by Richard Davis
How often have you picked up a new book which purports to explain the true meaning of the so-called “clobber” passages and to offer a gay-friendly interpretation of the Bible, only to find that you aren’t convinced by the author’s reasoning or that his or her exegesis is obviously faulty? Maybe you picked up the book hoping that, here, at last, you’d find THE ANSWER and now in your disappointment you’ve begun to doubt your relationship with Christ. Maybe those gay bashing interpretations are right after all, you think. That’s why before you begin to look for possible gay-friendly interpretations of Scripture it is important to be clear about what the real question is: How do you think that you are made right with God?
Are you made right with God by obeying all the laws in the Bible? Or is it by faith in Jesus’ finished work on the Cross? Paul writes, “We maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.” (Romans 3:28) In the letter to the Galatians, Paul invites us to think back to the moment we first accepted Jesus as our Lord, “Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard?” (Galatians 3:2b) Surely, it was while you yet had same-sex feelings that Jesus opened your heart to receive him and he saved you (Romans 5:8). Since God has saved you in Christ apart from considerations about your sexuality, will he now judge you on the basis of your sexuality? Not according to Paul, “For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more having been reconciled shall we be saved through his life! (Romans 5:10)
You see, you won’t find THE ANSWER chasing after this or that interpretation of Scripture because THE ANSWER is Jesus Christ, himself. By trusting in him and what he has done for you, you are saved from God’s wrath (Romans 5:9). Or better yet, “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them” (2 Corinthians 3:19), therefore, “we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.” (Romans 5:1, 2).
That’s why anti-gay interpretations of Scripture can’t condemn you but also gay-friendly interpretations can’t justify you. “What then shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns?” (Romans 8:31-34) When you understand that it is God who justifies you in Jesus Christ then your faith and your hope will not rise and fall with the success or failure of this or that explanation of the “clobber” passages.
An Infallible Witness
None of the possible gay-friendly interpretations of the Bible are infallible. But there is an infallible witness to the truth that Jesus is in you—the Holy Spirit. John the Beloved tells us: “We know that we live in him and he is us, because he has given us of his Spirit.” (1 John 4:13) He continues: “And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement…Anyone who believes in the Son of God has this testimony in his heart…And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.” (1 John 5:7-11). Paul also confirms this witness: “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.” (Romans 8:16)
Clearly, you did receive the Spirit of God and this was made manifest by the evidence of the gifts and fruit of the Holy Spirit. Praise the Lord! Now just because some of you weren’t “out” when you received the Spirit, do you think you were in the closet with God? Surely, he knows your heart better than you know it. Yet he poured his Spirit out upon you. “God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving his Holy Spirit to them.” (Acts 15:8) Did he make a mistake? Or do you think that he gave you a share of his Spirit as a reward for your work of acting straight? That isn’t the testimony of God’s Word: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Eph 2:8, 9)
Let’s be clear: the only righteousness any of us has is in Christ. “Brothers, think of what you were when you were called…[God] chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not–to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus…this is our righteousness, holiness and redemption.” (1 Cor. 1:26-30, my emphasis) You may choose to be celibate or to try to go straight, but that has absolutely nothing to do with your standing in Christ. Recently, when the ex-gay movement ran full-page ads in major newspapers across the country, the headline went something like, “We’re Standing Up For the Truth That Gay People Can Change.” Well, they may have had something to boast about, but not before God. Paul writes, “What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather, discovered in this matter? If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about—but not before God. What does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness.’” (Romans 4:1-3)
Now, Paul assures us that, “having believed, you were marked in [Christ] with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession.” (Ephesians 1:13b-14a, my emphasis). Paul here is referring to the seal on a Roman legal document, stamped with the impression of the official’s ring. Christ has “set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.” (2 Cor. 1:22; see also 2 Cor. 5:5) Once you are sealed in Christ by his Holy Spirit you can’t be lost again–unless Christ can break his promise or the Spirit’s testimony can be false. “But as surely as God is faithful, our message to you is not ‘Yes’ and ‘No’…For no matter how many promises God has made they are ‘Yes’ in Christ.” (2 Cor. 1:18, 20) So, however you come to terms with your sexuality, if you have accepted Jesus as your Savior, your reality is that “your life is now hidden with Christ in God.” (Colossians 3:3)
How the Early Church Came to a New Understanding of Scripture
But what about those “clobber” passages? Whatever one’s interpretation of those passages may be, we know it can’t be correct if it is contrary to the work and the evidence of the Holy Spirit. Now you yourself are living proof that God is pouring his Spirit out on homosexuals! I am proof. My spouse, Milton is proof. My brothers and sisters at Freedom in Christ Evangelical Church are proof. The proof just keeps multiplying because God is doing a mighty work in the gay and lesbian community in these final days, calling a people who were not a people, his people (1 Peter 2:10). Even many straight Christians have begun to recognize the Spirit of God moving in the gay and lesbian community. Since God’s Spirit is in fact being poured out upon us, then interpretations of Scripture that deny that this is possible must be wrong.
