Desire and Identity
About the Guest
Is homosexual desire right or wrong? Professors Heath Lambert and Denny Burk talk about the complexities of homosexual desire. Considering Jesus' words in Matthew 5:28, "that whoever even looks at his neighbor's wife to lust after her has committed adultery with her in his heart," Burk and Lambert remind us that God wants all of our desires to conform to His will, including homosexual desires. What we do is bad because what we want is bad, but there's hope when we point people to Christ.
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 remind us that God wants all of our desires to conform to His will, including homosexual desires.
Desire and Identity
Bob: Many of us have had the experience of being in a conversation with someone talking about sexual sin or sexual behavior. We can see that, in ourselves, we were not full of both grace and truth in the midst of that conversation. Here’s pastor and author Heath Lambert.
Heath: I think we need to repent any time we have spoken the truth but not done it in love. Some people will say, “Well, I’m just going to tell you the way it is!” It’s not a virtue in the Bible. In the Bible, a virtue is when you tell it the way it is, but you do that in love. And I think one of the ways we are going to get at that spot, as Christians, is when we realize that it’s not merely homosexual persons who are broken—but we’re all broken. A good friend of mine says, “Because of sin, none of us are sexually straight.” So, if we can be honest and realize that we all need repentance because of sexual sin that we’ve committed, either in heart or in deed, that’s going to change the way we approach other people who struggle.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, May 17th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I’m Bob Lepine. It is important that we hold firmly to the truth of Scripture in our convictions, but how we hold onto that truth is just as critical. We’ll spend time thinking about that together today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. Feel like we’ve got a little bit of a heavy-weight battle going on. In one corner are the culture and my own passions, and in the other corner is the Bible. And in our culture today, there are a lot of people who are saying, “I think the culture and my passions are stronger than / are more powerful than the Bible.” At least, they are capitulating to that in a lot of different areas.
Dennis: They are. There’s not a parent who is listening to our broadcast that doesn’t feel that boxing match, Bob. The culture is attempting to confuse, distort, and seduce our children. Yet, we’re trying to uphold the Bible and help our children grapple with its teaching and ultimately determine what they should believe—and that’s called a conviction.
I want to introduce a couple of guys who have heroically written a book called Transforming Homosexuality: What the Bible Says about Sexual Orientation.
Bob: And why do you say “heroically”?
Dennis: Well, Bob! This culture punishes people. I’ve had listeners write me and say: “How can I be such a bigot to hold to the teachings of Scripture and say that marriage is between a man and a woman? Why would you want to withhold happiness from other people? I don’t get up in the morning, wanting to harm other people. I do what I do to help other people, and I think the greatest help in the world is found in the Bible / in the person of Christ.”
And these guys do too. Dr. Heath Lambert and Dr. Denny Burk join us on FamilyLife Today. What about it, guys? Have you guys had any pushback? I would say you guys have probably had some pushback from the community of faith—have you?
Heath: Oh, yes. The most trouble I’ve ever been in, in my life, has been when I’ve been talking about these issues. I’ve been personally threatened. My children have been threatened because of simply taking a biblical position that homosexuality is a sin, like every other sin, and Jesus paid for it like every other sin.
Dennis: All because you are upholding what the Bible teaches about one of the more controversial issues in our culture. What about you, Denny?
Denny: I’ve gotten all kinds of pushback over these things, but I think this isn’t something that should surprise us. This is just what happens when the light hits the darkness, I believe. I don’t think that Heath and I are claiming any special insight.
I think it’s just the Scripture. And when the Scripture comes in, it divides; right? I mean, it really does shed light on a situation. People, who don’t like the light, fight against the light. So, we just have to get used to that. We’re in a cultural situation where we’re not going to get a ton of “‘at a boys” for following Jesus; but Jesus told us it would be that way. So, it shouldn’t be surprising to us.
