Results tagged “Sexual Identity” from Reformation21 Blog

Keeping Desire and Temptation in Their Place

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In the history of theological debate, one of the most important steps towards doctrinal clarity involves getting the terminology right. The ancient church sorted through the Trinitarian debate by clarifying the distinction between "essence" and "person." Likewise, the Reformation haggled over the proper meaning of "righteousness" and "justification."

A similar need has now arisen in 21st century, as Christians respond to the sexual challenges of postmodernity. In this case, the key terms are "desire" and "temptation." We need a clear understanding of these biblical terms in order to address the matter biblically, especially when it comes to heated debates regarding same-sex attraction (SSA). For instance, the question is raised as to whether a same-sex attracted person must mortify his or her desires. Likewise, denominations like the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) have wrestled over whether a person may soundly self-identify as a "gay Christian."

As these matters are debated, the two sides often speak of "desire" and "temptation" in differing ways. When it comes to SSA, we frequently hear, "There is nothing sinful about being tempted." Defenders of an SSA identity assert, "Even Jesus was 'tempted in every way' (Heb. 4:15), just as we are."

These arguments, however, often involve a category confusion between "desire" and "temptation." A key verse here is James 1:14. The prior verse denies that God is the source of temptation to sin: "Let no one say when he is tempted, 'I am being tempted by God'" (Ja. 1:13). James then adds: "But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire" (Ja. 1:14). A study of "tempted" and "desire" in this verse will help us keep the concepts straight.

The Greek word for temptation is peirasmos, or in its verb form peirazo. If we consult the standard Greek dictionary, we find that is basic meaning is that of "testing." According to Bauer-Arndt-Gingrich (BAG), peirazo means "to make a trial of" or "put to the test." Likewise, a peirasmos is a test or trial. Peter uses its to say: "you have been grieved by various trials" (1 Pet. 1:6). These trials may have various features, including trials that God wills for the blessing of his people (never to incite them into sin, as James insists). The same word is translated "tempted" or "temptation," when the trial involves an inducement to sin. Matthew 4:1 uses a form of peirazo to describe Jesus' temptation in the wilderness. The key feature of this biblical word for "temptation" is that it is an event rather than a disposition. Temptation is something that happens outside a person, rather than inside.

A proper definition of temptation helps us to understand what it means that Jesus "in every respect has been tempted as we are" (Heb. 4:15). The writer of Hebrews was not indicating that Jesus had an inner turmoil over disordered or sinful desires. The reason that Jesus was tempted as we are, "yet without sin" (Heb. 4:15), is that his desires and affections were perfect and holy. Yet Jesus suffered under temptation in a variety of sinless ways. For instance, his hunger was tormented when Satan tempted him to misuse his divine prerogative (Mt. 4:3). Likewise, Jesus' patience and his holy will suffered when "the Pharisees and Sadducees came, . . . to test him" (Mt. 16:1). 

To say that Jesus was tempted is not to say that he struggled with inward sinful desires. It is certainly a false analogy to posit - as has been done in the SSA debate - an analogy between a person's inward struggle over same-sex attraction (or any other sinful desire, for that matter) and Jesus' struggle with temptation in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus' torment over temptation involved what was going to happen to him rather than sinful desires in him.

James' second key word in James 1:14 is desire. He insists that temptation leads to sin when one is "lured and enticed by his own desire." The Greek word here is epithumia, which has a standard translation of "desire, longing, or craving" (BAG). While the word can be used in a neutral or even positive sense, its overwhelming use in the New Testament is that of sinful desires and cravings. Whereas temptation is an event happening outside us, desire is a disposition acting within us. When we find that sinful desire is operating within us - in a fleeting sense or as a settled disposition - the Christian's calling is to repent of desire while seeking the inward cleansing that God provides by his grace (1 Cor. 6:9-11). James writes that it is desire which conceives and "gives birth to sin" (Ja. 1:15), so sinful desire is the prime target of the inward mortification that is so necessary to a Christian's sanctification.

If we keep desire and temptation in their proper biblical place, this will help us to focus where James and the rest of the Bible directs our attention. We have, in general, little to no control over temptation - external events that may incite us into sin. Neither do we control our desires, such is the plight of our fallen state! But we do have the means of grace to apply to our sinful desires through faith, trusting God's power and mercy to work inward change in coordination with our active, faith-driven effort. These sinful desires encompass the entire lexicon of the fallen condition, including greed, pride, hatred, and lust. In many cases, these desires are tightly woven into our character in ways that we may not even understand. 

