What does the Bible say about Homosexuality?

Borrowed from the University Student Council, UP Diliman

What exactly does the Bible teach about homosexuality?

I figured out these past days that so many people continue to ask this question, especially among college students. The issue is, of course, hotly debated even in our very own University of the Philippines, making it a very valid question to answer.

I do concede that my voice on this issue is but one among many. I'm not expecting this post to finally nail the coffin, but I want to provide students a balanced view on what the Bible teaches about homosexuality.

In dealing with this subject, we have to begin with God. We have to have at least some understanding of who He is in order to put homosexuality in a proper perspective.

The Holiness of God is Our Standard

I think the most important revelation about God on this topic is His holiness. In 1 John 1:5, we read that God is light and there is not a single hint of darkness in Him. What this tells us is that God's holiness is perfect. He is absolutely set apart from darkness or evil or sin. He cannot commit it, and He does not tolerate it (Habakkuk 1:13).

What does this mean for us? God has set the standard for all human beings. He commands us to be holy and perfect, for He is holy and perfect (Leviticus 19:2; Matthew 5:48). Whenever we fail to meet this standard -- and everyone certainly has-- we sin. After all, "sin," from the original Greek, means "to miss the mark." The imagery is like that of an archer missing the bull's eye.

We sin whenever we fail to meet God's standard, but this standard is certainly impossible to reach on our own. Here are a few examples to support my case.

In the 10 Commandments, we read about God's prohibitions against murder and adultery (Exodus 20). I believe that many of us think that these two are among the last that we'll do. Jumping to the New Testament, however, we see that the two commands are actually among the most commonly broken ones. How so?

In 1 John 3:15, murder and hate are treated as equals. That is, whenever we hate anyone, we already murder him or her in our hearts. Similarly, adultery happens not only when a married person develops an illicit affair. By simply looking at a woman or a man with lust in our eyes, Jesus says, we already commit adultery (Matthew 5:28).

And to put the bar even higher, James wrote, "For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it (James 2:10)." When we sin even just once, we fail God's standard. If this is an exam, the only ones who will pass are those who get a perfect score. It's all or nothing. The truth is, on our own, we will never pass.

Such understanding of God's standard for our lives and this view of sin are necessary for us to see that Christians are NOT isolating the practice of homosexuality as a very special sin. Sin is sin. God is displeased with it because sin is an open rebellion against His holiness.

These truths are also necessary to understand that Christians are not perfect people seeking to judge and condemn "sinners." Christians are sinners also, considering God's impossible standard for righteousness. The only difference for them is that they've trusted in the only One who reached God's standard (Hebrews 5:15) and believed in His righteousness (1 Peter 3:18) that can reconcile them back to God-- Jesus Christ.

Thus, when Christianity talks about homosexuality as sin it means that giving in to it is consciously abandoning God's perfect standard and indulging in what He disapproves.

After all, we must look at God as a Father who desires to give us what's best through His righteous standards, and not as a grumpy old man waiting to punish anyone who fails to meet His demands.

Homosexuality and God's Standard

So, how does homosexuality square with God's standard?

Before answering this question, I think it's useful to note that Bible-believing Christians distinguish between people who struggle with homosexuality and those who give in to it. The former group seeks help. They are people who have same-sex attraction, are aware of it but still desire to uphold God's righteous standard in their lives.

The latter group, however, chooses to indulge in the homosexual lifestyle. They turned away from God's standard and chose to follow what they think is right, regardless of what the Bible or their conscience says.

Thus, a Christian condemns not the person but the act. This may sound absurd for some, but by experience, I know that it is possible. By God's grace, Christians are able to genuinely love homosexuals even if they disapprove of their lifestyle. This is the proper attitude because Scripture is clear that God alone is Judge over all.

It is not for me to judge the person struggling or indulging, but I can echo what God's Word says about homosexuality.

God's Disapproval

On plain reading, we can find several passages in the Old  and the New Testament talking about homosexuality. And each and every one disapproves it.

(Leviticus 18:22) Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable.

(Leviticus 20:13) If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They are to be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.

The story of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19:1-11 

The story of the men of Gibeah in Judges 19:16-24

(Romans 1:26-27) Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.

(1 Corinthians 6:9-11) Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

(1 Timothy 1:8-10) We know that the law is good if one uses it properly. We also know that the law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, for the sexually immoral, for those practicing homosexuality, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine...

(Jude 6-7) And the angels who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their proper dwelling—these he has kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day. In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire. 

I am aware that there are gay revisionist theologians who proposed alternative readings to the passages cited above. It's not my goal to answer their objections, but the book entitled, "The Bible, the Church and Homosexuality" may be of help.

God's Design for Sexual Relationships

Another way of understanding God's position on the subject is by looking at what He approves as the model and design for sexual relationships. This is found at the very beginning of the Bible, in the first two chapters of Genesis.