Bob: So, I want to try and do this with you guys because the book that you’ve written, Transforming Homosexuality, is a book that gets to the issue of desire. You’re talking about the fact that it’s not just homosexual behavior that is out of bounds for Christians. But if you find yourself attracted and you entertain that attraction, or even if you don’t—but it’s persistent / it’s there in your life—that needs to change in you. That attraction / that very temptation should be different about you after a period of time of walking with Jesus; right?
That’s your hypothesis?
Denny: Yes, that’s correct. And by the way, this isn’t new. This is just what—this is what we believe as Christians. The Ten Commandments: “You shall not commit adultery,”—seventh commandment. Tenth commandment: “You shall not desire your neighbor’s wife.”
Denny: Covet—and the word for covet there is just the same word for desire. So, the issue is—even in the Ten Commandments, it’s not just the not doing of the adultery—“Don’t do it,”—you shouldn’t desire it. Jesus was not reinventing the wheel in Matthew 5 when He says, “You’ve heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ but I say to you whoever looks at his neighbor’s wife has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
He was teaching us what the Ten Commandments meant all along for people, who had eyes to see and ears to hear—that it’s not just external behavior modification that the Lord is aiming for when He saves us and changes us. He’s interested in reordering our desires—
—including our sexual desires. He wants them to be in conformity with His will. So, Jesus is saying that it matters what you desire. It matters what’s going on in your heart, not just your behavior. And the Christian church—we agree on that when it comes to the nature of heterosexual sin. We’re trying to say, “We should apply this to homosexual sin as well.”
Dennis: This book could be written about transforming materialism, transforming heterosexual lust, transforming gambling. It’s all about the desires of our hearts that are turned toward evil.
Heath: That’s right. We want to treat homosexuality and homosexual sin just like we treat every other sin. Our concern is that, out of a well-intended desire, to want to give people who struggle with homosexuality a break. They are looking at these people, who are saying: “You’re not just saying my behavior is wrong—you’re saying I’m wrong?
“You’re saying everything about my sexual desires is wrong?” People hear that and they want to offer them a break. They want to give them a rest. So, they say, “Well, maybe, not everything. Just don’t do the behavior, and we’re going to try to find some place to put these desires.”
And what we want to say is: “The Christian church has never said that about any sin because the Bible doesn’t say it.” The Bible says, “Our behavior changes when the desires of our heart change.” So, we want—we wanted to write this book because we want to show people that the path to true change that honors Jesus Christ is the path through the heart.
Dennis: Well, speaking of compassion, what if there is a listener—and I would imagine there’s more than one—who is saying right now: “You just don’t understand. This is my orientation. This is my identity. It has been mine since I was a child. I’ve never known anything other than this.”
Bob: “I didn’t ask for it. I don’t want it. I don’t like it, but it just—it is what it is.”
Heath: I would say, “There are things about your struggle that I don’t understand, and there are things about your struggle I do understand.”
It’s true—I have not ever personally struggled with homosexual desire; but more profoundly than that, I have struggled with heterosexual desire. I know what it is. Everybody listening to this—everybody knows what it is to love things God hates and to hate things that God loves. And none of us choose them. None of us chose to be prideful or to be lustful in a heterosexual way. We all struggle with sins that go down deep into who we are.
And what we need to do is: “Hey, regardless of what your particular manifestation of a sinful struggle is, we need to point people to Jesus Christ who, by His power—through His resurrection, through His ascension to heaven, through His death on the cross—He takes care of all that is wrong with us as we trust in Him.”
Bob: Okay. So, here’s what I’d like to do—and we’re talking, by the way, with Heath Lambert and Denny Burk, who have written a book called Transforming Homosexuality: What the Bible Says about Sexual Orientation and Change.
I’d like to go to the campus of Boyce College. You guys both have association—you know the campus / you know your way around there. There are a couple of freshman young women at Boyce—and this is all hypothetical / I’m just making this up, but let’s just take this where it is—and they’ve cultivated a friendship over the first semester. It’s now the second semester. They are out just walking along the campus. One of the young ladies turns to the other and says, “There is something I think I need to tell you—something that I have struggled with—and I’ve not told anybody. I think, based on our friendship, I can just confess this to you.”
