When we begin discussing “redemption” and what that means for the sexually suffering and sinning, it is imperative that we remember why this all matters. Recently I came across a tweet by a man, John Pavlovitz. He writes a blog, titled, “Stuff that Needs to be Said.” Recently he wrote a post titled “Dear Phobic Christians: Leave LGBTQ People Alone.” I can hardly resist addressing stuff like that so I replied:
“LGBTQ people will not inherit the kingdom of heaven. For that reason alone, we will not leave them alone.”
Our approach to the sexually broken is as gospel mission. As any experienced missionary would agree, the mission must be wise and it must be patient. We will be serving a community that is likely hostile to the Lord and His church—to be honest, the church does deserve blame for how it has treated those who are suffering and sinning sexually.
Let’s begin by returning to the doctrine of concupiscense.
I mentioned the Roman Catholic church and some in the Protestant Christian community believe a sinful tendency that doesn’t get followed into actual sin is not sin. The application of that doctrine to same sex attraction (SSA) was to assert SSA isn’t inherently sinful. The logic then goes: since it is not, it must come from my identity. Following? “If it isn’t sin and it is persistent in my experience, it must be part of who I am.” [Of course, this confuses identity with identifiers.]
Now this is exactly what the world believes: “I was born this way.” The world doesn’t leave any room for any other explanation. The Bible and the Reformers disagree: desires that lead to sinful action are themselves sinful: we can’t rage inside or panic inside or lust inside and be without sin simply by keeping it inside. One example from the Sermon on the Mount:
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.
How is it possible to have already committed adultery simply by the act of lust? Lust is adultery in seed form—when planted, watered and full grown, it leads to adultery. Fornication (including adultery) is the only way lust ends. The diagnostic question was:
- …if the actions resulting from following the desire are themselves sinful, then the desire is also sin.
WCF 6.5 says this:
This corruption of nature, during this life, does remain in those that are regenerated; and although it be, through Christ, pardoned and mortified; yet both the [corrupted nature] and all the motions that follow it are truly and properly sin.
The Confession is discussing original sin (“Corruption of nature”) and actual sin (“all the motions that follow it”) and say both “…are truly and properly sin.” Concupiscence is another term for original sin or “…an inward feeling, arousal or attraction before any conscious consent.”
Where Rome and some Protestants go awry is to say these disordered desires that spring from original sin (or concupiscent desires) are not, in themselves, sinful unless they are acted upon. There are two problems with this view.
First, using SSA as the test case, to take SSA out of the realm of concupiscence—out of the realm of sin—is to isolate it from Christ. Why? To call what is sin “not sin” is to pluck it out of what can be redeemed by the blood of Christ. What are the options for someone who experiences it, then?
- Act on it and deal with the guilt and shame that comes from it because it is disordered.
- Despair about its presence and dive into pain alleviation strategies including suicide.
Second, to take SSA out of the realm of concupiscence is to isolate it from the Church. Why? To call what is sin “not sin” is to isolate a suffering sinner from others. Part of what makes LGBTQ community strong is a sense of shared persecuted experience. This community is accepting, facilitating, affirming shared feelings (perhaps including hatred for the church and others who don’t accept it and so forth). The church too often has not offered its shelter to those who are struggling with sexual sin.
No: to call SSA “sin” is to expose it to the freeing light of Christ ministering by His Spirit, with the Word in the context of the church—the one place where redemption and freedom is found in the world. I find it to be remarkable that one might want to deny SSA, etc. is sinful.
If we say it issues from original sin and can be mortified in Christ, then there is freedom and hope in that.
To deny the truthfulness of the sin is to harden the enslavement to it. It was not God’s original design and it is part of what is fallen—why not be freed from its guilt and over time, its power?
The Ad Interim Committee report is particularly helpful in this area. Let’s consider five (5) points it makes that are supported by our WCF and allow it be our framework for our mission to bring Christ to suffering sinners. These principles will help us be humble and persistent and will assist us in encouraging those who turn from these lifestyles as they confront the hardships.
