I am not interested in making common cause with non-Christians in my disapproval of the celebration of homosexual desires or acts. The reason is that truly Christian disapproval of sin is rooted in, sustained by, and aimed at spectacular realities for which non-Christians have no taste.
Distinctly Christian disapproval of sin is rooted in the sin-covering blood of Jesus Christ. It is sustained by the supernaturally transforming work of the Holy Spirit. And it aims at the glory of God in the Christ-exalting joy of as many transformed sinners as possible. The ability to experience a distinctly Christian disapproval of sin is a miracle from God.
The non-Christian world can feel disapproval of many things. But it cannot feel blood-bought, Spirit-empowered, God-honoring disapproval. That is a gift of grace through faith in Christ. It is absolutely unique among a thousand worldly ways to disapprove.
When a person becomes a Christian, he undergoes a transformation not just of what he disapproves, but of how he disapproves. There is nothing peculiarly Christian about the mere disapproval of any human behavior. Therefore, disapproval of sinful behaviors is no evidence of saving grace. Becoming a Christian is far more profound than changing what we disapprove of.
Becoming a Christian is a miracle — sometimes called new birth. It involves putting our trust in the death of Jesus to cover our sins, and relying on the Holy Spirit to help us walk in Christlike love, and bending all our behavior to the glory of God. Only then will a human being be capable of the natural impossibilities involved in a peculiarly Christian disapproval.
All of this I have discovered in the Bible. It is found nowhere else. I have seen, like millions of others, that these spectacular realities — the cross of Christ, the gift of the Spirit, and the magnificence of God’s glory — coalesce in the pages of Scripture with such self-authenticating truth that I am bound joyfully to embrace this book as the revelation of God.
In what follows I will try to explain from Scripture why biblically faithful Christians disapprove of homosexual desires and practices. Then I will try to illuminate the nature of homosexual desires, showing how they relate to my own sinful desires. Finally, I will try to show what a peculiarly Christian disapproval is. This last part includes the question whether revulsion at the act of sodomy is a morally appropriate, or Christian, response.
Why Is There Disapproval at All?
The apostle Paul locates the origin of homosexual desires in the humanity-wide exchange of the glory of God for the glory of man. He argues that, because of this humanity-infecting exchange, men and women exchange natural relations with the opposite sex for unnatural relations with the same sex. In other words, this valuing of humans over God finds one expression in valuing the kind of human in the mirror over the opposite sex.
They exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man. . . . For this reason . . . 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 1:22–27)
“Truly Christian disapproval of sin aims at spectacular realities for which non-Christians have no taste.”
Paul knows that thousands of people — men and women — exchange the glory of God for the glory of self without experiencing homosexual desires.
The correlation between exchanging the otherness of God for the sameness of man does not always result in homosexuality. There are millions who prefer self over God, but who are not homosexual. Homosexuality is only one expression of the distortions that have entered the human race because of idolatry. All sinfulness flows from this primal idolatry in the heart.
Therefore, the experience of homosexuality is not always rooted in one’s personal idolatry. Paul is not saying that everyone who experiences homosexual desires has made a conscious decision to prefer man over God. There are idolatry-renouncing Christians who experience homosexual desires. Paul’s point is that God has given the human race over to futility, and corruption, and the disordering of our affections because of this primal, God-demeaning exchange. Homosexuality is one form of that disordering.
Why Write About Homosexuality?
How do homosexual desires relate to other kinds of disordered desires? It is important to ask this, because it will affect the way we talk about the disapproval of homosexual desires.
One way to answer this question is to pose another one: Why are you writing about homosexuality, and not about theft, or greed, or drunkenness, or reviling, or swindling? I mention these sins because the Bible lists them alongside homosexual practice as sins that will keep us out of the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9–10), unless we are forgiven and justified by faith in Christ (1 Corinthians 6:11).
My answer: I am writing about homosexuality because millions of people this month are celebrating it. My hope is to help Christians disapprove of it in a distinctly Christian way. I will focus mainly on men, whom I know better, with the expectation that readers can make appropriate applications to women.
You may be sure that if millions of people gather around the world to celebrate the beauty of covetousness during “Covetousness Pride” month, I will write about it. In fact, I have written ten times as much about covetousness as about homosexuality, because (to be conservative) ten thousand times more people will be in hell because of unrepentant covetousness than because of homosexuality.
No sin must keep a person out of heaven. None. What keeps a person out of heaven is the unrepentant pursuit of sin, and the rejection of God’s provision for its forgiveness in Jesus’s death and resurrection.
How Are Homosexual Desires Like My Sinful Desires?
Homosexual desires are like and unlike other sinful desires. Let’s be specific: they are like and unlike my sinful desires. To name a few of mine: pride, anger, self-pity, sullenness, fear of shame, impatience, judgmentalism. I have little doubt that my own brain wiring and genetic makeup are part of what inclines me to these sins. I can’t prove it. It just seems obvious.
Whether or not that’s the case, physiological roots do not remove the reality of my corruption and guilt. This is true even though these sinful desires arise unbidden and fully formed in my heart. I do not choose them. I do not plan for them. I do not want them. I am ashamed of them. They simply present themselves in ways that I strongly disapprove of and regret. Not just because I am prone to coddle them, but also because of the sheer fact that they are there. They are part of my natural condition. Apart from Christ, they are who I am.
By God’s grace, I turn against them. I renounce them. By the blood of Christ, and by the power of the Spirit, and for God’s glory, I seek to obey Colossians 3:5: “Put to death . . . what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” I take hold of long-tested strategies of spiritual battle (for example, A.N.T.H.E.M.) and make war.
I would locate homosexual desires on this same battlefield of the human soul. They may or may not have physiological roots. The desires need not be chosen, planned, or wanted. They are simply there. We either engage them as the enemy, or we make peace with them and risk our souls. In this sense, homosexual desires are like my sinful desires. I am just as likely to perish from embracing anger and self-pity as my neighbor is from embracing homosexual desires. That’s how serious all sin is.
How Are Homosexual Desires Unlike My Sinful Desires?
But homosexual desires are also unlike other sins. Paul calls them “dishonorable passions” because they involve “[exchanging] natural relations for those that are contrary to nature” (Romans 1:26). Homosexual desires are different because of the way they contradict what nature teaches. I think this may be seen most clearly if we reflect on the question, What is the moral significance of the emotion of revulsion at the act of sodomy?
“Christians do not base what we ought to do on what we feel like doing — or not doing. Desires can be deceitful.”
I’m using the word sodomy not as equivalent to homosexuality, but as emblematic of the kinds of practices involved in homosexual relations — in this case, a man’s insertion of the organ through which life is meant to enter a woman, into the organ through which waste is meant to leave a man.
Neither the feeling of desire for sodomy nor the feeling of revulsion at sodomy is a morally reliable guide. That sentence is a Christian conviction. Christians do not base what we ought to do on what we feel like doing — or not doing. Desires can be deceitful (Ephesians 4:22). Rather, we are to “understand what the will of the Lord is” (Ephesians 5:17). God’s truth, not our desire, points the way to freedom: “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32).
Some non-Christians may argue that the desire for sodomy is enough to make it good. But by that same principle, the feeling of revulsion toward sodomy is also good. If it feels good, it’s okay. Therefore, sodomy is okay, and revulsion at sodomy is okay.
A Christian does not think this way. We do not argue that revulsion at this act makes the act wrong — no more than we think that a person’s desire for the act makes it right. Sodomy is good or bad depending on whether God says it is good or bad. We have seen that he says it is bad. And it is not only bad: if not forsaken and forgiven through faith in Christ, it will destroy the soul.
What Is the Moral Status of Revulsion at the Act of Sodomy?
There is a natural fitness in revulsion at sodomy. In sexual relations, the penis was not made for the anus. It was made for the vagina. In sodomy, the distortion of that natural use is so flagrant as not to be a mere diversion of the male sex organ from its natural use, but a perversion of it. Revulsion is the emotional counterpart to that linguistic reality.
For the sake of careful distinctions, we should observe here that even the unnaturalness of homosexual desires is not absolutely unlike all other sinful desires, because all sin is contrary to the way things ought to be. And every sin, more or less, ruins what is natural. Other sins, besides homosexual ones, may awaken our sense of unnaturalness with intense disapproval, or revulsion. For example:
A man who takes the last life jacket, leaving women and children to drown, arouses in us not just the moral disapproval of selfishness, but a more visceral reaction that this man has made a detestable wreckage of his manhood.
Or consider a mother whose lover won’t have her and her child. So, she throws her 1-year-old into the river. That act is not only morally evil, but also arouses in us a sense of visceral repugnance that she has butchered her natural motherhood.
Or suppose a man spends a lifetime in miserly hoarding gold, while ignoring all the needs of others. Then to keep his gold from beggars, he ties it around his waist, and drowns crossing a river because he won’t untie the bag. We look upon that life not only as greedy, but as an utter distortion of his humanity, as if a bag of gold is his life.
The natural fitness of revulsion at sodomy corresponds to our visceral reaction at the cowardly man, the callous mother, and the dehumanized miser. It is fitting to feel a visceral aversion to these distortions of natural good. To look on such detestable manhood and such repugnant motherhood and such dehumanizing greed, and feel neutral, is not a sign of moral health. Neither is indifference to sodomy, or its celebration.