In Genesis 1:27-28, we read:

So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

At the very beginning of time, God designed humankind as male and female. He also commanded them to procreate so as to fill and subdue the earth. Thus, sex is designed only between a male and a female. But more precisely, we read in Genesis 2:20-25 that it is reserved for the marriage bed.

So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals. But for Adam no suitable helper was found. So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.” That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh. Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.

The most suitable partner and helper for a man is a woman. This is true because by design, they are complementary. They complement each other not only physically but also emotionally.

Using both passages, we read that God's standard for sex is between a man and a woman in a loving and lifelong marriage covenant before God. Whenever we indulge in sex beyond this very limiting parameter, we fail God's standard, and so we sin.

Notice, however, that homosexuality is just one of the many ways this standard is broken. We also have fornication, adultery, orgies, solo-sex or masturbation, pornography, and bestiality among others. This coincides with my earlier point that God looks at sin as sin. There is no special treatment. They all fail His righteous standard.

What Jesus Has to Say

Right up to this point there is one person whom we have not yet heard-- Jesus Christ. Surely He has something to say about homosexuality, hasn't he? The Epistles in the New Testament would have not disapproved of the practice of homosexuality if Jesus Himself did not. But where did He say so?

To be honest, the Scripture does not record Jesus as saying something like, "Woe to those who practice homosexuality  for theirs is the wrath of God!" No. Instead, He opted to affirm God's design for sexual relations at creation. We read this in Matthew 19:4-6 when Jesus was challenged about the issue of divorce.

"Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

He basically joined both passages in Genesis 1 and 2. I believe that Jesus did this because He wanted to be more inclusive. As Apologist Ravi Zacharias puts it, there are usually two ways of arguing one's case. The first one is by demolishing all counter-arguments in a the-last-man-standing strategy. The other, is by building a foolproof case that will withstand and prove false all counter-arguments thrown at it.

Jesus chose the second strategy when He re-echoed God's design way back at the beginning of time. This is the best course for the Scripture affirms that the wickedness in people's hearts is so great that they "invent ways of doing evil (Romans 1:30)." 

Pornography would have not been considered sinful because Jesus never once spoke against it. How could He when computers do not even exist during His time? But because He laid out what He approves, whatever comes along that is contrary to this standard, we know that He disapproves.

Reality of Change Through Christ

So we see from the Old Testament to the New, from the Father to the Son, that the Bible is consistent about homosexuality failing God's standard. It is sin.

It is frightening to think that there are people who choose that path still. But our fallen nature-- starting from Adam and Eve-- prevents us from actually choosing righteousness, even if God clearly laid out that He will punish each and every sin with spiritual and physical death (Romans 6:23a) to satisfy His justice.

This is why grace is necessary for a person's salvation. We cannot save ourselves through ourselves. We need the supernatural intervention of God. And in the case of the person struggling or the person indulging, grace from God is also the singular solution to break the chains of homosexuality.

The beauty of the Gospel is this-- grace has been freely given by God when He sent Jesus to die on the cross. Someone may say, "How on earth can He understand the struggles raging inside me? How can Jesus relate when He never struggled with homosexuality?"

2 Corinthians 5:21 proves this person wrong. Here we read that "God made him (Jesus) who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." No one knows sin more than Jesus because on the cross, ALL of humanity's sins-- past, present and future-- were put upon Him. He took them all as our substitute so that when God crushed Him on the cross, He satisfied His justice without annihilating us, the actual sinners.

What did He accomplish with this death? Jesus put away sin once for all so that  He may be able to impute -- that is to credit to another person's account-- His very own perfect and righteous condition to all those who put their faith in Him as Lord and Savior.

We reach God's standard of righteousness not by our own flawed righteousness but by the righteousness of Jesus which we receive when we believe in Him. It is not by our works but by grace through faith in Him alone (Ephesians 2:8-9).

This is also the reason why a Christian can only go as far as delivering the message of the Gospel, including God's righteous standard. Transformation comes from God alone. This is true for struggling homosexuals as well.

Christians are not their judge; we are, instead, their messengers. We come to share Jesus as the answer to their struggles but leave the inner workings and the blossoming of faith to the Holy Spirit. To this end, we labor so that as many as would believe, they will also experience change.

Yes, change is real. This is affirmed by Scripture in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 which we read earlier.

Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

Some of the Corinthians believers once indulged in the homosexual lifestyle, but the blood of Christ washed them, cleansed them and gave them the life that is truly life, a life to the fullest. They were able to turn away from it, perhaps slowly and painfully, all by God's grace and enabling. 

After all, God did not call us to be straight. He called us to be holy. So whether struggling or not, our aim must be to please God by offering our bodies as living sacrifices (Romans 12:1). We can do this first by turning from our sins and turning to Christ for salvation.

We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God. (2 Corinthians 5:20 )
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