What the Gospel Means for All Sinners
About the Guest
How do we as Christians love our gay friends without losing the truth? Adam Barr says we need to be welcoming, but we also need to remember that the gospel demands radical life change for followers of Christ. Adam Barr and Ron Citlau explain how we can share good news with people who experience same-gender attraction.
Adam BarrAdam T. Barr serves as senior pastor at Peace Church, a healthy, growing community in Grand Rapids, Michigan. As the president and founder of Borderlands, a worldview ministry, Adam has lectured across the country on this topic and produced video curriculum. He also serves with Kevin DeYoung on the board of RCA Integrity, a renewal movement in the Reformed Church in America that gathers pastors from across the denomination each year for the Integrity Conference, where Adam has presented some of...more
Ron CitlauRon Citlau graduated from the University of California, Riverside and Western Theological Seminary. He has served in ministry positions in Southern California and Kansas City. He is the pastor of Calvary Church in Orland Park, Illinois, part of the Reformed Church in America. Ron struggled with same-sex attraction his whole life and has worked with and walked alongside many others who have struggled with sexual brokenness, as well as equipping pastoral leaders to serve those dealing with sex...more
How do we as Christians love our gay friends without losing the truth? Adam Barr and Ron Citlau explain how we can share good news with people who experience same-gender attraction.
What the Gospel Means for All Sinners
Bob: How do we share the gospel with people who are engaged in a life-dominating kind of sin? Here’s Adam Barr.
Adam: We’re trying to point to this: On one hand, what I think is a very welcome message in our culture, which is we need a lot more love / a lot more compassion, and the doors of our churches should be creating wide-open spaces for everyone—but the reality is—the demands of the gospel are also much more radical than, probably, even a lot of Christians realize—that the Lord isn’t going to allow us to simply to do-as-we-want sort of Christianity—that there is a demand, at the heart of the gospel, for a radical reorientation for everyone.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, May 5th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. We’ll talk today about how we share Good News with people who experience same-gender attraction. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. You had the opportunity, last fall, Dennis, to be with a lot of pastors who had gathered together over in Nashville to talk about the issue we want to talk about today—the issue of homosexuality, and same-sex marriage, and the gospel and—“How does all of that work out in our lives? What do we do, as the church, in response to what’s going on in the culture?”
I don’t know if there is a more perplexing issue for Christians trying to live out their faith in our day than: “How do I deal with this with friends, family members, coworkers? What should I believe? How should I act?”
Dennis: Yes. Confusing, perplexing, challenging. You don’t know whether to speak up, how to speak up, or whether to remain silent.
We’ve got a couple of guys with us on the broadcast today who, I think, are going to help us know best how to approach this subject. Adam Barr and Ron Citlau join us on the broadcast. Adam/Ron, welcome back.
Adam: Thanks. It’s great to be here.
Ron: Thanks for having us.
Dennis: Both of these guys are pastors—don’t hold that against them. [Laughter] They are seminary grads—Adam from Western and Trinity / Ron from Western, as well. Adam lives in Michigan, and Ron lives near Chicago. They’ve written a book called Compassion without Compromise: How the Gospel Frees Us to Love Our Gay Friends without Losing the Truth.
And I’ve got to ask you guys, out of the gate here: “Where are we, right now, in this national dialogue? Where does the church fit in—the believing community?—those who follow Jesus Christ. What do we need to find ourselves doing right now?”
Adam: I think one of the things we need to find ourselves doing is learning, again, what it means to be a community of witness—and giving witness to what the gospel is doing in our lives—
—how the love of Jesus Christ has the capacity to profoundly change each of us, at a really basic level. The reason we have the word, “Gospel,” in the title of this book is because we believe that the transformation, that’s promised through Christianity, is a transformation that comes—not simply by encountering an ideology, or a philosophy, or a set of to-dos—
Adam: —it comes by profoundly encountering a Person—who has done something in history—that changes us.
Bob: And when you talk about the transformation that comes through Christ, are you talking about the transformation from gay to straight?
Adam: We’re talking about the transformation that needs to happen in every Christian life, which comes, not just at the level of behavior, but digs down deep into the level of desire. For every one of us—the moment that we actually go from beyond behavior to “What is it that I profoundly desire and who I am?” we immediately understand that the struggle is the same for every one of us—
—because, if you want to change, not just what you do but what you want to do, try that on for size—try that without the Holy Spirit / try that without the gospel—you’re going to find it’s impossible.
Dennis: Ron, you mentioned earlier that you’ve come out of a homosexual lifestyle—a desire for relationships with the same sex. And the church really met you at your point of brokenness with the person of Jesus Christ and really loved you and didn’t try to fix you immediately. They just loved on you, and welcomed you, and created a safe place.
