Matters of same-sex behaviors and desires have become commonplace in our sexually super-charged and pleasure-obsessed culture. Pop-culture doles out regular helpings of such behaviors and desires in both dramatic and comedic settings, and the U.S. Supreme Court will soon issue a landmark ruling on what is being called “the right” to same-sex “marriage.”
From God’s Word, we Christians know that these behaviors and desires go against God’s good design and will for us and for all human beings. However, even as we look to God’s Word for help and guidance, some pose this question: When the Bible calls homosexuality (same-sex behavior and desires) sinful, does that apply to both the behaviors and the desires, or just to the behaviors?
We do well to look to the Scriptures—what God says—in order to discuss these matters and provide a faithful witness to the forgiving love of God in Christ Jesus. Yes, God speaks to both same-sex behaviors and same-sex desires.
What is “sin”?
Before we can know what God says about the “sin” of same-sex behaviors and desires, we need to know what He says about “sin” in general.
Augsburg Confession, Article II faithfully and succinctly explains Scripture’s teaching on “Original Sin”:
Our churches teach that since the fall of Adam, all who are naturally born are born with sin, that is, without the fear of God, without trust in God, and with the inclination to sin, called concupiscence. Concupiscence is a disease and original vice that is truly sin. It damns and brings eternal death on those who are not born anew through Baptism and the Holy Spirit (Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions, Second Edition, 2006, p. 31-32).
All human beings are born with “sin,” that is, without true fear and trust in God and with the inclination to believe, desire, and behave in ways that go against God’s good will.
What is “concupiscence,” you ask? Coming from Latin, com- + cupere, it means “to ardently desire.” The Apology of the Augsburg Confession refers to Augustine’s use of the term to define original sin as “wicked desire” (Ap. II, 24; Concordia, p. 78). The Apology then explains:
“Since diseased nature cannot fear and love God and believe God, it seeks and loves carnal things…. Concupiscence is not only a corruption of physical qualities, but also, in the higher powers, a vicious turning to fleshly things” (Ap. II, 24-25, Concordia, p. 78-79).
To call someone or something “sinful” is simply to acknowledge two things: 1) the absence of fearing, loving, and trusting in the God who made us and loves us, and 2) the presence of a disease that ardently desires to fill the void (“God-shaped hole”?) by pursuing and loving carnal things.
Same-sex behavior is, clearly, sinful.
Now let’s apply this Biblical understanding of “sin” to matters of same-sex behavior.
God’s original, pre-sin design gave us “man” (human beings) created “in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27). From the beginning, God’s purpose for the male and the female in this relationship is for them to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (Genesis 1:28). God’s good will and design gives us male and female in order 1) to reflect and show forth His image and 2) to procreate.
God further clarifies His design for male and female in Genesis 2. The first man, Adam, is the only human being, but “It is not good that the man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18). So God creates the woman (Genesis 2:21-22) and institutes the estate of marriage: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed” (Genesis 2:24).
After the fall into sin (Genesis 3), anything—any desire, any behavior—that strays from God’s original design is labeled “sin” and “sinful.” In matters of physical sexuality and intimacy, this includes, but is not limited to, same-sex behaviors. Even natural law and common-sense reason can determine that same-sex unions cannot procreate.
According to what God says in His Word, same-sex behaviors clearly go against His good will for all human beings. Relevant Old Testament passages include:
- Genesis 19, where men of Sodom surrounded Lot’s house and demanded that his male visitors be brought out “that [they] may know them” (19:5; see Genesis 4:1 for “know” referring to the sex act). Lot even urged these concupiscent men not to act “so wickedly” (19:7), and Sodom was ultimately destroyed by God Himself;
- Leviticus 18:22, which says, “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination”;
- Leviticus 20:13, which says, “If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them.”
The New Testament is no less bold in calling such behavior “sinful,” that is, against God’s good will.
- Romans 1:18-27 – St. Paul identifies various sins that show how all human beings are fallen in “original sin” (concupiscence). Among these sins, he says, “women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another” (1:26-27).
