Does The Bible Permit Same-Sex Attraction?

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This article about same-sex attraction is an exploration of the idea that same-sex attraction is not biblically sinful, though acts of homosexuality are sinful. There is at present a movement of Christians arguing that same-sex attraction is not condemned in scripture because there is a difference between same-sex attraction and same-sex desire or lust. This article is not about the gay political movement and is not presented to deal with other genetic, biological, social, or ministry issues that deal with the gay lifestyle or movement. This is purely an exercise in practical theology. If you are homosexual or are same-sex attracted, you should be aware that this article is not meant as an attack on you in any way. My concern here is to explore what the Bible permits and what the Bible rejects, and nothing more. I hope you find this treatment of the subject worthwhile of your time and attention.

There is a growing movement in the Western Christian church that redefines the centuries-old traditional understanding of homosexuality as presented in scripture. For thousands of years homosexuality, as presented in the scripture, has always been seen as a sinful act and people who engage in homosexuality need Christ’s redemption and repentance to do away with this sin. However, a modern movement within the church has chosen to break down or redefine homosexuality into three different expressions, of which only one may be classified as sin, but not always.

The first classification is termed, “Same-Sex Attraction.” These are people who are attracted to people of the same sex, but may not necessarily carry out that attraction in their relationships. Many people struggle with same-sex attraction and do not want to have such feelings, much less engage in such behaviors. According to some in the movement, same-sex attraction does not necessarily make someone an active homosexual and thus their struggle should be classified differently and is not a sin.

The second classification is termed, “Gay Christian.” Gay Christians do not necessarily engage in homosexual behavior. Rather, they have come to accept their same-sex attraction as a part of who they are and do not resist such feelings. A Gay Christian is a person who does not regard the gay feelings as sinful and does not resist the feelings themselves, though he or she may resist the behavior.

The third classification is, “Homosexual.” This is a person who has same-sex attraction, refers to themselves as gay or perhaps even as a “Gay Christian” and engages in homosexual acts. Those who call themselves Gay Christians emphasize that their behavior should only be engaged in through gay marriage. Thus, the marriage legitimizes their feelings and behavior.

Regarding these descriptions it should be noted that there are no direct statements in the scripture to define or approve of them. Scripture used to support these descriptions are always taken from other contexts and then applied to the person’s feelings or acts, in order to justify them. For thousands of years the scripture has defined homosexuality as sinful and Jewish religious leaders and the Christian church have followed scripture’s lead where homosexual feelings or acts are concerned. Only in recent history, in the last 60 plus years have these other definitions crept into the church. At first, these definitions might seem reasonable. It is a mark of Western culture to be very exact about definitions and as Westerners we tend to break things down into smaller segments, as above, to get a better handle on what we struggle with. But in the case of the Gay Christian movement, this practice, I believe, has gone awry. I will attempt to show that, in fact, all three definitions involve sin and when it comes to sin, there can only be two responses: resistance and repentance. 

Attraction vs Desire

Attraction is the action or power of evoking interest, pleasure, or liking for someone or something, a quality or feature that evokes interest, liking, or desire. Desire can be a part of attraction, but attraction itself doesn’t necessarily mean that a desire is present. Desire is a strong feeling of wanting to have something or wishing for something to happen. As a verb it can mean to want (someone) sexually.

Attraction naturally leads to desire, though not in all cases. I may find someone attractive, but that doesn’t mean I want that person in the way that I want my wife. 

Same-sex attraction is about relational desires. Same-sex attraction precedes sexual desire, but may not lead to sexual acts in all cases. There is a difference between acknowledging beauty or handsomeness, and having a same-sex attraction or desire.

One can desire a thing and not have it be a sin because most things, in and of themselves, are not sinful. However, there are certain things in scripture that are always sinful and never become not sinful. If we desire those things, then our desires are sinful. If we desire to steal, it is sinful.  There is never a time when stealing in not sinful. If we desire adultery, it is sinful. There is never a time when adultery is not sinful. If we desire to lie, it is sinful. There is never a time when a lie is not sinful. So too, it is the same with homosexuality. There is never a time in the Bible when homosexuality is not sinful. Therefore, if one desires it the desire itself must also always be sin. Wikipedia may offer an insight to this in its definition of homosexuality. 

