Adapted from a sermon first preached on 25 July 2010.
Our Old Testament reading from Genesis 18:20-33 raises a profoundly relevant issue for us. In it God declares His intention to destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah for their perversion. Historically their perversion has been identified as a sexual perversion, specifically homosexuality. In fact, it’s from Sodom that we derive the word “sodomy.”
Over the last few decades, though, there has been a move among certain Biblical scholars to identify the sin of Sodom as inhospitality. And if you read the Genesis account, you’ll see they were horribly inhospitable. Inhospitality, however, was not their only sin. In fact, Jude says Sodom and Gomorrah “indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire” (Jude 1:7). Sodom’s sin was most certainly not limited to inhospitality.
Given that Sodom was awash in sexual immorality and overcome by unnatural desire that incited God’s wrath, it would behoove us to dedicate our time this morning to a better understanding of what God considers immoral and unnatural so that we can pursue what is moral and natural. And just so we’re all on the same page, it’s important that we pursue what is moral and natural for two reasons: 1) it glorifies God as opposed to inciting His wrath; and, 2) it benefits us as opposed to harming us. The brutal truth is that pursuing immorality and what is contrary to nature actually harms us. This is why God tells us not to do it.
God’s Created Order in Human Nature
In order to understand what is moral and according to nature, that is, according to God’s created order, we need to turn to Genesis, where God created His order. In Genesis 1 and 2 we discover God’s created order for sexuality. There God creates a man and a woman, and He builds a fence around their sexuality to protect them from harm.
Within the fences of God’s protection we discover joy, freedom, and blessing. Outside God’s boundaries are guilt, bondage, and brokenness. Sexuality is no exception. So what are God’s boundaries?
God does that a lot in Scripture; He builds fences around things He considers sacred. A few other examples include life, property, family, and reputation. Within the fences of God’s protection we discover joy, freedom, and blessing. Outside God’s boundaries are guilt, bondage, and brokenness. Sexuality is no exception. So what are God’s boundaries? Where does He build the fence? Let’s take a look.
Right away in Genesis 1 God builds a fence around sexuality when He places it within the bounds of marriage between a man and a woman. And within these bounds God attaches two blessings to sex. He says in Genesis 1:28, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it”; and, in 2:24, God adds, “a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” Procreation and the one-flesh union are God’s blessings or purposes for sex, and those blessings are to be enjoyed between a husband and a wife. If we wanted to summarize this in a pithy way we could say God designed sex for babies and bonding. We could say He married these blessings to sex, which are to be enjoyed in the protective bounds of marriage.
This is important because it means pleasure is not the purpose of sex. That doesn’t mean pleasure is a bad thing; pleasure is a good aspect of God’s gift, but it isn’t its purpose. It’s the same with eating. Pleasure is not the purpose of eating, survival is. If the two were painful, the human race would go extinct. God made them pleasurable so we would do them. But understand, if pleasure gets elevated to the purpose of sex, all forms of sexual expression become acceptable—pedophilia, polygamy, and other sexual perversions I don’t care to mention. Whatever brought a person pleasure would be acceptable.
God has made His purposes clear: babies and bonding within the context of marriage. This is God’s created order. It’s what He called ‘very good.’
Here’s the point: God has made His purposes clear: babies and bonding within the context of marriage. This is God’s created order. It’s what He called “very good.” As creatures of God we are free to enjoy God’s gifts in the contexts He has given them, but we are not free to change His order; we are not free to divorce what God has married. Anything that changes His order or transgresses His order is immoral and unnatural, that is, contrary to nature.
St. Paul uses this exact language to describe homosexuality in Romans 1. Listen to what he says, “For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error. And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done” (Romans 1:26-28).
Paul describes homosexual relations as “contrary to nature” and he says God gave them over to their passions because they did not acknowledge Him, that is, they didn’t acknowledge Him and His created order. All sexual immorality stems from a distorted understanding of God and His order.
From Sodom and Gomorrah to Salvation through Grace
Now let’s get back to Sodom and Gomorrah. They were engaging in sexual practices that were contrary to nature, that is, contrary to God’s design. They were divorcing God’s purposes, babies and bonding, from sex. Certainly one of their sins was homosexuality, but their sins were not limited to homosexuality. It would be wrong of us to say God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah simply because they were practicing homosexuality. The truth is much wider than that. But since homosexuality is a hot topic today, it is critical for us to discuss our attitudes and approaches toward homosexuality.
Smaller, more conservative, confessional Lutheran church bodies such as our own have consistently identified homosexuality as intrinsically sinful, while also calling homosexual sinners to repentance, forgiveness, and new life in Christ, just as we do for all other people with regard to all other sins. There is no discrimination here. We call sin, “sin.” We preach repentance and forgiveness in the name of Christ.