In the early church a tension developed between the first Jewish believers and the newly converted Gentiles that is very similar to the tension between the straight church and gay believers today. The movement of the Holy Spirit among the Gentiles created an apparent conflict with what the first believers thought the Scriptures said. How the early church resolved this conflict shows us the way to resolve the conflict between straight and gay Christians today.
Modern Christians take it for granted that God intended his salvation for all people, not just the Jews. This truth seems obvious to us now, but then we read the Old Testament in light of the New. However, the first believers didn’t have the New Testament. “Christianity” did not yet exist. The first believers were all Jews and they were considered by their fellow Jews to be just another Jewish sect, like the Pharisees, Saducees or Essenes. They continued to worship at the Temple (Acts 2:46). Their Bible was the Old Testament, as is clear from the extensive quotations from it in the preaching in the book of Acts.
From even a superficial reading of the Bible we know that the Jews believed themselves to be God’s chosen people and considered the Gentiles to be sinners. The early believers thought no more highly of the Gentiles than did their Jewish brethren. Even Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles (Gal. 2:7), contrasts the community of Jewish believers with “Gentile sinners.” (Gal. 2:15) He urges the early Christians not to walk after the way of the Gentiles who know not God (1 Th. 4:5; Eph. 4:17). It is significant that when the Holy Spirit fell upon the first believers at Pentecost, Peter preached his first sermon to the “men of Israel” only (Acts 2:22) and those who listened and believed were “God-fearing Jews from every nation,” not Gentiles (Acts 2:5).
Sometime later, as the Way began to spread beyond Jerusalem and Judah, Peter was staying with a tanner in Joppa. In a vision God told Peter to eat unclean animals, a thing explicitly forbidden by God’s own law (Acts 10:12, 13; see Leviticus 11). Peter well understood that this command contradicted God’s law and as a good Jew, he refused, “Surely, not Lord! I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.” To which God replied, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” What God was ordering Peter to do was something that contradicted what every Jew would have understood God’s law plainly to mean. Yet, God was saying that he had now made something that was previously considered unclean, clean—through the work of his Son, Jesus, upon the Cross.
Immediately Peter was called to the house of the Gentile Cornelius, whose heart God had prepared to receive the gospel. When Peter arrived at Cornelius’ house he ungraciously informed his Gentile host, “You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with a Gentile or visit him”—underlining that Cornelius was a sinner in Jewish eyes. Yet he added that he came anyway, even though he was breaking the Jewish law by doing so, because God had told him not to call any man unclean or impure—even a Gentile! (Acts 10:28, 29) As Cornelius and his household listened, Peter began to fully understand what he had learned from God: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear God and do what is right. It is true, God sent his word to the people of Israel, and it was to them that the good news of peace was brought by Jesus Christ—but Jesus Christ is Lord of all men.” (Acts 10:34-36, my emphasis)
When Cornelius and his household believed the good news and the Holy Spirit fell upon them as evidenced by their speaking in tongues, the Jewish believers with Peter were utterly astonished that the Holy Spirit “had been poured out even on the Gentiles.” (Acts 10:44-46) Peter asked, as we must ask the church today in regards to gays and lesbians who come to know Jesus, “Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” (Acts 10:47)
Peter had gone out on a limb by faith and he was in trouble when he got back to church headquarters in Jerusalem. “The circumcised believers criticized him and said, ‘You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them.’” (Acts 11:2, 3) You can almost hear the disgust dripping from their tongues! But Peter didn’t back down, “If God gave them the same gift as he gave us, who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could oppose God?” (Acts 11:17) To their credit, once the Jerusalem believers understood that God had poured out his Holy Spirit upon the Gentiles, “they had no further objections and praised God saying, ‘So then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life.’” (Acts 11:18, my emphasis). Would that today’s church be so obedient to the work of the Holy Spirit!