God told the prophet Ezekiel, “Pass through the city . . . and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all the abominations that are committed in it” (Ezekiel 9:3–4). There are abominations that ought to produce in us more than mere moral judgments. This ought gives some emotional-physical responses (like sighing, or groaning, or revulsion) a moral dimension.
Nevertheless, the natural fitness of revulsion at sodomy does not, in and of itself, make the revulsion morally good, let alone Christian. Something can be natural and sinful. Natural and non-Christian. Therefore, as I said at the beginning, I have no interest in linking arms with non-Christians who happen to feel revulsion at homosexuality.
Christianity is not a crusade against anything. It is a mission to save sinners, and restore the moral beauty of the bride of Christ — a mission pursued by the cross of Christ, through the power of the Spirit, for the glory of God. Opposing sin is never an end in itself. Christian denunciation of sin is for the sake of holy jubilation in the presence of God.
So, homosexual desires are unlike my besetting sinful desires in being contrary to nature — but not entirely unlike them because all sins are contrary to the way things ought to be. Some impinge on nature more directly than others. The great deadliness of any desire flows not from the fact that it is against nature, but from the fact that it is against God — which is why Paul can list drunkenness, theft, and greed alongside the practice of homosexuality as soul-threatening (1 Corinthians 6:9).
How Is Christian Disapproval Peculiar?
We turn now to ask, What makes Christian disapproval of homosexual desires and practices peculiar? How do the cross of Christ, the power of the Spirit, and the glory of God transform disapproval?
The Cross of Christ
Christian disapproval of homosexuality derives its peculiar character first by the way the death of Christ has formed the heart of the Christian. Paul speaks of Christ being formed in us (Galatians 4:19), and our being conformed to Christ (Romans 8:29). This happens first through the death of Christ.
Forgiving and Recreating
“He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree” (1 Peter 2:24). “He was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities” (Isaiah 53:5). Therefore, “in him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses” (Ephesians 1:7). “Everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins” (Acts 10:43). The cross of Christ declares my depravity, and delivers me from it. The Christian heart is a broken and forgiven heart.
But something else happened when Jesus died. All his people died with him. When we are united to Christ by faith, his death becomes not only the punishment of our sins, but also the death of our sinful nature. Our old, rebellious, selfish, arrogant nature dies. “You have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3). “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:11).
A new creation comes into being. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Therefore, “put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:24). Being loved by Christ with self-sacrificing love, and dying to our old selfish nature, shapes us into the image of our heavenly Father: “Be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us” (Ephesians 5:1–2).
Creating Love for All
A new way of disapproving of sin is built into being forgiven, dying to our old nature, and being recreated in Christ. Christians do not stop disapproving of what will destroy people (sin). They start desiring the good of self-destroyers (sinners). Forgiven Christians want others to join them in being forgiven. Hope-filled Christians want others to join them in the hope of glory. Christians rescued at the cost of Christ’s life are willing to sacrifice for the sake of rescuing others.
This includes all others, whether enemies or friends, straight or gay. Our crucified Savior said, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you” (Luke 6:27–28). The apostle Paul said, “As we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone” (Galatians 6:10). “See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone” (1 Thessalonians 5:15).
This love for all others is rooted in, and formed by, the sacrifice of Christ. His sacrificial servant-heart forms ours. Paul put it like this:
In humility count others more significant than yourselves. . . . Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant . . . to the point of death. (Philippians 2:3–8)
“Christian disapproval of homosexual desires and practices is a disapproval-in-love, a disapproval-in-hope.”
Counting others more significant than ourselves does not mean approving of what they feel or do. It means becoming a servant of their forgiveness, their rescue, their Christ-exalting hope. Christians do not bear ill will toward any. We live for the good of all.
Therefore, Christian disapproval of homosexual desires and practices is a disapproval-in-love, a disapproval-in-hope.
Making the Ugly Beautiful
One may ask whether it is really possible to feel revulsion for some homosexual desires or practices and at the same time feel love and hope. Yes, it is. A military surgeon may be sickened by the ghastly wound of a soldier, but care enough to use all his skill to save him. Jesus touched the unclean, contagious, ostracized leper (Mark 1:40–41). When God chose Israel for his people, he described it like this:
No eye pitied you . . . you were abhorred, on the day that you were born. And when I . . . saw you wallowing in your blood, I said to you in your blood, “Live!” . . . When I passed by you again . . . I made my vow to you and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Lord God, and you became mine. (Ezekiel 16:5–8)
God did not pursue us because we were attractive. We were abhorrent in our sin. The Bible can even speak of God’s “loathing” sinners, and yet lovingly taking them to be his own (Psalm 95:10). In the coming of Christ, he pursued us to forgive us; he sought us in our ugliness in order to make us attractive. “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her . . . that he might present the church to himself in splendor” (Ephesians 5:25–27).
