When we understand our depravity, we will stop talking about people gripped with sexual desire for their own gender as obedient souls who love Jesus. Instead of making an apology for them, we invite them to the Christ who cleanses all who are joined to him.
There is some difference between an apologist and a polemicist. Rev. Scott Sauls is an apologist who seeks to defend a kind of homosexuality in the PCA. His tools are biblical and theological. He challenges us to accept same-sex attraction in Christians as morally neutral.
Sauls often assures that Christian homosexuals embrace the age-old, historic, biblical, traditional, and ethical position of Christianity. For his gay friends he makes an eloquent plea.
My role is different. I am a polemicist out to refute the position Scott Sauls defends, which I view as dangerous to the life of the PCA. We must test what we are taught (1 Thessalonians 5:21), and I will try to do this with Scott Sauls’ ardent defense of Revoice.
I have not picked Sauls’ name out of a hat. He has gained attention on his own, publishing the testimony of a same-sex attracted (SSA) seminary student in 2014, and in 2015 inviting him to appear in his Nashville church. In a sermon at the time, Pastor Sauls promoted two books by Dr. Wesley Hill. I have published two articles on Hill’s teaching: Oh, the Company We Keep, and A Homosexual Reads his Bible. Wes Hill is a false teacher who has gone to the Fake Sheep Shop for a wool suit, and sadly, Sauls thinks he’s a sheep.
Before the PCA General Assembly in June, 2019, Sauls wrote his largest blog ever. Going over it twenty times; his thinking clearly in Thoughts on Revoice, Unnecessary Division, and the PCA. Most of my article is a response to that blog of June 21, 2019; I urge its careful reading. Sauls would also like people to consider another of his articles, Some Thoughts on Sex.
The Flow and Emphasis of His Argument
Here is the substance of his thoughts as I understand them. He presents Revoice as a ministry we should respect because it is orthodox. Sauls likes Revoice. He chides those who insist on unrealistic and too precise terminology. Are not “gay-Christians” allowed to express their experience in terms that come naturally to them? He personally does not use “gay-Christian” preferring “Christians who experience same-sex attractions”.
To defend Revoice, Sauls delves into sanctification, mortification, and temptation. This may be the major thrust of his article. While doing so, he stoutly contends that same-sex attraction in the homosexuals he is defending is lifelong. Oh yes, there are exceptions, but let’s get real; it is enduring. Homosexual Christians tell us their attraction for their own kind began early, and they expect it to continue; they battle against the suggestion that they should expect change. Sauls vigorously agrees with this. His argument appears to me as similar to Gamaliel’s – these Side B homosexuals[i] may well be of God, and if they are, we should not oppose them, lest we be opposing God (Acts 5:34-39). His argument is somewhat similar, since he says:
My own personal belief is that God puts obedient, same-sex attracted Christians in our midst to show us what denying oneself, taking up a cross daily, and following Jesus can look like. Our faith is supposed to cost us something, and our brothers and sisters help show us the way.
No one follows Jesus and is a good example while lusting after anyone contrary to God’s commandment. Yet if we say homosexuals should look to the Lord to heal them of their homosexual passion, Sauls’ reaction is strong:
But to presume upon God that [sexual orientation] change will and should come—and if it doesn’t then we have a moral problem and cause for bringing someone up on charges—is to take a triumphalistic, unrealistic, dishonest, un-reformed, pastorally and emotionally and psychologically and spiritually injurious stance regarding sanctification and holiness. It is also to deny the “not yet” in our already/not yet theology regarding the kingdom of God.
Paul Called Himself a Sinner – Oh Did He?
