“Brilliant exposition” wrote one commenter about the Oct. 11, 1998, sermon by John Piper we posted last Saturday. Well, Piper the following Sunday, Oct. 18, 1998, preached again on homosexuality, and we’re posting it below because so many Christians are hungry for biblical teaching that does not give in before one of today’s most powerful political juggernauts.
Piper’s text once again was Romans 1:24–28, which reads as follows:
“Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error. And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper.”
Now, Piper. — Marvin Olasky
Seeing God at the Center
I confess that my main aim in these two messages is not to persuade you that homosexual behavior is wrong. It is wrong. But you can believe that and not be a Christian. So what does it profit a man if he knows everything that’s wrong, and loses his own soul? My aim is much higher than to persuade you that there are many sexual disorders in the world—both homosexual and heterosexual. My aim is to transform the way you see Reality, and to put the glory of God back at the center, like the sun in the solar system of sexuality (and everything else) that holds all the planets of our passions in their proper order. When you exchange the sun for a man-made satellite all the planets leave their orbit and head for oblivion.
The murder of Matthew Shepard in Laramie, Wyoming, was committed by men who had exchanged the centrality of God’s glory for the satellite of self-exaltation. And self-exaltation or self-determination over against God cannot hold the planets of passion in their orbit. I learned this from verses 28 and 29. Look at them with me. Romans 1:28-29a: “And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, (29) being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder. …”
There it is. Where does murder come from? It comes from this: “They did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer.” Or as verse 23 says, “They exchanged the glory of God for images”—in this case money and hateful power. Or as verse 25 says, “They exchanged the truth of God for a lie.”
The Root of All Our Disorders, and God’s Judgment
We saw this in the text last week. The root of all our disorders—sexual and social and physical and emotional—is the exchange of the glory of God for other things. The solar system of our soul and our society was made to orbit around the glory of God as its all-controlling sun. And the entire human race has exchanged the glory of God for weightless, substitute satellites that have no gravity and can hold nothing in its proper orbit. Therefore all the world is disordered and decaying and moving toward destruction.
But we saw something even more stunning last week from this text. This disorder and decay in our lives and in our society and in our universe is the judgment of God, and is meant by him to be seen as a terrible drama of a horrific underlying spiritual evil. We saw this three times. After each statement that we have exchanged God for other things (verses 23, 25, 28), it says, God therefore hands us over to our depravity so that our soul and our society disintegrate into all sorts of evil deeds and dreadful diseases and death and destruction.
For example, verse 24: “Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them.” Verse 26: “For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions.” And here in verses 26-27 he details homosexual behavior as one outworking of these degrading disorders. Then verse 28b: “God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper.” And here in the following three verses (29-31), he details twenty-one other outworkings of a depraved mind. No one escapes here. Homosexual, heterosexual, male, female, old, young, religious, irreligious—all of us are under the sway of a depraved mind. As Romans 3:9-10 says, “Both Jews and Greeks are all under sin; as it is written, “There is none righteous, not even one.”
The root of all our problems in this world is that the human race has exchanged the glory of God for other things and that God has handed us over to bear the fruit of this exchange in ten thousand troubles—all of which should call us to repentance and worship rather than rebellion and atheism. And when I say all our problems, I really mean all. I mentioned last week that even our physical diseases and our natural calamities are owing to God’s judgment on creation for our exchange of his glory for other things.
What if There Were Genetic Origins for Sexual Disorder?
This is crucial for dealing with the origins of homosexuality. I don’t think anyone knows for sure what the physical components of homosexuality are. But what if genetic origins were found? What would this imply about the morality and fitness of the behavior? Very little, if nature itself is disordered and in need of redemption. So let’s look at this matter more closely this morning.
