Last week, one of my recent articles was published on The Gospel Coalition website. I have realized over the years that any time I write about the ever-controversial topic of homosexuality, I should expect a couple truckloads of criticism to come rolling into the comments section. This TGC article was no exception. I scrolled through "the aftermath" on Facebook and Twitter the day following its publishing, trying my best to humbly process the comments of some disgruntled readers.
Quite a few people commended my commitment to celibacy but also shared that they believe my ongoing experience of same-sex attraction is a sin. They believe my temptation to engage in same-sex acts persists because I am not fully submitting myself to God. Some said God will not be pleased with me, and I will not be walking in true obedience, until my same-sex attraction ceases to exist.
I mean . . . are they right? Is my mere experience of same-sex attraction a sin? Is it impossible for me to please God as long as these feelings persist?
My short answer is no, I don't think these folks are correct — but neither do I think the common counterargument is correct.
Other Christians insist there is nothing wrong with simply experiencing romantic and sexual desires for the same gender. They believe it only becomes a problem if you act on those desires. Homosexual behavior is wrong and sinful, they say, but the feelings, in and of themselves, are morally neutral. They see nothing wrong with having a "gay orientation." Though I lean more toward this camp's position, I can't fully embrace it either.
Most Christians agree the Bible clearly teaches it is a sin to engage in homosexual behavior. But what does the Bible teach about homosexual feelings within the heart? Is it a sin to simply feel romantic or sexual attraction to the same gender?
I think it can be. I don't believe a person commits sexual sin merely by experiencing an unintentional, spontaneous temptation to sin sexually. But I do think a person commits sin if, rather than refusing to crush that tempting thought, they choose to lustfully enjoy it.
The other day I was walking down the street and felt a spontaneous sexual attraction toward some guy I passed, but I immediately took that thought captive and crushed it by the power of the Spirit. I don't think I sinned. Rather, I think I glorified God by triumphing in a moment of temptation.
But what if I didn't take that thought captive? What if I had let it flesh out into a lustful fantasy . . . even if just briefly? Would I have committed a sin even though I technically did not "act"? Yes — absolutely!
"Acting" is not necessary to constitute sin. It's totally possible to sin secretly within the thoughts and intentions of your heart. Just ask Jesus: "I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart." – Matthew 5:28.
Jesus didn't condemn feeling an unintentional, spontaneous temptation to sin sexually; he condemned looking with lustful intent. Lustful intent is the key phrase here.
When I passed the guy on the street, my initial attraction to him was not intentional. It just happened! I crushed the thought by setting my mind on Christ and therefore do not believe I sinned. But had I intentionally continued to entertain that unintentional thought and allowed myself to lustfully fantasize, I would have sinned.
In summary, there is a difference between lust and temptation. Lust is intentionally allowing a sexually tempting thought to fester and grow for your own perverted enjoyment. Lust is sin. Temptation is experiencing an unintentional, spontaneous enticement toward sin. Temptation is not sin.
—- WARNING: Now treading into muddy waters! —-
However, was my initial desire toward the guy I passed on the street a natural and morally neutral experience? Is it comparable to a married man being instinctively attracted to a woman who is not his wife? I don't believe so.
Though I don't believe it is a sin to experience spontaneous, unintentional same-sex desires, I also don't believe it is a natural or morally neutral experience. Homosexual desire was not part of God's initial design, but came running in on the heels of sin — it is unnatural. And though heterosexual desire can manifest in unnatural ways (think pedophilia or a desire to rape), a man's instinctive attraction toward an adult woman who is not his wife is natural.
If Adam had never fallen and human nature was never corrupted by sin, I don't believe the temptation to commit homosexual acts (or heterosexual rape and pedophilia) would exist within human hearts. When Adam sinned against God, his nature was corrupted — and every one of his descendants has inherited that corrupt nature.
We are not born good or even morally neutral; we are "brought forth in iniquity" and "conceived in sin" (Psalm 51:5).
It is from our sinful nature that sexual perversities spring up. However, some would argue that Jesus, whose nature was NOT corrupted by sin, was tempted to commit homosexual acts because Hebrews 4:15 says "in every respect [he] has been tempted as we are." If they are correct and Jesus was tempted to commit homosexual acts, it logically follows that he was also tempted to commit every other kind of sexual sin, including heterosexual rape and pedophilia. However, it's my opinion that this verse does not mean Jesus was tempted to commit every sin that every fallen person is tempted to commit.
Concerning Jesus' temptations, theologian Joseph Benson once said:
"What is here said of the similarity of our Lord's trials to ours, does not imply an exact likeness; for he was free from that corruption of nature which, as the consequence of Adam's sin, has infected all mankind."
I don't believe the temptation experienced by Jesus, and by the pre-fallen Adam and Eve, would have involved the temptation to commit same-sex acts. I believe the temptation to commit same-sex acts is experienced only by those whose hearts and minds have been ransacked by original sin. According to Romans 1, a refusal to love and worship God preceded things like homosexual desire. Same-sex attraction is an unnatural byproduct of man's sinful nature.
"For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.
Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error." – Romans 1:21-27 (emphasis mine).
Because I believe homosexual feelings can only rise up from a fallen, sinful nature, I don't think they should be viewed as natural or "okay." Feeling sexually drawn toward the same gender is not the same as a married man feeling an unintentional, spontaneous heterosexual desire for an adult woman who is not his wife.
Again, I do not think spontaneously experiencing same-sex attraction is a sin if one continually takes those thoughts captive rather than letting them run lustfully wild. But I believe the Bible teaches that the smallest inkling of desire to engage in any level of homosexual behavior is rooted not in God's design for human sexuality, but in original sin's corruption of human sexuality. And therefore, I can't view it as a neutral or "okay" experience.
So what does this mean for people like me who experience this perverse, unnatural desire on a daily basis? Do I walk around in constant turmoil, hating myself and telling myself what an evil and godless piece of crap I am? NO!
The good news of the gospel is that though we are UTTERLY messed up, God loves us and sent his Son to save us. One day, when I have a glorified body that is free from the effects of original sin, all of my unnatural desires will cease to exist. But until that day, the unnatural desires that remain inside of me do not define me; Jesus defines me. I am no longer the corruption that lies within me; I am the righteousness of God in Christ.
I believe my same-sex attraction will continue to dwindle in intensity as God continues to sanctify me. However, if my experience is anything like the SSA strugglers who have gone before me, it's probable that this pattern of temptation will persist at some level until the day I die or Christ returns. And until either of those days come, I will cry out honestly and hopefully with the apostle Paul: "Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!" – Romans 7:24-25
Originally posted at moorematt.org.