Who We’re Becoming

“All of us experience ‘dysphoria’ between who we are and who God created us to be. The answer to resolving this dysphoria cannot be found by looking within yourself or to others for approval; it can only be found by uniting yourself to Christ.”

Becket Cook (author of A Change of Affection: A Gay Man’s Incredible Story of Redemption)

Becket Cook had a radical conversion to Christ. You can read more of his own story here. I’ll give you just a little bit of it in his own words. Cook writes:

With a highly successful career as a production designer in the fashion world, I lived as a fully engaged gay man in Hollywood. I had many boyfriends over the years; attended Pride Parades in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York; and marched in innumerable rallies for gay-marriage equality. My identity as a gay man was immutable, or so I thought.

But in 2009 I experienced something extraordinary: I had a radical encounter with Jesus Christ while attending an evangelical church in Hollywood for the first time (I was invited by a stranger I met at a coffee shop the week before). I walked into the church a gay atheist and walked out two hours later a born-again Christian, in love with Jesus. I was stunned by this reversal. Since then, I no longer identify as gay but rather choose to be celibate because I believe God’s plan and purpose—revealed in the Bible—is authoritative, true, and good. 

Surrendering my sexuality hasn’t been easy. I still struggle with vestiges of same-sex attraction, but denying myself, taking up my cross, and following Jesus is an honor. Any struggles I experience pale in comparison to the joy of a personal relationship with the one who created me and gives my life meaning. My identity is no longer in my sexuality; it’s in Jesus. 

Becket Cook from “Why Hollywood Praises Elliot Page (and Blacklists Me)”

What struck me about Cook’s life-story was how we can all relate to it. We all experience a gap between who we were created to be and who we are now. As followers of Christ, we all feel that gap at various times in various ways. The answer is not to “look within yourself” to find the answer to this gap but to look to Christ and find our identity in Him. The answer is not to look to others for approval or, worse, to demand that others approve. The answer is to surrender yet again to Jesus.

I have found that growth in the Christian life feels like two of yourselves running around a track. The version of yourself out in front is who you were created to be in Christ. The one behind is who you are today in your daily actions. There are moments where your present self seems to catch up to who you were created to be. That gap gets smaller and smaller. And just as you think you are about to catch yourself on the straightaway, Jesus has you round the turn. When you look up from the turn you realize the gap is now even larger than it was before. What just happened?

This moment feels like failure, but it is actually a step of growth. You’ve entered a new chapter. You’ve turned a page. You are now mature enough to handle Jesus showing you another layer that needs to mature. He couldn’t show it to you all at once. If He showed you the full distance between both versions of yourself, it would be crushing. Instead, He lets us grow in one area and in one season. He lets us approach who we were created to be. Then, as the gap shrinks, He reveals a new layer, a new chapter of growth that must happen for us to become who we were meant to be.

If we aren’t aware of the nature of this process, we might get discouraged. We might throw our hands up and abandon our pursuit of who we were created to be in Christ. We might stop running our race, sit down, and start to “look within” to find ourselves. This, unfortunately, is when the enemy pounces on us with deception and confusion. This is when people get all tangled up in false identities, thinking they are something they are not.

It is a truly humbling experience to grow and grow and grow only to have God reveal an area that is still immature, still unchanged by the character of Christ. But even in the humbling, the Holy Spirit is transforming us from the inside out. We will one day catch ourselves on that track. But it won’t be until we are perfectly glorified in eternity. Until then, our job is to keep running the race marked out for us. Every time the gap that was closing suddenly widens, we need not be discouraged. We need, instead, to see it as a new chapter, a new invitation to become all that God has intended us to be.

I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 3:10-14

Attack from Both Sides

For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is proved right by her deeds.”

Matthew 11:18-19

Do not be surprised if our culture, which is so heavily influenced by the kingdom of darkness, attacks people trying to follow Jesus from both sides. This has always been the strategy of the enemy. This is the strategy we see the enemy employ against Jesus and John the Baptist.

The culture of Jesus’s day found a way to be offended by both John the Baptist, living in the strictest holiness, and Jesus, living in the freedom of grace. John’s holiness was seen as demonic and Jesus’s freedom was seen as sinful.

Our culture is currently following the same strategy of the enemy. Recently it was reported that some politicians were trying to follow the “Billy Graham rule.” This rule is basically a commitment by a man not to be alone with a woman who is not his wife, especially in private settings, as it could lead to accusations of impropriety or actual impropriety. There has been a lot of exposure of sexual assault and sexual harassment at the highest levels of society recently, so this Billy Graham rule seems like a healthy safeguard.

