that he had left his marriage and ministry to live with another man. When the news broke, I realised at once that there would be far more to this story than the press would ever tell. To the Church’s shame, in my opinion, many Christians have since been prepared to reject him without a further thought, never mind hearing anything of his side of the story. And we are talking here of a man who has an outstanding ministry of biblical exposition, among other things, that has edified and inspired Christians around the world.
I have met many pastors and Christian workers, serving God faithfully today through their ministries, who are torn apart inside because of the conflict between their homosexuality and their Christian faith. When I met Roy Clements, I knew at once that I was speaking to a man of God, who loves the Word that he is renowned for expounding so brilliantly, and yet who had suffered much internal conflict because he was gay. To vilify and reject him, as some Christians have done, without a thought for the personal journey he has been on through all this, is to my mind inexcusable.
Following our meeting I was delighted when he was able to join our Discipleship Group one evening a few weeks ago. He told us something of his story and gave us a short talk on the subject of diversity. He made no attempt to expound an apologetic for gay relationships. On the contrary, it was his enduring love and enthusiasm for God’s Word that shone through. Many said afterwards that the evening was the best group meeting they could remember.
However, though we had kept his visit strictly confidential, the news leaked out and before the evening had taken place we started getting reactions from some people who implied that to allow him into our midst was akin to supping with the devil! Those amongst our Christian brethren who are so quick to judge gay people should remember that, according to 1 Corinthians 6:9, it was not just homosexual offenders who will not inherit the kingdom of heaven; revilers and slanderers are outlawed too!
Real Life vs Theology!
One of the greatest challenges for me in recent years has been to recognise again and again that Jesus does not take a partisan view! This fact is likely to pass unnoticed by people who are not interested in the issues for gay people. Which presumably is why God has called Courage, as a specialised ministry, to seek Him specifically for these issues and pioneer in revealing God’s way forward. Those who are able to see value in lessons learned from experience of walking with God may be open to what we have to say. Those who prize a traditional theological correctness above experience may disagree.
Another illustration-an increasingly common scenario that comes up in question time when we give seminars is worth mentioning here. One of our discipleship group members recently shared his grief on the death of a Christian minister, who had been-to him-’one of the most Christ-like men I have ever met!’. At the funeral he discovered that this man had been living for years in a homosexual relationship. ‘This just did not fit my theology,’ he exclaimed! Jesus’ brother James helps us out here when he says, ‘Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring?’ James 3:11 (NIV). If we still have real difficulty in coping with the fact of this man evidently being so Christ-like-and yet actively gay-then instead of rejecting him and all he stood for, or trying to fine-tune our theology, let us stand back for a moment and remember Jesus’ words: ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.’ Matthew 28:18 (NIV). In other words, Jesus remains sovereign above all! Let us then give thanks to God for all that is good (Philippians 4:8), not judging one another but being sure to live according to our consciences, as a people preparing to give account of ourselves to God.
No Fences in Jesus’ Kingdom
As a ministry endeavouring to bring a Christ-like witness to gay people, we are in a difficult position. There is no way to please those who, on the one hand demand stated judgement of homosexual activity and on the other, reach out to those who are gay and seeking (or living in) a same-sex relationship. The choice that seems so crystal clear to a non-homosexual person is nowhere near so obvious to those who are gay and genuinely trying to live a Christ-centred life. Those who purport to believe in the life-changing work of the Holy Spirit are, in my opinion, too quick to usurp his role when they feel he is not doing his job according-to their view of Scripture!
Either I must take an inclusive view and extend the grace of God to all, believing that God is at work in their hearts or get out of the ministry! My role, I believe, is to serve, not play God! No doubt this is why, a year ago, I felt God was challenging me as to whether I was prepared to give up my reputation. I cannot have the ministry of Christ to gay people and be worrying all the time about what my brothers and sisters in the Church are thinking. It is for me to reveal the heart of Christ to them, not allow my critics to decide what I should say and do! Jesus will judge us all in the end (1 Corinthians 4:15).
For those coming for ‘help to overcome’ their homosexuality, I understand the pressures of wanting to be ‘normal’ (heterosexual) to please family, friends, pastors, church members. It feels very uncomfortable to be different. But Jesus said ‘Follow Me!’. This was his most often-repeated commandment and if we obey then we can be sure we will be different! In following Jesus, I see a ministry developing which embraces those who are alienated from God and themselves; I see pure hearts full of love and compassion where prejudice has no place. I see a call to resist the temptation to live a life of pleasing others, especially religious people. At the same time I see a desire amongst God’s people to be set apart from the ways of the world in order to follow Christ that shuns a lifestyle characterised by a search for personal sexual fulfilment. Above all, looking at the Cross of Jesus, I remember that while we were still sinners he laid down his life and gave himself as a ransom.