Those who oppose this position have been quick to label us “close-minded, intolerant homophobes” along with a long list of other not-so-kind names. We are maliciously accused of discrimination and inciting hatred. Not long ago a reporter accused Christian author and apologist Ravi Zacharias of discrimination against homosexuals. She pointedly asked, “Why are Christians openly against racial discrimination but at the same time discriminate against certain types of sexual behavior?” Pastor Zacharias said to her: “We are against racial discrimination because one’s ethnicity is sacred. You cannot violate the sacredness of one’s race. For the same reason, we are against the altering of God’s pattern and purpose for sexuality. Sex is sacred in the eyes of God and ought not to be violated. What you have to explain is why you treat race as sacred and desacralize sexuality. The question is really yours, not mine. In other words, our reasoning in both cases stems from the same foundational basis. You in effect switch the basis of reasoning, and that is why you are living in contradiction.”
Pastor Zacharias hit the nail on the head; we are against any altering of God’s created order for sexual behavior because sexuality is sacred. Through this gift humans participate in God’s creative miracle. In some mysterious way the sexual embrace of a husband and a wife images God’s life-giving nature. We are not free to change sex simply because we want to.
So homosexuality is sin because it divorces God’s purposes from sex and it denies God’s life-giving nature. It fails to image God.
So homosexuality is sin because it divorces God’s purposes from sex and it denies God’s life-giving nature. It fails to image God. Given this, we need to say a few things about our approach to this sin. First, it is not the unforgivable sin. Having said that, we must acknowledge that it is a grave sin; Paul even says that those who embrace it will not inherit the Kingdom of God, which is why people and churches should not encourage it. Why would we encourage something that could separate a person from God for eternity? But this is important; we must emphasize that forgiveness is available for those who repent. No sin is too big for God to forgive. Consider King David who committed adultery, false witness, and murder. Those are big sins, but God forgave him. Those who turn away from the sin of homosexuality or any other sexual sin can be forgiven and welcomed into God’s Kingdom. Remember what St. John wrote, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us, but if we confess our sins, God, who is faithful and just, will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8-9). Forgiveness is available for those who repent.
And listen to what Paul says about the people in Corinth and the sins in which they were engaging: “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. 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” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).
The people of Corinth were awash in a whole host of sins, including homosexuality, but they repented. They were washed, sanctified, and justified. They left their sin to follow Jesus. Now let’s take a minute to discuss the possibilities of leaving homosexuality because some voices today say it’s impossible. Paul clearly indicates that some people in Corinth turned away from the practice of homosexuality. Despite what various media outlets claim, a person can turn away from homosexual behavior.
Resisting Our In-born Inclination to Sin
But this is crucial: there appears to be a difference between behavior and orientation or inclination. Some people seem to be born with a certain inclination toward homosexuality. But this is important; being born with an inclination is not the same as having a gene that causes homosexual behavior. Consider a person who has genes that code for exceptional height. If he becomes a basketball player are we to say his genes caused him to play basketball? No.
Your inclination might not be toward homosexuality, but you have your favorite sin and you are powerfully inclined toward it. I’m in the same boat. You did not choose your inclination and I didn’t choose mine, but here we are with inclinations toward sin.
The fact is all of us are born with certain inclinations, including the inclination to sin. Your inclination might not be toward homosexuality, but you have your favorite sin and you are powerfully inclined toward it. I’m in the same boat. You did not choose your inclination and I didn’t choose mine, but here we are with inclinations toward sin. That doesn’t give us a pass to indulge those inclinations. Instead we are responsible for our response to our inclinations. In other words, we may be inclined toward one particular sin or another, but we are called, with God’s help, not to indulge the inclination, not to act on it.
Is this difficult? Yes! Incredibly difficult! This is why the Scriptures urge us to put the deeds of the flesh to death. This is no trivial matter; it is a matter of life and death. Homosexuality is simply one sin among many that we must put to death.
So how should we respond to homosexuality? Our first response should be repentance, our repentance for our sin. We might not struggle with homosexual inclinations, but we are powerfully inclined toward sin. We are not innocent and we are not better than homosexuals. We don’t stand above them; we are beside them as fellow sinners. We all stand in need of God’s mercy, grace, and forgiveness in Jesus.
Until the Church adequately addresses her sin, she cannot begin to speak of another’s. We must not deceive ourselves; we are awash with sexual perversion that is contrary to our Creator’s design. And let’s remind ourselves of our Creator’s design: sex is designed for babies and bonding within the context of marriage.
Until the Church adequately addresses her sin, she cannot begin to speak of another’s. We must not deceive ourselves; we are awash with sexual perversion that is contrary to our Creator’s design. And let’s remind ourselves of our Creator’s design: sex is designed for babies and bonding within the context of marriage. Anytime we selfishly separate one of these blessings from sex, we step beyond God’s created order for sex, and stepping beyond God’s order is sin.
