As followers of Christ, we know we are to love our neighbors like we love our self (Matthew 22:39), but this is easier said than done. Especially in a nation with polarizing opinions, beliefs and values, hate is typically the response of choice even though love and acceptance are desired by most.
It’s challenging, I know, to love a neighbor who is difficult to love or who is different than you. Whenever I struggle with loving a neighbor I always think of someone close to me whom I will always love despite our many differences.
He is gay.
I don’t disclose that lightly nor do I state that negatively. I love my brother with all of my heart, but I do not condemn nor do I condone his homosexual lifestyle. If I did, it would be hypocritical to everything I believe in.
I accept the person but do not affirm the action.
In other words, I love the sinner, not the sin.
I love the sinner because I am equally at fault with my own set of flaws, weaknesses, and sins. A sin is a sin. Just like you, me and everyone else on this planet, we are all sinners and are all guilty of committing sins on the regular (Romans 3:23). And just like you and me, those who battle same-sex attraction are equally made in the image of God and are in desperate need of a Savior.
My brother and I were raised in a Catholic home and both grew up believing in God but not knowing Him or having a relationship with His Son, Jesus Christ. I cannot speak for my brother’s life experiences,* but for me, not having any relationship with Jesus led me to wander down very wide, winding & bumpy roads. Fortunately for my salvation, my path eventually collided with God’s and I’ve been following His Son ever since.
As soon as he came out to me all those years ago, I knew I had to seek guidance from wise, reputable and trusted Christian pastors, counselors and theological scholars if I wanted to biblically love my brother despite his choice to openly live a homosexual lifestyle.
Loving my brother was never a doubt or question in my mind, but as a Christian women’s leader, blogger, and mother, I knew I needed to be educated on his decision to live a life that goes against everything I believe in. In my mind, the world accepts, welcomes and even values homosexuality as an expression of a person’s true identity. The questions I needed answered began with, what does the Bible say about homosexuality and how will I respond to something that hits so close to home?
The first thing I learned was the difference between homosexuality and same-sex attraction:
- Homosexuality is feelings-based. It’s a personal, intentional and active decision to live a homosexual lifestyle based on a person’s natural feelings and inclinations leading them to be physically or sexually attracted to a person of the same sex.
- Same-sex attraction is the label used to describe the sinful bent associated with a person being physically or sexually attracted to someone of the same sex. Same-sex attraction (SSA) is not in itself a morally culpable sin, but rather acting on the sin (i.e. homosexuality) makes the attraction a sin.
I know my definition of those heavy words doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface on the many layers that weigh down this loaded topic, but, the bottom line is this:
So, in the case of my brother, is his homosexual lifestyle considered living a life of sin?
Yes – because of his choice to act on his feelings and desires even though they are not in line with God’s original design (Genesis 1:27-28, Genesis 2:24). Those who feel attracted to someone of the same sex, yet choose not to act on their desires (even though it may be incredibly challenging), are experiencing the temptation that comes from the sinful bent of same-sex attraction.
Each human being was perfectly created in God’s own image (Genesis 1:27), handcrafted by a Master Designer and beautifully made and wonderfully known before the beginning of time (Psalm 139:14, 16). However, when sin entered into the world (Genesis 3) sin was seeped into everything God originally created to be perfect. What God initially intended to be good, right and true, Satan tainted, warped and skewed into a fallen creation bent towards sinful desires.
What’s different, though, is I do not identify by the sin and brokenness that plague me. Rather, my identity is found in Christ.
Moreover, we must remember that each person was perfectly designed but is also humanly flawed. Each one of us has a personal collection of sinful weaknesses that we are bent towards and attracted to. Homosexuality is no different from any other sin, even if culture wants to tell us otherwise (1 Corinthians 6:9-10).
So was my brother born this way? Does he wish he wasn’t?
Yes and yes! This is his natural bent towards sin. The distinction between the sins he and I experience is found in my conviction of the sins I am naturally bent towards.
Because I have surrendered my life to the cross and have received the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19, Romans 8:9), I am able to recognize the existence of ongoing spiritual warfare from Satan attempting to win me over (Ephesians 6:11-12). I am both convicted of my sin and guilty of committing sins that are very much a part of my sinful nature in a broken, imperfect world. However, because I follow Christ I am not defined by my sin nor are my sins a part of my identity (Romans 6:6, Ephesians 1:7-8). My identity is found in Christ (Romans 6:6, 2 Corinthians 5:17, 1 Peter 2:9, Galatians 2:20).
