By Jeremy Edmonson1
On April 29th, 2013, Jason Collins of the NBA's Washington Wizards publicly announced that he was gay. This has been noted by the media as the first time that a member of one of the four major American sports leagues (NBA, NHL, NFL, and MLB) has ever come out of the closet. The following twenty-four hours generated a media frenzy in the sports world, even meriting a phone call from President Obama to encourage and congratulate Collins.
Much of the talk has been filled with joy as well as a call for tolerance for anyone who promotes this lifestyle and great encouragement has been given to Collins for his courageous stand. It seems that many are championing acceptance and tolerance, salivating for the first "fire and brimstone" evangelical to hurl a stone with a clear conscience because he "speaks for God," a stigma that the Westboro Baptist Church has not helped in the least. So here is the question: How should believers in Christ respond to this situation specifically and to the reality of homosexuality in a general sense?
There is one word: GRACE.
It is no secret that God does not condone the act of homosexuality (Lev 18:22; 20:13; Rom 1:24-27; 1 Tim 1:8-11), and that homosexual sex is seen as a vile act in Scripture (Gen 19:1-11; Judg 19:22-23), but as concerns the free gift of eternal life, where does the homosexual stand? This type of question usually manifests itself in the idea that "gay people can't go to Heaven," or "if they were really, genuinely saved, they wouldn't be gay." Nothing could be further from the truth.
There is a problem in our churches today that has equated someone's eternal standing before God with their actions and behaviors in daily life. Much of this line of thinking comes from a failure to understand the new nature that is ours in Christ when we believe in Jesus Christ for eternal life. In Romans 6-8, there are numerous instances where the Apostle Paul spells out the dangers of having sin "reign in our mortal bodies, to make us obey its passions" (Rom 6:12). Paul is clearly writing to believers (Rom 1:1-15; 5:1), which tells us that it is possible for believers in Christ to allow sin to reign in their mortal bodies. These are the things of the flesh which Paul warns will lead to death if we persist in them (8:6, 13a). Paul counters this by stating that "if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live" (Rom 8:13b). This is the full life; the abundant life that Jesus provides for us. What is profound to see is that this is a choice that the believer has. A believer can persist in a gay lifestyle and there will be ruin at the end of that path and probably consequences along the way, or they can repent of this wrong and seek to abide in accordance with God's Word, of which abundant living will develop. It's their choice.
What is often missed concerning the flesh and spirit setup is the fact that, while we have a "newness of life" in us provided by Christ (Rom 6:4) we are still in this flesh that is dead. Paul writes, "But if (since) Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness" (Rom 8:10). Living out the Christian life is difficult because of the flesh patterns that we have learned, and still dabble in, in our lifetimes. It's a struggle. Our flesh wants sin while our spirit wants to be pleasing to God. With Paul we say "Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!" Why? Because our lives can be lived in the light and truth that He alone provides. This is how we put to death the deeds of the flesh (Rom 8:13).
Now, you might be saying "What does all of this have to do with Jason Collins, homosexuality, and the Christian response?" My answer is "everything."
Being gay does not keep Jason Collins, or anyone else for that matter, out of Heaven. People don't go to Hell because they are gay; they go to Hell for one reason only: they don't have Life! You see, many in the church have confused the behavior of a Christian with the belief that a Christian has in Jesus Christ. Many have stated that if someone was "really" saved, they would act like it. For all of the reasons that I just gave you, this is simply not true, and the Apostle Paul did not believe this to be true either.
Jesus Christ offers salvation to everyone who believes in Him for the free gift of eternal life. He doesn't call us to clean up our act before He will accept us (How could we ever clean that much up?). Jesus has tasted death for everyone (Heb 2:9) and now He offers Life, eternal Life, to everyone who believes in Him for it. Homosexuals are not "out of reach" for God or the church. They are people for whom Christ died, just like you and me. Their sin may be different from your sin, but God's grace is the same for all. "Let the one who desires take the water of life without price" (Rev 22:17). Salvation is available to all and is offered to all, regardless of their sin, apart from their lifestyle. This is the glorious free gift of God's grace!1 Jeremy Edmonson is pastor of Resurgence Church in Evansville, IN.