One of Sauls’ arguments triggered this rebuttal – Paul identifying himself as a sinner.[ii] And that sin “will remain for him [Paul] [a] daily struggle …” And so it is for broken SSA Christians until the day they die. In other words, it is rare for homosexual desire to go away. He writes:
“As for Paul’s own self-understanding, he identifies himself not only as a saint but as a sinner. He does not say “I was the chief of sinners,” but “I am the chief of sinners.” … In calling himself a sinner, we know and accept that Paul is not celebrating sin or declaring any intention to commit sin. At the same time, sin is something that is always crouching at his door. It will remain for him [a] daily struggle … until the day of his death …
“Although it’s not a complete apples-to-apples comparison, most of the Christians I know who describe themselves as “gay” use the word in a similar way that Paul did when he called himself a sinner. They use the word not as a banner or as an identity, but as an honest recognition of their broken state as those affected by original sin.”
In the 1 Timothy 1:15, Paul did not say, “I am the chief of sinners.” In searching many translations, [iii] I have not found one which Sauls is quoting word for word. One translation supports using the word “sinner,” though it is not in the original. The noun “sinner” has become so important to Sauls that he returns to this word a half dozen times in his blog. One example: “Biblically, we aren’t merely permitted to use the word ‘sinner’ in reference to ourselves. Rather, we are required to do so.”
Scott cannot find any New Testament text where a believer is labelled a sinner![iv] In the New Testament (NT) “sinner” simply means unbeliever. In modern times we use the noun “sinner” simply to say that we have sins. The NT use indicates status.
Suggesting that Paul calls himself a sinner is an argument supremely suited to homosexual public relations. They want us to note that we all sin, so homosexuals are not unique in sinning. It is just that we have different sins, you know. You are not immune to yours, and neither are we to ours.
Sauls alleges that many of these homosexual Christians “steward their sexuality far better … than their single straight Christian peers.” The “healthy biblical faith” he promotes must apply to them too, because he goes on to testify of their superior obedience above that of their single straight Christian peers, not just better but far better. Hopefully he does not really mean to use such sweeping language for people in his congregation who are not homosexual, but he left the “far better” in without qualification in spite of reviewing his article twenty times. Caught up in zeal to promote a kind of homosexuality he condones, he made an inaccurate comparison.
The emphasis on the present tense in 1 Timothy 1:15
I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life (1 Timothy 1:12-16, ESV).
Paul refers to his former life. He had sinned in ignorance; he was a blasphemer who persecuted the church. But Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. To show God’s grace in action, Paul refers to his conversion and subsequent appointment to the service of the Christ he had opposed. He is the chief example of God’s grace to sinners, the most notable opponent of Christ in the past, and he still is the classic example of the Lord’s kindness.
Rev. Sauls, in a frightful violation of hermeneutics, has ignored the context. He fell for the homosexual argument that somehow Paul is a sinner still. I object; Paul did not continue to be what he once was! Did he continue to persecute? No, instead he continued to be an example of God’s grace. Paul never meant “I was a sinner and I am one still.”
To finish the parallel of Paul calling himself a sinner, Sauls says, “Sin is something that is always crouching at his door [Paul’s door]. It will remain for him [Paul] a daily struggle … until the day of his [Paul’s] death.” In that paragraph Sauls portrays the current struggles of “homosexual Christians” [v] as if that were Paul’s kind of struggle. The sin is different, but the struggle is still one against sin. And now you have it: Paul is a sinner, and so are they, but we should approve chaste homosexual Christians with their struggles the way we accept Paul with his.
What sin was Paul struggling with? Murdering Christians? He did not claim to struggle with a continuing desire to persecute the church. The 1 Timothy text has not a word in it about Paul’s current struggles. That is an idea that Sauls forces into the text. The apostle’s turnaround conversion experience is not even slightly parallel to the unrelenting passions of homosexuals. Rev. Sauls’ argument is ridiculous.[vi] In his words: “… Most of the Christians I know who describe themselves as ‘gay’ use the word in a similar way that Paul did when he called himself a sinner.”
