*When I use the term “gay Christian” in this article, I am not referring to people who struggle with homosexual feelings but strive not to act out on them because of their belief that the Bible condemns homosexual behavior. When I say “gay Christian,” I am referring to people who say they’re Christians but also accept their homosexual feelings as a good part of their human experience and have no problem engaging in monogamous, committed, same-sex relationships.*
Earlier this week I was interviewed on what some would call a “liberal” Christian podcast. I was initially hesitant when they asked me to come on, but after some prayer I agreed to accept because 1) the hosts are spectacular and friendly guys, even if some of their biblical perspectives may not align with mine, and 2) I knew there would probably be a lot of gay Christians* who would listen to the interview. This was a fantastic opportunity to engage those on the other side of the theological fence – something I’m always down to do.
As I anticipated, a massive chunk of our discussion was centered on the concept of gay Christians. One of the questions they asked me was (I’m paraphrasing), “Do you think a person’s decision to embrace their homosexuality invalidates their Christian faith?”
In other words, can someone really be a gay Christian?
I’ve written on this touchy subject a few times over the last four years, and as I told the show hosts, my answer used to be a flat out NO! When I looked into the Bible, I saw no category for someone who could be authentically clinging to Christ while simultaneously saying they had no problem with their sexual sin. I’m not exactly on the same page I was a few years ago, but before I get into that, I want to be clear that there are solid biblical grounds for opposing the idea of a gay Christian.
Take this passage, for example:
“Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. – 1 John 3:4-9
What John is saying here is that Christians and sin are no longer compatible. In commenting on this passage, Pastor John Macarthur says, “Is this some kind of perfection? No. But [putting sin to death and practicing righteousness] is a direction – THE direction – of the life of a true believer.” When someone is born of God, it is not just their legal status that changes, (guilty à pardoned), but their nature as well. The Spirit of God gives followers of Jesus new desires and changes the overall direction of their lives. Instead of growing in godlessness, believers grow in Christ-likeness.
The teaching found in 1 John rightly represents the entire New Testament’s position on how Christians should interact with sin. For this reason, I cannot affirm someone who professes Christ yet gladly and habitually practices homosexuality.
However, while homosexual behavior – or any other immorality – shouldn’t be embraced or practiced by the children of God, does that mean it never is? Well, no. Christians don’t always follow the righteous desires of their new spiritual nature. In Romans Chapter 7, Paul honestly admits his old sinful nature still strikes a blow sometimes.
He writes, “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate…. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.”
We know from the rest of Paul’s writings that what he’s not doing here is describing the whole sum of his Christian life. Followers of Jesus do walk in progressive – sometimes dreadfully slow – victory over sin. But what Paul is showing us here is that for as long as we dwell in this fallen flesh, we will not walk perfect victory. Though believers have been given a new heart and the gift of the Holy Spirit, the law of sin that dwells in our flesh continues to wage war against our new nature. We struggle. We stumble. We face plant.
Christians afflicted by homosexual feelings are no exception.
They – we – struggle. Sometimes we fall into sin momentarily and repentance comes quickly (which I believe is primarily what Paul is referring to in Romans 7), but sometimes we walk in sin for seasons and repentance delays. You might respond, and rightly so, “Well Matt there is a difference in struggling against sin and ‘strugglelessly’ embracing sin.” I totally agree. There is a difference between someone who says, “I keep giving into this sin, but I hate it! I don’t want to do what I’m doing!” and someone who says, “I really don’t think this is a sin, and I don’t feel bad about doing it.” I don’t believe the Bible teaches that a Christian can be content and happy while they’re immersed in unrepentant sin. But . . . not everyone who says they’re happy in sin is actually happy in sin.
I came to faith in Jesus in 2010, but in 2013 I strayed from the Lord and entered in to a homosexual relationship for a couple of months. As I began settling into sin, my mind became a dark and confusing place. I was considering either rejecting the faith in totality or adopting a gay-affirming view of Christianity. Thankfully, I opted for neither of these devilish options. I eventually repented of my sin and threw myself onto the abundant mercies of God in Christ. But if you would’ve asked me prior to my repentance if I was “struggling against the sin that I hate,” I most likely would’ve said I wasn’t.
