In Matthew 5:27–28, Jesus equates lust with adultery. This establishes a biblical principle: if it is a sin to do something, it is also a sin to desire to do that something. The Bible clearly states that homosexuality is a sin (Leviticus 18:22; 20:13; Romans 1:26–27; 1 Corinthians 6:9). Therefore, it is also sinful to desire to commit homosexual acts. Does this mean that same-sex attraction is a sin? To answer this, we must distinguish between active sin and the passive condition of being tempted.
It is not a sin to be tempted. Jesus was tempted, yet He sinned not (Matthew 4:1; Hebrews 4:15). Eve was tempted in the garden, and she definitely found the forbidden fruit to be appealing, 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 struggle is not a sin itself.
Heterosexual lust is a sin (Matthew 5:27–28), but heterosexual attraction is not a sin. It is normal and natural for males to be attracted to females, and vice versa. There is absolutely nothing wrong with people finding the opposite gender attractive. It only becomes a sin if that attraction turns into lust. Once the attraction expands into a desire to do something sexually immoral, it has become sin in the heart.
Homosexuality is different. Homosexual behavior in any context is an action that the Bible forbids. But, stopping short of the behavior, is same-sex attraction sinful? Broadly speaking, any desire for something God has forbidden is the result of sin, in this way: sin has so infected the world and our natures that what is evil often looks good to us. We are infected with sin, and sin causes us to have warped and twisted thoughts, desires, and proclivities. We are sinners by nature (Romans 5:12). The feelings of same-sex attraction, per se, are not always an active, willful sin, but they are still rooted in the fallen nature. Same-sex attraction is, on some level, an expression of the sin nature.
Pastor and theologian John Piper has some insightful words on the matter of same-sex attraction: “It would be right to say that same-sex desires are sinful in the sense that they are disordered by sin and exist contrary to God’s revealed will. But to be caused by sin and rooted in sin does not make a sinful desire equal to sinning. Sinning is what happens when rebellion against God expresses itself through our disorders” (from the sermon “Let Marriage Be Held in Honor,” June 16, 2012).
A passing moment of same-sex attraction, even if it is repeated often, is better categorized as a temptation, not as a sin. If that spontaneous, fleeting moment is allowed to turn into something more—the passing temptation becomes a lustful intention—then it has become a sin. At what point does temptation become a sin of the heart? To ask it another way, how long can we entertain a temptation before it turns into a wrong thought? The answer is impossible to pinpoint. We do know this: 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).
Because of the sin nature humanity possesses, same-sex attraction may feel “natural” to some, but it is absurd to say that sin, if it comes “naturally,” should be embraced. Is it right for a person with a proclivity for anger to lash out in rage toward others? Is it right for a kleptomaniac to steal? Is it right for a husband to commit adultery simply because a strong sex drive is part of his nature? Of course not. 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).
The children of God should think and act differently from the world. Many in the world accept same-sex attraction and homosexuality as a social norm, but a Christian’s standards for life should come from the Bible, not conventional wisdom (2 Timothy 3:16–17). We live in the world, and so we experience temptations every day. We have fallen, sinful natures, and so we struggle against ungodly desires. Some Christians struggle against the temptation to act upon same-sex attraction. The good news is that victory is possible. “Everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith” (1 John 5:4).