And the other one says, “What is it?” She says: “I am gay. I’ve never wanted this. This is who I am, and I’m here at Boyce. I love Jesus, and I want to follow Jesus. I was in Dr. Lambert’s class the other day, and he was talking about this kind of stuff. I just thought, ‘Well, if I confess this to anybody, it’s just—there’s going to be shame because I should be conquering my desires, and I don’t know what to do with this.
“’I don’t know that I’ll ever conquer this. I just think this is who I am.’”
You’re the other girl in that conversation. Who wants to tackle—are you ready to jump in on this one, Denny?
Denny: Sure; yes. Well, first thing I want to say is—if this is a Christian person, who is struggling with same-sex attractions, I want to say to them: “Listen, your life is hidden with Christ in God; and your identity is defined by Jesus. The culture is the one telling you that your identity is the sum total of your fallen sexual desires—that’s the culture’s message. That’s not the gospel message. We are not reduced to, as persons, the sum total of our fallen sexual attractions. We were made for a purpose—God made us for a purpose. Sometimes, our sinful attractions are opposed to that purpose; but the grace of Jesus can change those things.”
And I want to say to that young lady, if I’m her friend:
“I’m going to walk with you and help you so that you can learn faithful repentance and see real transformation in your life. And look, this may be a difficult struggle for a long time, but I’m going to be there with you. We’re going to do this together.” The next thing I’d want to say is, “You need to be involved in a church that’s biblical and that will love you and that will provide you the community you need to walk in faithfulness.”
Bob: There’s a reason I picked Boyce College for this illustration because you’ve got quality young men and women. I’m assuming this young woman loves Jesus. She’s going to church. She loves the Bible. This is—she’s never told this to anybody. She’s now telling it to her friend. She says, “This is—you’re telling me I need to repent, and it just made me feel terrible because I didn’t pick this for myself!”
Heath: Yes. I would want to point a young woman like that to 1 John, Chapter 1. In
1 John, Chapter 1, the apostle is talking about walking in the light. And we, a lot of times, think about walking in the light as when we’re living the life that is free of sin / when we’re not struggling with anything—
—we’re kind of up in the spiritual clouds. And 1 John 1 does not talk about walking in the light in that way. In fact, 1 John 1 says, “If you say you don’t have sin, that’s the way you know you’re not walking in the light.” People walk in the light, not when they are free of sin; they walk in the light when they confess the sin they’ve got.
In that context, it says: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” The Bible teaches us that sin is not always a thing we do / it’s not always a thing we choose. Sometimes, that’s true; but the Bible also teaches that sin is who we are—sin runs deep. Psalm 51 says that we were born with sin / we were conceived in sin. The Bible never asks us to figure out where this came from or where it began. It says, “He who conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.”
Bob: Okay; here’s my last question: Are you saying, “If I will just be faithful to repent this—the feeling that I have and have had ever since as long as I can remember—that’s going to go away; and I will be rid of a desire that I feel today?”
Denny: Nobody is saying that these things go away instantly. The way that we deal with every sin within the church is that—the work of sanctification is a progressive work, over the course of a person’s life, that’s not perfected until you die and are raised up with Jesus.
What we’re promising is: “Look, the grace of Jesus is sufficient for this; but you’re entering into a process. But we think that you can see real progress in these things and real holiness. And just because it feels natural to you shouldn’t make you feel like that it is okay. Think about what the Apostle Paul said about desire in Romans 7.”
Romans 7 is like a chapter-long meditation on the tenth commandment, which is the desire command, which includes “Don’t desire sinful sex.”
He talks about this coveting; but he says, when he saw the command, it just made coveting / it made the desiring for bad things just well up within him. And he said in Romans 7:21, “I find, then, the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wishes to do good,”—which means, even when you’re a Christian, there are going to be, from time to time, things that spontaneously come up from your heart that you don’t remember inviting to come in. They are just there because we are not on the other side of glory yet.