A pastor from my church in Scottsdale, AZ once gave me an incredible analogy to use as an example relating to those with same-sex attraction.
He described the daily struggle an alcoholic or drug addict faces. They wake up feeling like they need a high or something to numb their pain, fill them up or make them feel complete or whole. It’s a need that is so strong it doesn’t go away until they get a fix – the high is temporary and will eventually wear off, thus leading them to seek more. They give in, over and over again and often times this leads the addict or alcoholic to spiral out of control until they either hit rock bottom and end up in rehab or they reach the end of their life (due to overdose, suicide or other) and it’s game over.
For those who attend rehab and are in recovery to live a better, clean, and sober life, would you ever consider offering them a drink or a hit? Would you ever tempt them to give into their greatest weakness?
No! Of course, you wouldn’t because you know how hard it is for them to fight against their addiction and seek recovery. Same-sex attraction is just like any sinful addiction – you would NEVER feed the addict the things they are addicted to, certainly not if you loved and cared about them.
Friends, actively practicing homosexuality is a sin (just like any other sin) while same-sex attraction is someone’s bent towards sin. No one is perfect and each person is guilty of sin. Not one soul, other than our perfect Savior Jesus Christ, is exempt from sin. While sins may have different consequences (i.e. murder versus gossip), a sin is still a sin in the eyes of God regardless if it is socially acceptable in our culture (abortion, pornography, idolatry, lust, orgies, same-sex relationships) or frowned upon (rape, child abuse, substance abuse, racism, bigotry).
At the end of the day, we are all fighting the same war against Satan, the ruler and enemy of God’s perfectly designed, yet deeply broken world.
The enemy only wants what is worse for us – poison for our soul and destruction of God’s holy goodness. He will do whatever it takes to make us believe our sins of our human nature are a part of who we are.
This is why it is so important that we are actively, intentionally, and purposefully seeking Jesus and studying God’s Word. We need to be able to differentiate between the voice of the enemy and the voice of our Creator.
So, as sinners and followers of Jesus Christ, how do we respond to our neighbors who are different than us, specifically those who struggle with culturally accepted lifestyle sins?
It’s quite simple, really.
Lead with grace and live by love.
Love and grace are the entire message of the gospel. Love and grace are the constant encouragement and reinforcement, but in order for them to make a powerful impact and to serve their purpose we (followers of Christ) must be the ones to extend grace and live out what it means to love. It is not easy and at times can be the last thing we want to do. Trust me, I know. But, we must remember that God’s grace flows freely and His love is unconditional. If He gives us grace when we don’t deserve it and loves us when we feel unlovable, shouldn’t we feel convicted to return the favor and gift grace and love to those who are just as guilty and undeserving as us?
“But I am giving you a new command. You must love each other, just as I have loved you. If you love each other, everyone will know that you are my disciples.”John 13:34-35 (CEV)
Combine the action of love with God’s gift of grace and the sins that plague us (or those around us) won’t seem as important anymore. It is up to Christians to lead and live by this truth and we can’t have one without the other. Grace and love together create the most powerful union to defeat any of Satan’s schemes against mankind. Leading with grace and living by love is how Jesus wants us to live. Not by judgment. Not by hate. Not by neglect, niceness, or conformity.
These are real people with very real struggles. We can all relate to that. I encourage you to put a face on this issue and to pray, “Lord, break my heart for what breaks yours.”
And don’t forget to model Jesus – he regularly hung out, befriended, and spent time with sinners but he never engaged in similar behavior nor did he endorse their practices. Instead, Jesus’ other-worldly type of love stirred in “the least of these” an affection for change, for something more than this world could offer. His love is so overpowering, unconditional and persistent that it cannot be ignored…so it is received. And it changes lives.
“Let the Spirit change your way of thinking and make you into a new person. You were created to be like God, and so you must please Him and be truly holy.”Ephesians 4:23-24 (CEV)
*As far as I know, my brother still believes in God though he does not live a lifestyle that honors, follows, or seeks Jesus.
**I’ve spent a good decade researching, studying, asking questions and seeking biblical counsel on all things pertaining to sexuality and gender identity – both from theological and secular sources because I desire to understand where individuals are coming from so I can potentially help lead them to freedom. If you or someone you know is experiencing SSA, I would love to have a conversation with you. As well, I have a plethora of resources I can recommend. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org and we can further this convo.
***It has taken some time, prayer (so much prayer), and grace-filled sanctification, but in the depth of my soul I know my identity is in Christ. Nothing else defines me.