a costly obedience

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I sat at Revoice19 this year listening to Mark Yarhouse share about his most recent book Costly Obedience. I have been eagerly awaiting the release of this book as I had the incredible privilege of being interviewed during their research portion.

The book is a study of celibate gay Christians and the costly obedience that has been required to hold onto the traditional sexual ethic. Yarhouse interviewed many celibate gay Christians as well as many straight friends who were ‘chosen family’/those who walk alongside. I fell into the straight friend walking alongside group!

Most notable during his time sharing was how personally moved he has been by stories and lives of fellow believers living out their faith and beliefs in a way that has cost them and caused them great sacrifice. I definitely resonated with being moved by that. I have been challenged and made a much better follower and lover of Jesus and others directly related to the Christians in my life who would define themselves as celibate and gay. In the laying down of their ‘rights’ to act sexually in whatever way they wanted, they reflected to me an obedience and love for Christ that I have prayed to follow.

I have been forever changed.

Yarhouse called it a ‘saying no’ to one thing in order to ‘say yes’ to so much more.

Other straight friends in my life have often remarked that they were glad the Lord had not asked that of them. “That” being singleness & celibacy.  I’ve often thought to myself, “that is hard”, thinking about living life as a single person in a church largely designed for marrieds and kids. Add same sex desire or gender dysphoria and the church can often feel hard and foreign in a way that I’ve not had to experience.

But over the years I’ve been challenged in this line of thinking. Challenged with the questions, “shouldn’t following Christ be costly for us all?” 

After all Christ says Himself that we will be:

  • rejected (Luke 10:16), 

  • hated (John 15:18),

  • weak for His glory (2 Corinthians 12:9), and sought out by Satan (1 Peter 5:8). 

  • He says that few find the real road to eternal life (Matthew 7:14).

  • He calls us to lose our life for His sake (Mark 8:35).

  • He says that we should expect to be the servants of all (Mark 9:35). He says that we may be divided from family and that he is not bringing peace right now (Matthew 10:34-39).

It seems like Jesus thought it would be costly for all of us to be a disciple.

I get the picture from scripture that the costs are different for all of us. And some costs are legitimately more challenging than others. But none of us should have a costless discipleship. My choices with my time, my money, my relationships, my obedience with my sexuality, all these things should cost me. I will not naturally be conformed into His image just like I don’t naturally wind up eating broccoli instead of french fries. It will take effort, it takes self denial, it is costly.

I remember distinctly a time when I began asking myself questions like: 

What does it look like in my life to suffer with Christ?

Has my faith been costly for me?

Is there joy in my sacrifice?

These initial questions asked by me & my husband prompted changes in our lives. It brought a move from Ohio to South Bend. It changed our income and standard of living. It changed our friends and challenged our families. 

It became normal in my thoughts that discipleship meant sacrifice. And because of the sacrifices we made, it became normal for our kids to see the costly side of being a Christ follower. 

Often I think we are OK with the idea of my faith costing me, but it is harder for it to impact my kids or my family. Our kids have sacrificed time with us as we served together at summer camp. Our kids adjusted, along with us, to a lower standard of living and things that we could not afford to have or to do (like vacationing in Disney World). Our kids  decided, along with us, to reorganize out whole house to extend hospitality to some young camp staff who would develop into family with us. 

I’m not sharing these things to say, “wow! I am so great!”- not in the least. It should be normal for us. We should look around our church bodies and see “costly following” all around us. It should be the normal. I see this often in those around me. Many families in my church are foster parents. Some friends have adopted kids and given them a home at great cost to themselves. 

Studies show that we become like the people we spend the most time with. I want to spend time with brothers and sisters for whom the idea of costly discipleship is woven into the fabric of their lives.

With that framework for our thinking, we can recognize the cost for our LGBTQ brothers and sisters who are choosing daily to say ‘no’ to same sex desires, who are choosing daily to say ‘no’ to a same gender relationship, who may daily be working out discordance with their gender in ways that honor their Maker and also acknowledge the pain. 

Costly discipleship is woven into the fabric of their lives and I’ve been challenged, blessed and changed by these relationships.

Our LGBTQ spiritual family who would call themselves ‘Side B’ (walking according to a historical sexual ethic that says that God created sex for marriage and that marriage is between a man and a woman), daily say ‘NO’ to one desire in order to say ‘YES’ to another call.

And we should be alongside them in support and family, but also in our lives. I should live a life that is daily saying “no” to ungodly desires in any area, while at the same time saying “yes” to obedience to Jesus.

What about for you?

  • Has loving people that the Lord has brought into your life required sacrificing on your part for them? 

  • Are you routinely laying down your life and your desires to obey His commandments?

  • Are you laying down your life for those in your family?

  • Do you have significant relationships outside of your nuclear family that cost you time and emotion?

  • What are you saying ‘NO’ to in order to say ‘YES’ to something God would have for you?

Read Mark Yarhouse’s book and come to understand and appreciate his research. He is a gift to the church in this generation.  

And as you read, be inspired by your celibate and gay brothers and sisters to follow Christ hard, to follow Him diligently, and to make all of our life & choices available to Him.

Susan Titus