The Curious Case of the Christian Cake Baker

cake
Jack Philipps, owner of Masterpiece Cakeshop

This article is a short summary of the oral arguments in Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd.  v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, which was argued before the U.S. Supreme Court on December 5, 2017. For those who’ve been following the news, this is the “Christian cake baker case.” Oral arguments are an opportunity for both sides to defend their legal positions in person, and answer any questions the Justices have. The Supreme Court will rule on this case sometime in 2018.

In the article, I provide a few bits of commentary. But, this is primarily a summary.[1] Hopefully, it can spur each of on to consider the issue of soul liberty in the public square in these troubled times.

Baker’s Response (Kristen Waggoner, Alliance Defending Freedom)

Philipps’ objection is not with the people who want the cake, his attorney argued. Instead, the objection is the message it communicates. “The First Amendment prohibits the government from forcing people to express messages that their violate religious convictions,” (4:12-19). The back and forth centered on this point. What is “speech?” How do you separate the identity of the customer from the message the product communicates?

Ginsburg opened by asking about off the shelf products; would Philipps provide these to a same-sex couple (4:21-5:4; 10:9-19)? Absolutely, Waggoner said, a pre-made item wasn’t compelled speech (5:5-8). The crux of the issue is intent. When Phillips puts a pre-made product on display “in the stream of commerce in a public accommodation setting, his speech has been completed,” (6:1-4). However, when you consider custom designed cakes, it’s a whole new ballgame (6:7-10). Thus it is with Phillips; “we are drawing the line prior to the compulsion — there can be no compulsion of speech,” (6:4-6). And, this is about more than putting “words and symbols” onto the cake – it’s the act of custom making the product itself (8:8-19).

So, where is the line? Who can claim an artistic exemption on the basis of compelled speech? The justices hammered away on this line. Can a florist (11:9-13)? Yes, Wagonner said (11:14-17). What about a wedding invitation designer (11:18-21)? Of course (11:22). What about hair stylists (12:8) or makeup artists (12:17)?

  • “Absolutely not,” Waggoner says (12:9).
  • Justice Kagan is aghast; “Why is there no speech in — in creating a wonderful hairdo,” (12:12-13)?

Waggoner provided a legal answer, but not a particularly logical one. A tailor, a chef, a hairstylist and a makeup artist don’t produce “speech” because they (1) aren’t communicating a message with their product, and (2) their product isn’t analogous to other forms of protected speech (12:9-11; 12:23-13:5; 14:16-21).

This prompted Justice Sotomayor to ask how the Court could protect Phillips’ cake as a medium for public expression, when its primary purpose is to be eaten (15:21-25)!? Simple, Waggoner replied.

“[I]in the wedding context, Mr. Phillips is painting on a blank canvas. He is creating a painting on that canvas that expresses messages, and including words and symbols in those messages,” (16:9-14).

Well, what about sandwich artists (16:24-17:3)? The difference, Waggoner says, is the message being conveyed:

… when we have someone that is sketching and sculpting and hand designing something, that is creating a temporary sculpture that serves as the centerpiece of what they believe to be a religious wedding celebration, that cake expresses a message (17:4-10).

This distinction is the heart of the issue, according to Waggoner. If the very nature of the product is communicative, then you have “speech,” and this speech cannot be compelled. For example, this is why architecture is not “speech,” because “buildings are functional, not communicative,” (17:20-23).

Justice Breyer weighed in:

So, in other words, Mies or Michelangelo or someone is not protected when he creates the Laurentian steps, but this cake baker is protected when he creates the cake without any message on it for a wedding? Now, that — that really does baffle me, I have to say (18:4-10).

So, where on earth is the line (19:1-11)? What should we do? The answer, Waggoner says, is simple: “Is the individual who’s being compelled to speak objecting to the message that’s contained in that speech or the person? And that’s usually a very obvious inquiry,” (20:7-11). This is why Waggoner believes the issue of public accommodation laws related to race are completely different; “we know that that objection would be based to who the person is, rather than what the message is,” (23:3-6).

Here is the dividing line, and it isn’t something a secular Court can decide. Is sexual identity a legitimate category at all, from a Christian perspective? You can’t set theology aside here, because it informs how you answer the question. Everybody has a foundation for his worldview, and the Christian worldview (based on the Scriptures) proclaims that all sexual thoughts, intents and actions outside a monogamous, male and female sexual relationship in the context of a marriage covenant is deviant. To the Christian, “sexual identity” is not a legitimate category, because it isn’t part of the original, “good” created order. Race is, sexual identity is not.[2]

Waggoner, of course, didn’t go there. She simply continued to push the distinction between the racial public accommodation laws (which were about who the person is) and the Phillips case which, she insisted, is about the message, not the people. It’s unclear whether she (and her client) actually believe this, or if it’s merely a convenient legal peg to hang their case on.

How can the State fairly decide whether this message vs. identity distinction isn’t just a smokescreen? This was Justice Gorsuch’s question (24:18-21), and he didn’t receive a satisfactory answer.

Solicitor General’s Response on Behalf of Baker (from Noel Francisco)

Francisco insisted there must be “breathing space” for free speech protections for business owners, so they aren’t compelled to engage in “speech” for an event they disagree with (26:1-8). Dignity interests cut both ways, he argued (28:1-8).

What about a situation in a rural context, where only very limited services are available (28:10-29:11)? Leave that to the individual states, Francisco said (29:12-17).

