A Biblical Look at Desire
About the Guest
Disobeying God is a sin. But is thinking about disobeying God a sin? Seminary Professors Heath Lambert and Denny Burk tackle some topics that have become increasingly confusing in our culture, even to believers-homosexual desire and identity. Lambert and Burk remind us that sin has broken each and every one of us and that each of us struggle with sinful proclivities, homosexuality being just one of them. However, they remind us not to forget the redeeming and transforming power of the gospel.
Denny BurkDenny Burk (PhD, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is Associate Professor of Biblical Studies and Ethics at Boyce College, the undergraduate arm of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He also serves as associate pastor at Kenwood Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky. Burk edits The Journal for Biblical Manhood & Womanhood and speaks and writes extensively about gender and sexuality. He is the author of What Is the Meaning of Sex? and coauthor of Transforming...more
Heath LambertDr. Heath Lambert is the Executive Director at the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors. ACBC is the largest biblical counseling organization in the world with counseling training centers and certified counselors in 29 countries. Dr. Lambert also serves as the Associate Pastor and Executive Pastor for Discipleship and Family Life at First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, FL. Dr. Lambert is a faculty member at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and their undergraduate instit...more
Heath Lambert and Denny Burk tackle some topics that have become increasingly confusing in our culture, even to believers-homosexual desire and identity.
A Biblical Look at Desire
Bob: More and more, children in our culture are being encouraged to question their gender identity / their sexuality. So, what do you do, as a Christian parent, if your son or daughter comes to you and says, “I’ve decided I’m gay”? Here’s Denny Burk.
Denny: There are a lot of parents who feel really pressured by children who may be struggling with this. The children lay down a condition that, “The only way you can love me is by affirming this particular sinful attraction that I’m having,”— and maybe even—“…behaviors I’m engaging in.” As parents, you can’t do that. In other words, you have to let Jesus and the Scriptures define the terms of our love, which means—
1 Corinthians 13:6—“Love always rejoices with the truth.” Loving means you do speak the truth, and you lead people toward Jesus and not away from Jesus. If you tell a child, “Well, then, I just affirm you in this,” you’re not loving them.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, May 16th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. The Bible teaches that homosexual activity is sinful, but what about homosexual desire? We’re going to explore that subject today. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. We are headed into, well, some challenging waters today.
Dennis: We are. We get a lot of emails, Bob—increasingly, we’re getting emails, and letters, and communications from parents, who are saying, “I’ve got some children who are confused about their sexual identity.” It’s coming at them from all different angles: “Could you help us know how to think, as parents?” “Could you help us know how to relate to our kids?” “Could you help us know how to relate to our extended family / our culture?”
And we’ve got a couple a guys here who are going to help you, as a follower of Christ, know how to think and what to believe the Scripture teaches about homosexuality and, also, how we are to respond and be a redemptive element in our culture. Dr. Heath Lambert and Dr. Denny Burk join us on FamilyLife Today. Both these guys have been with us before, and we still invited them back. [Laughter]
Heath: It’s a miracle.
Dennis: It is a miracle—it is.
Denny is a professor of Biblical Studies at Boyce College. He is a pastor, an author, a speaker—dad to four / husband to one for 15 years. Heath is a professor of Counseling at Southern Seminary in Louisville. He is a speaker and author as well—been married for 13 years, and he and his wife have three children.
Together, these guys have heroically tackled a really thorny subject. It’s not just about homosexuality—
—it’s about transforming homosexuality. Explain what you guys wanted to accomplish when you guys penned this book.
Heath: Obviously, the culture is erupting on the issue of the ethics of homosexual behavior; but we were concerned, not just about homosexual behavior—we want to embrace the church’s historic teaching on what the Bible reveals about the sinfulness of homosexuality and the sinfulness of homosexual behavior—we were concerned about the issue of homosexual desire and identity. We were noticing that so many Christians seemed to be unclear about this issue. They want to try to help, love, and show care to people who struggle with the sin of homosexuality. We saw them doing that in an unhelpful way / many people doing that in an unhelpful way; namely, by saying, “Hey, the behavior is wrong and sinful; but the desires behind the behavior might be okay, might be acceptable, and might be something that we can find some room for in the Christian life.”
Bob: Denny, somebody will see your book, Transforming Homosexuality, and they’ll say: “This sounds like curing homosexuality / reparative therapy. This is: ‘We’ve got to fix people and get them all becoming heterosexuals.’” Is that what you’re saying?
Denny: Actually, no. The language of the title, Transforming Homosexuality, comes directly from 2 Corinthians 3:18, which says, “We all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.” We believe that what God’s intention is—for every single Christian—is to transform them into the image of Jesus, which means that, if you’re a Christian, you have to believe that you can change and that whatever your sinful patterns are—homosexual or otherwise / whatever your sinful patterns are—
—if you believe in the grace of Jesus, you believe in the grace of change.
