In his new book God and the Gay Christian, Matthew Vines seeks to legitimate homosexual practice among evangelicals. I responded to this heretical teaching yesterday in my post about the new Southern Seminary eBook, God and the Gay Christian? I quoted a section from my chapter on the church’s historical teaching, a chapter that has now been posted in full over at the Council on Biblical Manhood & Womanhood.
Today I’d like to think a little more with you about Vines’s use of the term “gay Christian” (I also commend to you this excellent and stirring post from my SBTS colleague and New Testament expert Jim Hamilton). This is not a new descriptor, but Vines has infused new meaning into it. Authors who have previously used it have done so with the understanding that “gay Christian” is essentially equivalent to “born-again believer who experiences, to some degree, ongoing same-sex attraction and who willingly resists gratifying this desire.” Vines, however, uses the term to essentially mean “born-again believer who experiences same-sex attraction and indulges this desire in mutual, covenantal relationships to the glory of God.” There is a vast and unbridgeable gulf between these two definitions.
It is becoming increasingly clear that Christians who experienced same-sex attraction prior to conversion have a range of experiences following conversion. Some Christians who historically experienced same-sex attraction (SSA) find that, upon conversion, they no longer experience sexual desire toward the same sex. Some in this group pursue heterosexual marriage and settle into it with relatively few difficulties. Others pursue marriage and find themselves with more temptation to fight, though they are resolved to fight ungodly lust of any kind. There are other Christians, people genuinely converted by belief in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, who experience some level of ongoing attraction toward the same sex and who do not find in themselves attraction to the opposite sex. Such people do not exactly know whether they will see their desires shift in a heterosexual direction. They do know, though, that they are committed to fighting all sexual temptation, whether it is related to the same sex or not.
Let’s be clear: I think that each of these “kinds” of Christian is, in fighting sin by the overcoming power of the Holy Spirit, glorifying the Lord and pursuing holiness. There does not seem to be one post-conversion route for people with SSA. There are a range of experiences. Not all believers with SSA will get married; not all will face monumental degrees of SSA; some will experience a blend of temptations. The key matter is how one responds to temptation. Whatever one’s exact experience, believers with SSA must like all Christians fight their lusts by the power of the gospel, kill sin, and pursue what is good and holy and God-glorifying. Like all Christians, they must never be comfortable with fallen instincts, but pray to God for overcoming power in the face of them.
We must not make the common mistake, in addition, of thinking that Christians who experience some level of same-sex attraction are somehow consumed by their sexual desires. They must fight sin of many other kinds: pride, laziness, foolishness, anger, and so on, just as every follower of Christ must. Not every person with SSA is on the brink of a Sodom-like situation. Sometimes we’re heard in those tones, and that’s not helpful.
It should be said of born-again Christians, furthermore, that many do not wish to be known by their sexual desire. Sam Allberry, a pastor and author of the important book Is God Anti-Gay?, said just this at the 2014 Together for the Gospel. Here’s what I recorded Sam as saying: “The culture says you are your sexuality. That is an appalling sense of identity to give people.” I could not agree with this more. Christians of any background can appreciate this incisive comment. We are not the sum of our lusts, our perversity, our fallenness, whatever shape such sin takes. Oddly, I fear that even clearly evangelical believers make the same mistake that some unnuanced Christians make: they define believers with SSA by their sexuality. This is deeply problematic.
We need, I think, to revisit Romans 6:6-7 in light of the foregoing:
 We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.  For one who has died has been set free from sin. (Romans 6:6-7 ESV)
This means that born-again believers are all, in the words of the same apostolic author, a “new creation” in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17). This means that we have a new identity, a new self-understanding, a new name. We have taken on the name “Christian,” and lost the name “sinner” which we once did so much to deserve. Heath Lambert, my SBTS colleague, has powerfully explored the newness of our identity in his book Finally Free and in his chapter in the SBTS eBook.
What does all this mean, practically, though, for all believers?
- The converted person who was once an alcoholic and is still tempted by drunkenness is not an “alcoholic Christian” but a “Christian” who must battle his or her inclinations and by grace wrest victory over them.
- The former pornography addict who is still tempted by wicked images is not a “pornographic Christian” but a “Christian” who must by grace battle his or her lusts and subdue them.
- The former gossip who is still tempted to cut down his or her friends is not a “gossiping Christian” but a “Christian” who must by grace fight the tongue and tame it.
- The former fighter who used to get violently angry is not a “violent Christian” but a “Christian” who is committed to mastering his or her temper by the power of God’s grace.
- The former doubter of God’s goodness is not a “doubting Christian” but a “Christian” who by grace steels his or her mind with Scripture to oppose and defeat doubt.
- The former pedophile is not a “pedophilic Christian” but a “Christian” who by grace fights and ignores the whispers of Satan to abuse little children.
- The former adulterer is not an “adulterous Christian” but a “Christian” who by grace struggles with and wards off adulterous desire.
- The former self-promoter who was enslaved to “selfish ambition” (James 3:14) and obsessed with becoming famous is not a “self-promoting Christian” but a “Christian” who by grace dies to self.
- And finally: the person formerly ensnared by same-sex attraction is not a “gay Christian” but a “Christian” who by grace fights all sin, including same-sex desires, and experiences the transforming power of the cross.
Can a Christian experience same-sex attraction of some kind and still be a believer? Yes they can. Can they, like Vines, celebrate and enfranchise these desires, viewing them as part of their essential identity? They cannot. They must not. Tragically, Vines is making sin the constituent part of his identity.
No Christian, whatever their fallen predilections, can make them their identity. We do not have this authority. We are Christ’s. We have a new name. We still sin, but we are renewed, transformed, set free. In whatever trial, we are “more than conquerors,” a descriptor I explore at great length in my book Risky Gospel, itself a study in Christian identity.
We Christians are honest about our fallenness. We were all disordered by the fall: all of us. But our perversions and sins are not, must not, be our identity. Our identity is a reality that belongs only to Jesus. We have no power to ascribe our identity to sin. Satan would have us believe that, but he lost all power to mislead us when Christ split his skull at the cross.
Let us not use the term “gay Christian,” then. Let us, like the apostles, rejoice that we may suffer for the name of Jesus (Acts 5:41). Let us all take that name once more for ourselves, for it is the gift of God to every sinner who, comprehending the certainty of God’s just and terrible judgment, repents of their wickedness and trusts in the magnificent work of the Lord Jesus Christ.