Living as Exiles #3: Being People of Grace and Truth

Below is a sermon I preached on May 21, 2023, both the audio and the actual notes. Obviously, I only touch on a small portion of the many issues that fall under the LGBTQ+ umbrella. And I do so imperfectly. But I hope and pray I was able to get across something of the grace and truth Jesus himself so clearly embodies.

Being People of Grace and Truth — May 21, 2023


You might recall that back in 2015 two significant events happened. First, the Supreme Court of the United States redefined marriage to include same-sex couples. Second, former Olympic champion Bruce Jenner officially became Caitlyn Jenner after years of working towards changing genders.

In the short time since there has been an almost constant barrage of news stories about LGBTQ+ issues: whether it’s who can use what bathrooms, laws about preferred pronouns, arguments between parents and school boards over the sexual content of some curriculum, and protests over drag queen story hours in public libraries.

And this has also profoundly impacted churches and whole denominations. The Church of England recently moved to “bless” same-sex unions but are still reserving marriage for opposite-sex couples. The United Methodists in the states are also splitting over this issue.

Even Baptists aren’t immune. First Baptist Church in Halifax recently ordained its first pastor who is in a same-sex union. This church left the CBAC years ago over the issue of same-sex marriage.

At the moment, our denominational family, the Canadian Baptists of Atlantic Canada, still upholds the biblical definition of marriage and pastors risk will lose their credentials if they officiate a same-sex wedding.

And whereas just a few years ago, same-sex marriage was the issue in the foreground, these days it is the transgender movement.

Given all that’s going on around us in the culture, and what we find ourselves dealing with in schools and workplaces and in our conversations with neighbours, family, and friends, it can feel a little overwhelming.

How do we approach these issues as Christians? What does it mean to be a follower of Jesus in a world where all of this is happening and there is increasing pressure to go along?

Because all of this stuff is in the cultural air we breathe. It’s on the news, on social media, in the TV shows and movies we watch. Even parents of young kids have to be careful about the entertainment content of companies like Disney, who are increasingly injecting ways of thinking into their products that do not align with a biblical worldview.

So as Christians, we are responsible for thinking about these things. We have to deal with it even in our churches: theologically, pastorally, and relationally.

Here’s how we’re going to talk about this stuff this morning. We’re going to distinguish between our position on these issues and our posture towards people. I have found this to be a helpful way of framing our approach to LGBTQ+ issues.

When I say our position I am referring to what the Bible teaches and what we believe about sexuality and gender, and therefore what is true of us as human beings.

Our posture is how we relate to actual people based on what we believe and how we navigate specific situations or conversations we might find ourselves in.

To put it another way, it’s about being people of grace and truth. It’s about holding to the truth of Scripture on the one hand, and living out that truth in a loving way in a world of messy, broken people, including us.

“He created them male and female”

So let’s begin with what Scripture teaches about sexuality and gender — or what a basic biblical position looks like.

There are a few things we learn from our passage in Genesis that speaks to the truth of who we are as human beings. The first is that we’re created in the image of God. Among other things, this means we get our identity and purpose from God. We’re called to live according to God’s design and purpose for us. Asking who we are as human beings means asking why and how God made us.

Second, we were created male and female. Gender is fundamentally a biological, binary reality. There are males and females. Scripture consistently upholds this truth and until the last few years so did all of science and most people.

Third, the definition of marriage is that of a lifelong, faithful, intimate union between one man and one woman.

Now, I understand that this is not the experience of all married people. I get that not all marriages work out, that life and we as human beings are broken and make mistakes. That’s where grace enters the picture. That’s where forgiveness and healing come in. But this doesn’t change the definition of marriage.

Which means that God is the one who created and defined marriage. No matter what a law says or other people believe, biblically there can be no such thing as same-sex marriage. A same-sex couple may remain together and faithful their entire lives, but this still falls outside the biblical definition of marriage.

Scripture also consistently teaches that all sexual intimacy outside of marriage as God defines it goes against his design and purpose for us.

