Stephen D. Doe
Homosexuality is a hot-button issue in American society. The acceptance of homosexuality is part of many movies and television shows. Newspapers and politicians routinely endorse it as a normal expression of one's sexuality. "Coming out of the closet," or acknowledging one's homosexual orientation, is actually a badge of honor today.
One of the most frequently asserted claims is that homosexuality is primarily a matter of genetics. Although there is no hard scientific evidence for the existence of a "gay gene," it is commonly accepted that if someone is sexually attracted to persons of their own gender, they cannot help it, because sexual orientation is predetermined, like race or eye color. If people are reluctant to say that homosexuality is genetic, they will say that childhood abuse, parental failure, early seduction, or sexual stereotyping probably causes some people to identify themselves as homosexually oriented.
It is considered offensive by many today to speak of "curing" or changing someone who is gay. Homosexuality is not a disease or a problem with which one needs to deal, we are told. It is simply an alternative lifestyle, one of the choices people make. We don't worry about changing someone's race or eye color; we just accept it. Homosexuality, it is said, is no different. To talk of a need for change only reveals our own ignorance and prejudice.
Or we may feel that we can't promise too much to someone trying to leave a homosexual lifestyle. Realistically, we think, they will face a lifelong struggle with temptation, and we are offering false hope to them if we speak of real, lasting change.
What can the average Christian say to a society that has embraced the homosexual presuppositions about the normality of homosexual attraction and has rejected the idea that change is desirable or even possible? What should a Christian say when he is told that he is the one (along with his Bible) that is in need of change because of his outmoded and hurtful ways of thinking?
The Christian must turn to what the Creator has said. Our culture's arguments are not, ultimately, with Christians. Our society has rejected God himself. It has rejected God's claim to speak authoritatively to man, his image bearer (Gen. 1:26-28). That is the real issue.
Let us look at a time and place even more permissive than our own, namely, first-century Corinth. What did the apostle Paul say to believers who were living in a God-denying culture where virtually any kind of sexual behavior was thought to be legitimate? In 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, Paul said this:
Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders 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.
The Bible locates the origin of homosexual behavior in man's sinful heart (cf. Mark 7:21-23). Although there are factors that affect our actions, like the patterns we learn as children or physical problems, our sinful responses to life come from our fallen nature (Gen. 6:5; 8:21; Ps. 51:5; Shorter Catechism Q. 16-19).
Paul lists homosexuality as one of the expressions of man's sinful rebellion against his creator. Remember, however, that Paul includes homosexuals in a list of types of sinners. They are not singled out or highlighted; they are simply mentioned along with others. There are sins that Paul mentions which Christians too easily excuse, like greed or slander, while reacting strongly to sins like adultery or homosexuality. All sin, though, demonstrates rebellion against God (Rom. 3:9-19).
In 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, Paul uses four words to describe people who commit various sexual sins. First he uses a general word for those who sin sexually (pornoi). Next he speaks more specifically of those who break the marriage covenant (moichoi). Then he uses two words to describe those who engage in homosexual activity. The first word, translated in the NIV as "male prostitutes," comes from a root that means "soft," and hence refers to those who are effeminate (malakoi). The other word graphically refers to "those who lie in bed with a man as with a woman" (arsenokoitai).
All of these sins are violations of the seventh commandment (cf. Larger Catechism Q. 139). Paul is not putting homosexual activity in a special, more heinous category of sin, but showing that it is one of the ways in which people try to live apart from the rule of God.
What does God think of sin? Paul says that it excludes people from the kingdom of God, for they are renouncing the rule of God. Those who continue in these sins will be separated from God and his kingdom forever. Homosexuality is included because it is a rejection of God's created rule for our sexuality (Gen. 2:18-25), saying that man knows better than his creator how he is to live. Paul links homosexuality and idolatry in Romans 1 because the homosexual becomes his own god and lawgiver.
Therefore, Christians must confess, with Scripture, that homosexuality is rebellion against God and a violation of God's law, rooted in the sinfulness of the human heart. Yet this is not bad news. This is actually good news, because it points to true hope.
The good news is that the guilt, penalty, and power of sin are eternally altered by God's saving work. People can be changed from their homosexually expressed rebellion by the power of God (Rom. 1:16-17). The picture that Paul paints is not one where someone exchanges one kind of sinful behavior for another. If there is only an end to homosexual behavior without conversion, an ex-gay will still go to hell. The change needed comes by being made alive to God by his power (Eph. 2:1-10; 1 Pet. 1:3-5; John 3:1-8).
God's power truly changes lives. Since his power enables people to overcome all sorts of sins, it enables them to overcome homosexuality as much as any other sin. In verse 11, Paul says that "some of you were" committing these various sins. These sins had characterized their lives at one time, but then a dramatic transformation took place. People whose lives were formerly dominated by sin were washed off, consecrated or set apart for God, and declared righteous in his sight, by being united to Christ through faith as the Holy Spirit applied the fruit of Christ's redemption to them.
The hope of true change is available to every repentant sinner, for the person who is effectually called by God does indeed become a new creature in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17). To be justified, as some of those formerly homosexual brethren were, is to be accepted as righteous in God's sight for the sake of Christ's work (not our own merit), received by faith (Gal. 2:16), and so to be no longer subject to condemnation for our sin (Rom. 8:1-4).
Here, however, is the challenge that the church always faces. Do we truly receive as fellow saints those who come out of overtly sinful lifestyles? Isn't it too uncomfortable to know that the person sitting next to you in worship was formerly a __________a sinner like yourself! We want to treat people struggling with homosexuality differently, but Paul assumes that every believer is equally a saint through the work of Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 1:2). There is no place for fear or withdrawal because some sins have a special status in our eyes.
Those leaving a homosexually oriented life need the people of God to be willing to encourage, befriend, and patiently love them, because this sin encompasses so many powerful emotional, spiritual, and physical issues in their lives. No sin that has gripped our lives is ever easy to handle.
Too often the church has gained a reputation for only responding in fear and judgment toward homosexuality, rather than with love and grace. The church should be the one place where sinners struggling to turn from homosexuality by the power of God should be welcomed. Is that true of our Orthodox Presbyterian churches? Are we willing to pray for those fighting homosexual desires and treat them as brothers or sisters in Christ if they show repentance for their sin? Are we ready to do for them what we should always do for one another: pray, love, encourage, not abandon each other when there is failure, but call one another to obedience to God's holy law? Perhaps because we are so reluctant to encourage the brother who has a problem with anger, we are even more loathe to stand with a brother fighting homosexual lust.
Some believers at Corinth took the risk, however, and pointed the male prostitutes and homosexual offenders to Jesus Christ. Are we willing to do the same? The Corinthian believers saw more than homosexual behavior; they saw needy sinners. Homosexuality is ultimately caused by fallen hearts, but that means sin's reign in a person's life can be ended through the gospel of God's mighty work in Jesus Christ (Titus 3:3-7). Only the Christian church can bring people out of the closet and into the light, truly offering hope to the homosexual community. Do we believe that?
The author is the pastor of Covenant OPC in Barre, Vt. Reprinted from New Horizons, November 2000.