This week I have had a couple of outstanding conversations with people who were upset that I placed homosexuals, adulterers and pedophiliacs in the same category in something I recently wrote. "Pedophiliacs are different!" my friends said. "What they do is illegal! They use power and a desire for control to abuse an innocent child for personal gratification!"
What I had written that caused their offense was the following: "People may be born with a heart predisposed toward a desire to have sex with people of the same gender (homosexuality), just as people may be born with heart predisposed with a desire to have sex with other married people (adultery), or children (pedophilia), etc... Having the tendency (desire) to sin sexually is part of being a sinner. Finding freedom from acting out on that desire to sexually sin is part of being a Christian."
Notice that I was writing about desire when I wrote of the commonality of sexual sins. There is a difference in consequences when a person acts out on his sinful sexual desires, depending on the laws of the land and the opinion of culture at the particular time the sexual act is committed. My friends, both of whom I respect, are correct that there is a difference (in our day) between pedophilia behavior (illegal activity) and homosexual behavior, adulterous behavior, sexual behavior while single, or self-stimulation (all legal activities). But I remind you, pedophilia is only currently illegal. If you act out on your desires to have sex with children you will go to jail if caught. If you commit an act of homosexuality or adultery you will not go to jail - at least in our day. Laws do change, however. Throughout America's history there were state laws that made both homosexuality and adultery illegal, punishable with either jail time or death. But that's another subject. The point I was making in what I wrote was a simple one: The predisposition and desire to have a sexual relationship outside of a husband/wife relationship is a sin against God. And ALL of us are sinners.
Our internal battles over sexual desires outside of marriage are common to every human being. The truth is, Christians are far more keen to these battles than others, because those who are not disciples of Christ live by the principle, "If it feels like love, it must be love." Don't misunderstand; even non-Christians "feel dirty" when sex becomes an animalistic act, but followers of Christ battle sinful sexual desires more than most. The internal battles over sexual desires in Christians may vary in nature and intensity, but there is a commonality of experience. There are pastors in pulpits who struggle with adulterous desires, and there are pastors in pulpits who struggle with homosexual desires, and there are pastors in pulpits who struggle with pedophiliac desires, and there are pastors in pulpits who struggle with self-stimulation sexual desires. All pastors will at times face internal battles with sinful sexual desires.
You may respond, "But pastors don't HAVE those kinds of sinful desires?" What? Are you serious? We pastors are sinners just like you. Our internal battles over sinful sexual desires are just like yours. The difference is pastors are expected to not act out on their sinful sexual desires because they are shepherding others to learn how to find their contentment in Christ, and to live in sexual holiness and wholeness. Sex is created by God with deep spiritual meaning. It is a type. Orgasm foreshadows the ecstasy of feelings we all will have when we are with Christ for eternity. That's one of the reasons there is no sex in heaven. Just like Christ fulfilled the Law, heaven and "the marriage supper of the Lamb" fulfills the type of marriage on earth. But until God ushers us into eternity either through death or His coming, we will struggle with exalting the type (sex) over the anti-type (Christ). What that means is this: The root source of acting out on our sinful sexual desires is an inability to rest in the love, intimacy, joy and satisfaction we were designed to have in Christ, the only One who can truly satisfy our longing for unconditional love, personal acceptance and intimate relationship.
Moody Institute Professor and Christian author Christopher Yuan struggles with homosexual desires. This amazing man of grace, transparent in all his struggles, states the principle I am articulating the best: "Change by God's grace is not the absence of struggles, but the freedom to choose holiness in the midst of our struggles." I would add that the more a person begins to understand the grace of God in Christ and is satisfied in Him, the less a person acts out on his sinful sexual desires. The hard part is the fact that growing in grace takes a lifetime and then some. So, the struggle with sexual sins never ends. Your marriage to Christ will not be fully consummated until heaven. The struggle will only end then.
When you love a person during your lifetime who battles with homosexual desires, or pedophilia desires, or adulterous desires, or other sexually deviant desires (and that would include all of us in one form or another), you love them by never refusing to tell them the truth and by always pointing them to God's grace in the person and work of Christ. Each of us is born with a heart predisposed to one or more sinful sexual tendencies and desires. Those sinful desires will vary in type and strength, and because of our personal experiences, they may change within us over time in both their nature and intensity. But when we refuse to speak the truth about sinful sexual desires and actions to ourselves and others, and when we pretend that what is sinful is actually normal and healthy, then we trample on the blood and love of Christ at the cross and insult the Spirit of grace who is at work within us.
This was my problem with Andy Stanley's message. He seemed hesitant to say to the homosexual couple attending his church--a couple who left their spouses to fulfill their sexual desires for one another--that they were in homosexual sin. Obviously, Pastor Stanley should accept them as people, but he should always tell them the truth about their sin.
