We have a problem with sin, and it might not be what you think. It’s how we talk about it. So often the Christian messaging goes something like this:
- Sin will feel horrible. Immediately.
- You’ll feel empty and unfulfilled.
- You won’t be happy.
- It will make your life difficult and painful.
- The world is a terrible place and only Christian things are good.
The difficulty is when Christians wander off into sin and discover that none of the above statements are true, or they’re only partly true. When a same-sex attracted Christian becomes disillusioned with church, finds celibacy too hard and goes off to pursue a gay relationship, often she will find that it doesn’t feel wrong. Surprisingly, it feels like a relief. She has someone to share life with and do fun things with. She has the physical intimacy she’s craved for ages. It’s so much easier to be able to go after what she desires rather than try not to act on how she feels. She feels known and loved and enjoys community with non-Christian friends with whom she has much in common. She feels happy.
Over the years, I have sadly seen many Christian friends – male and female – abandon the path of discipleship to Christ in order to pursue gay relationships. I grieve for these friends and long for them to come back to the heart of Christ. But I also understand what they’ve gone through, and I think we need to be totally honest about sin in order to show how Jesus’ way is really best. As Tim Keller wisely says:
‘When people are presented with the Christian faith, behind the actual doctrines lies a backdrop of other beliefs, attitudes, and expectations. They may include implicit false ideas about how non-believers are bad people, how life will go well for a true believer, and how sinning will feel terrible. Are any of these background beliefs actually part of the historic Christian faith? Not at all. But when young believers find through experience that non-believers can be nice people, that life can go terribly for believers, and that sin can feel great—the loss of tacit beliefs can lead them to question the whole faith.’1
Sin often feels good
‘When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.’ Genesis 3:6
The fruit looked lovely, tasted great and promised fantastic rewards. No wonder it was tempting. I completely understand the temptation for a same-sex attracted Christian to get into a gay relationship. Companionship, shared intimacy and being found attractive are so compelling (and not wrong in themselves). But sexual contact between two people of the same sex isn’t God’s best for us in spite of how attractive it may seem. There are lots of better ways for me to enjoy physical intimacy, deep friendship and meaningful community.
I’ve been in a number of lesbian relationships since being a Christian. They felt good. There was lots that felt right and they certainly satisfied an immediate craving. Our fallen hearts go after the immediate things that we think will make us happy and make us feel loved and we often don’t want to be confronted with God’s truth (Jeremiah 2:25; Isaiah 30:10-11). But long term, I knew that I was missing out on the intimacy I most deeply desired – with God himself. This is the choice that we’re faced with as Christians:
‘[Moses] chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin.’ Hebrews 11:25
Which sounds more appealing, pleasure or mistreatment? The Bible is ruthlessly honest about sin – it feels good. Sin is pleasurable, for a while.
Sin is easy
‘Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many’ Matthew 7:13
Jesus knows that going the way of the world and following our desires is easy and comes naturally to us as fallen human beings. Anyone who’s had children in their lives knows that you don’t have to teach a kid to be naughty because we often default to selfishness – it’s just easier for my life to be all about me. Temptation to act in my interests and against the interests of others is everywhere and, as Oscar Wilde quipped, ‘I can resist anything except temptation.’2 Isn’t that often the way?
In contrast, obedience to God is often hard. Although some same-sex attracted Christians are able to enter into opposite-sex marriages, for me – as I’ve never been attracted to someone of the opposite sex – it means committing to singleness and celibacy (along with lots of other things like not getting drunk, not lashing out in anger and so on). It’s difficult and that’s why we need the Holy Spirit to give us the strength and ability to follow Jesus faithfully.
Sin is easy, especially in a culture that encourages and celebrates gay relationships. Of course it’s easier to swim with the tide rather than against it. But easier doesn’t mean better.
There is good in the world
Many non-Christians are lovely. Some of the kindest and most generous people I’ve met are people who aren’t Christians. Some of them put Christians to shame with their compassion for others, activism against injustice, and willingness to sacrifice themselves for the vulnerable.