Where is “the line?” You figure that out, he answered, by applying a two-fold test:

  1. can the “art” in question be analogized to traditional art in a legitimate way, and
  2. “is it predominantly art or predominantly utilitarian,” (41:1-3)?

In Phillips’ case, Francisco observed, “people pay very high prices for these highly sculpted cakes, not because they taste good, but because of their artistic qualities,” (41:3-6).

The goal is the intent of the purchaser. Is it merely a cake to be eaten? Why not go to Safeway? No, they clearly sought out Phillips so he could create, sculpt and fashion a special cake which is analogous to a traditional sculpture “except for the medium used,” (40:18-20). Is the creation’s purpose and effect intended to be (1) artistic, or (2) utilitarian? That is the key to answering the question (42:2-24).

In Phillips’ case, they sought him out for artistic purposes, to create an artistic and aesthetic effect on the wedding guests. Thus, they asked him to “speak” through the medium of the cake, and his “speech” must be protected. Francisco closed with a “slippery-slope” argument:

… if you were to disagree with our basic principle, putting aside the line about whether a cake falls on speech or non-speech side of the line, you really are envisioning a situation in which you could force, for example, a gay opera singer to perform at the Westboro Baptist Church just because that opera singer would be willing to perform at the National Cathedral (46:13-21).

State of Colorado (from Frederick Yarger)

Colorado’s position is simple (47:12-22):

  1. if you are a retail establishment, then
  2. you’re subject to anti-discrimination laws, and
  3. “you cannot turn away from your storefront if you’re a retail store,” (65:21-23).

It really is that simple and, if you’re a retail establishment, the State can require you to serve a customer (50:11-19).

What about, say, a same-sex couple who went to Catholic Legal Services and demanded to be given legal service related to their marriage? Would Colorado force them to provide service (50:21-51:23)? Yes, Yarger says, if Catholic Legal Services were operating in a retail context, “then Colorado would have the ability to regulate them,” (52:3).

Justice Kennedy brought up an interesting point. Colorado’s opinion read, in part, that “freedom of religion used to justify discrimination is a despicable piece of rhetoric,” (52:14-16). Why shouldn’t the Court assume Colorado is prejudiced against religion, and act accordingly? Kennedy asked Yarger three times if he disavowed the statement, and Yarger tap-danced mightily to avoid answering (52:17-53:15). If there were a bias on Colorado’s part, he claimed, of course there would be the problem (54:12-16). But, such was not the case (55:15-23).

Colorado’s issue, Yarger said, is that Philipps’ actions were based on the identity of the customer. Phillips may claim the message is the problem but, Yarger argued, the message here is linked with the customer’s identity, so the argument lacks merit. “[T]he message in this case, Your Honor, depended entirely on the identity of the customer who was ordering the cake,” (62:15-18). So, if the baker chooses to refuse service, he is being discriminatory (63:16-21).

Justice Kennedy, once again, chimed in with some stern words (64:3-8):

Counselor, tolerance is essential in a free society. And tolerance is most meaningful when it’s mutual. It seems to me that the state in its position here has been neither tolerant nor respectful of Mr. Phillips’s religious beliefs.

Yarger disagreed, and his position hinges on granting the idea that “sexual identity” is a valid category, on par with race and sex (64:14-65:3). They’re protected by public accommodation laws, so “sexual identity” must be, too.

Attorney for Homosexual Couple (from David Cole)

Cole traveled over much of the same ground Yarger did. Beware the slippery slope; “to accept his argument leads to unacceptable consequences,” (74:20-21). Sexual identity is a valid category, along with race and sex (75:9-16).

Cole dismissed Francisco’s “artistic purpose and effect” argument. If a mom buys a cake for a child’s birthday party, “no one thinks that the baker is wishing happy birthday to the four-year-old. It’s the mom,” (78:1-3). The issue isn’t some alleged “message,” it’s the identity of the homosexual couple. “Because in this case, again, the only thing the baker knew about these customers was that they were gay. And, as a result, he refused to sell them any wedding cake,” (79:4-8).

For Colorado, if you’re in retail, your private beliefs do not allow you to discriminate against a protected class (92:6-10), and sexual identity is a protected class (87:13-19; 89:7-10). Justice Kennedy retorted, “your identity thing is just too facile,” (89:23-24).

Conclusion

The legal arguments hinge on whether the act of making a cake is “speech,” and whether that “speech” can be compelled by the State. Both sides presented valid “slippery-slope” arguments in support of their own positions. On balance, it is doubtful whether you can logically separate the identity of a homosexual couple from the message their wedding cake is meant to convey.

Aside from the legal arguments, there is a more profound question for the Christian – where is the dividing line between one’s right to soul liberty, and the opportunity to share the Gospel in all sorts of negative contexts? Could Philipps have baked the cake, and still made a positive opportunity out of this? Have his actions served to “maintain good conduct among the Gentiles, so that in case they speak against you as wrongdoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation,” (1 Pet 2:12)?

Should we allow everyone do what they want, according to their own consciences? Is this the best solution? Os Guinness wrote a book advocating a sophisticated version of this approach, and remarked,

Soul freedom for all was once attacked as naive and utopian, and it is still resisted as subversive. Yet it is not only a shining ideal but a dire necessity today and an eminently practical solution to the predicaments of our time. Truly it is the golden key to a troublesome situation in which the darker angels must not be allowed to dominate.”[3]

But, when it gets down to brass tacks, how do we actually do this? This case is about that question. How do you allow people to express their sincere beliefs, yet crack down on genuine bigotry and hatred? How do you carve out these exceptions, and where does it end?

