Read Part 1.
Note: This article series was previously posted on SharperIron and has been updated and revised.
by Aaron Blumer
This article is the second of two aimed at thinking biblically about homosexuality. As in the first article, key words include Strong’s Concordance numbers as an aid for study. These numbers are indicated by the letter s, as in s.1100.
Part 1 introduced two nonfictional Christian men who were fictionally named “Bob” and “Jim.” While they both had good Christian upbringing and trusted Christ at an early age, one eventually found that when he was sexually attracted to another person, it tended to be to a man rather than to a woman.
With the aim of identifying a biblical response to men like Bob, Part 1 posed some questions. Does Scripture teach that those who experience same-sex attraction must be in a more spiritually or morally corrupt condition than those who do not? Should we believe that all who are tempted in this particular way are afflicted with a unique spiritual disease and that they are only equal to the rest of us when they have eliminated instances of same-sex attraction completely from their lives?
Part 1 examined Scriptures that refer directly to homosexuality to see if they provide any evidence for this attitude. We found that these passages consistently condemn homosexual behavior as sinful but do not provide any basis for generalizations about all who are merely tempted. In short, they do not support the idea that men like Bob are fundamentally “more messed up” than the average person.
But building a biblical view of same-sex attraction and deciding what should be done about it requires that we consider additional biblical evidence. This evidence loosely fits under the headings of “depravity” and “sanctification.”
Depravity describes the condition of every human being since the Fall. It’s where God finds us when He quickens us (Eph. 2:1): dead in trespasses in sins, hostile toward Him, unable to grasp spiritual realities (2 Cor. 2:14), and devoid of the “holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14, NKJV).
Though we’re all born in this condition, we make choices and enjoy varying degrees of Christian influence in our environments. As a result, sinners differ from one another on the depravity scale. Though none merit even the smallest degree of forgiveness from God, some sinners are firmly in the grip of destructive habits, have consciences more severely damaged by confusion and sin, and have sunk to lower levels of moral corruption. Charles Hodge expressed the view of many Bible-believing theologians with the following words:
By total depravity, is not meant that all men are equally wicked; nor that any man is as thoroughly corrupt as it is possible for a man to be; nor that men are destitute of all moral virtues. The Scriptures recognize the fact, which experience abundantly confirms, that men, to a greater or less degree, are honest in dealings, kind in their feelings, and beneficent in their conduct. Even the heathen, the Apostle teaches us, do by nature the things of the law. (Hodge, C. 1872. Systematic Theology. 1997, Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems.)
In other words, though we are all as depraved as Adam, we are not all as depraved as Ahab (1 Kings 21:25) or Adolf.
This truth means believers begin the journey to Christlikeness with different starting points. It is not only possible but also inevitable that some believers are in a more sin-corrupted condition than others, some much more. But are all who experience same-sex attraction in that category? Do they begin the process of sanctification with a character deficit that remains in place until the temptation to commit homosexual sin no longer occurs?
Romans 1 Redux
Only Romans 1:26-28 is a candidate for evidence of this idea. Part 1 pointed out that the passage (beginning with v. 18) describes a group of people who rejected God and whom God abandoned punitively to suffer the results. Among these results were homosexual lust and conduct. These people reached a severely degenerate condition, and their same-sex attraction was part of that overall state of deep wickedness. Verses 29-32 show that the overall condition included much more than same-sex attraction.
So if someone comes to Christ out of the condition described in Romans 1, he begins his Christian life in a far more damaged and corrupt condition than the average person. But even in this case, it is not the same-sex attraction itself that puts him in this disadvantaged position but his history of aggressive rejection of God and consequent lifestyle of desire gone wild.
In the case of believers like Bob, the link between same-sex attraction and an unusually depraved condition is even less evident. Since Bob believed the gospel and chose the path of clean living when still a child, it’s unlikely than he and others like him are in a state of deeper corruption than most believers. Indeed, believers like Bob may be more Christlike than many who have never experienced same-sex attraction.
Does the biblical doctrine of depravity teach, then, that some are more depraved than others? Yes. Does it teach that some of the most sin-corrupted people on the planet are practicing homosexuals? Yes. But does it teach that a person who experiences same-sex attraction is, by virtue of that fact alone, more depraved than those who do not? No. Scripture’s teaching on depravity does not indicate that being tempted to sin by homosexuality is necessarily more significant than being tempted to steal, lie, or commit any other sin.
But what about sanctification? Do sanctification principles teach that same-sex attraction has special spiritual implications and requires special handling? Should Bob’s goal be to eradicate same-sex attraction completely from his life?
The New Testament is clear that when believers come to Christ, they are no longer what they were before (1 Cor. 6:11 “such were some of you”). Equally clear is the fact that Christians must grow in holiness over time, leaving wrong desires and behaviors behind (Eph. 5:8, 2 Pet. 3:18). As we progress toward Christlikeness, we should not only sin less but also feel less desire to sin.
However, it’s one thing to say desire to sin will diminish and another to say particular desires can and must be eradicated promptly by taking certain steps. Many would counsel Bob with the conviction that his capacity to be tempted by homosexual sin is rooted in desires that can be eradicated by taking certain steps of obedience. If he complies with the prescription, he will find that same-sex attraction is gone and that homosexual sin is no longer tempting at all.
But this scenario requires that we believe several things. First, we must believe that same-sex desires are eradicable by the process of sanctification. Second, we must believe that same-sex desire is much worse than other desires and must be remedied as quickly as possible. And, third, we must believe that Scripture offers a specific cure for this form of desire. Below we consider these concepts one at a time.
