The following article is written by Rachel Gilson. Rachel serves on the leadership team for theological development and culture with Cru. You can find more of her writing at rachelgilson.com.
Nothing can rip us up quite like the tension between a desire to share the gospel with our gay friends and the fear that to do so would somehow harm them. We wonder if the good news will sound so good when it comes to the sexuality part. Or we pause with understanding caution, knowing that many of our gay friends have in fact been hurt by the church. Sensationalist media headlines prey on these fears and past wrongs, without backing up their claims with data.
Even I, a same-sex attracted missionary, feel this tension. I didn’t come to faith through someone sharing the gospel, but through stealing a copy of Mere Christianity! So I’m not writing as someone who has this all figured out, but someone who wants to find a God-and-people-honoring way forward.
I believe God provided one, in 2 Corinthians 5:16-22.
In this passage, we find that if the gospel transforms us first, we will become reconciled reconcilers. Paul offers us good news, good posture, and good hope for our conversations. So let’s lay out that text.
16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconcilingthe world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
Now this is not a passage about mission amongst gay people – while there was much gay sex in the Greco-Roman world, there wasn’t gay identity. But it is notable from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians that there were people in the church who had had sexual relationships with people of the same gender (1 Corinthians 6). In fact, there were lots of people who dealt with sexual baggage – one guy was sleeping with his stepmom and proud of it! Perhaps this hypocrisy and confusion is all too familiar for us today. Is it really in this context that Paul can declare, “The old has passed away, behold, the new has come”?
Yes! Because God has worked a marvelous reconciliation through Jesus, even ridiculous sinners like us can be made new. And not only that, we can participate in making others new, too.
Look at logic of the passage. Verse 21 is a fact, established history. God – for our sake – made Jesus to be sin. Now anyone who wants to can exchange her sinfulness for Christ’s righteousness. There is no application fee other than Jesus’s blood. There is no qualification except admitting that you need this. It should have been us, bloodied and beaten on that cross. Instead it was him, and we can walk free. No one is too guilty to receive it. No one is so good they don’t need it. No one. It is all from God, and if we experience it, it changes us. We are made the righteousness of God – against all logic. We are made a new creation – no longer slaves to sin but purchased by Jesus. And to experience it is to be deputized to pursue others.
On one level you could think of it like a giant game of group tag. In traditional tag, one person is “it”, and they chase someone down to tag them make that person “it” instead, and the madness goes on forever, or until all the youth group kids finally wear out. Group tag is a little different though. You start with one person being “it,” but the goal is to make everyone part of the “it” team. So the first person tags a second, and now they’re both on the hunt together. If you’re touched, you join the team of the ones chasing, until everyone is gathered up.
Imagine Jesus is the first one “it” – and we’re all running away from him like crazy. But when he touches us, we’re “it” too. Because to be loved and forgiven, we can’t but be taken up into the game as well. To be really seen, and really loved – that’s good news that can’t be stopped. So, we run, and try to bring others in, try to get others touched by Jesus-in-us.
The text is more dignified of course, with talk of ambassadors. But notice the same inevitability: we are given this task, entrusted with it. It’s not optional. We represent our king in this world, and so we implore. Another translation of that could be “beg” – and when do we beg? When we desperately, deeply care. When we’re pleading with someone to come down off the bridge before they jump, that’s when we beg. When we sit with tears in our eyes, asking our friend to shelter with us and not back to the boyfriend who is abusing her, we beg.
We implore you – we plead with you, we beg you – be reconciled to God. Because we know the death we were saved from, we take a tone of earnest love.
God has worked a marvelous reconciliation through Jesus – and he commissions us both to taste it, and to offer it to others. The only food that will last forever. We don’t do it with triumphalism, or indifference. We do it as the forgiven, with tenderness. As reconciled reconcilers.
But we have to face the fact that LGBT people have not often been the recipients of this type of tenderness. God has worked a marvelous reconciliation through Jesus – and yet we have not been faithful ambassadors to same-sex attracted people.
There is nothing about God’s sexual ethic that requires us to be bullies. In fact, God’s sexual ethic should make all of us meek – we are all sexually broken, and all need forgiveness and healing. But instead, we’ve winked at sexual immorality in the church, including the abuse of children, while condemning same-sex attracted men and women for experiencing temptation alone, whether or not we act on those temptations. The church has demanded that gay and lesbian people agree with God before they come to him – ignoring that the pattern God works with is always salvation, then transformation – while turning a blind eye to rampant pornography use. Hypocrisy stinks, no matter who smells it.
Paul wrote in our passage above, “From now on therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh.” The offer of reconciliation should never be barred by how a person is or seems in the flesh, what the raw data on them could be. And yet isn’t this precisely what we have done? Decided that our gay friend wouldn’t want this good news. Or churches and people who have said, No, you can’t have it, because of how you look, or what you feel.
No Exclusion Clause
Paul wrote, “in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them.” Yet we have acted the exact opposite: precisely counting people’s trespasses against them. Sometimes even assuming or inventing trespasses just because someone experiences same-sex attraction. This type of behavior is what harms our friends, not the good news that the God who made them loved them enough to pay for them with his blood.
Don’t consider anybody based on their physical selves, their clothes, their language. Don’t consider them based on their sins or trespasses – God through Christ doesn’t count those against us. No. Be ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. He did not count these against us, and we received reconciliation.
The sins and mistakes of the past and present are many. But the grace and love of God is more. There is hope for us to live as reconciled reconcilers. First, we must remember the gospel ourselves, that great news that God saves sinners, of whom we are the foremost. From this, we can take up the tone most appropriate for a reconciled reconciler: earnest invitation, love-steeped begging. Not looking at trespasses or the flesh, but only at the mighty work of Jesus on our behalf.
To do this will help overcome the sins of the past. The church has sometimes focused on rules not relationship, condemning based on action or temptation, as opposed to inviting based on image-bearing. But to be a reconciler demands that the relationship comes first. Paul is begging that people be reconciled to God their Father, not a set of Terms and Conditions. If we keep this priority ourselves, we will proclaim an obedience that flows from being loved, instead of the impossible: an obedience that creates it. Jesus is the One who already earned it. We just need to spread it abroad. We just need to experience it by the power of the Spirit in our own chests.
“All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself, and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.” We don’t have to be afraid. If we are humble enough to accept this reconciliation, God can make us humble enough to plead for others to receive it too – even our gay loved ones. And trust me, the love of Christ has been more precious to me than the love of any woman.
So tag. You’re it.