Guinness remarked that, in the end, soul freedom depends on people thinking and acting like adults, and taking their civic responsibilities seriously. “Reciprocity, mutuality and universality are the key principles of this vision of a civil public square. In this sense a civil public square is the political embodiment of the Golden Rule.”[4] In this day and age, these are not virtues that totalitarians (on either side) are anxious to model. Instead, activists seek to force their views on the public by force of law, not by persuasion and discussion in the public square:

“The constant pursuit of rights through law alone rather than the habits of the heart has caught Americans in the toils of ever-spreading law. On the one hand, it has led to a strengthening of the law at the expense of the habits of the heart, of litigation at the expense of both civic education and the role of parents and schools, and of the lawyers and the lawyer class at the expense of other public servants.[5]

This case is the fruit of this particularly poisonous tree. The Court has been made the arbitrator of morality. How can the Court fulfill this mission? How can it draw the line this homosexual couple wants it to draw? In a moment of candor, Justice Breyer admitted, “I can’t think of a way to do it,” (59:11-12).

Notes

[1] I make no attempt to summarize or even reference the various briefs filed by the Petitioners or Respondents. Here is the question before the Supreme Court. If you’re interested, you can find them. Throughout this article, I’m referencing the official transcript of oral arguments. The citation format in the article is page number : line number.

[2] Of course, in the end, the only category distinctions which have eternal significance are (1) believer or (2) non-believer. Or, as the Didache puts it, “there are two ways, one of life and one of death, and there is a great difference between the two ways,” (Didache 1:1).

[3] Os Guinness, The Global Public Square: Religious Freedom and the Making of a World Safe for Diversity (Downer’s Grove, IL: IVP, 2013), 14.

[4] Guinness (Global Public Square, 181).

[5] Guinness (Global Public Square, 149).

Showing Christ to Homosexuals

I discussed the issue of homosexuality in apologetics class at my church this evening. I am burdened to share that, far too often, I believe Christians do not demonstrate the love of Christ to homosexuals.

Homosexuality is one grievous sin among many which men commit. Running from the issue, or holding homosexuals at arm’s length is not the answer. Jesus Christ is the answer, for this or any other sin men struggle with. Too many Christians have such a visceral reaction to the sin that it impedes evangelism of a group of folks who sorely need the Gospel.

Nobody would advocate ministering to alcoholics by deriding them, barring the church doors to them or calling them “lushes” from the pulpit. Nor would many Christians think it were a good practice to minister to drug addicts by calling them “junkies.” Yet, some of us would not hesitate to shout the word “sodomite” from the pulpit, almost relishing the chance to condemn this particular sin. It does need to be condemned, in no uncertain terms, but if we’re being deliberately spiteful while we’re doing it we achieve precisely nothing.

I have written a Biblical theology on the issue of homosexuality in the New Testament elsewhere on this blog, for those who are seeking an in-depth study. I also embedded two videos explaining the same within the blog itself. However, here I want to present the moving testimony of Rosaria Butterfield, a committed lesbian intellectual who came to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ through the kind, loving ministry of a local church. This is the kind of love we must show to homosexuals, or any person struggling with any sin. Do not condone the sin, and do call the person to repentance and faith in Christ – but don’t be deliberately spiteful and hateful while doing so.

This testimony is 60 mins long. In this age of sound bites and limited attention spans, I may be criticized for expecting you to watch something so long. Believe me, it is worth it. I hope it convicts us all.

What the New Testament Says About Homosexuality

This article is a work in progress. It was originally a paper for Seminary. Much work remains to be done. This article will be updated as new material is added. As it stands now, it is a brief Biblical Theology of homosexuality from the New Testament.

Introduction

The Scriptures expressly state that homosexuality is a sin; however, all-too often this issue is reduced to proof-texting and exhaustive parsing of words in the original languages.[1] While this is certainly necessary and a worthy endeavor, the issue goes far deeper than exegeting words. It goes beyond proof-texting and strikes at the heart of what it means to be a Christian and part of God’s family.

Some unrepentant homosexuals who claim the title of “Christian” justify their behavior on the basis of biology – “God made me this way, so you must accept me.” Such a position is not grounded on faithful exegesis but on a secular benchmark for morality. “The growing attempt to provide a niche for the homosexual lifestyle in society is part of a much bigger problem that reflects the death of moral absolutes.”[2] Scripture teaches a very different paradigm.

At the outset, one thing must be made perfectly clear – homosexuality is but one grievous sin among many which men commit. Running from the issue, or holding homosexuals at arm’s length is not the answer. Jesus Christ is the answer, for this or any other sin men struggle with. Too many Christians have such a visceral reaction to the sin that it impedes evangelism of a group of folks who sorely need the Gospel.

This paper will argue for two basic principles from Scripture regarding homosexuality.

(1) Homosexuality is explicitly characterized as a sin in Scripture.

(2) Scriptures expressly state Christians are to lead holy lives. God has certain standards and expectations of His people – expectations which are rooted in His intrinsic holiness. We are to die to the flesh and grow in Christ (1 Cor 5:17). Christians are commanded to lead holy lives, acceptable before God. This necessarily precludes, by God’s own standard, unrepentant homosexual activity .