How wonderful it is, then, that we are loved by a God of supernatural grace, with power to heal, cleanse, and make holy. For many of us, the grace of mortification will play out slowly and painfully over a long course of life, with many discouragements along the way - those who struggle with same-sex attraction often chronicle this struggle, to which we should respond with loving encouragement in the Lord. But struggle we must, seeking to keep desire in its place - which is to say, in the grave where Jesus died to put an end to sin.

The trouble is not with temptation itself, but with the sinful, disordered desires within, which is why the grace of God commands us:

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.  On account of these the wrath of God is coming.  In these you too once walked, when you were living in them.  But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth (Col. 3:5-8).


Richard D. Phillips (MDiv, Westminster Theological Seminary) is the senior minister of Second Presbyterian Church of Greenville, South Carolina. He is a council member of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, chairman of the Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology, and coeditor of the Reformed Expository Commentary series.


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Identifying Our Identity

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At present, two popular--yet antithetical--positions about sexuality and identity exist within the orthodox Christian community. In their recently book Transforming Homosexuality, authors Denny Burk and Heath Lambert identify these as the traditional and neo-traditional positions. Both of these positions exclude from acceptable Christian behavior sexual acts that are outside of Scriptural marriage between one man and one woman. Also, both sides should acknowledge that even if they see the other side as wrong, they are Christian brothers aiming to work out a practical and biblical theology to minister to same sex attracted individuals.

So what is the major difference between these positions? Those in the neo-traditional camp believe that sexual acts performed with the same sex are wrong, but that people who have these attractions should not think of the temptation, in and of itself, as sin. Many of this perspective would accept the modern language of sexual orientation, even going so far as saying one can be a "Gay Christian" or "a Christian who happens to be gay." The orientation then is neutral, or even positive, as Wesley Hill states that those of a gay orientation have a way to "harness and guide its energies in the direction of sexually abstinent, yet intimate, friendship...being gay and saying no to gay sex may lead me to be more of a friend to men, not less."1 One's sexual orientation, in that case, is to some degree affirmed as a platform for unique and special spiritual fruit.

This way of viewing sexuality and Christian living has grown in popularity in the Evangelical world that has sought to engage those who experience sexual attraction to the same sex. One must at the very least be thankful for engagement with same sex attracted persons. Many remember a time when the majority position was mere rejection and disgust at those who wanted to learn about Christ but confessed these attractions. Thus, this camp wishes to say: "You can be a celibate Gay Christian, or be a Christian who happens to be gay and celibate."

The traditional view has major problems with this view, as will become evident. For those of the traditional understanding, not only is the act to be considered sin, but the desire and internal temptation itself is something to be repented of, not a means of special spiritual fruit.

The neo-traditional approach is thus at odds with the traditional and confessional understandings of the doctrines of original sin, concupiscence, and repentance.

For instance, The Westminster Confession of Faith (and its cousins the London Baptist Confession of 1689 and the Congregationalist Savoy Declaration of 1658) in chapter 6.4 and 6.5 states that original sin is "original corruption, whereby we are...inclined to all evil, do proceed all actual transgressions..." and that corruption as well as the act "are truly and properly sin." This means the desires to sin themselves are properly understood as sin. It is a sin to be tempted to sin, when that phrase is understood to mean an internal temptation of desire towards that which is a violation of God's law.2

The Westminster, Savoy and London Baptist Confessions did not invent this conception of sin, but we see it both in Church history in the Augustinian doctrine of "concupiscence", but also in the text of Scripture itself in the Pauline doctrine of "the flesh," (Romans 7, Ephesians 2, Galatians 5, etc) in James' explanation of temptation by way of internal lust (James 1), and Jeremiah's statement of the depravity of the human heart (Jeremiah 17:9). Finally, our Lord tells us that the sin of adultery is committed not merely by outward act only, but in our heart and with our eyes (Matthew 5:28).

This difference in identifying the desires, and not merely the acts, as sin is not mere semantics. It has profound consequences in how we address the person who desires to live the Christian life who has experienced same-sex attraction. When we are called to repentance, are we called to merely do different things or to desire different things? How you answer that question will determine how you counsel practical application of our battle against sexual sin.

