Identity and Homosexual Desire

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The situation described in the following letters is entirely fictitious, including persons, names, crimes, sins, relationships, circumstances and all particulars. The kind of situation that is described, however, is all too common and my hope is that biblical principles applied to this fictitious scenario may be of some help to individuals tangled up in a real one.

Dear Tomas,

In these polarized times of ours, it is not surprising that people want to make sweeping claims for their position. And so it is that many things are overstated. There are some conservative Christians who think that “reparative therapy” should be simple, that you should be able to just “pray the gay away.” (And, of course, there are many other Christians who do not have a simplistic approach, but are accused of having one simply because they believe it is possible for someone to repent and turn from a homosexual lifestyle to a faithful heterosexual relationship.) On the other side of the chasm, we have homosexual activists claiming that a homosexual identity is necessarily down in the bones, and that any attempt to “flip it” is going to do nothing but cause a lot of emotional damage and suicidal thoughts. This is simplistic also.

Not only is fixed identity approach simplistic, but in its current form it is also contradictory. We are told, ad nauseam, that the homosexual identity is baked in, that homosexuals are “born this way,” but we are also told that sexual identity is a “social construct.” Well, which is it? If a man is born that way, how can it be a social construct? And if it is a social construct, why is it impossible to socially reconstruct it? And why is it illegal in some states for counselors even to try to socially reconstruct it?

We need to slow down here and define some terms. The current dogma about sexual desire and sexual behavior runs something like this. Chastity is not a genuine option. That’s a given. And so sexual identity arrives in someone’s innermost being (either from the genome or from social construction, we haven’t decided yet), and that sexual identity, so to speak, aims the gun. But once the identity is established, that is the direction it must necessarily go. Sexual behavior is a given because chastity is incomprehensible, and in order to be healthy, sexual behavior must run in a straight line from the sexual identity of the person concerned and out to the sexual behavior.

The problem lies with that word identity. I have no problem agreeing that sexual behavior is a social construct. It involves other people, it is an area of life where habits develop, and where a wide range of behaviors manifest themselves. Cultures and subcultures can grow up around certain practices. And as a set of human behaviors, the outworking can be (not surprisingly) pretty fluid.

So certainly, sexual behavior is a social construct, and we are required by God to function within His law as we build that sexual culture—a godly sexual culture includes things like chastity, fidelity, monogamy, and so on. All of this is socially constructed—when we look at the sexual corruptions of the Roman Empire, and we look at the kind of sexual culture that was constructed out of that (through the power of the gospel), how could we deny that sexual behavior and sexual culture are socially constructed?

On a spiritual level, your identity is in Christ. On a physical level, your identity is that of a son and a brother. Because you are a son and a brother, this obviously means that you are male. According to the law of God, the only lawful outworking of a male’s sexual desires (which are built in) is by finding a wife, and then making love to her. There is no foundational identity anywhere in your being which would authorize you to ignore any one of the stipulations of God’s moral law. When we find deep desires that conflict with God’s moral order (which the Bible calls lusts), we are called to mortify those lusts, and redirect the physical desires (which provide some of the raw material for the lusts) to a lawful object. This is something which, according to Scripture, believers have the ability to do. This is not an impossibility.

In an earlier letter, I quoted Paul’s teaching in first Corinthians. I want to do that again, but with a different point in view this time.

“Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate (malakoi), nor abusers of themselves with mankind (arsenokoites), Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Cor. 6:9–11).

The point here is the phrase and such were some of you. It is obviously possible, according to this apostolic teaching, to be a former drunkard, a former thief, a former adulterer, a former reviler, a former extortioner, and so on. And such were some of you. Why do we then want to say that it is impossible for someone to depart from the malakoi in repentance? Why do we argue that the arsenokoites keep their members forever? In order to do that, we have to pluck these two sins out of the list and say that Paul did not know what he was talking about here. And of course, that is inconsistent with every sane view of apostolic authority.

