SEX: GOD’S DESIGN, OUR DILEMMA
It was a crisp, fall day in September of 1985 when I sat down on the back row of the church. I was attending a service just like this one in many, many ways. I was a part of a church in a different city; it was probably the most dynamic church in that area, and there were hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people coming to know Christ. They had many worship services on Sunday morning, also on Sunday night, and it was arguably one of the fastest-growing churches in America during that time. And it wasn’t just growing numerically, though God was adding to our number every single day, it was growing spiritually. It was growing in its knowledge of prayer, it was growing in its knowledge of worship, and it was growing in its experience of leading people to Christ and sending out missionaries all over the world.
It was on that first Sunday morning in September that the pastor of that church got up to deliver the message at the appropriate time, like I’m about to do. And he said, “I have an announcement to make.” And he said, “For the last seven years, I have had a homosexual affair with a man in our church.” And when he said that, some of the people there in the congregation began to weep; others gasped audibly as he continued to talk about this experience and what was happening to him. Many people in the congregation yelled out, “We love you, Pastor, and we’re for you!” He stumbled his way through what to him was a confession. He sat down, his wife got up, and she said, “I have an announcement to make.” And she said, “When I discovered that my husband was sleeping with another man, I was mad; I was enraged in jealousy, so I wanted to get back at him. So I went out and pursued the man he was sleeping with and had sexual relations with him.” It was as if they had fired off a double-barreled shotgun right there in the middle of the church.
It’s probably taken that particular congregation fifteen years to recover from that one incident. That church was just shattered and scattered into zillions of pieces for a long, long time. Many people were confused, many people were hurt. This pastor and his wife had two children; it was a very difficult time for them, to say the least.
Now I don’t think anybody looking at that scenario wouldn’t say that was a very, very bad thing that happened. No matter where you are on the sexual pendulum—whether you’re very liberal and think if you have sexual desires, you should express them when you wish with whom you wish, or if you’re very conservative on the sexual pendulum—I mean, anyone would say, “Man, that was a tragic situation.”
Many people inside of the church today in America and outside of the church say the reason that pastor fell and the reason that so many people’s lives were disrupted by that particular announcement on that September morn was because of the church. It was because of the failure of Christian pastors and Christian teachers to teach this man at a young age about his particular sexual orientation. Many would say that if someone would have come alongside this pastor as a teenager, or as a student, when he was having the desires for other men and said, “Listen, that is who you are; that is who God has made you. You need to go in that direction,” that would have spared his wife the pain they went through. It would have spared his kids the hurt and the shame they had to endure, and it would have spared that particular congregation the trauma of that double confession years ago.
Here’s a letter written to Dear Abby. She writes, “Dear Abby: I’m a 25 year-old lesbian. Learning to accept my homosexuality was difficult, to say the least. I am one of three girls raised in a loving family, as close as you can get to the sitcom families of the 50’s. I’ve never been abused, molested or raped; nor have I had a really bad experience with a male.” (That’s unusual.) “It was my last boyfriend, and still best friend, who helped me come to terms with who I am. No one ever tried to convert me to lesbianism, and I know of no gay person who has ever successfully converted anyone else. It’s not possible.
“For many years I felt there was something wrong with me. I tried desperately to be straight. I even contemplated suicide. I feared my family would reject me, although in the end, they turned out to be very supportive. There was no significant difference in the way my sisters and I were raised. Genetics, nature, or God’s will is the explanation for my orientation. My sisters and I are very much alike, except for our sexual preference. All three of us like mysteries, romantic comedies, David Letterman, ballet and ethnic foods.
“A person’s sexual orientation—be it heterosexual, homosexual, bi-sexual—is a natural part of a person that cannot be changed. It is God given. Since it is what nature intended, it should be celebrated. It can’t possibly be immoral. Is homosexuality immoral? Is homosexuality natural? Is it God given? Is it possible to change one’s sexual orientation?”
We continue our series on sex and sexuality. We’re going to look at questions concerning one of the most hotly debated issues in our time: homosexuality. Open your Bible, if you would, to Romans 1:18, 24, and 27, “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness.”
Go down to verse 24 and following, “Therefore, God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen. Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.”
I Corinthians chapter 6:9, “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God.”
One question this writer to Dear Abby asks is, “Is homosexuality wrong? Is homosexuality immoral?” And the answer to that question is simple: No. Homosexuality is not immoral. It is not sinful in and of itself. No one wakes up one day and says, “You know what? Today I think I’m going to be gay,” anymore than one day you woke up and said, “Hey, today I think I’m going to be heterosexual.” If you talk to most folks who have an orientation or an attraction to someone of the same sex, they’ll say, “I don’t know why it is; I don’t know how it happened.” That’s kind of something that’s discovered, sometimes early on, sometimes later on in life. But no one really decides in many ways to be homosexual.