Rev. Sauls, 1) pictures Paul as a sinner after his conversion. 2) He then suggests that the experiences of “Christian homosexuals” are similar to Paul’s Christian life, and 3) thereby Scott audaciously concludes that the well-recognized righteousness of Paul is consistent with the righteousness of the gays he defends. He misconstrues the situation to support homosexual righteousness. Somehow Paul’s sin is an amazing proof that it is not sinful to have continued desire for one’s own kind, provided the impulse is resisted. Paul’s sinner-condition has become the proof of its opposite. This irrational argument will make the journey to hell more comfortable for those who are taken in by it and think it is OK to be homosexual.
From what Paul wrote, Sauls gleaned a still-a-sinner argument. We should now consider a Pauline sinner-no-more text where tense is crucial to understanding: 1 Corinthians 6:9-11. Paul contrasts past vileness with the change salvation produces. Here is my interpretative rendering of the text:
v.9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit [future] the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived [present] neither the sexually immoral [a present practice], nor [current] idolaters, nor adulterers [i.e., those who now commit adultery], nor men who practice homosexuality [now], v.10 nor [those identified as] thieves, [nor all these other persons described as] the greedy, drunkards, revilers, [and] swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God in the future.
v.11 And such were some of you. But [no more, because] you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
Such sins once ruled the Corinthian Christians before they came to Christ. Paul points out what some of them were. But they are no longer, for you have been purified and have been justified. Before their call to Christ some were homosexuals, but Paul knew nothing of lifelong homosexual believers. Many in the PCA have pointed out these clear words in 1 Corinthians 6. I would like to hear the advocates and apologists of Side B homosexuality explain this text. Sauls made one text say what is not in it and does not see that another one directly refutes the doctrine of Revoice.
Temptation vs. Sin
When Sauls wrestles with how people describe their same-sex feelings, he cannot avoid addressing whether these feelings are sinful. No surprise there; it is a question many have. He asserts that there is this and that kind of gay. One kind of homosexual attraction is clearly sinful (because practiced) and the other in his mind is not, provided this other kind is not pursued. He believes there are Christians with SSA who are chaste. Yet “… these feelings are not to be indulged or pursued but mortified daily.” I hope Rev. Sauls would also consider that these feelings are sinful just by being there, even if supposedly latent. Emotions move, and feelings feel, unless one can have inert desires which do not desire. Sinful action can only come from a sinful nature. Cause logically precedes result, thus anything causing a sin is itself sinful. To miss this is to deny the depth of human depravity.
Sauls’ explanation is that unwanted feelings are ‘temptation.’ There is no mistaking him, for he says bluntly that “sin and temptation are different things and must be treated as such.” His proof is that Jesus was tempted and in that temptation did not sin. So, he concludes the homosexual man’s feelings are not sin, as long as they are merely feelings. But Christians have held (until recently!) that lust is a feeling. Desire is the only thing that lust can be. There is no holy lust!
Sauls proclaims that same-sex desire is only temptation and, of course, it is not sinful to be tempted, because Jesus was, and he did not sin. Unpursued same-sex lust/desire/attraction, in a bit of theological euphemism, has now been declared not sinful by a PCA minister. In this error a Christian can be obedient and homosexual at the same time without contradiction or need to repent. A person can have life-long romantic desire for persons of the same-sex without it being a sin, as long as they do not kiss. Such teaching protects sin in the heart. When sin is skirted, salvation from it is superfluous.
If Sauls’ depiction is true, then SSA is not an aspect of our sinful flesh, and it is truly no more evil than Wes Hill’s blue eyes. In the new covenant a condition of no sin could never be a target the Holy Spirit would attack as evil. In this doctrine, a person with a desire contrary to God’s law does not need cleansing from it. Promoting this confusion is not charitable.
