This is the third of a five-part blog series on same-sex attraction. Be sure to read part 1 (“Why we have such a problem talking about same-sex attraction in the church”), part 2 (“Is same-sex attraction wrong? If so, why?”), part 4 (“How do I love my gay friend?”), and our conclusion in part 5 (“Concluding Thoughts”).
Our culture tells us that if we find same-sex desire within us, we need to affirm them. The only way to be truly authentic is to be true to what is deep inside of you. But if what we know of Scripture is true, that’s a dangerous starting point.
Forget about sexuality for a moment, and consider how God talks about the way we approach him: “This is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word” (Isaiah 66:2). On all issues, sexuality or otherwise, that is to be our posture before God—recognizing the waywardness of our hearts and allowing God to guide us toward the right. Is that your posture before God in your sexuality? Are you humble, contrite, and trembling at his Word?
Rosaria Butterfield, a previously practicing lesbian and advocate of the LGBT lifestyle, makes this point beautifully. The core issue, she says, is never sexual. It’s the attitude toward God behind our sexuality. We want to establish what is right. We want to be God. We want to judge rather than to judge. The problem, she says, isn’t sexual orientation; it’s soul orientation.
No one goes to hell for being a homosexual. How do I know? Because no one goes to heaven for being a heterosexual. We are condemned—gay or straight—for a refusal to submit to God. Jesus said that following him meant denying yourself. That’s not just for gay people about their sexual preference. That’s for all of us. I love how Rosaria says it: “To follow Jesus, every person must surrender up every thing.”
“Well,” you ask, “If I surrender up these desires, will God change me?” In a very real sense, for those of us who trust in Christ, God has changed you. You are, as Paul says, washed, sanctified, and justified in his name. But that doesn’t mean your sinful desires magically disappear. As every Christian knows, not every broken thing in our lives gets healed immediately.
Richard Hays, in his book Moral Vision of the New Testament, says that the already-not yet dimension of the kingdom provides the answer to whether people should expect to change their sexual passions upon coming to Christ. Already-not yet means that Jesus has inaugurated his kingdom and we already experience certain elements of his power, but much of Jesus’ ultimate healing works have not yet come. Physical healing works like this. Sometimes Jesus will heal as a sign of the Kingdom, but sometimes we have to wait for the resurrection for ultimate healing.
In other words, many godly people still die of cancer. It’s not because they don’t have faith; it’s because their ultimate healing comes in the resurrection. I can look in my own heart and see sins from which Jesus has healed me. I am, in many ways, a changed man, but I still yearn for redemption and healing from other things. None of us will be made completely whole until Christ returns.
This is true of sexuality as well. I know of people who have seen God work dramatically in the area of their sexual desires. But for others, God allows people to struggle so that they can be a testimony to God’s sustaining grace in struggle. I would even say that the latter seems to be God’s normal way.
John Newton, the writer of Amazing Grace, came to this realization late in his life, after getting frustrated by seeing the same sins attack him in his eighties that had plagued him in his twenties. He came to see that God allows us to continue struggling with indwelling sin to convince us—until our dying breath—of our desperate need for grace. Christian growth this side of heaven is not getting to a point where you don’t feel like you need grace anymore (which is how most of think of Christian growth). Christian growth is becoming more intimately aware of how desperately we need grace.
One last note: I’ve been asked by a gay friend, “If God doesn’t change my desires, am I destined to be alone?” I know it is difficult to imagine a fulfilled life without sex, but we have to reject the cultural myth that the only satisfying life is a sexually fulfilled life. If God calls you to a single life, he will give you the empowerment to do it joyfully.
Does that seem like a heavy cross to bear? Then know that Jesus bears it with you. And be assured, that even if you never marry, God doesn’t want you to be alone. It simply may not be in marriage that he gives you family and offspring. True family and offspring come through the church, as we invest in others for the sake of the kingdom. And as we pour ourselves out for others, we will find that, ironically, we are more fulfilled than we could ever have imagined.