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Homosexuals can change

Two books relate how grace and the power of the Holy Spirit can overcome same-sex attraction

WaterBrook Press/P&R Publishing

Homosexuals can change

Caleb Kaltenbach’s new book, Messy Grace (WaterBrook Press, 2015), has a tantalizing subtitle: How a Pastor With Gay Parents Learned to Love Others Without Sacrificing Conviction. Kaltenbach states that “profound change is just as possible for a homosexual sin as it is for any other”—but it has to come through grace. Kaltenbach argues that Christians should emphasize a change of heart, and let that change then influence minds (and use of sex organs). It seems to me that churches should welcome but not affirm gays, so I found Kaltenbach’s thinking useful.

I also found Denny Burk and Heath Lambert’s argument in Transforming Homosexuality: What the Bible Says about Sexual Orientation and Change (P&R Publishing, 2015) helpful in debunking the myth that change is not possible for those struggling with same-sex attraction. The authors use Scripture to show how the same power that resurrected Jesus from the dead can lead to moral change. Just like Kaltenbach, Burk and Lambert believe, “This is just as true for same-sex attraction as it is for any other sin.”

Below are excerpts from Chapter 12 of Messy Grace and Chapter 3 of Transforming Homosexuality. —Marvin Olasky

Messy Grace: A New ID

I’ve hinted at it before in the book, and now it’s time to come out and say it: Christians need to stop trying to convert people’s sexuality. It isn’t our job to change someone’s sexual orientation. You and I are not called by God to make gay people straight.

It is our job to lead anyone and everyone to Christ.

I believe God is big enough to deal with a person’s sexuality.

Before some of you throw this book down in frustration, hear me out. I’m not saying we shouldn’t call people to repentance. Absolutely we should! Everyone needs to repent and confess Christ. To go even further, I would say that repentance should be a spiritual discipline— something we do over and over again. There’s a reason Jesus included a plea for forgiveness in the Lord’s Prayer.

I’m also not saying we shouldn’t urge people to turn from a sexual practice that God says in his Word is wrong. Yes, we should call all people to holy living after we share in a loving way what God has done for them in Jesus. We haven’t done our full duty by them until we have taught them about obedience to God’s commands in the Bible.

So once more, I’m not saying we shouldn’t deal with repentance. I’m just saying we should consider whether we might be initially focusing on the wrong part of the issue when we are leading someone to Christ.

See, we get tangled up in the wrong arguments. The Bible talks about sexual intimacy being between a man and a woman, so we focus on people’s morality instead of their spirituality—their sex life instead of their faith life. And then we get tangled up even further when we make the mistake of thinking that being gay is something we can tell people to just stop doing.

We can tell people to stop stealing things, to stop cheating on their spouse, to stop looking at porn, to stop gossiping, and much more. As a pastor, I’ve carried out many counseling sessions with people in which I’ve told the counselees to stop a certain behavior. I myself have been in counseling and have been told to stop doing something (and I did stop).

Homosexuality is different.

It is more of an identity for the person than anything else. The person identifies as gay or lesbian and identifies with the LGBT community.

So we shouldn’t try to make gay people straight. Instead, we should try to help people whose overriding identity is LGBT to become people whose overriding identity is disciple. They can replace a false identity with a true identity in Christ. …

So What’s an ID?

When I was a kid, I loved Superman. I still do. No matter who puts on the Superman outfit in the movies, my idea of Superman is always Christopher Reeve. When I was young and would watch him as Superman, I was puzzled about how no one could see that Clark Kent was really Superman. Seriously, no one could figure that out? When one was there, the other one was always gone. …

You can’t separate Clark Kent and Superman because Superman’s identity is Clark Kent and vice versa.

Similarly, in the past when I’ve talked to my parents about telling people they’re gay or lesbian, they’ve said they see it as their identity—who they are. In their minds, they couldn’t separate their identity from their sexuality. That’s very common among the people I know who are LGBT. So, when you and I tell people to stop being gay, they hear that as giving up their identity. If you and I think that just telling someone to stop being gay will put an end to that desire, we are dead wrong. It shows no understanding of how people in this community see themselves. …

When most Christians tell someone in the gay community “Stop being gay,” what they really mean is “Stop having sex with someone of the same gender.” Yet here’s what the person who is gay might think: You want me to give up my feelings, partner, friends, cause, movement, community, and more. Being gay is so much more than just who they have sex with—it’s about friends, community, a cause, and deep feelings. It’s about identity.

That may not make sense to you at first, but consider it for a moment.

All of us to some extent have created a false identity for ourselves. Most people describe themselves by what they do (work), who they are related to (family), or what they identify with (behavior). Some people’s identity is shaped by their pain or addiction. Some are all about their causes. These kinds of things become the source of our self-made identities. We create false (or at least incomplete) identities for ourselves without even trying.

