Part 1 of 2: 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 being homosexual 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 this lifestyle 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:
Leviticus 18:21-23 (NKJV)
21 And you shall not let any of your descendants pass through the fire to Molech, nor shall you profane the name of your God: I am the Lord. 22 You shall not lie with a male as with a woman. It is an abomination. 23 Nor shall you mate with any animal, to defile yourself with it. Nor shall any woman stand before an animal to mate with it. It is perversion.
(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 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.
THE BIBLE’S TEACHING ON HOMOSEXUALITY
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:
Romans 1:22-27 (NKJV)
22 Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23 and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things.
24 Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, 25 who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.
26 For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. 27 Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due.
1 Corinthians 6:9-10 (NKJV)
9 Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals (catamites, those submitting to homosexuals) , nor sodomites (male homosexuals),10 nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.
1 Timothy 1:8-11 (NKJV)
8 But we know that the law is good if one uses it lawfully, 9 knowing this: that the law is not made for a righteous person, but for the lawless and insubordinate, for the ungodly and for sinners, for the unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for man-slayers, 10 for fornicators, for sodomites (male homosexuals), for kidnappers, for liars, for perjurers, and if there is any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine, 11 according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God which was committed to my trust.
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 (verse 22). Their foolishness then led them to worship the creation rather than the Creator (verse 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 (verses 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” (verse 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 1 Corinthians, 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 1 Timothy refutes any teaching that a homosexual lifestyle is compatible with Christianity. Notice Paul says these behaviors (including homosexuality) are contrary to sound teaching (verse 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 a homosexual lifestyle 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:
Jude 7 (NKJV)
7 as Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities around them in a similar manner to these, having given themselves over to sexual immorality and gone after strange flesh, are set forth as an example, suffering the vengeance (punishment) of eternal fire.
2 Peter 2:6-10 (NKJV)
6 and turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes, condemned them to destruction, making them an example to those who afterward would live ungodly; 7 and delivered righteous Lot, who was oppressed by the filthy conduct of the wicked 8 (for that righteous man, dwelling among them, tormented his righteous soul from day to day by seeing and hearing their lawless deeds)— 9 then the Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptations and to reserve the unjust under punishment for the day of judgment, 10 and especially those who walk according to the flesh in the lust of uncleanness and despise authority. They are presumptuous, self-willed. They are not afraid to speak evil of dignitaries,
NEXT: The Biblical Perspective on Homosexuality – PART 2: (Conclusion) Find out the Bible’s answer if a gay person can be a Christian? What do you think? Leave a comment.
“The author’s biblical interpretations and conclusions presented in this document rely on original teaching used by permission of Verse By Verse Ministry International (VBVMI). The author’s views may not represent the views of VBVMI, it’s Directors or staff. Original VBVMI teaching may be found at http://www.vbvmi.org.”
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