There are going to be things that bubble up in your heart. When you feel them—maybe, it’s covetousness; maybe, it’s pride; maybe, it’s same-sex attraction / whatever it is—if it is a sinful desire, at that moment, you need to repent and turn from it, whether you remember choosing it or not. If it’s a desire for something that God forbids, that’s the issue.
Bob: And might that desire for somebody be something that they do battle with throughout their lifetime?
Heath: It might be; yes. And we want to say that. But we don’t only want to say that because I really think the gospel is at stake in combating what the culture is saying. What the culture is saying is: “You can’t change.” And we want to say: “You know what? With really deeply-engrained sin, it might be a struggle that you have for the rest of your life; but Jesus really does choose to change some people completely in this life.” And there are people—the Bible talks about people in 1 Corinthians 6; but all people will experience progress, regardless of what that looks like, through the grace of Jesus.
Dennis: The role play we just listened to here—where Bob had both of you guys coaching the young lady who is providing counsel to someone who is struggling with a sin / in this case, homosexuality—that kind of role play ought to occur at your dinner table.
Make it a safe place to debate the issues of the day, but open the Bible and speak as these guys have from the Bible. Let it set the standard for what to believe and what to obey in this culture.
Bob: And here is where I think I may have blown it in the past. I’d like you guys just to weigh in on this. I may have jumped to the book too quick. When somebody is in the midst of sharing a struggle, I may have jumped to the answer / to the solution—to “Let me help fix your problem,” before I sat down and just said: “I want to hear your heart. I want to enter into the suffering with you. I want to cry with you.”
I think some of us—as Christians, in the midst of things like this—we have not been as sympathetic, as empathetic, as kind, and as compassionate as we could have been. We’ve gone right to: “I know the verse! I can take you to it, and we can get this fixed and be on your way.” This is where that truth, grace—it’s all got to come together; doesn’t it?
Denny: Well, the Proverbs says, “He who gives an answer before he hears, it is a folly and a shame to him,” which means—
—when you’re talking to somebody who is having these struggles, listen to their story. Find out exactly what the nature of their struggle is. Not every person who is feeling these things is wishing to rebel against the Bible. They may be struggling because they know what the Bible says, and they want to have desires and attractions that match what the Bible says. They are just in the midst of this horrible conflict.
So, you need to listen and learn what it is and don’t treat them like they are the person marching in the pride parade because, a lot of times, that’s not what you’re dealing with. You’re dealing with a person who—especially if you’re in your church—you’re dealing with a person who is trying to figure out how to follow Jesus and manage these alienating desires that they are feeling inside of themselves. So, listen to a person’s story. By the way, listening to a person’s story doesn’t necessarily mean approving of it.
Denny: You just need to hear it, and commiserate, and feel compassion, and then, as the Lord gives opportunities, speak truth into that, based on what you’ve heard.
Dennis: You know, when Jesus was confronting the Pharisees, who were about to stone the woman who had been caught in adultery, He didn’t immediately rush to her sin and convict her of her sin. He protected her. He said, “Who among you is going to cast the first stone?” And He told her, “Neither do I condemn you.” Then, He told her, “Go and sin no more.” I think that order of protecting people and—I think you said it rightly, Denny—to listen carefully to “What’s the story?”
Bob: I’ll give you a quick example. I’ve got a friend of mine whose brother has lived as a practicing homosexual for years and whose partner died recently—unexpectedly. He said, “So, I texted him immediately: ‘I just heard the news. I’m so sorry.’”
Now, there’s an impulse in my friend to want to go in at that moment and try to address this issue; but he knew wisely: “This isn’t the time. This isn’t the place to get a hearing with my brother. I need to sit down with him and say, ‘I’m so sorry for what’s going on with you.’”
