I want to look at just one verse that will frame everything I talk about tonight. Ephesians 4:15. Here is what it says, “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ…” Let’s pray.
‘Father, would you come to us now and help? We confess that as we come to your Word, as we come to this topic, as we come to this hour, we do not have strength to do what you call us to do. We are not strong enough in ourselves to bring about change even in our own lives; much less the lives of others. We are not strong enough in ourselves to understand your Word, we are not strong enough to teach your Word. So Father, we come before you as people who – almost before we are anything else – are weak and needy and dependent. We want to confess that and ask for help. I pray that you would open your Word to us. I pray that you would open our hearts to men and women who struggle in great pain. Father, help us to know how to help them. Father, we pray it in Jesus name, amen.’
Ephesians 4:15 is text about maturity. It is not a text about physical maturity. Usually when we think about maturity we think about physical maturity and growing up as a human being, but the kind of maturity talked about in Ephesians 4:15 is spiritual maturity; it is growing up into Christ-likeness. If you are going to grow up physically and be a physically mature person you need certain things; you need food, you need rest, you need somebody to take care of you. Ultimately, you need to learn a trade so that you can earn a living and support yourself. But if you are going to grow up spiritually, if you are going to grow up into Christ-likeness, you need a different kind of thing. Ephesians 4:15 tells us what that thing is that you need if you are going to grow up into Christ. The answer is actually a little bit surprising, it is not what you would expect. If you are going to grow up spiritually into Christ, Ephesians 4:15 says that you need a conversation happening in relationship. Isn’t that funny? “…Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ…” If you want to be like Jesus Christ, you need a relationship with communication in it.
We need to speak to one another and the way in which we are called to speak to one another is here characterized as having two elements, we need to speak the truth. The truth has to do with the words that we say. This conversation that happens in the context of relationship that leads to change requires true words. But then it also requires something else, it requires love. The truth has to do with the words we say, the love has to do with the way that we say it, the manner in which we speak the words. Speaking truth in love is what we are called to do. This is unnatural to us. We need to learn from Jesus how to do it because on our own we are warped away from this kind of conversation. On our own – on your own, on my own – we do not speak the truth in love. We are inclined to speak in other ways; we are inclined to speak the truth without love. We don’t just speak the truth without love, but often we will speak the truth without love and call it a virtue. “I am just gonna call it like I see it.” “I am gonna tell you the way it is.” Ephesians 4:15 says truth spoken without love is not a virtue.
Sometimes we want to speak love, but devoid of truth. We want to say nice things and we want people to think we are kind people. As an exercise in winning their approval and having them think we are kind, we hold off on saying the true, hard thing. Ephesians 4:15 says that kindness does not make you correct. Men, we can be really bad and have no truth and no love. Harshness, stridency, dishonesty doesn’t lead to change. If we want change into Christ-likeness, if we want to grow up, we have to have a conversation that is characterized by truth in love. It means that Ephesians 4:15 is a text for the task we face at this current time. That is the case because this is a counseling passage. What is counseling? When you boil it down, counseling is a conversation that leads to change.
This is a text about a conversation that leads to change and it is also a text that tells us what to say when we don’t know what to say. Have you ever thought how handy this is? Are you confused about what you should say? You don’t know what the right words are? The Apostle Paul in Ephesians 4:15 gives us two touchstones. If you don’t know what to say, if you are confused about what to say, say true things and say them in love. That is important in our day because I think our changing culture makes it very hard for Christians to know what to say on the topic of homosexuality. There is a crisis in our culture; a crisis it is fair to say that is unlike anything we have ever faced before in our culture. Things have changed quickly. When we announced this conference a year ago, who knew what was coming? Who knew that? There are ordinances being passed across the country to require members of the opposite sex to be allowed to enter into bathrooms of the gender that is not their biological sex. The Supreme Court has made homosexual marriage the law of the land; in one really controversial decision a Christian women even went to jail over the whole thing.