Think of this firstly in how you counsel a man who confesses a common temptation of sex outside marriage with women he works with, socializes with, or sees at church. As a pastor should you counsel a man to harness his sexual energies to be more of a friend to women and have an identity as a lustful Christian? Or ought he be encouraged to mortify, kill, that desire for a sexual mate besides his wife, and affirm his identity in Christ as a hedge against his adulterous desires? One hopes all Christian pastors and counselors would attack the lust, and remind the Christian of their identity in Christ, that they are not to be discouraged by their sin, or embrace their lusts for good purposes, but to embrace their placement in Christ as their sole identity even while he struggles with sin.

Certainly, there is a place for identifying what we struggle with. We claim to be simultaneously sinners and saints. But we are saints in status, even while sinners in constitution. To identify solely as Christian, as in Christ, as declared righteous is not to deny sin in our lives, but to be able to fight against it. We fight against our fallen nature with what God has remade us to be. Can you be a Christian that struggles with same sex attraction? Yes. In fact, being a Christian means you struggle with sin rather than surrendering to it. Only a living thing struggles, only a born again saint struggles with sin. But we are no longer identified by our sin. Then should you identify as a gay Christian? No. For the same reason you should not identify as a stealing Christian or greedy Christian or lying Christian. Such a label confuses status with composition.

There is a better energy to harness in our sanctification. That energy is the Spirit as He cements our identity in Christ. Should we welcome those that come from the gay and lesbian community? We must do so! It is also our duty to remind all men and women of the liberating truth that if one embraces Christ, he or she is not defined any longer by his or her sexual attractions or temptations. Within the list of the condemned in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 are those who are identified by their sin including the greedy, sexually immoral, drunks and "homosexuals." But the glorious truth of 1 Corinthians 6:11 is Christians have a new identity: "Such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God." While Christians may still struggle with each of those sins, our identity in Christ trumps each temptation, and we are no longer identified by our sins and temptations, but by Christ.

There is a great practicality in the doctrine of identity in Christ. The Christian struggling with same-sex lust is told: "You are not weird, or an outcast, or a special sort of sinner. No, you are just like the rest of us, and struggle just like the rest of us. While one person sits in the pew on your left with active struggles against gossip, the person in front struggles against pornography, the one in back of you struggles with greed, and the one on the right struggles with pride. None of them are identified by their sin, but identified in Christ. You can be assured that we are not heterosexual or homosexual Christians, nor divided between lying and prideful Christians, but united as Christians who struggle against sin, and struggle to mortify it together and grow more and more into the likeness of Christ, whose name we carry."

All Christians struggle with sin throughout their lives here; but, that sin does not define us. Our lapses with sin do not define us. Christ alone defines us. He shares his title to a believer with no other, excepting the Father and Spirit, whose name we were sealed with in our baptism. (Matthew 28:19) This is not semantics. It is the practical theology of our identity in Christ, our doctrine of sin, and our active repentance. Let us dust off the words of John Owen, applying it to all Christians in our sinful corruption, excepting no group from the task as Christians: "Be killing sin, or sin will be killing you."


1. Wesley Hill,Spiritual Friendship: Finding Love in the Church as a Celibate Gay Christian, (Grand Rapids: Brazos PRess, 2015)pg 81.

2. Some object here that we can never understand temptation as sin because Jesus was tempted and resisted. But while our Lord was tempted externally, because He was free of the effects of original sin in the fall, Jesus did not have the corruption of a fallen nature for this confessional idea of internal corruption and temptation to apply to Him.

A Year After Orlando

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As is true of September 11, June 12 is a date in American history that elicits a miasma of emotions. Just one year ago today, one the most tragic mass shootings on American soil took place. The target was clear--the "LGBT" community. It garnered the attention of the world from the most notable to the most obscure of media outlets. It elicited responses that put on display the best and worst of humanity. A year later, it still populates the mind of many especially in Orlando, as services of reflections, lament, and hope saturate our city. As a local church planter in downtown Orlando (SODO) which meets right down the street from the blood stained side walks of "PULSE" (a church which had members witness people running passed their house for dear life, and which meets people only steps away for coffee), my mind is still preoccupied with this awful tragedy. The matter is so complex. My heart breaks for the loss of innocent life regardless of one's sexual orientation; yet, I am accountable to present the biblical view of sexuality which doesn't accord with many who were most affected by the "Pulse" tragedy namely, the "LGBT" community. Among the many questions prompted by the event was "how should we as Christians engage members of this community?" So, one year later I offer my reflections and what I hope to be encouraging thoughts on how to move toward our "LGBT" neighbors.

