It seems Christians hold very different views of homosexuality. Some churches accept homosexuals while other churches condemn gay people. What does the Bible teach? Is it possible to be both a Christian and a homosexual?
Few topics today generate more controversy, emotion and confusion in the church (and in society) than the issue of homosexuality. Many Christians have become hesitant (and even fearful) to defend a Biblical view of sexuality in the face of growing persecution from homosexual advocates. In virtually every nation around the world, same-sex relationships have acquired legitimacy and acceptability to an extent virtually unthinkable just a few decades ago.
In many Western nations, homosexual marriage is now legal, and even where homosexual marriage remains against the law, homosexual couples may still enjoy many of the same parental and other legal rights as natural marriages. In the United States, acceptance of homosexuality is also growing fast with the Supreme Court recently mandating homosexual marriage in all fifty states.
The same shifting winds of opinion have led many churches to accept openly homosexual members, and some congregations has begun to sanctify homosexual marriages while others no longer teach that homosexual acts are sinful or unnatural. In fact, in some "churches" homosexuals can assume leadership positions enjoying the full acceptance and encouragement of church members without shame or reproach.
As society and the Church become increasingly comfortable with homosexuality, persecution will undoubtedly increase against those who hold a contrary viewpoint. Many within the church who hold to the traditional view of homosexuality as sin are labeled bigots, extremists and worse. Some nations have passed laws classifying condemnation of homosexuals as "hate speech," and some pastors risk imprisonment for speaking out against the practice.
Though the fight over homosexuality in our culture has moved to the front pages in recent decades, homosexual behavior has always been a part of human society. Ancient records and the Bible stories reflect its longevity in society, including accounts like Sodom and Gomorrah
While most cultures condemned the practice, some cultures celebrated it. Historical accounts record that men in both the Greek and the Roman cultures practiced homosexuality routinely (although it's unclear how pervasive the practices were in the culture overall). Many of the emperors of Rome reportedly engaged in homosexual behavior, and ancient temples often featured male prostitutes for that reason. So while homosexuality has only recently emerged from the shadows in our culture, the practice has always flourished somewhere, whether underground or in full view.
So how should a Christian view homosexual behavior, and how do we make sense of society's increasing acceptance of the behavior? What can we say to friends or family who practice homosexual behavior? Finally, what are we to conclude about a person professing faith in Christ while willfully embracing and enjoying a homosexual lifestyle?
First, let's consider a brief history of the term "homosexual." In ancient cultures, the act itself did not have a unique name and neither did the person who practiced it. For example, there is no Hebrew word in the Old Testament for homosexual. Instead, the Old Testament simply describes the act itself, referring to it as "laying with a male as one lies with a female" while calling such an act an abomination, which means it is detestable to God. For example:
(We should note how the Lord condemns homosexual acts in the same context as prohibiting child sacrifice and bestiality. Clearly, the Lord holds the practice in great contempt.)
Later after the Lord judged Sodom and Gomorrah for their sexual perversion and wickedness, the names of the cities became associated with homosexual behavior, and so the term "sodomite" came to stand for one who practices homosexual behavior. The term didn't convey an identity or suggest a lifestyle; it simply described a person who engaged in depraved sexual behavior.
In the same way that "murderer" describes someone who murders a human being unlawfully, "sodomite" described a person who practiced sodomy. The term was not a compliment, of course, and sodomites did not unite to demand acceptance within society (no more than murderers requested the same privilege). In all but a few places (e.g., Sodom), sodomites were outcasts within society.
Sodomy remained the most common term for homosexual behavior until the present-day term first appeared in the middle of the 19th century, eventually becoming the preferred name by the early 20th century. This change in terminology was not accidental. It came about as part of a campaign orchestrated by homosexuality sympathizers in medicine, psychology, the media, the entertainment industry and anti-religious groups to legitimize the behavior within the culture.
Proponents hoped the term "homosexual" would invite comparisons to heterosexual, thereby suggesting it was an equally healthy and acceptable alternative, and the effort picked up steam in the 1960s. By the end of the 20th century, homosexual behavior was broadly celebrated (at least by liberal-leaning elements of society) rather than condemned, and those who engage in a lifestyle of homosexuality began to be courted rather than ostracized.