The paper will present a Biblical Theology of this issue, following the NT in chronological fashion and tracing the development of these two themes from the Gospels onward.

The author holds several presuppositions from the OT text which cannot be argued for, given the necessary scope of this paper. They are as follows;

(1) God created man and woman in His own image (Gen 1:26-27).

(2) Men and woman were created specifically by God, who gave them the breath of life (Gen 2:7), as His special creatures to have dominion over all others (Gen 1:26b).

(3) God appointed man as a vice-regent or royal steward over His creation (Gen 1:26, 28; 2:5,15) and made woman to be man’s special helper in this appointed task (Gen 2:18, 20b).

(4) The only sanctioned sexual activity for mankind is between one man and one woman in marriage (Gen 2:21-24). This union is a covenant relationship, clearly monogamous, and is rooted in God’s command for men to procreate and subdue the earth (Gen 1:28).[3]

The Gospels

Jesus did not deal with homosexuality specifically, but He did clearly call men to two very specific commands; (1) repentance from sins, and (2) belief in the Gospel (Mk 1:14-15). Christ uttered these words in his initial ministry to the Jews, who were certainly quite familiar with the OT law regarding sexual immorality and righteous living (Lev 18:22; 19:2). Christ certainly did not have half-measures in mind; “repentance and belief cannot be applied to certain areas of life but not to others; rather, they lay claim to the total allegiance of believers.”[4]

Holiness and purity of life are a vital components to lifestyle evangelism (Mt 5:13-16). Christians are to be a light to the world, in the same fashion the Israelites were commanded to be a kingdom of priests, drawing all nations to themselves and ultimately God (Mt 5:13-16; Ex 19:5-6).

The dispensation of the law was still binding at the time Christ spoke those words. Christ called His Jewish listeners to meet this standard; the same one God gave to Moses so long ago. His audience could not fail to recognize that Christ was calling them to repent of their sins, believe He was their Messiah, the fulfillment of the Mosaic law, and draw all nations to God by their own example. The law included clear prohibitions against homosexuality (Lev 18:22). Christ’s admonitions to “let your light so shine before others” (Mt 5:16), when understood in the context of His Jewish audience, clearly prohibited homosexual activity. If they could not fulfill the calling to be a testimony for Him, “they were useless as far as God’s purposes are concerned.”[5]

Christ had the same idea in mind when he identified the two “greatest commandments” which characterized Israel’s responsibility before God. (1) Love God with all your heart, soul and mind, and (2) love your neighbor as yourself (Mt 22:37-39; Deut 6:5; Lev 19:34). These two commandments summed up the entire corpus of the Mosaic law (Mt 22:40). Christ was telling the Pharisees that a willing, all-encompassing love for God was essential; He echoed Moses’ words to Israel – God sought a circumcision of the heart (Deut 10:16). This necessarily entailed a whole-hearted commitment to the Mosaic law, including prohibitions against homosexuality and all other forms of immorality.

If Christ, in His early ministry to the Jews, was calling them to repent and conform to the Mosaic law out of love for Him, He surely condemned homosexual behavior.

The Pauline Epistles

Paul was emphatic about both the sin of homosexuality in general and God’s expectation that Christians live holy lives for the God who saved them.

Grace and apostleship in Jesus Christ will bring about obedience for those who are called to faith in Christ (Rom 1:5). Apparently, Christ intends to achieve a specific goal in the lives of the elect – namely, obedience of faith.

Dishonoring of Their Bodies

All men willfully suppress the truth about God in unrighteousness – this makes God very wrathful and angry precisely because natural revelation testifies to His power and glory. Men are left without excuse for rejecting Him (Rom 1:18-20). Nevertheless, men willfully dishonor the God who created them and creation itself. Men imagined God did not exist; they became vain in their imaginations and their foolish hearts were darkened. Their worldly wisdom was really folly and they exchanged worship of the one true God for worldly objects with no power or worth whatsoever (Rom 1:21-23).

It was for this very reason that God gave them over to sexual perversion, the “dishonoring of their bodies before themselves,” (Rom 1:24b). Paul provides specifics about this sexual perversion shortly (v. 26-28), but it is critical to note that God did not impel rebellious sinners to do these evil deeds. He simply removed His divine restraint on man’s sinful, fallen lusts and allowed them to go their own way – “God actively let people go.”[6] Men dishonored their bodies, which Paul repeatedly referred to as a temple of God in other epistles, by abusing them in a fashion dishonoring to God and His image which they bear in the flesh. They reject God and worship the creature more than the creator. “It is not that men grant God a relative honor in their devotion, but none at all. They have wholly rid themselves of Him.”[7]

These “dishonorable passions” (Rom 1:26) God gave them over to clearly included homosexual acts. Both women and men exchanged natural relations for those which are contrary to nature and were “consumed with passion for one another” (Rom 1:27). The basis for the term “dishonorable passions” is that the only natural sexual relationship the Bible recognizes is distinctly heterosexual between married men and women (Gen 2:21-24; Mt 19:4-6).

