Can a person live a gay lifestyle and follow Christ? Is it even fair to ask someone with same-sex attraction to live a celibate life? Is Scripture’s teaching on this matter clear? Homosexuality is a divisive topic among Christians and in the broader culture, as evidenced by media coverage surrounding the Supreme Court’s recent decision. But this is not merely an issue to be debated—it is also deeply personal for many people.
As a Christian psychologist, I realize this is an extremely sensitive issue. If you have homosexual or bisexual tendencies, this is not just a cultural or theological debate—it speaks to the core of how you see yourself and how God views you.
This issue impacts not just those who identify themselves as LBGT, but all of us. Regardless of whether you identify with this struggle, you will have to sort through your own views about God, Scripture’s teaching, and homosexuality. You will likely have a good friend or family member who is gay. You’ll have to make decisions about whether or not to attend a gay wedding, whether to have your daughter and her partner over for dinner, or whether to attend a church with a gay pastor. Because of changing laws, you will have to navigate what is legal when it seems to conflict with what is biblical.
Navigating the Changing Tide
Within the last decade, the Christian opinion on homosexuality has gone through a drastic about face as many Christians have changed their minds regarding their beliefs about gender, marriage, and romantic love. Claiming that homosexuality is anything other than an acceptable lifestyle that’s approved by God is now seen by many to be unloving, judgmental, and hateful.
To make matters more confusing, there have been vigorous attempts to reinterpret the Scripture passages that directly address homosexuality (Genesis 19:1–29; Leviticus 18:22, 20:13; Romans 1:24–27; 1 Corinthians 6:9–11; 1 Timothy 1:10–11). Because of these efforts, evangelical Christians now disagree about whether the Bible condemns LGBT activity. Some write off the Old Testament passages as obsolete and interpret the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah as inhospitality and violence rather than homosexual behavior. They claim that Paul and early church leaders didn’t understand sexual orientation in the sense that we understand it today and that New Testament prohibitions against homosexual behavior speak only to orgies, pedophilia, and homosexual acts committed by heterosexuals rather than to committed, homosexual couples.
Yet while the concept of a homosexual orientation was first suggested in the 1890s, we can safely assume that men and women in biblical times struggled with sexual orientation—even if they didn’t have our modern framework and terminology to label those feelings and desires. Although the classification of LGBT issues has only recently evolved, human nature itself hasn’t changed. Scripture’s clear teaching on sexual morality addressed the same human struggles, temptations, and sin that people experience today.
Whether you experience same-sex attraction or you know someone who does, here are some key truths to consider as you navigate this complex issue.
God Is Compassionate . . . and Righteous
God’s love is limitless and extends to all humankind. His love includes gay men and women; it includes all sinners—including you and me. Let’s make sure we are absolutely clear on this point: Jesus’ life on earth showed us that he extended great love to all of humanity, including those society deemed as “unworthy” of love.
At the same time, in his love God gives us boundaries. God’s compassion never cancels out his truth and holiness. Because he loves us, he knows that we are most fulfilled, as he intends us to be fulfilled, when we live according to his design.
The truth about God is that he is both absolutely holy and unconditionally loving. We can never understand God’s love if we don’t also embrace his holiness. Oswald Chambers wrote in Love: A Holy Command, “Anything that belittles or obliterates the holiness of God by a false view of the love of God is untrue to the revelation given by Jesus Christ.”
Yes, God is so full of mercy and compassion. However, his love has never cancelled out his call for all of us to yield our lives—including our sexuality—to his holiness, no matter the cost. We completely miss the character of God if we ignore his call to obedience and holiness because of his love. This loving God judges sin and tells his people to “be holy because I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16).
Attraction Isn’t the Same as Action
Every single one of us can identify with a specific temptation that seems to plague us. Perhaps the draw to pornography seems too strong to resist, or maybe you feel like you just can’t stop sleeping with your boyfriend. Or perhaps you tend to lie more naturally than telling the truth or you secretly love a juicy morsel of gossip. We all struggle with sin and brokenness; we are all in need of God’s grace.
Because sexuality is so closely tied to our sense of identity, separating same-sex desires from homosexual action is often difficult. Unfortunately, many Christian men and women who experience same-sex attraction feel condemned by the church simply for having the battle. Religious institutions have heaped on shame by wrongly categorizing homosexual urges as more detestable than any other temptation.
There is nothing sinful about the struggle of a person with homosexual attraction. We all struggle with something, be it depression, alcoholism, rage, habitual masturbation, bulimia, or any number of temptation and difficulties. Yet there is a difference between dealing with an ongoing struggle and legitimizing the behaviors the struggle may lead to. While we can’t control what we struggle with, we can control whether we yield that temptation to the Lord.