Before some take offense at where they think I’m going with this line of thinking, let me say that I understand there are many LGBT people who say they have had same-sex attraction since they can remember. Not everyone in the LGBT community was abused, molested, made fun of, or beaten up as a kid. Christians need to realize that some people are attracted to the same gender and there doesn’t seem to be a clear reason why. I’m not sure that some people have control of whom they’re attracted to. Maybe some do. I’ve met a lot of people in the LGBT community who say they were born gay, and I’ve met others who said that they weren’t born that way. Regardless, my point is that some people in the LGBT community tend to rely on something other than Christ to define themselves. Just like everybody else does.

Coming to Christ, though, means we no longer identify ourselves as anything other than a disciple. It’s why Paul said in Ephesians 4:22–24, “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.”

Old self to new self. Through Christ, we fundamentally change. Our identity is first and foremost as a disciple of Jesus. We are not to be

gay Christians straight Christians conservative Christians liberal Christians contemporary Christians liturgical Christians free church Christians missional Christians any other adjective Christians

We are disciples. Before anything else, we follow Jesus. Our identity is in no one and nothing else. So our mission is to help people trade the identity they have created for Christ’s identity. That’s true for all of us:

The angry person needs to exchange rage for grace through Christ. The worrier needs to switch from worry to trust in Christ. The porn addict needs to replace lust with love for Christ. The gossiper needs to exchange gossip for prayer to Christ. The control freak needs to swap control with reliance on Christ. The depressed one needs to find joy in Christ. The fearful person needs to discover confidence through Christ.

Every person in one way or another needs to exchange a false identity he or she has created for an identity in the risen Christ. Saying we’re a disciple and a [fill in the blank] creates a big problem. At the level of our fundamental identity, we are a disciple only. I understand that we might define ourselves by our work, as a spouse, as a parent, or by other things—but at the core level of our existence, we are a disciple of Jesus. …

Here’s what I believe when it comes to identity: God never created sexuality to define us. God never intended family, work, politics, sports teams, hobbies, and the like to define us. God created us for himself, to be defined by himself. When we choose to be defined by these other things in our life instead of Christ, we’re not just creating a false identity—we’re also committing idolatry. God wants our main identity to be a disciple of Jesus. …

The temptation to create divisions around secondary identities may be as old as the church. But it’s always wrong.

Your identity is disciple.

So it is of any gay or lesbian person who comes to Christ through grace.

Excerpted from Messy Grace: How a Pastor With Gay Parents Learned to Love Others Without Sacrificing Conviction by Caleb Kaltenbach. © 2015 by Caleb Kaltenbach. Used with permission of WaterBrook Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House, LLC.

Transforming Homosexuality: Myth #2: Change Is Impossible

Many today argue that homosexual desires cannot be changed. This argument is the premise of the book by Matthew Vines that we mentioned earlier [God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships (Convergent Books, 2015)]. Vines says,

For years, many conservative Christians supported efforts to change gay people’s sexual orientation. Some still take that approach, but in 2013, the flagship “ex-gay” organization shut down after acknowledging that it is futile—and often harmful—to attempt to change people’s sexual orientation. The failure of that movement has left evangelicals grappling with how to respond to the reality of sexual orientation without compromising their beliefs.

Vines believes that it is “futile” to attempt to change one’s sexual desires. He bases his argument for this futility on the closure of an umbrella organization that united several different ex-gay ministries. He also bases it on personal stories that he relates throughout his book—stories of people who were unsuccessful in their efforts at change.

Vines is making an important point that must not be overlooked. He concentrates on the difficulty of change and the profound sense of pain that attends that difficulty. Vines, those he knows, and many who sought help from the Exodus International ministry have an experience to report that we need to hear. The experience is one of tremendous difficulty in trying to change their sexual orientation. These people have experienced profound anguish as they have done everything they know to do to be freed from a problem that they did not want and do not know how to change.

As essential as it is to understand the experiences of people in such turmoil, it is important to note that Vines’s argument arrives at a premature conclusion. He takes the collapse of Exodus and the stories of failed change as the evidence that same-sex attraction cannot be changed. This conclusion is illegitimate. In strictly logical terms it is a possibility, but it is only one possibility. Exodus International certainly did close, and there are many people to whom Vines (and the rest of us!) could point who have experienced a difficult road to change. But those facts do not necessarily mean that change is impossible.

No one disputes that change is hard. There are, however, all sorts of reasons why a person who struggles with same-sex attraction might experience difficulty changing. Perhaps it is impossible to change. Other explanations are available, however. Change may be elusive because growing cultural acceptance of homosexuality discourages it. Perhaps some who have tried to change have not been truly committed to the process. It may be that change is a long, hard road that takes a long time. It also may be the case that some have not yet figured out the correct way to help people change. Any one of these explanations, as well as some combinations of them, could explain the difficulty that many people experience.