It is impossible for me now to look at a person who tells me he is gay and see ‘a homosexual’. I can only see the person for whom Christ died.
Let’s be clear about this-in spite of the media presentation, the gay life is not all about lust, promiscuity and sexual perversion. Tragically, it may be widespread, just as it is among heterosexual people. Nevertheless, there are gay couples who love each other faithfully and very deeply and deserve respect not opposition.
When Paul challenged the complacency of the Corinthian Church, demanding the expulsion of the immoral brother (1 Corinthians 5:1), he noted that the immorality was ‘of a kind that did not occur even among the pagans’ (a man had his Father’s wife!). Whereas, in today’s world, many people can appreciate and accept loving gay partnerships. They cannot understand why Christians have a problem with two men or two women loving each other. If their love includes an erotic dimension, that is nobody else’s business (unless it is violating a marriage).
Persecution guarantees a measure of solidarity for a cause like nothing else! The gay life offers identity, solidarity and belonging to a group of similarly minded people. If gay people are made to feel alienated from the Church, no wonder the divide seems insurmountable. Therefore I believe increasingly that to include our brothers and sisters who are gay or lesbian, without judgement or prescriptive attitudes as to how they must conform to our likeness (as opposed to the likeness of Christ) is the mandate God is giving us in these times.
The Importance of Christian Fellowship
Many Christians who are gay simply don’t tell their fellow Christians of their sexuality. This is possibly just too fraught with difficulties for them. This is a great pity because opening up in a Christian fellowship that values their members without prejudice can be so immensely beneficial for all. Even if people feel they cannot share openly, worshipping and building relationship with Christians near home is very important for every believer. At Courage, we can provide accountability and help work out together where the boundaries should lie. At the same time, we all need a balance in our lives. While the Courage discipleship groups for men can supplement Christian fellowship with support for the specific issues, we do not want to compete with the wider Church, which is the Body of Christ. God-willing, the time will come when Churches will be more prepared to embrace the gay person in their midst and the need for specialist groups like ours will become redundant. My prayer is that by the time I am ready to retire, we can close the ministry having completed our task.
Support for a ‘New Approach’ ...
In his landmark book Connecting, published in 1997, Dr Larry Crabb provides some profound and very timely words of wisdom; his work provides tremendous support for our ‘New Approach’. Unfortunately the book is currently out of print, but you can read more on the same theme in his latest book, The Safest Place on Earth, both published by Word (Nashville, USA). One of my favourite quotations from Connecting (page 13), and a good theme to end with, is this:
‘One of Satan’s favourite strategies is to come up with a close counterfeit of an important truth and allow the Christian community to spot the error. Christians then become so committed to staying away from it that they miss the truth it distorted.’
With the foundation of the gospel message, Jesus commanded us to love one another deeply (’love covers a multitude of sins’, Peter wrote, 1 Peter 4:8). We don’t do this very well or very conscientiously in today’s churches; certainly not the way Jesus meant us to, in my view! We settle for being nice to one another! But this is not enough for many single people who lack the companionship and intimacy that a good marriage offers.
A genuinely loving and committed relationship between two people of the same sex must surely be granted the dignity of having its place for those unable to marry. This is how I believe Jesus would view the situation, considering his observations in Matthew 19:11,12. Unfortunately the notion of a gay identity proposing a kind of ‘alternative marriage’ consummated by same-sex sexual union, is a proposition that Satan knows is guaranteed to alienate God’s people! Christians are convinced it is a counterfeit all right and have spotted the error! But instead of being challenged to acknowledge the needs of gay people and reveal to a broken world the glory of a Christian community whose members love one another deeply, instead we devote our energies to fighting the people for whom Jesus laid down his life!
Humility and self-sacrifice is the way of our Saviour and Lord.
Jesus’ Unchanging Agenda
Throughout his ministry, Jesus welcomed the outcast and restored their dignity and self-respect. He did not follow this with a programme to solve all their problems! He commanded them to follow him.
Jesus is the same yesterday, today and for ever. It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace, not by any modern substitute for ceremonial foods repackaged in the form of socially-acceptable norms. We are the ones who need to change our attitudes-towards many minority people groups of course-but here I am presenting the needs of gay people who have been greatly maligned and misunderstood. Gay people need companionship and intimacy too. We are beginning to learn something of how to find it. We would like your support.
© Jeremy Marks 2000 (updated with minor revisions December 2003)