Was there anything that the church did wrong, though, that we ought to be aware of—things that we shouldn’t be saying / shouldn’t be doing when it comes to someone who is coming out of the homosexual movement or lifestyle?
Ron: You know, I think more of a pastor, now—looking back at eight-plus years of professional ministry and being in the church—
—I think one of the things we have to be very careful of is the use of language of “us” and “them” because what the cross promises is equal ground for all of us. Now, my sin has a peculiar tint to it, and your sin has your bent to it; but the point is—we are going, together, toward the cross of Jesus to meet Him.
Bob: We ought to make it clear—just because not all of our listeners would know this—when we are having this discussion today with two guys, who are pastors—you believe that acting on same-sex attraction / acting out on that is forbidden in Scripture; right?
Ron: That’s correct.
Adam: Absolutely. I mean, I think that gets to the heart of genuine discipleship. One of the dangers of saying, “We’re all sinners,” is some people would say, “Okay, if everyone is a sinner, then, nobody is a sinner.”
Adam: Right? There are no demands. Actually, what we talk about when we talk about gospel-centered transformation is something that is a profound process—
—of death to self and rising to new life in Christ—it’s going to feel like dying if you’re doing the gospel right. The things you want to do—guess what you can’t do? The very same Jesus, who was radically hospitable, was absolutely clear in Mark 8. Jesus gave a real pattern; and He said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me.” So, we’re not talking about some kind of easy—“Because everyone is a sinner, and everything is sin, nothing is sin.” We want to be really clear—it’s meeting the demands of righteousness that are laid out in the path of discipleship.
Bob: You know that it seems like about every couple of months, now, we’re hearing about somebody who’s got a platform—somebody, who is high-profile, who is saying: “I’m a Christian. I love Jesus. I’m gay. I have a same-sex partner / we’re living together. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that.
“The tent of Christianity ought to be wide enough to include me, as a brother or a sister, in Christ. We may disagree on this issue, but we can still fellowship in the gospel.”
Ron: I think we need to be attentive to those voices. The goal here, in the church—for those of us who desire to stand for orthodox Christianity—is we have to have our own stories. Now, that’s a story—now, is that the most brilliant, shining light of the gospel; or isn’t it?
What we have to do is—we have to show those folks, who are broken and who have met Jesus, whose lives are profoundly different—and say: “This is what Jesus does. Is this a better story?” because we are past those days in which it is clear there is one fundamental voice and everyone has to listen. It is a marketplace. Unless we interact with it like that, then, we will just come across as kind of hate-mongers.
Bob: And it is that our view used to be the most commonly-accepted deal in the culture.
Ron: That’s exactly right.
Bob: Today, it’s the minority report. So, Adam, if you are sitting down with somebody, who is as I described: “I’m gay. I’m a Christian. I’ve got my same-sex partner. It’s a monogamous relationship—that’s what the Bible requires of me.” That’s his story. How do you respond to him?
Adam: Well, I think that’s one of those moments when you realize the crux of this issue—because the crux of this issue isn’t: “Do we all sin?”—the crux of the issue is: “What does the Bible define as sin, and what do we believe about the Bible itself?” These were live issues, in the early ‘90’s, on my Christian college campus. There were different voices, giving different answers. I remember the questions being asked were: “Is Jesus the only way of salvation? Is homosexual practice okay?”
I began realizing all of these questions come back down to one question—and it’s: “Has God spoken? Is the Bible really the Word of God?”
Francis Schaeffer, in a great book called The Great Evangelical Disaster—that he wrote around the early ‘80’s—he said: “This is the watershed issue of our time. It’s going to determine where we go / what you believe about the Bible.”
I think the first we have to do, with someone who is coming to us and saying that is—say: “Okay, what do you believe about Scripture? Now, let’s open up the Bible, and let’s see ‘What does the Bible really says about these things?’”
Bob: And you know—there are guys who are saying: “I believe the Bible is the Word of God. I validate that. I just think you’ve misinterpreted these texts through the years. So, let’s just agree to disagree and move on.”
Dennis: Yes, there are some who believe that, since Jesus didn’t speak about homosexuality, specifically, therefore, He was neutral about it.
Adam: Sure. Well, Jesus didn’t speak about a lot of things; but Jesus was a first century Jewish rabbi. And Jesus—as a first century Jewish rabbi, who clearly affirmed the authority of the Old Testament Scriptures—would have known what the Old Testament said about homosexuality. It’s really interesting to see how Jesus handles sexual sin, in general.
When Jesus was asked about, for instance, divorce, in Matthew 19—and He was asked to comment on that—He could have easily gone to Malachi, Chapter 2, where God says, “I hate divorce,” and answered the questions that were being asked of Him—but Jesus didn’t do that. He went back to Genesis, Chapter 2, and He said: “Here’s God’s design plan. Let’s look at God’s plan for human sexuality, and let’s find out what it has to say; and things that fall outside of that are not allowed.”