It is interesting, however, that of all these options, Vines assumes the only one that is demonstrably untrue. The first place we need to go to see that it is untrue is in the timelessly authoritative teachings of Scripture.


The Bible is clear about homosexuality. Every single reference to homosexual behavior in the Bible is a negative reference. The only sexual behavior ever endorsed by Scripture is the kind that happens between one man and one woman in the context of marriage. There is no exception to this biblical ethic. The Bible, though, does not just talk about ethics. The Bible also talks about ministry. In particular, every page of the New Testament talks about how Jesus Christ changes and purifies us by his grace.

One place where the Bible teaches this is Romans 8:9–11.

You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through the Spirit who dwells in you.

Paul provides an amazing demonstration of God’s grace in Christ. Follow us through three observations about this text.

The first observation is that Jesus Christ was dead. He had no pulse. His bones were frozen with rigor mortis. His organs were cold and still. As pastors, we have been in the room with many sick people and have watched them take their last breath as they lost a fight with a terminal diagnosis. We have officiated at scores of funerals. We have seen many people weep over the bodies of their dead loved ones, pleading for them to come back. In those difficult experiences we have learned a very painful and fundamental lesson: death is final. There is no human way to turn it back. In spite of the best medical skill and technology, humanity has no way to restore a spirit torn from its body. In human terms, death is truly the end of the line.

Jesus was just as dead as any person we have ever stood over while preaching a funeral sermon. His life was over. The situation appeared hopeless.

That leads to the second observation. Jesus Christ was restored to life, in spite of the apparent hopelessness of his situation. God did, in the physical body of Jesus, what is impossible for anyone else. He restored to life a person who had been dead for three days. We must be careful with this truth. If we are not cautious, we will grow too familiar with this mind-blowing reality! We should never let our acquaintance with it cause our jaws to fail to drop. How could God do something so apparently impossible? What power was available to God that would allow him to perform such a miracle? In Romans 8:11 Paul gives us the answer. He tells us that Jesus was raised to life by the power of the Holy Spirit.

This reality gets us to the third observation. Paul tells us that the same Spirit who raised Jesus to life is the one who dwells in believers. It is that same powerful Spirit who gives life to the mortal bodies of Christians as they put off sin and put on righteousness. This truth is truly overwhelming. The same power that Jesus had to be restored to life is the same power that Christians have for moral change. If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, you have the Spirit of Christ dwelling in you to empower your change in any moral category. This is just as true for same-sex attraction as it is for any other sin.

When discussing the necessity and power for change, many Christians point to 1 Corinthians 6:9–11. That passage lists homosexuality as one of the sins that block people from the kingdom of God. It further confirms that Christians are no longer defined by that sin but have been washed, sanctified, and justified by the Spirit. We love that passage, believe it is crucial to this topic, and have even unpacked it in other writings.

The point in focusing on a different passage in this space is to highlight the fact that 1 Corinthians 6 is not the only passage in the New Testament that addresses this issue. The Bible is full of teaching on the resources available to Christians to provide power for change. In fact, this is one way to describe the subject matter of the entire Bible. It is written to show us how to overcome sin by the power of Jesus Christ.

Paul’s teaching in Romans 8 is particularly relevant in light of his teaching in Romans 1. In that vitally important chapter, Paul makes clear that God’s wrath is revealed in his giving up of people to homosexual sin. It is a truly devastating picture of the carnage of sin in a sinful world. We need to remember, however, that Paul is merely beginning an argument in the introductory chapter of Romans. We should not stop reading at Romans 1, and neither should we forget that chapter when we get to the hope-filled content of Romans 8. Paul intends the powerful teaching of Romans 8 to dispel the discouragement of Romans 1. The same Spirit that overwhelmed Jesus’ corpse with life is able powerfully to change those with sexual desires like those described in Romans 1. If 1 Corinthians had never been written, Romans 1–8 would be enough to convince us that profound change is just as possible for homosexual sin as it is for any other.

Taken from Transforming Homosexuality by Denny Burk and Heath Lambert, ISBN 978-1-59638-139-1, Pages 65-69, used with permission from P&R Publishing Co., P.O. Box 817,

Denny Burk

Denny serves as a professor of Biblical studies at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and as the president of the Council on Biblical Manhood & Womanhood. He also serves as one of the teaching pastors at Kenwood Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky. He is the author of numerous books, including What Is the Meaning of Sex? (Crossway, 2013), Transforming Homosexuality (P&R, 2015), and a commentary on the pastoral epistles for the ESV Expository Commentary (Crossway, 2017).


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