Homosexuality

For if you live according to the flesh, you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.

— Romans 8:13

Don’t let anyone tell you that it’s not loving if you stand flat footed and speak the truth about this issue of homosexuality. What’s NOT loving is to look someone in the eye, when God says they are in jeopardy of an eternity in hell, and merely wink and nod at their sin because you are afraid of being called names. Speak the truth saints, amen.

– VODDIE BAUCHAM 

MUCH OF THE WORLD has become more accepting of homosexual acts and relationships, even “marriage” of same-sex couples. The Pew Research Center’s 2013 Global Attitudes Survey found broad acceptance of homosexuality in North America, the European Union, and much of Latin America. The Survey found that acceptance of homosexuality is particularly widespread in countries where religion is less central in people’s lives. (There is an equally widespread rejection in Muslim countries and in Africa.)

 

In the United States, there is also a broad acceptance of homosexual acts and relationships. On March 9, 2012, President Barack Obama became the first sitting president to endorse same-sex marriage. And on June 26, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the fundamental right to marry is guaranteed to same-sex couples. That 5-4 ruling requires all states, the District of Columbia, and insular areas to perform and recognize the marriages of same-sex couples on the same terms and conditions as the marriages of opposite sex couples. Homosexual couples have the same rights and privileges as heterosexual couples.

 

At least a third of white evangelical Protestants now approve of same-sex marriage, according to a nationwide survey by the Public Religion Research Institute conducted in 2017. Support is even higher among young white evangelical Protestants with 53% of those ages 18 to 29 years approving of same-sex marriages. Consider these statistics from that survey:

 

Faith group

Support same-sex marriage

Unitarians

97 %

Buddhists

80 %

Religiously unaffiliated

80 %

Jewish Americans

77 %

Hindus

75 %

White mainline Protestants

67 %

White Catholics

66 %

Orthodox Christians

66 %

Hispanic Catholics

65 %

Muslims

51 %

Black Protestants

48 %

Hispanic Protestants

43 %

Mormons

40 %

White evangelical Protestants

34 %

Jehovah’s Witnesses

13 %

 

“Opposition to same-sex marriage is now confined to a few of the most conservative Christian religious traditions,” the Public Religion Research Institute says.

 

One of those “conservative Christian religious traditions” is the Presbyterian Church in America, evidenced by its endorsement of the Nashville Statement on human sexuality at its 2019 General Assembly in Dallas, Texas. The debate to endorse that statement was contentious and included a confession from one Teaching Elder that he is a forty-six year old virgin, celibate homosexual. That confession was met with loud applause from one section of the Assembly floor. That confession and that response may have caused some to question whether or not homosexual orientation and desires are sinful apart from acts of homosexuality. But the confessional standards of the PCA clearly identify “sodomy” and “unnatural lusts” as a transgression of the seventh commandment [WLC, Q139]. It will be the purpose of this paper to put forth the position of the Firm Foundation Partnership regarding homosexuality, including acts of homosexuality as well as homosexual orientation and desires.

 

The Holy Bible is quite clear in its declaration that acts of homosexuality and a same-sex orientation are contrary to nature, which in Paul’s theology is according to God’s design:

 

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 within themselves the due penalty for their error. (Romans 1:26-27)

 

Paul writes that women “exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature” and men “gave up natural relations.” These acts were dishonoring to God and were, therefore, sinful. They dishonored God because they were against His design in creation (Genesis 1:27-28; Genesis 2:18, 21-24; Matthew 19:4-6). According to Scripture, homosexual desire is a vile, degrading and dishonorable passion inviting the judgment of God on those engaging in these passions, as well as those who approve them:

 

Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. (Roman 1:32) 

 

So does the Bible address homosexual orientation? Yes, it does. For the Apostle Paul, orientation can be understood either in terms of what God designed in creation or in terms of passions that drive a person to desire and act on that desire. Orientation can refer to God’s design in creation or to the intentions of the human heart, either in its fallen or restored state.

 

Paul understood the world as God made it, calling it natural; God’s law is written into the design of his creation. Regarding sex, God’s design unites males with females. To act or desire otherwise, is a violation of God’s natural order which reflects of His character.

 

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 worshipped 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. And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. (Romans 1:24-28)

 

Paul is saying that just as God the Creator has faded from the minds of sinful humanity, so too God’s design in creation has faded from their understanding. Just as people turned from God to make and worship idols, they also turned from God’s purpose for men and women sexually, replacing God’s design to suit their own sinful purposes—namely, same-sex unions. This is why we read these words in verse 26:

 

…exchanged natural relations for those…contrary to nature.

 

and in verse 27 we are told that:

 

…men likewise gave up natural relations with women.  

 

Much later in Romans, Paul moves from theological argument to ethical argument by bringing up again the proper use of one’s body:

 

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.  (Romans 12:1)

 

Here Paul is calling on these Christians to use their bodies in a way that will glorify their Redeemer and their Creator. To use one’s body in a way that is not designed by its Creator is to dishonor the Creator. Paul not only develops this ethic of the use of the body as God intended, he also develops his ethic in terms of “the transformation of sinful desires.” You can see that Paul is dealing here, not just with the acts of homosexuality, but with the desires for homosexual sex. The terms Paul uses for these desires in Romans 1:26-27 are…

 

“dishonorable passions” [26],

and “consumed with passion” [27].

