I have been asked this quite a few times over the years and the issue was brought up again recently. Can homosexuals be Christians? Or, better, is there such a thing as a “homosexual Christian”? Many would believe that someone who engages in a homosexual life style is necessarily excluded from the Kingdom of God unless they repent. Repentance here would mean a change of thinking and, shortly following, a change of action – no longer participating in this lifestyle. In other words, while some would be willing to say that a homosexual can be saved, their salvation necessitates their change of lifestyle within a short period of time.
While I agree with those who say that homosexuality is a terrible sin (Lev. 18:22, 20:13 Rom. 1:27; 1 Cor. 6:6; 1 Tim. 1:10), I do not believe it is one that is outside the realm of a believer’s carnality. Neither do I believe that if one practices homosexuality their entire life, they are necessarily excluded from the Kingdom of God. I hope people do not misunderstand my purpose here. I in no way endorse homosexual behavior or seek to relativize its standing before the Lord as an abomination. But I do think that sometimes, we who are not tempted in such a way can fail to see the seriousness of the struggle experienced by people who are tempted towards homosexuality.
Sexual sin and temptation are part of everyone’s life. We are born with a drive toward fulfillment of this God-given part of our humanity. Some will deny this drive because of God’s calling in their lives (e.g., singleness). Yet sin has corrupted this drive and we are all born infected with sin. Because of upbringing, genetics, cultural influences, and other factors, people will experience this corruption to greater and lesser degrees. I personally have never felt any inclination toward expressing my sexual corruption in a way that was focused on the same sex. Why? Not necessarily because of good choices I have made, but because the genetics, upbringing, and influences were not there. I have just never had the sinful bent within me that compels me to lust after someone of the same sex. Don’t get me wrong. I have a sinful sexual bent, but it is of the more natural kind. This does not justify it or make me more innately righteous than the homosexual, it is just a fact that this is not a sin I have ever had to deal with.
I thank God that this is the case because I know that whatever sinful bent I have, it will get the better of me at some point. It is just the way it goes, living with corruption. I also know that I will not be alleviated of my bents until the restoration of my body at the resurrection. I just have to do whatever I can to master my sinful tendencies until then. As the U2 song goes, “some days are better than others.” I can identify with sinners because I am one. I can identify with those who have a bent, because I have one (many actually). Therefore, when I see someone giving in to the bent of homosexuality, I am saddened. My heart goes out to them because their problem is essentially the same as mine. We have a corrupted nature that causes us to give in to our bents.
Now, back to the question of the hour. Can homosexuals be Christians? This is really a theological question that evidences a lack of understanding about sin and redemption. It reveals a major misconception about the nature of sin, placing homosexuality in its own category because of its depraved nature. While I do believe that homosexuality is a worse sin than many others (that is right, not all sins are equal like some would have us believe), I don’t believe that those who have that bent should be seen differently than others.
We could ask the question this way: Can people who have sinful bents be Christians? Of course. Who else can be? Christ was the only one that did not have a sinful bent. Okay then, how about this: Can people who have really bad sinful bents be Christians? Again, the only biblical answer is yes. People who have really bad sinful bents can be Christians. Really, the question that is being asked is this: Can sinners be Christians? To that, I say, is there any other kind of Christian?
Some would respond and say that while they are willing to concede that homosexuals can be Christians, they must be in the process of overcoming this sinful behavior. In other words, they must have consistent and perpetual victory over this bent. Hold on there. While I agree that homosexuals can and many times do have victory over this bent to the point where they redeem themselves completely from this lifestyle, I don’t necessarily think that this is always going to happen. I would say that in my life there are some bents I have had victory over, and some that remain as a naggingly persistent web. This web is one of deception and destruction that can easily trip us up. Listen to the writer of the book of Hebrews:
“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith” (Hebrews 12:1-2).
The writer of Hebrews says that it is “easy” to get entangled in this web. The passage warns of the ten euperistaton hamartian – literally, “the easily ensnaring sin.” I believe the primary referent for “the easily ensnaring sin” is the sin of unbelief (the subject of the book), but this sin of unbelief expresses itself in the sin of the hour. In other words, the sin of unbelief leads to our practicing our particular bent. Most importantly, it is “easy” to fall into this.
