By Nathan Pickup
The Supreme Court’s legalization of homosexual marriage has been met with vehement criticism from Christians who have risen to defend the Bible’s view of marriage and its condemnation of homosexual acts¹. But as we proclaim the Bible’s message on this subject, are we also preparing ourselves for what the Supreme Court’s decision will mean for our personal evangelism? Are we preparing our local churches to be a refuge for those who seek to put to death their culturally acceptable lifestyle to join the flock of Christ? While we seek to stand up for what is right, we also need to be following God’s word in reaching the hearts of those who grapple with the sin of homosexuality.
Many Christians use scathing rhetoric when addressing the issue of homosexuality. They speak of homosexuality as an “abomination” (from the language in Leviticus 18:22) or as something that is “disgusting” (their own language, not that of the Bible). To be clear, there is nothing wrong with expressing the Bible’s perspective on a moral issue, especially when there are plenty of “Christians” who are not expressing the truth of God’s view on sexuality. But although words like “abomination” may accurately convey the Bible’s view of the homosexual act, is that language always the best way to reach someone’s heart? We learn a great deal from our Lord Jesus when it comes to reaching the hearts of sinners. Based on the picture painted in the Gospels, it seems that if Jesus lived in our culture, he would be eating dinner with homosexuals in an effort to establish relationships through which the gospel could be offered². If we were to ask our Lord why he was eating with homosexuals, he would surely give us the same response he gave the Pharisees: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matthew 9:10-13).
As the practice of homosexuality becomes more common in our culture, we will inevitably come into contact with more individuals caught in this sin. Will we treat them as horrible, disgusting people who commit acts of perversion? Or will we follow our Lord’s example and establish a relationship in an effort to save their soul? Those who practice homosexuality are among the very ones Jesus came to save—along with those of us who were formerly, and perhaps currently, caught in our own sexual sins. Shame on us if we ever treat a fellow sinner as unworthy of the grace that called us “out of darkness and into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).
If we fail to reach out to homosexuals, and instead repulse them with disparaging rhetoric, what chance will they have of knowing the love of Jesus Christ? After seeing Christians as hateful, they will naturally turn to the world, which is only too happy to have them in its ranks. Jesus didn’t come to insult those trapped in sin. Rather, “the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:10). We have a responsibility to follow our Lord’s example.
If we are doing our part to persuade practicing homosexuals to renounce their lifestyle and come to Christ, then we must be ready to receive them into our local assemblies. Churches are a melting pot of people from different sinful backgrounds. The Corinthian church illustrates this perfectly. Paul says to them: “Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. 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” (1 Cor. 6:9-11). This passage reveals two things pertinent to our discussion. First, Paul was not discriminatory with the gospel message; he preached to and saved people from all manner of sinful backgrounds. Second, this passage shows that all these different sinful backgrounds found fellowship in the Corinthian church through their common sanctification in Jesus Christ.
Will a convert from the homosexual lifestyle feel the love and fellowship of Christ in our assembly? Will a Christian struggling with homosexuality in our local church feel comfortable admitting their struggle—or will they fear the stigma placed on them by their own brethren? James 5:16 commands us to “confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.” This command assumes we have made our brotherhood a place where a Christian can confess their sins publicly without fear of negative reprisal. If a struggling Christian or potential convert doesn’t feel comfortable confessing sins to their fellow believers, where else will they go? Since sexual temptations are often lifelong, every local church has the responsibility to make its assembly a place where struggling homosexuals can turn for help, support, and love. If we fail, and treat homosexuals with less love and support than those who struggle with other sins—to the result that the individual turns away from Christ—then we help to cause one of Jesus’ little ones to stumble, and will incur the appropriate judgment (Matt. 18:6). Our local churches must be places where struggling homosexuals can find the love of Christ exemplified by his people. With the changes taking place in our nation and the increase in those practicing homosexuality, this work of the church is imperative.
The current emphasis on this issue may have the effect of making homosexuality seem worse than other sins. The fact is that a homosexual sinner seeking Christ is no different than a heterosexual sinner seeking Christ. Jesus died for all sinners so that all could be with him in his kingdom. That desire to seek and save the lost was demonstrated in Christ’s personal evangelism, and we need to follow his example as we come into contact with more people practicing homosexuality. Just as the Corinthian church didn’t discriminate between different sinful backgrounds, but freely offered fellowship to all who sought God’s grace, we too must work to make our local churches places of constant love and support for those leaving homosexuality to have a relationship with God. Our responsibility as Christians is not to demonize sinners who need the gospel. Our responsibility is to give “a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect…” (1 Peter 3:15). When we as Christians look at the state of our nation, we indeed see the deplorable practice of calling evil good and good evil (Isa. 5:20). But at the very same time, when we look at this nation we should see “that the fields are white for harvest” (John 4:35). May we therefore work accordingly to bear fruit for our Lord.
1 In our discussions of this subject with both believers and non-believers, it is crucial we accurately articulate what the Bible condemns. The Bible condemns the practice of homosexuality, not the temptation of homosexuality. God never condemns us for being tempted, but only condemns us when we give in to temptation to follow our own desires. Only when desire is conceived does it give birth to sin (James 1:13-15). In Romans 1:32 and Galatians 5:19-21, two passages used to illustrate the Bible’s condemnation of homosexuality, Paul says it is those “who practice such things” that will not inherit the kingdom of God. Paul is not condemning people for being tempted with these things. Too often Christians have failed to make this biblical distinction, to the result that they shame a struggling homosexual for merely being tempted with homosexual desires. This is unbiblical and unfair. We do not condemn heterosexuals for merely being tempted with heterosexual desires, but we seek to support them in their battle with that respective weakness. We must provide the same distinction and support to those who are tempted with homosexuality. We should never make someone feel ashamed of their temptations, but should help them find the way of escape that God has provided (1 Cor. 10:13).
2 Some Christians use Jesus’ eating with sinners as justification for attending homosexual weddings. My personal opinion is that this application of Jesus’ actions is faulty, since a homosexual wedding is not analogous to Jesus’ actions in Matthew 9:10-13. Eating with sinners did not put Jesus in a situation where he participated in celebrating a sinful act. But this is exactly what a homosexual wedding is: a celebration of a sinful action as something good, and therefore worth celebrating. While Jesus did not stigmatize sinners, neither did he join in events that presented sin as something laudable. I believe following our Lord’s example would mean being kind to practicing homosexuals and using a relationship with them as an opportunity to save their soul, but taking a stand in refusing to participate in treating sin as a congratulatory action.
3 Jesus’ treatment of the woman at the well is a perfect balance of standing up for what is right while reaching out in love to a sinner (John 4). Here was a woman enslaved to sexual sin. According to Leviticus 20:10, her sexual relationships were punishable by death, and they were part of a list of things God “detested” (Lev. 20:23). Jesus would have absolutely agreed with Leviticus’ estimation of this woman’s sexual sin, yet this is not the approach he took to reach her heart. Certainly, Jesus did not ignore her sexual sin, but rather revealed it because it was opposed to the living water he was offering (John 4:13-18). However, he spoke to the woman in love and recognized her as one who desperately needed what he was offering. The result was that many came to believe in Jesus because of the woman’s testimony (John 4:39). As followers of Jesus, we must “take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them” (Eph. 5:11). But just like our Lord, we must remember that those caught in sin are the ones who need Christ the most, and must therefore reach out to them with the same love Christ displayed while walking among us.