Against Concupiscence

Concupiscence always leads to death—ours or Christ’s.

We cannot separate Christian ethics from the life of the mind and the internal drives of the professing Christ-follower. It is for this reason that Jesus runs his own reductio ad absurdum in the Sermon on the Mount, equating lust with adultery and hatred with murder (Matthew 5:21ff). To put it plainly: wanting to sin but refraining from the external act is no triumph of the will.


Issues of same-sex attraction, the Christian identity, and sexual orientation have once more made it to the fore, and a growing contingent of believers are wondering if the whole thing is a matter of semantics.

Terms like “gay” and “orientation” used in the context of professing Christians have drawn much ire from various discernment voices. Is this a mere squabble over words to no avail—the sort of thing condemned in 2 Timothy 2:14 (“[C]harge them before God not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers”)?

This question has been stirred by the continued ripple effects of the Revoice conference. Regarding Revoice itself, Albert Mohler and Kevin DeYoung have written convincingly concerning its dangers. Christian author, pastor’s wife, and former lesbian Rosaria Butterfield, in a conversation addressing similar issues, said, “Souls are at stake. And I think that’s where we have to recognize that the gay Christian movement, including the celibate gay Christian movement, is a different religion…I’m not standing in the same forest with Greg Johnson and Wes Hill and Nate Collins looking at different angles of the trees. I’m in a different forest altogether.”

But one needn’t compose an entire blog post to simply cite to the thought leaders and add, “All that goes for me double.” So rather than flesh out all the arguments others have already made, I would simply like to make a point that has somehow gone unnoticed in much of the current discourse.

Concupiscence is still a sin.

Now, on first glance, it may seem as though the sin of concupiscence is the sin of using such a pretentious word in the first place. Concupiscence is, after all, a bit of a holdover from the king’s English. (True story: to this day, my parents castigate me for having asked in seventh grade if forsooth was too archaic to use in my composition assignment. And no, I didn’t know what it meant.) But its meaning appears as we see it used throughout the New Testament:

“But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence.” (Romans 7:8 KJV)

“Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” (Colossians 3:5)

“For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication: That every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honour; Not in the lust of concupiscence, even as the Gentiles which know not God[.]” (1 Thessalonians 4:3-5)

Modern translations render this word along the lines of lusts, passionate urges, and inordinate longings. What we are dealing with is the Greek word epithumia. Henry Jacobs (1844-1932) defined it in this way:

The Greek noun, like the verb from which it comes, meaning “to yearn,” “to long,” “to have the heart set upon a thing,” is determined in its moral quality by the source whence it springs or the object toward which it is directed…As a rule, when the object is not expressed, it refers to longing for that which God has forbidden, namely, lust. It is not limited to sexual desire, but includes all going forth of heart and will toward what God would not have us to have or be, as its use in the Septuagint of the Ten Commandments clearly shows, for “Thou shalt not covet” (Exodus 20:17).

The fact is that, biblically, desiring to sin is sin. Now, that is not to say that to merely be tempted is morally equivalent to succumbing to said temptation; Jesus was tempted but never sinned (Matthew 4:1ff, Hebrews 4:15). But for us fallen beings, to the degree that these desires arise from within us, they reflect our depravity and are thus culpable before we even act upon them. “Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (James 1:15).

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