Things have changed quickly and here is the scary part; they are going to change more. If you think it is going to get better you are not paying attention. As they change, Christians need to figure out what to say; what is their voice in this culture? Christians right now are listening to many voices that tempt us to speak words and it is hard to sort through those words and figure out which ones we should speak. But we are biblical counselors, it is our job to pay attention to the Scriptures, it is our job to have conversations with people in the context of relationship that lead to change. We understand the criterion for those relationships in Ephesians 4:15. Ephesians 4:15 – speaking the truth in love – charts a course for how we should do our work as biblical counselors in a world that hates our work. It charts our course about how to speak the truth in love in the face of what seems to me seven different voices that threaten to lead us astray. As I am looking at what’s going on out there it is seems as though there are seven different kinds of voices urging us to say words and I think these seven voices are wrong; I think they are faithless. I think they will cripple our work as Christians and handicap our work as biblical counselors. I want to try to narrow down what it means to speak the truth in love on the topic of homosexuality as we see how Ephesians 4:15 corrects the voices that are all over the place in our culture today.
Seven Voices That Threaten To Lead Us Astray
Here is the first threatening voice;
There are voices tempting us to speak grace without repentance.
This is the loudest voice that exists in our culture. It is what the culture sounds like; “Accept homosexuality!” “Accept gay marriage; it’s the norm!” “It is good!” “It is wonderful, love wins!” “Get on-board.” “Quit calling homosexuality sinful.” “Quit calling people made in the image of God guilty.” “Be gracious, quit being so mean.”
There is even a whole group of people that call themselves gay Christians. One of those guys said this, “Same-sex orientation is in keeping with God’s relational covenant keeping character. That means we should understand it as a created characteristic, not as a distortion caused by the fall. By branding same-sex orientation as broken we are wrongly rejecting a good part of God’s creation and the final analysis then is it is not gay Christians who are sinning against God by entering into monogamous loving relationships, it is Christians who are sinning against them by rejecting their intimate relationships.” There you have it. It is not wrong to be gay anymore, what is wrong is to say it is wrong to be gay. That sounds so gracious on the face of it. It sounds so accepting, it sounds so loving. It is appealing; who wants to make people upset? I don’t. No one involved in planning this conference, none of you who have devoted your life to the gospel of Jesus Christ wakes up in the morning cackling through cigar smoke under a naked light bulb about how to ruin people’s lives. No one does that. Why do we keep saying what so many insist is so mean? It is because there is a conviction that we cannot get over, and it is the Word of God. God’s Word has not changed. It is the same as it always was, the only thing that has changed is our arguments that try to make the Word of God sound like the world.
The thing that haunts me about the culture we live in, about the voices saying, ‘grace’ but don’t call for repentance; the thing that haunts me is our arguments don’t change the mind of God. Where is the love, where is the grace when we make sinners comfy on the way to hell? What seems so loving now will turn into great pain in the life to come. When you think about it like that you realize the call to speak words of grace without repentance violates the standard of Ephesians 4:15, to speak the truth in love. We are bound by God’s Word and so with all our hearts we believe Jesus when He says, ‘if you don’t repent, you will perish.’ And so it is with broken hearts that we say to people who hate us for saying it, ‘there is grace for you, but you must repent. You must leave your life of sin and turn to Jesus Christ.’ We cannot accommodate voices that tell us to speak grace without repentance.
There are voices tempting us to speak change without Jesus.
These are the voices that commend secular reparative therapy. That’s been in the news lately. Let me tell you what reparative therapy is; reparative therapy says homosexuality has a cause, namely, that you had a broken relationship with your same-sex parent and an over involved relationship with your opposite sex parent. Instead of the way it is, you are suppose to be close with your same-sex parent and you are suppose to develop curiosity and questions about your opposite sex parent. However, since that got messed up and you are close to your opposite sex parent, you develop curiosity and concern about your same-sex parent and that turns into erotic sexual feelings as you get older. You try to repair the closeness that you missed with your same-sex parent through homosexual acts; that is the theory.
Reparative therapy also has a means of change. The mechanism for change in reparative therapy is a relationship with a same-sex therapist that is not sexual in nature, and so you begin to repair the bonds that were broken in childhood with bonds that are strengthened and recreated in therapy.
