On any short list of today’s hot-button cultural issues, sexual orientation and gender identity are certainly right at the top. Even within the Church, these topics often lead to concern, confusion, and conflict—especially when younger generations are part of the conversation.
Fortunately, God’s Word provides clarity where the culture fosters confusion.
As we help our teenagers navigate questions about LGBTQ (stands for: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and/or Questioning) topics, we can take comfort in the fact that the Bible actually offers a lot of clear guidance. It provides insight that can help students sort through their own identity and sexuality questions, as well as those of their peers, in a way that wisely balances conviction and compassion. Scripture can also equip our teenagers to share the Good News of Jesus with others—no matter their gender identity or sexual orientation—in a good-news way.
Here are four powerful, Scripture-based principles to help your teenagers think through gender and sexuality issues:
1. Choose love, not hate, as your posture.
Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.1 John 4:8
These are strong words from God. If we hate anyone, we’ve alienated the One defined by love—God Himself. When Christians mock, demean, shun, or ignore, we’re nothing like God. When Jesus said, “For God so loved the world” (John 3:16), He didn’t quantify or qualify. He loves the world and everyone in it.
“God is love.” That’s who He is. It’s what describes and defines the person of God. Yes, He’s holy, just, righteous, and so much more. But this passage highlights the primary attribute that encompasses all the others: love.
Because of His love, God doesn’t wait until we clean up our act to save us. He saves us and then begins the process of cleaning up our act. Romans 5:8 shockingly asserts:
But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners Christ died for us.
This is true for everyone, no matter our sexual attractions or gender identification.
Encourage your teenagers to love everyone, no matter what, all the time, because God has relentlessly loved us. Teach your teens to continually drench their theological convictions with biblical compassion and agape love—and may we do the same.
2. Choose the Bible, not culture, as your authority.
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of His appearing and His Kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke, and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.2 Timothy 3:16–4:2
The Bible originated from the mind of God and landed on paper (or papyrus) through the pens of the men who wrote it. Because it’s inspired (“breathed out”) from God Himself, it’s as perfect as God Himself.
Why did God give us the Bible? At its core, it’s a love story. It chronicles God’s love for humanity and His desire for all of us to be part of His family. And in any loving family, one aspect of that love is having rules and boundaries. Those rules are in place to protect the members of the family and help them thrive.
The Bible provides us with God’s “house rules.” As my own kids grew up, they didn’t always understand or agree with our house rules, but as I used to remind them: “Those who own the house make the rules.”
What’s true in my household is even more true in God’s. As Christians, we’re commanded to listen to, respect, and obey God’s Word—whether we like what it says or not, whether culture disagrees with it or not, whether people mock us for it or not. Even when we don’t like the rules, we can take comfort in the fact that they aren’t arbitrary—they’re based on God’s perfect character and are given for our good (see Deuteronomy 10:12-14).
As we teach students to view gender and sexuality issues (or any issues, really) through a biblical lens, it’s important to help them understand that God’s house rules don’t apply only to Christians. That’s because God made the universe, so everything in it belongs to Him. As Psalm 24:1-2 explains:
The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; for He founded it on the seas and established it on the waters.
The Bible is His primary way of explaining to His creation—to all humanity—who He is, who we are, and how the world works. Since the whole universe can be considered God’s “house,” His rules—as outlined in the Bible—apply to everyone.
In other words, the Bible is humanity’s instruction manual. And it’s clear on issues of identity and sexuality.
The Bible and human identity
When engaging with our students on these topics, it’s helpful to start with God’s design for humanity as a whole.
Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our own image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground. So God created mankind in His own image, in the image of God He created them; male and female He created them.Genesis 1:26-27
God placed humans above all other creatures in both position and value, by making us “in the image of God.” That means we’re designed to function best when we imitate His character and follow His ways.
This is important for students to remember in a culture that increasingly argues that humans have no more worth than animals—or that we get our value from what we say or do or from what others say about us. These verses establish humans as having intrinsic value because they’re uniquely and distinctly made in God’s image. This means every human is worthy of dignity and respect.
