The Truth About Same-Sex Marriage
Genesis 1:26-28; Revelation 22:17
September 26, 2004
My story today begins a long way from Oak Park, and a long way from our current controversies. In order to get the proper perspective, let’s go all the way back to the beginning of the Bible. To quote a line from The Sound of Music: “Let’s start at the very beginning, that’s a very good place to start.” And this is what we find: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). That’s important because there are three questions every person must answer one way or another:
Where did I come from?
Why am I here?
Where am I going?
The first question is the most important because if you don’t know where you came from, you won’t know why you are here, and you’ll have no idea where you are going. Genesis answers the first question very clearly. The story unfolds in six days of creation:
On the first day, God separated the light from the darkness.
On the second day, God separated the sky from the water.
On the third day, God separated the land from the water.
On the fourth day, God set the stars in the sky.
On the fifth day, God created the fish and the birds.
On the sixth day, God created the land animals.
And on the sixth day, as the crowning act of creation, God created Adam and Eve. And this is where our journey really begins.
These verses deserve careful attention because they explain what God intended from the beginning:
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground”(Genesis 1:26-28).
Note the words “image” and “likeness” The Hebrew words are synonyms that tell us that man is created to be like God. One of those Hebrew words was sometimes used for a statue. Just as a statue is the “image” of what it portrays, even so we are the “image” of God on earth. But what does that mean in practical terms? First, the image of God means that we are forever separated from the animals. If you have a dog, no doubt you love your dog. If you have a cat, you probably love your cat. You may have hamsters or rabbits or even a snake or a lizard or a frog or some goldfish. Your pets are not made in the image of God. You are, they aren’t. There is a great gulf fixed between Adam and Eve and all other creatures. That gulf is labeled “the image of God.”
Second, the image of God enables us to know God personally. There is in each of us the ability to know God and the “God-shaped vacuum” that makes us want to know him. Again, your dog doesn’t pray and your cat doesn’t seek the Lord. They can’t. A dog is a dog and a cat is a cat, and they can never know God personally in the way we can know God. The same is true for horses and hippos and bobcats and earthworms. Only humans have self-consciousness and God-consciousness. Only we can make conscious moral choices to do good or to do evil. And only we can know the God who made us.
Third, the image of God imparts true significance to every individual wholly apart from our circumstances. Every person who is born on the earth is made in God’s image regardless of race, color, nationality, gender, age, or physical condition. Everyone who hears my words is made in God’s image. Everyone who lives in Oak Park—black or white, young or old, male or female, gay or straight—everyone is made in God’s image. It is your birthright as a member of the human race. You are made in God’s image and no one can take that away from you. We know that each person has worth and value because he or she is made in the very image of God. As C. S. Lewis notes, you’ve never met a “mere mortal” and you never will. In God’s eyes there are no “little people.” Everyone matters to him because his image is in each person—small or great, rich or poor, young or old, educated or illiterate, healthy or sick, strong or weak, and his thoughtful care extends from the moment of conception when the unborn child is just a microscopic bundle of cells all the way to the moment of physical death.
Fourth, the image of God teaches us what marriage is meant to be. Three times verse 27 uses the word “created,” thus emphasizing the unique thing God was doing in creating man as male and female. Here we find the basic pattern of life established. Humanity is forever divided into two groups—male and female. God designed marriage to be one man with one woman for life. The details will be fleshed out later; the basic principle appears in this verse.
Verse 27 presents humanity as male and female, both bearing the image of God. There is equality here and also a crucial difference. Boys are not girls and girls are not boys. To fully enter into this truth requires that we raise masculine men and feminine women. This touches how we act and dress and how we should properly relate to each other. And it also teaches us that we deeply need each other.
Fifth, we learn that the first biblical purpose for marriage is procreation. Verse 28 explains that we are to “be fruitful and multiply” and fill the earth. But verse 27 shows us the only way that can happen—as men and women come together in marriage to bring forth children with God’s blessing. Marriage is for more than procreation, but it is not less than that.
This chapter focuses only on Day six of creation. We first see Adam alone in paradise, which God says is not good (v. 18). He needs a companion, so God promises a “helper” suitable for him. The Hebrew word means “one who comes alongside to complete what is lacking.” That “helper” is not a man or a group of men. No man was ever meant to find his deepest significance in his friends at work or his fishing buddies. Nor is he meant to find it in one woman after another. God’s answer to Adam’s loneliness is a woman, one woman and only one woman. When Adam names the animals (vs. 19-20), he discovers the perfect balance of God’s created order:
“There is Mr. Giraffe and Mrs. Giraffe.”
“There is Mr. Alligator and Mrs. Alligator.”
