Anytime I write about the ever-controversial topic of homosexuality, I anticipate and mentally prepare for some pushback. Everybody seems to have a strong opinion on this issue, and many are not shy about expressing those opinions (as long as they can do so behind a computer screen). Most of the time, the arrows of criticism are launched from the bows of gay-affirming unbelievers or theologically liberal “Christians” who believe God blesses same-sex relationships. However, there are exceptions.
Earlier this year, after one of my pieces was republished on the The Gospel Coalition’s website, most of the critical responses were composed by Bible-believing Christians who, like me, believe homosexual behavior is sinful. But, unlike me, they also believe merely experiencing same-sex attraction is a willful act of sin. A number of readers commended me for turning away from same-sex behaviors, but they also insisted that my ongoing struggle with same-sex attraction indicates that I am not sincerely and fully submitting myself to God. Some said God will not be pleased with me 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. Many 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? 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 wrote:
“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. According to Paul, a refusal to love and worship God—two things Jesus never failed to do—preceded homosexual desire (Romans 1:21-27). Homosexual desire is a byproduct of the corrupt, sinful nature.
So what does this mean for people like me who experience this unnatural desire on a daily basis? Am I to live in a constant state of self-loathing turmoil, always lecturing myself about what a corrupt and worthless piece of crap I am? No! The good news of the gospel is that though I am thoroughly flawed, God loves me and sent his Son to save me from my corruption (please read this). Because God has made me alive together with Christ, I am no longer defined by my flesh and all the distorted desires within it. I am not 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 is probable that this pattern of temptation will persist at some level until 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
(Note: This is a revised version of an article I originally published on 05/04/2016)