“Is same-sex attraction a sin?” This question was asked by a pastor to a group of high school students as part of a talk on sexual identity. My son attends this group, and after inquiring what would be talked about, the pastor invited me to join the group for the evening, so I did. His talk needed much clarity, so for my sons sake and others, I decided to write this post. His premise was three-fold. First, homosexuality is a sin. Second, the Bible does not address same-sex attraction. And third, same-sex attraction is not a sin. Let’s look at each of these briefly.
Homosexuality is a Sin
The Bible is clear that homosexuality is a sin. Of course, making that statement is about as enjoyable as a doctor telling a patient she has cancer. And it is received with the same range of emotions. Some weep. Others rage. And we are seeing both occur when brave men and women state what the Bible says, that homosexuality is a sin. But in case you are new to the topic, Leviticus 18:22 states, “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.” In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul identifies homosexuality as sin in Romans 1:26-27 and in 1 Timothy 1:10.
Homosexuality, according to Romans 1:21-25, is the consequence of another more serious problem, which is idolatry. Here is the problem in a nutshell: humans spurn the Creator, refusing to glorify God or give Him thanks and worship creation instead of the Creator. Paul tells us that when people exchange the glory of God for creation that they exchange the truthfulness of God for a lie. God gives humans over to their own selfish desires, one of which is the manifestation of homosexuality. God giving individuals over to the depravity of their lusts is, in part, His judgment upon someone. The point of Romans 1:21-25 is not primarily that same-sex temptation and acts are a perversion of God’s good design. This is, of course, a true principle that comes from this passage. However, the main point that we must understand is that homosexuality is God’s act of judgment for idolatry.
Most of us probably know a family member or friend who is actively living in homosexual sin. If we wish to help them, which we should, then what they need is not therapeutic counseling or kid glove coddling. Their soul is in danger of hell and we must treat them with compassion but also great concern. Romans 1 tells us that homosexuality isn’t the problem. Worship is. Homosexuality exists because the worship of God does not. So this tells us where we need to direct our efforts. If we want to see a homosexual person turn from his or her sin, then we need to help them see and savor the greatness of God and beauty of Christ. What is needed is heart change based on repentance of sin and a new affection for Christ. Sin withers only when the Gospel is brought to bear on it. Thomas Chalmers states,
“There is not one personal transformation in which the heart is left without an object of ultimate beauty and joy. The hearts desire for one particular object can be conquered, but its desire to have some object is unconquerable. The only way to disposes the old heart of an object of affection is by the expulsive power of a new one” (The Expulsive Power of a New Affection).
Sin can only be conquered when Jesus is savored as more beautiful and satisfying than the sin. The Gospel motivates us to say no to sin rather than, “I can sin because I will be forgiven later.” We hate sin because God died for it and because we know that God never lets us sin successfully. So the point here is that we must wholeheartedly recognize that homosexuality is a sin. But we must go deeper. We must see that it is a result of idolatry and deal with the root issue.
Same-Sex Attraction in the Bible
The pastor’s second premise was that the Bible does not deal with same-sex attraction. This is about as true as saying the Bible doesn’t have anything to say about education, grandparenting, or the Trinity. If we pull out our trusty concordance, we will find that these words are rather scarce, even absent from the Bible all together. The same is true of same-sex attraction. Should we assume that the Bible is silent on this subject? To make such an assumption is erroneous. The Bible has a lot to say about education, grandparenting, and the Trinity as well as many other subjects that we will not find by name in a concordance. The problem isn’t the silence of Scripture, the issue is an exegetical fallacy of presupposing our own category or terminology on Scripture, not finding it, and claiming it isn’t present.
This is much the same as me trying to locate my son in our home and asking the other children where I may find Frank. To which they would tell me that Frank doesn’t live at this house and would tell me to look elsewhere. But if I asked my children where I may find Jay, they could point me in the right direction, maybe even tell me what room he is in, because his name is Jay not Frank. We must know the Bible’s name or category for a particular topic in order to properly find it. If we misname it or miscategorize it, we will think the Bible is silent when in fact it is not. The Bible’s name for same-sex attraction is sexual temptation. Once we understand this, suddenly the Bible has a lot to say about same-sex attraction.
Same-Sex Attraction is a Temptation to be Fought
This brings us to the third point, that same-sex attraction is not sin. On the surface, this is a difficult subject to gain clarity about. But when we address this topic using biblical language, it clears up the fog considerably. Let us ask the question on the Bible’s terms. Is same-sex temptation a sin? Now we have a category from which to answer this question from Scripture.