 

The behaviors Paul describes in verses 26-27 result in a depraved mind where one thinks these sinful desires are natural and normal, and should be followed and accepted:

 

“…God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done” [28],

and “…they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them” [32].

 

Paul describes this condition as “slavery to sin,” and he will insist this slavery can be changed. Slavery to sin can be changed into a slavery to righteousness:

 

Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. (Romans 6:16-18)

 

Like the transformation necessary for proper use of the body, Paul insisted the transformation of sinful desire is also possible. He argues that, in light of God’s mercies, a person can be transformed by the renewing of their mind, and they will no longer be conformed to this world. They can again know and live and think and desire according to God’s revealed will:

 

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2)

 

Paul’s overall argument in Romans includes a solution to the problem of sinful sexual orientation. Whether it is articulated as use of the body contrary to nature, or desiring what is unnatural or contradictory to God’s design, the solution is the same.

 

We must be careful to remember that Paul does not think only in terms of being heterosexual or homosexual. He is well aware of a variety of sinful sexual activities: homosexuality, fornication, adultery and lust. Paul certainly understands that human passions have become sinful as a result of the fall. Homosexual passion is one of many distortions of norms God designed for human desire.  While God designed males and females to desire one another and complement one another naturally, humans have turned away from God’s good design in creation, refocusing their desires so some desire same-sex unions which is against nature, i.e., against God’s design.

 

What you will read next is very important in understanding the relationship between homosexual orientation and sin. There is one word in Paul’s writings that gets to the heart of his “psychology of sin:”

 

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. (Colossians 3:5)

 

The Greek word epithymia is translated here as “evil desire.”  From this we can see that not only are actions sinful, desires are also sinful.

 

Let’s follow Paul’s argument by going to the Old Testament and God’s law as given through Moses:

 

And you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife. And you shall not desire your neighbor’s house, his field, or his male servant, or his female servant, his ox or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s. (Deuteronomy 5:21)

 

We can go back to Romans and see that Paul refers to this law with regard to the knowledge of sin:

 

What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.”  (Romans 7:7)

 

For the commandments, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet, and any other commandment, are summoned up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  (Romans 13:9)

 

“You shall not covet” is related to the noun epithymia, but you will note that in Romans 7 and again in Romans 13, Paul does not state the full commandment. He says only, “You shall not covet.” By quoting this part alone and not the entire commandment, he emphasizes, not the object of desire, but the passions or desires themselves that lead people deeper into sin.  Epithymia means “passion” or “desire” and Paul has in mind sinful passions or sinful desires. We could consider multiple places where Paul uses it in reference to sexual passion in a sinful way: Romans 6:12, 13:14; 1 Corinthians 10:6; Galatians 5:16-17, 24; Ephesians 2:3, 4:22; Colossians 3:5; 1 Thessalonians 4:5; 1 Timothy 6:9; 2 Timothy 2:22, 3:6, 4:3; Titus 2:12 3:3.

 

We should consider this text:

 

Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves… (Romans 1:24)

 

Paul understands people are driven by sinful passions, particularly sinful sexual passions. In 1 Corinthians 7:5 & 36, Paul recognizes the place for sexual passion and sexual desire is only in marriage between one man and one woman. Paul’s discussion of sexual desires or sexual orientation goes to the pre-behavioral components of our sin. Over the centuries, Christians have come to terms with the Bible’s teaching on the morality of sexual desires. Not all sexual desire is sinful. But neither is it all good. On what basis, then, can we determine if a sexual desire is good or evil? To answer this question, we can look to Augustine, especially “On Marriage and Concupiscence,” in St. Augustin: Anti-Pelagian Writings (ed. Philip Schaff; Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2004).  Augustine sought not only to account for the evil deeds we do, but also for the desires behind those evil deeds: why do we do them? He labeled that desire “concupiscence.” Augustine argued that every person ever born, save One, inherited both Adam’s guilt and his sinful nature. The sinful nature consists not only in the sinful deeds done, but it also consists in the sinful desires and inclination to do sinful acts. Augustine concluded that it is not just sinful acts that are sinful, but the desire that gives birth to those sinful acts is also sinful. This is true for all sin, but Augustine applied it specifically to sexual sins. Augustine says that the Apostle Paul gives the name “sin” to that from which all sins spring, namely the desires of the flesh:

 

Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.  (Romans 7:20)

 

Let’s look at what Jesus said about sinful passions:

 

You have heard that it was said, “You shall not commit adultery.” But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.  (Matthew 5:27-28)

 

When Jesus says “with lustful intent” or desire, he is pointing to the sexual desire that contemplates the act of adultery. A man does not have to have sex with a woman in order to be guilty of the sin of adultery. If he desires to have sex with a woman who is not his wife, Jesus says that desire is a sin of adultery in the heart. Can the heart act? No, but it is out of the heart that evil deeds come: adultery, murder, homosexual acts.  The heart is deceitful and desperately wicked, and that is sin.