The Bible and gender identity
We also see in these verses that God established two human sexes from the very beginning, when He made Adam and Eve:
…male and female He created them.Genesis 1:27
The determination of whether each of us is male or female is a miraculous, hands-on process that God personally oversees in our mother’s womb:
For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.Psalm 139:13-14
Whether we’re male or female is not our choice, but God’s. And that choice took place not just in our mother’s womb but before the world began. As God told the prophet Jeremiah:
‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you…’Jeremiah 1:5
We can share this truth with teens: God blueprinted each one of us, sex and all, in our mother’s womb, as our very DNA shows. In every cell of our bodies, females have two X chromosomes (XX) and males have an X and a Y (XY).* There’s no intervention—surgical or chemical—that can change that reality.
Traditionally, this biological reality has gone by the interchangeable terms of sex and gender. In today’s culture, however, sex is often used to refer to biological reality, while gender refers to the feelings or cultural experience of being male or female. In this view, gender identity is one’s internal sense of being male or female (or both or neither); it’s tied to the soul and is psychological, while sex is tied to the body and is physical.
This division of the internal and external being is not found in Scripture, however. Throughout Scripture, our bodies are presented as a fundamental part of who we are (see 1 Corinthians 6:18-20, for example). And because God is perfect in all He does (Deuteronomy 32:4), He cannot make mistakes by putting anyone in the wrong body. His gender choice for us is good, and we can experience life more abundantly when we work to embrace it.
To avoid contributing to people’s struggles with gender, we should be careful to faithfully interpret and not go beyond what the Bible says regarding the differences between men and women and their roles. The Bible affirms the equal value of both sexes and allows for far more freedom in gender roles and expectations than most cultures have throughout history. We should do the same, while celebrating the differences that Scripture does outline.
Because the creation of male and female is so fundamental to God’s plan for humanity, it should be no surprise that Satan would work to confuse people in this area. Consequently, gender dysphoria and struggles to discern what it means to be a man or a woman are very real and are often rooted in feelings of rejection. These struggles should be addressed with great compassion, but also with the understanding that fighting against or distorting how God created us can never lead to our thriving in the way God intended.
The Bible and sexual orientation
When it comes to sexual orientation and activity, looking back at the Garden of Eden once again can help teens find God’s path through the current wilderness of sexual confusion. Genesis 2:18-25 paints a clear picture of God’s original design for sex:
The Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.’ Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky, and all the wild animals.
But for Adam no suitable helper was found. So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, He took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib He had taken out of the man, and He brought her to the man.
The man said, ‘This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called “woman,” for she was taken out of man.’ That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh. Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.
God’s design for sex is for it to be between one man and one woman “till death do us part,” within the context of marriage—not with two people of the same gender, not with more than one person, not with another type of creature. Once again, these are house rules that we may not like or understand, but as mentioned before, they’re based on God’s perfect character and given for our good.
Jesus reiterated these house rules:
‘Haven’t you read,’ He replied, ‘that at the beginning the Creator “made them male and female” and said, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh”? Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.’Matthew 19:4-6
Jesus clearly stated that God’s design for sex was that “the two” (a husband and a wife within the context of a marriage) “will become one flesh”—a oneness demonstrated in the act of sex (1 Corinthians 6:15-16). Sex between two people of the same gender does not fall within that design.
There are a number of passages in the Bible that clearly describe same-sex sexual activity as sin. Here are three of them:
Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable.Leviticus 18:22
Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way, men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.Romans 1:26-27
Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the Kingdom of God.1 Corinthians 6:9-10
Some pastors and teachers today take these clear passages and apply complicated interpretations to argue that the authors were condemning homosexuality only in certain contexts or in certain types of homosexual acts, such as sex outside of a committed relationship, rape, prostitution, or pedophilia. These arguments, however, do not fit with the Bible as a whole, or how it’s been interpreted throughout history. (For detailed insight on the interpretation of passages addressing homosexuality, click here.)
In Scripture, sex between two people of the same gender is never depicted as a positive thing. And from Genesis to Revelation, marriage is always described as being solely between a male and a female.
