Most Christians know that temptation is what can lead us into sin. However, when we experience temptation, is that experience, in and of itself, sin?
There has been a very lively debate in evangelical theological circles in recent months, on this very question. The occasion for the debate has been the Revoice Conference controversy, the question of same-sex attraction, and how it relates to sexual orientation, lust, and behavior. But the implications are far reaching, as the debate gets to the very heart of how all believers progress in our sanctification.
Sanctification 101: Temptation vs. Sin
As a new believer, back in my teenage years, I struggled intensely, just as almost every high school boy does, with sexual lust. I really needed help in this area, and I got some great advice once at a Christian youth music festival.
The main speaker put it this way: If you see a girl, and you find yourself attracted to her, that is not sin, in and of itself. Instead, that is an opportunity for you to thank God that you can appreciate the beauty of another human being. So, praise God for beauty, but then take your eyes off of that girl, lest you fall into sin! You have been presented with an opportunity to sin, but it is a temptation, for which you can resist, and say no to. In our obedience, God can give us those little victories, as we progress forward in following Jesus, by trusting in the work of the Holy Spirit to transform us.
But if you find yourself drawn to take a second look at that girl, and allow your imagination to run away, then you are in real trouble. That would be lust, and lust would be sin (Matthew 5:27-28 ESV). Resisting temptation at that point is not enough. You must repent of your sin, and seek the Lord’s forgiveness. In other words, there is a clear distinction between temptation and sin, and the two are not necessarily the same. We resist the one, and repent of the other.
That nugget of wisdom has served me well over the years, convicting me at times where I have needed to be convicted of my sin, which is sadly, yet honestly, a continuing difficulty for all Christians, and giving victory at other times, when God gave the strength to say, “No,” and I followed in that obedience.
Sanctification 101 Twisted Around
Strangely though, there are some Christians who seek to turn that simple advice, that I got as a teenager, and flip it on its head. In classic Christianity, marriage between a man and a woman is the sole arena for sexual relations. Any sexual expression, in thought or deed, outside of that, is sin. But a well-intentioned, theological movement, among some Christians, regarding same-sex attraction, in response to challenges from the culture, adds a peculiar, mind-blowing twist.
Apparently, it is not enough for some Christians to reject same-sex relations, either in thought (fantasizing about it) or deed (physically engaging in such behavior). Pay attention to that, as it is important. The teaching goes beyond that.
Consider the words of prominent Baptist theologian, Albert Mohler, (from The Briefing), who gives an otherwise thoughtful, trenchant critique of the tendency to confuse one’s sexual identity with one’s spiritual identity in Christ. He raises some important questions, observations, and cautions, with which I support. Yet despite having a prophetic outlook, and crucial voice in the conversation, in this essay, Dr. Mohler makes this shockingly broad statement: “The Bible identifies internal temptation as sin….We are called to repent both of sin and of any inner temptation to sin.”
What are we to make of this?
Repenting of sin, I get. But repentance of temptation?? How does one go about doing that? Was the advice I received as a teenage boy, as applied to thinking about girls, in error?
For such Christians, in a nutshell, the mere presence of same-sex attraction in a person’s life is inherently lust, and therefore, it is inherently sin. Same-sex attraction, awakened by temptation, is surely a disordered desire, a fallen part of human nature, and it can lead to sin, but is it actually sin itself?
If you extrapolate that way of thinking out to include all sexual attraction, consistently, outside of marriage, heterosexual as well as homosexual, you reach a very, very strange conclusion. Let me explain, in a few steps, why I believe that this view is misguided at best, a theological error that has far reaching negative consequences, if left unchecked.
These are weighty issues where sound bite answers will not suffice. Here is a meager attempt to hit the highlights. So here we go… Continue reading