- 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 – St. Paul lists “men who practice homosexuality” among other sinners with their sinful behaviors who “will not inherit the kingdom of God” (6:9). (The original Greek actually specifies both the receiver and the giver of the male-on-male sex act!)
- 1 Timothy 1:8-10 – St. Paul proclaims that God’s law is good, if used lawfully, in order to expose sinful behavior (1:8). Among other sinners, he again mentions “men who practice homosexuality” (1:10).
From these well-known passages, same-sex behavior is clearly “sinful,” that is, it strays from trusting and loving God and His design for male and female. It also strays from His good design for sexual relations as the activity in which a husband and a wife express their union and mutual companionship, find delight in one another, and carry out God’s purpose of the procreation of children (see Lutheran Service Book, p. 275).
But what about same-sex desires?
While it can be helpful to distinguish between same-sex behaviors and same-sex desires, such a distinction does not make the desires any “less sinful.” Nor does it mean that same-sex desires are any “more sinful” (more serious, more damning, etc.) than other sinful desires.
If we look for a handy-dandy Scriptural proof-text that says, “Same-sex desire is sinful” (or “an abomination” or…), we will come up empty-handed. However, from what God does say in His Word, we can discern that same-sex desires do fall into the category of “sinful,” as do other desires, such as desires of adultery, greed, revenge, etc.
Not only can, and should, every human being confess, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Psalm 51:5), but also every individual must admit that “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God” (Romans 3:10-11). Every human being—along with all of his or her desires—is infected with concupiscence, that “vicious turning to fleshly things” to find meaning and fulfillment in life.
The New Testament is replete with references to the sinful desires—a.k.a. “passions”—that war against our life with God. Here is a small sampling:
- Romans 1:26 – “God gave them up to dishonorable passions” (in the context of women and men exchanging natural relations for same-sex relations).
- Romans 6:12 – “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions.”
- Galatians 5:24 – “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”
- 2 Timothy 2:22 – “So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.”
- Titus 2:12 – “…training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age….”
- 1 Peter 1:14 – “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance….”
- 1 Peter 2:11 – “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.”
Having certain “passions” (desires) does not mean that they are innocent or innocuous.
Our Lord Jesus illustrates this when He refers to adulterous desires and thoughts: “I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:27-28).
The most incisive comment from Jesus comes when He identifies with precision the true source of our sinful behaviors. They actually come from within, from our sinful desires: “What comes out of mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person” (Matthew 15:18-20).
Does God have anything else to say?
Having said all of that, what else does God say? Same-sex desires and behaviors are indeed sinful, as are many other desires and behaviors (such as alcoholism, cheating, theft, adultery, slander, gossip, etc.). However, God has a better, more life-giving, more comforting word to speak to all of us: He forgives us and restores us through His Son Jesus Christ.
Pastor Tom Eckstein expresses it well as he addresses those who wrestle with same-sex desires and behaviors:
If you are a person who bears the burden of homosexuality, you need to understand that when God uses Holy Scripture to show that your homosexual desire and behavior is sin, He does this because He LOVES you! God exposes your sin so that you can trust in Jesus, your Lord and Savior, through whom you are completely forgiven and holy in God’s sight—even as you continue to struggle with homosexual desires and behavior! In fact, once we are set free by the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we are then able to see God’s sexual laws as gifts from a loving Father (Bearing Their Burden: Speaking the Truth in Love to People Burdened by Homosexuality, p. 39, emphasis original).
The Gospel of Jesus Christ applies to all sinners, whatever their sinful desires and behaviors. By His resurrection, we get to live a new life. In our Baptism, we are called daily to drown the Old Adam “with all sins and evil desires” and daily to “arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever” (Small Catechism, Holy Baptism).
Listen to my “Family Shield” interview with Dr. Beverly Yahnke on giving Gospel healing to those who struggle with same-sex attraction.