Temptation, Jesus, Sin, and Same Sex Attraction

is same sex attraction a sin

Temptation is not the same as sin. Temptation can certainly lead to sin but maintaining the distinction between temptation and sin is vitally important. Getting this wrong destroys our Christology and creates a culture of unnecessary guilt in the life of a Christian. Misplaced guilt is one of the chief weapons of our serpentine accuser (Rev 12:10).

The discussion of how believers and churches should respond to brothers and sisters in Christ who struggle with same sex attraction has led some evangelicals to argue that the attraction itself is sinful, even if the Christian remains chaste, and in obedience to Christ never yields to the temptation. Of course, same sex attraction is simply one among many ways all believers are tempted to sin. How we answer the question of the relationship between temptation and sin has huge implications for every Christian.

The preacher of Hebrews urges his listeners (I believe it is a sermon in written form) to draw near to Christ in great confidence, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb 4:15). Some suggest that temptation of Christ was not really temptation in the way we experience temptation because of his divinity but that all of our temptation is inherently sinful because we are simply humans. First, the church has always rejected as dangerous any attempt to divide the incarnation of Christ in that kind of way. Second, such an approach seems to be arguing the opposite of what the text in Hebrews is emphasizing.

Jesus was unsuccessfully tempted in the wilderness by the devil upon the launch of his public ministry (Matt 4, Luke 4) and the Hebrews sermon stresses that as our high priest Jesus is able to sympathize with us because he is one who “in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” The sermon in Hebrews had already asserted, “For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted” (Heb 2:18). At Gethsemane Jesus overcame temptation to shrink back from the task ahead when he fell on his face and cried out, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matt 26:36-39). The Hebrews sermon avers that Jesus “learned obedience through what he suffered” (Heb 5:8). The language throughout Hebrews 1-4 seems to be chosen precisely because of the way it connects with the experience of the listeners.

Temptation is an experience “common to man” (1 Cor 10:13) but not all are tempted in the same way. Whether the temptation is a same sex attraction, heterosexual immorality, deceit, materialism, laziness, pride, or countless others, if the person recognizes the danger, seeks deliverance from the temptation, and resists acting upon it to the glory of Christ, that is obedience—not sin. James argues that temptation alone is not the same as committing sin. According to James, temptation can give way to inordinate desire and give birth to sin but if it stops at the level of temptation then sin is not yet conceived (James 1:13-15). Agreeing with a temptation and capitulating to a sinful desire must not be considered the same thing as rejecting a temptation and turning from a sinful desire.

John Frame applies the distinction between temptation and sin to the issue of same sex attraction,

If homosexual orientation is simply a strong pattern of temptation, it is not wrong in itself. Temptation is not sin. Jesus himself “in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb 4:15). Certainly Jesus experienced sexual temptation, since that is such a pervasive form of temptation to human beings after the fall. But it is possible to reject temptation without sin, and Jesus did reject it.

Christians should be sympathetic to other Christians who are enduring any kind of temptation, especially one that besets them day after day. We do not all have the same patterns of temptation, but we are all tempted in one way or another (The Doctrine of the Christian Life, 760). 

Temptation certainly becomes sin when we yield to a sinful desire in our heart, mind, or actions but it is biblically wrong and pastorally tragic to suggest that all temptation is sin. Satan, the tempter, is the accuser of our brothers. Let us not join him in his destructive ministry of condemnation and false guilt. Let us say with Paul, “with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Cor 10:13).


By |December 20th, 2014|Categories: Blog|Tags: , |

About the Author:

David E. Prince is pastor of preaching and vision at Ashland Avenue Baptist Church in Lexington, Kentucky and assistant professor of Christian preaching at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the author of In the Arena and Church with Jesus as the Hero. He blogs at Prince on Preaching and frequently writes for The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, For the Church, the BGEA and Preaching Today


  1. Jonathan December 20, 2014 at 1:29 pm

    Would love to see more interaction with James 1. Specifically, what was Jesus’ temptation since God cannot be tempted with evil, and is the desire that lures and entices sin in and of itself since it does not accord with holiness.

  2. Adam December 21, 2014 at 1:15 am

    I agree Jonathan. It seems that James is saying that we are tempted because we already have bad desires, not that temptation causes these desires. And if this it’s the case it would appear that the desires themselves are sinful. Also, if temptation in and of itself isn’t wrong/sinful, will there be temptation in the new heavens and earth?

  3. David E. Prince December 21, 2014 at 12:31 pm

    Jonathan and Adam,

    Thanks for you comments and questions. Total conflation of temptation/attraction with sin/lust is not biblically justifiable. You end up saying Jesus was not “really” tempted like we are. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). Was he tempted as we are or not?

    I may post an exegetical analysis of James 1. Thanks for the suggestion.

