Last week I wrote a short post on the subject of homosexuality, and included a link to my sermon on the topic. An issue came up in the comments that I feel merits its own post: Is it possible for a person who self-identifies as homosexual to change not only his behavior, but also his desires?
The idea that sexual desires can be controlled or even redirected and transformed is an extremely unpopular one. In fact, one Christian counselor in the U.K. recently lost her accreditation when she was fooled by a journalist into believing that he was a Christian who wanted help overcoming homosexuality. After she accommodated his request, he reported her to the British Association for Counseling and Psychotherapy, at which point she was stripped of her senior accreditation.
I think the question of whether homosexual men and women can change their desires is at once too broad and too narrow.
It’s too broad because I wouldn’t even expect most non-Christians to want any sort of change in their sexual desires of practices. Yes, some seek change because of the external consequences of their sin, but I wouldn’t expect them to seek the same sort of spiritual transformation sought by Christians. For that reason, I don’t think it’s the Christian’s job to go out into the world and eradicate homosexuality. The Christian’s work is primarily to present the Gospel and to lead people toward the Savior who can forgive all sin and provide true change and renewed life.
So when my sermon discussed the possibility of change for those struggling with homosexuality, it was indeed an inside discussion of sorts. I was speaking to a group of Christian college students. Time and time again, I’m approached by Christian college students seeking to view their sexuality from a biblical perspective, and many of them really want to overcome homosexuality. Dealing with sexual sin is one aspect of a person’s walk with Christ. I know that it’s not the sum total of a person’s relationship with Jesus, and I’ve never claimed that it is. In fact, my primary advice to those struggling with sexual sin is to draw nearer to Jesus and to allow His Spirit to convict and to change behavior.
The question of change (as phrased above) is also too broad because it assumes that homosexual sin is somehow different from any other sexual sin. There’s a deep irony here. Those who insist that Christians shouldn’t be exhorted to overcome homosexuality often say, “It’s no different from any other sin, so it shouldn’t be singled out.” But out of the other side of their mouth they insist that homosexuality cannot be overcome because it’s such a strong desire and so tied up with a person’s identity. You simply can’t have it both ways. Either homosexuality is on par with other sexual sins — in which case one’s desires can be controlled and yes, even changed — or it’s the worst and toughest possible struggle, one that simply cannot be overcome. Both can’t be true at the same time.
Romans 12:1-2 and 2 Corinthians 3:18, among many other passages, talk about the possibility of true mental and spiritual transformation for the Christian. In fact, 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 specifically mentions that some of the believers Paul was addressing were homosexuals, but that changed when they came to know Him and to walk with Him.
“But the statistics simply don’t bear out that homosexuals can change.” I was an engineering major in college, so I know just enough about statistics to give my opinion. They measure probabilities and correlations, not possibilities. I would expect the statistics to tell me that homosexuality (and other sexual sins, for that matter) are incredibly difficult to overcome. That’s because we’re talking about supernatural transformation, not about what’s possible in the normal course of affairs through a stern talking-to and a skilled psychologist.
The other deep irony here is that those who insist that homosexual sin cannot be overcome will point to the statistics but will completely disregard the testimonies of men and women who have experienced victory in this area of their lives. Such people are generally dismissed — “Well, that person wasn’t a real homosexual or he wouldn’t have really changed.” That’s not exactly scientific reasoning, friends. It’s insulting to those who are telling us that God has truly changed their lives.
So what am I saying, in a nutshell? I absolutely agree that changing one’s sexual desires is not possible apart from a supernatural transformation of the Holy Spirit. Changing external behavior, perhaps, but not internal desires and orientations. However, as a Christian pastor, I simply can’t acquiesce and say that one’s desires cannot change. If that were true, discipleship would have little purpose. The ultimate point of discipleship is that a person is transformed, inside and out, to reflect the character of Jesus. That means I’ll learn to desire prayer, something I don’t naturally desire. It means I’ll learn to desire love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. I don’t naturally desire those things, but through the Spirit’s power my mind and heart can be retrained. Is that an easy or quick process? Of course not. But it is possible because we serve an all-powerful God.
Again, I’m not suggesting at all that discipleship is pursued first and foremost as sin management. However, in the broader context of discipleship, addressing sexual identity and purity is often necessary. And if I can’t offer hope that the Spirit can overcome any sin or struggle, then I can’t really offer any hope at all to anybody.
OK, I want to hear your responses. (But please keep them respectful and appropriate. I do welcome disagreement here, but I will delete comments that resort to name-calling, vulgarities, or character assassination.) What do you think about the possibility of true change in the area of sexuality for those who follow Jesus Christ?
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