I think Jesus, in that same way, would have answered any questions about sexual sin, in general, by pointing us back to the design plan that the Creator laid out for us.
Bob: I have to tell you two stories related to just what you are saying. The first goes back 25 years. I was hosting a call-in talk show on a radio station in San Antonio, Texas, before I came here to FamilyLife. I decided I was going to invite the pastor from the local Metropolitan Community Church to come and be a guest on our talk show—
—that’s the gay church in town.
Dennis: Now, this was—
Bob: This was 25 years ago.
Dennis: This is a long time ago.
Bob: That’s right. The consensus, among society and evangelicals, was solidly with me; alright?
Dennis: Right; right.
Bob: So, I had him on. It was a cordial, winsome conversation—we were having good dialogue. In the middle of the interview, I said to him: “Let me ask you a question. If you became convinced that the Bible teaches that homosexual practice is sin, would you stop?” And he answered—I’ll never forget—he paused, and then, he said, “That’s a really good question,”—almost as if he’d never stopped to consider that. And I said, when he said—I smiled and I said, “I think that’s, maybe, the only question;”—
Bob: —“because, really, what we’re talking about: ‘What’s the source of authority in your life?
‘Is the source of authority God’s Word, or is the source of authority the urge you have?’”
Ron: And that’s absolutely it because most liberal theologians believe that the Apostle Paul and Jesus were against homosexual activity—they just don’t believe in the fundamental inerrancy of Scripture.
Adam: That’s right.
Ron: So, they use other sources of authority.
Bob: Here’s my second story—and I’ve got to tell you this one too. Dennis has heard me tell this one before, but it’s one I heard Tim Keller share. He pastors a church in Manhattan. He said it was after service, one time, when a woman came down front. There was a crowd of people all around. She said: “I’ve been coming here for several weeks. I like the church. I’m thinking about becoming a member. My question is: ‘Would I have to give up my lesbian relationship if I’m going to become a member here at the church?’”
Well, when she asked the question, everybody turned to Pastor Keller to see how he was going to answer this one; right? And I’m listening to him tell the story. I’m going, “How are you going to answer this one, Tim?” And he said, “I think you’re asking the wrong question.”
He said: “The question you need to be asking is: ‘Do you believe Jesus is who He says He is?’ If you do, it’s going to have an impact on every area of your life—not just your sexuality—and it’s going to force you to have to align with the Bible. If you don’t think He is who He says He is, then, you don’t have to worry about that. But if you are coming here, and thinking maybe Jesus is who He says He is, then, it’s not just ‘Does my lesbian lover have to move out?’—it is: ‘This is going to have implications for everything in my life.’”
That’s what you guys are saying in this book.
Adam: Exactly. We’re trying to point to this: On one hand, what I think is a very welcome message in our culture, which is we need a lot more love / a lot more compassion, and we need to be wide-open—and the doors of our churches should be creating wide-open spaces for everyone—but the reality is—the demands of the gospel are also much more radical than, probably, even a lot of Christians realize—
—that the Lord isn’t going to allow us to simply to do-as-we-want sort of Christianity—that there is a demand, at the heart of the gospel, for a radical reorientation for everyone.
Dennis: That’s where the word, “compromise,” comes in—in the title to your book, Compassion without Compromise—holding to the truth yet being men and women, who are compassionate toward others.
We’ve talked around the word, “compassion.” What should that compassion look like today in businessmen/women, moms/dads, college students? How does compassion, without compromise, manifest itself in the marketplace?
Adam: Well, I’ll just briefly touch on just the word itself. Compassion is a profound word because, in some way, it means you can look into the eyes of another person and you can identify with them. You believe there is something that connects the two of you—there’s this idea of being with them.
Bob: To suffer alongside—
Adam: Yes, to suffer alongside—
Bob: —to suffer with.
Adam: —to suffer along with them. So, at the very least, is—what you do is—you look and you see a link between two people. And I think that’s one of those things that has been so radically missing in the response of the church, at times, on this issue. Rather than seeing yourself linked to the humanity and to the reality of another person, you don’t—you see what divides you.
Bob: Okay, so, let’s give this a scenario and just coach me on this. Let’s say a guy works in an office building. A new guy comes in—new employee—they’re working side-by-side. A couple weeks go by. Somehow, it comes out that this new guy, who just came into the office, is gay. He’s got a partner / lives with this partner, and that’s his story.
I’m taking what you just said—God put me here to be light. When do I bring that up? Do I wait for him to bring something up? How—how can I know:
“What’s the right next step, now, that I have this information?”
Dennis: Or do you bring it up?
