In the time that I’ve been serving the Lord in the ministry, I’ve delivered hundreds of messages (sermons) on this topic or that. While the words I have delivered are ingrained in the recesses of my spirit, only a few remain so real and so pertinent that I can scarcely get them out of my mind.
One of those sermons, which I delivered a number of years ago, came out of John 6. To this day, the very thought of it leaves me shaking my head in utter disappointment at how little Christianity has progressed from a rag-tag group of people who were more interested in following fanfare and something new and exciting than in seeking after truth. We convince ourselves that we love God so much, yet when that love is tried theologically, we run for the hills.
Christians want to be told what they want to hear. Sadly, it’s an aspect of human nature that we don’t often leave behind when we are born again. And what is it that we want to hear? We want to hear that God loves us. We want to hear that the God within us is greater than he who is in the world. We want to hear that God has made us more than conquerors. We want to hear that He wants us to prosper and be in good health as our souls prosper. We want to hear that God is going to work everything out for our good.
We want to hear these things because they tickle our emotions. They ensure us that all the hell we endure on this earth is temporal, and that there’s an ultimate destiny that God has in mind for us that transcends all that we’ve experienced or even considered to this point. We want to believe. We want to have hope. We want it so much that we cannot tolerate such thoughts being challenged.
But, the truth is, we’re terrified. We’re terrified that God is not who we’ve chosen to believe that He is. Just look around. Some churches don’t even teach from a Bible anymore. It’s all about painting a picture of God that looks the way we want Him to look. We’ve created Him in our own image and after our own likeness because it’s what we’ve wanted to believe.
To racists, God honors their race above all others. There’s something special about being a male to a male chauvinist, and of being a female to a female chauvinist. And something that should hit home to most of the people reading this article—to homophobic people, God hates (or at the very least despises) homosexuals and/or homosexuality. To the existentialist, He despises absolutely nothing; and to the New Ager, we are God. Even to many gay people, He’s affirming, not because they discovered that Scripture demonstrates this, but simply because it’s what they want to believe.
For too many Christians, God is the great changeling—Playdough the Divine—who becomes whomever we desire at the moment. It’s no longer about who His word says He is. It’s about who we want Him to be. We take His word and use it to justify our beliefs about God, rather than allowing the word to define our beliefs.
Scripture warned us that these times would come. The apostle Paul told us in 2Ti. 4:3 that “the time will come when [Christians] will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires.” He said that we’d not only depart from sound doctrine, but that there would be no shortage of people who would tell the folks exactly what they wanted to hear.
But, according to the apostle, there’s a remedy. “Preach the word. Be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction.” In other words, he challenged (and commanded) the ministers of God’s word to preach it when the people wanted to hear it (in season), and when they didn’t (out of season); to encourage people to take action (exhortation) and to stop an action (reproof and rebuke); to faithfully and consistently tell it like it is and leave nothing out (all longsuffering and doctrine). This is the charge that the men and women of God have, but I fear that we so often fall short.
We’ve allowed the offering basket to change what we say and how we say it. We’re afraid to offend because we’ve ultimately been after two things—numbers in the pews and numbers in the offering plates. We’ve held back the unadulterated word of truth because we’ve feared the reaction of the people should we have something to say that they didn’t want to hear.
Neh. 8:9 says that when the people heard the word of God—the Law—they wept. They didn’t shout for joy that God loved them enough to send a word. They lifted their voices and wept because what they were being told was not what they wanted to hear. Thankfully, the prophet spoke anyway; but how many preachers and teachers of Scripture are doing the same today? How many people in the pews want God’s word so much that no matter how it comes, they’ll receive it simply because it’s God’s word?
“[The people who will ultimately be deceived by the Antichrist] perish because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved.”
People are perishing—sitting in the pews, yet still falling away (2Th. 2:3) because they do not love the truth. They are not so in love with God’s truth that it doesn’t matter what is said, as long as it’s from God. They’ve exchanged the truth of God for a lie (Ro. 1:25) because the lie sounds better!
The Lord must come to our rescue because many of us don’t even realize that this even describes us. We’ve convinced ourselves that just because we’re around, we’re okay. Just because we’re at church, we love the truth. My brother/sister, this isn’t necessarily so. These people Paul spoke about will perish not because they didn’t attend church, but because they didn’t love the truth more than their personal image of who God is and what He should be like. Their version of God sounded better. He was more palatable and flavorful, so they rejected the truth and worshiped a figment of their imagination instead, thoroughly convinced that it was truly God—a deception, indeed.