Now, we need to distinguish between attraction to the same sex and the practice of homosexuality. Do you understand that? There’s a difference between having an orientation or a propensity to be attracted to someone of the same sex and acting out of those particular urges and desires. It is clear from Scripture in the Old Testament, as well as the New Testament, (Romans 1, I Corinthians 6) that the Bible is against the practice of homosexuality. Just like God is against the practice of heterosexual sex outside of the context of marriage, so the Bible is an equal opportunity condemner when it comes to having sex outside of God’s created order. But being tempted, having struggles with being attracted to someone of the same gender is not, in and of itself, a sin or evil or wicked. I think so many people that have grown up in the church have felt extremely condemned and alienated because they feel like no one can really relate to them or connect with them. They’ve heard all these different teachings on homosexuality, and that particular pastor or teacher or author didn’t distinguish between a tendency towards same-sex attraction and the actual practicing of a homosexual or lesbian lifestyle.
For example, this week whether you’re single or married and you’re heterosexual here, you’re going to be attracted to someone who’s not your spouse. Chances are you’re going to be sexually attracted to someone who’s not your spouse. Now, that attraction in and of itself is not wrong. It’s not wrong if you have a homosexual orientation—you’re attracted to someone of the same gender. That attraction in and of itself is not wrong. It’s what you do with that attraction. What do you do with that urge to be sexually active with someone else? Do you act upon it or not? That’s the issue.
Now, you’re probably thinking, “Okay, if homosexuality in and of itself is not wrong but the Bible condemns homosexual practice and the acting out of my homosexual desires, that doesn’t make sense.” Then, “How did I get that way? Why am I in the minority? Is this letter right? Is my homosexual bent something that God has given me? Is it what nature intended?” That’s the second question. To put it another way: What causes homosexuality? You want to know the answer to that question.
The answer is, I don’t know. I really don’t know. Scientists, psychologists, psychiatrists, theologians, and philosophers have been trying to answer that question for a long, long time now. Studies on both sides of the issue are inconclusive. There is a mystery surrounding homosexual and lesbian lifestyles. There’s a mystery surrounding heterosexual sexuality. So our nature is a fallen nature, and we all have different bents, we have different nuances when it comes to expressing our sexual urges and sexual desires. Now, I can say this: In the research that I have conducted over the past fifteen years and the various people I’ve talked to in my ministry who have struggled with this particular issue, I have seen three factors that contribute many times to what I believe, and to what other researches believe could lead to a homosexual or lesbian orientation.
The first factor is destructive family dynamics. Many times people who struggle with homosexuality, they will come from a family where they did not connect with the same-sex parent. A homosexual male never made that connection with his dad; lesbian woman never made that connection with her mom. Or we can see where many people came from a broken home. Or perhaps they came from a home where the mother was very domineering and very aggressive and the father was kind of a Casper milk-toast kind of wimp person. Or perhaps the other extreme takes place. We had this guy who was Mr. Macho, Mr. Tough Guy, Mr. Red-blooded American and he never showed affection, and he never affirmed his son or his daughter. So within different people’s family history, you see a lot of destructive family dynamics. That in many cases, I believe, can lead someone to a homosexual orientation.
Another factor is sexual abuse. I’ve talked to several men and women and that was the case. During the early time of their life, sometimes through a family member, someone in the stepfamily system or a co-worker, someone violated them at a very young age. And as we grow and develop in our sexuality, we have all gone through different periods. When you’re going through a time of change, it’s often confusing as to what’s right and what’s wrong. It’s very difficult for children and those who are adolescents to distinguish between something that’s pleasurable and something that’s right and something that’s natural or something that’s not natural. So sexual abuse can be a factor leading to homosexual orientation.
Also, biological factors. I mean, let’s face it. Some men are born with less testosterone than others. Some women are born, and they have a more masculine bent to them. So there is some research that there could be some genetic or biological factors that would predispose someone to a same-sex orientation, just like there are biological factors that would predispose some of you to alcohol addiction or drug addiction or any type of chemical imbalance. But the bottom line is, no one really knows. It is a mystery. Those are some factors that I have seen along with other people who have researched the causes/potential origins of homosexuality.