What we’re trying to say is: “What we say about every other pattern of sin we want to apply to the issue of homosexuality.” And I don’t think we’ve—evangelicals in particular—have thought their way through to biblical clarity on some of the issues yet. That’s why we’ve written this book.
Dennis: I just want to say it again: “This book isn’t picking on a social issue or a moral issue, like homosexuality. It could literally be written about any trap / moral and spiritual trap we fall into”; right?
Heath: That’s right. We are interested in writing a book that shows people about the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ to bring change—whatever the problem. The problem that’s up for debate in our culture—and so, the problem that the book focuses on—is the issue of: “Can homosexuals change or are you stuck?” And we want to say, “Jesus changes people, regardless of the problem; and He changes people at a level of depth from desire out through behavior.”
Dennis: Your book really helps people, not merely with the rightness or wrongness of behavior, like homosexuality, but it points them toward the solution, which you already mentioned, Denny—the gospel—that He, Jesus Christ, transforms broken people, regardless of the issue.
Denny: And we don’t want to treat homosexuality as if it is somehow outside or beyond the bounds of what Jesus intends to do in and for us. Because this issue has gotten so contested in our culture right now—that people basically disagree over whether or not homosexuality is sinful or not. There are some people who are kind of carving out a special niche for this, and they are saying that the grace of Jesus can’t touch this and transform in the way that it does other issues. We just want to say: “Yes, it does! The power of the gospel / the grace of Jesus can extend to the most intractable of sins. And if you don’t believe that, you haven’t really understood Christianity yet.”
Now, that is not to say that, “Hey, look, you’ve got somebody who comes to faith in Christ and then—poof/presto—all their problems go away / all their sinful proclivities go away.” That is not what we are arguing. We are just arguing that the normal process of sanctification—that the Holy Spirit works out in a believer’s life—it works towards this issue as well. So, we’re trying to point people in the right direction of how they can be transformed into the image of Jesus when it comes to this particular sexual problem.
Bob: So, Heath, within the culture today, there are those who would say: “Homosexual behavior / homosexual activity—nothing wrong with it. It’s just normal. It’s natural. Let it go.” Within the church, that would be a minority view within the evangelical church today. There would be a few voices saying that; but most voices are saying, “No, we still believe the Bible teaches that homosexual behavior and activity is sin.”
You’re talking to that same group of people, who would say, “The behavior is sin.”
You say: “We want to go a step lower. We want to get to the point where we talk about, not just the behavior, but the desire itself and address what the Bible has to say about the impulse—the fact that somebody might say, ‘I find myself attracted to people of the same gender in a sexual way.’” You’re saying, “Let’s talk about that because the thesis of the book is: ‘That’s something that the gospel wants to transform in your life.’”
Heath: That’s right. It’s even, maybe, a little more than that. We would say that: “That is something that the gospel must transform in your life.” The Bible is clear again, and again, and again that human beings are not these behavioristic machines; but we are people with a body and a soul. The soul / our heart initiates the activity of our bodies. And God—when He changes us, He doesn’t just change us through Christ by amending our behavior. He changes us by changing us at a level of depth in our hearts, as we repent, at the lowest, deepest possible level.
So, we want to say that the book is about ethics—it’s about what’s right and what’s wrong—but it’s more than that. It’s about how to help. If we want to help people change / if we want to help people who are struggling with a powerful sin, we have to know more than about behavior. We have to know about the desires of the heart that guide and initiate that behavior.
Dennis: And that’s where you are really going after the phrase, “sexual orientation”—people who are identifying themselves as, “I’m sorry; I just have a temptation to be attracted to other people of the same sex.” Help people understand why this concept of sexual orientation is—and understanding it is so important.
Denny: Well, first thing is that a lot of people aren’t even sure what the term means. It’s one of those words that is used a lot, and people often don’t even think about what it means.
Because of that, there are some people out there who are saying that the Bible doesn’t even talk about sexual orientation.
Dennis: This is really a new term that has been—
Denny: That’s right.
Dennis: —adopted by the culture in recent years.
Denny: That’s right. So, a lot of folks are under the impression that: “Well, the Bible is this ancient book. It says what it says about God, and salvation, and whatever. But now, we know about this thing called sexual orientation. That leads us to a reappraisal of how we think about homosexuality.”
The problem with that thinking is that it’s wrong, primarily, because sexual orientation—to define it according to the secular authorities / the APA, for example, would define sexual orientation as just a person’s enduring experience of sexual desire over time. And so, if you have an enduring experience of sexual desire for the opposite sex, you are heterosexual; an enduring experience of desire for the same sex, you’re homosexual; for both sexes, is bisexual. That’s all the secular authorities mean by orientation.