Once again men were allowed to pursue their sinful desires as the consequence of God’s wrath for their willful rebellion (Rom 1:26); “God simply took His hands off and let willful rejection of Himself produce its ugly results in human life.”[8] God abandoned men to their lusts (Rom 1:28). This removal of divine restraint produced all manner of wicked behavior, homosexuality being only one among many defiling acts (Rom 1:29-31). Attempts by some commentators to claim that Paul merely imposed cultural standards on his audience fail at this point. Paul was not addressing basing his condemnation of homosexual behavior on cultural mores of the time, “he addressed same-sex relations from the transcultural perspective of God’s created order.”[9]

Paul reminds us that men are entirely without excuse and know “God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die,” (Rom 1:32a). All men have God’s law written on their heart (Rom 2:14-15) because they are created in His very image. Yet still, men willfully and intelligently reject God and not only commit such evil acts, but positively approve of them (Rom 1:32b).

Holiness Expected

Christ is the only possible object of saving faith (Acts 4:12). Christians, including those who condone an unrepentant homosexual lifestyle, cannot lay a foundation which is not built upon Christ (1 Cor 3:11). He is the only foundation. Paul went on to state that God’s temple is holy, and Christians are that temple (1 Cor 3:17). This is very important – Christ is the only foundation and Christians have an inherent obligation to live holy lives. “Do you not know that youare God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (1 Cor 3:16). If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy them (1 Cor 3:17). “God in His justice and holiness cannot allow part of His holy work to be damaged without bringing retribution.”[10] Because of what God did for them, Christians are called to conform to God’s standard – not their own. There are consequences for violating this standard.

God’s standard for sexual morality is enforced repeatedly throughout the Pauline Epistles. Any sexual behavior outside the established boundaries is unacceptable in the sight of God. Paul condemned a Corinthian Christian for sexual relations with his mother (1 Cor 5:1). The man was unrepentant and arrogant, and Paul recommended the offender be removed from fellowship (1 Cor 5:2,5). Christians should never even associate with believers involved in sexual immorality of any kind, necessarily including homosexuality (1 Cor 5:11). Paul even ordered the “evil person” be put out from among the fellowship of believers (1 Cor 5:13).

A Christian stands with Christ and judges the entire world at the end of days, including angels! (1 Cor 6:2; 2 Pet 2:4; Jude 6). Yet, Paul accused the Corinthians of being incompetent to perform this task because of their sin (1 Cor 6:2). The wicked eill not inherit the Kingdom of God precisely because of their sin (1 Cor 6:9), but the saints were acting no differently. Neither homosexuals or the sexually immoral will ever inherit the Kingdom of God (1 Cor 6:9-10).

A Christian saved by God’s grace belongs to the Lord; his body is not his own (1 Cor 6:13b-20; 2 Cor 6:16-18). “The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body,” (1 Cor 16:13b). Paul went on to state plainly “flee from sexual immorality” (1 Cor 6:18a). How can a Christian fulfill the command to “do all to the glory of God” and walk in a manner worthy of Him (1 Cor 10:31; Col 1:10; 2 Thes 2:12) if he dishonors God by abusing the temple of his body by homosexual behavior?

Sanctification cannot come about with unrepentant sin, including homosexuality. Paul wrote we “are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another,” (2 Cor 3:18). Sanctification is progressive; “Christlikeness is the goal of the Christian walk.”[11] As one commentator observed, the goal of Christlikeness and the means to Christlikeness mutually inform each other.[12] Homosexuality is in conflict with God’s standard – sanctification cannot occur with the barrier of unrepentant homosexual sin in place.

Christians must give up self-rule, or autonomy, and submit to have God as the authority over their life. Submission to God has necessary implications for lifestyle and holiness. Jesus Christ is Lord, and Christians are His servants (2 Cor 4:5b) This is not popular doctrine; the original sin of Adam and Eve, a desire for autonomy from God and His standards, lives on even today.

Those whom God, in His grace, saves from hell are a new creation. The old nature has passed away (2 Cor 5:17). This new nature, this regeneration should produce a desire for positive change towards God and His standards of holiness. “The new life of devotion to Christ means that one has new attitudes and actions.”[13] Absent a repentant heart and a desire to conform sexual behavior to God’s standards, a man is not regenerated and does not have saving faith in Christ.

Paul continues the theme of holiness demanded of the Christian in the epistle to the Ephesians. A Christian’s election, by God’s grace before the world was even created, is predicated on the expectation that “we should be holy and blameless before him,” (Eph 1:4). Prior to regeneration, men are dead in trespasses and sins in a world energized and influenced by Satan (Eph 2:1-2). God, in His mercy, made some alive in Christ to demonstrate His unending grace (Eph 2:4-7). Paul concludes this passage by reminded Christians of their obligations to God; “for we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them,” (Eph 2:10). Salvation is intended to produce the good works that attest their reality; therefore Christians will prove their faith by works.[14] Shameless homosexuality [AH10] does indeed prove faith, but certainly not faith in Christ. Paul covered precisely the same ground later in the same letter (Eph 4:18-23), and drives the point home unequivocally;

But that is not the way you learned Christ!— assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness (Eph 4:20-23).

Christians have an inherent responsibility to conform, to the best of their sinful ability, to the image of the God who created them. “Believers are new people in Christ, and hence they can no longer live as Gentiles live.”[15] There is a command to move towards God and all that entails, not remain separated from Him. Indeed, Christians must imitate God;

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints (Eph 5:1-3).