Yet, in response to this desire to honor women and honor their wives, these men were attacked for being sexist. So we have a situation where if a politician is seen being alone with another women who is not his wife, he’s easily attacked with claims of impropriety. Yet, if he tries to safeguard against those accusations, he gets attacked as sexist. If they live in the freedom of grace, they’ll be attacked as morally corrupt. If they hold to a high standard of holiness, they’re called sexists. The “attack from both sides” strategy has been around since Jesus and continues to be alive and well today.

I remember encountering an adolescent version of this in high school. I told my friends that I didn’t want to “hook up” with a particularly attractive girl that was interested in me. As a high school boy, turning down sex with a beautiful girl a year older than you was a radical stand. Yet, because I was striving to live a life of holiness, my classmates who couldn’t understand my stance began to accuse me of being gay.

My response to accusations of being gay was that I didn’t believe homosexuality was God’s design for human sexuality. I told them that I had nothing against a person who is gay, but I disagreed with a lifestyle where one chooses to engage in same-sex sexual activity. This also didn’t fit their paradigm of understanding. They didn’t know what to do with me. So then I started to receive accusations of being homophobic.

Can you see the “attack from both sides” strategy? One minute I am being accused of being gay and the next I’m being accused of being homophobic. This often happens when you try to live a biblical standard of holiness. A life of following Jesus doesn’t make sense to the world. It doesn’t fit all of their neat little judgmental categories. They don’t know which condemning box to put you in. But they did this with Jesus and John the Baptist, so we shouldn’t be surprised if it happens to us.

I fought for and advocated for women in the strongest way possible as I helped to create and launch a nonprofit that addresses human trafficking in the Baltimore area. I stood side-by-side with women who were some of the most progressive, feminist activists I’ve ever met. And as a staunch Pro-Life advocate, I continue to fight for women and their well-being but in a way that is foreign to most of my colleagues in the human trafficking world. I don’t fit into a nice neat category. This is true of most Christians, which is why the strategy of the enemy is often to attack from both sides.

The desire to stop being attacked from both sides often draws Christians into error and compromise. It’s a powerful temptation to want to be liked and thought of as compassionate and insightful by at least one side of the cultural battle. So some Christians begin to compromise truth in order to win favor with one side or the other. But that is not where Jesus stands.

Have you experienced the “attack from both sides” strategy of the enemy in your own life? If so, you’re in good company.

Contending For The Faith

Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt compelled to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people. For certain individuals whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord…

In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire.

In the very same way, on the strength of their dreams these ungodly people pollute their own bodies…

Jude 1:3-4, 7-8

Jude wanted to write to the church a message about the salvation that we share in Christ. Instead, because he saw an insidious kind of corruption and theology seeping into the church, he encouraged the believers to contend for the faith that had been handed down to them.

He saw a teaching slipping into the church community through people who were perverting God’s grace into a license for immorality. They were also rejecting Jesus alone as Christ and Lord. Sound familiar? It seems as though the same false teachings just get repackaged and reused in future generations. The enemy isn’t creative.

Jude mentions that the perversion of homosexuality and the sexual immorality of promiscuity and rape that made Sodom and Gomorrah infamous were the kinds of things that these false teachers were getting into. This is how they were abusing grace to be a license for immorality. They were spreading the lie that grace allowed them to participate in such things. Jude makes clear, however, that this sexual license was polluting their bodies.

Jude has a lot of colorful metaphors to describe these false teachers:

shepherds who feed only themselves. They are clouds without rain, blown along by the wind; autumn trees, without fruit and uprooted—twice dead. They are wild waves of the sea, foaming up their shame; wandering stars, for whom blackest darkness has been reserved forever.

Jude 1:12-13

Unfortunately, today we are much more accepting of these sorts of teachings in the church. We don’t have such colorful metaphors describing this sort of teaching and people who promote these ideas. We simply call it liberal protestant theology.

The truth is that grace empowers us to be set free from sin; it doesn’t keep us trapped in sin with a bonus get-out-of-jail-free card. The truth is that Jesus alone is Lord! He is the Way, the Truth and the Life. This is the Christian faith that was once and for all entrusted to us by the earliest believers. This is the faith we hold to despite the cultural milieu of our day.

What Does Love Look Like?

There was a quote from pastor Brian Zahnd that was going around on Facebook. It read:

“We all make errors in our theology; you and me both. So my recommendation is to err on the side of love. Why? Because… God is not doctrine. God is not denomination. God is not war. God is not law. God is not hate. God is not hell…God is love.”

Brian Zahnd

And while on the surface I agreed with this sentiment, the more I read it, the more it bothered me. There was a subtle, trojan-horse kind of lie buried in this quote that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. Then, after I noticed some of my friends on Facebook using this quote to justify sin, I realized what the problem was.

