Sexual Identity: Community and Church Issues, Sexual Identity & Fear

Just this week, an article appeared in Bloomberg News with a provocative title: “It’s Official: This Election is Driving Americans Nuts.”[1]  The article goes on to describe a recent study undertaken by the American Psychological Society about the major causes of fear in American citizens.  Normally, these stresses include financial burdens and work-related obligations and concerns.  But this year, for a significant number of people, the primary cause of stress is presidential politics.

While the presidential election has created great stress, in my own conversations with Christians, there is perhaps even greater alarm over the agenda of sexual liberation and gender identity movements.  The questions I am asked most often about Christian higher education are ones related to threats posed by government bathroom policies or anti-discrimination regulations overriding our traditional commitments to Christian views of gender and sexuality.  None of these concerns should be minimized, and all of them raise important questions which require both courage and wisdom to answer. 

And yet we also need to remind ourselves of the great promises of scripture. When Jesus gives his great commission to the disciples, he addresses them as those who were both worshipping him and doubting (Matthew 28:17).[2]  This fear and doubt was nothing new for them, and the fact that it was combined with authentic worship should be a kind of encouragement to us.

Jesus confronts these doubts even while giving them a counter-cultural commission.  We know the commission well – making disciples of all nations, baptizing and teaching all that Jesus commanded – but perhaps we need to be reminded of how Jesus begins and ends this commission. 

He begins, of course, by reminding them of his total authority over heaven and earth, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.”  This claim, while comprehensive, was really nothing new in Matthew’s gospel.  In Matthew 7, Matthew shows us Jesus teaching, and those who heard him remarked at his unmatched authority as a teacher.  Perhaps more significantly, in Matthew 9,Jesus claims to have the authority of the “Son of Man,” that conquering Messianic warrior pictured in Daniel 7.  Even more astonishingly, Jesus demonstrated his own authority to forgive sins.  C.S. Lewis is especially memorable on this point.  He explains quite vividly what Jesus’ forgiveness of sins must mean:

One part of the claim tends to slip past us unnoticed because we have heard it so often that we no longer see what it amounts to. I mean the claim to forgive sins: any sins. Now unless the speaker is God, this is really so preposterous as to be comic. We can all understand how a man forgives offences against himself. You tread on my toes and I forgive you, you steal my money and I forgive you. But what should we make of a man, himself unrobbed and untrodden on, who announced that he forgave you for treading on other men’s toes and stealing other men’s money? Asinine fatuity is the kindest description we should give of his conduct. Yet this is what Jesus did. He told people that their sins were forgiven, and never waited to consult all the other people whom their sins had undoubtedly injured. He unhesitatingly behaved as if He was the party chiefly concerned, the person chiefly offended in all offences. This makes sense only if He really was the God whose laws are broken and whose love is wounded in every sin. In the mouth of any speaker who is not God, these words would imply what I can only regard as a silliness and conceit unrivalled by any other character in history.[3]

The point of all this is to say that Matthew has reminded us again and again about the divine authority of Jesus.  He is the promised Messiah, and He is God.  But in the context of the Great Commission these truths take on new resonances.  Now Jesus is asking his disciples to teach and proclaim Jesus’ commands.  The conflict between those and the world’s ideas can hardly be avoided.

And so it is a profound comfort to know that this one who has all authority is also the one who promises to be with his disciples always.  That final bookend to the great commission would have had remarkable relevance to the first disciples sent off to encounter the world.  And it should have the same relevance to us today.

So yes, the challenges are great.  It is impossible to ignore the dangers that lie ahead for those committed to Jesus and his word.  And we, like the disciples, probably mingle doubt with our worship even now.  But let us not forget the ultimate divine authority of Jesus, and let us press on without fear, knowing that by the Holy Spirit, Jesus “will be with you always, to the end of the age.”[4]

Jonathan Master is dean of the school of divinity and professor of theology at Cairn University. In addition, he is executive editor of the online magazine Place for Truth and is host of the podcast Theology on the Go.  He is the author of A Question of Consensus (Fortress Press), and editor of a new volume, entitled, The God We Worship (P&R Publishing).

[2] “And when they saw him they worshipped him, but some doubted.”

[3] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Harper Collins, 1952) 52.

[4] Matthew 26:28b.


Jonathan Master