    John Piper does a good job making the biblical distinction here in his sermon “Let the Marriage Be be Honorable”:

    “Same sex desires and same sex orientation are part of our broken and disordered sexuality owing to God’s subjection of the created order to futility because of man’s sin.

    In Genesis 3 we read about the catastrophic moment when the first man and woman rebelled against God. The effects on them and on the world are described in chapters 3 and 4, and then illustrated in the sin-soaked and death-ridden history of the Old Testament — indeed the history of the world.

    The apostle Paul sums it up like this in Romans 8:20–21:

    The creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.
    And we know from verse 23 that part of the creation that was subjected to death and futility was our own bodies — and he stresses, yes, the bodies of the redeemed. “And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:23).

    And I am arguing that same sex desires and same sex orientation are in that category of groaning — waiting for the redemption of our bodies. Which means they are in the same broad category with all kinds of disordered bodies and minds and emotions. If we tried to make a list of the kinds of emotional and mental and physical brokenness of the human family the list would be unending. And all of us are broken and disordered in different ways. All of you are bent to desire things in different degrees that you should not want. We are all disordered in our emotions, or minds, our bodies.

    This is a call for careful distinctions lest you hurt people — or yourself — unnecessarily. All our disorders — all our brokenness — is rooted in sin — original sin and our sinful nature. 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.

    Therefore, same-sex intercourse, not same-sex desire is the focus of Paul’s condemnation when he threatens exclusion from the kingdom of God.

    The clearest statement is found in 1 Corinthians 6:9–10.

    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, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.
    The words, “men who practice homosexuality” is a translation of two Greek words which refer to the passive and active partners in homosexual intercourse.”

    Blessings in Christ,

  4. Adam December 21, 2014 at 9:04 pm

    I was wondering how your thoughts compared to Burk’s in his articles on homosexual orientation.


  5. Joshua Waulk December 22, 2014 at 9:35 am

    Dr. Prince,

    Very much appreciate the article and its implications for biblical counseling. Honest, non-rhetorical question for you: Could Eve have remained in the Garden once her heart alone was given to sinful lust/passion/desire, if she had not physically acted upon those (which, of course, she did)?

    I’m thinking that our conclusions here speak to this issue of SSA/SSO, in so far as how we understand it (our response must be shaped elsewhere).

  6. Bobby December 22, 2014 at 4:12 pm

    I appreciate this article. I do have a question on ” those who practice homosexuallity’. If a couple openly claims to be in a a same sex relationship yet remain abstinent in regards to intercourse, however still kiss and so forth, would the be practicing homosexuallity?

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  9. rick December 27, 2014 at 7:10 pm

    Is the temptation itself an appeal to our fallen nature (for believer’s our old man, the flesh, remaining sin)? And if so, the appeal is to some desire or inclination that is an aspect of our fallen nature. The desire for sex in and of itself is not sinful – it is God-given and since it is given to us by God and we are His creatures, then the desire is good as He determines it to be so (in the context of marriage). But the desire to want to have sex outside of marriage (between man and women also determined by our Creator) or the desire to have sex with someone of the same sex is a desire of the flesh or remaining sin. These desires are meant to reveal to us who we really are in and of ourselves and meant to draw us to our Lord and Savior. As believers we are not to depend upon ourselves or our own strength, we are dependent upon God and His indwelling Spirit – to walk and live by Him (Gal. 5). So yes the desire (to have sex with someone outside of biblical marriage) itself is of our sinful, fallen nature, but may not have been conceived and given birth to sin (James 1).

  10. Rick December 28, 2014 at 10:19 am

    It seems like we need to distinguish the nuances of ‘temptation’. Jesus was tempted from without, just as we are at times – via the ‘world’ and the demons. But we, as fallen creatures, also have ‘flesh’ (remaining sin for believers or an ‘old man’) that remains with us this side of eternity – ‘flesh’ (as defined by sin) Jesus did not have. When Jesus said in Matthew 5 that looking at a women with lustful intent is committing adultery – he did not say that one had to commit the act. Regarding the debate about homosexual inclinations/same sex attractions we need to help people understand this nuance. Otherwise they could think that looking with intent but not following through is OK. Again, the eruptions of our fallen nature are not intended to condemn us as believers, but to show who we really are apart from Christ and they are meant to lead us to denying ourselves (our fallenness) and showing us our need and dependence upon Christ in us – His indwelling Spirit. If I walk by a scantily clad women and a demon whispers in my ear that I really do desire her and want to be with her – these are temptations from without. It’s when I agree and then begin to ponder and wonder what that would be like that the temptation from without has now stirred up a sinful desire within and in this case I am sinning according to Matthew 5. And I would imagine that most homosexuals in this debate are thinking it may be OK to ponder and wonder what it would be like – I don;t think that is helpful, nor does it serve them, Thoughts?

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