Although some would argue that any same sex relationship is a good thing if it doesn’t harm anyone, in Christian circles there is usually a more clandestine approach to encourage acceptance of the gay lifestyle. This approach says that same sex attraction itself is not a sin, it is following through on the attraction that is the sin. In other words, to be attracted to the same sex is not a sin as long as one does not act on those impulses.
In one sense, there is a difference between the gravity and consequences of following through on the attraction, but the real question is whether desires themselves can be sinful?
People will often differentiate the issue between orientation and behavior. Some people will say that it is not sinful to be a “gay Christian.” It is only necessary to live celibate. However, there are two significant reasons that same sex attraction should be regarded as sinful, and not only homosexual action.
Same sex attraction is wrong because it is sin to desire what God has forbidden.
God has forbidden homosexual relationships due to (1) the creation pattern, and (2) biblical imperative; therefore, it is wrong to desire a homosexual relationship. It is always wrong to desire what God has forbidden.
This same principle is applicable in many different arenas. Whether it be desiring your neighbor’s spouse, desiring to have your neighbor’s possessions, any form of coveting—all of these are wrong at the level of desire because they are a desire for what we have no right to pursue. This is the entire point of the 10th commandment. There are things which it is inherently wrong to desire.
Because of the Fall, we are all tempted by various forms of sin and in various ways. But, it is never okay to think that because a desire is more natural for some rather than others, then it can’t be sin for those people. This kind of thinking fails to account for the noetic effects of the Fall. Some people are more predisposed to desiring things because we live in a sinful and fallen world.
Same sex attraction is sin because desire and lust are interchangeable in biblical terms.
Some people argue that there is a difference between desire and lust. Lust is sometimes construed as uncontrolled desire. However, biblical vocabulary does not differentiate between lust and desire.
For example, note Matt 5:27-28:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
Here in Matthew 5, the word for “lust” is epithumeo which simply means a desire. However, because it is a desire for something God has forbidden, it is translated as lust in our translations because that lets us know it is a bad desire that should not be allowed.
Compare 1 Timothy 3:1:
It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do.
The fine work that “he desires” uses the same verb, epithumeo. The verb is used for both good and bad desires. We use different terms in our English translations (lust, desire) because of context, but ultimately it is desire that is in view.
What these examples illustrate is that it is wrong to say homosexual desire is okay, as long as one does not lust. Lust is simply desiring what we have no right to.
Therefore, in light of these two points, homosexual desire (orientation) is indeed sinful and should be addressed just like the one who is more naturally inclined to alcohol or fornication. We must realize where the battles against sin are to be fought—and that is in the mind.
Understanding that homosexual desires are sinful does not mean that Christians cannot struggle with those desires. And it also does not mean that if someone struggles with same sex attraction that they are the worst of sinners! We live in a fallen world, and the church must provide counseling and help for those who struggle with every sin. Struggling with particular sins does not make a believer less valuable or degraded. That is because a believer is not identified as a gay Christian, or an alcoholic Christian, or a perverted Christian. A true believer is identified as a Christian because of their foundational identity in Christ. That is who they are, and that alone is their identity.
For those interested in even more detailed discussion on this issue, I would commend this article on same sex attraction by Denny Burk. He also has a followup, “If same sex attraction is sinful, then what?“