As I mentioned yesterday, Wednesday’s post on Chick-Fil-A Day generated a lot of discussion on various topics. In particular, a couple of commenters listed a number of popular arguments for why they believe homosexuality is reconcilable with Christianity. I wanted to take Thursday and Friday to address a couple of those arguments that I encounter most often. My hope is that I might serve those who erroneously believe that faith in Jesus and His Word can be reconciled with attempts to legitimize homosexuality.
Yesterday, I addressed those who object to our prohibiting homosexuality while failing to prohibit the mixing of fabrics, the eating of shellfish or pork, and other regulations of the Mosaic Law.
Today I want to address what I think is the most widespread objection in the entire discussion. I honestly think that this issue gets to the very heart of the disagreement. This goes deeper than just our views on homosexuality or the definition of marriage. It strikes at the very core of the worldview of contemporary wisdom. It has to do with the notion of love.
The objection goes something like this: “In the midst of all of your attention to details of various Bible verses, you’ve lost the big picture. The cardinal virtue that Jesus taught His followers was love. If you value love, what’s the problem with two consenting adults making a commitment to each other out of love? Love is love. To insist that homosexuality is sinful and to deny them the right to get married is simply not loving, and therefore not Christian.”
So you see how the collective reasoning of the culture paints the Christian into a corner here. Any response which does not fully affirm homosexuality—no matter what the Bible explicitly says about the matter—is hatred, pure and simple. And Jesus calls us to love. And you claim to follow Jesus. So you’re an un-American, un-Christian, hypocritical bigot.
Love as Unconditional Acceptance
But the argument simply doesn’t hold water. And this is the reason: the wisdom of secular society has failed to define love biblically. To our self-indulgent, narcissistic, perennially adolescent, self-willed culture, “love” means nothing more than Carl Rogers’ notion of unconditional positive regard. To “love” someone, according to our society, is to affirm every decision they make and to applaud them just for being them. Bruno Mars’ hit song is the soundtrack to Western secularism’s gospel of unconditional acceptance: “You’re amazing, just the way you are.”
And that kinda thing feels good, doesn’t it? It feels really good to be affirmed without qualification—to be told that you’re amazing, just the way you are. And because of that, people have confused the idea of being affirmed, accepted, flattered, and made much of with true love. Loving me means making me feel good by making much of me. And this ideology of love as unconditional acceptance is woven into the fabric of our cultural consciousness. To believe anything else would be un-American.
And then, those who have imbibed that definition of love turn to the Bible. And all of a sudden they start reading and hearing about love. God is love (1 John 4:8). For God so loved the world (John 3:16). The greatest commandment in the Law is that you love God and love others (Matt 22:37–40). Love your neighbor as yourself (Gal 5:14). By this everyone will know you’re My disciples: if you love one another (John 13:35). All of these wonderfully biblical concepts come flooding into their minds.
But then something tragic happens. Rather than surrendering their own preconceptions to the authority of God’s Word and seeking to understand how God defines love, they use their own distorted definition of love that they have imbibed from our society, and they foist that definition onto the Scriptures and onto their conception of God. So now, when they hear that “God is love,” they think, “God doesn’t ask people to change. God doesn’t judge people. God accepts everyone just as they are. And so Christians must do the same.”
Love Seeks the Objective Benefit
But this isn’t true, because this is emphatically not how God defines love. “In this is love,” says the Apostle John, “not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10). “God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16, HCSB). “But God demonstrates His own love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8). All of these passages and dozens more teach us that love is acting, even laboring, to secure someone’s greatest benefit.
These passages aren’t teaching us that God just thought we were so wonderful, just the way we were, that He would deliver His Son to death just to show us how great we were. No way. These passages teach us that God labors at great cost to Himself, and even suffers in the Person of Jesus Christ, in order to secure the greatest benefit of His beloved. When we were dead in our sin, cut off from God, and without hope, what would have been our greatest benefit at that moment? Answer: a perfectly righteous, wrath-propitiating, sin-bearing Substitute. And that is exactly what God gives us. God demonstrates His own love by benefiting us with Himself in the person of His beloved Son.
Biblically, then, love does not mean to accept someone unconditionally, to affirm them without qualification, or to make them feel good by making much of them. Biblical love labors for the beloved’s greatest benefit.
What is Our Greatest Benefit?
That’s the question, then, isn’t it? If love labors to secure the beloved’s benefit, what’s someone’s greatest benefit?
I’ll tell you what it’s not. Our greatest benefit is not to be made to feel good about ourselves! “Well hey, why not?” you ask. “That doesn’t sound too bad.” Here’s why: If all I do in my effort to love you is try to make much of you—to work for your own self-exaltation and unconditional affirmation, I rob you of joy. I rob you of true and lasting satisfaction and happiness. “How in the world do you figure that, Mike?” Because your own glory and self-exaltation (“You’re amazing just the way you are!”) might feel good for a little while, but they will not satisfy the longings of your soul for eternity. You just haven’t been designed that way. God didn’t design human beings to thrive on the glory of self. So the one who seeks to satisfy you by holding you up to yourself as an all-satisfying treasure does not love you. They lie to you, and lead you down a short road of naïve “happiness” to an eternity of misery.
But God did design you to thrive on the glory of Jesus Christ. Just as a car is designed to run on gasoline, you were created for the glory of God (Isa 43:7). He has designed your heart, your soul, your affections, your emotions—all of you—so that you are most satisfied by Him. He calls spiritual life the ability to see the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ (2 Cor 4:6). This means that love is helping someone to see and know and enjoy God in the person of His Son! That is the greatest benefit you can do for anyone! The vision of your own glory and self-exaltation won’t satisfy the desires of your heart. But the vision of His glory will!
So love is not making much of someone. Love is laboring, and often times even suffering—even being called hateful and bigoted—so that the beloved might find joy in making much of God forever, because that (i.e., making much of God) is what will most truly and lastingly satisfy them.*
Can you see why, then, the unconditional acceptance and affirmation that our culture calls love, is actually hate? Can you see why never warning someone that fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, effeminate, homosexuals, thieves, covetous, drunkards, revilers, and swindlers, will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor 6:9–10) is the opposite of love? Because it is not in the best interest of sinners for Christians to affirm a lifestyle which, if unrepented of, will end in eternal destruction. It is not hateto warn people of danger. It is hate to fail to issue such warnings.
We do not love like Jesus loved if we unconditionally affirm someone in a choice that robs them of true, abiding satisfaction and leads them to ruin. We love like Jesus loves when we graciously and patiently proclaim a message that has the power to free people from the bondage of their suicidal love affair with themselves—the power to liberate them into the freedom and the joy of making much of the glory of God. We love like God loves when we point people away from worshiping themselves and their own desires, and when we steer them toward their greatest benefit: God Himself.