The Temptation of the Lord
There are two errors here. One, at the outset, is a failure to recognize the sinfulness of sin in the heart. The other great error is a wrong assumption about how the Lord Jesus was tempted. Since his heart never generated sin as our hearts do, all temptation of Christ had to come from outside. This is not so with us. Sin is so natural to us that we initiate and stir up our own sin. It does not need a tempter’s influence. Simply hearing the holy law of God provokes a response of sin in sinful mankind (Romans 7:7-14). The law does not create sin in us; it stirs up sin already there. It is not a sin to be tempted from without, but it is sin to desire contrary to God’s revealed will, and that twisted nature is in us all.[vii] Reformed ministers are supposed to know this.
We cannot covet externally. By definition coveting is a sin of the heart. We can steal with our hands, but we can only covet with our hearts. We must not desire another’s property, wife, or husband. Such desire exists within. We are “to put to death what is earthly in [us]: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness” (Colossians 3:5) – words that include feelings of attraction for one’s own gender.
We should be eager to see the difference between our temptations and those of the Lord during his days on earth. His were as real as ours, but more intense. He shared every kind of temptation that comes to us, but none which arise in us, because they were not in him. So he said the devil “has no claim on me” (John 14:30). There was nothing within Christ that Satan could latch onto. When Sauls said that Jesus “never for a moment experienced a sinful desire,” he correctly established a great difference, but then he treated the Lord’s temptations as if they were the same as ours. In doing so he has missed an important distinction.
I highly recommend a helpful paper promoting this distinction. Most of it is a quotation of Dr. Mark Jones, a PCA minister. He distinguishes our internal temptations from those that came to Christ from outside.
If temptation is understood this way [i.e., as a “proposal from within, it being the soul’s own act, is its sin” (John Owen)] then a proposal towards that which is evil (e.g., same-sex attraction) is sinful. We are distinguishing between proposals from within versus a proposal from without. And the distinction between the two is not a mere quibble, but the difference between heaven and hell.[viii]
When we understand depravity, we will stop talking about people gripped with sexual desire for their own gender as obedient souls who love Jesus. Instead of making an apology for them, we invite them to the Christ who cleanses all who are joined to him. To read their SSA as a unique manifestation of original sin, but not quite real lust, does not help them see their need of Christ.
The Confusion Reviewed
Not sin: Sauls leads us to believe that same-sex feelings are mere temptations not sin. Our Lord Jesus was tempted, and he had no sin; so it is with our chaste “homosexual Christians.”
Why mortify? Prominent homosexual “leaders in Revoice,” are men who battle for holiness and mortify their sinful flesh. They turn “away from all illicit sexual desire.” Sauls never tells whether same-sex feelings are illicit, nor does Revoice.[ix] If something should be mortified, it must be sinful. If not, why mortify it? – an inconvenient question.
Lowed expectations: Sauls thinks healing from SSA is quite as rare as healing from terminal cancer; statistics show that homosexual feelings are lifelong. (Statistics also show that the dead do not rise.) Should we get our expectations in line with those of the world? Sauls has a wrong model: we do not mortify cancer. Physical and moral conditions do not correspond. Our bodies decay; while the inner self is being renewed (2 Corinthians 4:13-18). The body will be glorified in one moment, not daily (v. 14); sanctification from sexual sin is day by day (v. 6).
Prayer ineffective: Sauls says likewise that prayer for relief from this moral condition is about as effective as prayer for a person about to endure physical death, such as terminal cancer. That is a counsel of unbelief. Yet he says, when we confess our sins … “we are healed.”
Conformity: The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8). Christians are already being conformed to the image of God’s Son (Romans 8:29), and every form of homosexuality is incompatible with the image of Christ. Those who profess Christ should “put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:24). The “new self” does not have a same-sex appetite.
Presumption: If we insist on holding to the new covenant promise of overpowering sin, Sauls believes, in the case of SSA that we “presume upon God that change will and should come.” Then when a person is not changed, we should not assume a moral deficiency in that person. He thinks that leads to an unfair judgment of other believers. It is “a triumphalistic, unrealistic, dishonest, un-reformed, pastorally and emotionally and psychologically and spiritually injurious stance regarding sanctification and holiness.” In other words, the new covenant does not work. However –
Not presumption: It is not presumption to pray for God to change same-sex hunger, or to wait on the kindness of God to redeem us from being “slaves to various passions and lusts … by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit”? (Titus 3). This is rather explicit.