“There is Mr. Baboon and Mrs. Baboon.”
“But for Adam no suitable helper was found” (v. 20b). So God puts Adam to sleep, takes a rib and fashions Eve, and brings her to Adam who exclaims, “Aha!” or “Behold!” or “Wow!” Then he adds, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man” (v. 23). Don’t miss the significance of that last phrase. The man is created first, and the woman is created from the man. No wonder Adam was stunned. As he looked at Eve, he saw someone who was just like him, but amazingly different. Equal but not identical.
Then comes the single most important verse in the Bible relating to marriage: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh” (v. 24). Here is God’s definition of marriage. It is one man and one woman becoming one flesh. The Bible offers no other definition, and no other definition is possible. This is God’s blueprint for marriage. It is the Creator’s original design. And we see a pattern developing:
Humanity is divided into male and female.
They (the man and the woman) are to multiply and to rule over creation.
The woman is created out of the man.
The man leaves his parents for the woman.
The man and the woman form the marriage relationship.
As we turn the page, we come to the entrance of sin into the world. We can summarize the passage this way:
The serpent tempted Eve and deceived her.
She took the fruit and ate it.
She gave the fruit to Adam and he ate it.
Thus did sin enter the human race.
Note how the man and the woman are both complicit in this act of disobedience. Eve sins first, but it is Adam whom God holds responsible because he is the spiritual leader of the marriage (see Romans 5:12-19 for the parallel between Adam and Christ). Both partners sin, both experience shame and guilt, both suffer punishment, and the first couple is cast out of the Garden of Eden together.
But there is one other fact to notice. When God pronounces judgment upon the serpent, he adds a note of hope: “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel” (v. 15). The “you” in this passage refers to Satan. The woman is Eve. The offspring refers to the two lines of humanity—the godly and the ungodly. But who is the “he” who will crush Satan’s head? The “he” refers to Eve’s ultimate offspring, the promised Messiah who will bring salvation to the world. Though he will not be born for thousands of years, this promise refers to the coming of Christ, the “seed of the woman” who will through his death and resurrection vanquish the devil and crush his head. This is the first gospel promise in the Bible.
And note how it is not the man alone or the woman alone. But it is the woman who gives birth (through her descendant, Mary) to the Man who brings salvation. The pattern is clear: Man and woman are together in God’s plan from the beginning. They cannot and must not be separated. And there is no substitute for the man-woman relationship in God’s plan.
This famous passage describes the birth of Jesus through the conception of the Holy Spirit while Mary was still a virgin. This happened just as Isaiah had prophesied 700 years earlier. And this fulfilled the early promise of Genesis 3:15. And you can see the perfect parallel in creation and redemption:
Out of the man comes the woman.
Out of the woman comes “the man” who brings salvation.
It is not the man alone or the woman alone, but the man and the woman together who bring about God’s plan of salvation.
One day some Pharisees came to Jesus with a question about divorce. “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?” (v. 3). They wanted to know under what circumstances divorce was permissible. Jesus’ reply is very instructive for our purposes:
“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate (Matthew 19:4-6).
Jesus quotes Genesis 1:27 and Genesis 2:24 to answer the Pharisees. For him the matter is solved conclusively by going back to the beginning of the Bible. Those who claim Jesus had nothing to say about homosexuality are quite wrong. This passage establishes beyond question that marriage (and thus all lawful sexual relations) is between one man and one woman, inside the marriage relationship. Homosexuality is ruled out by definition because God designed the human race so that the fundamental relationship would be one man and one woman coming together in marriage.
Here is a classic New Testament passage on marriage. It begins with an exhortation for husbands to love their wives (v. 25). Immediately Paul veers in a new direction: “Just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless” (vv. 25b-27). Paul views marriage as a picture of the love that exists between Christ (the groom) and the church (the bride). This means that God has something in mind for marriage that goes far beyond sexual fulfillment and personal happiness. Two weeks ago, I told you that your marriage is not about you; it’s about God. Last week I told you that sex is not about you; it’s about God. Now we can see how those two concepts come together. Marriage is a “window in time” through which others gasp a glimpse of eternal truth. Christian marriage is a divine object lesson through which the world learns something about the nature of Christ and his love for his bride, the church. That picture demands a one man-one woman marriage. Same-sex marriage destroys the picture of Christ and the church. Note that in verse 31 Paul quotes Genesis 2:24, the same verse Jesus quotes in Matthew 19. Thus both Jesus and Paul find the basis of marriage from the very same passage. Marriage is a divinely-intended mystery (v. 32) that displays profound spiritual truth through the union of one man and one woman.