It’s the experience of a certain pattern of attractions or desires over time.
Now, to say that the Bible doesn’t speak to that is to claim that the Bible doesn’t speak to our desires, which is just wrong. If a person has homosexual attractions and they experience these attractions that are sinful, someone may say: “Well, they can’t help it. They are enduring attractions”; but that doesn’t speak to its goodness but to how broken we are.
What we’re trying to say is: “Look, if you know what sexual orientation is—it’s the experience of a certain set of sexual attractions over time. You know that the Bible speaks profoundly to that because the Bible is not just trying to reorient behavior. It’s trying to reorient the heart. And so, if we’re going to be transformed into the image of Jesus—absolutely, the grace of the gospel has to be applied to the issue of orientation.”
Dennis: And when the Bible begins, in Genesis 1, God doesn’t stutter when He said: “And God created man in His own image, in the image of God, He created him; male and female He created them.”
It’s the first question we ask about a child when it’s born—
Heath: That’s exactly right.
Dennis: “What is it?” And there is an imprint that God has planted, male or female, in every child’s life. The culture is trying to muddy it and distort it. As a result, Christian parents have to be vigilant to know how best to answer the culture’s questions, but also, their children’s as well.
Bob: So, a child’s born; and we say, “It’s a boy!” But what we don’t know is—in the heart of that little boy is a desire to be sexually attracted to other little boys. It was there from birth—is that what goes on, Heath?
Heath: What it means to be born into a sinful world is that we’re all broken. We’re all broken in one way or another, but we don’t look at the brokenness and say, “It’s good.”
When a child is born with cancer or with some kind of addiction, because their parent was an addict, we don’t say: “Well, they were born with it. So, it’s good.” We say, “Gosh, that’s just a statement of how awful this whole thing is.”
And the reality is—as Christians, we have to embrace the Bible—everything it says, even when we don’t prefer it / even when we don’t understand it. And one of the things that the Bible teaches us is that our sexual behavior is inalterably moral. God weighs in on our sexual behavior and declares it right or wrong.
Will we find out one day—we don’t know it yet—but will we find out one day that there is some sort of physiological brokenness that plays a part in homosexuality? We might find that out one day. But even if we do find that out, what we’re going to discover is that: “There are some people—who have that physiological damage—that did not succumb to it. There are some people, who struggle with homosexuality, that didn’t have that physiological brokenness. It’s all going to be sinful, and it’s all going to require the grace of Jesus.”
Denny: And I would just add that we’re not really doing anyone any favors if we deny that they have experienced attractions for the same sex from their earliest memories.
There has been a response, from some evangelicals, over the last couples of decades, to say, “Look, homosexuality is a choice; and the only reason people feel these things is because they choose to feel these things.” That’s not exactly right; is it? That’s not what we believe about sin. In other words, we’re born with all kinds of sinful proclivities; and to rule out the idea that a person could be born with a disordered sexual attraction is just not what the Bible teaches.
We’re deeply connected to our father, Adam—the Bible teaches—so that we inherit his guilt and also his fallen nature, which means there is going to be all kinds of feelings, emotions, and even sexual attractions that are against what God intends and that are sinful and that feel quite natural to us—
—and that may go back—we may remember feeling them for as long as we can remember. But here is the deal—that doesn’t make them right. In other words, just because something feels natural / even if there were some kind of physiological pathology discovered, that doesn’t make it right. The standard is God’s Word.
Dennis: Yes, I was going say.
Denny: That is what the standard is at the end of the day, not what we feel comes natural to us.
What—I think Christians did a disservice—for a long time, they thought they had to argue that this was a choice or something like that or else they lose their biblical basis for morality. That’s not true at all. There are all kinds of things that might feel natural to a person that are, nevertheless, sinful.
Dennis: So, you’re a dad of four children. The oldest, right now, is nine. In about—let’s say five or six, maybe, seven years, your child comes home and—when she comes home, she says: “Daddy, I’m just really questioning my sexual orientation. I was in a class at school,” or “I was talking to some friends—
— “just wondering: ‘Who am I?’ and ‘I’m struggling over my identity.” How would you—now, this is theoretical at this point / you’re not there yet—but there are many of our listeners who are there / they are raising teenagers in the most sexually-distorted and seductive way that has ever existed for teenagers in the history of our nation. How would you answer your daughter?
Denny: Well, the first thing I would want to say to listeners is—this better not be my first conversation that we’re having about these things. I mean, by that time, I need to have been building a foundation for having these kinds of conversations; and those are built well before they become a 15-year-old. In other words, I’m going to be establishing, over the next several years, an open line of communication with all my children so that they feel like they can communicate with me about these things and that, when these kinds of things come up, they feel they can come to me. You need to be laying the ground work of love and of openness to your children for this, which means lots of conversations in advance.
