“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.” (ESV – Read the chapter)
– 1 Corinthians 6:9-10
Two things here. First, the list of sinful behaviors pursued unrepentantly which will keep us from access to the kingdom of God is long and varied. There are many, many ways to separate ourselves off from God, some of them large and obvious, some of them small and easy to hide. In some ways it is better to be caught up in a big, obvious sin, because then everybody knows you are doing wrong and you can be called to account more easily. Sometimes the smaller, more culturally acceptable and easy-to-overlook sins can be deadly traps because we don’t believe we are doing anything worthy of repentance or needing of forgiveness all the while we are on a road headed directly out of a relationship with God. That’s the easy part.
Second, this is one of the few passages in the Scriptures that specifically mentions the sinfulness of homosexual sexual interactions.
[I choose that phrase carefully and intentionally as the Scriptures seem to be specific in their condemnation, not of homosexuals or even of homosexual desire which can be resisted and left willfully unfulfilled, but rather of homosexual sexual activity which is a distortion of God’s designed intention for human sexuality. In other words, we are called to condemn behavior, not people. A person’s behavior can lead her to a place of condemnation if pursued in contravention of the character of God without repentance, but that is between her and God. Our place is to observe with strength measured to the situation (that is, gentleness) that according to the Scriptures her behavior is out-of-sync with God’s character…and then love her anyway (that is, work intentionally to see her become more fully who God designed her to be).]
While the original Greek doesn’t come out quite so clearly in the ESV here, Paul uses two different words when talking about homosexual sexual interactions. One word describes the person who is the aggressor and is actively initiating the activity, the other word describes the one who is passively receiving it.
Because of this grammatical distinction and the then common practice of pederasty in which older men would keep young boys around to serve as what amounted to sex slaves, many commentators who challenge the historic Christian position on homosexual behavior, will argue that Paul somehow had in mind here something other than the modern practice of consensual homosexual interactions between two individuals who have made an emotional (or now, a legal and even religious) commitment to one another. His condemnations were of one of these other distortions of human sexuality and thus modern homosexuality (and in particular same sex marriage) is morally permissible.
But, these attempts are invariably reading Paul through a modern lens rather than taking him on his own terms. Understanding him as he no doubt meant to be understood leaves very little question that Paul was indicting that all homosexual behavior is morally impermissible for followers of Jesus. If pursued unrepentantly it can absolutely keep someone from the kingdom of God. The reason is simple. If Paul is right about homosexual behavior, God has said sex is to be pursued only in a single set of circumstances, these folks are ignoring that and by doing so insisting they know better than God what is right, and thus a saving relationship with God will remain out of reach.
The bigger question we need to answer here, though, is this: What should we do about what Paul says here? Here are some thoughts:
1. Our call is not to judge people, but to love people. We can and should be crystal clear about our position on the issue, but this should not affect our acceptance of the people who locate themselves on the other side of it. Regardless of whether or not someone identifies as a homosexual or a supportive heterosexual, we are to work intentionally to move them in the direction of Christ. Anything less is unworthy of our station.
2. While homosexual behavior is a serious issue with potentially serious consequences at every level of a person’s life made exponentially more difficult to deal with honestly in our current cultural situation, we must not treat this particular sin or the folks who are involved with it as more significant than it actually is. It is not the end-all, be-all definer of who’s in and who’s out of the kingdom of God. In case you missed it above, there were several other things included in Paul’s list here all which we are dangers no matter how a person happens to think about his sexuality. While all sin is not equal in its impact on our lives and the lives of the people around us, it is all equally capable of separating us from God. The person who is a homosexual we must receive with grace, treat as a person made in God’s image and worthy of being perfected in it, called with gentleness to live with full fidelity to the Christian life and its moral demands, and given the same loving care we would give any other member of the body of Christ (when they have made that association).
3. Our culture is trending toward insanity on this issue and many others related to it. In many ways our culture has made sexuality its chief god. This will lead to many grievously harmful outcomes for the nation, some which will not show forth until many years from now. We must, with gentleness and humility, but also unwavering firmness, resist our culture on this issue. This means standing with humility and boldness for the truth as often as we can. It means actively teaching our children not only what is right, what the Scriptures proclaim on this matter, but also why those things are right, how to defend them, and how to recognize and dismantle arguments to the contrary. It also means recognizing and accepting that because our culture has elevated sexual liberty over and against religious liberty, our stance will bring us into conflict with the various forces of culture who will persecute us with varying degrees of severity and officiality. We should be aware of this, prepared for this, and intent on standing firm regardless of this.
4. One of the things that makes life in the church so difficult for homosexuals is that we regularly find ways to celebrate marriage as the highest good for a person to achieve (in spite of no evidence of this being found in the Scriptures), and then insist they can’t experience this good in a manner consistent with the particular set of sexual desires they have. Put yourself in their shoes. That’s not an easy place to be or message to hear. Another thing that makes life so difficult for homosexuals (and heterosexuals too) is that our culture has lost an understanding of the nature and value of an intimate friendship. If a friendship advances to a certain level of intimacy, there is pressure to sexualize it whether or not this is something desired by the individuals in the friendship. In order to counter this, we as the church need to do a much better job at celebrating singleness and friendship in our regular lifecycle. Married leaders need to listen well to singles and find ways to minister to them more effectively without demeaning their singleness or treating it as a journey whose end is always marriage. We need to look for ways to celebrate godly friendships and the great impact these can have on a person’s life. These efforts won’t affect any immediate change, but over time, they will begin to transform the culture of the church into a place that is safe for folks who don’t fit the married, heterosexual, parental norm of most churches to connect without judgment and be shepherded faithfully to a life of greater faithfulness to Christ and service to the world.
Is any of this easy? No, but the Christian life never is, especially when the surrounding culture is hostile. But, it will lead to a transformation of our world for the sake of the kingdom and the saving of many more souls than we have seen in recent days. That seems like a goal worth enduring difficulty to achieve.