First, “the common dynamic of concupiscence.”
The fact that we each share the experience of unwanted and disordered desires.
“…the dynamic of spontaneous sinful desire or attraction is not unique to those who experience homosexual desire. All people experience it.”
All who are descended from Adam have a corrupted nature and “the complex of disordered affections, desires and attractions that come with that corruption….The truth is that if we think humbly and carefully about our own spontaneous thoughts, feelings and desires, we would recognize that we are all much more alike than different.”
“Who has been a Christian for some length of time who is not aware of at least one particular area of struggle with sin in which whatever success is had in curbing behavior is nonetheless accompanied by a troubling inward draw toward the sin, like a stubborn memory of sinful pleasure that interrupts incessantly and uninvited?
“Even our lack of feeling is concupiscent: that which is most good and would glorify God does not delight us as it should; that which is evil does not repel us as it should.
The reminder that all who have descended from Adam experience individualized versions of concupiscence, can assist us in being humble and patient. After all, we are simply two beggars looking for bread.
Second, “Continued corruption.”
“According to the system of the WCF, we should not be surprised, but rather expect that concupiscence in general and specific instances like homosexual attraction, would continue in the life of a believer.”
We are not right to communicate to a believer with a history of SSA that this will simply disappear—the secret agent, the fallen flesh and the external temptations will not disappear in this life. “To teach that our sinful corruption must be entirely removed from any part of us in order to be considered truly repentant is a spiritually treacherous perversion of the doctrine of repentance.”
Third, “Real Change.”
“We should not rule out, but rather expect that concupiscence in general and specific instances like homosexual attraction, would be areas in which the believer would see some progress toward truly righteous feelings and actions.”
The hope of redemption in Christ is that change isn’t just possible, it is certain. Just like any sinner with a historic sin-struggle, “change” will be uneven (two steps forward, one back). But change must be expected and sought: the sanctifying Spirit is after the whole man.
Fourth, “Celebrating Sincere Efforts.”
“According to the WCF, the remaining experience of homosexual attractions notwithstanding, God is truly pleased with one’s sincere efforts to follow Christ in holiness because he looks on even those imperfect deeds as being “in Christ” and covered by the imputation of Christ’s perfect righteousness (WCF 16.6).”
This is tremendously important: we expect that perfect obedience is the only kind of obedience; so we don’t celebrate even the little steps of godliness that we make. And we turn on each other with that same yardstick of what qualifies as something to celebrate and we don’t encourage each other.
- If my goal is to work out every day and I make it only three days instead of seven, should that be celebrated?
- If I vow to eat no sugar because I used to eat a bag of Chips Ahoy at one sitting and instead I eat 4 instead of none, should that be celebrated?
- If a man converted out of a gay lifestyle who regularly daily used to look at homosexual porn now has one day out of five he does not, should that be celebrated?
Gospel change in an individual’s life is always incomplete and mixed with corruption. But:
“In Christ, every bit of progress, every moment of victory over temptation even victory over the temptation that comes from the sinful corruption remaining inside of us is to be celebrated as a gift of the new life of Christ with confidence that is pleases God as such.”
We should celebrate every moment of obedience even if it is imperfect because in Christ the imperfection is covered.
Lastly, “Moral Difference.”
“Even when original sin is manifested in the form of sinfully disordered desires or feelings, including homosexual attraction, there is significant moral difference between that initial “motion” of corruption and the decision to cultivate or act on it.”
“To feel a sinfully disordered sexual attraction (of any kind) is properly to be called sin—and all sin, “both original and actual” earns God’s wrath—but it is significantly less heinous than any level of action upon it in thought or deed.”
Once again, this distinction will allow us to think rightly about the progress of growing like Christ and help sinners celebrate where they should.
- We share the corruption of original sin with every other human
- There is continued corruption which means progress will be uneven
- There is real change by the Holy Spirit
- Sincere efforts must be celebrated because they are pleasing to God in Christ
- There’s a moral difference between temptation and actual sin.