What does the Bible say about this practice? As we saw earlier, the Law clearly condemns homosexual behavior, requiring death for any in Israel who practices it. While Christians are not bound to apply the penalties of the Old Testament Law, the New Testament echoes the Law's strong words against the practice. For example:
Let's consider these three passages in turn. First, in Romans 1 Paul describes the progression into ungodliness experienced by natural men. First, men became prideful thinking themselves wise without God's counsel (v.22). Their foolishness then led them to worship the creation rather than the Creator (v.23). As a result, the Lord judged them by handing them over to their fleshly desires. The Lord allowed the sinful flesh of men to gain full control over their instincts and desires, leading them astray into greater and greater depravity.
Eventually, their increasing depravity resulted in men dishonoring their own bodies (vs.24-25). In a sense, Paul says ungodly men became the victims of their own crimes, as they participate in homosexual behavior. In describing the behavior, Paul uses the term "arsenokoites," which is the Greek word for sodomite, though our modern English Bibles have chosen to translate this Greek word as homosexual instead.
It's important to notice that Paul says both men and women "exchanged" the natural for the unnatural and "abandoned" the natural to seek the unnatural. The word of God makes clear that homosexual behavior is an unnatural act that replaces a natural sexual act God has prescribed. Despite popular teaching to the contrary, there is nothing natural or normal about homosexual behavior, according to the Bible.
Finally, Paul describes homosexual acts as indecent and an "error." When the flesh "burns" for something it shouldn't have, Paul says, it is indecent, and this error will lead to a penalty. The penalty begins in their "own persons" (v.27), which is a reference to the degrading and harmful physical effects of homosexual behavior. The penalties don't end with the physical, however, as God is prepared to visit a much greater penalty upon them in eternity.
In the second passage taken from 1Corinthians, Paul declared that the "unrighteous" will not inherit the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom refers to the Millennial Kingdom the Lord will establish on Earth and into which all saints will enter by faith in Jesus Christ. To be unrighteous in this context, therefore, means failing to trust in Christ for salvation. The person is unsaved by their lack of faith, and therefore the homosexual behavior is a reflection of an unbelieving heart.
Paul says to the Church do not be deceived by these people. Do not assume that the practice of such behavior is compatible with the righteousness which is by faith. Paul says the righteousness which is by faith will move us away from a lifestyle of persistent sin, whether the sin of fornication, idolatry, adultery, homosexuality, etc. Therefore, we are not to be deceived by those who claim that Christian life and persistent sin are compatible. They are not.
On the other hand, Paul is NOT suggesting that a Christian will never sin in these ways or that such sins "disqualify" a Christian from the Kingdom. All true Christians are saved by faith alone, and no sin can separate a believer from the love of God (see Rom 8:38-39). Sadly, some Christians do commit these sins from time to time, but Paul is warning about a very different problem. He is concerned with believers embracing the lie that says Christian belief and practice may coexist with a lifestyle of sin in any form. Paul says do not be deceived by such ungodliness.
Therefore, persistent homosexual behavior is powerful evidence that the person may never have been born again, despite claims to the contrary. At the very least, anyone claiming to be a believer while living the homosexual lifestyle is a source of great harm to the church body and should be held under church discipline.
Finally, Paul's third passage from 1Timothy refutes any teaching that homosexuality is compatible with Christianity. Notice Paul says these behaviors (including homosexuality) are contrary to sound teaching (v.11), and, therefore, the Law stands ready to rebuke such sinful practices. Anyone who teaches that homosexuality is compatible with Christianity is not teaching sound doctrine, according to the Bible.
The Law of God is aimed at the rebels and the ungodly, so that it may convict hearts by presenting God's unchanging standards for holiness. The Bible cites acts of killing parents, kidnapping, lying, perjuring or homosexuality as examples contrary to the will and instructions of God, Paul says, and they are incompatible with Christian living and belief.
Therefore, the Bible leaves no doubt that homosexuality is ungodly and contrary to the natural order of God's creation, and, therefore, it is impossible to harmonize homosexual behavior with a lifestyle of following Christ. Homosexuality is an unnatural choice, according to scripture, and no matter how commonplace or accepted the practice may become within our culture, the act will always be morally wrong according to God, Who is our Judge.