Pornography is a case in point. Pornography has no interest in babies and no regard for marriage. It is beyond God’s designs and it is a silent marriage killer to which scores of men are secretly addicted. It is a perversion made worse by women who provoke men’s sinful lusts through indecent attire and suggestive apparel. Our bodies were not designed for indecency. St. Paul wrote, “You are not your own, for you were bought for a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). You don’t belong to yourself so you don’t get to set the rules; God does.
Pornography does not glorify God in our bodies. Why? Because it is outside God’s designs for our bodies and it is an affront to God’s nature and character as the source of life and the life-giver.
Adultery and divorce are other examples. Adulterers have no interest in babies. They simply want the bonding without the babies and without the marriage. That is contrary to God’s design. Adulterers treat spouses like cars. When they get tired of them they trade them in for a model they like better.
And single men and women justify their sexual perversions by telling themselves “we love each other.” They, too, separate babies from the equation of sex and the fact of the matter is they are not married, no matter how much they “love” each other. Marriage is not built on love. It is built on a promise before God and witnesses. Single people engaging in the sexual embrace are telling lies with their bodies.
We got to this point by elevating pleasure to the purpose of sex at the expense of God’s expressed intentions. It’s no wonder homosexuals cry foul. They say, “You say it’s just for pleasure; babies are simply a matter of choice—your body, your choice – your family, your plan—you can pop a pill to get babies out of the picture—why can’t we enjoy the pleasure too? If you can render sex sterile for pleasure, why can’t we?” And because the Church has compromised the truth, we foolishly respond, “But we don’t like homosexuality.”
But we know better. Sin is not a matter of preference. If it was I would declare raw tomatoes sin; I can’t stand them. We might not like homosexuality, but that’s not why it’s a sin. It’s a sin because it is contrary to God’s created order and God’s nature as the life-giver.
The Church’s Mission to Homosexuals
So our first response to homosexuality must be our repentance. Second, the Church’s message should be consistent. Heterosexuals are commanded to be celibate outside marriage and faithful (in thought and action) in marriage. In years past they called it being “chaste.” People who struggle with homosexual inclinations should not be blamed for having that inclination. Instead, they need to hear the same command we all need to hear: with God’s grace be chaste. For unmarried heterosexuals and all homosexuals it means, “Be celibate.”
So our first response to homosexuality must be our repentance.
St. Paul even says in 1 Corinthians 6, “Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:18-20).
Paul says, “Flee! Run away from sexual immorality! Don’t flirt with sexual immorality. This is a matter of life and death. Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit; it’s not meant to be used in ways contrary to God’s order and God’s nature.” This message must be preached to every single one of us, starting with the man preaching it. I must flee sexual immorality and be chaste in thought and deed in my marriage.
Third, the Church needs to welcome homosexuals who desire to be celibate. This is very similar to welcoming alcoholics who desire to stay dry or any individual who is drawn to sin but desires to refrain from it. The Church exists for sinners! That’s why I’m here; I’m a sinner in need of Jesus’ forgiveness. And remember to whom Jesus proclaimed the Gospel of the Kingdom: tax collectors and prostitutes! The Gospel is for all people no matter what form of sexual perversion they find themselves enslaved in.
The Gospel is for all people no matter what form of sexual perversion they find themselves enslaved in. ... [W]e need to learn to appreciate the struggles homosexuals face. These are real people with real names and faces and life stories. They regularly face hatred and bigotry. That is a disgrace.
Fourth, we need to learn to appreciate the struggles homosexuals face. These are real people with real names and faces and life stories. They regularly face hatred and bigotry. That is a disgrace. It should not be. We might believe based on Scripture that their behavior is sinful, but we do not speak ill of them or mistreat them. We must create a safe, non-judgmental environment where they feel free to share their struggles, to receive encouragement, and prayer. To do otherwise is to isolate them and keep them from receiving help. Remember, we are not the Judge.
In the end what we need is balance. We must balance truth and love. We must not hesitate to speak the truth; we must not delay in showing love. If we can regain this balance, we can reclaim the sacredness of sexuality. And with sexuality’s sacredness restored, we would find the sacredness of marriage, children, and community restored too.
It can’t all happen overnight, but a lot can change in one night. If you’re stuck in a sexual sin, repent. Flee it. If you need help, you’re in the right place. The Church is for sinners. You can talk to me and I will not judge you. You can talk to the elders of this congregation and they will not judge you. Together we can reclaim God’s designs for sexuality. Let’s start today. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Pastor Jonathan Conner of Zion Lutheran Church in Manning, Iowa, is a former board member for the Hausvater Project.