First, it is true that God is love, but we have manipulated the definition of love in our society to mean something very close to “permissiveness.” The faulty thinking is that if you really love someone, you let them do what they want. But we know that isn’t what real love looks like. Good, healthy parenting doesn’t let kids do whatever they want. That kind of permissiveness leads to all kinds of personal and social problems. And if enough parents buy into this faulty definition of love, as we have seen in our own culture, it creates society-wide problems.

In good and healthy marriages, spouses don’t say, “Sure, do whatever you want, sleep with whomever you want, go wherever you want and stay out as late as you want.” This level of permissiveness is not loving. It is the opposite of love.

When people equate “love” with “permissiveness” this quote gets twisted into meaning, “If you aren’t sure what to believe theologically, then just go with the theology that is most permissive. Because, after all, that’s what God is like. He’s the cool parent that lets you do what you want because He ‘loves’ you so much.” You can see the problem here, right? Permissiveness isn’t loving.

The second problem with this quote is that while it is true that God is love, it is only part of the truth about God. The other reality about God that must be held in tension with “God is love” is the truth that “God is holy.” We could just as easily say, “We all make errors in our theology; you and me both. So my recommendation is to err on the side of holiness. Why? Because God is Holy.” Actually, scripture does say something pretty close to this.

“But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy.'”

1 Peter 1:15-16

All manner of heresy in the Church has been created by not holding tensions. By holding one truth without the other, we fall into false teaching. We must hold together the truths that Jesus was God and man, not one over the other. We must hold together the truths that God is immanent and transcendent, not one over the other. We must hold together the truths that God is sovereign and He has given us free will. Over and over again, the fullness of truth in the Christian life is really about holding two paradoxical truths together in tension.

We must hold together the truth that God is love and that God is holy, not one over the other. The reason Jesus went to the cross is because God is love and God is holy. The reason someone had to pay for sin is because God is holy. The reason Jesus paid for our sin is because God is love.

God is not a permissive, single dad. God does not choose between being holy or being loving. He is both loving and holy simultaneously and continuously. God is not “okay” with our sin. God hates sin. God is holy. God doesn’t want sin to separate us from Him, and since He knows that is exactly what sin does, He paid the price for our sin so that He could draw us near to Him. God is love.

We would never recommend to someone to “err on the side of Jesus’s divinity over His humanity,” or to “err on the side of Jesus’s humanity over His divinity.” We would never recommend to someone to “err on the side of God’s transcendence over His immanence” or “err on the side of God’s immanence over His transcendence.” This sort of advice is nonsensical. To experience the fullness of what is true of God we must hold both simultaneously.

And the same is true of the nonsensical advice to “err on the side of love” as if leaving holiness behind somehow honors a holy God. It doesn’t! Don’t err on the side of love if doing so leaves holiness in the dust. Love should include holiness and holiness should include love. They are inseparable.

I see this Brian Zahnd quote being used a lot for people who are confused over the LGBTQ issue and whether homosexuality is sinful. Basically, people are saying if you aren’t sure about the homosexuality issue then err on the side of love (and of course by that they mean permissiveness).

I wish they meant love your LGBTQ friends regardless of your understanding of the sinfulness of their sexual choices. But they don’t. Usually, they mean to create the false dichotomy between love and holiness. What is forgotten is that to encourage holiness is loving because it is encouraging us to imitate God with our whole lives, including our sexuality. Why not err on the side of the truth of scripture? Jesus is The Truth. Why not err on the side of holiness? God is holy. All of these–truth, holiness, love–are things we can lean into because they all are attributes of God.

Real Change is Possible

Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.

Colossians 3:5-10

Paul was the primary apostle to the Gentiles. He loved that Gentiles were becoming followers of Jesus. He welcomed them into the Church with open arms. Yet, he also saw that they were coming into the Church with all kinds of baggage from their former lives as pagans in a Roman culture. He knew they would need to be intentional about “taking off the old self” and “putting on the new self.” Yet, he believed real change was possible.

We see the same message to the formerly pagan Gentiles who were now Christians in Corinth:

Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you wereBut you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

1 Corinthians 6:9-11

Paul believed real change was possible from their old selves. He believed change was possible for those who had been involved in sexual immorality, adultery, drunkenness, greed, and yes, even homosexuality.

I agree with Scripture and with Paul. Real change is possible! We don’t have to be trapped in our old life. We don’t have to try to justify our sin. We are new creations in Christ. Brand new! Freedom is available to all who would seek it!

If you are struggling to believe this, particularly about homosexuality and those facing LGBTQ issues, here are some real testimonies of real change: https://changedmovement.com