Consider Romans 8:20-23, “The creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope.” Notice that all of creation has been subjected to futility: things don’t work the way they were originally designed to work. Winds, rains, rivers, volcanoes, bacteria, viruses, Swiss Air jet electrical wiring, brake linings, heart-attacks of 86-year-old men driving through a crosswalk while a blind student crosses the street, wild white blood cells, trisomy of the 21st chromosome, and ten-thousand heartaches from a fallen world—the creation was subjected to futility.
By whom? Verse 20 says, “By Him who subjected it in hope.” That’s not man and not Satan, but God. God subjected the world to futility “in hope.” All the futility of this world is meant to waken us to the horrors of exchanging the glory of God for other things and to make us rely not on ourselves, but on God who raises the dead (2 Corinthians 1:8-9) and restores the glory (Romans 8:18-19).
Keep reading. Verses 21-22: “… that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption (= futility) into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now.” Paul pictures the miseries and futilities and pains of creation as childbirth before the resurrection when all the pain of our disordered bodies and sexuality will be replaced with glory of God among his people.
And Paul even addresses the crying question that we raised last week: But surely, if all this misery and disorder and dysfunction in the world is owing to God’s judgment—his handing us over to the outworking of our ungodliness—then would he not lift the misery and the disorder and the dysfunction and the pain from his children who repent and believe the gospel? He gives his answer in verse 23: “And not only this [that is, not only does the “whole creation groan”] but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our body.”
The answer is: No, God does not deliver his people all at once from the futility of this fallen, judged creation. He turns the effects of judgment into the means of grace for his people (Romans 8:28). And he saves us in stages. “Having been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved” (Romans 5: 9-10). We have forgiveness for sin now; we will have freedom from all sinning later. We have reconciliation with God now; we will have complete intimacy later. We have the first fruits and the down payment of the Holy Spirit now; we will have the full harvest of his power and presence later. We have some healing now (from our sexual disorders!); we will have full wholeness later. We see his beauty through a glass darkly now, later we will see face-to-face. We have peace with God now; we will have perfection later. That’s the meaning of Romans 8:23.
What is “Natural”? The point of all this is that, whatever the physical or social or personal origins of the homosexual disordering of our sexuality, none of that would define it as good or “natural” or “normal.” In a world where God is the Creator and Designer of life, “natural” means in sync with God’s purpose and design, not just anything that has physical causes. Having a physical root makes nothing right. Physically based, aggressive tendencies may lead to violent behavior, but we don’t condone it. Physically based lethargic tendencies may lead to laziness and neglect, but we don’t condone it. Frenetic tendencies may lead to disruption and workaholism. A gloomy bent may lead to suicidal thoughts. An anxious bent may lead to paranoia. Addictive tendencies may lead to alcoholism or bondage to gambling or deadly smoking. A low frustration threshold may lead to outbursts of rage. Strong sexual desires may lead to lust or pornography or fornication or adultery or polygamy.
In other words, in a world where the effect of sin permeates to the roots of nature and disorders all of life, we cannot define as good and natural whatever has physical roots. There must be a higher norm than fallen nature. There are many physically based abnormalities in the world. Therefore having a physical base or root is not sufficient reason for condoning anything as natural or good.
How then shall we live and love in this disordered world? At the risk of oversimplification and selectivity, let me try to give some brief biblical counsel concerning the personal, family and social dimensions of homosexuality.
Biblical Counsel for Someone with Homosexual Desires
First, a few words to those among us who have homosexual desires.
1. Acknowledge the presence and pain of a disordered sexuality, with all the ambiguity of where it came from—much like other disorders and disabilities—and do not define your God-given personhood by your disordered sexuality.
2. Put your faith in Christ alone for the forgiveness of all your sins and for the gift of God’s righteousness and for the fulfillment of all his promises to you (Romans 1:16-17). The only sinner who can successfully battle his sins is a justified sinner. In other words, you fight against sexual sins from relationship, not for a relationship.
3. Begin to reorder your entire life around the centrality of the glory of God as your highest treasure. Homosexual sinning, like all other sinning, is an echo of exchanging the glory of God for other things. So restore the sun of God’s glory to its place at the center of your soul and all the planets of your desires will begin to return to their God-given orbit.