There is a biblical category for being tempted without sinning. It is true to say that temptation itself is not sin. James 1:14-15 makes a distinction between temptation that leads to sin and the sin itself. The feelings of same-sex attraction are not always active sin, but it is a desire for something sinful, so we must take great care with how we navigate this topic.
In Matthew 5:27-28, Jesus equated lust with adultery. This establishes an important biblical principle: if it is a sin to do something, it is also a sin to desire to do that same thing. Any desire for something God has forbidden is sin. Because the Bible states that homosexuality is a sin, it is also sinful to desire to commit homosexual acts.
Same-sex attraction becomes sin if it turns into lust. Once the attraction turns into a desire to do something sexually that God forbids, it has become sin in the heart. It is not wrong to think another person is attractive, but where is the line between attraction becoming lust? Same-sex attraction is a desire for something God has forbidden, and as such, it should not become a fire that we feed or a friend that is courted, but a temptation that is fought.
John Piper has some insightful words on the matter of same-sex attraction: “It would be right to say that same-sex desires are sinful in the sense that they are disordered by sin and exist contrary to God’s revealed will. But to be caused by sin and rooted in sin does not make a sinful desire equal to sinning. Sinning is what happens when rebellion against God expresses itself through our disorders” (Let Marriage Be Held in Honor).
Same-sex attraction is best understood as a temptation that can easily become a sin. If a thought or desire is allowed to turn into something more, it becomes a lustful sin. So what should a person do when a momentary same-sex attraction pops into his head? The Bible tells us to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5). Here we get to the crux of the matter. Individuals need to be taught how to battle temptation, not coddle it.
How is the believer to defeat temptation? What does the Bible tell us to do with sexual temptation? The Bible tells us to flee from sin, to fight for purity, and to saturate our mind on God’s Word, guarding it from impurity. In sharp contrast to the world, God calls His people to be pure (1 Thess. 4:3-7). The Bible tells us that the heart is the battleground to conquer sexual sin, including same-sex attraction. To achieve victory, the focus must be on the internal first and then the external. Fighting against sexual sin and temptation is constant and difficult, but it is a battle that every believer can win if they rely upon the resources that God provides such as meditation on Scripture, devotion to prayer, and fellowship with the church. Christians of all ages need biblical tools to fight temptation so that we are not sent into battle without any weapons.
In addition, the Bible speaks regularly about the consequences of sexual sin. In fact, this is one of the biblical methods of encouraging young people to defeat sexual temptation. Young people can be reminded of the long lasting consequences of sexual sin, such as death (Prov. 7:22-27), loss of wealth (Prov. 5:10), lifelong regret (5:11-14), and shame and destruction (Prov. 6:32-35).
Same-sex attraction may come “natural” to some people, but we all “naturally” desire things that are sinful. The presence of these desires is not an excuse to allow them to take up residence in our heart or to act upon them. Is it right for a “naturally” angry person to allow feelings of bitterness in their heart? Is it right for a “naturally” greedy person to desire their neighbor’s possessions? Of course not. We have the responsibility to resist temptation and to fight these sinful desires and so does anyone who naturally has a same-sex attraction.
Getting rid of sin is like getting rid of weeds. If weeds are allowed to grow, they will take over. If they are cut off at the ground, they will keep growing back. If we want to kill weeds, we have to pull them up at the roots. This is what we must do with sin and this is what must happen with same-sex attraction. We cannot deal with sin on the surface. We must root it out. The great puritan preacher John Owens once wrote, “Be killing sin or it be killing you.” It is foolish to take sexual desires lightly, entertain them in our mind, or overestimate our ability to resist temptation. We must flee sinful desires and aggressively attack sin in our life. The same is to be true for those who struggle with same-sex attraction.
The Lord designed sex as a wonderful expression between a husband and wife, but those who use sex selfishly or apart from God’s good design will experience much heartache and ruin. Same-sex attraction is the result of a broken creation and for that reason is sinful. Same-sex attraction is not the same as sinning, but it should be treated like all temptation to sin. If you are a Christian and have sinned sexually, know that God has forgiven you based on what Christ has done on the cross. If sin is confessed, God is faithful to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). May God empower us to have victory over sexual sin for His glory and our good.