End of story? Not quite. Although the presence of the Holy Spirit among the Gentile believers could not be denied without also denying the Holy Spirit, many Jewish believers continued to teach that Gentile converts must nonetheless change and become Jewish before they could be truly saved (Acts 15:1, 5). Similarly, today’s church accepts that gay people are coming to know Christ, but quickly adds that in addition to trusting in Christ, we must also change and become straight or celibate before we can truly be saved.
However, the church has already settled this question once and for all, as the Bible records. At the first church council in Jerusalem, Peter testified before all the leaders of the early church, “God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted [the Gentiles] by giving his Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He made no distinction between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith.” (Acts 15:8, 9, my emphasis) This was followed by further testimony from Barnabas and Paul confirming God’s “miraculous signs and wonders” among the Gentiles. Oh, that today’s church would listen to the testimony of God’s great work among us gay and lesbian people!
After Peter, Paul, and Barnabas all testified to the fact that the Holy Spirit was being poured out upon the Gentiles, James, as the presiding elder of the council, confirmed the decision that the church had arrived at, illumined by the Holy Spirit:
“Brothers, listen to me. Simeon has told you how God first concerned himself with taking from among the Gentiles a people to bear his name. The words of the prophets agree with this, where it says in Scripture, ‘Hereafter I will return and rebuild the fallen hut of David: from its ruins I will rebuild it and set it up again so that all the rest of mankind and all the nations that bear my name may seek out the Lord. Thus say the Lord who accomplishes these things known to him from of old.’ It is my judgment, therefore, that we ought not to cause God’s Gentile converts any difficulties.” (Acts 15:14-19, quoting Amos 9:11, 12)
The early church, illumined by the Holy Spirit, came to a new understanding of the Old Testament Scriptures, based on the evidence of the movement of that same Holy Spirit, so that the council concluded that Gentiles do not have to become Jewish to be saved (Acts 15:19-21).
Saved by Grace Not by Becoming a Heterosexual
Paul brilliantly developed the theological significance of the council’s decision in his letters defending that decision against those who continued to insist on a salvation based on works rather than grace. Paul tells these Judaizers plainly: “Though we were born Jews and not Gentile sinners, we acknowledge that what makes a man righteous is not obedience to the Law, but faith in Jesus Christ.” (Gal. 2:15, 16) He points out that even though the Jews had the Law, it couldn’t save them. They had to come with the empty hands of faith, just like the Gentiles, with no works of the Law to earn them God’s favor. “We had to become believers in Christ Jesus no less than you had, and now we hold that faith in Christ rather than fidelity to the Law is what justifies us, and that no one can be justified by keeping the Law.” (Gal. 2:16, my emphasis)
The Jewish believers argued that because Paul no longer observed the Law, he had become like the Gentile sinners (Gal. 2:17). But Paul points out that it’s absurd to say that if he looks to Christ alone to justify him, this makes him a sinner! Paul argues that if he returned to trying to attain righteousness by keeping the Law, he would be acting as if there were something lacking in Christ. But because Christ nailed the Law to the Cross, we have been made dead to the Law, but alive in Christ. “If the Law can justify us, there is no point in the death of Christ.” (Gal. 2:17-21)
Paul asked the Galatians, just as I ask you, “Was it because you practiced the Law that you received the Spirit, or because you believed the good news that was preached to you? (Gal. 3:2) Is it by trying to be heterosexual or celibate that you are found acceptable to God, or because you believe in Christ? Surely, it is because you believe! Now, because you look to Christ alone for your justification, does it follow that this makes you a sinner, because you are no longer trying to justify yourself by acting straight or trying to be celibate? But that’s absurd! Is something lacking in Christ that you still must do? Of course not! Can you save yourself by becoming a heterosexual or by being celibate? If you can, then you have made the Cross of Christ of no effect.
What’s Your Conclusion?
Have you been trying to earn favor with God by living a lie and pretending you are straight? Have you been trying to earn your own salvation by being celibate and living in loneliness and pain? Put down your burden on Jesus. He says to you today, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matt. 11:28, 29) Before you begin to study the “clobber” passages, know that whatever conclusion you reach in your study: THE ANSWER IS JESUS CHRIST.