Following news of the tragedy I gathered with a group of local pastors to prayer. Afterward, a few of us drove over to ground zero to listen, learn and pray. Our hope was to gain a better understanding of the tragedy, meet someone directly impacted and discern how we can be better ministers of the Gospel to our city. Our findings were sad, eye opening, and hopeful.

Upon arrival to ground zero, we prayed with law enforcement then proceeded to a location within eye distance of "Pulse" only separated by Orange Avenue, Einstein Bagel, a house, and yellow crime scene tape. It was real. I was unable to freely travel a street that I used everyday nor access the parking lot of a coffee shop where I met people situated directly across from "Pulse." It was a sobering moment to behold with such clarity, the callous pervasiveness of the fall. As we stood there praying, two people approached us and we invited them to pray. In the following moments we struck up an informative conversation with one of them who happened to be a Jewish LMHC and LGBT activist. We offered the services of our ministries and she received them with glad arms. Then the "one more thing" question came. "Are you going to oppress them like everywhere else?" she asked. We said "no" and then we engaged her in a loving discussion, confession of the church's imperfections and sincere admission about our worldview differences, all prefaced by our desire to learn. With weapons placed back into the holsters, she gave us helpful insight into the "LGBT" narrative of our city. After we concluded, she agreed to keep meeting, exchanged contacts and departed with gratitude for the prayers.

Our next stop entailed multiple conversations with people who descended on our city from as far as the Nordic region of the world along with other American news reporters who had covered the Mother Emmanuel shooting; the latter was particularly moved by the church's presence during the "Pulse" crisis. Then we traveled to the "Subway" less than a block away where many locals and people connected to the situation were refueling. Only moments before his TV interview, we met a gay male attorney who grew up in a conservative home, who was all too familiar with the tragedy having both friends who died and were medical responders. We asked questions, listened, and learned. Similar to the first woman we met, we acknowledged that as member of the Christian church some of our outreach efforts have left more to be desired. He was a fascinating person. His knowledge of history was palpable. His particular awareness of and interest in the plight of blacks in America bonded us nearly instantly. He too, was moved by our presence and openness at ground zero. He was speechless at points. He asserted that he had many questions for us too. We exchanged contacts and he said that he wanted to visit our respective churches. We went out to engage in Jesus' name and it appeared that he was drawing people in by his name.

Our time with individuals connected to the LGBT community demonstrated that a great relational chasm existed between them and us (the Church). To some degree, this was no surprise, as our worldviews inform us differently regarding sexuality. Vitriolic statements about people in the LGBT community from the mouths of Christians who sadly receive representative authority, even in response to this tragedy elucidates, widens and buttresses the expanse. The LGBT community's perception that the majority view of Christians toward them is hatred proves that dialogue is lacking. When as Christians, our outreach is regarded as oppression that is packaged in disingenuous love and furthers marginalization instead of liberty and inclusion, miscommunication is clear.

We are further learning that the LGBT community should not be conflated to a monolithic group. There are people who regard their sexuality as the sum total of who they are so that any attempt to love them without affirming their sexuality is regarded as oppressive. To illustrate this, one person said "it's like telling your kids you love them but don't approve of their sexuality which is apart of who they are. This leads to self depression and even suicide when children feel hated by their parents." Disapproval without dialogue has also contributed to feelings of oppression and hatred in homes. Some people feel imprisoned because they assert they didn't choose homoerotic desires that beset them, concluding that it is their identity and wonder why people think they would want to suffer being a pariah if they didn't think the latter were reality. Still, there are others who having sustained abuse by someone of the same sex at key impressionable developmental stages and even over long durations of time, have come to view their desires as norm. There are also those who see homosexual inclinations as deviant behavior yet, remain identifying with the LGBT community for fear of being rejected by the church due to this struggle, continued acceptance and still having authentic relationships even if they are no longer pursuing same sex conjugality. Then finally, though not exhaustively, the pursuit of the LGBT community with a loving attitude of open dialogue even with acknowledged disagreement is appreciated and not all of its members perceive the Christian view of sexuality as oppressive and even welcome the activity of mutual persuasion to other worldviews.

Christian Engagement

How can we as Christians engage the LGBT community? I am careful to acknowledge that this is what I've learned in Orlando and my spheres of contact. It will take proactive pursuit, loving honesty, and accepting persecution

Jesus a Jew, proactively engaged the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4). This prompted immediate curiosity on the woman's part owed to the intense animosity that existed between their people groups. Quickly, it turned into Jesus offering hope of the gospel, exposing her sin which involved obvious sexual brokenness and showing the gospel again which resulted in her conversion and a Samaritan Revival. I have pursued "LGBT" friends and a similar progression of, disbelief, discussion and relationship occurred. Some have invited my wife and I to outings with a gracious warning that not everyone will hold my views regarding sexuality and some have even agreed to visit our church. I don't know how the Lord will work in these friends but I know that their perceptions have changed even by simply taking a proactive risk.

