Few topics are more controversial today than homosexuality. In the last few decades, Western societies have experienced a seismic shift in attitudes toward the approval of same-sex relations and gay marriage.
This cultural shift has not been unfelt in the Church. By 2015, nearly one-third of conservative Protestants indicated that same-sex relationships should be accepted in the broader culture. About half of millennials indicated the same thing.
A few mainline Protestant denominations in America have embraced same-sex relations in recent years, and in February 2023, the Church of England voted to bless same-sex marriages. As the western world moves to embrace same-sex relations as good and wholesome while also condemning those who consider such behavior immoral, it is important for Christians to be grounded in a biblical worldview of sexuality and, in particular, the issue of homosexuality.
The Bible has much to say about sex. Sex should be extremely important to Christians because it extremely important to God. It is fundamental to the way human beings were designed.
It may surprise people that the Bible also has much to say about same-sex sexual behavior. In the Old Testament, several passages show that homosexual behavior is considered sinful and contrary to God’s original design for human sexuality. From the creation narrative, we see that the original design of sexuality was a male-female marriage union (Gen. 2:18-25). By setting up this union as the ideal, all other sexual activity is implicitly prohibited. Jesus Himself affirms the man-woman, monogamous, life-long relationship as the ideal for marriage and relationships (Matt. 19).
Same-sex relations are also forbidden in the moral law (Lev. 18:22 and 20:13) and are described among other sexual sins (e.g. bestiality) as universally condemned and contrary to the way God designed human sexuality (i.e. part of the moral law). The Leviticus passages label same-sex relations an “abomination” and a “detestable act.”
God also severely judges societies that embrace homosexuality. In Genesis 19:1-12, Sodom and Gomorrah are judged for their many forms of wickedness, homosexuality being the most prominent. Earlier in the story, God is described as acting as “Judge of the whole earth,” suggesting that the standard he used on these two cities was a universal standard for all people. Critics will argue that Sodom and Gomorrah were judged for their lack of hospitality, not homosexuality, but there is little support for this position given how these cities are referred to in other places in the Bible (cf. Gen. 18:20; Ezek. 16:50; Jude 7).
In the New Testament, three major passages address homosexual behavior. In Romans 1:24-32, as Paul is teaching on the universality of sin and the need for salvation in Christ (Romans 1-5), he describes homosexual behavior as a sinful departure from the created order. Paul describes this sexual perversion as a result of society’s descent into pervasive idolatry. At a certain point, God “gives them up to dishonorable passions,” which include men and women forsaking “natural relations” with each other to engage in sexual relations with the same sex.
Paul links the condemnation of homosexuality to the natural order of creation. God originally created men and woman to have sexual attraction for the opposite sex. The entrance of sin into the world distorts this original design, and as societies reject God and worship idols, they become sexually distorted. The choice to worship idols, rather than the Creator, is the source of sexual perversion. In essence, idolatry — failure to worship God as God and instead choosing to worship something or someone else — can distort natural sexual desire and lead individuals and societies into homosexuality.
In 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, Paul warns Christians about the dangers of living contrary to the Kingdom of God, and he lists homosexuality as one of the behaviors inconsistent with God’s people.
Here Paul uses two terms for same-sex relations: malakoi and arsenokoitai. The first term, malakoi, is used only once in the entire Bible, but in Greco-Roman literature this term referred to the passive partner in same-sex activity. The second term, arsenokoitai, is a combination of two Greek words which mean sexual relations with males of any age. It was common in the Greco-Roman world to condemn only the passive partner in a same-sex relationship for being “unmasculine” or “feminine.” By using both terms, Paul is saying that both passive and active partners in same-sex relationships are guilty of sinning.
Paul is not arbitrarily naming homosexuality among his list of sins. Rather, he seems to be reiterating the Old Testament prohibition against same-sex relationships in Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13. The Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagint, uses arsenokoitai in both verses. Not coincidently, Paul uses the same term, arsenokoitai, in 1 Timothy 1:8-10 (the third major New Testament passage) when listing homosexuality alongside other forms of sexual immorality.
One would be hard-pressed to show that the Bible looks favorably on same-sex relationships. There is no indication that such behavior is condoned or permitted. Just the opposite.
Nevertheless, when addressing this important issue, it is important that Christians distinguish between same-sex activity and same-sex temptation, especially in an evangelistic context. This distinction is important for understanding how someone can live a godly, Christian life while battling aspects of the flesh (as we all do in various ways).
Someone may struggle with temptations toward same-sex relations but never act on them, just as someone may struggle with temptations from a former life in alcoholism or drug addiction. It is not sinful to experience temptation. It is sinful, however, when we entertain and act on temptation (Heb. 4:15; James 1:15)
Christians should remember that Jesus saves people from all walks of life, including homosexuality. It is possible for those involved in same-sex relationships to turn from their ways and follow Christ (1 Cor. 6:11). There are actually a few high-profile examples of this in the Church today.
In the New Testament, Jesus accepted many marginalized groups during his ministry — prostitutes, tax collectors, adulterers, criminals, etc. — but he never did so while condoning their sin. Repentance from sin and faith were always the defining requirements for anyone to follow Him.
Therefore, as Christians stand firm against a cultural tidal wave of sexual immorality, they should do so by offering truth, grace, and hope to the unbelieving world. They should not be dismayed as the world embraces many forms of sin, for it is the nature of the world to do so.
Rather than be discouraged when the world calls good evil and evil good, Christians should persevere in calling their communities to repent and put their faith in Christ. God’s Word is a light to our path, and as the world becomes darker, that light must shine brighter.
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