In short, Scripture states very directly that homosexual sex and lust are sins. And as difficult as it may be, we need to help our teenagers understand that the Bible is unequivocal on this issue.
How to handle the truth
Because of culture’s broad acceptance—and even celebration—of homosexuality, the truth that it is sinful may come as a shock to many of your teenagers (and some of their parents). Don’t overreact. Speak the truth with gentleness and confidence, pointing them back to God’s Word.
When doing so, it’s helpful to remind them of four things:
1. Temptation (of any kind) is not sin. Jesus Himself experienced a variety of temptations, and yet did not sin (Hebrews 4:15). Being tempted by homosexuality is not in and of itself sinful. But feeding that temptation by dwelling on lustful thoughts is sinful, as is giving into your temptation.
2. All sexual immorality is sin, as we saw in the 1 Corinthians passage. This includes heterosexual sex outside of marriage and heterosexual lust (or lust of any kind). All sin causes us to fall short of God’s perfect standard and plan.
3. All sin, including every kind of sexual sin, is forgiven when we trust in Christ and His sacrifice as payment for our sin. There is “now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). That forgiveness, however, is not a license to sin but rather an inspiration and invitation to live according to God’s ways.
4. Truth is love. As I stated before, love should saturate all our interactions around LGBTQ topics. But it’s important to teach students not to adopt our culture’s definition of love, which says: “If you don’t applaud what I believe and do—and my perception of myself—you don’t love me.” The reality for most of our students is that anything less than a full embrace and celebration of LGBTQ identities and ideologies is considered hateful and “-phobic.”
As leaders, we have the challenging task of helping students adopt and stand firm in a different definition of love—one based in reality and in the truth of God’s Word.
Using analogies can help. For example, most students would agree that supporting an anorexic person’s belief that they’re overweight would be harmful, not helpful. Or that encouraging a drug addict to embrace their identity as an addict and take more drugs wouldn’t be loving.
So if we truly believe that homosexuality and rejection of one’s gender violate God’s good design, it’s not loving to affirm these beliefs or behaviors—or to accept that they’re unchangeable identities to be embraced. As Christians, we’re called to find the balance of showing unconditional love and kindness, without condoning sin.
Which brings us to the next principle…
3. Choose the Gospel, not sin management, for solutions.
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.Ephesians 2:1-5
All of us were dead in our sins. All of us followed the way of this world. All of us had allegiance to Satan, whether knowingly or unknowingly. All of us were consumed by our passions, cravings, and lusts. All of us needed a Savior.
Jesus is that Savior. Those who trust in Him to save them—regardless of how they identify sexually or in terms of gender—are immediately brought to life and given a new identity, that of a child of God!
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!2 Corinthians 5:17
At the moment we become a new creation, God’s Holy Spirit comes to live inside us (Ephesians 1:13-14) and gives us the power to begin living according to God’s ways, instead of fleshly desires. That doesn’t mean we no longer struggle with sin or temptation—we’ll continue to do so in some capacity our whole lives—but as we listen to and yield to the Spirit, He has the power to change us.
It’s vital to believe, and help our teenagers to believe, in this transforming power of the Gospel. Romans 1:16 makes it clear that “it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.” The Greek word for “salvation” means “deliverance from peril or danger.” We must believe that the Gospel can deliver any teenager from any sin, including any kind of sexual brokenness.
We’re all born as slaves to our flesh—which encompasses our genetics, hormones, natural instincts, and sinful desires—and into a sinful, fallen environment—which includes abuse, unbiblical ideologies, and more. But the amazing news of the Gospel is that when we trust Christ, His Spirit frees us from that slavery and enables us to live in God’s ways—no matter what caused our sin to begin with. As Paul explains:
For we know that our old self was crucified with Him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—because anyone who has died has been set free from sin.Romans 6:6-7
As Henry David Thoreau once said: “There are a thousand hacking at the leaves of evil to one who is striking at the root.” It’s not reparative therapy, moral education, or a change of environment that transforms—it’s the Gospel.