An Illustration From Pedophilia
There are two men in our church that I mentor and disciple who are registered sexual offendors because of sexual activity with children. They spent their prison time. Everytime they set foot on our campus, they must report to me. Their pictures have been passed around to all our paid and volunteer staff. They are never allowed to be anywhere with children, and never will be. They will carry the shame of their sexual sins for the rest of their lives. These two men are human beings, and I love them. They both have professed faith in Christ, and it is my job to shepherd their souls. Nobody can accuse me of being soft on pedophilia because I am an advocate for victims, and my track record on this issue proves it. However, unlike many who cast away pedophiliacs as condemned to hell, I have seen the power of the cross in pedophiliacs' lives.
I have learned that in the underground pedophilia movement there is a belief system among pedophiliacs that is consistent with all pedophiliacs. It goes like this:
(1). The highest expression of love is sexual contact, and children are loved the most when they have sex with an adult.
(2). The desire to have sex with children is God-given and good. Don't fight it, simply hide it. Keep it in the closet because of the laws of the land, but know that one day the laws will change because;
(3). Children benefit by sexual contact with adults, and it is only the unenlightened who don't understand the beauty and naturalness of child/adult sexual love.
(4). Though western culture today rejects child love, progressive and enlightened cultures throughout history have honored it, including the Roman Empire who made it lawful for the Roman elite to have a cadre of boys and/or girls for adult sexual pleasure and the childrens' emotional and personal delight.
(5). Accept yourself the way God made you. You sexually desire young children because you love young children. Love is Love. Don't let people tell you child love through sex is wrong, because how can something that feels so right to both participants be immoral or wrong?
Now, I realize that the above five points sicken many of you (but not all of you). Please pay close attention to what I am about to write: The rationale of the pedophiliac in acting out on his sexual desires is exactly the same rationale for why an adulterer would act out on his sexual desires, or why a homosexual would act out on his desires, or why a fornicator would act out on his desires, etc...
And, the rationale is faulty. God calls pedophilia, homosexuality, adultery, fornication, and all sex outside of marriage sin. To desire something that God calls sin feels natural and right because we are by nature sinners. Only God can transform sinners; and the process of grace in the transformation is often lengthy and painful.
The two men I mentor are always told the truth by me. I love you and accept you, even with your desires to have sex with children. I love you so much that I will always tell you the truth about your sexual desires. They are sinful. I love you enough to try to help you establish and keep parameters and boundaries so you CAN'T act out on your desires. I also love you enough to pray that God will eventually take away your desires, but I know His Spirit works in you over time, and the transformation He brings is not instantaneous. You are not condemned by me, because I TOO AM A SINNER. My inclination to sexual sin is heterosexual adultery, and though society looks on my sinful desires as "acceptable," my sinful desires are no different from yours because they orginate from the same place--a sinful heart. By God's grace, He will keep me from acting out, as I know He can keep you from acting out as well. However, I am here for you in the struggle, and my love for you is not determined by your performance. Christ died for sinners. You have accepted Him, as have I. My love for you is based on the fact we are family. Let's wrestle through this together.
I simply ask the question: Why do we not treat people who struggle with homosexuality, adulterery, fornication, masterbation, and all other sexually deviant desires and activities in the same manner? Why do we not love them and always tell them the truth? The truth is clear:
"Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor the effeminate by perversion, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God." (I Corinthians 6:9-11).
Christ makes those who believe in Him righteous by granting us His perfect righteousness via our faith (ie. the righteous live by faith). You and I will only be convinced of our need for HIS righteousness when we are utterly convinced that we are devoid of any righteousness ourselves. To TRULY love the homosexual, the pedophiliac, the adulterer, the masturbator, the fornicater, and every other person who struggles with sexually deviant desires means we speak the truth in love about God and His grace for sinners through His Son's Person and work. Here's the truth for every believer in Christ in succinct form:
(1). His righteousness makes believers SAINTS in His eyes, and the tags "homosexual, adulterer, fornicator, etc..." are removed.
(2). You and I as believers will CONTINUE TO STRUGGLE with sexual sins, but they do not define who we are. Christ defines us, not our sins, or even our continuing sinful sexual desires.
(3). The more we learn the freedom of choosing holiness in the midst of our struggles, the greater our joy in Christ becomes, but even in our sexual failures, His joy for us is never lessoned, His joy in us is never diminished, and His joy over us never shrinks. It is our joy at stake, not His.
(4). Transparency and accountability in the midst of our struggles is part of His work of grace in us.
(5). Christ ultimately transforms us, but the manner and time in which He finishes His masterpiece (ie. you and me) is His responsiblity, not ours. So, even in the midst of our darkest struggles, we should never lose hope. We have an eternal perspective that God's love is ultimately effectual in us.
I do not know if this helps anyone, but I've written it so that you will not be so quick to judge or condemn, shun or withdraw, or even reject that believer in Christ who struggles with sinful sexual desires or activies, no matter what kind or variation his/her struggle may be. And, I've written this piece to remind those of us who are charged with speaking "the truth in love" that withholding the truth about homosexuality, pedophilia, adultery, fornication, etc... is really not loving anyone.
In His Grace and Truth,