The Dark Exchange:
toward a biblical response to homosexuality and same-sex marriage
The upcoming Proposition 8 referendum in California will largely determine the future of same-sex marriage across the nation. AFA Journal publishes the following sermon by Pastor John Piper of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota, to help Christians respond Biblically to this controversial issue. In his opening comments, Pastor Piper describes the tension of the Christian life – being in the world, but not of the world. Drawing from the Scripture, he portrays followers of Christ as both “pilgrims” and “indigenous.” In the context of this paradox Piper seeks to communicate a Biblical response to homosexuality and the battle over same-sex marriage. His conviction is that in order to love homosexuals, Christians must follow the Scripture in calling homosexual behavior sinful and destructive. “If you deny the truth that homosexual behavior is sin, but instead approve of it or rejoice in it, what you bring to the homosexual person will not be love – no matter how affirming, kind or tolerant,” he says. Originally delivered on August 8, 2004, the full text of the sermon is available at www.desiringgod.org. The original sermon was titled “Discerning the Will of God Concerning Homosexuality and Marriage.” The version below has been edited for content and length.
Romans 12:1-2 – I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
The reason homosexuality comes up at this point in Romans 12 is because of the phrase, “by testing you may discern.” There is one Greek word – dokimazein – in the original language and it occurs previously in Romans 1:28 in the context of Paul’s dealing with homosexuality. Romans 1:28 says, “And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.” The word “acknowledge” here has that same Greek word behind it. The idea is, “Since they did not see fit by testing to discern and acknowledge and approve of God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.” In other words, by putting Romans 12:2 and 1:28 together, we see that foundational to discerning the will of God is discerning the worth of having God in your knowledge. The renewal of mind that has to happen in order to discern the will of God (in Romans 12:2), is a renewal that embraces the worth of God – that loves having God as the sun in the solar system of your ideas and values and choices and emotions, so that while He is there in the center, everything stays in its proper orbit.
The idolatrous exchange In verses 26 and 28 Paul calls homosexual behavior an “exchange” of the God-ordained natural relations for the dishonorable unnatural relations. What is most profound in the flow of Paul’s thought is that this exchange – women exchanging men for other women, men exchanging women for other men – is an image and echo of man’s exchange of the glory of God for images like man himself. In other words, Paul treats the unnatural sexual exchange as an expression of the exchange of God’s glory for the glory of ourselves. When the glory of God ceases to be our supreme treasure, that distortion will be expressed in distortions of our sexual pleasure. And homosexuality is just one of the disordered forms that exchanging God leads to – not the only one. So I conclude that not being conformed to this world (Romans 12:2) involves a renewed mind that reverses the exchange of the glory of God for the glory of man. It involves a change of mind that embraces God as its supreme treasure and authority. And out of this renewed mind, with God as our supreme treasure and authority, we are able to discern that homosexual passions are a tragic disorder of God’s creation, and homosexual behavior is a sinful departure from God’s will – just like heterosexual lust, fornication, and adultery.
Why marriage cannot be between two men or two women
This brings us to the highly charged political issue, the relationship between homosexuality and marriage. There are two Biblical reasons why marriage cannot be between two men or two women. 1. The will of God for marriage was expressed in creation. Jesus confirmed God’s will in creation when he said in Matthew 19:4-6, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” The Bible’s teaching and assumption from cover to cover is one woman and one man becoming one flesh by covenant and sexual union. 2. There is no such thing as homosexual marriage in the eyes of God. The Bible defines homosexual behavior as “dishonorable” and “shameless” and “contrary to nature” (Romans 1:26-27), but on the other hand the Bible says that marriage is to be “held in honor” (Hebrews 13:4). Marriage does not produce shame. And marriage is not contrary to nature. There is therefore no such thing as homosexual marriage in the eyes of God. And there should not be in the eyes of his people – no matter what the state says.
Meaning and truth
In the last 50 years the concept of meaning and truth in our culture has changed. Once it was the responsibility of historical scholars and judges and preachers to find the fixed meaning of a text (an essay, the Constitution, the Bible) and justify it with grammatical and historical arguments, and then explain it. Meaning in texts was not created by scholars and judges and preachers. It was found, because the authors put it there. Authors had intentions. And it was a matter of integrity to find what a writer intended. Everybody knew that if a person wrote “no” and someone else creatively interpreted it to mean “yes,” something fraudulent had happened.
But we have fallen a long way from that integrity. In historical scholarship, constitutional law and Biblical interpretation, it is common today to say that meaning is whatever you see, not what the author intended. Today courts are finding in the Constitution what never was there in any of the authors’ minds – namely, a right to marriage between two men or two women.
This kind of so-called interpretation creates out of nothing a definition of marriage that has never existed. What then should Christians do? We should manifest the tension of being pilgrims and being indigenous. Sojourners and citizens. Bound for heaven and caring for earth.
On the indigenous side we should be involved with the processes of lawmaking. We should pray and work to shape our culture, its customs and laws, so that it reflects the revealed will of God, even if that reflection is only external and dim and embraced by unbelievers with wrong motives. Thus we should pray and work that marriage would be understood and treated in our land and by our government as a lifelong union of one man and one woman.
If someone asks, “Why do you impose your religious conviction on the whole culture?” we answer: “All laws impose convictions on a culture.” And all convictions come from worldviews. They don’t come out of nowhere. People argue for laws on the basis of a certain view of the world. What needs to be kept clear is that voting for a law (a prescribed or proscribed behavior) does not mean voting for the worldview behind it.
On the pilgrim side, we make our Christ-exalting, cross-centered, soul-saving Biblical worldview known with brokenhearted joy. Joy because Christ really is the sovereign Lord of the universe and will establish justice and purity in due time out of this fallen world. And brokenhearted because we share in the pain and misery of what sin has brought on this world. “We ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:23).
The pilgrims groan with the whole creation as we witness to our true homeland: the kingdom of Jesus Christ. We do not smirk at the misery or the merrymaking of immoral culture. We weep. Being pilgrims does not mean being cynical. The salt of the earth does not mock rotting meat. Where it can, it saves and seasons. And where it can’t, it weeps. Being Christian pilgrims in American culture does not end our influence, it takes the swagger out of it. We don’t get cranky when evil triumphs for a season. We don’t whine when things don’t go our way. We are not hardened with anger. We understand. What’s happening is not new.
The early Christians were profoundly out of step with their culture. The imperial words of Christ were ringing in their ears: “You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Mark 13:13). “Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).
That was a time, and this is a time, for indomitable and tearful joy and unwavering ministries of mercy. The greatness of Christian pilgrims is not success but service. Whether we win or lose, we witness to the way of truth and beauty and joy. We don’t own culture, and we don’t rule it. We serve it with brokenhearted joy and longsuffering mercy, for the good of man and the glory of Jesus Christ.