A Rugby Player’s Bold Witness
I know little about sport and even less about rugby, but a rugby player named Israel Folau has featured prominently in the Australian secular press throughout the past week or two for saying something ‘politically incorrect’. It appears that someone on social media had asked Folau what God’s plan was for homosexuals and he had responded: “HELL… Unless they repent of their sins and turn to God.” This Biblical truth,[i] which applies not just to unrepentant homosexuals but to all who live in unbelief and are unrepentant, appears to have aroused the anger of those who seek to replace the Christian foundations of society with ‘politically correct’ sexual permissiveness. The enmity need not surprise us; it’s been there from the beginning of history (Gen. 3:15); and Folau’s calm resoluteness in the face opposition is an example for us.
Sadly, those angry at his remarks fail to acknowledge the wonderful grace of God, and the open gates of heaven, available to all who repent and believe. They fail to avail themselves of the promise that, “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom. 10:9).
It’s ironical that those who live in unbelief, and deny God and His Word, and therefore the existence of heaven and hell, should get upset when Folau says unrepentant homosexuals will go to hell. It’s also ironical that those who continually proclaim tolerance when it comes to gay marriage and other unscriptural practices are so intolerant of those who do not tow their ‘politically correct’ line.
Of course, the pressure is still on to silence Folau or get him to change his views. Several companies threatened to withdraw financial support for the rugby league. But Folau hasn’t capitulated. I don’t know to which church he belongs, or whether he plays on Sundays, or whether his doctrine is sound. But in relation to this matter his example is commendable. In a personal witness on a sports website he shows his faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. He confesses that he has sinned many times in his life, takes responsibility for those sins and daily asks the Lord for forgiveness through repentance.
Thereby he continues to witness of the Lord. Here’s part of what he said in response to the outcry:[ii]
“I would like to explain to you what I believe in, how I arrived at these beliefs and why I will not compromise my faith in Jesus Christ, which is the cornerstone of every single thing in my life.
I hope this will provide some context to the discussion that started with my reply to a question asked of me on Instagram two weeks ago.
I read the Bible every day. It gives me a sense of peace I have not been able to find in any other area of my life. It gives me direction. It answers my questions.
I believe that it is a loving gesture to share passages from the Bible with others. I do it all the time when people ask me questions about my faith or things relating to their lives, whether that’s in-person or on my social media accounts.”
Folau goes on to relate how he came to make the comment that caused the outcry:
“Two weeks ago, I tore my hamstring quite badly in the opening minutes against the Brumbies. I was told I would be on the sidelines for a month. Finding out I would miss three or four games so early in the season was disappointing and frustrating, but I accepted the news and started looking ahead.
That afternoon I put up the following Instagram post, referring to James 1: 2-4:
Consider it all joy when you encounter various trials, because the testing of your faith produces endurance … so that you may be lacking in nothing.
In the comments section of that post, I was asked a question by somebody about what God’s plan is for gay people.
My response to the question is what I believe God’s plan is for all sinners, according to my understanding of my Bible teachings, specifically 1 Corinthians 6: 9-10:
Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor the drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.
I do not know the person who asked the question, but that didn’t matter. I believed he was looking for guidance and I answered him honestly and from the heart. I know a lot of people will find that difficult to understand, but I believe the Bible is the truth and sometimes the truth can be difficult to hear.
I think of it this way: you see someone who is about to walk into a hole and have the chance to save him. He might be determined to maintain his course and doesn’t want to hear what you have to say. But if you don’t tell him the truth, as unpopular as it might be, he is going to fall into that hole. What do you do?
In this case, we are talking about sin as the Bible describes it, not just homosexuality, which I think has been lost on a lot of people.
There are many sins outlined in that passage from 1 Corinthians and I have been guilty of committing some of them myself.
No man or woman is different from another – if you sin, which we all do, and do not repent and seek forgiveness, you will not inherit the kingdom of God. As it is written in Acts 2:38:
Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
I believe when Jesus died on the cross for us, it gave us all the opportunity to accept and believe in Him if we wanted to. To enter the kingdom of Heaven, though, we must try our best to follow His teachings and, when we fall short, to seek His forgiveness.”
Explaining his past life, Folau says that whilst he had “always believed in God” he’d been a member of a sect and had filled his life with: “Alcohol. Women. Sins.” But his materialistic life had left him feeling empty and emotionally broken. He writes:
“It was around this time I started attending a new church where I experienced God’s love for the first time in my life. …
I have tried to live my life in God’s footsteps ever since. I follow his teachings and read the Bible all the time in order to learn and become a better person.
Since that happened I have been at peace and enjoyed life with an open, honest heart, which is why my faith in Jesus comes first.
I would sooner lose everything – friends, family, possessions, my football career, the lot – and still stand with Jesus, than have all of those things and not stand beside Him.”
It is good to read Folau speak this way. For did Christ not say, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Mt 10:37)?
But that’s not how the unbelieving world sees things. And hence sponsors, the media and others put pressure on Rugby Australia’s CEO and the team’s manager who, in turn, put pressure on Folau. Evidently a personal Instagram comment by a player about what he believes based on the Bible is not to be tolerated. Folau relates:
“During the meeting I told them it was never my intention to hurt anyone with the Instagram comment, but that I could never shy away from who I am, or what I believe. …
After we’d all talked, I told [the CEO] if she felt the situation had become untenable – that I was hurting Rugby Australia, its sponsors and the Australian rugby community to such a degree that things couldn’t be worked through – I would walk away from my contract, immediately.”
It’s evident that Folau is prepared to defend the truth of God’s Word even if it means losing his position as a rugby player. As he says further:
“You are always trying to reconcile the truth from the Bible with things you feel inside. But I have faith that God’s path is the right one and that path is outlined in the Bible. I will keep sharing that.”
Folau wants above all to serve God.
“If you choose to believe in Him, repent, and be baptised in the name of Jesus Christ for the removal of your sins, you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. That will enable you to live the life that God has called us to live.
God can see from beginning to end. I can’t. There’s a big element of trust in that and sometimes you have to give up the things you really want in order to please God.
I trust that He knows what is best for me. He knows the future. He knows how it is all meant to play out.
At times, you can feel alone and down. But Jesus told us that when you stand up for Him in this world, you can expect backlash. I find peace in that.
As testing as it can be standing up for what you believe in, the Bible tells us it will be worth it in the end.”
We are living at a time when politically correct speech is elevated above the truth of God’s holy Word. There is increasing antagonism towards those who defend the truth of God’s Word. For that Word of Truth contradicts the antichristian sentiments of the militant activists promoting sexual permissiveness. In such an environment it is for us to stand strong in the faith, to confess Christ and to fight faithfully against all that opposes Him.
“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Mt 5:11,12)
[i] “For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God” (Eph. 5:5).
[ii] Israel Folau’s complete account, from which the above quotes attributed to him are taken, can be found here: https://www.playersvoice.com.au/israel-folau-im-a-sinner-too/#09L1O6I6BM6psm8Z.97