I’ve been working on an article about the New Testament’s teaching on the moral status of homosexuality. In my research, I have been helped time and again by Richard Hays’s careful scholarship. Today, I’ve been reading an article that he wrote back in 1986 on the meaning of “nature” in Romans 1:26-27.
In particular, Hays confronts an assumption that is often held by Christians and non-Christians alike. The assumption goes like this. Actions are sinful only if they are chosen. If an action is not chosen, then it cannot be sinful. With respect to homosexuality, some people argue that homosexuality is an orientation that one is born with, not something that one chooses. Therefore, homosexuality cannot be immoral because it is an innate quality (like skin color or gender). Hays writes in response to this argument:
“Paul’s condemnation of homosexual activity does not rest upon an assumption that it is freely chosen; indeed, it is precisely characteristic of Paul to regard ‘sin’ as a condition of human existence, a condition which robs us of free volition and drives us to disobedient actions which, though involuntary, are nonetheless culpableâ€¦ The gulf is wide between Paul’s viewpoint and the modern habit of assigning cupability only for actions assumed to be under free control of the agent” (p. 209).
Hays is exactly right about Paul’s description of the human condition. We are all sinners by birth before we choose to do anything. Heterosexuals do not choose their susceptibility to immoral heterosexual acts, but that fact does not absolve them should they choose to engage in immorality. The same is true for other forms of sexual deviancyâ€”including homosexuality. We are all sinful and are thus oriented at birth to break God’s laws (Psalm 51:5; Ephesians 2:3). It is clear, thereforeâ€”from a biblical perspectiveâ€”one’s predisposition towards this or that action is no standard by which to measure the morality of that action.
What this shows is that we are all desperately in need of the grace of God in Christ. Our sin problem goes much deeper than we often want to admit. Our orientation toward rebellion precedes our choices to moral actions. In other words, we have a heart problem, not just a behavior problem. Our hearts are desperately sick and in need of a cure (Jeremiah 17:9). And a cure is precisely what God makes available to us in the gospel of Christ.
3 For we also once were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another. 4 But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, 5 He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, 6 whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 that being justified by His grace we might be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.