Here's something: The idea that you can have Jesus without changing is problematic. Further than that: The idea that you can have Jesus without changing who you are is epidemic.
I'm not talking about personality or idiosyncrasies or what-not. I'm talking about who we are.
I've been thinking about this for a couple of weeks, actually, ever since seeing a comment on a post at Scot McKnight's fine blog related to a recent book on whether Christianity can cure or has ever "cured" homosexuality. I'm too lazy to look it up, but it was one line in the comment, and I've held off posting my thoughts on this because, frankly, I'm not sure I want the grief this touchy subject inevitably provokes.
Prof. McKnight's post was reviewing the book, which explores the claims of Christian "ex-gay" ministries, and the question posed is "Can homosexuals really change who they are?" (or, rather, "Can homosexuals really be changed from who they are?"). This post isn't about debating that issue, really, and I'd probably get my conservative credentials membership card asked for by admitting I tend to think homosexuality can be an orientation (for lack of a better word; perhaps nature is better? maybe condition?) one is born with. But the commenter in that post said this:
"Why are we even assuming homosexuality is something that should be changed?"
That's a good question. It gets to the heart of the matter, which is, I think, "This is who I am. Why should I have to change who I am?"
And my concern is -- and please, those already chomping at the bit to rebut or rebuke me, hold off as I express it -- What else is there to be changed but who we are?
The problem, in this particular issue, arrives in the discourse, because it can easily become, for those arguing that homosexuality is sinful, that it is homosexuals who must change who they are, without acknowledging that total transformation is not just for the sexually perverted. It's for all us perverts. There's nothing to change but who we are.
When one makes the connection between New Testament repentance and New Testament redemption, the picture is not, at its heart, better behaviors or better thoughts or more success in life. It's not about becoming a better us. The picture is nothing less radical than resurrection. It is going from death to life.
This goes for all of us. Maybe you aren't born with a burgeoning attraction to those of the same sex (and maybe some, or all, of those with that attraction weren't born with it either), but the thing is "All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God," and sin is not just something we do, but something we are. This is why He who knew no sin had to become sin for us on the cross. Not just for those people. But for us people. For the liars and cheats and hypocrites, for the proud and the hateful and the bigoted.
For homosexuals, yes. But for heterosexuals too. In this case, it is not modes of sin that separate us, but the sinful nature which unites us, having the same need. "For in Adam, all have died."
And yet, again, this is something we all must acknowledge. At least, all of us who consider ourselves followers of Jesus. When someone says "Why do you think a gay person following Jesus needs to stop being gay?" our answer should not begin with some variety of "Because Jesus makes us more moral," but because "Jesus gives us new life."
Why do homosexuals need to change? Because sin is part of the old life, and we are supposed to nail that to the cross. Of no other thing the Bible calls sin are we okay with someone saying "Well, this is who I am, so God is fine with it." We can't say that about idolaters, adulterers, prostitutes, drunkards, or swindlers -- we expect the life in Christ to run counter to such behavioral identities. On the so-called "tolerant" side of culture, homosexuality gets a pass for reasons I am unclear on. I hate to throw out accusations, but I think it is largely because homosexuality is more sympathetic than these other things. We don't want to hurt anyone's feelings.
I am assuming, perhaps wrongly, that someone reading this is thinking "This is easy for him to write." It is not, I assure you. I may not struggle with same-sex attraction, but my nature is just as whacked. I am proud, arrogant, foolish; I have a bent toward impatience and self-uncontrol. I am plagued by worry. I am frequently idle.
Those things are who I am, and I have felt physical pain over my struggle with them (and other defining sins). I have shed tears of anguish, not just remorse, over them. I may not share the struggle of homosexuality, but I share the struggle of sin.
We all should, and anyone who hasn't is a liar and a fraud.
"Wretched men and women that we are, who will rescue us from this body of death?!"
This is easier to write than it is to do, no question. No one should ever say total transformation is easy. It's not even something we can do ourselves. But it is something we should believe in, trust God for, and, well yeah, work at. But, good Lord, it is not easy. Being changed from who we are is never easy. It took a perfect man being tortured to death to even make possible.
Our flesh is weak. Is our spirit willing?
I think this is best interpreted in the light of this. There is a correlation.
Behavior is just the surface. It is fruit. What God wants is our heart, and what he wants to do with it is bring it from death to life.
In nearly every case of Jesus' call to repent, the thing that must be given up to follow is the thing most held dear.
There is nothing else Christ wants to change but who we are.