As both Peter and Jude sum up, homosexuality is "gross immorality" in God's eyes, and cultures that have embraced in the past have experienced God's judgment for it:
The Bible clearly teaches that homosexuality acts are always wrong, but as Christians seeking to win a lost world to Christ, we must differentiate between those who experience homosexual temptations from those who choose to engage in homosexual behaviors. Any person (even a Christian) may experience lustful attraction for someone of the same sex from time to time. When we turn away from our temptations, we do not sin, according to the scriptures. The Bible exhorts all believers to resist temptation so that we might be holy as our Father in Heaven is holy.
Presumably, some people are born with a greater tendency for the temptation to homosexual sin just as other people are prone to temptation by other sins like lying, violence, stealing, etc. Nevertheless, the fact that a homosexual desire is present from birth doesn't legitimize the sin, no more than we would excuse the sin of someone who possessed a proclivity from birth to steal or lie.
Therefore, the argument that homosexuals cannot help themselves because they were born with homosexual desires is neither a novel nor compelling defense. The Bible agrees with them! Scripture teaches that all sin is present from birth, and as a result scripture commands us to flee youthful lusts (2Tim 2:22) precisely because all sin originates at birth. The fact that a particular sinful desire (like homosexual lust) began early in life doesn't make it good or healthy. Rather, it merely confirms Romans 3, which teaches:
In that way, we can say that homosexual lust and heterosexual lust are the same in that every man and woman will experience inappropriate sexual desires from time to time. No one is unique in that regard, and, therefore, we can no more give license for someone to act out on homosexual lust than we can for heterosexual lust. Said another way, if the Church declares acts of homosexual lust are legitimate (in violation of the clear teaching of scripture), then it must also legitimize heterosexual lust as well. Obviously, all lust is sin and all lust must be resisted.
In summary, the Bible teaches that the only form of sexual intimacy permitted by God is found in the context of a marriage between a man and woman. Christians experiencing homosexual or heterosexual lust need our encouragement to resist such temptations to sin, and we do them no favors when we condone or encourage their sinful choices.
So how should a Christian confront someone who practices (or approves of) homosexuality? The answer depends on whether we are speaking with an unbeliever (non-Christian) or a born-again believer.
If the person is an unbeliever, we must take the conversation in a different direction. Rather than debating the merits of homosexuality, we should make our goal presenting the Gospel. Saving the soul is infinitely more important than conforming a person to the lifestyle of a Christian. Seeking to change someone's opinion concerning a sinful act without addressing the underlying spiritual cause for the sin is like putting lipstick on a pig. Even if the person agreed with our arguments, the person would still be a lost sinner subject to God's wrath in the day of judgment. What have we achieved?
On the other hand, if we present the Gospel and the person hears it and comes to faith in Christ, then they will be forgiven by God of all sin. Moreover, they will receive the Holy Spirit, Who will bring conviction of sin and the power to free them from slavery to sin, including homosexuality. This is the Lord's blessing for all believers:
True conversion to faith in Christ is a person's only hope both for obtaining forgiveness and the power to live a godly life, which is the real goal of our witnessing as Christians. As you present the Gospel, you may also find an opportunity to declare the Biblical truth concerning homosexuality. The key is to speak this truth in love while allowing the conviction of the Spirit to work in the heart.
Jesus serves as our role model in this approach. In John 4, Jesus encountered an adulterous woman at a well, and in the course of their discussion, Jesus candidly pointed out her sinful lifestyle even as He called her to repent and believe in Him. Ultimately, she came to faith in Christ and spread the news to her town.
Though Jesus boldly pointed out her sin, nevertheless He also offered her the chance for forgiveness, thereby demonstrating God's love for her in the process. Today, Jesus offers the same forgiveness to homosexuals through the appeal we make on His behalf as His ambassadors sent with the Gospel. Therefore, endeavor to approach your circumstances in a similar manner, preaching the truth of the Gospel in love, while calling for repentance of sin and belief in Jesus Christ.
On the other hand, if a practicing homosexual claims to be a born-again Christian, we should approach the conversation very differently. The Bible gives us very clear instructions for how to proceed, warning us not to be deceived by anyone claiming that willful sinful is compatible with a Christian walk. Instead, we are to separate ourselves entirely from their influence within the Church:
Paul says unequivocally we are not to associate in any way with a believer who practices an immoral lifestyle. A Christian is not even permitted to share a dinner table with such a person! Also, notice Paul calls these people "so-called" brothers, reflecting his doubts over their profession of faith. Perhaps such people are true believers, but as Paul reminds us, there is also a good chance they are not. Regardless, we distance ourselves from them because they claim a faith they aren't living out.