Reparative therapy has a goal. The goal of reparative therapy is to get you to be heterosexual. If you are a man, they want you to have sexual attractions for a women, if you are a women they want you to have sexual attractions for a man and the goal is to get married and have babies. Be straight.
It has an understanding of the cause, a means of change, and a goal. For decades, Christians have co-opted that approach – that secular approach – and used it as the Christian approach. There is a problem with it though, not one word of what I said is in the Bible. There is nothing about it! Not one thing. You know what that means? That means Christians need to repent because we sold as Christian something that is at odds with Christ, and it didn’t work. When what we called the Christian mode of change didn’t work, it looked to everybody watching like Christ didn’t work. This is why I am so thankful for ACBC and the biblical counseling movement because for almost 40 years we have been talking about the Bible’s sufficiency to understand and deal with problems. We are paying bills right now for Christians who didn’t think the Bible had enough good things to say about how to help people in trouble; now we are in trouble. What that does is it violates the standard in Ephesians 4:15 to speak the truth in love.
What the Bible says, what the Christian message is, is that homosexuality has a cause. Human beings are body and soul in one living in an environment and that whole arrangement is tainted with sin. Our bodies are broken, our souls are broken, and our environment is broken. And for some people that brokenness will manifest itself in homosexual desires just like for some people it manifests itself as heterosexual sinful desires.
Christianity believes in a method of change and his name is Jesus. He is from a place called Nazareth and He lived a perfect life and He died on a cross and He rose from the dead to take away all of our penalty and to give us power to live a life that honors Him.
Christianity also understands a goal for people that struggle with homosexuality, and it is not heterosexuality, it is holiness. Not one verse in the Bible tells you to go be heterosexual. No passage in the Bible talks about how good it is for guys to just be attracted to women, or to women how great it is for you indiscriminately to be attracted to men. Most of the time when that happens it is called lust. In the Bible, we are called to have sexual attractions for our opposite sex partner in marriage and for nobody else. Everything else gets put to death by the grace of Jesus.
That is completely different, it is opposite from reparative therapy. Anything that we use to help people struggling with sin must have Jesus Christ at the center. Jesus Christ will not abide being pushed aside as people try to change their lives. That is the reason why I am glad this whole thing is blowing up right now, because it forces Christians to go back to the Bible and get rid of the garbage and start talking about Jesus Christ with people who need to hear about Jesus Christ.
The whole problem is that Christians started tracing homosexuality back to a problem that was different than other problems that sinners face. We started acting like homosexual people where struggling with a special kind of sin that needed something a little extra special, and that is wrong and offensive. I want to say to you that I am a very sinful man. I am a profoundly sinful man and my lust is not more righteous for being heterosexual lust than is my brother’s lust for being homosexual lust. We need the grace of Jesus to change every one of us, and God help us if we ever try to speak of change without speaking of Jesus.
There are voices tempting us to speak truth without the Bible.
These are the traditionalists. They argue against homosexuality; they believe it is wrong and some of them think it is a sin. They argue that there is a certain way that life works best and that is with heterosexual marriage. They argue that heterosexual marriage has upheld society for millennia and they argue that a move away from heterosexual marriage will destroy the very fabric of society. Here is one person who says that,
“There are two fundamental views of reality, one is that things have a nature; that is a teleological ordered set of ends that inhere in their essence and make them what they are. In other words things have inbuilt purposes. The other is that things do not have a nature with ends; things are nothing in themselves but are only what we make them to be according to our wills and our desires, therefore, we can make everything – including ourselves – anything that we wish and that we have power to do. The first view leads to the primacy of reason in human affairs, the second leads to the primacy of the will. The first is not allow for sodomite marriage, while the second does. Indeed the problem is that the second allows for anything. This is what the same-sex marriage debate is really about, the nature of reality itself. Since the meaning of our lives is dependent upon the nature of reality, it too hangs in the balance. I make no case from religion or revelation in this book, only from reason as it discloses to us the nature of things.”
