Homosexuality is one of the most controversial issues in America, and especially Christianity, today. As more and more political sanctions are designed to punish Christians and Christian institutions for “discriminating” against persons based on their sexual orientation, it is ever-increasingly crucial for the church to take its stand for the authority of the Word of God, and to submit to that authority no matter how unpopular or punishable. While we must recognize that the Scriptures can be difficult to interpret at times, and even more difficult to apply graciously and faithfully to our time, our every theological proposition must be firmly rooted, not in emotion and trend, but in the clear teaching of the authoritative and sufficient Word of God.
The fundamental issue, is that any attempt to soften the Bible’s statements about homosexuality compromises the sufficiency of Scripture. One thing that is absolutely and sufficiently clear from Scripture is that at every mention of homosexuality, the Bible unapologetically condemns it as sin (Lev. 18:22; 20:13; Rom. 1:26-27; 1 Cor. 6:9-10; 1 Tim. 1:9; Jude 7). Proponents of homosexuality will argue that the Bible only speaks to unnatural homosexual practice, but not to natural homosexuality. In other words, Scripture only speaks against the homosexual acts of people who are heterosexually oriented; it does not condemn homosexuality for people who are naturally homosexually oriented.
However, it is critical to recognize the presuppositions involved in this sort of statement, and to recognize that as Christians, our foundation for thinking in every area of life must be Scripture. If we approach the issue with a biblical worldview, we will recognize that what is “natural,” is not defined by what people feel like doing, or by what the majority of people in a given culture do or believe. Rather, nature is that which is built into the created order. In other Words, God defines what is natural by the way He created the world to be. From a biblical foundation, therefore, homosexuality is not natural, but rather entirely unnatural, because it violates God’s created design for man and woman (Gen. 1:27-28; 2:18-24).
If homosexual acts are not natural (because they violate God’s design for the relationship between men and women) what about mere homosexual desire? Many Christians, understanding Scripture to clearly teach that homosexual acts are wrong, believe that as long as someone is not engaging in homosexual acts, that is good enough. This is the focus of much counsel given to those struggling with homosexuality. “Just don’t do it, and all will be well.” The logic is that it is not inherently wrong to merely be tempted; it is only wrong to act on that temptation. However, the reasoning for this position is skewed by several faulty presuppositions. For example, this view assumes a very loose definition of “temptation.” While there are times when the experience of being tempted is not necessarily sin (Christ was tempted in every way), the entertainment of those desirous thoughts is certainly sinful—to allow oneself to dwell on the temptation is to lust after that thing.
Now, technically, the Bible does not speak to a constitutional, homosexual “orientation.” Rather, strictly speaking, it condemns homosexual acts. In fact, in the culture of New Testament times, only the passive homosexual partner was considered “homosexual.” This was shameful, and they were considered effeminate (whether they were “girly” or not, the point of this derogatory term was to emphasize the shame involved). However, the dominant partner (who was often also married) was not considered “homosexual” and this was not viewed with the same shame as the other. But in 1 Corinthians 6:9, Paul uses two different terms for homosexuals, going out of his way to designate both roles (passive and dominant) as equally sinful. This teaching would have been rather radical in a culture that did not think of homosexuality (in this explicitly all-encompassing manner) as sinful, but rather merely shameful for one partner involved. So Paul goes out of his way to teach that any homosexual involvement is sinful. Where does that leave the argument that only the act is sinful? Does it seem like I am strengthening that argument? Well, the Bible has more to say.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus argues against the Pharisaical view that the physical act is all that matters. The Pharisees (and many today) believed that as long as one does not physically commit adultery, they have not sinned. But Jesus states that even if a man merely looks at woman with lust in his heart, he has sinned, because sin is a heart issue before it is ever a physical act (Matt. 5:28). Is being physically attracted to women inherently sinful? No. But to lust after a woman is to dwell on—to entertain—that sexual temptation, or to covet (imagine how one might take) a woman who does not rightfully belong to oneself. Jesus clearly teaches that lust, or covetousness, is a sin whether one acts upon it or not, because the act or thing one is desiring is in itself wrong. Lusting after a woman is wrong because engaging in sexual acts with a woman outside the covenant of marriage is wrong. In short, entertaining the desire to commit a sinful act is itself a sin. Thus, with discussing homosexuality, in finding that Scripture condemns homosexual acts, we also find that because homosexual acts are in themselves sinful and against God’s created design, to allow oneself to entertain thoughts and temptations for those acts is itself a sin.
If a Christian is faithful to admit that homosexual practice is wrong, then he must also hold that homosexual desire is to be battled against, the mind is to be transformed, and every thought is to be taken captive to the obedience of Christ (Rom. 12:2; 2 Cor. 10:5). But when Christians hold that only homosexual acts are wrong, they inevitably compromise the authoritative pronouncements of Scripture. As Dr. Ed Welch puts it, “The very least that will happen is that the church will back away from the severe warnings of Scripture, such as ‘homosexuals cannot inherit the kingdom of God’ (1 Cor. 6:10).” Sinful desires and affections must be battled and rooted out at the level of the imagination.
In the next post, we’ll look at the objection that homosexuality is determined genetically, and thus not a choice that can be argued against, or condemned, or changed.