When someone’s told that non-Christians are all self-centred and debauched, living reckless lives, that’s not helpful.
When someone’s told that non-Christians are all self-centred and debauched, living reckless lives, that’s not helpful. When someone leaves a church where they’ve been hurt or found community difficult and joins a non-Christian group, sports team, or workplace where they feel like they belong and are genuinely cared about it can cause them to doubt the whole Christian message.
But the gospel isn’t the message that Christians are good people and everyone else is bad. The truth is that we’re all naturally self-centred and we all need God’s love, grace and forgiveness.
Thanks to God’s grace extended to all in creation, there is lots about this world and the people in it that is beautiful, admirable and right. But that doesn’t mean that Christianity is a take-it-or-leave-it option that we can walk away from with no consequences.
We’ve seen that sin often feels great and it’s easy but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s destructive.
Sin is deadly
Sin often feels easier, more enjoyable, and just better than a life of faithful obedience to Christ. We need to be honest about that. But we also need to be honest that it’s like eating a steak laced with cyanide or a chocolate cake filled with arsenic. It may seem like there’s nothing wrong with it. It may feel like a good life. But it kills you. The Bible talks about the pleasures of sin. But it also shows us that sin is incredibly deceptive (Hebrews 3:12; Jeremiah 17:19). We don’t always experience all the consequences straight away but they’re coming (Romans 6:23).
While we were having fun and taking a break from the hard work of following Jesus, sin’s stolen away our true identity.
Sin is corrosive. It eats away at us imperceptibly over time. Until one day we get to the point where we realise we don’t even know who we are anymore. While we were having fun and taking a break from the hard work of following Jesus, sin’s stolen away our true identity and we’re not sure how to get it back (Psalm 38:10; Psalm 32: 3-4; Jeremiah 2:5). We don’t like ourselves anymore but we feel like we’re in too deep to do anything different. It wastes our life and our purpose and we’ll regret it sooner or later (like stuffing our face with crisps in front of the TV night after night).
Sin isn’t a manageable compromise for when we find holiness a bit too hard. The Bible uses the opposites of death and life, darkness and light to describe it (John 8:12; 1 John 1:5-7). Anything that involves us not living in the light of Christ is death and darkness.
A more helpful message
As Christians and churches, we need to be honest that sin often feels great and is easier than walking a path of holiness. We need to acknowledge the fact that many non-Christians are lovely people and that their lives don’t always look like a chaotic mess. But we also need to be honest about the consequences of sin in our lives – that in the end, sin wears us down and weighs heavy on us and ultimately leads to eternal separation from God. This is the foundation that we need to lay in order for the good news of the gospel to make sense. Sin is deadly, but the amazing news of the gospel is that Jesus has broken sin’s power and brought freedom from its destruction.
When we see that sin is easy and often makes us feel happy, we need to be reminded that there’s a much bigger picture. We were created for eternity and to know and love the God who made us. There is nothing in this world that can satisfy our desire for God. This is the reason I want to walk away from sin and walk in obedience to Jesus in every area of my life, including my sexuality:
‘Because your love [steadfast, unfailing lovingkindness] is better than life, my lips will glorify you.’ Psalm 63:3
Instead of having a lesbian relationship that won’t ultimately satisfy, I can experience the joy and freedom of leaning into my true identity as a daughter of the living God, knowing the depths of his never-ending love. I can choose not to rebel against God anymore and instead embrace his purposes for my life. By the power of the Holy Spirit living in me, I don’t have to be a slave to all my selfish desires, including my sexual desires. After all:
‘The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.’ 1 John 2:17
If we’re honest about both the attraction of sin and its consequences, then the call to steward our sexualities in the way God has designed really does look like good news for same-sex attracted people like me.
- Tim Keller, ‘Reconstructing Faith: Christianity in a New World’, Gospel in Life. Accessed 15 June 2023.
- Oscar Wilde, Lady Windermere’s Fan, Project Gutenberg (1997), loc.163