Denny Burk recently posted an article on the blog Canon and Culture entitled “Is Homosexual Orientation a Sin“. I usually appreciate his insight greatly, but as I read, I became concerned that he was oversimplifying his argument.
I very much sympathize with the practical observations Denny is arguing for as detailed in his “Pastoral Implications” section.
All of us are born with an orientation toward sin in all its varieties. Homosexual orientation is but one manifestation of our common experience of indwelling sin—indeed of the mind set on the flesh (Rom. 7:23; 8:7). For that reason, the Bible teaches us to war against both the root and the fruit of sin. . . The ordinary means of grace must be aimed at the heart as well. Prayer, the preaching of the word, and the fellowship of the saints must all be aimed at the Holy Spirit’s renewal of the inner man.
However, in order to establish that an “orientation” is sinful, Denny necessarily uses the term “sinful” so broadly as to include every part of the fallen nature as well as active sinful choices. Here is his conclusion:
My conclusion is that if sexual orientation is one’s enduring pattern of sexual attraction, then the Bible teaches both same-sex behavior and same-sex orientation to be sinful.
Here is his support:
The Bible says that our sexual desires/attractions have a moral component and that we are held accountable for them. Jesus’ remarks on the nature of heterosexual desire are a case in point:
Mathew 5:27-28 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’; but I say to you, that everyone who looks on a woman to lust for her has committed adultery with her already in his heart.”
We need to point out here that Jesus is addressing an active sin, a choice to look and lust. That is not the same thing as having a fallen nature with a proclivity to lust.
I am not suggesting that desires are not sinful. A desire is a thought, which Jesus equates to an internal action. Instead, I’m objecting to Denny Burk’s assumption that the particular wiring of someone’s sin nature is the same thing morally as a desire or an action. Denny Burk is conflating the sin nature and the sinful desire.
The real problem is that he assigns guilt for both. Our sin nature is innate by inheritance. It is thoroughly depraved, but not technically sinful (sin is a verb that can only describe an action). As such it merits condemnation (though there is no condemnation of those in Christ), but not guilt, which is defined as 1. “the responsibility or culpability for having committed an offense” or 2. “the feeling of culpability for an offense.”
It is absolutely important for all of us to be proactively fighting the flesh and fortifying ourselves in areas of weakness. But this is not the same thing as assigning guilt to someone for having a sin nature. Our sin nature is worthy of condemnation, to be sure, but that condemnation was born by Christ on the cross. What we don’t want to do to a Christian who struggles in this area is to constantly direct his attention to his guilt. Rather we should direct his attention to the gospel and help him lay claim to the truth that his old man died with Christ and he is free to live through Christ’s resurrection power.
Certainly we are all sinful to the core, but we should not lump our sin nature and sinful actions together as if they are the same thing. Denny Burk offers some needed caution in not ignoring the tendencies of our fallen nature. However, he needs to more carefully nuance his argument in order to avoid confusing and overwhelming a weak brother with guilt.