Therefore, the most fundamental peculiarity about Christian disapproval of homosexuality is this humanly impossible combination of three things: First, there is the moral assessment that homosexual desires and practices are sinful based on God’s word. Second, there is some measure of distaste based on what is unnatural. Finally, these combine with a longing for the person’s salvation — his forgiveness, and glad obedience to Jesus, and eternal joy.
The Power of the Holy Spirit
That combination of negative moral assessment, natural distaste, and Christ-shaped sacrificial love is humanly impossible. Apart from a supernatural work of God’s Spirit, the fallen human heart neither assesses sin for what it is, nor sees the true lessons of nature, nor treasures the cross of Christ, nor feels the preciousness of divine forgiveness, nor longs to be spent for the eternal good of others. These miracles are the work of the Holy Spirit. There is no peculiarly Christian disapproval of sin without him.
Before Jesus returned to heaven, he promised to send the Holy Spirit to be with his people. The Spirit’s essential ministry would be to enable people to see and savor the glory of Christ. “He will glorify me,” Jesus said (John 16:14). Seeing and savoring the infinite worth of the glory of Christ is the fountain of all peculiarly Christian disapproval. Without the Spirit, all our disapproving, of anything or anyone, would be merely natural, not Christian — not Christ-exalting.
Through him we have spiritual life (John 3:7–8). Through him the eyes of our hearts are opened to reality (Ephesians 1:17–18). Through him we fulfill humanly impossible resolves (2 Thessalonians 1:11). Through him we experience forgiveness and acceptance with God (1 Corinthians 6:11). Through him we abound in hope (Romans 15:13). Through him we grow in holiness (1 Peter 1:2).
When the Spirit holds sway in our lives, the fruit is “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5:22–23). He radically transforms every act of disapproval.
The Glory of God
All things exist for the glory of God — to show his greatness and the beauty of his holiness. “The heavens declare the glory of God” (Psalm 19:1). Human beings exist in God’s image and for his glory (Genesis 1:27; Isaiah 43:7). The entire plan of redemption is “for the praise of the glory of his grace” (Ephesians 1:6 my translation). Therefore, the overarching duty of all people is to live in a way that calls attention to the supreme worth of God’s glory. “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). That includes all our approving and disapproving.
“Christian joy cannot be protected by hedging others out. It dies by hoarding and intensifies by being shared.”
We disapprove of homosexuality to the glory of God by assessing right and wrong by his word. We disapprove to the glory of God by honoring the way he designed the natural sexual functions of the human body. We disapprove to the glory of God by standing ever ready with eagerness to forgive as he mercifully forgave us. We disapprove to the glory of God by longing and praying for the everlasting good and Christ-exalting joy of all those whose desires and practices we disapprove of. We disapprove to the glory of God by being willing to sacrifice for others to show that God himself is a greater reward than all self-exaltation or vengeance.
Peculiar, Supernatural Disapproval
Biblically faithful Christians do not disapprove of Gay Pride the way non-Christians do. Christian disapproval is peculiar. It is rooted in, sustained by, and aimed at realities for which non-Christians have no taste: the cross of Christ, the power of the Holy Spirit, and the glory of God. It is Trinitarian: God the Son, God the Spirit, and God the Father.
Because of the cross, Christians disapprove of Gay Pride as brokenhearted, forgiven, hope-filled, joyful servants who declare God’s truth with love and courage, as they long to see homosexual people embrace Christ, receive forgiveness, taste the power of the Spirit, and live for the glory of God as our brothers and sisters forever.
Because of the Holy Spirit, Christians disapprove of Gay Pride without self-reliance or self-exaltation. We are utterly dependent on God’s supernatural power to fulfill humanly impossible things — like feeling revulsion at homosexual acts, and at the same time feeling love that would move us to lay down our lives to see those who do such acts become our dearest eternal friends.
Because of the glory of God, Christians disapprove of Gay Pride with a stunned sense of the breathtaking purpose of why all things exist — namely, to show the all-satisfying worth of the beauty of God.
“We rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (Romans 5:2). It is the kind of joy that cannot be protected by hedging others out. It dies by hoarding and intensifies by being shared. We do not exclude anyone from this joy. We live and we die to include as many as possible in it. It is the only joy that lasts forever. For this Christ died. For this the Spirit gives us life. The more we are satisfied by it, the more God is glorified in it. This is the peculiar Christian disapproval of Gay Pride.