Let’s look at John 6 and see why this message has remained in the forefront of my mind and heart for so long. This is going to be a rather long quotation, but I implore you to read it in its entirety. It’s so rich and powerful!
So when the crowd saw that Jesus was not there, nor His disciples, they themselves got into the small boats, and came to Capernaum seeking Jesus.  When they found Him on the other side of the sea, they said to Him, “Rabbi, when did You get here?”  Jesus answered them and said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled.  “Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you, for on Him the Father, God, has set His seal.”  Therefore they said to Him, “What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God?”  Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.”  So they said to Him, “What then do You do for a sign, so that we may see, and believe You? What work do You perform?  “Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘HE GAVE THEM BREAD OUT OF HEAVEN TO EAT.'”  Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread out of heaven, but it is My Father who gives you the true bread out of heaven.  “For the bread of God is that which comes down out of heaven, and gives life to the world.”  Then they said to Him, “Lord, always give us this bread.”  Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst.  “But I said to you that you have seen Me, and yet do not believe.  “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.  “For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.  “This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day.  “For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who beholds the Son and believes in Him will have eternal life, and I Myself will raise him up on the last day.”  Therefore the Jews were grumbling about Him, because He said, “I am the bread that came down out of heaven.”  They were saying, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does He now say, ‘I have come down out of heaven’?”  Jesus answered and said to them, “Do not grumble among yourselves.  “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.  “It is written in the prophets, ‘AND THEY SHALL ALL BE TAUGHT OF GOD.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father, comes to Me.  “Not that anyone has seen the Father, except the One who is from God; He has seen the Father.  “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life.  “I am the bread of life.  “Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died.  “This is the bread which comes down out of heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die.  “I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh.”  Then the Jews began to argue with one another, saying, “How can this man give us His flesh to eat?”  So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves.  “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.  “For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink.  “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him.  “As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats Me, he also will live because of Me.  “This is the bread which came down out of heaven; not as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live forever.”  These things He said in the synagogue as He taught in Capernaum.  Therefore many of His disciples, when they heard this said, “This is a difficult statement; who can listen to it?”  But Jesus, conscious that His disciples grumbled at this, said to them, “Does this cause you to stumble?  “What then if you see the Son of Man ascending to where He was before?  “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life.  “But there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who it was that would betray Him.  And He was saying, “For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father.”  As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore.  So Jesus said to the twelve, “You do not want to go away also, do you?”  Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life.  “We have believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God.
The first time I read this passage and really let it speak to me, it broke my heart into pieces. During this time, Jesus had a well known ministry in the area of Capernaum. He was known for performing miracles and for healing people, so He had quite a mass of people following Him. At the start of the passage, the people were actually seeking Him out because He kinda snuck off in the middle of the night. (The previous night was when He walked on water and crossed over to the other side of the lake with His disciples.)
The people finally located Him; but Jesus realized that they weren’t really looking for Him as much as they were looking for more miracles. At that point, their zeal wasn’t about who He was, but what they could get from Him. (Sound familiar?) There may have been multitudes around Him, but few were truly with Him.
This sad fact was brought to the forefront when Jesus made a statement that they found hard to grasp. He taught that they must eat of His flesh and drink of His blood in order to have eternal life. Looking back, we obviously recognize that He was referring to the symbolic representation of the body and blood in the elements of Holy Communion. But, these people didn’t have the privilege of hindsight. They heard His words, didn’t like what they’re hearing, and deserted Jesus. Signs and wonders be damned! He had just said something they didn’t like.
It’s really amazing that they could have responded as they did. Jesus had recently fed this very same multitude with a young boy’s lunch. They’d been the beneficiaries of His teachings. They knew He was a man of God; yet, when He taught something they didn’t want to receive, none of that history mattered enough.
The truly heart wrenching part of the story was Jesus’ response. Looking around at this huge multitude of people deserting Him, He turned to His twelve disciples and, with an obviously broken heart, asked, “Are you going to leave, too?” We’d like to think of this larger-than-life Jesus who didn’t have the range of feelings that we have; but truly, Jesus was all man at the same time that He was all God. He felt as we feel; and seeing these people that He’d been ministering to—people who only moments ago had crossed a lake to find Him—desert Him after a single teaching that they didn’t want to hear, it broke His heart.