And here’s the thing: believing these things about marriage, gender, and sexuality makes us outsiders more than ever these days. Continuing to hold to these truths will not make us popular with most people. In fact, we could be accused of being repressive, intolerant, unloving and even hateful.

For example, the former Minister of the Interior of Finland, Paivi Rasanen, was recently on trial after being charged for hate speech because she quoted the Bible on homosexuality. I believe the charges were eventually dropped, but the fact that she was charged at all for simply repeating what the Bible says is deeply troubling.

It’s important for us to understand what the Bible teaches about human sexuality and gender and it’s also important for us to be willing to affirm what the Bible teaches. We don’t change what we believe because of cultural pressure or to get along with others.

However, we do have to figure out how to live out what we believe. We have neighbours, friends, family, co-workers who don’t share the biblical position that we’ve talked about. What about those conversations and relationships? What should our posture be?

“Go, and from now on do not sin anymore”

In his book Embodied: Transgender Identities, the Church & What the Bible Has to Say, Preston Sprinkle tells the story of his friend Lesli. From a young age Lesli experienced what is sometimes called gender dysphoria, the feeling that she was born in the wrong body, that she was a boy trapped in a girl’s body.

She also grew up going to church, Sunday school, and youth group. And when the feelings persisted into the high school years, she decided to go to her pastor for help. In her own words this is what happened: “My pastor escorted me out the back door of his office and told me to never come back again. And I didn’t. I didn’t step foot in a church for the next eighteen years. I hated Christians, especially pastors, from that point on.”

Now, if as a follower of Jesus that doesn’t break your heart, I don’t know what will. 18 years without stepping foot in a church. After years of Sunday school and youth group. Came to hate Christians, especially pastors.

I think it goes without saying that her pastor might have had the right position — that is, the right theology — but without a doubt he had the absolutely wrong posture. He may have had the truth, but he did not have grace. Now, we’ll hear more of Lesli’s story later.

This is why I wanted us to read the story from John’s Gospel about the woman caught in adultery. While not directly addressing LGBTQ+ issues, the way Jesus approaches the woman gives us insight into being people of grace and truth.

The scribes and Pharisees drag this woman in front of Jesus, to trap and accuse him, to see if he would apply the law of Moses strictly — which would mean stoning her. They already had stones in hand.

Remember what Jesus said to them? The one without sin among you should be the first to throw a stone at her. That is utterly brilliant. He completely turns it around.

Because he knew they thought of themselves as better than this woman. He knew the judgment and condemnation in their hearts. He knew their motives were neither honest nor pure.

And I love how Jesus says this to them and then just stoops down to write on the ground — waiting for them to respond to what he said. And what do they do? They left one by one, starting with the older men.

Then it’s just Jesus and the woman. I love their conversation. Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you? Her reply is simple: No one, Lord. Then Jesus says: Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin anymore.

Jesus always embodies grace and truth. He always speaks the truth in love. He holds to the biblical position on sexuality with a posture that invites rather than condemns.

He doesn’t downplay the reality of sin. But in his approach to the whole situation he demonstrates grace and compassion. He sees this woman as more than her sin. He sees her as a person created in the image of God. And he calls her to live according to God’s design and purpose.

Grace means saying I do not condemn you. Truth means saying means saying go and sin no more. In Jesus, position and posture are in complete unity. And we are called to become more and more like Jesus. That is, to see those who live out of step with God’s design and purpose as people to be loved.

He/him or she/her or . . .?

Now, let’s take one issue out of the many that some find themselves dealing with these days because of the transgender movement: the issue of preferred pronouns. That is, if a man has chosen to identify as a woman, they may also choose to use she/her pronouns and want others to address them using those same preferred pronouns.

The question is: should followers of Jesus willingly use someone’s preferred pronouns? What is our position and what should our posture be? What does a grace-truth approach look like here? As we talk about this, I won’t be able to get into every aspect of this topic. but it’s an important topic, because there are people both in Canada and in the US who have lost their jobs for “mis-gendering” people. It affects people not only in their personal relationships with family, friends, and neighbours, but also in their workplaces and in their schools.

