Tony Reinke, a young evangelical thinker who I know and deeply appreciate, has written what I think is an excellent piece on homosexuality, idolatry and happiness. (I’ve written an endorsement for his delightful book Lit!: A Christian Guide to Reading Books.)
Let me introduce Tony’s article by saying this. When true happiness is rightly seen as God’s desire for human beings, it undercuts the assumptions so often brought to the table by both unbelievers and believers in the “holiness versus happiness” debate. The world is seen to argue for the rightness of whatever makes people happy. Christians then counter with arguments of right and wrong, saying that people should do what is moral, not what makes them happy. The underlying message is that what is moral does not make people happy, and what is immoral does make people happy but should be opposed on moral grounds. But the Bible’s ultimate argument is different. True, it says that we sometimes should sacrifice short-term pleasures for long-term good, but that long-term good is inseparable from human happiness. And what is immoral and unholy will NOT ultimately make us happy—rather, it will make us decidedly unhappy. Hence, what is morally wrong, including homosexual behavior, is not only wrong, but it is also foolish. For it does not result in happiness, but ultimate unhappiness.
Thanks, Tony, for saying this so well:
What’s At Stake in the Homosexuality Debate
By Tony Reinke
The stakes could not be higher in the homosexuality debate, because — to put it rather bluntly — homosexual activity is a sin that parallels idolatry. The Apostle Paul seems to draw this connection in Ephesians 5:5 and Colossians 3:5, and he certainly does in Romans 1:18–27.
Robert Gagnon, a leading scholar on sexuality in Scripture, says these themes are closely related for Paul because both idolatry and same-sex intercourse equally oppose the designs of the Creator. He sees several strong connections that link Romans 1 to the creation account in Genesis 1–2. In his acclaimed book The Bible and Homosexual Practice, Gagnon writes, "Idolatry and homosexual behavior are in some measure parallel (not just successive) phenomena since both are presented as willful suppression of the obvious truth about God and God's design in the natural world."1
Pagan idolatry is twisted because it is the act of rejecting the Creator and replacing worship of him with the worship of what he has made. Similarly, homosexual acts are twisted because they reject God's natural design for human sexuality.2 Thus, homosexuality and idolatry are related. Both are evidence of a twisted distortion of God's design for men and women, both dehumanize men and women, both are rooted in a rejection of the Creator. That is to say, the distortions of idolatry and same-sex intercourse are foremost rooted in a worship disorder (Romans 1:21, 24–25).
An Obstacle to the Full Life
And there isn't a disorder more serious than a worship disorder. The stakes could not be higher for sinners who refuse to honor and thank God for his created design. And when worship disorders spread, and souls hang in the balance, loving Christians speak up, not with voices of spite or hatred but with voices of love and compassion.
This is a point Gagnon makes:
Without taking into account God's will for holy living, love turns into affirmation of self-degrading and other-degrading conduct. This means that true love of one's neighbor does not embrace every form of consensual behavior. What constitutes an expression of love to one's neighbor depends significantly on how one assesses the benefit or harm of the neighbor's behavior. If indeed homosexual behavior is sin and an obstacle to the fullness of life available in Christ, then the church has an obligation both to protect the church from the debilitating effect of sanctioned immorality and to protect the homosexual for whom more is at stake than the satisfaction of sensual impulses.3
Yes. That last sentence is critical.
Homosexual intercourse is an obstacle to fullness in Christ, in fact it is an empty faux-replacement for the good design of the Creator. To seek happiness in homosexual activity is a replacement god, it kicks against the Creator, it is a rejection of the Creator just like idolatry.
Opposed to What Kills Joy
John Piper is right when he says, "God's judgment on homosexual and lesbian relationships is not because he is a killjoy, but because he is opposed to what kills joy."4 Fullness of joy in Christ is at stake. And fullness of joy will never be found in crossing the wires of God's created intentions.
Heterosexual sin and homosexual sin alike are ultimately rooted in a worship disorder, a worship disorder that robs the soul of joy now and robs the soul of joy eternally. The fullness of joy we all long for is reserved for those sinners who, by God's grace alone, have been healed from this worship disorder, who are rightly oriented with the Creator, and who turn away from selfishness that kicks against the created order.
The gospel of Jesus Christ offers us victory in our worship disorders. By Christ's death and resurrection and through our union with him, we turn away from the wisdom of our own eyes, we turn from idols, and we turn from what contradicts God's beautiful design. We continue to battle sinful sexual impulses and all sin, and we fight sin together as brothers and sisters in Christ who look forward to a day when all temptations will be gone and we will enjoy eternal pleasures forever in the presence of our Creator (Psalm 16:11). That is why this topic matters, because eternal happiness is ultimately what's at stake in the homosexuality debate.
1Robert A. J. Gagnon, The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics (Abingdon Press, 2001), 286.
2"In effect, Paul is saying: Start with the obvious fittedness of human anatomy; when done with that, consider procreative design as a clue; then move to a broad range of interpersonal differences that define maleness and femaleness. These are much better clues to God's will for human sexuality than preexisting, controlling passions — which can be warped by the fall and shaped by socialization factors." [Robert A. J. Gagnon, "Sexuality," in Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible (Baker Academic, 2005), 745–746.]
3Robert A. J. Gagnon, The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics (Abingdon Press, 2001), 34.
4John Piper, sermon, "Let Marriage Be Held in Honor Among All" (August 11, 1991).
Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash
Randy Alcorn (@randyalcorn) is the author of over sixty books and the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries.