I received an email from a college student who was struggling to figure out “if a Christ-centered, monogamous homosexual relationship is just as godly as a heterosexual one.” He had many questions. Is the Old Testament law about homosexuality really a law we still need to follow? Didn’t Jesus fulfill the law? Isn’t the Old Covenant obsolete? He had prayed, read books and blogs, and talked to numerous people on all sides of the issue, but he couldn’t resolve the conflicting messages he was getting from them. He said, “I know that this topic requires faith, but I need proof somehow.”
He closed his email with this: “I’ve tried justifying the combination of acting upon homosexuality and being a follower of Christ, but I’m really not sure anymore that there is sufficient, or any, proof to back it up. This is honestly a cry for help. I’ve lived with having a foot in both worlds at the same time, and it isn’t working.”
I’m posting my response to him below in the hope that it will reach others who are in the same situation.
First, a few questions:
When you say it “would be new” for you to believe Christ died on the cross for your sins, does that mean you don’t yet believe it?
When you say you’re trying to decide whether or not homosexuality is wrong, does that mean you’re trying to determine what you think about the matter, or that you’re trying to determine what the Bible says about it? The next question clarifies this a bit more…
If, hypothetically, you were convinced that the Bible said homosexuality is wrong, would you submit to that, or would you reject it if it didn’t seem right to you?
You need to seriously think through those foundational questions because their answers will affect how you go about answering your primary question. If you do not yet believe that Jesus died for your sins, or you do not trust the Bible enough to submit to it as the Word of God, then you might not ever get anywhere trying to answer your question about homosexuality. Those questions really need to be settled first in your own mind.
If you do believe that the Bible is the Word of God, then discovering whether or not it says homosexuality is wrong doesn’t take faith, it takes a proper study and interpretation of the text. The faith (trust) comes when you submit to what you find there even if, emotionally, you have difficulty understanding why it’s there. Since we’re fallen, we can expect that we will not always easily see what’s right. We’re affected by our sin and our culture, and our understanding is distorted. This is why God has given us a written standard by which we can measure everything.
The struggle you must go through first of all is to be willing to submit to what God says—whatever it turns out to be. You need to settle in your own mind whether or not you’re willing to do this before you figure out what God has said. That is the deeper, more important issue (see “Gay or Straight, We All Must Decide if We Love Jesus above All Else”), and as long as you are holding out on whether or not you’ll trust and obey God until you see if you agree with what He says, you’ll never come to a conclusion on this. Decide whether or not you trust Him first, and then that will take some of the emotion, uncertainty, and fear out of figuring out what He has said on this topic. If He is trustworthy, then obeying Him is the best thing to do, no matter what it turns out to be, no matter how difficult or how disappointing. Suffering is part of the Christian life because we’re in a fallen world, and sometimes we suffer for doing what’s right. Yet that’s still better than the suffering that eventually comes from doing what’s wrong in an effort to grab what God has not given to us.
As for the Law, here’s an article Greg wrote on our relationship to the Old Testament Law: “How Does the Old Testament Law Apply to Christians Today?” Though laws and penalties specific to times and places (such as ancient Israel) may change over time, the very character of God is what determines what is moral throughout time. There are laws everywhere, in every country, that continue to reflect the moral character of God—against murder, stealing, etc.
Many of the laws in the Old Testament were meant to visually represent Jesus and the gospel to the people (such as the temple, the sacrifices, the Passover, etc.). These were just shadows pointing to what would be fulfilled in Jesus. Now that we have Him, the shadows are no longer part of our covenant. And since, unlike ancient Israel, the church is not a physical nation, we don’t need the laws that separated Israel from other cultures—laws put in place by God to protect and build up a culture out of which would come the Bible and the Messiah. The purpose of those laws has been completed.
Sexual morality and immorality, however, has not changed, because it’s grounded in our nature—in the creation order—according to the character of the God who created us for His purpose. Other laws (such as the sacrificial system) are logically subsequent to creation, but our sexuality is part of creation itself. Sexual immorality is referred to in 1 Corinthians 6 as being sin against our own bodies. And what is sexual immorality? It’s anything that goes against the created order of one man and one woman becoming one flesh in the covenant of marriage. This was the understanding of sexual morality at the time, so whenever sexual immorality is spoken against in the New Testament, that includes anything contrary to this—including homosexuality. (This has been the clear understanding of the text throughout the millennia of Judaism and Christianity—until recently, when our culture began to push for the acceptance of homosexuality.)
And while laws such as the sacrificial system pointed to a gospel that has now been fulfilled by Christ, the one-flesh marriage of a man and a woman points to the marriage of Christ and the church (according to Ephesians), and this has not yet been fulfilled. The union of man and woman is still pointing to this future event. Jesus says there will be no marriage in heaven. This is likely because, at that point, the thing that marriage and the marital union pointed to will have been fulfilled in the marriage of Christ to the church. (See this N.T. Wright quote.) After it’s fulfilled by the real thing, there will be no more shadow—no more marriage. And until then, any other kind of union is a rejection of the purpose of marriage and a rebellion against God.
Sometimes it’s easy to get lost in an individual verse here and there, so as you’re looking at individual verses, don’t lose sight of the big picture of God’s creation of us, our nature, and our purpose. Here are a few more relevant posts for you that touch on aspects of your email:
I also recommend Kevin DeYoung’s book if you haven’t read it yet.
It’s unclear to me from your email whether you're simply trying to decide your view on this controversial topic, or if this is more personal because you're attracted to men and you desire a relationship. If it’s the latter, consider how your desire to be close to another person could be clouding your ability to understand an issue that may be more clear than you think, and try to adjust for that. Boy, is that easy to say but hard to implement! As a single person in my 40s, I know what it’s like to be alone and assume that I’ll never be married. I’ve always said that the temptation that could bring me down—the one I fear more than any other—is being tempted to a relationship that would not be pleasing to God, for whatever reason. I know well the pull of the desire to love and be loved by a partner. It is incredibly strong. I pray for God to help me desire Him and His will even above this strongest of desires, and I pray often for single Christians—both heterosexual and homosexual—who, like me, struggle with loneliness. One book you might find helpful is Wesley Hill’s Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality. There’s an emotional component to your question (beyond the hermeneutical question of what the Bible says) that this might help address for you.
And finally, sometimes people who have same-sex attraction try to ease their burden by deciding it’s less sinful than they previously thought. But that’s not the way to ease the burden. The burden of sin is eased not by making our sins smaller, but by seeing the gospel as bigger. The truth is that we are all desperately sinful, but Christ’s sacrifice covers all of it. All of our wrong actions, and all of our wrong desires. Everything. We rest in that, and we’re free to openly say we’ve sinned because He covers all guilt. He’s bigger than all of it, no matter how big it is. We don’t have to deny the height of our sin, because we rest completely in Him and His righteousness. Neither does this give us a license to sin, because we are new creatures in Christ.
I hope something in here brings you some clarity.
Don’t ever take this subject lightly. It affects real people and involves real pain. But don’t ever take God lightly, sidestepping Him in a misguided attempt to help someone ease that pain. Only the true God, in all of His truth, is big enough to conquer pain.