Sanctification & Sexual Identity
Can I change? Do I need to change? These two questions come at the same issue, sexual identity, from differing angles. Both are hopeless. One lacks hope in God’s promises in His Word. One lacks hope in His commands. Either way, both need to understand better and believe the matter of Sanctification and Sexual Identity.
I’m taking my High School Bible class through Matthew Barrett’s None Greater: The Undomesticated Attributes of God. It is a theologically devotional work reflecting continuously on the gloriousness of God. Dr. Barrett drives home, from the beginning of his work, this simple point: God is different, very different, than we are. Barrett wonderfully weaves the attributes of God together to show us just how drastic the difference is between the Creator and His creatures. We confess this difference in fundamental ways when we admit of God that he is “a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.” (Shorter Catechism, A. 4.); and we admit of ourselves that we “fell from [our] original righteousness and communion with God, and so became dead in sin, and wholly defiled in all the faculties and parts of soul and body.” (Confession of Faith, 6.2.) To summarize, God is a simple being, not composed of parts, absolutely perfect and unable not to be; we, however, are composed of parts—broken, sinful parts—and are unable, in this life, to not be sinful in every part of us. To narrow this to the point of the experience and reality of Sanctification: we can at no point ever state honestly that there is any part of us that is in no need of change. To the contrary, every part of us is in absolute, continual need of change. Indeed, if we do NOT change, we cannot see God (Heb. 12:14).
Furthermore, we believe that:
Sanctification is a work of God’s grace, whereby they whom God hath before the foundation of the world chosen to be holy, are in time through the powerful operation of his Spirit, applying the death and resurrection of Christ unto them, renewed in their whole man after the image of God; having the seeds of repentance unto life, and all other saving graces, put into their hearts, and those graces so stirred up, increased, and strengthened, as that they more and more die unto sin and rise unto newness of life. (Larger Catechism,
So, putting this all together: change is absolutely necessary, inevitable really for the believer, but it comes from outside of us, from God, not from within our feeble hearts and double minds. It is established for those who will be sanctified from before the foundation of the world, having been chosen thus by the Father in eternity, changed in time by the powerful working of the Holy Spirit, applying the person and work of Jesus Christ to them. So what happens to someone as they are sanctified? His entire person, every part of him is changed toward the image of God. Actions that are against God’s Word are no longer done. And desires that are a violation of His Holy Word and character, are no longer desired. At least we learn to not want to desire them.
Each doctrinal or cultural shift within the church or in her surrounding environment requires reflection and interaction by faithful Christians in order to gain clarity as to whether or not the Scriptures justify such a change. This reflection and interaction happens on a number of levels, from the apologetic (confronting the cultural strongholds of false teaching and exposing the detriment that it brings to the church) to the academic (making certain that faithful seminaries stay faithful, to expositional, experiential preaching to engage the hearts and minds of our hearers so they are wary of detrimental teaching) to the ministerial (sitting with those struggling to understand their feelings, being tempted to rebel against the Lord and His Word). The morphing of sexual and gender identity within our culture, and now within the church, has brought just such an opportunity to the church. We who understand the historic faith to be biblically faithful in these matters need to labor toward clarity on the relationship of those self-perceptions to one’s spiritual identity and resulting feelings about oneself and attractions to another. In other words, we must help those struggling in the sexual milieu to understand what the work of Sanctification mean for how I perceive myself and the way I choose to love another in a physically involved relationship?
To put it in Mohleresque terms: the sexual revolution has come to full fruition and this is a revolution with no stopping point, save that of the world on its head. Yes, this is a drastic situation, and the apologetic verbiage of some, in seeking to protect the flock, though much needed, might cause others to give up hope when they have the opportunity to chat with someone drowning in these new “realities” at Starbucks or in the Pastor’s study. But to bring it down to the ministerial level, the matter before us is that of Sanctification and Sexual Identity.
Sanctification. Change on the inside of us that comes from the outside of us, our infinitely perfect, unchanging God. We must be right and clear on this, if we are to offer hope to the hopeless, no matter which end of the hopeless spectrum from which they come. Thank you, Baptist Dr. Barrett, for your book on God’s Attributes, as it is helping me, a Reformed Pastor, counsel man better in dealing with his own attributes.
Joel Wood is the pastor of Trinity RPC in Burtonsville, MD, between DC and Baltimore. He holds M.Div. and D.Min. degrees from the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary and is 1/4 of The Jerusalem Chamber podcast, a roundtable discussion about the doctrine, worship, and piety of the Westminster Confession of Faith.