Inwardly, I was in turmoil. Every other night I would call my pastor or show up on his porch when I was feeling ripped in two between Jesus and the guy I was dating. I was not content in my sin. Even in the moments I’d convinced myself God didn’t care if I dated a guy, I still felt dissatisfied and anxious. However, I didn’t let everyone see the truth. Outwardly, with pretty much everyone aside from my pastor, I acted as if all was well. I even told some people that I was incredibly happy. Based on my own communication, many people could have said, “Matt isn’t conflicted one bit by the way he’s living.” But I was – oh, how I was!
After this season in 2013, I changed my biblical stance on whether or not a true Christian can practice, and apparently embrace, homosexual behavior. I realized that when Christians settle into the darkness of sin for a season, they can become very confused about what they feel, think, and believe. They may be communicating that all is well with their soul, but what’s really going on inside of them could be a totally different story.
For this reason, I cannot condemn someone who professes Christ yet seems to have no inner conflict over their practice of homosexuality. I am not omniscient, I cannot know what is truly taking place in a person’s heart and rightly judge the state of their soul. I cannot look into the eyes of a gay Christian and say, “You’re not saved.”
But does this mean I do and say nothing? No! While it is possible for Christians to fall into seasons of sin and deception, it is incredibly dangerous! The professing Christian who embraces homosexuality is in a life or death situation (Hebrews 10) and we must treat it as such. We must warn them that the path they’re treading on is not the narrow way that leads to life, but the wide path that leads to destruction. We’ve got to repeatedly tell them that though the Bible does say Christians will struggle with sin, it also says that Christians will wage war against sin. If they continue to set their mind on the flesh and gladly embrace their sin, it’s possible they may end up proving that they are not legitimate Christians.
“No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God.” – 1 John 3:9.
I think Paul’s two letters to the Corinthians give us some wisdom on how to rightly treat and engage those who profess Christ while refusing to fight their sexual sin.
1) How we handle it individually: “I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one.” 1 Corinthians 5: 9-11.
This seems extreme and totally unlike anything contemporary Christians would practice. Some may object, “But how can we try to help the deceived people we love if we can’t even eat with them?” I don’t think that Paul is saying we should totally cut these them off, but rather, “Do not have fellowship with these people,”—as in, “Don’t link arms with these people in your pursuit and enjoyment of Christ.” We aren’t to take the Lord’s Supper or partake in other spiritual activities with these people. Our spiritual communication and interaction with those refusing to repent of sin should be filled with warnings from Scripture and pleads to turn from sin. In my season of rebellion, my close Christian friends ceaselessly begged me to turn from my glad indulgence in sin. Their refusal to ignore or minimize my unrepentant sin is what kept me from ignoring or minimizing my unrepentant sin. I am forever grateful for their bold, Christ-centered love toward me.
2) How we handle it corporately: “It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife. And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you. For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing. When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.” – 1 Corinthians 5: 1-5.
Again, this seems extreme to contemporary perspectives. Every time I’ve heard about pastors mentioning or practicing church discipline (specifically exclusion from community), I’ve also heard disagreeable Christians responding, “That’s unloving!” But according to God’s Word, including Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 18, it’s not unloving. It’s actually the most loving thing a church can do in that situation. The aim of church discipline is restoration. The hope is that in being excluded from the community of the believers, the unrepentant person will be shaken to sobriety and remember that obedience to Christ is sweeter than sin. Apparently, based on Paul’s next letter, the sexually immoral man in the Corinthian church did repent of his sin. In response, Paul commands: “For such a one, this punishment by the majority is enough, so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. So I beg you to reaffirm your love for him.” – 2 Corinthians 2:6-8.
My hope is that the vast majority of the people professing Christ while embracing their homosexual feelings will repent and begin waging war against their sin. But I believe that this will only happen if the Church will engage with these people as God has told us to in his Word. We shouldn’t affirm them and we shouldn’t condemn them, but we absolutely can’t sit by silently as they let their sin swallow them up. We’ve got to love these people with deep gospel love by telling them the truth: Jesus demands their repentance. Jesus is worthy of their repentance. And fellowship with Jesus — which requires walking in repentance — is where joy is found.