“Homosexuality is romantic attraction, sexual attraction, or sexual behavior between members of the same sex or gender” (Accessed 10.31.19). Notice that the general definition here defines same-sex attraction as homosexuality. There is no splitting of definitions. This definition would seem to defy the classifications above. And this is where things get sticky. Is same-sex attraction the same as homosexuality? Some people are arguing that same-sex attraction is not sinful. The idea is put forward that lust is sinful, but that an attraction is not necessarily the same as lust and is therefore not sinful. I’d like to make the argument that this perspective is mistaken.

Can One Be Same-Sex Attracted Or Homosexual And Be Becoming Like Christ?

What is the purpose of our redemption in Christ? It is to make us become like Christ in what we think, feel, and do. Christ is the image of God and we are also to be his image. Therefore, to say that same-sex attraction is permissible is to imply that Christ also may have felt same-sex attraction. Are we, as Christians, ready to go that far in saying that, or implying that Jesus could have been same-sex attracted? I think this is a dangerous road to tread. If same-sex attraction is permissible and is not sinful, then that implies that it could be Christ-like. There is no scriptural evidence for this. Hebrews 4:15 says that Christ was, “Tempted in every way, just as we are.” But, this is a general reference, it does not mean that Christ was tempted to commit every sin possible. For instance, fornication is sex outside of marriage and adultery is sex with someone other that your spouse. Jesus could not have been tempted by adultery, he was not married. Though he may have experienced temptation to fornicate. But, specifically, we don’t know this. It is speculation. Speculation is not scripture. But Jesus would certainly not identify himself as a “Fornicate Christian” (more on that later). Jesus was tempted by earthly power (Matthew 4). But he didn’t identify himself as, “Power-hungry Messiah.”

Misunderstanding Sanctification

First, a definition. According to Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary, “[Sanctification is] the process of God’s grace by which the believer is separated from sin and becomes dedicated to God’s righteousness. Accomplished by the Word of God (John 17:7) and the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:3–4), sanctification results in holiness, or purification from the guilt and power of sin…’ ‘This is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you should know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in passion of lust, like the Gentiles who do not know God’” (I Thessalonians 4:3-5). 

The purpose of our sanctification is to bring us to the point of looking like Jesus in that we are set apart to him to live a holy life. We cannot separate sanctification into areas like physical, spiritual, mental, emotional, etc. We cannot say we are sanctified in body but not in mind. If this were so, then you wouldn’t be sanctified in mind either by virtue of the physical sin committed. And if your mind isn’t sanctified, then neither is your spirit. Thus, sanctification cannot be split into parts. Sanctification is applied to the whole person, which includes our desires.

When a man has lust for a woman who is not his wife, he knows his desire is sinful and turns and repents, which includes putting a stop to his sexual desire in that instance. He makes a full turn physically as well as emotionally and mentally. However, this does not mean that the temptation won’t come again and he won’t have to battle it again. He most certainly will. According to scripture our spirits are saved, our minds are being saved, and our bodies will be saved. No one completely conquers the flesh in this life. We struggle with our flesh until the day we die. Thus, to say that same-sex attraction is permissible is to cease the struggle from sin in this area and put aside our sanctification. And when we cease the struggle from sin, we leave ourselves open to falling to that sin rather than resisting it, as scripture commands. To use the definitions above, if we accept same-sex attraction we become a “Gay Christian” who is then free to pursue their desires should they wish. Resistance of sin in this case is abandoned and sanctification, in this instance, is put aside. 

Identity

Why do we accept it when a Christian says that he or she is a “Gay Christian,” or a “Same-Sex Attracted Christian?” It seems to me that such a person is getting their identity through a sin association rather than completely upon his union with Christ. We don’t do this with any other sin. Imagine a Christian who calls himself a “Fornicate Christian,” or a “Murder Christian,” or a “Christian Liar,” or a “Christian Thief.” Such titles are absurd, are they not? Everyone experiences temptations like this from time to time, but for a Christian committed to holiness, we don’t identify ourselves in this way because we would be identifying ourselves with sin in addition to Christ. This is unacceptable. Christ does not share our identity with sin. Sin is something we are tempted by and repent of. But we certainly don’t go around identifying ourselves around specific types of sin. For instance, most Christians, especially men, are constantly bombarded with sexual messages in society and are tempted to submit to adultery. But how many Christians go around referring to themselves as “Adulterer Christians?” No one. Why? Because we don’t want to be adulterers. We don’t want to be associated with sin. So why do we permit this by saying “Gay Christian” or “Same-Sex Attracted Christian?” Has not Christ set us free? Why not differ to biblical terminology and call yourself a “Homosexual Christian?” For the simple reason that “Homosexual” in the Bible is always presented in terms of sin. We use the word, “Gay” to soften the blow. But is there any real difference? What does “Gay” mean in the first place? It means homosexual. Why would a Christian who loves Jesus call himself that?

