DO YOU REMEMBER THE DOWNWARD SPIRAL
THAT PAUL DESCRIBES IN ROMANS 1?
IT BEGINS BY SUPPRESSING THE TRUTH ABOUT GOD
THOUGH HIS GLORY IS CLEARLY SEEN
SO THAT MEN ARE WITHOUT EXCUSE
WHY DO WE SUPPRESS THE TRUTH?
WHY DO WE EXCHANGE THE TRUTH FOR A LIE?
SO WE CAN RUN AFTER OUR IDOLS
SO WE CAN WORSHIP THE CREATED THING
INSTEAD OF THE CREATOR,
WHO ALONE IS WORTHY OF WORSHIP
THE ILLUSTRATION GIVEN IN ROMANS 1
IS THE PRACTICE OF HOMOSEXUALITY
FOR SO LONG I ONLY APPLIED THIS PASSAGE TO THAT SIN
BUT I HAD A LOG IN MY EYE
EVERY TIME I EXCHANGE THE TRUTH OF GOD FOR A LIE
TO CHASE MY IDOLS
I TOO GO INTO A DOWNWARD SPIRAL
I TOO LOSE THE LIGHT
I TOO LOSE THE POWER
I TOO EMBRACE MISERY
OPEN MY EYES LORD
SO I MAY RUN IN THE PATH OF FREEDOM
Last week Leslie Vernick and I kayaked down toward the village as the sun was setting. Concerned it would get too dark, I said, “We’d better turn back.”
We turned to behold crimson everywhere. A sudden glory. Leslie said, “I feel like we’re headed toward heaven.”
We paddled in silence, breathing in His beauty.
I thought about Romans 1 and Paul’s statement that the glory of God can be clearly seen everywhere so men are without excuse. Then I thought about a book I’d been reading by Wesley Hill and his struggle to live a celibate life though he had strong sexual desires for the same sex. I knew when we got back to the cottage I wanted to discuss the book with Leslie, for I’m naming it in my top five books of the year.
We got into our pajamas and cradled mugs of hot spiced tea in front of the fire. I pulled out Wesley’s book, telling her the heart of it.
Wes is a gay man who has chosen to live a celibate life because of his love for God and his faith in His Word. He wrote it because so many Christian testimonies on this subject end up with the individual becoming a happy heterosexual. That is not his story. His is a life full of temptation, loneliness, and yet, power and joy.
He is open and honest all the way through the book with his struggles, his temptations, and yet he keeps choosing to live a celibate life. He sees the lie that so many who are gay have succumbed to, that “suppressing their temptations lead to a lesser life.” He quotes C. S. Lewis who said it is those who believe that lie from the world that actually have the “lesser life.” They miss the light, the power, the intimacy with God. Yet still, Wes told of his struggle with feelings of unworthiness because of his bent and broken sexuality. He wonders how, with these feelings, he can be loved by God. Then he tells of a break-through point.
Leslie leaned forward. “What was it?”
He quoted a priest. Here, let me find it.
I searched for my highlighting at the close of the book.
Here it is – the priest was Thomas Hopko and he encouraged gays “to see their refusal to act out their feelings as part of an extraordinary opportunity for imitating Christ and participating in His saving Passion.”
The book ends in such victory – not that he doesn’t recognize an ongoing struggle with temptation and loneliness, but he does begin to see his struggle as a gift, for it presses him closer to God and he is indeed, experiencing Gospel transformation. He is also experiencing the joy of God’s pleasure – and that this life he has chosen by faith is not less, but more.
(IF YOU’D LIKE TO SEE WESLEY HILL INTERVIEWED ABOUT HIS BOOK, HERE ARE THREE SHORT VERY INTERESTING CLIPS. HE REALIZED HIS PRINCIPLES WERE IMPACTING MANY CHRISTIANS, NOT JUST THOSE WHO STRUGGLE WITH HOMOSEXUALITY)
I asked Leslie her thoughts on my “book report.” She said:
“He chose the power of the Gospel over the power of the lie. This,” Leslie continued, “This lesson is not just for gays.”
“Yes. He talked about how he appreciated one pastor who said, ‘I am not going to single out the practicing homosexuals in our congregation who have no desire to change any more than I am going to single out the practicing materialists in our congregation who have no desire to change.’ It is so easy to just see the sins of others and not our own. When I studied Romans 1 for so many years, I applied it only to practicing homosexuals. I missed the log in my own eye. When I indulge in overeating, I am exchanging the truth of God for a lie, believing my idol of food can better comfort me than the God of All Comfort. Or when I exaggerate, to make myself look better in the eyes of others, bowing down to the god of approval, I too lose power and joy. I too move into darkness.
