I'd Rather Talk About Jesus
Australians are currently being asked their opinion in a national survey on the question of whether people of the same gender should be allowed to marry. In many ways, this national debate has become a frustrating distraction that is getting in the way of faithful Gospel ministry.
Let me get this out of the way up front. The Bible, God’s inspired Word to us, in both the Old and the New Testaments, never condones or permits homosexuality, but always condemns it. I’ve seen some public commentators use a poor hermeneutic (fancy word meaning way of explaining the Scriptures) to make the Bible say what it doesn't say, but the fact is that engaging in homosexual sex is not what honours the Lord and is clearly labelled as sin (Leviticus 18: 22; 1 Corinthians 6: 9 - 11; 1 Timothy 1: 10).
God’s Word also teaches that marriage should be the union of one man and one woman. It is not a cultural construct that can be changed, it was instituted by God in the very beginning (Genesis 2: 24). As a Christian who believes, like Jesus did, that the Bible is authoritative for us, the issue is very clear. Consequently, I will be voting “no” in the current federal postal survey on same sex marriage.
While I hold this position quite definitely, I also know that I would definitely rather have a conversation with someone about Jesus than arguing the case against same sex marriage. Why is this? There are three reasons:
Only a changed heart will lead to changed behaviour.
Jesus said that our words (and actions) are directly connected to what our heart is worshipping (Luke 6: 45). Only when a heart is truly changed by a gracious work of the Holy Spirit will you see someone truly wanting to, and empowered to, live for God in a way that honours God.
When we come to faith in Jesus, our hearts are changed from being hard and dead towards the things of God to being soft and alive to the things of God. Trying to convince someone of the merits of any particular Christian ethic without this changed heart is the debating equivalent of flogging a dead horse.
Like any sinner (so that means all of us), a same sex attracted person will only ever experience true freedom through a relationship with Jesus, not by a civil law that says what they can and can't do.
Debate about SSM promotes law over grace.
Over and over again, as I interact with ordinary Australians of whatever ethnic background, it is reinforced for me that the prevailing view is that the way to get to heaven, is to be good enough - to do enough right things. This is not the Gospel.
When the only thing unbelievers hear from Christians is no to this and no to that (and this is not a reason to vote yes by the way), I think it has the effect of reinforcing the idea that good people go to Heaven and bad people don’t. And it makes the people arguing for a Christian ethic look self-righteous in the process.
What people don’t hear, or experience, in this kind of debate is God’s grace. All they hear is law, which is bad news to them. They never hear the Good News that we are saved, not by keeping laws, but by faith in the person and work of Jesus, and that this is not something we do but something that has been done for us (Galatians 2: 16).
If you are chatting with an unbeliever about SSM, make sure they hear the Gospel of grace from you - a Gospel that you need as much as them.
It’s A Case Of Priorities.
In the late 80s I was working as a political reporter in Brisbane. I was approached by a senior local member of the National Party and asked if I would put my hat in the ring for nomination to contest my local seat at the next state election. I was not then (and never have been) a member of any political party, so it was a bit of a surprise but also an honour to be asked. After thinking it through and praying about it, I decided to decline the offer.
The reason I declined was that I came to the conclusion that you couldn't make someone a Christian through government legislation. You could pass all the laws you want, or remove whatever laws you want, but in the end you still need to be born again by the Spirit in order to become a Christian - trusting the person and work of Jesus for salvation. That’s ultimately why I became a minister of the Gospel rather than a minister of the Crown.
I think we can easily make the mistake of putting significant effort into being political operatives rather than being Gospel ambassadors. Now this doesn’t mean we should abstain from the political process, but we should be concerned to make sure that our primary efforts are devoted to sharing the Gospel, not law making. Laws don’t save people, even good ones.
If you want Australia to be a Christian country, then preach the Gospel to everyone you can find so that many might come to faith in Jesus. Then, when enough people are following Jesus, everyone will vote for laws that are consistent with a Christian ethic. You won’t achieve this the other way around. You won’t make Australia a Christian country just by campaigning for laws that embrace a Christian morality. Our goal, first and foremost, should be changed hearts not changed (or retained) laws.
Greg Gardiner is the Lead Pastor of Disciples Church Springfield.