Let’s think about this first in terms of the biblical position. Now, the Bible doesn’t tell us directly about what personal pronouns we should use for a person. But we do know that the Bible teaches that there are only two genders and that God made us to live according to his design and purpose. This includes our biological gender. That means even if a woman wants to be addressed with male pronouns, this doesn’t mean they are male. Their preferred pronouns don’t exactly reflect the physical reality of who they are.

Yet gender dysphoria is also very real. It’s a recognized psychological condition that only in recent years has been increasingly normalized. There are people who genuinely struggle with the feeling that something is wrong with the body they have. Given this, what should our posture be? Should we use someone’s preferred pronouns or not?

I know we often like simple answers to such questions, but I don’t think this is an entirely easy question to answer. Christians thinking about this issue in good faith will disagree with one another about how to approach it.

Some will try and avoid using pronouns altogether if at all possible. Or they may wish to explain why it is they choose not to use someone’s preferred pronouns. Even then they need to speak the truth in love. So much depends on the person we’re talking to and the situation we’re in. Our goal is to show the love of Christ.

Others might opt for what some call “pronoun hospitality.” Even though they do not see the pronouns as reflecting the truth about who the person is, they will use them anyway as a way of meeting the individual where they are.

In that case, someone taking that route needs to be sure that they’re not simply trying to avoid an awkward or difficult situation. Or that they’re not just embarrassed about what they believe. This also means being aware of our own hearts, our own motivations and convictions. It’s not only about what we do, but why we do it.

For my part, I would make every effort to love the person and show grace but also try and refrain from using their preferred pronouns. However, if another believer approaches it differently even though they have the same theological beliefs — or hold the same position — I understand.

Here’s the thing: we can’t love anyone by avoiding the truth and we also can’t speak or live out the truth well without love. Grace and truth must go hand in hand. We also need to give one another grace. We’re not always going to get this right or strike the right balance or always have the best words.


·Being people of grace and truth means never sacrificing one for the sake of the other. We don’t change what we believe because of how people feel. We’re called to align our lives with the truth of God’s word — with his design and purpose.

Being people of grace and truth also means not hammering people with what we believe. We’re called to speak the truth in love. We’re called to listen, to understand, and to keep the situation of the person we’re speaking with in mind.

I already told part of the story of a woman named Lesli. About how when she was a teen and tried to share with her pastor her struggles with gender dysphoria, he escorted her out of the church and told her never to come back. But that’s not the end of her story.

Lesli eventually married a woman named Sue. When Sue died in an accident, Lesli scrambled to find a church that might be willing to do the funeral. She called the only church she knew anything about, one she had volunteered at years before. It happened to be a theologically conservative church, a church that would affirm the biblical position on marriage, sexuality, and gender. “The pastor picked up the phone. Stammering, Lesli said, ‘Hi, my name is Lesli, and my wife just died. We’re lesbians, but, um . . . I want to know if you would do my wife’s funeral.’”

And what did the pastor say? Did he first tell her where he stood theologically? Did he condemn or judge her? Here’s what he said: “We would be honoured to.” And that’s not all he said. He also told her that they would take care of all the arrangements, including the cost of the funeral. When this hurting, broken person reached out in pain and vulnerability, the church stepped up in love.

Can you imagine what that was like for Lesli? After not having stepped foot in a church for 18 years because she was escorted out by the last pastor she opened up to? As Preston Sprinkle writes: “It was this embodiment of Christlike kindness that reignited Lesli’s passion for Jesus and brought Lesli back to faith in Christ. Lesli will be hanging out with us for all eternity in the new creation, all because one pastor had the courage to manifest God’s kindness.”

·Grace and truth. Our position and our posture. It takes enormous wisdom to bring them together. Only Jesus did this perfectly. Yet it is something we ought to strive for as we follow our Lord Jesus.

So as we live in this world where what we believe will become more and more unwelcome, may we live out our faith with both conviction and compassion. May we live as people of grace and truth, as people who know and have been changed by the good news of Jesus. Because everyone we meet, no matter who they are or how they live, also need to experience that same good news.

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