Leslie nodded, saying:
I have seen in my counseling practice how sexual abusers exchange the truth of God for a lie, telling themselves their victims like the abuse. We have such a propensity to deceive ourselves so we can run after idols.
My thoughts turned to the biography I’d read the summer before of John Newton, [the slave-trader who repented and went on to write the lyrics for the hymn Amazing Grace] and how amazed I was that it took him so long to wake up to the realization that engaging in slavery was sin. I told Leslie about it:
It took decades for Newton to see the lie he had exchanged for the truth. Though he was a proclaiming Christian, would kidnap Africans, praying for favor with God to seize them. He was the captain of a slave ship that stowed the slaves so mercilessly, like they were lumber instead of living people.
I remember a letter he wrote to his wife Polly from his slave-trading boat. He said:
“I feel I’ve been shut up with almost as many unclean creatures as Noah was, and in a much smaller ark”.
Leslie paused, and then said,
That’s a perfect example for your book, Dee. Newton exchanged the truth of God for a lie.
“That Africans were not really people.”
“Yes,” she agreed, “lies help us pursue our idols.”
“And then they blind us and strip us of the power of the Spirit.”
EXCHANGING THE TRUTH OF GOD FOR A LIE
We do it all the time.
One of my favorite remarks from you last week was just Saturday, when Susan was responding to her sisters on the blog who were empathizing with the pain she felt at seeing how she could make an idol of her children. Keller’s sermon had helped her to see how easy it is for us as mothers to “exchange the truth of God for a lie,” by making our children the most important thing. Susan responded to her empathetic sisters like this:
I thank you for your empathy and your prayers for me, but don’t feel too sorry for me because this is a good thing for me to be seeing the idolatry in my life! What Keller said about the depth of the wound being your own making….yes, people, my children, can say and do things to hurt my feelings and it does hurt, but when the wound cuts so deep that it makes me feel like I just want to go home to heaven or when it makes me feel like a complete failure and an idiot and like I have no worth or significance, then there is a bigger problem there, and now I see it. I have made idols out of my children because I look to them, as Keller put it, to “functionally” save me.
We all tend to worship the created thing instead of the Creator. And it wonderful when we begin to see it, because then there can be healing. It is akin to being sick for a long time and finally figuring out what is wrong and what can be done about it.
Romans 1 is not just a helpful passage for those who have made the same sex the object of worship, it is for every single one of us.
What stands out to you from the above and why?
PART I. REVIEW
We’re doing some challenging material, so I don’t want to move too fast. Last week we looked at Leah, if you were with us, and how she kept chasing something that she thought would fulfil her, and only became more and more miserable. I would say one of the best comments from last week came from Cyndi, and many of you agreed!
Leah thought that she needed Jacob to love her to be happy, to fill her up. As she continues to experience God’s gifts…son after son, she still is grasping to that ONE “need.”
Demanding what we do not have keeps us from being joyful over what we do have.
1. What were some of the lies that Leah embraced that robbed her of joy?
2. What was the truth that she finally embraced that brought her into freedom?
3. CHALLENGE: WHAT TRUTH OF GOD DID LEAH EXCHANGE FOR A LIE?
PART II. BIBLE STUDY
We’re going to look first at Romans 1, then turn to ourselves to see how we too have the propensity to exchange the truth of God for a lie.
4. Read Romans 1:16-30
A. What does Paul say about “the gospel” in verse 16?
Remember that the gospel has a power to save us not only from the penalty of sin, but the power of sin.
B. Why is God angry according to Romans 1:18-20?
C. In verse 21 we are told that “although they knew God” they did not… What two things did they refuse to do and what did it lead to? (verses 21-22)
D. The example given in verses 24 through 28 is the practice of homosexuality. Find the three phrases that begin with “God gave them up,” or “God gave them over” and trace the downward spiral.
E. What else happened to them according to verses 29-32?
Again, this is not just about practicing homosexuality. When you see the final result in verse 32, you know that is true of those who have embraced racism, abortion, materialism, gluttony, and all kinds of sin. When we sin we encourage others to sin, either by our words or our model. Sin spreads like poison ivy.
When I was discussing this passage with Leslie Vernick, she kept talking about verse 25: EXCHANGING THE TRUTH OF GOD FOR A LIE. This is what we must be aware of in ourselves. I asked Leslie to give me a practical example from her own life. Quickly, she painted this scenario:
I’m in line at the store, in a hurry, and the clerk is slow. I feel myself getting angry, irritated. That’s the signal from my body that my idol is operating, that I am worshipping something besides God, that I am exchanging the truth of God for a lie.
So what do you do?
I ask myself what the idol is. In this case it is myself, my agenda, my schedule.
First, confess the idol, the lie. I am not more important than this clerk. I am not loving her as God does. Then I must repent, asking Him to help me turn and love this clerk. I want to worship the Creator instead of the idol of myself and my own agenda.
