Any time I write about the ever-controversial topic of homosexuality, I fully anticipate and mentally prepare for a bit of pushback. Everybody has an opinion on this issue, and most are not shy about expressing it (as long as they can do it through a keyboard). The vast majority of the time, the flaming arrows of criticism are launched from the bows of gay-affirming unbelievers or theologically liberal “Christians” who believe God blesses same-sex relationships. But there are exceptions. Earlier this year, after one of my pieces was republished on the The Gospel Coalition’s website, the opposition to my writing was made up mostly of Bible-believing Christians who I am confident know and love Jesus.
A number of readers commended my commitment to celibacy but also adamantly expressed that 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 sincerely and 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.
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 do lean more toward this camp’s position, I cannot fully embrace it.
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 do not 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 they choose to lustfully entertain the tempting thought rather than crushing it by directing their mind’s attention to Christ.
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 slayed it by the power of the Spirit. I do not believe 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, even briefly, into a lustful fantasy? Would I have committed a sin even though I technically did not “act”? Yes—absolutely! “Acting” is not necessary to constitute sin. It is totally possible to sin secretly within the thoughts and intentions of the 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 did not 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 temptation and lust. Temptation is the unintentional experience of a spontaneous enticement toward sin. Temptation is not sin. Lust is intentionally allowing a temptation of sexual nature to fester and grow for one’s own perverted enjoyment. Lust is sin.
—-WARNING: Now treading into muddy waters!—-
However, was my initial attraction toward the man I passed on the street a natural or morally neutral experience? Is it comparable to a married man being instinctively attracted to a woman who is not his wife? I don’t think so. Though I do not believe merely and unintentionally experiencing homosexual desires constitutes a sinful act, I also do not 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 Original Sin. It is utterly unnatural.
If Adam had never fallen and human nature had never been corrupted by sin, the temptation to commit homosexual acts (or heterosexual rape and heterosexual pedophilia) would not exist within human hearts. When Adam sinned against God, his nature was corrupted, and his descendants have 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). Our sinful nature is the vile soil from which sexual perversities arise.
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 these people are correct, and Jesus really 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 is 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 do not believe the temptation experienced by Jesus (or Adam and Eve in their pre-fallen state) involved the temptation to commit same-sex acts. I believe the temptation to commit same-sex acts is experienced solely by those whose hearts and minds have been distorted by Original Sin.
According to Paul, a refusal to love and worship God preceded things like homosexual desire. If this is correct (and it is), then 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).
Homosexual desire is an unnatural distortion of human sexuality that bears horrifying witness to how zealously the human race has plunged into idolatry. For this reason, same-sex attraction should never be described as natural or morally neutral. The smallest inkling of desire to engage in any level of homosexual behavior find its roots in a heart that has been ransacked by Original Sin. Therefore, we should not, under any circumstances, think of or describe such desires as natural or morally neutral.
So what does this mean for people like me who experience this unnatural desire on a daily basis? Do I live in a constant state of self-hating turmoil, lecturing myself about what an evil and worthless piece of crap I am? No! The good news of the gospel is that though we are broken and corrupt, God loves us despite our brokenness and sent his Son to save us from our corruption. One day, my soul will be enveloped by the glorified body Jesus purchased for me on the Cross, and, on that day, all of my unnatural desires will cease to exist. But until then, the unnatural desires that continue to haunt 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 comes, 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