Students of the Bible often confuse the significance of the word “lust.” In the New Testament, the word usually translates epithumeo (verb, s.1937) or epithumia (noun, s.1939). It is used of the desires of “the flesh,” which are against the Spirit (Gal. 5:17), but also of Lazarus’ desire for crumbs from the rich man’s table (Luke 16:21). The versatility of the word is important. We rightly frown on desires that are contrary to the Spirit but also rightly do not frown on Lazarus for being hungry.
This dual nature of “lust” is especially important for our understanding of how desire feeds temptation, as in James 1:14-15. James tells us that temptation (as in allurement to commit sin) exploits “lust.” We are drawn away by the lust, enticed, and—if we yield—sin. Commonly, we read “evil desire” into this passage where we see “lust,” but this is a mistake. Consider the experience of our Lord when Satan tempted him to turn stone into bread (Matt. 4, Luke 4). The temptation was genuine simply because He had a stomach that growled and a mouth that watered. His hunger was innocent. Only the form of satisfaction Satan offered was contrary to the will of the Father at that time and place.
Jesus’ experience shows us that being holy does not eliminate all desire (lust) or remove all capacity for temptation. Consequently, no matter how much any of us grow in sanctification, some lusts will remain. God permits us to satisfy these desires only according to His design, but opportunities contrary to that design will occur and tempt us. The most obvious of these desires are the biological ones, including sexual desire.
The innocent nature of biological desires is important for our understanding of Bob and those like him. If his capacity for same-sex attraction is rooted in sinful character, we should encourage him to grow out of it. Progress in sanctification should excise it from his life. On the other hand, if his desire is rooted in a biological flaw, it has no spiritual significance in itself, and growth in holiness will not remove it. While sanctification results in increased ability to deny bodily appetites when they conflict with God’s will (Rom. 6:12), Scripture does not teach that sanctification disables or even weakens these desires.
Bad Desires and Worse Desires
The New Testament indicates believers are capable of the whole gamut of sinful desires, and that some sinful desires are worse than others. For example, Paul assigns special seriousness to fornication in 1 Corinthians 6:18. “Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body.” A couple of verses earlier, Paul even argues that a believer who commits fornication with a prostitute joins Christ with the prostitute (6:15). Evidently, some sins are more damaging and offensive to God than others; therefore, the desire to commit them is worse as well.
The Bible’s most direct warnings against desires, however, are not aimed at sexual desires. For example, in the context of two lists of sins believers should forsake (Col. 3:5, 3:10), Paul sets “covetousness” apart by identifying it with idolatry. Another example is the solemn warning of 1 Timothy 6:9-10 against ambition (boulomai s.1014) to be rich and philarguria (s.5365), the love of money. These lead to “all kinds of evil,” are a trap (pagis s.3803) leading to “many foolish and harmful lusts,” and sink people into “ruin and destruction.” The tone of this warning is every bit as serious as any warning in Scripture about sexual sin.
But Scripture does provide evidence that same-sex attraction is unlike other desires in an important way. In Romans 1:26-28 Paul describes the desires and behaviors of homosexuality as “against nature” (“nature” is phusis s.5449). In the context, “against nature” is in contrast with the “natural” (phusikos s.5446), which clearly refers to heterosexual desire and activity. Paul seems to use “against nature” here for what is biologically abnormal, and common sense corroborates. His point seems to be that rejecting God and embracing an indulgent lifestyle led these people to ruin, including the dishonor of using their bodies in unnatural ways.
“Natural,” however, is not the same as “holy” or “moral”; and “unnatural” is not the same as “unholy” or “corrupt.” For example, fasting and praying are not “natural,” nor is turning the other cheek. In 1 Corinthians 11:14, nature (phusis again) teaches that long hair on a man is a “shame” (atimia s.819, “vile” in Romans 1:26 KJV, NKJV). Yet the Nazirites deliberately grew their hair long (Num. 6:5), apparently as an act of self-humiliation. So in Romans 1, having already made it clear that the behavior was immoral, Paul adds that it was also unnatural and, therefore, humiliating.
Men like Bob already acknowledge what this truth means for them: that the sexual attraction they sometimes feel for other men is embarrassing and contrary to normal human biology and that yielding to the desire is not only offensive to a holy God but also personally degrading. What “against nature” does not tell us is that the desire itself always arises from spiritual or moral corruption, much less that it expresses an especially dire spiritual problem.
The Bible is unclear that same-sex attraction and temptation can be eradicated by growth in sanctification. Nor is it clear that same-sex attraction reflects a more serious spiritual condition than other desires that must be denied to obey God. It comes as no surprise, then, that the Bible offers no specific prescription for men like Bob to be forever rid of any homosexual temptations. Therefore, given the absence of biblical instruction to do otherwise, believers who are tempted by homosexuality should pursue godliness in the same way as those who are tempted by heterosexual sin or by laziness, greed, or pride.
We cannot assume that a person who experiences same-sex attraction is equally godly with those of us who do not. But neither may we assume that he is less godly. Each individual is unique, meets Christ in a unique condition, and embarks on the journey of sanctification from a unique point. In many cases, we may be unable tell whether the cause of the same-sex attraction is primarily emotional, spiritual, moral, or even physical.
Finally, when special revelation (Scripture) does not give us answers, turning to general revelation is proper. Within the boundaries of Scripture on this subject, room exists for varying opinions, the wisdom of experience, and even science to help believers with this problem find solutions.
|Aaron Blumer, a native of lower Michigan, is a graduate of Bob Jones University (Greenville, SC) and Central Baptist Theological Seminary (Plymouth, MN). He, his wife, and their two children live in a small town in western Wisconsin where he has pastored Grace Baptist Church (Boyceville, WI) since 2000. Prior to serving as a pastor, Aaron taught school in Stone Mountain, Georgia, and served in customer service and technical support for Unisys Corporation (Eagan, MN). He enjoys science fiction, music, and dabbling in software engineering.|