Now there is some truth in this. We just have to be honest; there is some truth here. Natural law, the nature of things does show us that things work best in a certain way. Quite candidly, one of the most obvious things in the whole universe is that men and women were designed to go together physically. We live in a culture where that is controversial, but that is one of the most obvious things that you need no degree to understand. Things do work rightly when they behave according to their certain ends and destruction does flow from violating that natural law.
But here is the problem, so what if you want to be gay and if you don’t care about your physical health, you don’t care about your well-being, you don’t care about the kids that you adopt, you don’t care about the fabric of society, then what difference does it make to you if things work well a certain way? The whole logic anyway is do what you want. So, natural law and tradition just falls flat; it violates the standard of speech in Ephesians 4:15. It violates the call to speak the truth in love because it rightly observes the way things work without grounding them in the foundation of truth as to why they work that way. We are not allowed to refer to nature, tradition, or natural law as Christians; we are not allowed to do it. We can make reference to it and say that there are some helpful principles here, but we are not allowed to ground that in our call for change because there is no power in it. How much is the argument from design working out? It is not working out and there is no power in it.
There is power in the gospel. There is power in the Word of God. There is power in the Spirit, who applies the work of Christ to our hearts. What this means – what Ephesians 4:15 means – is that we are not allowed to speak of marriage without speaking of Jesus Christ and without speaking of the Bible. Natural law makes some sense, but it is not enough.
There are voices tempting us to speak conviction without care.
These are the culture warriors. These folks know that homosexuality is sinful. They know that it destroys culture and so they fight. They fight to preserve culture by warring against the homosexual sin that they believe is destroying it. You didn’t have to look too hard to see these guys after Obergefell vs. Hodges. Here is one person,
“Because the court has inappropriately redefined marriage everywhere, there is an urgent need for policy to ensure that the government never penalizes anyone for standing up for marriage. We must work to protect the freedom of speech, association, and religion of those who continue to abide by the truth of marriage as a union of a man and a women.”
Now don’t get me wrong, I am sorry that the Supreme Court did what they did. I think it is a good thing when as much sin as possible is restrained, and don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to be arrested for talking about this tonight. I don’t think it is our job to try to give away as much freedom as possible, but neither is it our job to fight for our freedom. As we have occasion to get involved in public policy as every American does, as any person in a democracy does, we should do what we can. However I think we should be concerned when a Christian is asked by the member of the media, “Same sex marriage is now legal, what should we do?” and the response is, “Fight to protect your rights!” That’s not Christian. It’s not. It violates the standard of speaking truth in love because it fights for our rights instead of seeking to love a lost and dying world.
It violates the standard of truth in love because Jesus Christ did not cause us to be born right now today to live in this world so that we could get rich, fat, and cozy in our 21st century America talking about our rights. That is not what we are doing here. Jesus Christ caused you to be in a time such as this because He wants you to proclaim to a lost and dying world that Jesus Christ saves sinners from hell. That’s your job. If you can keep the first amendment while you do it, good for us. But if we don’t, take the thing. Take it! It’s all going to get burned up anyway. And you know what, when it does we are going to get something much better; that’s the problem with the culture warrior mentality is you are tempted to settle for a lesser kingdom. Do you know how much better the kingdom is going to be that Jesus is bringing than 1950’s Americana? You don’t have to fight to keep you house and your rights. You can just preach the gospel with abandon and confidence that you are going to get something more than you can dream. And when we believe that, it gives us the freedom to love those who hate us by pointing them to the Christ who saved us from our sin.
There are voices tempting us to speak behavior without desire.
There are also folks in this group that call themselves gay Christians, but they mean something completely different than the first group; this is much different. This group says that homosexual behavior is sinful, they believe the Bible’s message that you cannot engage in homosexual behavior without transgressing the law of God, but they also argue that homosexual desire is not sinful; and it might even be good. One person speaking about this said this,
“What we in modernity have chosen to call a homosexual orientation or being gay includes much of what Scripture in the Christian tradition commend as Christian virtues. When we contemporary folks start talking about a sexual orientation as what causes us to form deep bonds of closeness with other members of our same sex, for example, quite apart from any genital sexual expression of that closeness.”