Adam: Well, let me ask you a question: “How, in the world, would you interact with a guy—if you found out that he was living with someone, who wasn’t his wife, and they had a couple of kids together?” How—as Malcolm Muggeridge said, “One of the profound issues of our day is what we do with our sexuality.” It really is. The brokenness, in the sexual realm, of our culture is just immense—we’re talking about one subset of it.
Adam: So, how do you share Jesus with anyone who is a sexual sinner? How do you handle those things, in general?
Dennis: I want to go back to your definition of compassion because I do think that’s where the beauty of the word can really manifest itself. It is looking that person in the face, eyes to eyes, and nodding your head, identifying with where they are in their journey—and maybe sharing a little of your own journey / of where you’ve come from,—
Dennis: —and who you are, and where you’ve struggled.
I just think, in this day and age, where we live in the social media—soundbites/tweets—where no one is getting below the surface / no one is getting below looking good in a matter of 144 characters—instead, we need to break through with some genuine authenticity that may shock people, initially; but I think it’s the way to ultimately interact with them.
Bob: Hang on! Dennis went 4 characters over on his tweet—so, I just wanted to point that out—it’s 140 characters. [Laughter]
Adam: Yes. You know, one of the things that Christians can do—and it profoundly needs to happen, in our culture, with this and a whole lot of other issues—is model what it looks like to love someone, even when you disagree with them. I think that has to happen if we are going to be witnesses about almost anything in our culture.
I had a—my wife and I had moved into a place. The guy across the street from us was a pretty rabid atheist.
I mean, he was into Bill Maher and Sam Harris—really angry. He didn’t just—not believe in God—he was very angry at the God he didn’t believe in.
Adam: And he said all kinds of offensive things about Christianity and God, in general; but you know, when he learned—and he knew I was a pastor and I believed in Jesus—but what kept us being able to talk to each other was the fact that I didn’t back off. We maintained friendship. Also, we were able to disagree without being disagreeable. I think Christians have to just profoundly learn how to engage in relationship—have honest conversations. And I think, actually, people will find it refreshing.
Ron: It is such a huge gift to live life with people who are different from us and who disagree. It has been my experience—that those moments of proclaiming the truth of the gospel—the reality that all of us are called to pick up our cross and follow Him. Those just kind of present themselves in these moments that the Spirit orchestrates. Then, we have to have a word ready to give.
And I just think we have to be willing to do that, and there is nothing wrong with that.
Some of my best friends—I’m married / we disagree about many things, but we can speak when the word is ready. And the only other thing I would say is—you cannot think about things like this over—“It’s going to take two weeks. I’m going to share. I’m going to live with them, and they are going to get better.”
When you talk about profound brokenness and fracturing, the journey into Jesus can be decades. What we have to know is—that Jesus actually knows what He’s doing. This is His Father’s world—it is safe / it is good. He will do His very best. We can trust Him. And in partnership with Him, we can do this journeying with this person—who is profoundly different, and broken, and who needs Jesus—and trust Him to do what He says that He would do.
Dennis: You know, as you were talking, I thought of Rosaria Butterfield, who was on FamilyLife Today a number of months ago.
She just shared the story of how a Presbyterian pastor loved her—as a lesbian, who had a live-in lover—and how, over that five-year period, that love did break through—ultimately, into the beauty of repentance and becoming a new creation in Christ.
And I think, in this instant age in which we live—it’s back to the Twitter®—and I do know it’s 140 characters, Bob—I just slipped. [Laughter] I was thinking of—
Bob: Twelve dozen is what you were thinking—
Dennis: —twelve dozen.
Bob: —that’s 144.
Dennis: But in this instant world, in which we are living today, I think we are looking for the story to be over in 30 minutes—
Dennis: —or an hour-and-a-half or two hours, like a movie. And you know, there’s—it’s not instant.
Dennis: This is a journey, and we’re all on it. We all need one another to pull for one another in the process.
Bob: And we all need help. We need the kind of conversations we’re having here.
We need to be thinking, together, on these things and thinking about what the Scriptures say. We need community, and we need dialogue. And I’m grateful for, not only what you guys have shared with us today, but what you’ve shared with us in the book that you’ve written called Compassion without Compromise. I would encourage our listeners—get a copy of this book.
You’ll find it, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com. You can order it from us when you go to FamilyLifeToday.com and click the link in the upper left-hand corner of the screen that says, “GO DEEPER.” Along with Ron and Adam’s book, you’ll find other books on this same subject, links to articles, and past broadcasts. We want to encourage listeners to think carefully, to think biblically, and to think compassionately on this subject. So, again, the title of the book we are talking about today is called Compassion without Compromise.
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And we hope you can be back with us tomorrow when we’re going to talk more about the subject of homosexuality and going to talk about what a parent ought to do if a son or a daughter comes and says, “I think I might be gay.” We’ll talk about that tomorrow. Hope you can tune in.
I want to thank our engineer today, Justin Adams, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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