Heath: You know, one of the things I personally try to do in my life—because look, we’re going to be in a situation where we disagree with people on this. We’re going to have to disagree with people in our family. We’re going to disagree with our neighbors and people we work with. Sometimes, we’re going to disagree with people because they are personally involved in the sins / sometimes, we’ll disagree because they know someone who is.
But my personal creed has been: “Even when we disagree strongly about the rightness and the wrongness of this, and what the Bible has to say, I want this person—I want to so care for them that they would walk away and be confounded that they could have a disagreement with somebody but also say, ‘I’ve never had anybody that was as kind and as gracious to me as that person was.’”
This is: “Speak the truth and do it in love.” It’s not just the words we say; it’s the way we say it. Christians need to be the kind of people who have rock-solid conviction, but also, a rock-solid commitment to our care for people so that folks would walk away and say, “I disagree with them, but I’ve never known somebody who loved me the way they did.”
Dennis: But Heath, this is where the Christian community really doesn’t get an “F” for faith on their report card for being kind. We’re pretty good at playing the judgment card. We don’t excel here. What would you say to the person who really has got to repent—they tuned into this broadcast, thinking, “Okay, here’s some more good stuff to be able to build my judgment case of other people who are fallen.” But we’ve got our own repentance to deal with; don’t we?—in dealing with other people who are broken just like us.
Heath: Yes, I think we need to repent any time we have spoken the truth but not done it in love.
Some people say, “Well, I’m just going to tell you the way it is!” It’s not a virtue in the Bible. In the Bible, a virtue is when you tell it the way it is, but you do that in love. And I think one of the ways we’re going to get at that spot, as Christians, is when we realize that it’s not merely homosexual persons who are broken; but we’re all broken. A good friend of mine says, “Because of sin, none of us are sexually straight.” So, if we can be honest and realize that we all need repentance because of sexual sin that we’ve committed, either in heart or deed, that’s going to change the way we approach other people who struggle.
Bob: And we’ve got to think about this differently because it’s not just the behavior—it’s the desire that we’re talking about. It’s what you guys talk about in the book, Transforming Homosexuality. And this is a book we’ve got in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. Our listeners can go to FamilyLifeToday.com if they’re interested in getting a copy; or they can call 1-800-FL-TODAY and order a copy over the phone—a good book for folks to highlight, meditate on, and really dig deep into this subject, Dennis, as they try to get their arms around what we believe and how we engage on this subject.
Dennis: And it’ll help you equip your children—maybe, your adult children. You may want to call and order a couple for your kids, who are raising your grandkids. This is one of these issues that’s not going to go away and demands a solid, compassionate, biblical, truth-speaking, and wrapped-in-love response.
Bob: So, again, you can order it from us, online, on our website at FamilyLifeToday.com; or get a copy of the book when you call 1-800-FL-TODAY.
Now, I know some of you have heard the news. I want to make sure the rest of you are in the know on this. We have recently had some friends of the ministry, who came to FamilyLife, and they told us a couple of things. First of all, they knew this was our 40th anniversary as a ministry, and they wanted to do something special to acknowledge that.
Secondly, they knew that summertime is a challenging time for ministries like ours because, often, there is a decline in donations during the summer months while the expenses of running a ministry continue to be about the same. So, they said: “We’d like to help you through the summer months. Here’s what we’ll do. We will make a donation to the ministry to match every donation you receive, during the month of May, up to a total of $350,000.” In other words, they said, “We’ll give you $350,000, but only if your listeners will match that amount.” So, we’re asking you to help us take advantage of their generosity by making a donation today.
Go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com—make an online donation. Or call 1-800-FL-TODAY to make a donation. Again, any donation you make this month is going to be matched, dollar for dollar, up to that total of $350,000.
So, “Thanks,” in advance, for helping us out with this if you are able.
Now, tomorrow, we want to talk more about how we can represent Christ well on this issue, as His followers—how we can be full of grace, full of love, full of truth, standing firm and yet warm and welcoming. What does that look like? We’ll explore that more tomorrow with our guests Denny Burk and Heath Lambert. Hope you can be back for that as well.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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