The words we use are important; especially the words we use about God and about ourselves. For a Christian to identify himself with sin is to take Christ in partnership with that sin. We identify ourselves as both, the specific sin, and as a follower of Christ. This is non-sequitur. Now, this does not mean that we are not sinners. In a general sense we are sinners. But we identify ourselves as sinners redeemed, or sinners saved. Thus, in these terms we are placing our identity as sinners in the past, pre-Christ. If I am a Christian I am not a sinner. I am a redeemed sinner. The word “sinner” is modified by these descriptions to demonstrate that our identity as a sinner is in the past, not the present. Locate one place in scripture where the Christian is told he is a sinner. It’s not there. We may still sin, but in every case in the Bible where the word sinner is used (67, ESV) it is always used of those who practice sin, or who are without Christ, always pre-Christ, but never after being saved. Thus, to take the terms, gay or same-sex attracted as part of our current identity is to add sin to our identity in Christ which scripture rejects.

Let’s take this further. Suppose a Christian were to self-identify as a, “Boy-Attracted Christian.” He has a sexual attraction for little boys. Would we approve our church hiring him as a youth or children’s pastor? Certainly not! Would any of us defend his attraction and say the attraction itself is not sin? But this is exactly what some are proposing regarding same-sex attraction. They advocate that same-sex attraction is not sin; only the act is sin. But the Bible does not speak this way.

Here’s another way to look at it. Can you imagine yourself, hundreds of years in the future, enjoying the benefits of Heaven and seeing Jesus face-to-face and calling yourself a Gay Christian? There will be no homosexuality or same-sex attraction in Heaven. No one will refer to themselves by any such sin. We will be like Christ. If there is no gay identification in Heaven, then why should we accept that identification in our lives right now? Has not God called us out of that life or identity to something new and supernatural? One might make the point that we identify ourselves by things now that won’t exist in Heaven, such as in marriage. Yet, we forget that we will have a corporate marriage in Heaven. The church is the bride of Christ. And isn’t it interesting that the Bible uses feminine terms to describe our corporate relationship with Jesus? He is the bride-groom, and we are the bride. There is no same-sex description that applies to our relationship with Christ, whether individually or corporately. 

Conclusion

It seems to me that a Christian who simply accepts same-sex attraction in his life is losing valuable opportunity in becoming like Christ. I don’t think it is reasonable to assume that same-sex attraction can be part of a godly lifestyle. It is a temptation that must be avoided and rejected. But, in many cases, it is a very strong desire and requires help to abandon it. No one who struggles with same-sex attraction should be left alone to battle it on their own. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. Only through the power of the Holy Spirit can we conquer such sin. Likewise, to accept a classification of being a “Gay Christian” goes even further as it puts aside sanctification for something far lesser.

In all of these, the gay person, even the so-called gay Christian, should not be abandoned to their sin. The church is the body of Christ and as Paul taught, all of the members need the other members. No one crucifies the flesh alone. Spiritually speaking, you might be able to drive the nail into your feet and even one hand, but who is going to drive it into the other hand? There are simply some sins that require the help of other members of the body to destroy from our lives. Homosexuality, whether secret, private, or open, is one of them.

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Tom Terry is a broadcast specialist serving with Campus Crusade for Christ. He has served in talent and management positions for over 35 years in radio and TV in the US, Turkey, and Mongolia. He currently manages Global Broadcast Strategy for Jesus Film Project, and as a consultant for radio and TV projects in multiple countries. The author of 12 books, Tom and his wife, Diane, live in Orlando, Florida. The views expressed by Tom are solely his own and may not reflect the ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ.

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