In a recent interview posted to the Australian edition of a very popular evangelical website, Ed Shaw, co-founder of the Living Out website, where it is argued that same-sex attraction (SSA) is “natural” and that SSA is not per se sinful—this is the essence of the so-called Side-B approach to the question of the relations between Christianity and homosexuality—made some controversial comments. Among the controversial things Shaw said, was this comment in reply to a question inviting him to respond to “emotional” debates in Australia and elsewhere over SSA and to “hostility.”

Questioning Assumptions

He said:

Sometimes it is confusion around the terminology we use and other times because we have pushed back on investing in methods and thinking of the past in terms of reparative therapy; or thinking that to be godly you have to be heterosexual; and that healing, in the here and now, must mean getting married and having 2.4 children. But overt hostility actually comes from very few people, really.

I do not know who is advocating actual “reparative therapy,” if by that he means an aggressive, intensive attempt to “re-program” someone’s sexual orientation. Faithful pastors and counselors, must, however, encourage Christians to die to sin, including the sin of desiring to have sex with anyone outside of marriage (between a man and a woman) and same-sex sexual attraction. In his reply, Shaw begs the question, i.e., assumes what he must prove: that SSA is not sin.

As has been argued in this space (see below and on the Heidelblog) at length, Scripture plainly describes same-sex attraction as sin. Romans 1:24–27 teach us to think that the very act of desiring to have sex with someone of the same sex is inherently sinful. Paul calls speaks of “dishonorable passions” (πάθη ἀτιμίας) as translated in the ESV or “vile affections” as rendered in the King James Version.

Next we should have to discuss the distinction between a “sexual orientation” and desires or passions. One difficulty here is that “sexual orientation” is not a biblical category. Scripture knows about desires and actions that are natural and unnatural. Paul calls homosexuality (same-sex attraction and behavior) unnatural and sinful in Romans 1. In 1 Corinthians 6:9 he delineates further by distinguishing two kinds of homosexual behavior (μαλακοὶ οὔτε ἀρσενοκοῖται), namely the passive, effeminate partner in a same-sex relationship and the dominant partner. Perhaps most importantly, Shaw approach cannot account for Paul’s clause, “And such were some of you” (1 Cor 6:11; ESV). According to Paul, those who have been given new life by the Holy Spirit, who have been given true faith, are united to Christ. They have been “washed,” “sanctified,” and “justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (v. 11).

This is not to say that Christians never struggle with sin. Romans 7 says that they do but we should be careful about adopting the category “sexual orientation” and then reading that back into Scripture. Further, we should doubt the notion that people are simply born with a SSA. Typically, people become homosexuals, i.e., develop a same-sex attraction for a variety of reasons, most of them environmental. Studies have repeatedly shown that most homosexuals were themselves sexually abused or raised in the midst of greater than average dysfunction, e.g., alcoholism, physical abuse, emotional abuse, or with an absent father. Sometimes people respond to a failed romance by turning to members of the same sex. In other words, it is not just another normal, ordinary sexual orientation that becomes sin only when acted upon. The very desire to have sex with someone of the same-sex is disordered, unnatural, and sinful. It is what the older Reformed theologians called “concupiscence.” See the resources below for more on this.

We should also reject Shaw’s assertion that heterosexuality is not a part of godliness. Being heterosexual does not make one godly but heterosexuality is normal, it is natural, and governed by God’s moral law, within the bounds of a natural marriage, heterosexuality is part of a godly life for believers.

In the interview he also addressed the problem of inclusion. He speaks of being “‘biblically inclusive’ of sexual minority groups.” Let us be perfectly clear. All sinners are welcome in Christ’s church. They are welcome to visit. Indeed, we implore all sinners to come join with us sinners, to bow the knee to King Jesus with us, to acknowledge with us the greatness of their sin and misery and their need for the Savior. This is what Christians do Lord’s Day by Lord’s Day. We read and hear the moral law. We are again convicted of our desperate need for Jesus. The minister announces Christ’s grace and forgiveness to all who know their sins and who trust in Jesus alone for their righteousness before God.

Scripture, however, knows nothing of “sexual minority groups.” This is an artificial category intended to re-describe sin as a socio-political problem, as if the chief problem faced by those who are same-sex attracted, bi-sexual, transgendered, or “queer” (pan-sexual, rejecting categories altogether) is that their sins are not treasured by the church.  Of course sins should not be treasured or valued by the church. They should be acknowledged for what they are, violations of God’s holy law and repudiated. The first public word out of our Lord’s mouth was “The time is fulfilled. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15; ESV). For more on a biblical view of inclusion see the essay below in the resources.

The Temptation Of The Christ

One of the central issues in this current debate between the so-called “Side B” or “Gay Christian” approach to this question and the historic Christian view involves three doctrines: the doctrine of humanity (anthropology), including the the doctrine of sin (hamartiology), and the doctrine of Christ (Christology).

In response to a question asking for Shaw’s advice “for the average Sydney churchgoer when it comes to attitudes to same-sex attraction” he replies, in part, “we need to work hard to better understand LGBT experiences and how the Gospel treats all people the same.” The first part is probably true, the second part is certainly true, but he omits a third: the law also condemns all sin. Nevertheless, there is more to be said. Scripture does not treat all sins the same. The Apostle Paul explicitly says, “Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body” (1 Cor 6:18; emphasis added). The very structure of the verse “every other…but” signals a distinction in kinds and qualities of sins. Sexual sin is particularly grievous and all the more so for Christians. See the resources below for more on this.

Shaw responds to another question by saying, “I’m wanting the young people who come to this event to know that Jesus is the one person that they can fully trust with their sexualities, identities and gender because he is both their Creator God and a human being who knows what it is like to grapple with a sexuality, identity and gender.”