Many of you are thinking, “Well, let’s talk about that biology for a while. Let’s talk about it being natural.” That’s what she said, “It’s a natural part of who I am. I can’t change.” I’ve talked to many people, and I’ve read stories. People say, “Now, I’ve grown up in the church, I had a great family, I had good relationships with my siblings. I wasn’t abused—none of this stuff you just talked about happened to me, but I still have this attraction to someone of the same sex. I asked God, ‘God, take this away from me!’ I memorized Scripture. I prayed. I fasted. I even had people try to cast demons out of me, and it’s still there. What do I do about that? This is who I am. And if this is who I am, if it’s natural, how in the world can God or anyone else expect me to change?”
We’ll have to look at the question—about it being natural. Because one thing that he has emphasized is that we live in a fallen, abnormal universe. Romans 1—back to our primary passage. The topic is not about homosexuality; the topic of Romans 1 is about the universality of this disease, this condition called sin. All of us have a fallen, depraved sin nature. It’s universal. So what Paul is doing in verses 18 and following is setting up self-righteous people like some of you, like me, who think, “Well, we’re a little bit better than that person who’s struggling with this particular kind of sexual immorality. We’re a little better people than these people who are struggling with greed and idol worship.” He uses homosexuality as an illustration, and he’s setting them (us) up because in verse 1 he’s going to say, “You people think you’re so righteous? You think your sins are refined? You think you’re not as big a sinner as these other people? You are nuts! You’re crazy! You’re in the same sinking ship. We are all sinners—not only by choice, but by nature.”
We’re all in the same sinking ship; God’s word locks up you and locks up me in the same cell with common prisoners. We’re all messed up, we’re all equally guilty, we’re all equally contaminated before a holy and a righteous God. That’s the first step, the first reality you must embrace before you ever understand the Christian message. Before you ever understand salvation, you have to understand that you are wicked, that you are evil, that you are in a desperate, desperate situation.
What happened to us? Because of Adam and Eve’s disobedience in the Garden, we have received massive negative consequences to their fatal decision. Those consequences have been spilled over into your lives and into my life because Adam and Eve are our first and real parents. That is our family of origin, if you would. Things are not the way they’re supposed to be. Our physical bodies are fallen. There are parts of our biological nature and our genetics that are fallen. Psychologically we’re fallen; spiritually we’re fallen; emotionally we’re fallen. The natural world, through earthquakes and tornadoes and hurricanes and floods and diseases and sickness and death and pain…all these things are a result of the fall of mankind.
Just because you can find the genetic origins of a particular tendency, it does not justify or rationalize a sin, does it? Just because something is natural doesn’t make it normal. Just because something is natural doesn’t make it right. Why? Because we live east of Eden. We live in a fallen, mixed-up, crazy world, and all that craziness and all the evil and all that wickedness (whether you believe it or not, behind your leather-bound Bible in prayer and in church membership) is inside of you and inside of me. It’s inside of everyone. Heterosexual, homosexual—we’re all fallen.
So it doesn’t matter if some scientists one day discover the so-called gay gene. What does it matter? Of course there could be a gay gene; we live in a fallen world. I have an adultery gene, fornication gene, an anger gene, a murder gene—it’s all part of my DNA; it’s in my makeup because I am a fallen human being. All of us are. It’s just like alcoholism; many studies show that there are genetic factors that predispose certain people to falling into alcohol addiction or drug addiction.
What do I do if someone comes into my office this week and says, “Ben, you know, I really struggle with alcoholism?” And I start talking to them, I start asking questions. They take this test and come out to prove that the reason this person is an alcoholic or has a tendency towards that is because they had a genetic inclination for that—it was a prenatal thing that was passed on to him; what do I say to him? “Well, that’s natural, that’s who you are. Let’s go down to Speck’s liquor shop, and I’ll get you a six-pack and some Jack Daniel’s, all right? Indulge yourself; it’s natural?”
What if someone comes into my office to say, “You know, Ben, I really like…” this person’s a forty-five year-old man, and he says: “I really like little boys,” or “I really like little girls?” What do you do with pedophiles? “This is always who I’ve been. I’ve always felt a propensity and attraction to someone who’s younger.” What do you do with that? Do you encourage that? So just because something is natural doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily normal or right. Why? Because we live east of Eden; we live in a fallen, mixed-up world. Things aren’t the way they’re supposed to be.
So, is it possible to change? Maybe you’re here tonight and you’d say, “This is something I’ve always, always struggled with. No one knows about my sexual struggle. No one knows about my lesbian orientation or my homosexual orientation. I’ve always struggled with it. I read and I study and I see people on TV and I watch movies, and they say you can’t change. Is there hope for me? Is there hope?”