God keeps covenant: Does God decide which promises he will keep? He says, “I will never break my covenant with you” (Judges 2:1). We should receive God’s word not Sauls’ evil counsel. With him on their side, Side B homosexuals have an apologist and teacher to suit their passions. With his arguments Sauls helps them turn away from the truth (2 Timothy 4:3, 4).
Does it make sense? So if Sauls’ blog does not make sense, it is because it really doesn’t! He and his homosexual friends tell us that this same-sex desire is a result of the fall. They do not wish to say it is sin, in spite of all the texts that identify our hearts as the source of our sin. When Sauls makes Paul out to be a sinner with struggles, this is supposed to be a parallel of the experience of homosexual Christians, whose feelings are only temptations – not sin. Yet they mortify them! They prefer “same-sex attraction” not same-sex lust.
Then, too, Jesus was tempted, but they do not say that he struggled with sin generated by his heart, yet he supposedly had exactly the same temptations we have. Revoice leaders assume that homosexual desire is incurable. We reply, God washes our hearts in the new birth, and his Spirit writes his laws on our hearts. If we expect God to heal now, Sauls thinks we presume upon God by believing him! Is anything too hard for the Lord? (Jeremiah 32:17, 27).
He thinks we create suffering for homosexuals who have failed to “pray the gay away.” Prayers which expect no benefit are not claiming God’s promises. This unbiblical teaching, now within the PCA, is false doctrine which should be exterminated.
… So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires (Romans 13:12-14).
Rev. David H. Linden is a retired Minister in the Presbyterian Church in America; he lives in Las Cruces, NM.
Read Scott Sauls’ response here.
[i] SSA is an abbreviation for same-sex attraction. Attraction is a milder word that the biblical word “lust.” Side B homosexuality differs from Side A in this respect: Side A gays may indulge in homosexual sex; Side B vigorously professes to be celibate.
[ii] The denial of identity is a worn-out issue. If Paul said he is a sinner, then he identified himself as a sinner. I am a Canadian, with a passport to prove it. I might say I am a Canadian man, which is only another way to say the same thing. Sauls’ gay friends like Wes Hill turn this into a crucial distinction.
[iii] Translations researched: JB, Douay-Rheims, KJV, NKJV, NIV, NASB, NEB, ASV, and NT Wright’s translation of the NT. The RSV does say, “And I am the foremost of sinners.” However, the word “sinner” does not appear in that phrase in the original text.
[iv] I fear Scott will have the same problem if he searches out “sinner” or “sinners” in the ESV Old Testament. There too, “sinner” means unbeliever, as in Psalm 1.
[v] Whenever I say “homosexual Christian,” I step into the view I am opposing. I do not affirm the label, though I do recognize that temptation to this sin may persist. I reject the unbelief which holds that changed desire in this life is not found in the covenant of grace. Deliverance is in God’s promise.
[vi] Sauls repeats another argument for the purposeful existence of same-sex lust in a Christian, when he echoes Wes Hill’s contention from Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” in 2 Corinthians 12: 7-10. That thorn was a physical affliction appearing later in life. In verse 9 Paul was proud of his weakness, and I have not heard Scott Sauls say anything quite that explicit about passions for one’s own gender. I have written on Wes Hill’s use of this text in A Homosexual Reads his Bible.
The quotation by Dr. Jones is from John Owen’s Works, 6:194. Sauls claims Owen’s The Mortification of Sin is “my personal favorite on the subject.” Perhaps he does not realize how different his view is from that of the great Puritan.
[ix] I wish they had used the term “same-sex attraction.” What good is a doctrinal statement which sidesteps and does not clarify expressly the sinfulness or righteousness of same-sex desire, when this is the issue so disturbing to the peace of the church?