So we are talking about the difference between nature and biography, and misuse of that word identity mixes everything up horribly. A man who steals something is a thief, but we are talking about his biography, not his nature. He becomes a thief when he steals. There is no need to hunt for a thievery genome. He is a thief because he stole something, and if he follows the apostle’s exhortation—“let the thief steal no longer”—then a time will come when he is no longer a thief. He would then be able to say something like “I used to be a thief before I was converted.” After his conversion, we can suppose he has to learn how to restrain periodic impulses to steal. The force of habit can be strong, and so he has to learn how to say no to these impulses. His identity is now in Christ, and not in his former stealing. The same thing goes for other vices, and I don’t see any exegetical reason why we should carve out an exception for sexual vices.

But we do have to go one layer deeper. As long as we are talking about nature, we have to recognize that prior to conversion, our nature does include a bent toward sin. But this sinful nature does not specialize. There is nothing in our nature that requires us to covet Ferraris, or to lust after blondes, or to swear falsely in this specific court case. Our unregenerate nature is basically an anti-God frame of mind, and anything that is ready at hand for expressing that anti-God frame of mind will do. Whatever the work of the Spirit is in a particular moment, the reprobate mind wants to go the other way—like a magnet repelling another magnet on the table. The second magnet is reacting away from the first magnet, and is not being attracted by the milk carton (for example).

The forces that impel us to react are not simple, but are rather complex. But the sum total of them amounts to running from God. In my last letter to you, I addressed some of the forces that had nothing directly to do with sexual desire—your attitude toward your mom, for example. Other forces could include envy, peer pressure, the social construct that this rebellious generation is trying to build, etc. But at the center of each one is a flight from God. What you want to do is repent in each of these specific areas, and through Christ turn to God in those areas. Love your mom. Mortify your envy of your roommate. Resist the propaganda which confronts each of us daily. This can be painstaking, and even exasperating, and sometimes you will not see what it could possibly have to do with your temptations to lust after other men. But it does.

In my next letter, if you are willing, I would like to write about your experiences and experiments in the heterosexual realm. You mentioned earlier that you had been with a girl once, in high school. You also said in passing that you have on a couple of occasions tried heterosexual porn to see if it might interest you—and not surprisingly it didn’t. For various reasons, this kind of thing is not to be recommended at all, and I will try to explain why. Of greater interest to me is the solitary episode you mentioned when you were greatly attracted to a woman in a magazine ad for a luxury automobile. Of course we have to determine that it wasn’t the car, but then we can discuss that instance of attraction—and also address why it was so fleeting.

Thanks for the interaction.



Douglas Wilson


Photo by Alejandro Escamilla on Unsplash

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John F. Martin
John F. Martin
5 years ago

Greetings Pastor Wilson! Thank you for continuing this series, I’m applying it to myself and my own journey within Celebrate Recovery. I appreciate your consistency on the theme of identity. In CR, we identify as believers in Jesus Christ who struggle. In the secular recovery groups I attend, we identify directly with our struggle – “I’m an addict.” I think there is strength in both, especially for the newcomer – but ultimately it is our identification with Christ that matters. I’m listening to an audio series on Romans from Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones and am smack in the middle of Romans… Read more »

John F. Martin
John F. Martin
5 years ago
Reply to  John F. Martin

Found some…should have looked first!

5 years ago

This is pretty awesome. I can’t find anything that bothers me. Grateful you mentioned the “social construct” of sexuality in the Roman Empire. True, that.

One thing about Identity, there’s too much “I” in there. More of God less of “I” is pretty much the cure for all that ails us. Of course, slaying the will of “I” is not always so easy.

5 years ago
Reply to  MeMe

“I “?
Those vowels just butt in everywhere!????

Larry Geiger
Larry Geiger
5 years ago

” The force of habit can be strong, and so he has to learn how to say no to these impulses.” Joyce Meyer once said something that to me was profound. She said that she did not covet the things in a zippy mart every time she drove by one. Now that seems like an odd statement. But she then went on and told of a conversation that she had in a prison visitation with an inmate who had become a Christian. Every time he drove by a zippy mart he mentally cased the place and did a mental calculation… Read more »

5 years ago

Thanks for the Pastor Wilson. As someone who has struggled with same-sex-attraction thoughtout life — with varying degrees, and with recent attraction to women, but still that seeming different than the attraction most other men have toward women –I appreciate thoughtful, careful writings from Christian brothers on on the subject. I would love to see a continuation of this “conversation.”