We Are All Called to Self-Denial
“God would never give someone sexual desires that he doesn’t intend to fulfill. That’s just unfair!” This kind of thinking pervades modern Christianity and not just in regard to homosexuality. A Christian woman who recently contacted me had this to say:
I used to be an advocate for waiting to have sex until marriage, but as the years have gone by I no longer feel this way. I think it’s all well and good for teens and those in their early twenties to strive for such a goal, but as someone who has recently entered her late twenties, it seems like an outdated and irrelevant idea to hold on to. I'm dating a Christian man right now, but who knows if we will have sex outside of marriage. . . . I just know that waiting isn't something I'm personally interested in anymore.
While indeed it may not seem “fair” to deny one’s sexual urges or romantic feelings, God’s call for disciples has never been “fair.” Jesus came to give us a full life (John 10:10), yet his command to us as his disciples is to deny yourself, lose your life, and take up your cross and follow him—even unto death (Matthew 16:24–26)! Scripture’s call to sexual holiness isn’t meant to be easy or even feel fair.
While pursuing our desires may provide a degree of happiness, God doesn’t want us to merely be happy. He longs for his children to discover a deeper joy and contentment that comes through fellowship with him and a grateful heart. Sometimes he doesn’t allow us to have what we desire because he longs to teach us an abiding happiness and joy that the world can never take away.
Jesus calls not just those who identify as LGBT to “deny themselves,” but he also ushers that challenge to every disciple. Deny your pride, your lust, and your self-righteousness. Deny your rights to please yourself for the greater joy of pleasing your Father in heaven.
The call to surrender your sexual desires rather than acting out of them requires great sacrifice. It may, at times be painful, exhausting, and lonely. We only make a choice like this because we love God more than we love ourselves.
There are many godly men and women who make this choice—who continue to struggle with homosexual thoughts and urges throughout their lives but who have committed themselves to saying no to temptation. On the other hand, choosing a lifestyle outside of God’s will expressed in Scripture—whether that’s living with your boyfriend before marriage or sleeping with other women—is choosing a different path than obedience and intimacy with God.
God Redeems and Heals
God’s redemption, grace, and healing are for all of us—those with opposite-sex attraction and those with same-sex attraction. Yet we sometimes make the mistake of dictating what healing in the area of homosexuality ought to look like. For example, if a woman has sexual desire for another woman, we may assume that healing means she becomes attracted to men; gets married to a caring, Christian husband; has a house full of children; and lives happily ever after in her feminine, suburban home. If that doesn’t happen (or a woman superficially embraces these trappings of “normal feminine life” simply to prove that she’s redeemed), it may seem that God’s healing has failed.
We must remember: God is God. How he deals with each of us in our sin and brokenness—whatever that struggle may be—is ultimately God’s business. Healing and redemption for any person usually doesn’t mean his or her messy life is suddenly cleaned up and wrapped in a nice, neat bow. The apostle Paul alluded to the messiness of his own redemption story. Throughout his Christian walk, he lived with a “thorn in the flesh” (2 Corinthians 12:7) that God refused to remove in order to keep Paul dependent upon God’s grace. Paul longed for heaven so he could be free from this fallen world and the struggle of his own flesh.
God’s healing for a person dealing with homosexual feelings may not be to give him or her heterosexual desire. God’s desire for you is not necessarily heterosexuality, but holiness. Ultimately, the greatest healing for any person comes when we learn to submit every desire to the lordship of Jesus Christ. Sometimes God delivers us from our brokenness, and other times he strengthens us through our struggle with it. The bottom line is this: God’s power is sufficient in your weakness, even if that happens to be a pull toward homosexuality. Living a godly life doesn’t mean embracing sin nor does it involve the absence of continual temptation. It means accepting God’s compassionate love while also relying on God’s strength to pursue holiness.
Changing Culture, Unchanging God
One of the most wonderful things about being a Christ-follower is that God doesn’t change. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). Although human interpretations of biblical teaching on sexuality may change, the Word of God was a solid foundation for Christians living 2,000 years ago and is the same for Christians living today. “The grass withers, and the flowers fall; but the word of our God endures forever” (Isaiah 40:8, NIV). I take great comfort in knowing that God’s teachings are true and unchanging—even when it becomes difficult to stand on those truths as the cultural tide turns against them.
While the news may be filled with headlines about our culture’s shifting views of sexuality, remember that God has not changed—and neither have his requirements for us. “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8, NIV).