Again, while I agree that homosexuals can and should be overcoming this sin, it could be the case that they have become entangled in it. This entanglement may be the very acts of homosexuality, or it may be the plight of struggling with it until redemption. It is no different for those of us who are not bent toward a homosexual lifestyle. Some of our most serious bents may plague us, literally, until Kingdom come.
Many refer to Paul admonishing the Corinthians to look back to their victory over sin, implying that they did not practice such things any longer or were completely delivered from them. One of these sins is homosexuality.
“Or 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 effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).
While this seems straightforward upon a cursory reading, I don’t believe that it supports the case that homosexuals can’t be Christians for two primary reasons. First, the people to whom Paul was writing were sinners and were in the process of being rebuked by Paul. Notice here just three chapters back:
“And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ. I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able, for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men?” (1 Cor. 3:1-3).
They were fleshly. The sins described in 6:9-10 are fleshly sins. This means that the Corinthians were not necessarily doing well. Yet Paul says they were washed and sanctified. Now either Paul has a slight case of amnesia, or we have to understand 6:9-11 differently, which brings me to the second reason I believe this passage cannot be used by the person who says homosexuals cannot be Christians. Paul identifies Christians with Christ, not with their sinful disposition. In Pauline thought, people who are clothed in Christ’s righteousness are no longer named according to their sinful bent, even if that bent may continue to entangle them. The Corinthians were entangled in their bents to be sure, but Paul sees them through the righteousness of Christ. This is why Paul could say “such were some of you.” This does not make their sinfulness any less severe, but it does say that Christ’s redemption, in Pauline theology, has redeemed the sinner, though he remain in a sinning state. Those without the covering of Christ’s righteousness are still identified by their sin in the eyes of God. Therefore, in this context, it is true that fornicators, thieves, coveters, homosexuals, and all unrighteous people (those not covered by Christ’s righteousness) will not inherit the Kingdom of God. But thankfully, we have been covered by His righteousness and set apart, though we are still sinners.
One more thing. I often hear this concession: While I believe that homosexuals can be saved, they cannot believe that homosexuality is approved by God or attempt to justify their sin. I understand and agree with this to some degree, yet I still say that this is not always the case. We all have ways of justifying our bents, whatever they may be. Sometimes we minimize their seriousness, while other times we outright deny them. It is also often the case that we just do not ever deal with them. For twelve years after the resurrection of Christ, Peter continued in his belief that Jews were better than Gentiles. He lived twelve years after becoming a Christian believing that he, by virtue of being a Jew, was so much better than Gentiles that he would not even set foot in their house. Speaking to the Gentile Cornelius and his family, he said, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a man who is a Jew to associate with a foreigner or to visit him; and yet God has shown me that I should not call any man unholy or unclean” (Acts 10:28). What if Peter had died in year eleven? He would have died living his entire Christian life as a prideful racist. Racism is spoken of in the New Testament as a mark of ungodliness even more frequently than homosexuality. Therefore, while I believe that the conviction of the Holy Spirit should be there and it should change our hearts, we have this uncanny tendency to justify our sinfulness to ourselves and to others or to just ignore it.
Having said all this, we all need to recognize the utter sinfulness of sexual perversion. Homosexuality is a sin, and a terribly destructive one at that. But we need to be careful and gracious with those who struggle with this sin, understanding that the struggle against sin is the plight of us all. The solution is not for us to compromise to the politically correct agenda of our culture, which seeks to turn this sin into a perfectly acceptable lifestyle choice. But at the same time, we need to be gracious, knowing that the only hope anyone has is to be covered in Christ’s righteousness, not our own.
Can a homosexual be saved? Yes. All sinners can be saved. Indeed, all Christians are sinners. Let us all view this important issue in light of a deep understanding of the plight of sinfulness and may God help us to overcome the resulting bents.
“Sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it” (Genesis 4:7).
C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger.
Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I’m a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. He can be contacted at [email protected]