We were having lunch together, and I was praying like mad. My friend had been in a committed same-sex relationship for about 15 years. He was interested in Jesus; attracted to his teaching and message. But he wanted to know how becboming a Christian would affect his gay lifestyle.
I had explained, as carefully and graciously as I could, that Jesus upheld and expanded the wider biblical stance on sexuality, that the only context for sexual activity is heterosexual marriage. Following Jesus would mean seeking to live under his word, in this area as in any other. He had been quiet for a moment, and then looked me in the eye and asked the billion-dollar question: 'What could possibly be worth giving up my partner for?' I held his gaze for a moment while my brain raced for the answer. There was eternity, of course. There was heaven and hell. But I was conscious that these realities would seem other-worldly and intangible to him. In any case, surely following Jesus is worth it even for this life. He was asking about life here-and-now, so I prayed for God to lead me to a here-and-now Bible verse. I wanted my friend to know that following Jesus really is worth it—worth it in the life to come, but also worth it in this life now, no less so for those who have homosexual feelings. Yes, there would be a host of hardships and difficulties: unfulfilled longings, the distress of unwanted temptation, and the struggles of long-term singleness. But I wanted him to know that following Jesus is more than worth it, even with all it entails for gay people. And I also wanted to tell him that I had come to know this not just from studying the Bible and listening to others, but from my own experience.
More Grace, Not Less
Homosexuality is an issue I have grappled with my entire Christian life. It took a long time to admit to myself, longer to admit to others, and even longer to see something of God's good purposes through it all. There have been all sorts of ups and downs. But this battle is not devoid of blessings, as Paul discovered with his own unyielding thorn in the flesh. Struggling with sexuality has been an opportunity to experience more of God's grace, rather than less. Only in recent months have I felt compelled to be more open on this issue. For many years I had no intention of being public about it. I am conscious that raising it here may lead to any number of responses—some welcome, some perhaps less so. But over the last couple of years I have felt increasingly concerned that, when it comes to our gay friends and family members, many of us Bible-believing Christians are losing confidence in the gospel. We are not always convinced it really is good news for gay people. We are not always sure we can really expect them to live by what the Bible says. As my mind raced that lunchtime God gave me a verse to share with my friend. It demonstrates precisely why following Jesus is worth it, in this lifetime, and even when we have to give up things we could never imagine living without:
Peter said to Jesus, "We have left everything to follow you!" "I tell you the truth," Jesus replied, "no-one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much as in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life." (Mark 10:28-30)
Following Jesus involves leaving things behind and giving things up. For gay people, it involves leaving behind a gay lifestyle.
God's Clear Word
The Bible is consistent in prohibiting homosexual practice. Jesus himself condemns "sexual immorality" (Mark 7:21, for example). Though Jesus does not directly mention homosexual activity, he does include it. The Greek word we translate as "sexual immorality" (porneia, from which we get the word pornography) is a catch-all term for any sexual activity outside heterosexual marriage. Paul is more specific, directly referring to homosexual practice in three passages. In Romans 1:24-27 both homosexual and also lesbian activity are given as examples of the "unnatural" behavior that results from turning away from God. In 1 Cor. 6:9-10 "homosexual offenders" are listed among those whose behavior will result in their exclusion from God's kingdom. The word Paul uses literally translates as "men who lie with men" and comes again in 1 Timothy 1:10 (where the NIV 1984 unhelpfully translates it "perverts"). It is simply not possible to argue for gay relationships from the Bible. Attempts by some church leaders to do so inevitably involve twisting some texts and ignoring others. God's Word is, in fact, clear. The Bible consistently prohibits any sexual activity outside of marriage. As someone who experiences homosexual feelings this is not always an easy word to hear. It has sometimes been very painful to come to terms with what the Bible says. There have been times of acute temptation and longing—times when I have been "in love." And yet Scripture shows that these longings distort what God has created me for.
However much we have to leave behind we are never left out of pocket. Whatever we give up Jesus replaces, in godly kind and greater measure. No one who leaves will fail to receive, and the returns are extraordinary—a hundredfold. What we give up for Jesus does not compare to what he gives back. If the costs are great, the rewards are even greater, even in this life. For me these include a wonderful depth of friendship God has given me with many brothers and sisters; the opportunities of singleness; the privilege of a wide-ranging ministry; and the community of a wonderful church family. But greater than any of these things is the opportunity that any complex and difficult situation presents us with: to learn the all-sufficiency of Christ—learning that fullness of life and joy is in him and his service, and nowhere else. There is a huge amount to say on this issue, but the main point is this: the moment you think following Jesus will be a poor deal for someone, you call Jesus a liar. Discipleship is not always easy. Leaving anything cherished behind is profoundly hard. But Jesus is always worth it.