by Dustin Cannon
The truth is I never wanted to be here. I didn’t want to write this. I was quite content in my perfect little Christian bubble where all my doctrine was carefully buttoned up in a sound foundation of Christian tradition.
But then everything changed. It was one of those defining moments that become chapter markers in our lives. These are moments that create a clear separation between the before and the after. And whether we like it or not, things will never be the same.
That is exactly what happened when I met Sam and heard his story.
You see I always said I believed that being gay was a choice. It had to be. Otherwise how could it be a sin? And even if it wasn’t a choice, it still had to be a sin because the Bible says so. Right?
Deep down, however there was always something that didn’t quite seem right. I had known people who were gay. I had known them when they were little kids and you could just tell. Even so, it didn’t matter because I was taught that we should never interpret the Bible through the lens of our own experiences. We interpret our experiences through the lens of the Bible.
I still believe that. But here’s the thing. When our experiences are so strikingly different than what we have been taught the Bible teaches, we must question our theology. For me, I had no choice.
The experience with Sam completely unraveled everything I believed about God and shattered my theology into a thousand pieces.
Over the years, I had the privilege of seeing many people’s lives changed by the Gospel. I witnessed Jesus bring healing and redemption to some of the most broken and needy people amidst all kinds of circumstances with all kinds of different stories.
For those who were ready to give their hearts to Jesus, He never failed to impart new life, hope and a sense of peace.
Well … Almost.
I couldn’t help but notice that the gospel didn’t produce the same kind of fruit for those who were gay. I have heard other Christians describe the same experience.
I didn’t have an answer for this particular issue. And since the church has always taught that homosexuality was a sin, the issue always came up in discussions about God. It was impossible to take a neutral position.
People would tell me they had prayed, but God didn’t answer their prayers to make them straight. At first, I brushed it off the same way most Christians do. I told myself that they didn’t really want to turn away from their sin. They didn’t really want to repent.
But then I met Sam.
Sam desperately wanted to be pleasing to God, but he had been taught that his same-sex attraction made him an abomination. This kept him from truly walking in relationship with Jesus. I know. Shocking.
In his shame, Sam felt he needed to remain at a certain distance from God because after all, you can’t “live in sin and be a Christian.” Sam prayed with all his heart for God to change him. He truly didn’t want to be gay. He told me of the sleepless nights pleading with God on a tear-soaked pillow. For five years he begged God until he finally gave up. Bitter and broken, Sam moved on with his life coming to terms with the fact that God must not want him.
I had heard others say that they had prayed for God to take away their same-sex attractions. This wasn’t the first time. But there was something Sam said that stood out and caught my attention. He said he knew that God promises to always answer prayer when it is according to his will. And so he asked his church friends why his prayers were not being answered. They said it was because his prayers must not truly be for the glory of God. They said maybe deep down the only reason he didn’t want to be gay was because he wanted greater acceptance by friends or family.
I’m not surprised he finally walked away from God. Who would want to worship a god who could play such cruel games with people’s lives.
And so, for more than 10 years I tried to pick up the pieces of my shattered theology. I needed to put it back together. And I would come close, but there was always something missing.
The pieces simply would not fit anymore.
Kind of like when you want to return a coffee maker to the store and you can’t for the life of you get it back in the box the way it was.
Something wasn’t right in our understanding of sexual identity. There was something different about this so called “sin”.
Those born with same-sex attraction or who were coming to terms with their true sexual identity were not finding life. They were not experiencing the hope and peace of the gospel. They were not finding in Christ “a yoke that is easy and a burden that is light”. (Matthew 11:30).
Quite the opposite really.
People were coming away with an agonizing hopeless despair that was pushing them further away from God.
