Redeeming our Sexuality

It is uncanny that Richard Baxter, a 17th century English Puritan preacher, could make arguments that could speak clearly and pointedly to our debate about our sexuality and transgender identities.

He did not need to consider genetics to make his arguments, but considered the issue from a Bible-saturated perspective.

He defines flesh as “the sensitive appetite itself,” which can manifest itself as sexual appetites and other thoughts and feelings that originate from the self.  The basic thrust of his argument is that God made us sexual beings, and so sexuality is a part of our humanity, but God gave us laws that govern the proper use of our sexuality.

“That Adam had an appetite to the forbidden fruit was not his sin; but that his will obeyed his appetite, and his mouth did eat. For the appetite and sensitive nature are of God, and are in nature antecedent to the law. God made us men before he gave us laws; and the law commandeth us not to alter ourselves from what he made us, or anything else which is naturally out of power. But it is the sin of the will and executive powers, to do that evil which consisteth in obeying an innocent appetite. The appetite is necessary, and not free; and therefore God doth not direct his commands or prohibitions to it directly, but to the reason and free-will.”

However, Richard goes on to argue that the appetite itself became corrupted since Adam and Eve disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden:

“But since man’s fall, the appetite itself is corrupted and become inordinate, that is, more impetuous, violent, and unruly than it was in the state of innocency, by the unhappy distempers that have befallen the body itself. For we find now by experience, that a man that useth himself to sweet and wholesome temperance, hath no such impetuous strivings of his appetite against his reason (if he be healthful) as those have that are either diseased, or used to obey their appetites.  And if use and health make so great alteration, we have cause to think that the depravation of nature by the fall did more”

Perhaps it is with this view of a corrupted nature that we should bear in mind when we read the apostle Paul’s words in his letter to the Romans:

“For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.” (Romans 1:26-27)

Men and women with same-sex attraction essentially have a corrupted appetite that has become inordinate, “that is, more impetuous, violent, and unruly than it was in the state of innocency, by the unhappy distempers that have befallen the body itself.”  In a sense, sexual immorality is simply our inherited sin nature expressing itself through our sexuality.

What I mean by “sin nature,” is that we humans have a proclivity towards thoughts, attitudes, and actions that run contrary to God’s moral expectations of us.  When God created us as sexual beings, He also gave us laws that govern the proper use of our sexuality for His glory.  However, our sin nature create a probabilistic obstacle against our perfect obedience to His laws.  We encounter difficulty in fulfilling His expectations, but that does not excuse us from that moral responsibility as we still remain rational, free agents.

Richard Baxter considers pre-emptively the objections that flesh-pleasers may have against the notion that pleasing their flesh is a sin:

Plea of flesh-pleasers.

Objection I: What hurt is it to God, or any one else, that I please my flesh? I will not believe that a thing so harmless will displease him.

Answer: Merely as it is pleasure, it hath no hurt in it: but as it is inordinate or immoderate pleasure; or as it is overloved, and preferred before God and your salvation; or as it is greater than your delight in God; or as it wants its proper end, and is loved merely for itself, and not used as a means to higher things; and as it is made a hinderance to the soul, and to spiritual pleasure, and the service of God; and as it is the brutish delight of an ungoverned, rebellious appetite, that mastereth reason, and is not under obedience to God. Though sin can do God no hurt, it can do you hurt, and it can do him wrong. I think I have showed you what hurt and poison is in it already. It is the very rebellion of corrupted nature; the turning of all things upside down; the taking down God, and heaven, and reason, and destroying the use of all the creatures, and setting up flesh-pleasing instead of all, and making a brute your god and governor. And do you ask what harm there is in this? So will your child do, when he desireth any play, or pleasure; and the sick, when they desire to please their appetite. But your father, and physician, and reason, and not brutish appetite, must be judge.

Objection II: But I feel it is natural to me, and therefore can be no sin.
Answer: 1. The inordinate, violent, unruly appetite is no otherwise natural to you, than as a leprosy is to a leprous generation. And will you love your disease, because it is natural? It is no otherwise natural, than it is to be malicious, and revengeful, and to disobey your governors, and abuse your neighbors; and yet I think they will not judge you innocent, for rebellion or abuse, because it is natural to you.
2. Though the appetite be natural, is not reason to rule it as natural to you? And is not the subjection of the appetite to reason natural? If it be not, you have lost the nature of man, and are metamorphosed into the nature of a beast. God gave you a higher nature to govern your appetite and lower nature: and though reason cannot take away your appetite, it can rule it, and keep you from fulfilling it, in any thing or measure that is unmeet.