5. Can you give a simple example, as Leslie did, of how you might exchange the truth of God for a lie and then, therefore, sin?
PART III. TESTIMONY FROM ELIZABETH
Elizabeth is another blogger who has been with us for some time. In many ways Elizabeth is a mentor’s dream mentee, for she studies hard, has a heart eager to respond, and does indeed show the power the Gospel has to transform. As you read her testimony, and how she is seeing gospel transformation, consider how it happened, how the truth of God moved in to replace the lie. For the same can happen for you!
HOW GOD HELPED ELIZABETH SEE THE STONES
Before this study with Dee, I had overlooked the idol beneath several relationship struggles in my life. Three major family relations in particular, I had spent years living in my own state of self pity and hurt, never realizing the idol I had covered up was approval. My feelings of rejection had escalated to the point that I was no longer actively trying to get approval, yet I longed for it. As we progressed through the study, God began to show me how I had been holding these people at arms length, an invisible wall between us, trying to protect myself from the pain of their seemingly absent approval. I had become bitter, angry, cold.
God used the story of the prodigal sons to melt my heart. I saw that I am the younger son, running away from home, trying to find quick fulfillment from worldly pleasures. I am the older son, judging others harshly, with-holding forgiveness and trying to make myself beautiful by performing well and doing good works. As God has opened my eyes to this and my self-righteousness and anger have begun to melt, and I can feel compassion for the younger sons in my life as well as humility for my pride. I can see we are all lost at some point, but welcomed home by a Father who dearly loves us, and there is no price for any of us left to pay.
God has shown me, that it is ALWAYS my move. This has been monumental for me. For as long as I can remember, I have hid behind a protective shield of self-righteousness, waiting for the offender to seek me out, to apologize. When God used a Keller sermon to speak this truth to me, it was the last thing I wanted to hear! But it has changed my actions nearly every day since. It is always my move, to break the silence when I would rather sulk. It is always my move, to go up to my child’s room and open my arms for an embrace, when there has been disobedience and harsh words.
AN ILLUSTRATION OF GOSPEL TRANSFORMATION
After one of those rough days with deliberate disobedience and melt downs at every turn, my anger fuming…I got my child and took her for ice cream, a RARE treat. When we got there she said: “WHY would you take me here after EVERYTHING I did today, Mamma?” And God gave me the chance to say: “Because my love for you has NOTHING to do with how you act.”
WHAT ELSE WOULD YOU LIKE TO SHARE?
The more I see my need for grace, and His outpouring of unmerited favor–the more I start to in some tiny way GET the Gospel–the more I can give it to others. Like the woman caught in adultery, I have tried to fill my void with other loves. It seems to work for a time—lots of praise for my good works, my children, my marriage…but it isn’t enough. It is a mask I have tried but found does not work. But He has come for me. He has welcomed me into His embrace, He has removed my mask, and He clothes me with His righteousness, and that is more than enough.
I am completely dependent on the Holy Spirit in me to obey God, and completely responsible to obey. My part is to be honest about my sin and what the Holy Spirit is revealing to me. I must learn to recognize when my eyes are looking at other loves, and to instead fix my affection on my Greater Love. My idols cannot be removed, only replaced by a greater love. I do this practically by finding Scripture that applies to my specific areas of sin—for example, replacing my judging thoughts with “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.” Psalm 19:14. There is no quick fix though. I find myself struggling daily to die to Self, displace myself from the inner throne of my heart. And yet, I am thankful for the conviction of my sin. I would never even desire to turn my eyes towards Him, without Him initiating it in me, through His Spirit. I am utterly dependent on Him. “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” Galatians 6:14
6. Comment on Elizabeth’s testimony. What stood out to you and why?
PART IV. THE SERMON
The sermon I’d really like you to listen to is 2.50, though I think if you contacted them at Redeemer and told them you couldn’t afford it, they would let you have it. It’s a classic on the Gospel and it is on Romans 1:16 and more. Keller says the more we understand the Gospel, the greater its power will be in our life. So that is 2.50 well spent!
Here it is: Link
7. Keller makes three points. Comment on each.
Alternative free sermon. Elizabeth talked about how the story of the prodigal sons impacted her. Here is a free Keller sermon on that. When I was reading Wesley Hill’s book he kept referring to Henry Nouwen, who also struggled with homosexuality and wrote the amazing book The Return of the Prodigal. Nouwen is the one who sat in front of Rembrandt’s Return of the Prodigal for days, saying the painting changed his life.
Here is Keller’s opening message on The Prodigal Sons. It’s free: Link
8. If you listen to the above, what stood out to you?
9. What is your take-a-way for the week and why?