The final piece of evidence comes from the final page of the Bible. Revelation 22:17 is only four verses from the end of the Bible. It contains the final gospel invitation: “The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ And let him who hears say, ‘Come!’ Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life.” The Spirit refers to the Holy Spirit, and the “bride” is the bride of Christ, the church. This is the same image Paul uses in Ephesians 5. Thus on the very last page of the Bible, we find the same truth that we found on the first page. The church is feminine because brides are feminine because marriage is between one man and one woman because God created the human race male and female. It all fits together.
Here is my conclusion: The male-female, one man-one woman relationship is fundamental to the entire Bible. It starts on the first page and continues to the last page. Rather than being some small side issue that we can ignore, it is part of the very fiber of the biblical message.
Until you grasp the truth about the male-female, one man-one woman relationship, you will never properly understand …
The purpose of creation.
Why God made you.
What it means to be male or female.
The purpose of marriage.
How sin entered the world.
The promise of salvation.
The coming of Christ.
The nature of salvation.
The relationship between marriage and the church.
The offer of salvation.
All those things are bound together with interwoven strands of biblical truth. They cannot be separated. It’s all of God, it’s all true, and it all belongs together. God created us male and female so that we would relate together in marriage as husband and wife. This is God’s plan. And it is good.
The Bible is not like a cafeteria where you can order a little of this and a little of that. You can’t say, “I’d like a little God and a little Jesus, and an extra helping of salvation, but let’s skip that part about one man-one woman marriage.” God doesn’t offer his Word to us on that basis. It all goes together.
In preaching this sermon, you’ll notice that I’ve not spent any time trying to show you what is wrong. I’ve tried to show you what it is right. God established the pattern of one man-one woman marriage on the sixth day of creation. Every variation from that is a move in the wrong direction. Same-sex marriage isn’t marriage at all, from God’s point of view. And for those who are not convinced by what I have said, please don’t take my word for it. Go back and read the Bible. Start in Genesis. Check out every passage I’ve mentioned. See what God really says. Take the Bible as it is written and see if what I have said is true.
Us vs. Them
Before going any further, I want to comment on the “Us vs. Them” mentality that some people felt this Sunday. We know we had members of the gay and lesbian community who not only came to protest, many also came inside the sanctuary for the worship service. In moments like that, it’s easy to think that it’s Calvary vs. the gay community. But it’s not that way and it’s never been that way. If you look beneath the surface, you can see that we have a lot in common. All of us are …
We’re all in the same boat. No matter who we are or where we come from, we’re all sinners desperately in need of God’s grace. The Bible says in Romans 3:22b-23, “There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Note that little phrase—”no difference.” No difference between rich and poor, young and old, black or white, male or female, and in this case, no difference between gay and straight. We all stand condemned by our sin and all of us are under the judgment of God. Our sins may not be exactly the same, but we are all sinners nonetheless. In his book, What’s So Amazing About Grace?, Philip Yancey comments that grace shocks us in what it offers. It is truly not of this world. It frightens us because of what it does for sinners. Grace teaches us that God does for others what we would never do for them. We would save the not-so-bad. God starts with prostitutes and then works downward from there. Grace is a gift that costs everything to the giver and nothing to the receiver. It is given to those who don’t deserve it, barely recognize it, and hardly appreciate it.
Jeffrey Dahmer and Me
As I pondered his words, I recalled an illustration I read not long ago. It goes something like this. Consider for a moment the deeds of Jeffrey Dahmer, the notorious serial murderer. After he was arrested and imprisoned, he professed faith in Jesus Christ. That is, he claimed to have seen the error of his ways, confessed his sins, and cried out to Jesus for forgiveness. We’ll never know the full story of what happened because he was beaten to death in prison not long after that.
When we think about Jeffrey Dahmer and the possibility that he might truly have been saved after those heinous crimes, our first response may be to say, “There is grace even for people like Jeffrey Dahmer.” That statement, true as it is, reveals at least as much about us as it does about him. All of us would like to think (and in fact do think) that we are “better” than he is. Or we’re not as “bad” as he was. I make no bones about the fact that I think I am “better” than Jeffrey Dahmer. I’ve never done the things he did. I’ve never even thought or dreamed or imagined any of them. So when I say there is grace “even” for the likes of Jeffrey Dahmer, while I’m willing to include him in the circle of those God might save, I’m not putting myself on his level. I truly believe I’m better than he is.
The man telling the story then made this comment. It’s not enough to say there is grace even for the likes of Jeffrey Dahmer. In truth, there is grace only for the Jeffrey Dahmers of this world. They alone can be saved. Right now you might be thinking, “This sounds crazy.” Something deep inside the human heart resists this conclusion. How can it be true? Does it mean God somehow “favors” the perverse, that grace is a reward for truly terrible sin, that the greater your sin, the more likely you are to find God’s grace? That can’t be right, can it?