Objection III: But it appeareth by the case of Eve, that the appetite was the same in innocency; therefore it is no sin.
Answer: You must not forget the difference between,
1. The appetite itself.
2. The violence and unruly disposition of the appetite.
3. And the actual obeying and pleasing of the appetite.
The first (the appetite itself) was in innocency, and is yet no sin. But the other two (the violence of it, and the obeying of it) were not in innocency, and are both sinful.

Objection IV: But why would God give innocent man an appetite that must be crossed by reason? And that desired that which reason must forbid?
Answer: The sensitive nature is in order of generation before the rational: and reason and God’s laws do not make sense to be no sense. You may as well ask, why God would make beasts, which must be restrained and ruled by men; and therefore have a desire to that which man must restrain them from? You do but ask, Why God made us men and not angels? Why he placed our souls in flesh? He oweth you no account of his creation. But you may see it is meet that obedience should have some trial by difficulties and opposition, before it have its commendation and reward. He gave you a body that was subject to the soul, as the horse unto the rider; and you should admire his wisdom, and thank him for the governing power of reason; and not murmur at him, because the horse will not go as well without the guidance of the rider, or because he maketh you not able to go as fast and as well on foot. So much for the sensualist’s objections.

With the objections sufficiently addressed, what solution remains for the flesh-pleaser?

Baxter provides the following solution:

“The first and grand direction against flesh-pleasing is, that you be sure, by a serious, living faith, to see the better things with God, and to be heartily taken up in minding, loving, seeking and securing them. All the other directions are but subservient to this. For certainly man’s soul will not be idle, being a living, active principle: and it is as certain, that it will not act but upon some end, or for some end. And there are no other ends to take us up, but either the things temporal or eternal. And therefore there is no true cure for a sensual love of temporal things, but to turn the heart to things eternal.

“And then think with yourselves, how fleshly pleasures and the only competitors with the everlasting pleasures; and that, if ever you lose them, it will be over-loving these transitory things; and that one half of your work for your salvation lieth in killing your affections to all below, that they may be alive to God alone.”

My hope and prayer for those individuals in the LGBTQ+ community would be that they would repent of their sin of putting their sexual identities in something other than what God prescribed for them.  The root issue behind their cause is a “sensual love of temporal things,” when they and everyone else ought to turn to things of eternity.  Instead of killing their inordinate desires, they give in to them to their own harm and destruction.

Thankfully Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead, that all who might believe in Him as Lord and Savior, might die to sin and live to righteousness.  Likewise, our neighbors in the LGBTQ+ community need to kill their affections to all below, that they may be alive to God alone, and they can only do this if they place their trust in Jesus.  Once they do, they would receive the help of the Spirit in their war against their fleshly pleasures for the sake of everlasting pleasures in God’s presence.

In the end, what Christians desire of the members of the LGBTQ+ community and every other person guilty of sexual immorality is that they trade a transient pleasure for a superior everlasting one in Christ Jesus.  They can begin to enjoy that pleasure when they start to obey God with their sexuality.

To summarize:
-Our desires were once innocent, but since our original parents’ disobedience, we have inherited a predisposition to rebel against God.
-One of the ways our rebellious nature manifests itself is through our sexuality and how we define our identity with it.
-We are still morally accountable to express our sexuality in a manner that honors God, and we are expected to restrain contrary desires with the use of our reason and free-will.
-More than just restraining contrary desires, we should be killing them for the sake of pursuing a better, everlasting pleasure in our common Creator.
-However, we have all failed to honor God with our sexuality, and we deserve eternal punishment for dishonoring a God of eternal worth.  Thankfully, Jesus died on the cross for our sins and rose from the dead, so that if we trust in Him as Lord and Savior, we too may die to sin and live to righteousness by the help of the Spirit.
-We now seek to trade the transient pleasures of the flesh for the fullness of joy in our Creator’s presence and invite others to join us in doing the same.

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