I love Jennifer Knapp. Always will. Her music became popular right about the time I was getting really serious about the Lord. I remember singing “Undo Me” at the top of my lungs, tears pouring down my face and drying just as quickly from the air flying into my car window (no air conditioning). I was 18 and struggling deeply with my own sin. I think I know every lyric of her albums from those days. A good friend of mine, and mutual fan of Jennifer’s, once corroborated with me to stalk her tour bus after a concert. With that same friend (shout out, Whit!!), we worked for hours to perfect a duet of “Faithful to Me” and sang it acapella in church one Sunday morning over a decade ago. Good times.
And so I am immensely sad that Jennifer has come out, verbal guns a blazin’ against the Christian community, as an unashamed homosexual. Google it. She’s been on Larry King, interviewed for Christianity Today and the Advocate and more, announcing to the world that she is both a practicing lesbian and a woman of faith. In each and every interview, she is thoughtful and intelligent and funny and engaging and even endearing. I still love the way she thinks, THAT she thinks (which too many people of faith do not, no offense. Not YOU, obviously! You’re friends with ME! Kidding.). But she’s still wrong. Sadly, tragically wrong.
I’ve been on the sidelines of the homosexuality debate for years, and I’ve never publicly chimed in. I have dear, close friends who have walked through this fiery trial, and by the grace of God, have come out of it without even the smell of smoke on them, to His glory. Today though, I have to say something. You see, there’s a watershed point that I have been waiting to hear from one of these super-smart, seminary-educated pastors representing us born-again Christians. They rarely fail to concede that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Sin is sin; they’re all trumpeting that too. Come on, that’s a given. But there’s something they’re not saying that I find myself shouting at the television every time this issue is covered in the news (even Fox News!). I’m sure I’m not the first person to think this, but in my opinion, it’s the hinge on which the whole argument swings:
IF YOU WANT TO CALL YOURSELF A FOLLOWER OF CHRIST, YOU HAVE TO DENY YOURSELF.
According to the Bible, we were all, each and every blessed one of us, born into sin. The Bible even says that sometimes the sins of our fathers (and mothers) are passed down to us from generation to generation. Bum deal, but we deserve it, like it or not. If you think you don’t deserve your sin nature (and the hell that comes with that package), you’re sadly and deeply mistaken. But Jesus said, “If anyone wants to follow after me, he [she] must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me” (Luke 9:23). That self denial looks a little different for each of us. We are all born into this world with proclivities toward different sins. But our sexual drives are something that almost all of us have in common, though some loins burn hotter than others. Now don’t get me wrong, our sexual desires, in and of themselves, are not the sin. In fact, they were placed there like a fire in our belly by a loving and gracious Heavenly Father. BUT! BIG BUT.
But our sexuality is not for us to waste however and whenever and with whomever we please. If we are going to follow Christ, we MUST deny ourselves. (I didn’t say it; Jesus did.) That means heterosexuals with raging desires to fornicate in backseats before they are married; and in kind, it applies to homosexuals with similar raging desires. The whole thing is–we are called to deny ourselves, to deny our fleshly desires that are in opposition to how He instructs us to live. And for anyone who is lucky enough to have read the Bible, you know what that means about sex. This is not an easy thing. It’s a long, hard battle for some of us. But the good news is….that’s what Grace is for, for forgiveness of sins! That’s why Christ died–to pay the debt we cannot pay. And the even better news is that He rose again! He has conquered life and death and everything in between. To receive that forgiveness and that same power that brought Him back to life is to invite Life into our own sad, sick selves. To empty ourselves OF ourselves is exactly the point–that the Holy Spirit of God would fully take residence in us. I know from personal experience, it’s Him that does all the heavy lifting. That is the most beautiful gift offered to every sinner everywhere.
I would never hesitate to crown myself the chief of sinners. I made some serious mistakes in this department when I was young. Over and over again, I repented for giving in to my fleshly desires. Over and over again, I turned away from those longings and CHOSE to get back on the narrow path yet again, to abandon the way which seemed natural to me. It wasn’t easy at all. Still to this day, it was the most fiery temptation I have ever faced. When I was a freshman in college, I remember sitting on the fountain outside my dormitory at Oklahoma Baptist University in the midnight hour, singing and crying out to God to give me the strength to stay away from the “bad boys”, and to please, please, please, send my husband quickly. I remember feeling like if I didn’t get married soon, I would either explode or I would fail to continue to walk in his ways. I actually begged Him to send my husband soon because I didn’t know how much longer I could take it. I was absolutely and utterly dependent on Him during that season of my life, and it was awesome. I learned so much, things that will stay with me for the rest of my life. God was kind enough to fast-track my husband to me the summer after my freshman year, and to keep him in a faraway state so I couldn’t sabotage the whole thing with my raging hormones, and we were married the summer after my sophomore year. I was definitely in that category of “It is better to get married than to burn!” Ha! This makes it sound like I got married basically because I couldn’t wait any longer for those particular “benefits,” and I guess that’s true, in part. But then there are a hundred other reasons why it was perfect timing for US to get married so young. We’re going on 12 very happy years now, so it seems to have worked out for us, but I’m acutely aware that it’s because He has always been the third strand in our relationship. “A cord of three strands is not quickly broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:12)
So back to my old friend Jennifer. The thing is, yes there is grace for all kinds of sinners. His grace is sufficient, one of her songs celebrates. But the point is not to embrace grace so that we can go on sinning and therefore trampling on the Son of God, spitting on the Cross (Romans 6:1-3). The point is that we MUST deny ourselves of those sinful longings, and then “go and sin no more,” believing that what He has to offer us is so much better, so much more enjoyable. Over and over and over again in our journey to become more like Him, the great metamorphosis, we must turn away from our own ways, one by one, as painful as it is sometimes to tear those things off of us, and trust in His goodness. Sometimes it’s hard to imagine that what He has for us could be better than what we have already made of our lives. I pray for Jennifer that she will come back to Grace, come back to Him, come back to living a life of self-denial in order to follow Him. After all, he gave up the very most basic of “human rights”–life itself to clear a way for us. He IS the way. In order to live a truly happy life, I am convinced that we must take this scary plunge, only to discover that what he has for us on the other side of self is SO MUCH BETTER, better than life even, “for He is able [and willing!] to do exceedingly, abundantly more than we could ever imagine” (Ephesians 3:20). I know that first-hand. So did C.S. Lewis, whom I’ll leave you with:
“If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desire, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
–The Weight of Glory and other addresses, by C.S. Lewis. (The Macmillian Company, New York 1949).