Speaking the truth in and as love is critical. Paul reminds us that if our conversation lacks love it will sound like a clinging symbol (1Corinthians 13). Peter tells us to defend our "hope" with gentleness and respect for the other so that our Christlike character will put the other to shame. Callous responses to people who struggle with sexual identity is not Christlike in any situation and even worse when they are the victims of heinous crimes such as "Pulse." There are "LGBT" community members who prefer honesty with a respectful tone over and against disingenuous bait and switch platitudes that pretend Christianity accepts homosexuality, in efforts to create relationships only to discover the contrary in the course of time. Furthermore, some have real questions with which they are wrestling and they don't benefit from the church obfuscating apologies for attitudes towards people in the LGBT community with orthodox beliefs about God's design for gender and sexuality. Speaking the truth in love is critical to gaining trust and creating honest bridges into the LGBT community. Notwithstanding, there will be hostility regardless of how loving one's approach is.

Jesus says "love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you (Matthew 5)." Paul intimates as much and says "bless those who persecute you (Romans 12). Hostility to the Christian message is a given no matter what one's sexual preference is because Jesus makes exclusive and radical claims that unsettle people who idolatrously value autonomy; Christians though converted and in dwelt by the Holy Spirit still struggle with this (or are quite familiar with this- might sound better). In the "LGBT" community, some view their sexual identity tantamount to the way black or minority persons view themselves; an ethnic group that should not be discriminated against on the basis of how God made them.

As a black person, I personally understand discrimination--which, in turn, drives me to compassion for my "LGBT" friends. Moreover, I'm a Christian. Thus, I believe no image bearer should be disrespected under any circumstances. However, I believe that God ultimately defines sexuality and gender, therefore, if someone is inclined in the opposite direction of God in this connection, I must lovingly say that "it should not be equated to the plight blacks in America." I also hold this to be true for any other God opposing behavior that one uses to define who they are and not a sin with which they struggle, i.e. racism, pedophilia, adultery, murder, or theft.

Christianity teaches that people, are delivered from a pantheon of sins by God's grace, are being liberated from sins by God's grace and will one day no longer struggle with sins for all eternity by God's grace. This reality is no less true for those who struggle with sexual brokenness. I have friends from the "LGBT" community who have embraced God's design and have opted by God's grace to live celibate lives in community with other believers who will think no less of them because they struggle with a sin that impedes their desires for the opposite sex and even requires God's grace to have authentic relationships with the same sex. Christians must in love uphold God's standard in all of life's matters, be ready to accept that opposition will ensue and pray that God will bless those who administer the persecution.

Brothers and sisters, I'm no expert on this subject; and, I consider myself to be in the process of learning how to reach my friends in the "LGBT" community for Christ. At present I have prayed, sought friendships, listened, respected and repented. And for some reason, God has given me more friends than enemies. There will always be those who may consider me to be the latter (which is expected); but, I pray for them and I am still pursuing them. Reaching people for Jesus has always had both a simplicity and a complexity to it. In light of this fact, we must be both loving and courageous in reaching out to our neighbors in the "LGBT" community because Christ is working is us and through us via the Holy Spirit to accomplish his agenda of love. It is my deep desire that you and I would commit to #prayforOrlando.


Michael Aitcheson is the church planter/pastor of Christ United Fellowship in Orlando, FL. Mike has contributed to Tabletalk Magazine. You can find him on Twitter at @Mike_CUF and friend him on Facebook.

Sexual Identity Conference

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Our friends at Independent Presbyterian Church in Savannah, GA are hosting a conference with Rosaria Butterfield this Friday night. The theme of the conference is "Sexual Identity and Union with Christ." There will be a Q&A time after her talk. 

On Saturday morning, June 19 at 9:00 am, the topic "Hospitality is Spiritual Warfare" with be discussed with a time for Q&A following the talk. The Saturday morning meeting is only opened to women registrants. There will be a luncheon for the ladies following the meeting for a charge of $15.00 for those ladies who have preregistered. Independent Pres. is requesting that you register if you plan to attend these talks and/or the women's luncheon. Registration can be done on-line by visiting their website, where you will find a link for the conference.