Over the past month, I was able to teach a Bible class at Westover Christian Academy. I spent nine days over three weeks walking the students through the book of Acts in a study called “Church on Fire.” During this series, I connected with several of the students via Twitter. Today, two of the students asked me via Twitter whether or not gay people go to Hell. We all know that I am too foolish to turn down a challenge, so here is my complete answer, since 140 characters is clearly not enough to tackle this intense and hotly debated subject.
1 Corinthians 6:9-11 says this:
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.
Some people will try to use this text as God’s conviction and damnation of the unrighteous, including those “who practice homosexuality.” The real tragedy, then, is to proof-text only verses 9-10, while leaving out verse 11. The unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God. This is true because the standard for holy acceptance is perfection. But the problem is that no one can attain perfection according to God’s law and standards on his or her own. We need help. We need a Savior to take our place. That’s where Jesus comes in. Jesus satisfied the wrath of God by submitting Himself to death on a cross and taking the punishment that you and I deserved. Now, then, as believers in Christ, we are called out before time began (Romans 9; Ephesians 1), justified by Jesus Christ alone and not our own good works (Eph. 2:1-10), sanctified by the Holy Spirit and glorified by God in heaven. This is told to us plainly in Paul’s letter to the Romans:
And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. (Romans 8:30)
See, it is Jesus who saves, not us. Our job is to say please and thank you. God has given the gift of salvation to his elect; our job is to open it and to live a life that constantly declares our gratitude (this is sanctification) for that gift of grace.
Notice Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 6:11 above: “Such were some of you…” See, we are comfortable and content in the American evangelical South to point the finger at the “ungodly” (which reminds us of the Pharisees and their “unclean” enemies). What we hate to do, though, is to turn the microscope inward and examine our own hearts. You and I, before we met Christ, were on that unrighteous list. We were immoral idolaters. We sat on the throne of our lives and did as we pleased. BUT…and here is the Good News…if we are in Christ, everything is different. Paul explains it this way: “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 2 Corinthians 5:17, Paul explains that when one comes to Christ, he is a new creation. The old is gone and the new has come. When we accept God’s grace, we have what theologians call a “regenerated” heart. That means that it is new. We are no longer sinners by nature and identity. We are followers of Christ by grace and by adoption. We are adopted as sons and daughters of Christ. What a concept! Romans 8:31-39 explains that this hope is secure because Christ does all the work! He elects, saves, and sanctifies. And we live for him because of his incredible grace.
So the question of “can gay people go to heaven” has been answered. Yes, indeed they can, if they know Christ as Lord. However, that begs the question: “what if they never stop being gay?” This is where it gets dicey, complicated, and scary. See, we are used to hearing the miraculous testimony, and this is a good thing. You know the story: that guy who is hooked on drugs, sleeping with hookers, has ruined his marriage, and is breaking his mother’s heart with his wild and reckless behavior. But then, one day while snorting cocaine out of the carpet in a hotel room, he sees a Gideon Bible, sits down to read it, becomes a believer and is miraculously delivered from all desire to ever sin again. Yeah, this can happen and it undoubtedly has happened. But it is far more likely that your story will look like this:
Andrew was lost without Christ. He struggled with some specific sins that he just could not seem to break. He decided one day to fall on Christ, receive his gift of grace, and live for him forever. Everything goes well for a while. Andrew feels free. But one day, the opportunity to slip back into that old lifestyle of sin presents itself to Andrew and he struggles. He thinks, “God, why haven’t you taken this from me? Am I really saved?” Sometimes Andrew is good and stands his spiritual ground. But sometimes, he is not and slips into that old sin.
The question here is this: “Is Andrew a follower of Christ?” And that is a hard line to draw. See, we’re quick to rely on the fact that we prayed one insurance prayer as a child to get us to heaven. But did anything change? Were you made a new creation? Was your heart regenerated? Can a believer be stuck in a specific sin and still be a believer?
Here’s my barometer for answering this question. I usually ask two questions:
Were you ever changed?
And did you grow to hate your sin?
Some people struggling with homosexuality find Christ and come to faith in him, but are not delivered from the desire to live in their past sins. The same is true for those struggling with pornography and sexual sin, alcoholism, pride, and any other type of idolatry. The point, though, is this: at some point, a follower of Christ will come to hate his sin! Are we perfect all the time? No. Will we make mistakes? Yes. But the true follower of Christ will desire righteousness and hate his sin, even if he does fail from time to time.
I am not condoning homosexuality, nor am I saying that homosexuality and a life that follows Christ are compatible. They are not. But can a homosexual come to Christ? Absolutely! And can he or she still struggle even after believing Jesus as their Lord? You better believe it. Does this mean he or she is not a true follower of Christ? No way.
Sometimes God chooses to deliver us from our sinful addictions. And sometimes he does not. If he does, praise God! He has sanctified you. And if he does not, praise God! Because in your struggle, you WILL come to understand and believe that He is God and you are not. You will be sanctified through your struggle. And sometimes, even though it can be incredibly painful, that is best.
“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.”