On the Sinfulness of Sexual Desire

In the past several decades, as activists seeking to normalize homosexual and transgender behavior—as well as other aberrant forms of sexual behavior that are not easily classified as abuse—Evangelicals have sought to draw a distinction between those who practice such things and those who merely are afflicted with the desire to do them.  Thus, in the ordination debates that raged in the Mainline Protestant denominations in the 1990s and 2000s, Mainline Evangelicals made a distinction between homosexuals, defined as those who were afflicted with same-gender sexual desires, and practicing homosexuals, defined as those who acted on those desires.  The point that they wanted to make was that homosexuality, like all forms of sexual expression outside of monogamous, heterosexual marriage is a sin, as defined by God’s Word (Lev. 18.22, 20.13, Rom. 1.24-27, I Cor. 6.9-11, I Tim. 1.9-10).  Thus, they argued, while it is a violation of God’s Word to ordain practicing homosexuals, it is not a violation to ordain non-practicing homosexuals.

This year, an attempt was made to introduce this distinction in the Presbyterian Church in America, a conservative denomination formed in 1973, before the ordination debate in the Mainline denominations reared its ugly head, threatening to further fracture the already faltering denominations.  This attempt came not in the General Assembly, but in the Revoice Conference, hosted by the PCA’s Memorial Presbyterian Church in St. Louis.  The Revoice organization’s stated purpose is, “Supporting, encouraging, and empowering gay, lesbian, same-sex attracted, and other gender and sexual minority Christians so they can flourish while observing the historic, Christian doctrine of marriage and sexuality.”  In other words, it is perfectly acceptable to have homosexual, transgender, bisexual, or similar desires, even to find one’s identity in these desires, just as long as one does not act on them.

Homosexuality, like these others, is a sin to be repented of and mortified, not a morally neutral condition of same-gender sexual attraction to be embraced and incorporated into one’s identity in Christ.  After Paul identified “men who practice homosexuality” (Gk. arsenokoitai and malakoi) among those who “will not inherit the kingdom of God”, he wrote, “And such were (Gk. æte; note the imperfect [past] tense of the verb) 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.” (I Cor. 6.9-11)  In other words, among the Corinthian believers were some who used to be homosexuals, but they repented of their homosexuality and turned to Jesus Christ in faith, and now they were no longer homosexuals.  This does not mean that they did not continue struggling with same-gender sexual attraction, but they recognized it for what it was—a desire to engage in sexual intercourse with a person who was the same gender as themselves—and sought to put that desire to death.  They did not find their identity—in whole or in part—in their sinful desires.

James explained this well when he wrote, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.  But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.  Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” (Jas. 1.13-15)  Our hearts are corrupt.  “The intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth.” (Gen. 8.21)  “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jer. 17.9)  “What comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person.  For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander.  These are what defile a person.” (Mt. 15.18-20)

All sin begins as desire in the human heart.  Again to quote James, “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you?  Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?  You desire and do not have, so you murder.  You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel.  You do not have, because you do not ask.  You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” (Jas. 4.1-3)

Sin infects every aspect of our being, especially our desires.  We want what we want, regardless of whether it is right or wrong in the sight of God.  This is why so many men in positions of prominence in the culture—inside the pale of the Church, as well as outside—have been caught up in the day of reckoning that has come with the #MeToo movement.  They wanted what they wanted, and for a time they could take it for themselves with seemingly no consequences.  But “nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known.  Therefore whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed on the housetops.” (Lk. 12.2-3)

Our identity must be found in Christ alone—not in what we do, not in our family or cultural relationships, not in our position or station in life, and certainly not in our sinful desires, for “the world is passing away along with its desires” (I Jn. 2.17).  So then, Paul enjoins us, “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.  On account of these the wrath of God is coming.”  Rather, we are to “put off the old self with its practices and…put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” (Col. 3.5-10)  We are to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” (Rom. 13.14)

This world is fraught with “identity politics”, wanting us to find our identity in our “sexual orientation” and in a “gender” that is not defined by having been made male (XY) or female (XX) by God, wanting us to state whether we prefer to be referred to with masculine or feminine (or neuter or plural) pronouns.  The world wants us to squeeze us into its mold of self-centeredness in all things sexual (and yet is surprised when people follow that to its logical conclusion and blatantly abuse others).

But we do not belong to this world; we belong to Christ alone.  “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.  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.” (Rom. 12.1-2)