In order to answer the question “Is being gay a sin?” we need to challenge some assumptions upon which the question is based. Within the past fifty years, the term gay, as applied to homosexuality, has exploded into mainstream culture, and we are told that “being gay” is as much outside one’s control as “being short” or “being black.” So the question is worded in a loaded way and impossible to adequately answer in that form. We need to break this question up and deal with each piece separately. Rather than ask, “Is being gay a sin?” we need to ask, “Is it sinful to have same-sex attractions?” And, “Is it sinful to engage in homosexual activities because of those attractions?”
Concerning first question, “Is it sinful to have same-sex attractions?” the answer is complicated. First, we should probably distinguish between (actively) sinning and (passively) being tempted:
Being tempted is not a sin. Jesus was tempted, but He never sinned (Matthew 4:1; Hebrews 4:15). Eve was tempted in the garden, and the forbidden fruit definitely appealed to her, but it seems that she did not actually sin until she took the fruit and ate it (Genesis 3:6–7). A struggle with temptation may lead to sin, but the temptation itself is not a sin.
The problem with same-sex attraction, or the feeling of “being gay,” is that it is an attraction to something God has forbidden, and any desire for something sinful ultimately has its roots in sin. Our natures have been so infected with sin that what is evil often looks good to us. Sin causes us to see the world and our own actions through a warped perspective. Our thoughts, desires, and dispositions are all affected. Scripture says we are sinners by nature (Romans 5:12). So, same-sex attraction, per se, is not always an active, willful sin, but it springs from the sinful nature. Same-sex attraction is always, on some level, an expression of the flesh, or the fallen nature.
Sinful human beings living in a sinful world (Romans 3:23) are pelted with curiosities, interests, and opportunities that would lead us further from God. Our world is filled with forbidden fruits, including the enticement to “be gay.” A happily married man can be suddenly smitten with attraction for his new associate and wrestle with those feelings every day. A sober alcoholic can struggle with the ongoing desire to drink, even years after he becomes clean. Those desires do not represent an active choice to sin, although they stem from the sinful nature. They are part of being a fallen creature living in a fallen world.
Some people, who admit to having thoughts of “being gay,” are, for a variety of reasons, not romantically attracted to members of the opposite sex. Instead, they yearn for intimacy with someone of their own gender. The causes for this same-sex attraction, humanly speaking, are varied and under discussion, but the fact remains that this temptation is real. Many who struggle with same-sex attraction report suffering through years of wishing things were different. People may not always be able to control how or what they feel, but they can control what they do with those feelings (1 Peter 1:5–8). And we all have the responsibility to resist temptation (Ephesians 6:13). We must all be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2) and “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).
The second part of this question, “is it sinful to engage in homosexual activities because of same-sex attractions?” has a more straightforward answer. Being drawn toward a morally forbidden relationship is not an active sin; it is a temptation. Sin occurs when we dwell upon the wrong thoughts, the temptation spawns, or when we yield to the temptation. Feeling a same-sex attraction is not an active, willful sin, but yielding to that proclivity and engaging in homosexual relations is.
Our culture assures homosexuals that they were born gay and that confused sexuality is to be celebrated, not overcome. Thus we have an entire generation of children and teens who never knew a time when homosexuality was rightly considered abnormal. In elementary and middle schools, it is now fashionable to call oneself “gay” or “bi” or use any number of other faddish sexual labels without any real understanding of their meaning—or of the moral and eternal implications.
We are all sinners, born with a nature that wants only to please itself. The sinful desires within us vary from person to person, but the root is the same (Romans 3:11). When we realize how broken we are and that we cannot have fellowship with a holy God in such a deplorable condition, we gratefully accept the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross for us (2 Corinthians 5:21). He paid the price that we owed to God for our treason against our Creator. He also paid the penalty for the sin of homosexuality, just as He did for pride, rape, adultery, and theft. Those sins, and a thousand more, are what keep us from God and sentence us to an eternity without Him. We cannot continue to define ourselves by the very sins that crucified Jesus, while also assuming that we are right with God. First Corinthians 6:9–10 lists many of the sins that the Corinthians once practiced (homosexuality is on the list). But verse 11 reminds them, “That is what some of you were. 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.” In other words, some of the Corinthians, before they were saved, lived gay lifestyles; but no sin is too great for the cleansing power of Jesus. Once cleansed, we are no longer defined by sin.
Homosexual behavior won’t damn a person any more quickly than pride or greed or adultery. Without Christ, we are lost, whether gay, straight, or asexual. But, when we surrender our lives to the lordship of Jesus, He gives us a new nature (2 Corinthians 5:17). He destroys the power that sin once held over us (Romans 6:1–7). The old nature that once dictated our actions has been conquered in a born-again child of God (John 3:3). Temptation still rages. Weaknesses still torment. But the power of the Holy Spirit helps us to resist Satan and overcome the sins that once held us captive (Colossians 2:14; James 4:7). We can choose new life in Jesus or the old life of sin. But we cannot have both (Matthew 6:24).