Homosexuality is incompatible with the basic conception of what it means to be a holy people. Sexual immorality is not proper among the saints. Scripture recognizes no middle ground on this issue. Paul exhorted Christians to “let your manner of life be worthyof the gospel of Christ” (Phil 1:27a). This is the duty of every Christian, and implicit in this command is the recognition that certain, specific standards exist which are “worthy” of the gospel. Homosexuality and all other manner of sexual immorality are not worthy of God or His holiness.

Christians are to be “blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world” (Phil 2:15). Blameless simply means “above reproach.”[16] They must align themselves with God’s values instead of their own, so the world cannot accuse them. They must seek things above, not on things on the earth. Earthly passions, including all sexual immorality, must be put to death. It is because of this sin that the wrath of God is coming upon mankind (Col 3:5-6).

Paul wrote joyfully to the Thessalonians, and wished the Lord would “establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints,” (1 Thess 3:13). The theme of progressive sanctification has re-surfaced; the goal is holiness before God – always looking forward to the glorious appearance of Christ.

Paul, writing to his disciple Timothy, plainly labeled homosexuality as contrary to sound doctrine, which alone is compatible with God (1 Tim 1:10-11). “Paul’s yardstick for measuring what is and is not sound teaching  . . . was the message of God’s great news in Christ.”[17] Any serious Christian would agree that God’s revelation is the only yardstick for holy living.

Paul urged Timothy to soldier on in the faith. He warned Timothy against false teachers and against irrelevant babble and exclaimed, “Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity,” (2 Tim 2:19). If Timothy kept and cleansed himself from what was dishonorable, he would be a vessel to the Lord for honorable use; “set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work,” (2 Tim 2:21b). This holds true for all Christians; to be used by God one must be vessels fit for honorable use. Homosexuality is dishonorable and incompatible with God’s holiness.

The prohibitions against sin are commandments from God, and if Christians love God His commandments are never grievous (1 Jn 5:3, KJV). Paul, in his epistle to Titus, taught him about the role of God’s grace in producing Godly behavior in a Christian’s life (Titus 2:11-14). There are several important principles to glean from this text.

The Gospel itself, as the message of the grace of God (Titus 2:11) teaches Christians to say “no” to ungodliness and worldly passions – necessarily including homosexuality. It teaches Christians to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives while they await Christ’s return (Titus 2:12-13). This upright lifestyle is rooted in God’s holiness and thus, by definition, diametrically opposed to homosexual behavior.

Christ’s sacrifice, sufficient for all but efficient for only those who believe, was made for a specific purpose – to redeem the elect from lawlessness and purify a people for His possession who are zealous for good works (Titus 2:14). In a manner characteristic of the covenant with Israel at Sinai (Ex 19:5-6), God is faithful to keep His portion of the agreement. Are Christians?

A holy people was His purpose in paying such a fearful price. Therefore, knowing what all He has done and why He has done it, a Christian who truly loves Christ and looks forward to His return will pay any price to bring his life into conformity with his beloved Lord’s will.[18]

Disregarding God

Paul encouraged the Thessalonians to continue their growth in Christ. The very will of God, to aid them in sanctification, is that they explicitly abstain from sexual immorality (1 Thess 4:3). “To a Christian the will of God is clear: holiness and sexual immorality are mutually exclusive. No appeal to Christian liberty can justify fornication.”[19] Christians must control their own body, which Paul has repeatedly called the temple of God, in holiness and honor, in a manner unlike those who do not know God (1 Thess 4:4-5).

Paul went on to justify, once again, the reasoning behind the prohibition against sexual immorality – God’s holiness. “For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness,” (1 Thess 4:7). Unrepentant sin in a Christian’s life goes against God’s calling for His elect people. “A holy life demonstrates God’s supernatural power at work overcoming what is natural, and it glorifies God.”[20] Sin does not.

This is not a suggestion or merely helpful advice – it is a command from God. Paul minces no words in his conclusion on the matter; “therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you,” (1 Thess 4:8). Sexual purity is nothing more than a practical application of God’s calling to holiness.[21] Paul did not invent this decree; they were the logical consequences of divine revelation. To reject God’s standards for His elect people is to reject God Himself. God gave the Holy Spirit to believers as a helper after Christ’ ascension (Jn 14:16; 17:7-11). Christians will have help in their struggle against sin; but they must have a desire to change. That desire only comes as a product of a regenerated heart in a true follower of Christ.

Other Epistles

James

James does not discuss homosexuality explicitly, but he did demand Christians live holy lives. He called friendship with the world adultery against God. More than mere adultery, they are enemies of God! (Jas 4:4). God is opposed to people who lift themselves up and are filled with pride, but He gives grace to the humble (Jas 4:5-6). Christians cannot be double-minded about sin and worldliness – they must be cleansed inwardly and outwardly (Jas 4:8b). Homosexuality cannot be part of a Christian’s lifestyle; true desire change comes about from a repentant heart. Outward conformity flows naturally from a God-given inward regeneration of the heart.

Peter

Peter gave the most explicit command in the NT for Christians to live holy lives (1 Pet 1:13-16). He called Christians to be serious and prepare their minds for action, looking forward to the return of Christ. “Rather than being controlled by outside circumstances, believers should be directed from within.”[22]

Christians, just like obedient children, should not be conformed to their former passions (Rom 1:24-26). Rather, they must be holy in all their conduct (1 Pet 1:14-15). This echoes the same sentiments Paul wrote to the Romans (Rom 12:2a). There is a very clear command for a lifestyle change as a result of regeneration.