What this author is commending is the behavior is bad, the desires are good. Homosexual desire leads you to a close relationship with members of the same sex that are beneficial. We have to respond to that by saying that wanting close relationships with the same sex is not sinful, but neither is it homosexuality. It is not gay to want a close same-sex relationship. What homosexuality is, is when you want a same-sex sexual relationship. The Bible teaches us that behavior flows from desire. The Bible teaches that you are not a behavioristic machine who just flies on autopilot; the Bible teaches that you do what you do because you want what you want. Listen, I have tried to pay really close attention to the biblical counseling movement over the last 40 years, and one of the hallmarks of the contributions of the biblical counseling movement is that we understand that change happens at a level of depth in the heart as desires are changed that flow out to changed behavior. And if we cut that off – if we stop talking about desires, if we make it acceptable to hold onto sinful desires while avoiding sinful behavior – then we are going to get in a mess and we will violate the standard of Ephesians 4:15 to speak the truth in love.
Now, when people say this, when they say, “Ok, don’t engage in homosexual behavior, but also, you don’t have to change everything about your homosexual desire” it has a compassionate motive; we need to be honest about that. These are people who want to give a break to folks who have a daily and ongoing struggle and they don’t want them to feel that everything they do, and everything they think, and everything they meditate upon is sinful; they want to give them a break. They are actually looking for good news. But that compassionate motive will frustrate people. Eventually when they discover that if you do not repent at the level of desire, you will fail sooner or later at the level of behavior. We don’t have to worry that people are going to beat themselves up when they see that they are sinning all over the place because we have a solution for sin, we have a solution for sin in the gospel of Jesus Christ. And that constant struggle with sin which requires relief in Jesus is not something only faced by people who have homosexual desires, it is something you face, and it is something I face. And if there is no Christ to forgive us of our sins, if there is no Christ to give us relief when we think we can’t win in sin anymore, then we will be hopeless and despair tonight. We have a solution for sin in Jesus and we are all growing; we are all changing from the inside out. That is the path to real and lasting change.
Sixth voice is one tempting us to speak ethics without ministry.
Ethics is the understanding, the study of what is right and wrong; it is what you should do and what you should not do. That is what ethics is; what is right and what is wrong, what do you do, what do you not do. Ministry is different. Ministry is based on ethics and it has to do with how you help. Here is what is right, here is what is wrong, that is ethics. Ministry is how do you get from what is wrong to what is right. and I am saying one voice tempting us today is to speak ethics without ministry.
For so many of our brothers and sisters in Christ who are trying to be faithful, this is the easiest error to fall into. Because these folks in their books, in their writings, in their teaching they want to emphasize what the Bible says, the true things the Bible teaches that homosexuality is sin. That is important work, I am so thankful for my brothers and sisters in Christ who defend the Bible against unprecedented attack in our culture. Yet, if all we talk about is ethics and not ministry then we will violate the standard of speech in Ephesians 4:15; we will fail to speak the truth in love. We will fail not because it is not true, but because it is not true enough.
It is true that the Bible teaches homosexuality to be a sin, but there is more truth in your Bible than that. The Bible also teaches that Jesus changes people and the Bible teaches us how Jesus changes people. It is amazing the Christians that have run off to other approaches to help people who struggle with homosexuality as if whole sections of the Bible don’t even exist! There are pages, and pages, and pages, and chapters, and books in your Bible that explain how we can lay hold of the grace of Jesus to lead people to change. If we only tell people, “That’s wrong,” “Don’t do it,” “Quite it,” “It’s bad,” we will lead them to despair. When people want help, they already know what they are doing isn’t good. You make it worse when you say, “That’s not good” – well I know that.
How do we help people? The Bible tells us about the kind of ministry in detail that the Bible commends. Listen to me, the integrity of our message is at stake in this brothers and sisters. If we believe that the Bible teaches homosexuality to be a sin, and if we believe that Jesus Christ changes people, but we don’t know how to help them, then the other stuff doesn’t matter. Do you know that? We will make a mockery of the Word of God if we don’t know how to do this. If we don’t know how to lay hold of the grace of Jesus, we will slander the Word of God and the grace of Jesus. So we have got to be people who know how to do this work; that is why we are having this conference.
