While psychologists debate whether or not a person's sexual orientation can be altered, theologians in the spirit of the Apostle Paul and Martin Luther understand this issue on a deeper level. When placed under the light of Scripture, we see that the psychology of "reorientation therapy" fails to fully address the spiritual realities of Romans 6, 7, & 8. It also fails to apply the correct and necessary biblical terminology when referring to Christians who experience an ongoing struggle with sexual lust.
Many people are convinced that homosexuality is genetic. Many others are convinced that gay people are not "born that way." Most people would agree that no one wakes up one day and chooses to have same-sex attractions. After all, who would ever choose to be burning with same-sex passions since gay feelings bring so many challenges and trials into a person's life?
The Bible refers to these desires as "shameful lusts." (Romans 1:26) The Greek word here for "lust" is "pathos." It refers to "the diseased condition out of which lusts spring." It is from "pathos" that we get the word "pathology," which refers to the "diseased condition" of a bodily organ. Why do some people develop cancer in their body while most people do not? Why do some people experience homosexual desires in their soul while most people do not? We don't have all the answers to these questions, but we do have plenty of solid evidence upon which to make some conclusions.
We know, for example, that a number of social and psychological factors can contribute to a young man or young woman being tempted to experiment with homosexual sin. We also know that many people who begin to dabble with this deadly poison do so initially not because of a sexual urge, but because they are so hungry to satisfy an overwhelming emotional need in their life. Some teenage boys and teenage girls who have no relationship with their father will do practically anything to try to meet that deep hunger in their soul.
Tragically, many teens are willing to give their bodies to someone who shows them plenty of attention and affection. They give sex in exchange for affection. It is a tragic decision. Even if their body is spared a sexually transmitted disease, their soul is not spared. The sinful sexual act begins to create a powerful craving within them that is just as strong as a drug addiction. Whenever a person engages in any type of sexual sin, it is like starting a fire which quickly burns out of control.
Everyone is born with a "sinful nature." That is part of our "spiritual DNA." David wrote, "Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me." (Psalm 51:5) This "diseased condition" of our soul is something we inherited from our parents. This sinful nature produces all sorts of sinful desires within us. Some people experience homosexual lust while many more experience heterosexual lust. You never remove the sinful desire from your heart by feeding the "monster" of sin. The more you feed him, the hungrier he gets. In other words, sinful behavior is extremely addictive!
The pathology of homosexual desire is very similar to the pathology of heterosexual lust. Both of these sinful desires flow out of the "poisoned well" of the sinful nature. They flow into the heart like dirty water causing a person to be filled with strong desires that seem impossible to control. Many people desperately attempt to give up drugs or adultery or homosexual behavior. The more they fall back into old patterns, the more they are tempted to think that they will never change. Satan works hard to get people to believe the lie that they can never change. Our only hope for forgiveness and freedom is Jesus Christ.
It is clear from Scripture that the sinful orientation of the "old man" never improves. This applies to the sinful nature of both the believer and the unbeliever. The sinful nature, which is already terrible at birth, can only go from bad to worse. This worsening of the old man occurs through deliberate sin as the appetite for satisfying evil desires only increases. It is useless to attempt to alter the sinful nature of any human being. The old man will always be filled with many evil desires and sinful orientations.
What does get altered through the spiritual birth of Christian conversion is not the sinful nature, but the condition of the will, which is set free from bondage to the old man. (see Rom. 6:18-22) A Christian finds tremendous freedom from sexual lust and other sinful desires by knowing and believing the truth about (1) the old man; (2) the new man; and (3) the "real you." These "three selves" of every Christian are clearly identified in Ephesians 4:22-24. As a believer, the "real you" is who you want to be in Christ.
St. Augustine said, "The will to be righteous is a large part of righteousness." This refers to the godly motives in the heart and mind of a Christian. These motives are the result of having been declared righteous through faith in Christ. These new and godly motives are not something "generated" by devout Christians, but are simply the spontaneous result of being a new creation in Christ. (see 2 Cor. 5:17)
After Saul was converted, he didn't go to a psychologist for therapy to address any lingering hatred for Christians. When Christ came into his heart through the mighty working of the Holy Spirit, the new motives came in as well. Paul was released from spiritual bondage. Saul was dead. Paul was free. And Christ was alive in him. Glory be to God!
The sexual orientation of the old man will always be perverse. The sexual orientation of the new man will always be pure. The real you is who you want to be in Christ. The only one of those three selves that can change for the better is the real you, and that change can take place instantly in your mind. The question for the Christian is not, "What is my sexual orientation?" The accurate question is, "What do I want it to be?" Our answer to that question needs to be shaped by God's Word. The Holy Spirit living in us convinces us that "everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness." (2 Tim. 2:19)
As a Christian, the real you is no longer a slave to sin. If you don't believe that, meditate upon Romans 7:25 as you ask the Holy Spirit to reveal the truth to you on this issue. It is the old man in you that is a slave to sin from the day you are born until the day you die. That guy never gets altered even the slightest in the direction of holy living. Only the mind and heart can improve as we put on the "new man" of Christ-centered sanctification. (see Eph. 4:24) A spiritual metamorphosis takes place through the renewing of our mind. (see Rom. 12:2) This life-long process of spiritual growth takes place in spite of the lingering presence of the old man.
(To be continued…)