The subject of temptation, same-sex attraction and sin is one that seems to call for ever more follow-ups.
First, let us consider some questions with regard to temptation. If the stirrings of sin are themselves sinful, as I have been arguing, then how did Adam first sin? He was created perfect. As I was telling my theology class yesterday, this is a subject that would provide someone with a fine thesis topic. The short answer is — whatever else it is — a different answer than it is with us.
We are up against the world, the flesh, and the devil. Adam did not have to contend with “the flesh,” but he was up against the devil, and a jury-rigged world. The world was not then fallen, but it could be presented as though it was. John tells us to “love not the world” (1 John 2:15-16), and the things he tells us to reject were all present in the garden — the lust of the flesh (good for food), the lust of the eyes (pleasant to the eyes), and the pride of life (desired to make one wise). So then Eve and Adam had the capacity to choose self over God, and the impetus for this were the external circumstances and an external tempter.
We also know that an external tempter is not absolutely necessary in order to sin because when the devil first sinned (if he was the first), then that was done without outside help. What is necessary, apparently, is a choosing self and an external set of circumstances in which a wrong choice can be made.
But for us, it is neither here nor there. Because we go into every temptation with some part of us already rooting for the other team, sin happens earlier. Compare when Adam reached for the forbidden fruit, and when we reach for it. It is safe to say that we are in a state of sin sooner than he would be. We are halfway there sooner than he would be.
“But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death” (James 1:14–15).
The word rendered lust here is epithumia, strong desire. In Adam, that strong desire was not sinful in itself. In us, it is already compromised, given the nature of the case. When the desires involved have a creational center (as with sex, hunger, thirst), it is not sinful clean through, but our desires are nevertheless compromised. We find no fault with our created and material nature. But these created and material natures are fallen, and this affects how they operate. If God were to mark iniquities, who would stand (Ps. 130:3)?
And all this is why Christians have a responsibility in three kinds of mortification. The following is an excerpt from a sermon I preached in 2009.
In order to understand what Paul is teaching here, we have to sort something out first. He is describing a crucifixion, a death, a mortification. But this is not a concept that has only one application for the Christian life.
First is the death of the “old man,” the old way of being human. This is equated with the overthrow of the rule and reign of sin, the dominion of sin (Rom. 6:6; Gal. 5:24; 6:14). The old man is dead—you don’t have to keep killing him. This is something that is equally true of all who are genuine Christians. The second kind of mortification occurs in the lives of Christians who have stumbled or fallen, and significant sin has grown up in their life. This is what Paul addresses in his letter to the Colossians. “Mortify your members which are on the earth” (Col. 3:5). These are not trifles, because he goes on to define them as “fornication, uncleanness, etc.” But he is talking to Christians, who should have their affections set above, and the action he calls them to is a decisive action at a point in time. The third kind of mortification is daily, for each of us. As John Owen once put it, a man should not think he makes any progress in godliness “who walks not daily over the bellies of his lusts.” We will see this just a few chapters from now—”if he through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live” (Rom. 8:13). The verb here refers to an action that is continuous and ongoing. This mortification you will never get to walk away from on this side of glory. If you do, then you will be confronted with the duty mentioned to the Colossians.
And I also said this:
Picture a weed patch, not cultivated at all. When the first mortification happens, God plows the weed patch under, and makes it a garden. It is now a garden, and not a weed patch. The old status is dead. The second mortification is what happens when that garden is untended for a week, and you come back to find weeds in it that are up to your thigh. Uproot them, pull them out. That is the second kind of mortification.
The third kind is what any good gardener will tell you about. Get out there every morning, and pull up the weeds that are the size of your thumbnail. They will always be there. That is the third kind of mortification.
So this should be our backdrop for all discussions of same-sex attraction. Where does this fit in? And what does it mean with regard to Christian leadership?
There are two layers here. The first has to do with the connection between the sin committed and the genesis of that same sin in the desire of the heart. The Lord teaches this explicitly with regard to adultery (Matt. 5:28). God sees a man doing something and a man internally wanting to do it, giving himself over to the sin in the chambers of his mind.
But that is not the only problem — and it is here that the evangelical world stumbles. We have the vice proper, and the vice treasured in the heart, and I think that if we were to discuss that long enough, we could hammer out an agreement. The problem is not confession of our vices, but rather confession of what we assumed were our virtues.
We have had this same problem for decades with regard to the ordination of women. Evangelicals are stuck with the texts that prohibit it, but have, over time, come to prize feminine characteristics in their leadership. This leaves us in the sorry position of having to exclude from leadership those who have the leadership qualities we most prize. The results have been pretty tragic — our own evangelical contribution to the long and sorry history of the third sex.
We do draw the line, and try to mortify certain things. But we are seeking to mortify the wrong things. Cutting to the chase, we mortify true masculinity in leadership. We reward softness. We are afraid of masculine leadership. For the time being, we insist on male leadership but recoil from masculine leadership.
One of the results is that our leadership ranks are starting to fill up with men who are attracted to men, but who promise not to do anything about it. So let me end with a thought experiment. Take one hundred evangelical ministers who struggle with same sex attraction. Let us suppose that we have a magic wand that would entirely remove every form of sexual immorality, and all secret inclinations to it, but everything else remained the same. All the ministerial “virtues” they seek to cultivate in themselves remain. Most of those one hundred ministries (not all of them, but most) would be spiritually intolerable.