A second thing I would say is that you just need to love your child, and you need to meet them where they are, and you need to bring the gospel to bear in that situation and say: “Look. Firstly, you need moral clarity on this, which means you’ve got to be able to say: ‘What does the Bible say about those feelings that you are having? And if you’re having sexual desires for sex that God forbids,”—and the way we would define that is any sex that is outside of the covenant of marriage—“then, you ought to repent of that; and the grace of Jesus is sufficient for that.” And you need to let your child know that you’re going to be with them through the long-haul as they wrestle through that.
Heath: And the pressure of the culture is: “You’re fine just the way you are. You don’t need to change. You don’t need to worry about that. We accept you just exactly the way you are.” But the good news of the gospel is not “You’re fine.” The good news of the gospel is: “You are broken, but Jesus can change you.”
And I’m thinking about 2 Peter, Chapter 1, where he says:
“…His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us to His own glory and excellence, by which He’s granted to us His precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.” It’s Jesus’ work to save us from all of our sinful desires.
So, we can point our kids—and even parents—to the hope and help that’s available in Jesus, who frees us from sinful desire. And the hardest thing for a parent to do in that situation is going to be that balance between: “This is not right—it’s wrong. We call evil what God says is evil; but we love people, even when they are sinful.”
Denny: And by the way, that’s the only way that there is to love. There are a lot of parents, who feel really pressured by children, who may be struggling with this. The children lay down a condition that, “The only way you can love me is by affirming this particular sinful attraction that I’m having,”—and maybe even—“…behaviors I’m engaging in.”
As parents, you can’t do that. In other words, you have to let Jesus and the Scriptures define the terms of our love, which means—1 Corinthians 13:6—“Love always rejoices with the truth,” which means you can’t lay aside biblical conviction in the name of love; okay? Loving means that you do speak the truth and you lead people toward Jesus and not away from Jesus.
And if you tell a child, under pressure from them—“You don’t love me; and you can’t have a relationship with me unless you affirm me,”—if you tell a child, “Then, I just affirm you in this,” you’re not loving them. Those are, maybe, your child’s terms; but they’re not Jesus’ terms. So, there is a way to speak the truth in love and there is a way to communicate in a way that’s compassionate and that’s helpful, but you’ve got to stick to your guns when it comes to truth.
Heath: One of the things that I say to parents, who are struggling with this—because they call all the time and they say—
—exactly what Denny said—they say, “If I don’t let him and the boyfriend come over, and sleep in the same room, and do all that / if I don’t do that, he’s saying he’s not going to be a part of it. They are saying, ‘If you tell me I’m wrong / if you confront me with my sin, I don’t want to be in your life.’”
What I’ll sometimes advise parents to say is: “Hey, you want me to accept you as who you are, but a relationship is where you accept me as who I am too. So, we’re going to have to figure out—if you want me to be accepting of you, then, you’ve got to be accepting of me. That’s going to mean having a level of honesty and candor that might be uncomfortable for both of us, but we’ve got to have that if we’re going to have a relationship.” We can’t let one person sinfully determine the meaning of acceptance in a relationship.
Dennis: And these tests that come our way aren’t going to be easy. They’re not Sunday school lessons. This is gritty stuff—loving another person, who may be rejecting your faith / who may be rejecting the family’s faith for generations. Yet, at that point, we have to embody Jesus Christ.
It says this in John, Chapter 1, about Him: “When He became flesh and dwelt among us, He was full of”— two things—“grace and truth.”
Heath: That’s right.
Dennis: That’s our challenge today—to stand for the truth / not waffle, but to also have the same grace that God deals with you and me about. He’s dealing with us in our brokenness and our sinfulness every day, and that’s the tough assignment of parents today; but it’s one where I don’t think we can afford to be sloppy in our beliefs or in our expression of compassionate love.
Bob: Well, if somebody is really going to try to wrestle to the ground, in their own mind, “What does the Bible say about homosexual behavior and homosexual desire?” then, they are going to have to read different views. They are going to have to read a variety of arguments / they are going to have to look at the Scriptures—they’re going to have to do that prayerfully.
Heath: That’s exactly right.
Bob: And we recognize that there are those who are, maybe, not on the same page you guys are on—on this subject—but I think you’ve raised some very important questions. The title of the book is Transforming Homosexuality. Order, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or call 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.” You can request your copy of the book by Denny Burk and Heath Lambert.
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Now, tomorrow, we’re going to continue to probe this issue of same-sex attraction / same-sex desire, and “Is that something that can change in a person’s life?” Heath Lambert and Denny Burk will be back again with us tomorrow. Hope you can be back as well.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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