No Hope for “Semi-Sinners”
But when the smoke clears, I think there is a truth here we must consider. Too many religious people are like the Pharisee who prayed, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector.” (Luke 18:11). He might as well have said, “I thank God I’m not like Jeffrey Dahmer.” Well, it’s true. He wasn’t like Jeffrey Dahmer. And he didn’t experience God’s grace either. He went home still in his sins while the hated tax collector ended up justified by God.
As long as you think you are better than other people, you are not ready to be saved from your sin because you have not yet considered how great your sin really is. Jesus did not come to save “semi” sinners or “partial” sinners or “not-so-bad” sinners. As long as you feel the need to put some kind of qualifying adjective before the word “sinner,” you aren’t ready to come to Jesus. You won’t see your need for the grace of God.
To put the matter this way is not to deny the real moral differences among people. Is there no difference between Jeffrey Dahmer and Mother Teresa? Of course there is. One was a sadistic killer, the other an instrument of God’s mercy to multitudes of hurting people. But our perspective is all-important. Let’s suppose that we throw Jeffrey Dahmer into the deepest pit on earth. Then let’s travel to the top of the Sears Tower in downtown Chicago. There we will look over the railing and jeer at Jeffrey Dahmer and congratulate ourselves for being so far above him. Now consider what God sees. From heaven as He looks down, it is as if earth is a trillion miles away. What happens to the distance between us and Jeffrey Dahmer? It vanishes from God’s point of view. That’s why Romans 3:22 says, “There is no difference.” And that’s why the next verse says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” We’re all in the same boat—like it or not.
Wanted: A Righteous Man
During a sermon one Sunday I said that there are no righteous people in Oak Park. None at all. The next Sunday a woman shook my hand and said she wanted to ask me a question. I could tell that she was deeply concerned about something. “Last week you said there was no one righteous in all of Oak Park.” That’s true. I did indeed say that, and I also said there are no righteous people in any of the surrounding cities and towns. Apart from God’s grace, there is no righteousness to be found anywhere. With a face marked with intense concern, she asked, “But Pastor Ray, if you aren’t a righteous man, where can we find one?” Her question was honest and sincere. I didn’t say what I could have said: “If you only knew me like my family knows me, you wouldn’t ask that question.” Instead, I told her to listen to my sermon and she would find the answer. I recounted the story to the congregation and said I would show them the only righteous person in Oak Park—or anywhere else for that matter. Pointing to the cross on the wall behind the pulpit, I declared that Jesus is the only righteous man who ever lived.
And compared to him, I am worse than Jeffrey Dahmer.
Jesus Christ was pure, holy, and perfect in every way. He never sinned, not even one time. Though He was severely tempted, He never gave in. All the rest of us fall so far short that we cannot begin to be compared to Him. He is the only righteous man ever to walk this earth. And we crucified Him. His reward for doing God’s will was death on a bloody Roman cross. Here is the wonder of grace at work. From the murder of a perfect man came God’s plan to rescue the human race. “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all“ (Isaiah 53:6). Out of the worst evil God brought forth the greatest good. And only God could have done it. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). When I preached this sermon, I paused in the middle of quoting Romans 5:8 and had the audience repeat the word “sinners” several times. That’s what we were when Christ died for us. Note the little word “still.” We were “still” sinners when Christ died for us. He didn’t die for us while we were still “church members” or “good people” or “law-abiding citizens” or “nice neighbors” or “high achievers,” but he died for us while we were still lost in our sin and far away from God. That’s the truth about all of us. Christ died for sinners because it is only sinners that can be saved.
“For Sinners Only”
How do we come into contact with the benefits of Christ’s death? Reach out with the empty hands of faith and trust in Christ as your Lord and Savior. The door to heaven is marked, “For Sinners Only.” If you are sinner, you can come in. No one else need apply. Christ died so that sinners like you and me could be saved. Here is God’s call to you and me: “‘Come now, let us reason together,’ says the LORD. ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow’” (Isaiah 1:18). And here is God’s promise to those who come by faith: “the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin” (I John 1:7b).
I said earlier that we are all in the same boat. We are all sinners desperately in need of God’s grace. The death of Christ provides the full payment for our sins. What we could not do for ourselves, God has done for us through the death of his Son. The only thing left is to believe in him. Let all who read these words take them to heart. Run to the cross. Turn from your sin, lay down your self-will, and lay hold of the Son of God who loves you and died for you. Cast yourself completely on Jesus for your salvation. If you trust in him with all your heart, he will not turn you away. This is the promise of God to all who believe in Jesus. God help you to trust in him. Amen.