Look at I Corinthians 6 again: “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolater,s nor adulterers, nor male prostitutes, nor homosexual offender,s nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor slanderers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God.” Look at verse 11: “And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” Paul was addressing people in this church—former drunks, former slanderers, former greedy people, and former homosexuals. He says, “Such were some of you.” Past tense. So the Christian message is: There is hope.
Where’s the hope in your willpower? Where’s the hope in discipline? Where’s the hope in: “I’m going to change?” The hope is found in Jesus Christ and in Christ alone. Where do we all go to find hope? We’re all hopeless. We’re all hopeless outside of Christ. All of us. Our hope is in grace. “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch”…a wretch, like all of us; we’re all wretches—we all need to be saved, justified, forgiven, declared righteous. Isn’t it great that He offers His forgiveness to us? He offers a new life to us? He offers a relationship with God the Father. We can know God as our Heavenly Father. We can know Him as His son and a daughter of God. We can be forgiven of all of our sins. We can be declared perfect and righteous in His sight. And His Spirit comes into our life, and that begins the process of making us more like Christ.
For those of you who are coming out of an immoral sexual past—whether that be heterosexual or homosexual or bisexual, it doesn’t matter—if you come to Christ and His Spirit lives in you, guess what? He’ll complete that work. Isn’t that good news? Philippians 1:6 (many of you know that verse): “He who began a good work in you shall be faithful to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus.”
Is there hope for change? Is there hope for healing for those of us here tonight who are struggling with our sexual orientation to the same sex? Is there hope? Yes, there’s hope. Is change possible? Yes, change is possible.
For the past four years on my radio show, I’ve had the opportunity to interview some of the greatest men and women in the world who are on the frontlines—who are counseling and working with thousands of people around the country who want to come out of the lesbian/ homosexual lifestyle. Bob Davies, the director of Exodus International…Joe Dallas, who has spoken here twice in the past several years—both shared their own stories about how God has brought them out of the homosexual lifestyle. So there is hope, there is healing in Jesus Christ.
Now, it’s not as easy as walking down front, letting me just pat you with a prayer in the name of Jesus, just like that. Hey, if that were possible then I’d have somebody whack me over the head to heal me of my own sexual temptations and frustrations. It’s not that easy, is it? Most sins and most patterns that are ingrained in us (things we don’t understand), they don’t just clear up all of a sudden overnight. Memorize a few Scriptures, pray a prayer—it doesn’t work that easily, folks. But, you know, when I read letters, like this very honest and candid letter this lady wrote to Dear Abby that says it’s impossible to change; she’s coming from her experience. I have to look at the experiences of friends that I have known and other people that I have known who have definitely come out of that lifestyle. Many of them are now married; others of them live a celibate life. So there are positive options. There is hope to anyone here who is struggling in this particular area.
Next week, as we conclude our series on sexuality, we’re going to talk about sexual healing—sexual healing for all of us. You say, “Well, Ben, why do we need sexual healing? This is a church; this is a Christian church.” Do you know who we are? We are a colossal collection of moral foul-ups, right? That’s who we are! Look around you to the left or the right—you’re seated in bad company. We’re the fellowship of exciting sinners. That’s who we are. He who is without sin—who has not been tainted, who has not messed up in the sexual area—you throw the first stone. We can’t throw stones. You point people to Christ. We seek to follow Christ.
So if you’re struggling here tonight, you need to talk to someone about it. You can’t keep it a secret; you can’t hide. There is hope; there is healing. But you’ve got to be willing to fight the fight of faith.
What’s my desire? It’s my natural bent. Romans 8 says not all of our natural desires are right, are healthy. All of us here, we’re to put to death the deeds—the natural passions of the flesh—and submit our lives to the Holy Spirit. And you know what? That’s a process, friends. There is hope and healing in Christ, and there’s hope and healing in community. Community! We need one another, as people; we need one another, as justified sinners, as sexual strugglers seeking purity. Man, there’s good news.
Years ago I received a phone call. It was from that pastor I talked with you about. It’d been over 10 years now and I hadn’t heard from him; I didn’t know what was happening in his life. He began to tell me what happened after he made that confession to that church, after he resigned. He went through a time of extensive counseling and prayer. Through many miraculous things, he and his wife and his family kept things together. And now God is using this man as he travels, around this country, offering hope and offering healing to all kinds of people—homosexual and heterosexual—who are trapped in the web of sexual confusion and sexual addiction.
There is good news in Jesus. He says to us, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give to you rest.” I will give you rest. It’s His offer to you tonight. That’s His offer to me. Come to Him; come to Christ just as you are. Confused, hurting, bruised, broken, I come to You, God. Forgive me, cleanse me, and help me in this process of purity and becoming more like Your Son Jesus.
[Ben leads in a closing prayer.]