Peter’s justification is found in God’s expectations from OT Israel; “since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy,’” (1 Pet 1:16; Lev 19:2). Again, the same theme is repeated. Christians must imitate God to the best of their fallen ability; the mark they press towards is God’s own standard – complete holiness.

A Christian cannot demonstrate love for his neighbor unless he first loves God with all his heart, soul and might. These two imperatives are the commandments the law and prophets are built upon (Mt 22:34-40). One cannot love God and be engaged in unrepentant homosexual behavior at the same time; sin and holiness are at odds with each other. One is a wicked product of a fallen world, the other an attribute of the Holy God who rules over all creation.

Peter went on to tie the believer’s responsibilities back to the Mosaic Covenant once again;

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy (1 Pet 2:9-10; Ex 19:5-6).

Elsewhere, Peter specifically labeled the homosexual sin of Sodom and Gomorrah as an example of what would happen to the ungodly (2 Pet 2:6).[23] It is clear Peter was not sympathetic to homosexuality; it is a sin of the ungodly and unregenerate.

John

John was very blunt about the same double-mindedness that James spoke against. “If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth,” (1 Jn 1:6). Christians will be known by their fruit. The polar opposites of “darkness” and “light” are used repeatedly throughout Scripture to signify Satan and God, respectively. Somebody who claims Christ but who participates in homosexuality and other lusts of the flesh is a liar. God’s people must walk in the light, and the blood of Christ will cleanse His people from all sin, including homosexuality (1 Jn 1:7).

John wrote that love of the world is the mark of an unregenerate heart (1 Jn 2:15). All sinful desires, lusts of the flesh and the eyes, are from the world (1 Jn 2:16). Elsewhere, Paul clearly identified sexual immorality as a work of the flesh (Gal 5:19). The world, along with all its desires, is perishing but God’s people will stand forever (1 Jn 2:17).

John was not suggesting a Christian will never struggle with sin (1 Jn 1:6), but rather, those who make a deliberate, unrepentant practice of sinning are not God’s children.

Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother (1 Jn 3:8-10).

John is very clear; love for the world and all that entails (including homosexuality), is opposed to God in every respect. Christians still struggle with sin such as homosexuality in this “vile body” (Phil 3:21) but their whole bent of life will be away from sin.[24] A true love for God will produce a desire to keep his commandments (1 Jn 5:2; 2 Jn 6).

Jude

Jude, like Peter, made a specific reference to Sodom and Gomorrah. He wrote of God’s faithfulness to judge and condemn false teachers who “pervert[ed] the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ,” (Jude 4b). These unbelievers, masquerading as Christians, turned God’s marvelous grace into a license to do whatever their sinful lusts desired (Rom 1:24-26; Gal 5:19-21). God, Jude asserted, is always faithful to judge those who rebel against Him (Jude 5-6).

It is in this context, that of the perversion of God’s grace into sensuality, that homosexuality is condemned;

“Even as Sodom and Gomorrha, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire,” (Jude 7).

The wicked sin of homosexuality is an explicit example of who will suffer the vengeance of eternal fire. Not homosexuals only, but all who follow their sinful passions and continue to willfully reject God (Rom 1:18).

Summary

The entire NT testifies to two very basic facts; (1) Christians are called to lead holy lives before God, and (2) Homosexuality is a sin, and therefore incompatible with the holiness of God. The thesis has been demonstrated both by Christ and the written epistles of His disciples throughout the entire NT.

Jesus preached conformity to the Mosaic law, which explicitly condemned homosexual behavior. This conformity to the law, itself based on God’s eternal attribute of holiness, was predicated on an all-encompassing love for Him. The apostles had a unified message on this point which upholds the thesis quite directly. Homosexuality and the holiness of God are mutually exclusive – they cannot co-exist.

One commentator wrote poignantly about the church’s responsibility to the homosexual;

The church does the homosexual no favor when it condones his behavior based on some ingenious interpretation or on some sentimental relationship it has with him. Homosexuals do not deserve a weakened spirituality, much less a sentimental pity. They need raw honesty from the church about their doomed state unless they come to repentance and faith in Christ.[25]

Along with honesty, Christian love is sorely needed. Nobody would advocate ministering to alcoholics by deriding them, barring the church doors to them or calling them “lushes” from the pulpit. Yet, some Christians would not hesitate to shout the word “sodomite” from the pulpit, almost relishing the chance to condemn this particular sin. It does need to be condemned, in no uncertain terms, but if we’re being deliberately spiteful while we’re doing it we achieve precisely nothing.

Homosexuals are not arbitrarily condemned to the flames as an exclusive group; rather, all sinners who continue to willfully reject Christ and prefer self-rule to God’s rule will justly suffer eternal damnation. God, by His grace, softens the hearts of sinners and changes their disposition away from Satan and towards Himself. Homosexuals are no exception, and the Gospel is the only cure for this and any other sin in a fallen world.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Constable, Thomas L. “Thessalonians,” vol. 2, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, ed. John Walvoord and Roy Zuck. Wheaton: Victor, 1983.

Edwards, James R. The Gospel of Mark. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002.

Haas, Guenther. “Hermeneutical Issues In The Use Of The Bible To Justify The Acceptance Of Homosexual Practice,” Global Journal of Classical Theology 01:2 (Feb 1999): no page numbers.

Harrison, Everett F. “Romans,” vol. 10, The Expositors Bible Commentary, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976.