4. Resolve to live a chaste and, if necessary, celibate life by the power of God’s Spirit, with the confidence that if God does not heal now, he will in the age to come; and all the patience of purity of will be worth it (Romans 8:18). May God grant all the single people (and married!) at Bethlehem a passion for purity.
5. Seek wholesome friendships with both sexes, especially in groups. Here the burden lies heavily on the church to be a place where this can happen. We don’t do very well at this. And so I call on us—especially families—to go out of our way to have people (especially single people) over for meals and other gatherings. The more we do things in groups rather than pairs, the more opportunities we create for wholesome non-sexual relationships.
6. I probably don’t need to tell you that there are ministries like Outposts here in our cities that have insights and experience and encouragement and biblical counsel from a depth of awareness that goes beyond what most of us can bring. This may be something God would use in your life.
7. Take a bold and compassionate stand for truth the way Joe Hallett did, and hold up God’s purposes for human sexuality, namely, as an expression of Christ’s love for the Church dramatized in the covenant love of marriage between one man and one woman.
Biblical Counsel to Parents
Now let me say a few words to parents.
1. For Christian parents, wayward children are more painful than a child’s death. Because death usually is not intensified by feelings of guilt and failure and shame. How many of these feelings are legitimate is impossible to know for sure. The only hope for parents is the gospel—that whatever we have done poorly we may be forgiven by trusting in Christ for a righteousness that is not our own (Romans 1:16-17).
2. If we know our shortcomings, we should confess them to our children, and seek their forgiveness.
3. If we have grown children with homosexual desires we should love them and pray for them and speak biblical truth to them when they will hear it.
4. In the fellowship of the church, search the Scriptures and seek counsel concerning the incredibly complex and painful issues of how to relate to your children if they go on living in sin.
5. If your children are still small or yet to come, realize that, in large measure, their healthy sexuality hangs on your healthy attention and teaching and touching and loving. I say this especially to you fathers. For both boys and girls, the development of a healthy sexuality hangs more on strong, loving, godly male figures in their lives than on the women in their lives—though both are very important. Biblically and experientially and psychologically this can be shown—that the role of the father (or of some crucial man) is paramount for normal sexual development of boys and girls.
If you ask, what is normal, healthy sexuality—what does it mean for a boy to grow up to be a man and not a woman, and what does it mean for a girl to grow up to be a woman and not a man—if you ask this, I urge you to think it through. I have done my best to answer that question in What’s the Difference: Manhood and Womanhood Defined according to the Bible (Crossway, 1990).
Speak the Truth in Love
Finally, one brief word about the social issues surrounding the controversy over homosexuality: marriage, domestic partners, housing, employment, parenting, adoption, education, diversity training, multiculturalism. Each of these issues requires serious reflection. I don’t think the answers are easy. And I call you all to think and study and pray and discuss. How does a democratic, constitutionally governed society determine its values, shape its laws around those values, preserve the inalienable rights of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” while limiting destructive behaviors and protecting minorities from majority hostilities? These are not easy questions, and they demand our best thinking, not sound bites or shrill slogans.
I would give one guideline and a closing declaration. The guideline is this: normalizing wrong behavior and endorsing wrong behavior and dulling the “reflexive recoil” from wrong behavior is, in the end, harmful for persons and destructive to society. One example: The normalization and endorsement of homosexual behavior will profoundly weaken the fragile norm of long-term, committed heterosexual marriage and child-rearing which are essential to social survival.
My closing declaration is this: God has not called us to win elections, but to win souls and hearts and minds; he has not called us to control Congress, but to preach the gospel; he has not called us to be safe, but to tell the truth. He has not called us to avoid conflict, but to love everyone (1 Thessalonians 3:12). So speak the truth in love, entrust your cause to God, and keep the glory of God in the center of your soul, so that all the planets of your passions will be pulled into their proper orbit.