There had to be something wrong with our understanding of the issue. I researched everything I could find on homosexuality in the Bible and in church history. To my surprise, there are theologians who have been able to shed new light on the usual passages in the Bible that Christians use to clobber LGBTQ people. And they make a compelling case that the church has historically misinterpreted those Bible verses because of a failure to understand the culture, context and original language. They make a convincing argument that the church has allowed the lens of their own biases and bigotry to color their interpretation and translations of the Scriptures. And that was very helpful. (For more information on the Biblical case in support of same-sex relationships see the video at the end of this post.)
But it wasn’t enough for me. Both sides can claim that the other is interpreting scripture considering what they want it to say.
There had to be more.
There had to be something bigger.
For two years I pleaded with God to either show me what was true or to clear my conscience so that I could stop this wrestling.
Then one night I saw it…
The answer had been there all along. It was woven throughout the fabric of the Gospels. It had been right there in front of me in the person of Jesus Christ. And what I found didn’t just apply to sexual identity or homosexuality. It was so much bigger than that shattering the traditional Christian understanding of sin, grace and even what it means to be saved.
Many Evangelical Christians will stop reading right here and now. I will be labeled a heretic. But those who know me know of my passion for the truth and the depth of my love for Jesus. So, I ask that you bear with me long enough to hear me out. That you ask God to reveal to you the truth of the Scriptures which has become lost under the doctrines of men for more than 500 years of church tradition.
What If We Have It All Wrong?
What if we have missed the point of Gods law and what Jesus was trying to teach us?
What if we have missed Jesus?
That was what Jesus accused the religious leaders of in the Gospel of John chapter 5.
After getting frustrated that they were always questioning him for breaking the letter of the law Jesus said to them
“You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” (John 5-39-40).
Throughout the Gospels Jesus was always turning the religious world upside down. Jesus shocked the church with his attitude toward the Sabbath. They tested him in John chapter 8 to see if He would follow the law which required stoning the woman caught in adultery. (John 8:-12) and they were right. The law required that this woman be put to death. There is no question about that.
If a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbor, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death. (Leviticus 20:10)
But Jesus did not support the letter of the law. Instead He chose once again to interpret the scriptures using a hermeneutic of love and compassion 1 further demonstrating that love is truly the fulfillment of the law. (see Romans 13:10) That’s why they crucified him. He claimed the authority and freedom to do that.
Jesus taught that we do not serve God’s law. God’s law serves us (see Mark 2:27).
Jesus taught that there is no law but love and whether something is sin or not is a matter of the heart. Anything can be sin or not depending on the intent and the motivation of the heart. Motivation can sanctify or defile any action. This is affirmed over and over by Jesus and also in the Old testament and the epistles of Paul.
It just wasn’t possible before Christ because of our hard hearts. (see Matthew 19:8)
Therefore, the Pharisees couldn’t see the truth. (John 5:39). They were looking in the wrong place.
The truth is not a book.
The Truth is a person.
Jesus is the Truth. (see John 14:6)
What do you think Jesus meant anyway when he said,
“For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:20)
We don’t have to wonder what he meant, because He tells us in Matthew 15:1-9.
“Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!” Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother’ and ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’ But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is ‘devoted to God,’ they are not to ‘honor their father or mother’ with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.’ ””(Matthew 15:1-9)
Jesus was saying “You people still don’t get it. You have completely misunderstood the purpose of God’s laws.”(my paraphrase of the situation in Matthew Chapter 15)
According to Jesus when we focus so much on the letter of God’s laws we miss the point. And unless we realize that true righteousness comes from within the heart then we are not welcome in the kingdom of God.
Over and over again in the Gospels you will find Jesus getting frustrated when people held so tightly to the letter of God’s law that they missed the spirit of the law. (Read Matthew chapter 23 to see Jesus really let them have it. Some of the most harsh and angry words ever spoken by the Lord against the church leaders are contained in this chapter.)
The spirit of the law is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23)
I fear much of evangelical Christianity is missing the point. Jesus teaches us that rules have nothing to do with true righteousness, yet it seems all the world ever hears from the Christian community is condemnation.