Hodges, Zane C. “1 John,” vol. 2, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, ed. John Walvoord and Roy Zuck. Wheaton: Victor, 1983.

Hoehner, Harold W. “Ephesians,” vol. 2, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, ed. John Walvoord and Roy Zuck. Wheaton: Victor, 1983.

Holloman, Henry W. “The Relation of Christlikeness to Spiritual Growth,” Michigan Theological Journal 05:1 (Spring 1994): 57-85.

Lightner, Robert P. “Philippians,” vol. 2, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, ed. John Walvoord and Roy Zuck. Wheaton: Victor, 1983.

Litfin, A. Duane. “1 Timothy,” The Bible Knowledge Commentary, ed. John Walvoord and Roy Zuck. Wheaton: Victor, 1983.

Litfin, A. Duane. “Titus,” vol. 2, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, ed. John Walvoord and Roy Zuck. Wheaton: Victor, 1983.

Lowery, David K. “2 Corinthians,” vol. 2, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, ed. John Walvoord and Roy Zuck. Wheaton: Victor, 1983.

Malik, David E. “The Condemnation of Homosexuality in Romans 1:26-27,” Bibliotheca Sacra 150:599 (Jul 1993): 327-340.

Matthews, Kenneth A. “Genesis 1-11:26,” vol. 1a, The New American Commentary, ed. Roy Clendenen. Nashville: B&H, 1996.

Montoya, Alex D. “Homosexuality and The Church,” The Masters Seminary Journal 11:2 (Fall 2000): 155-168.

Raymer, Roger M. “1 Peter,” vol. 2, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, ed. John Walvoord and Roy Zuck. Wheaton: Victor, 1983.

Toussaint, Stanley. Behold the King. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1980.

Witmer, John A. “Romans,” vol. 2, The Bible Knowledge Commentary, ed. John Walvoord and Roy Zuck. Wheaton: Victor, 1983.

Wood, A. Skevington. “Ephesians,” vol. 11, The Expositors Bible Commentary, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981.


[1]. For an analysis of common pro-homosexual exegesis of Scripture, see Guenther Haas, “Hermeneutical Issues In The Use Of The Bible To Justify The Acceptance Of Homosexual Practice,” Global Journal of Classical Theology 01:2 (Feb 1999), no page numbers.

[2]. Sherwood O. Cole, “Biology, Homosexuality and the Biblical Doctrine of Sin,” Bibliotheca Sacra 157:627 (Jul 2000), 350.

[3]. Kenneth A. Matthews, “Genesis 1-11:26,” vol. 1a, The New American Commentary, ed. Roy Clendenen (Nashville, TN: B&H, 1996), 222-225.

[4]. James R. Edwards, The Gospel of Mark (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002), 46.

[5]. Stanley Toussaint, Behold the King (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 1980), 98.

[6]. John A. Witmer, “Romans,” vol. 2, The Bible Knowledge Commentary (Wheaton, IL: Victor, 1983), 443.

[7]. Everett F. Harrison, “Romans,” vol. 10, The Expositors Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1976), 25.

[8]. Ibid, 24.

[9]. David E. Malik, “The Condemnation of Homosexuality in Romans 1:26-27,” Bibliotheca Sacra 150:599 (Jul 1993), 340.

[10]. W. Harold Mare, “1 Corinthains,” vol. 10, The Expositors Bible Commentary, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1976), 208.

[11]. David K. Lowery, “2 Corinthians,” vol. 2, The Bible Knowledge Commentary (Wheaton, IL: Victor, 1983), 562.

[12]. Henry W. Holloman, “The Relation of Christlikeness to Spiritual Growth,” Michigan Theological Journal 05:1 (Spring 1994), 58.

[13]. Ibid, 568.

[14]. A Skevington Wood, “Ephesians,” vol. 11, The Expositors Bible Commentary, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1981), 36.

[15]. Harold W. Hoehner, “Ephesians,” vol. 2, The Bible Knowledge Commentary (Wheaton, IL: Victor, 1983), 637.

[16]. Robert P. Lightner, “Philippians,” vol. 2, The Bible Knowledge Commentary (Wheaton, IL: Victory, 1983), 656.

[17]. A. Duane Litfin, “1 Timothy,” vol. 2, The Bible Knowledge Commentary (Wheaton, IL: Victor, 1983), 733.

[18]. A. Duane Litfin, “Titus,” vol. 2, The Bible Knowledge Commentary (Wheaton, IL: Victor, 1983), 765.

[19]. Thomas L. Constable, “Thessalonians,” vol. 2, The Bible Knowledge Commentary (Wheaton, IL: Victor, 1983), 701.

[20]. Ibid, 702.

[21]. Ibid.

[22]. Roger M. Raymer, “1 Peter,” vol. 2, The Bible Knowledge Commentary (Wheaton, IL: Victor, 1983), 843.

[23]. It is beyond the scope of this paper to engage the more liberal charge that homosexuality was not the sin of that wicked city. The author will assume, for the purposes of this NT study, that homosexuality was the defining sin of Sodom and Gomorrah.

[24]. Zane C. Hodges, “1 John,” vol. 2, The Bible Knowledge Commentary (Wheaton, IL: Victor, 1983), 894.

[25] Alex D. Montoya, “Homosexuality And The Church,” The Masters Seminary Journal 11:2 (Fall 2000), 166