 

Not all desires are evil. Some are good. Many prophets and righteous men desired to see what the Apostles saw (Matt. 13:17), and it is a good thing to desire the office of elder (1 Tim. 3:1). Whether or not a desire is evil depends on the object of that desire.[1] Having sex with another man’s wife is wrong, so it is a sin to desire it. To have sex outside of marriage is wrong, so the desire to do it is sin. Homosexual acts are sinful, so homosexual desires are sinful and are to be repented of and put to death.

 

Conversion does not do away with passions. But Paul says believers are to put off sinful passions or desires:

 

They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity.  But that is not the way you learned Christ—assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 5:19-24)

 

One does not mortify [2] homosexual sin simply by refusing to engage in homosexual acts.  The sinful desire [3] must also be put to death.[4] Regeneration changes a person’s nature. It instills in the true believer a desire for righteousness. It enables the believer to put to death sinful desires. It changes a person and makes them new.

 

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold the new has come. (2 Corinthians 5:17)

 

The new includes a new nature that craves righteousness. It is a nature that is no longer a slave to sin and its desires. It is a nature that has put away evil.[5] It no longer identifies the regenerated one with categories of sin, but with Christ.

 

And 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. (1 Corinthians 6:11)

 

I have been crucified with Christ. It is not longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me… (Galatians 2:20)

 

The same Christ who lives in the believer and who died for the believer’s justification, is the Christ who will cleanse from all unrighteousness.

 

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)

 

If we confess our sins, including homosexual desires, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness, those homosexual desires. This cleansing, to which the Apostle John refers, is not justification.  He has already referenced that:

 

…and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. (1 John 1:7)

 

That is a cleansing that results in justification. The cleansing to which John refers in 1:9 is a cleansing for purification, or reformation. In Christ, we get two cleansings: one to justification and another to renewal and reformation. This is John’s way of saying that one who is in Christ is no longer a slave to sin. One writer says that “to cleanse” suggests the idea of the dismissal of sins, so that they no longer hold us in bondage and we are set free to serve God.[6]

 

Like all sin, Christians should abhor homosexual sins, both the acts and the orientation. Yet, those who are living in homosexual sin should be shown kindness and loving encouragement to turn from their sin to serve Christ. No one who calls himself a Christian should identify himself or herself as a member of the LGBTQ+ community because sinful identity brings shame on the name of Christ. All our righteousness before God is because of the righteousness of Christ. Because believers are “in Him,” they are sheltered from God’s wrath upon the ungodly. What a joy it is to be “in Christ.”

 

[1] Even an unwanted sinful, sexual desire that seems to originate from outside us, like homosexual attraction, is sin and must be put to death.  How is it sin when I don’t want it? It is sin because the attraction has its roots in our own corrupt, sinful nature. (Also see footnote #5)

 

[2] In his classic treatise on the subject of temptation and sin, Temptation and Sin, the Puritan, John Owen, outlines that if we are to have peace in our struggles, we must put sin to death, we must mortify sin in our mortal bodies. The extent to which we experience peace and victory in our Christian living will be determined by our mortification of sin. Owen writes that unmortified sin will weaken and darken the soul, and deprive it of peace, comfort and contentment. When any unwanted homosexual desire or attraction springs up, it must be put to death, otherwise our consciences may become seared and result in our welcoming and enjoying sinful desires and attractions and carrying them out in our actions. 

 

[3] For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person. (Mark 7:21-23; also see Matthew 15:19)

 

[4] For if you live according to the flesh, you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. (Romans 8:13)

 

[5] Paul does not distinguish between the evil of wanted and unwanted sinful desires. A Christian may find himself with a craving for alcohol even if he does not want that craving. Some may find themselves with a craving for homosexual sex even though they do not want that craving. Paul reminds us that, for the Christian, these evils from within the heart have been crucified or put to death in the death of Christ. Paul says: And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. (Galatians 5:24) The death of Christ has already dealt with the unwanted cravings or desires or attractions.

 

[6] The process of killing unwanted cravings or desires falls under the heading of progressive sanctification. It is progressive because it does not happen all at once. This sanctification is the process by which the Holy Spirit transforms us and conforms us more and more to the will of God and the image of Christ. How can we be confident this process will work for us? How can we be sure we will be able to put to death encroaching sin?  We can have confidence because the flesh has already been crucified with its evil passions and desires. “The flesh” is that heart of man (Mk. 7:21-23) that comes from Adam, that produces sexual immoralities of all kind (Gal. 5:19-21), and those who live under the persistent domination of “the flesh” are not in the kingdom of God (Gal. 5:21). But the cross of Christ has ended the believer’s relation to “the flesh.” Christians do not live in the flesh, we live in the Spirit, and it is that life in the Spirit that enables us not to fulfill the desires of the flesh (Gal. 5:16). And the good news is we are not alone; we have the Holy Spirit who is our Helper.