It’s amazing because it reminds me so much of how I felt when I lost practically my entire congregation after coming out of the closet and making the church gay-affirming. They didn’t want to hear the theology behind the decision. All they knew was that they didn’t want to have anything to do with it. Truth didn’t matter. I wasn’t saying what they wanted to hear. The years of teaching didn’t matter. The anointing upon my life that they would have attested to just one week prior wasn’t enough. This single issue was more than they could stomach. Like this multitude, they said, “This is a hard saying. Who is able to receive such a teaching?” They tucked tail and ran for the hills.
Even since then, some of those who remained questioned whether or not I should have taught affirming theology at all, out of concern for my flock (knowing that it would push some of my sheep out of the door). They wondered if, for the sake of the people (ultimately, the people who left), I should have refrained from teaching something that these people obviously weren’t ready to hear. I responded to that concern with two points.
While I’m ignoring the truth for the sake of people who, let’s face it, will probably never be ready to hear it, what happens to all of the gay people who are dying spiritually for fear that God hates them? Did Jesus withhold the truth out of concern that people wouldn’t want to receive what He had to say? Was He more concerned about some (or even most) of the sheep sticking around than He was about putting the truth out there and giving people an opportunity to choose to accept or reject it? Did God restrain from setting before people the choice between life or death, or did He let them choose, while encouraging them to choose life (Deut. 30:19)?
Most affirming people would perceive the desertion of basically 4/5 of my congregation as a clear example of homophobia. These people obviously hated gay people, and their hatred drove them away. I, on the other hand, don’t see it that way. What drove them away was fear, not hatred. It was the same fear that gripped this multitude of people following Jesus. It’s the same fear that’s gripping the corporate Christian body, preventing it from opening its arms to the gay community.
(Technically, fear, rather than hatred, is the very definition of homophobia. From this perspective, it was, indeed, homophobia in its purest sense that my former congregants displayed. However, in popular usage, homophobia refers more to the detestation of homosexuality and homosexuals than it does to fear and ignorance about them; therefore, I choose not to characterize these people’s response as homophobia.)
But, what exactly is it that we, as a collective Christian body, are so afraid of? To put it simply, we’re afraid that we could be wrong. We’re afraid that something we’ve believed for so long—for so many generations—could be so horribly inconsistent with the heart of God. We’re afraid that a face value reading of Scripture is not sufficient for discerning biblical truth. We’re afraid to have to look again. We’re afraid to have to change.
This fear has crippled us. It has turned a body that is supposed to be characterized by unfeigned love into a body of condemnation and cruel judgment. It has turned the followers of Christ into the very Pharisees that He opposed time and time again during His earthly ministry. It has turned the Church into a mouthpiece for Beelzebub—speaking curses rather than blessings, self-righteous judgment rather than grace. Oh how the mighty are fallen!
But we don’t have to stay in this place. God has not consigned us to the darkness of our vain religiosity. He has, through Scripture, provided us with a remedy for this crippling and destructive fear.
“There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love.”
This passage makes it glaringly obvious that the Church has not perfected love, for the fact that we are still driven by fear testifies against the purity of our love. It’s sadly amazing that the single most important element that defines us as Christians is the very mark of which we are still so horribly falling short. After 2,000 years, perfect love still eludes us.
What does that say of our passionate faith? What does that say of our supposed love of the truth? It says that we have deceived ourselves. It says that we still have a long way to go when it comes to mastering the most fundamental of truths—that we cannot love God if we do not love our brother, and that we cannot truly love our brother if we are not moved out of our place of comfort to at least give due consideration to a theological perspective that affirms him.
Friend, we don’t have to be afraid. We don’t have to fear the truth so much that we risk accepting a lie. From the affirming Christians to the non-affirming ones, we don’t have to be afraid that what we want to believe will not survive a reexamination. Truly, it may not; but we’ve got to decide what we want more—God’s truth or our comfort.
As it relates to affirming theology, I’m not asking that you accept it out of hand. I’m only asking that you listen—that with a sincere and open heart, you listen to the evidence, contemplate it, pray about it, and decide in good faith and conscience what God would have you to believe. How can such a petition possibly be rejected? How can such a call possibly go unanswered?
Let go of the fear. Let love be perfected in your heart. Reexamine this issue, and see if, perchance, you’ve been wrong all this time. Let God be God, and let His truth be the aim of your heart.
Look again, Christian!