Suppression and Discipleship

This is not a post primarily about homosexuality and the gospel. While I’m not actively avoiding writing such a post, I think many other Christians have done a much better job than I could (for example, Sam Allberry’s book Is God anti-gay?). I know that the topic can be very personal, and very painful for some, and needs to always be handled with love, respect, and integrity towards all people.
This is a post primarily about what “suppression” means in light of the gospel and the call to discipleship; and why laws prohibiting prayer or practise of suppression are necessarily an attack on Christianity.

God is love. I wrote a bit about that in a previous blog post. Because God is love, the gospel message is often described as a message of love. While this isn’t incorrect, it can miss a lot and lead to false doctrine such as universalism or some kind of watered-down spirituality that essentially takes God and holiness out of the picture.

The crux of this problem is that God’s love is not human love. It is not a feeling of affection or attraction which can be broken or fade away with time. It is not a feeling at all. It’s not something that God produces or something outside of who He is – love is the very essence of God.

This becomes problematic when humans think of God’s love as the kind of love that we have toward one another. It is true that human love is a reflection of God’s love. We love because we are made in the image of God, who is love. But it is equally true that humans rejected God’s love, and in doing so we tainted the love which we possess. We chose to define right and wrong for ourselves, apart from God’s love and perfect order, and in doing so we plunged the whole world into darkness, chaos, and death. It’s not hard to see the effects of a fallen humanity in our world today: pollution, environmental destruction, war, famine, slavery, rape, murder, poverty, corruption and injustice.
This is what happens when humans decide for themselves what is right and wrong. This is what happens when we assume we know better than God does what is good for us.

The gospel message is a message of love because it is a message of how God has not left us to our own devices anymore. How He is righting the wrongs of a fallen world, and how He will eventually restore the world and humanity in glory to perfect order, where “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain” (Rev. 21:4).

Jesus came to earth, died, rose again, and sent His spirit to live within the very being of those who believe in Him as Lord of their life. Because of this – because of God’s power within us – we are able to reject the way of life which brought suffering, chaos, and death into the world, and live instead as God intended for us to live, loving God and loving one another as ourselves. But this does not come naturally.
We are still living in a fallen world, inside fallen bodies which are decaying and wearing away. We still struggle with wanting to decide right and wrong for ourselves, and we still struggle with the desires of fallen humanity – whatever form those desires take.

As a result of these conflicting natures within us, we are at war with ourselves. God’s nature and our fallen nature are constantly opposing one another, and we must choose which side we take. To take God’s side means to put to death the desires of the flesh. In other words, we suppress those desires within us that do not align with God’s desires for us.

This isn’t easy. It can sometimes be the hardest war to wage. Because we are born into a fallen world, our natural inclinations are to our fallen nature. It is a battle to deny ourselves and walk in the way of Christ, but it is a fight very much worth fighting. Not only in the life to come, but in this life also. Once you taste the waters of eternal life, once you truly experience the depth of God’s love and His power in your life, you know that at all costs, this is a fight worth fighting. It really is like rising from death to life.

Jesus never, ever described His mission as one of spreading happiness and comfort. He very explicitly warned those around Him that discipleship would cost them their lives. In Western countries, we are not physically martyred for our faith in Christ (as thousands were and still are in many places across the world). But that does not mean that we do not have to take up our cross to follow Christ.
Sam Allberry, a same-sex attracted Christian, writes:

As someone in this situation, what Jesus called me to do is exactly what he calls anyone to do… It is the same for us all – “whoever”. I am to deny myself, take up my cross and follow him. Every Christian is called to costly sacrifice. Denying yourself does not mean tweaking your behaviour here and there. It is saying “No” to your deepest sense of who you are, for the sake of Christ. To take up a cross is to declare your life (as you have known it) forfeit.

Sam Allberry, Is God anti-gay: And other questions about homosexuality, the Bible and same-sex attraction

Whichever way you phrase it – suppression, self-denial, sacrifice, abstinence, taking up your cross – it is fundamentally a part of what we who believe in Jesus and believe in the gospel He preached are called to do. It is a core principle of our faith, and so to make any laws prohibiting the preaching, practise, or prayer regarding suppression of desires is to attack religious freedom; to attack Christians in our identity and entire worldview.

In Victoria (Australia), I do understand why the anti-suppression (conversion) bill was initially put in place. It is wrong to try and force someone to be straight if they are gay. It is wrong to try and bully them, abuse them, or “hypnotize” them into becoming or acting straight. The gospel is on offer to all, but whoever accepts it and chooses Christ must choose for themselves to follow His teachings, and must be able to come as they are, and be loved as they are.
Abuse of any person is not accepted within Christ’s teaching, and should never be accepted (let alone practiced!) by the church. For those who are same-sex attracted and may not have heard it yet, I am sorry if the church has hurt you. I am so sorry if you have been forcibly put through conversion therapy or have been disrespected or abused because of your sexual orientation. I would never allow anything like that to occur under my watch, nor would any Christian I know (or I deeply hope and expect this is the case at least).

But banning abusive practices to protect people is not the same as banning prayer and spiritual counsel around suppression of desires. It is ultimately discrimination against same-sex attracted Christians to say that I, as a heterosexual, can receive prayer and counselling to suppress or deny sexual desires outside of a biblically defined marriage, but my brother or sister who is same-sex attracted cannot. This is why we are calling for the bill to be changed.
True discipleship to Christ requires denying yourself to choose God’s ways. Denying the ways of the world to choose the ways which lead to fullness of life. Denying desires, however harmless and even good they may seem, that reject God’s design for the world, because Christ died for you to be made whole in him.

“Beloved, I urge you as sojourners in this world to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul.” -1 Peter 2:11

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