College Sundays Q&A–Question 1: “Can you be both gay and Christian?”
Christopher J Wiles
writer | speaker | servant
This series of posts is designed to address some of the questions texted/tweeted during the message at Tri-State Fellowship entitled: “It Gets Better: The Gospel and Homosexuality.”
Can you be both gay and Christian?
Let’s look at this question from two different angles. First, let’s look at the issue of sin in general, then look at the specific issue of homosexuality.
a.) Sin in general
Could we ask the question more broadly? Can you be a “Christian” and live in sin? In other words, can a person be a genuine follower of Jesus and yet consistently fall into sin?
- The nature of sin: God’s word tells us that we are born sinful (Psalm 51:5) with hearts that are intolerably diseased (Jeremiah 17:9). This means that “sin” is more than behavior. It is a disposition—a state of being. Individual “sins” are merely a symptom of this larger, heart issue.
- The nature of God’s grace: We cannot eradicate the stain of sin through performance. Only through the cross can God’s wholeness be restored (Isaiah 53:5).
- The nature of “repentance:” What is our responsibility? God’s word speaks of the need for people to “repent” (cf. Mark 1:4; Matt 21:29). Bruce Demarest defines repentance as “a change of mind, ultimate loyalty, and behavior whereby pre-Christians turn from sin unto God.” Repentance most basically means to change one’s mind with regard to sin and God.
Jesus tells the story of a son who squanders his father’s inheritance on wild living. But Jesus says that there was a time when the young man “came to himself” and decided to turn back to his father for help (Luke 15:17). This is a picture of repentance and grace. Repentance means we “come to ourselves.” We recognize our brokenness, and turn to God as our only source of forgiveness.
Now, some emphasize the fact that repentance most literally means “to turn.” Therefore, they argue, true repentance means turning from sin. But do you see the problem with this? How far must I turn? And if my purity is based on my ability to “turn from sin,” then have I now become my own savior? Instead, we should see repentance as the recognition of brokenness and the need for God’s grace.
Therefore, my acceptance before God is not built on the purity of my repentance but the purity of Jesus. No one can claim to be without sin (1 John 1:8). But even habitual struggles can be paid for through the blood of the Savior who continually pleads our case before God’s throne (1 John 2:1).
b.) Homosexuality in particular
How might we understand “repentance” in the context of homosexuality? We can start by drawing a distinction between orientation and behavior.
- Orientation refers to sexual desire. Many would say that our orientation is actually beyond our actual control.
- Behavior refers to what we actually do. This may range from indulging in sexual fantasy to actual physical intimacy.
It’s unclear whether a homosexual can (or should) be expected to change their sexual orientation. This is why attempts to “cure” homosexuality have been met with such resistance. So what should we expect of a homosexual who desires to follow Jesus?
First, repentance means changing one’s attitude toward homosexuality, recognizing it as a form of sexual brokenness and sin. Second, we must recognize that many may always struggle with their sexual orientation. But finally, we must have confidence in the power of God to transform lives and offer freedom.
Tony Campolo, a former professor at Eastern University, writes:
“I personally know many Christians with homosexual orientations who fight against their desires for homosexual behavior through the power of the Holy Spirit. The desire to experience sexual gratification through physical involvement with persons of their own sex is a constant (just as heterosexual desire can be a constant) for many of them, but they are more than conquerors through Christ who sustains them (Rom 8:37; Phil 4:13).
I cannot help but admire these brave saints who endure lives of sexual frustration because of their commitment to what they believe are biblical admonitions against homosexual eroticism. Many such Christians have told me about their long nights of spiritual agony, as they have struggled against the flesh to remain faithful to what they are sure is the will of God. Any who believe these homosexuals who remain celibate for the sake of Christ are anything less than glorious victors in God’s kingdom ought to be ashamed of themselves.” (Tony Campolo, Speaking My Mind)
But what of those who claim to follow Jesus and show no sign of repenting from their sexual brokenness? This is harder to address. But can we trust God’s Spirit to convict the world of sin (John 16:8)? This person may simply be at an earlier part of their journey. We may rightly question their spiritual maturity, but not necessarily the authenticity of their faith.
Christopher J Wiles
writer | speaker | servant
Chris is a writer and speaker. He currently serves as teaching pastor at Tri-State Fellowship and as a research writer for Docent Research Group.