Paul's instructions yield two important and necessary safeguards for the body of Christ. First, separating from the disobedient Christian demonstrates to all rebellious believers that sinful choices will not be tolerated (much less condoned) by fellow believers. Fellowship within the body of Christ is a privilege that depends upon obedience to God's word. Those who depart from sound teaching are to be set outside fellowship as an example and incentive to others to remain obedient to God's word.
Secondly, Paul's warning protects the church from counterfeit Christians, who infiltrate the body and corrupt it from within. The "so-called" brother or sister is no brother or sister at all, and therefore he or she is a slave to sin and unable to confirm to godliness. He or she must be set apart from the body to ensure the enemy has no opportunity to corrupt God's people by their influence. As Paul taught:
So whether the person is a true believer in rebellion to God or an unbeliever posing as a Christian, in either case they must be set outside fellowship to protect the flock from their harmful influence. While the world may label our response as "hate speech" or "homophobia," the truth is far different. We are acting in love for the body of Christ and for the offending individual by making opportunity available for repentance and restoration, which brings eternal reward. More importantly, we are living in obedience to the Lord, Who calls us to obey His word and accept whatever consequences may follow.
In any conflict with those advocating homosexuality, a Christian should never resort to using angry rhetoric, hurtful epithets or displaying unloving attitudes toward anyone. Remember, the Bible typically addresses homosexual behavior in the context of other sins like murder, lying, adultery, etc., therefore we shouldn't single out the practice of homosexuality for harsher treatment. All sin is equally wrong, and all sinners are equally lost and need Christ as Savior. As Jesus said:
Therefore, our duty toward those who practice homosexuality is no different than to any other unbeliever we encounter. We are called to reflect the grace and mercy of Christ in the hope they will believe and be saved. We cannot condone their sin, but our primary goal must be to win them for Christ, not to shame them and bully them. Only the Lord can change a heart, and He does so through a patient, loving witness to the Truth.
Based on Paul's strong statements, we might wonder if a practicing homosexual may ever enter Heaven? The simple answer is yes, provided the person has been born again by the Spirit. Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved, scripture teaches. On the other hand, this answer avoids the real question: can a true believer follow the homosexual lifestyle without conviction and regret?
To this question, the Bible would answer no, since every true believer is disciplined by the Lord and experiences conviction whenever they sin:
Notice in v.6 the writer quotes from Proverbs by saying the Lord scourges (i.e., disciplines) every son (i.e., believer). No true believer goes without discipline when he sins, and so if a Christian chooses to engage in homosexual behavior, they will inevitably experience regret and receive the Lord's discipline. Their spiritual conviction betrays them since it demonstrates they are the Lord's child and yet their actions are displeasing to Him.
Though a Christian engaging in homosexual conduct may claim to feel no regret, they will be burdened by guilt, scripture teaches. Such feeling and thoughts are unavoidable, for if disobedient believers did not experience these things, they would be illegitimate children (i.e., not true believers), according to Hebrews. So believers may practice homosexuality, but they cannot do so without regret and conviction.
These rebellious believers usually justify their behavior as the result of "how God made me" or a natural variation on human sexuality, but inside their conscience says otherwise. As they experience the chastisement of the Lord and the conviction of the Spirit, perhaps one day they will exhibit repentance and remorse and seek to please the Lord. In other cases, they may never repent, fulfilling the warning of Hebrews 6:
These believers may persevere in their sin, but if they do, they will see the Lord's displeasure evident in various consequences, including loss of eternal reward. Though they can never lose a salvation that was given to them by grace, nevertheless they are in jeopardy of receiving a harsh judgment when they stand before their Lord, and as Paul says in 1Corinthians 3, they will enter as through fire, with all their reward burned up.
In summary, based on Paul's teaching, we can safely assume that the majority of practicing homosexuals are not Christians, including many of those who claim to be followers of Christ. At the same time, a small minority of practicing homosexuals may, in fact, be Christians who have chosen to live in serious disobedience to their Lord. While they may pretend to have no regrets, they will experience conviction by the Spirit, and their conscience will be burdened. Since they grieve the Spirit living in them, the Lord will discipline them with severe consequences.