Recently when I posted an article from Tony Reinke about homosexuality and idolatry on my blog, I received a thoughtful question from a reader asking if homosexuality is a “worse” sin than others in God’s view. Here’s my answer.
The point isn’t that homosexual sin is worse than other sins, but that it’s a result of and related to idolatry.
Romans 1:22-27 says:
22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.
24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
26 For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; 27 and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.
Ezekiel 16:48-50 is a passage that is widely used now to defend the position that God doesn’t hate homosexuality. Those who cite it to defend this position say that Sodom was destroyed not because of homosexual sin, but rather because they were proud and didn’t care for the poor.
As I live, declares the Lord God, your sister Sodom and her daughters have not done as you and your daughters have done. Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. They were haughty and did an abomination before me. So I removed them, when I saw it. (Ezekiel 16:48-50)
Ezekiel is not saying God didn’t hate the homosexual lust in the Genesis account (see Jude 7 below), but rather that the sin of Israel “whoring after other gods” was worse than the sins of Sodom. (Ezekiel 16 pictures Israel as a young woman who God protected and provided for but then she turned away from his love to seek other lovers more brazenly than a prostitute.)
Sodom was “haughty and did an abomination” (the abomination likely includes homosexual actions) before the Lord, but Israel’s sin was far greater because it included the rejection of the covenant they made with God in the days of Moses, specifically that they would not have any gods before him (Exodus 24:7, Jeremiah 11:10, Hosea 6:7).
This act of Israel, we are told, is beyond the sin of Sodom. Sodom wasn’t in a covenant relationship with God; so no matter how despicable their actions were, it would be impossible for them to commit the same sin of Israel. Thankfully, despite Israel’s rejection, God remained faithful to his promises and fulfilled them in Jesus.
1 Corinthians 6:18-20 explicitly says there is something different about sexual sin—ALL sexual sin—not just homosexual acts:
18Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body. 19 Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.
One of the things I say to homosexuals is that I have many inclinations, including sexual ones, which I must daily say no to. (I realize that sounds lame because I’m married and therefore can sometimes say yes to my sexual impulses.) Furthermore, many heterosexual believers are not married and many are in marriages where disabilities and other problems mean they cannot EVER say yes to their sexual impulses. Unfair? Perhaps, and certainly unequal. But consider a thousand other kinds of unfairness where some people can have and do what others can't.
I have godly friends who continuously say no to homosexual temptations (beginning with lust) and others who continuously say no to heterosexual temptations (beginning with lust). We are also to say no to greed, envy, pride, temptations to theft and slander and many other things, and are to say yes to the righteous nature of Christ and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit to resist sin. This is often difficult, but not impossible, by the grace and power of God.
It’s interesting to note that the list of seven deadly sins articulated in Proverbs 6:16-19 (pride, envy, gluttony, lust, anger, greed, and sloth) does not include homosexuality. This shows that other sins are as serious as homosexuality, though of course it doesn’t imply that homosexual relations (and heterosexual immorality) are not grave sins. Scripture says this:
Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-10)
In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire. (Jude 7)
But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. (Ephesians 5:5)
But there is good news—the Bible also records the transforming power of the gospel in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11:
Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? 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.
Notice how Paul addresses the Corinthians in past tense. Some of these people were living ungodly and unfulfilled lives, but through the hope and power of the gospel they have now been washed, justified, and sanctified in the name of the Lord Jesus. That is good news and a testimony of the true hope, joy and fulfillment that abide in a relationship with Christ. I personally know those who have lived as homosexuals for many years before repenting, turning to Christ and turning away from their homosexual lifestyle. They are now living faithful lives in which they say no to temptation, as heterosexual believers should say no to their temptations.
It is a hard calling to take up our cross daily and follow Christ, but the rewards are immense, not just later, but now. Consider Matthew 16:25: “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.” In other words, the one who does what he wants to do will lose his life, while the one who will lose his life in submission to Christ, doing what HE wants him to do, will find it.
In the finding of life we discover what we're meant to be and what WILL make us happy, not what we and the world have told us (falsely) would make us happy. Of course, all this must be done by His grace and empowerment, and not merely by our labors of self-discipline, which will ultimately fail without Christ.
An evil man is ensnared in his transgression, but a righteous man sings and rejoices. (Proverbs 29:6)
Randy Alcorn (@randyalcorn) is the author of over sixty books and the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries.