Four Propositions on Homosexuality and Holiness
In response to the cultural tidal wave of gay-rights advances in America, Christians and churches are seeking categories to make sense of our situation. As the Supreme Court has legally normalized homosexuality, more and more people feel comfortable admitting to homosexual desires (i.e. "same-sex attraction"). A good number of them make this claim as church-going people who profess faith in Jesus Christ. Therefore, one of the most heated topics for Christians today is how to relate same-sex attraction to the Christian life.
This topic came to my mind today as I read an article titled Godliness Is Not Heterosexuality. The author expresses concern that Christian parents are worried that their children might become same-sex attracted and thus be barred from a godly life. His answer is that same-sex attraction is not contrary to godliness. Having formerly thought that the "pursuit of holiness. . . equaled the pursuit of heterosexuality," he now understands that "godliness, not heterosexuality" should be our aim. In reading the article, one sympathizes with the struggle that it reveals. Nonetheless, its argument involves a confusion of biblical categories. Can Christians, in light of the teaching of Moses and Paul, consider homosexual desire as compatible with godliness? In dealing with this question, let me offer these four propositions on homosexuality and holiness and then work them out in more detail:
1. All believers in Jesus are positionally holy (1 Cor. 1:2; 1 Cor. 6:11; Heb. 10:10).
2. Personally, all believers in Jesus are imperfectly holy in this present life (Phil. 3:12; 1 Jn. 1:8; Eph. 4:22-24; Phil. 2:12-13; 1 Tim. 6:12-13).
3. Homosexual behaviors and desires are contrary to holiness (Lev. 18:22; Rom. 1:26-27; 1 Cor. 6:9-11).
4. Believers with homosexual desires must therefore strive for Christ-like sexual holiness, which is categorically heterosexual (Gen. 2:24; Rom. 1:27; Rom. 13:14; Phil. 4:13).
Let me explain these propositions and defend them from God's Word:
1. All believers in Jesus are positionally holy. We have been categorically set apart to God by God through the saving achievement of Jesus Christ. Theologians refer to this idea as definitive sanctification: we have been made once-for-all holy as we are in Christ through saving faith (1 Cor. 1:2; 1 Cor. 6:11; Heb. 10:10).
2. Personally, all believers are imperfectly holy in this present life. This means that we are always striving to conform ourselves morally and spiritually to the holy position we have been granted in Jesus Christ (Eph. 4:22-24; Phil. 2:12-13; 1 Tim. 6:12-13). This calling is defined as progressive sanctification. Every believer, whether heterosexual or same-sex attracted, is struggling with sins of all kinds (Phil. 3:12; 1 Jn. 1:8). We all are thus to be actively engaged in spiritual growth and moral change so as to walk in a manner that is more worthy of our calling in Jesus Christ (Eph. 4:1; Phil. 1:27) .
3. Homosexual behavior and desires are contrary to holiness. It certainly is true that heterosexuality does not equal holiness. But it is also true that the Bible uniformly describes homosexuality as a sinful deviation from godly wholeness. And Scripture does so in the strongest negative language, so that any idea of same-sex attraction being compatible with holiness is widely at odds with God's Word (see Lev. 18:22 and Rom. 1:26-27). The sinfulness of homosexuality extends not only to the behavior but also to the desires, i.e., to "same-sex attraction," just as is the case with other sins (Mt. 5:21-28). Moreover, Paul explicitly describes homosexual desires as "dishonorable passions" and "debased" (Rom. 1:26-28). With this in mind, there is no biblical category for "Homosexual Christian" (1 Cor. 6:9-11; Eph. 5:5). Christians may indeed struggle with same-sex attraction, just as we may struggle with anger, pride, or laziness. But we are to struggle against all these sinful desires. While there are many angry Christians, there is no normalized Angry Christian category. Nothing that is inherently sinful can be a kind of Christian, but rather is the brokenness and sin from which we are being redeemed in Christ.
4. Believers with same-sex attraction must therefore strive for Christ-like sexual wholeness, which is categorically heterosexual. Heterosexuality does not equal holiness. But with respect to our sexual natures, heterosexuality is manifestly the design and calling of God for the human race (Gen. 2:24; Rom. 1:27). Christians must strive against sinful desires of every kind. Often it will be a bitter, long, and discouraging struggle. But strive we must! This includes avoiding temptation and "starving the sin" (Rom. 13:14). It includes practical actions to use our bodies as "instruments of righteousness" (Rom. 6:13). It always means responding to the grace of Christ and relying on the power of Christ in order to be conformed more perfectly to the sinless character of Christ (Rom. 8:29). All Christians are to "put to death" sinful desires (Col. 3:5; Rom. 8:13). Does this mean that people struggling with same-sex attraction must undergo reparative therapy? This depends, of course, on what one means. Many struggling believers speak of being harmed by "quick-fix" Christian "cures" for homosexuality, and some have wrongly concluded from their failure that they should give up on Christianity. Yet the Bible does plainly teach that our sinful desires can be changed in the power and grace of the Holy Spirit (see Paul's attitude towards greed, for instance, in Eph. 4:28). Therefore, Christians should struggle with hope against same-sex attraction, and they will need the encouragement and loving help of Christians and the church. To be sure, sexual desires and identity run deeper than other desires and struggles, so that we should sympathetically realize how challenging this struggle can be. But Paul's statement about the pursuit of contentment (another great challenge) remains true for every category of Christian struggle: "I can do all things through him who strengthens me" (Phil. 4:13). It is in this respect that we should endorse the statement in the article I cited that "some of the most godly people that I've ever known have also experienced same-sex attraction." There is nothing controversial about that statement. But if it is true, these godly people are striving against homosexual desires in pursuit of biblical sexual wholeness, just as godly people will strive against every form of sin.
Tender-hearted Christians can only sympathize with our brothers and sisters who have and do struggle with homosexual desires. Yet we do no actual good in offering false comfort to weary strugglers. Yes, we must not make heterosexuality the be-all and end-all of godliness, as if heterosexuality = holiness. Yet we cannot be true to Scripture and yet deny that godliness must include holy heterosexuality, so that the pursuit of holiness will include for many a bitter struggle against homosexual desires. We may give our whole-hearted Amen to the statement that "being like Jesus is the true biblical definition of godliness." This will lead us, among other things, to sexual wholeness. It will exhort us, in the words of the apostle Paul: "Let us walk properly in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarrelling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires" (Rom. 13:13-14).