Our job is to help our teenagers be well-versed in the core message of the Gospel. At Dare 2 Share, we use a simple, six-sentence acrostic to communicate it—and each point of the acrostic sheds light on the topics of identity and sexuality (click here for a deeper dive into this).
4. Choose engagement, not detachment, as your strategy.
It’s easy as youth leaders to detach from the conversation. We don’t want to be labeled as being part of a “hate group.” And, although that could happen, it’s less likely to occur if we engage these topics with kindness and respect.
It’s important to first teach our Christian teenagers to think clearly and biblically about these issues and then equip them to engage their friends of every orientation with the transformative power of the Gospel of Jesus.
The power of friendship
Four years ago, I was privileged to speak at the Anchored conference, the goal of which was to help youth leaders and church leaders know how to reach LGBTQ-identifying teenagers, and my talk was about practical ways to share the Gospel with them.
To prepare for the conference, I went to Starbucks with my then-17-year-old son, Jeremy, and a friend of his, whom I’ll call Anna. Jeremy and Anna had been classmates at his Christian middle school and high school. Anna identified as a lesbian, but she and Jeremy had remained good friends, even after she’d transferred to a different school.
I thought it would be good for me to hear her story and to run some of the things I was going to say by her to get her perspective. Anna told me that she had put her faith in Jesus during her middle school years but had since turned into an agnostic, after struggling through some of her challenges.
She graciously shared about a lot of those challenges—many of which had to do with how various people responded to learning that she was identifying as a lesbian—and at the end of our meeting, I had a chance to ask her: “Is there anything that would attract you back to Christ and the Church?”
Her answer was a pleasant surprise. She said: “I don’t know, but your son is doing a good job. He listens to me and talks to me. We definitely differ on a lot of issues, but he’s making me rethink some things, especially about God.”
The path forward
Let’s follow—and teach our teens to follow—Jeremy’s example.
Imagine if the Church began to intentionally reach out—with a Jesus-style blend of love and conviction—to people who identify as LGBTQ and started seeing more and more lives transformed by the power of the Gospel. How much different would the future look, both for the Church and for the lives that were changed?
Let’s find out by teaching our teens to love like Jesus and to follow His Word. It will get messy. It could be painful. But it’s worth it!
Hard Questions: Examining Gender, Sexuality, and Identity through a Gospel lens. This free, four-lesson curriculum teaches your students to answer questions about LGBTQ topics using a biblical framework and equips them to engage in conversation with their peers, while balancing conviction and compassion and sharing the Good News of Jesus.
To further train your students to share the Gospel with anyone, download Takeoff to Touchdown: How to navigate a Gospel conversation, a free, four-week, video-based curriculum.
Gender, Sexuality, and the Gospel by Greg Stier.
For an article that examines nontraditional interpretations of biblical passages regarding homosexuality, click here.
LGBTQ: Can We Restart the Conversation? featuring Sean McDowell // The Greg Stier Youth Ministry Podcast
Can You Be a Gay Christian? Side B Christianity and the Revoice Conference (Alisa Childers and Christopher Yuan)
Gay Girl, Good God: The Story of Who I Was, and Who God Has Always Been By Jackie Hill Perry
Exposing the Gender Lie: How to Protect Children and Teens from the Transgender Industry’s False Ideology by Jeff Myers, Ph.D., and Brandon Showalter
Ministries, Speakers, and Parent Resources
Understanding Homosexuality by Focus on the Family
A Biblical Perspective on Transgender Identity: A Primer for Parents and Strugglers by Focus on the Family
Calibrate Ministries: A new conversation, Brady Cone. Visit Calibrate for The Great Exchange podcast, a ministry for parents, and to book Brady Cone for speaking engagements.
* About 0.018% of the population has a full genetic intersex condition, in which their genetic phenotype isn’t clearly male or female. Intersex is a biological condition, while gender dysphoria is a psychological issue, based on feeling or perception. Only an estimated 8.5% to 20% of people with intersex also experience gender dysphoria.