Final and seventh voice are the voices that are tempting us to speak Jesus without change.
You know who these folks are? They are nervous Christians; they are some of you. Nervous Christians. One of the joys of my ministry is I get to travel all over and I get to talk with Christians and churches all across the world. I am going to be honest with you, almost every place I have gone in about the last year, I get off alone with a pastor or a ministry leader or somebody else and they say, “Alright, I need you to level with me here; can homosexuals really change? Can they really do it?” Like I am selling snake oil up here or something like that. But we get in this corner and they say, “Listen, I want you to tell me if it is really possible.” You know what that question shows? It shows we are listening to the world more than we are listening to the Bible.
So, listen to the Bible. Listen to Ephesians. Ephesians 1:4, “…He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him.” Jesus chose you to be holy. You think you can change? Look at Ephesians 2:10, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” There are good works prepared before you and before the people we love who struggle with homosexuality; good works prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. Do you think homosexuals can change? Ephesians 3:20, “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us…” Can homosexuals change? Of course they can. Ephesians 4:15, “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ…” You know what this verse is? It is a guarantee. You can take it to the bank; when you lay hold of the grace of Jesus Christ to speak the truth in love in this kind of relationship, you will grow up into Jesus Christ. You will change. It is a guarantee, and it is not anything magical; it is faith working through love in the context of relationship.
Now another reason people get nervous is because they are also listening to a sex-obsessed world and they think the only kind of change is the kind of change where if you are a guy who struggles with homosexuality you are obsessing over girls, but that is sex-obsessed, worldly, godless change. That is not biblical change. Biblical change is not heterosexuality, as we have said is not a virtue. Biblical change is when your life looks like Jesus Christ. And you can be married with ten kids and not ever have homosexual lust again and that is change and that can happen. And we have to say that that can happen. But that is not the only way to be like Jesus. You can be like Jesus if you do grow into a relationship with a married partner of the opposite sex, but you still at times struggle to put off homosexual lust, and every single time you put off homosexual lust and put on righteousness and purity; that is called change and you are growing. And then there will be some people who never develop heterosexual desires and they will live a holy life of celibacy; putting off lust just like the rest of us have to do. When they do it, when they fight for purity, that is called change. Change is what Jesus looks like, not what a sex-crazed culture looks like.
But this whole thing of change is right at the heart and soul of the gospel. That is why we have to say, that is why we have to push back against the voices that say, “You can’t change” because when you say you can’t change that says more about what you think about Jesus than what you think about the sin of homosexuality. People can change because Jesus changes people and that is only false if Jesus is dead. But if Jesus is alive, then you can change and not only can you change, but sooner or later you will change; that is our message.
Our message is that Jesus Christ is going to come back; the clouds are going to tear apart and He is going to come for His people on a horse and it will be the end of all things. He will wipe away every tear and there will be no mourning or crying or death or pain and in that day, there will be no more homosexuality. Every person God gives us to help, by grace and through faith in Jesus Christ we can tell them, you will be different! You are not your sin, you are not your homosexuality. You are what Christ will fully one day redeem you to be. And for now we are on the way. We wait that glorious day when we all experience the fullness of the change Jesus brings; homosexuals and heterosexuals alike. But we are on the way and we stay on the way by doing biblical counseling. We stay on the way by having relationships with people where we talk and speak the truth in love and we preach the gospel and we say, ‘Jesus loves sinners, and Jesus changes sinners.’ Let’s pray.
‘Father in Heaven, the great threat to the gospel in our day is the lie that there is a certain kind of sin that Jesus can’t change. Father forgive us for ever believing it for a second. Father, help us to be the kinds of people who overflow with conviction that Jesus changes sinners, and then in love and conviction help us to speak the truth in love as we help those we love, our neighbors, our brothers and sisters grow up into Jesus Christ. We pray in Jesus name, amen.’