Without love and the fruits of the Spirit we are missing the whole point of why Christ came.
Some will say that these old covenant rules should still be looked to as a standard by which we are to live. That might be true from a secular standpoint. We need laws based on morality for a civil society. But the truth is focusing on religious rule keeping breeds hypocrisy and more sinful behavior. No one can ever meet the expectations which we set and so that leads to dishonesty and therefore hypocrisy.
The Apostle Paul wrote that the law actually arouses sinful passions in us like when you tell a child that he cannot do something and that makes him want to do it all the more.
For when we were in the realm of the flesh, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in us, so that we bore fruit for death. (Romans 7:5)
But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code. (Romans 7:6)
But how can we do this?
How can we be released from the chains of the law?
How can righteousness come from our hearts when scripture teaches that our hearts are deceitful and desperately wicked? (Jeremiah 17:9)
The answer is in Jesus Christ. Our righteousness and the accompanying freedom come from Christ and His fulfillment of the law.
From beginning to end, the message of Jesus was that true righteousness was a matter of the heart’s intent and that external obedience alone was not pleasing to God. In fact, you can hear His utter disgust at the religious leaders. Hypocrites. Blind guides. Brood of vipers. The most severe language Jesus ever used was reserved for the religious teachers who weighed people down with the rules of men while puffing themselves up. The prevailing message of the Sermon on the Mount was that true righteousness was internal and not external.
“Jesus called the crowd to him and said,
“Listen and understand. What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.”
Peter said, “Explain the parable to us.”
“Are you still so dull?” Jesus asked them.
“Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them.”” (Matthew 15:10-12, 15-20)
In Christ, there is no longer any law but love. Love fulfills the spirit of the law. (See Matthew 22:40 and Galatians 5:14, 1 Peter 4:8).
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 28:37-40)
This is what Paul meant when he wrote
“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1)
And so with God’s law fulfilled in Christ, whether something is sin or not is a matter of the heart.
It is a Matter of Faith.
This is affirmed by Paul in Romans chapter 14 where he teaches that nothing is unclean in and of itself. It is the selfish desires of the heart and intent that defiles. Whatever is not of faith is sin. There’s nothing whatsoever unclean that is not sanctified or defiled by the heart.
“Therefore, let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister. I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean.” (Romans 14:13-14)
For example, consider Rahab. She made it into the James chapter 2 Hall of Fame of Faith. What was her great act of faith? She lied.
In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? (James 2:25)
Yeah, that’s right! A lying prostitute was commended forever in the Bible for lying.
Here is the interesting part.
She lied (sinned) in faith and it was credited to her as righteousness.
We must stop putting God in a little Bible-verse box.
For those of us who are in Christ by faith, we can trust our conscience when aligned with what the scriptures teach about loving God and our neighbor. When our conscience tells us that something is sinful and not pleasing to God, then clearly to go against our conscience makes that thing sinful for us because it could not be done in faith. My critics will say that there must be a standard. I agree. The standard is Jesus Christ. The standard is love and that is why Jesus said all of the law could be summed up in loving God and loving one another. There is nothing else.
Many well-meaning Christians will say that I have abandoned the authority of Scripture. But the opposite is true. It is because I believe that the Scriptures are a true and accurate testimony of Jesus, the incarnate Son of the living God, that I changed my mind about the nature of sin, grace, salvation and homosexuality. It is why I have come to accept, affirm and support my LGBTQ brothers and sisters in Christ. Yes, they are my brothers and sisters in Christ.
My dear brothers and sisters, if you cling to Jesus Christ in faith and love God with all your heart, and love everyone else as much as you love yourself then you are truly free from chains of the law, whatever the theologians may think it says. You are also free to love whoever you choose. You are truly free in Jesus Christ.
Please check out Part Two of this article – Why God Never Wanted Us To Know Right From Wrong
May the grace of Jesus be with you.