These remarks provoked a considerable amount of response on social media, to which the editors responded thus:

We urge our readers to consider the meaning of Hebrews 2:18 and 4:15. Jesus (i) was genuinely tempted in every way like us; (ii) suffered in the process; (iii) did not sin. Every one of those statements is important—not just the last. The Bible does not tell us what particular temptations Jesus may have experienced in these areas, but it stresses that he had a human nature that was capable of being tempted. Temptation, in other words, is not the same as sin. This article should not be understood to teach that Jesus possessed a fallen nature, lusts or same-sex attraction, but that he experienced suffering and testing through the privation of his human nature.

Remarkably and quite helpfully, the editors point readers to an essay on “The Temptations of Jesus” by John McClean, which largely contradicts the assertions of the editors and the implied interpretation of Hebrews 2:18 and 4:15. McClean quite rightly notes that we may not read our own experience of temptation back into Jesus. Further, our temptations come from within, as James says,

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 (James 1:13-14; ESV).

The key clause here is this: each one is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.” We may not impute that experience to Jesus. To do so is blasphemy. He did not sin. As we will see below, we confess that that he has a true human nature but not a corrupt human nature. As McClean says, corruption is not inherent to human nature.

We should follow McClean when he distinguishes then, between trials (temptations) that Jesus experienced in the wilderness and throughout his life which came to him from outside himself (objective) and our internal struggles with sin (subjective). Jesus understands us because he is true man. He knows our infirmity and our frailties but he is not a sinner and he did not sin. In that sense, as McClean reminds us by quoting Wescott, he understands sin better than we since he persevered through the offers of the Evil One without giving in as we so often do.

Holding On To Biblical-Creedal Christology

In the Definition of Chalcedon we confess:

one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood; truly God and truly man, of a rational soul and body; consubstantial with the Father according to the Godhead, and consubstantial with us according to the Manhood; in all things like unto us, without sin; begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhead, and in these latter days, for us and for our salvation, born of the Virgin Mary, the theotokos (θεοτοκος), according to the humanity; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, Only-begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person and one Subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son, and only begotten….

Jesus is true man and true God. What makes him like us in every respect, sin notably excepted, is that he has a “rational soul” and a true human body. He is “consubstantial” with us, i.e., he shares our human nature. He suffered the vicissitudes of life. He suffered thirst (John 19:28). He grieved (Luke 19:41). He ate fish (Luke 35:42). The disciples could his true, human body (Luke 35:29). He was in the womb of the Virgin and was born, even though his conception was supernatural. He grew up (Luke 2:52). In short, we are not Gnostics or Docetists, who denied Jesus true humanity. The Apostle John called any such denial, “antichrist” (1 John 4:3) but as McClean notes, this affirmation does not entail imputing to Jesus sinful desires.

Jesus did not entertain Satan’s offer. He suffered in the wilderness as our federal representative, the Last Adam (1 Cor 15:45; Rom 5:12–21). He learned obedience through his suffering (Heb 5:8). He matured. He persevered but he never had a sinful desire. He resisted the offer to entertain sinful desires. He was not concupiscent. He rejected concupiscence. He was utterly and completely obedient to God’s holy law at every moment.

Thus, should we not speculate, as Shaw does, about Jesus questioning his sexual orientation. There is simply not a shred of a scintilla of evidence in the Scriptures of any such doubt or question in the mind of our Lord. We must affirm all the Scripture teaches us to affirm about the truth and reality of Lord’s true humanity, which he retains even in glory and with which he shall return without falling into speculation about our Lord “grappling” with a “sexuality, identity, and gender.”

First, as McClean says, we may not read back into our Lord’s earthly experience everything that we are experiencing or thinking now. Second, though there is an important distinction to be made between sex and gender (the first is a biological category and the second is a grammatical category) we may not read back into the New Testament our very late-modern distinction between sex as biology and gender as politics. This is a gross anachronism. Third, it is beyond unhelpful and unwarranted to speculate about our Lord struggling with his sexuality or identity. If we are worried about Gnosticism, as we should be, then we should remember that it was the Gnostics and not the Christians who sought to fill in the blanks about our Lord’s infancy and childhood. Scripture is intentionally silent about these periods and that silence is not an invitation to speculate. It is an invitation for faithful believers to remain devoutly silent along with Scripture.

As difficult as this discussion may be for some it is salutary. Through it we have been given opportunity to relearn our ecumenical Christology, our doctrine of humanity, and our doctrine of sin. Through all this we have even more reason to praise our Savior and his abounding grace to sinners and that glorious exchange, our sins for his righteousness by grace alone, through faith alone.

R. Scott Clark

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Resources On These Issues

  1. Homosexual and Homosexuality in the New Testament
  2. Concupiscence: Sin and the Mother of Sin
  3. Interview with Dr. Rosaria Butterfield – From Victim to Guest: Sexuality, Intersectionality, and Hospitality
  4. AGR Conference Audio—Intersectionality: What It Is And Why It Matters
  5. Gay Christians?
  6. Not Everything Called Christian Is
  7. Same-Sex Attraction Is Not A Means Of Grace Or Why We Distinguish Nature And Grace
  8. Rosaria Butterfield’s Alternative to Revoice
  9. Rosaria Butterfield: Believers Are Not Defined By Their Sins
  10. Rosanne, Gender Bending, and the War Against Nature (1)
  11. Roseanne, Gender Bending, and the War Against Nature (2)
  12. Homosexual and Homosexuality In The New Testament
  13. All Are Welcome. No Exceptions.
  14. All Sins Are Not Alike: Porneia, Chastity, and Wisdom