Why Celibate Gay Christians Don’t Need to Fear Hell

Revoice is just a week away! One of my biggest hopes is that this conference will carve out a space for LGBTQ+ Christians to adhere to historic teachings apart from threats of hell. If we ever hope to make conservative churches a safe environment for LGBTQ+ people, this absolutely must become the norm. Also, if you plan to be at the conference, please don’t hesitate to say hi! I can’t wait to talk!

One of the single most common reasons for gay celibacy amongst celibate gay Christians is fear of hell.

Letting go of my white-knuckle grip of celibacy was the best thing I ever did.

Now wait a minute.

Letting go of celibacy?

But isn’t celibacy the very thing that gay Christians must desperately maintain apart from getting married to the opposite sex? Isn’t celibacy, like, the point?

In many conservative churches, it is. The focus upon “no gay sex” in Christian communities often amounts to a type of spiritual suffocation, whereby celibate gay Christians slowly strangle themselves under the mounting pressure to avoid gay sex. Okay, maybe they’re dying, but at least they’re celibate. So, like, it’s fine. Right?

Unfortunately, it’s not.

It’s impossible to cling to Jesus and receive his gift of grace when we’re desperately clinging to something else. God calls us to be desperate for Jesus, not works of the law, and to cling to his righteousness, not our own. But unfortunately, the counsel given to far too many celibate gay Christians amounts to a call to cling to their celibacy and not their Savior.

Why Celibate Gay Christians Choose Celibacy

“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” – Gal. 5:1

When celibate gay Christians tell me their reasons for being celibate, one of the most common things I hear is, “I’m afraid of going to hell,” or some version of this idea.

Let’s allow that to sink in for a minute. “I’m afraid of going to hell” is literally one of the most common reasons for gay celibacy. Not Jesus. Not growth in his love and knowledge. And not even grace. Just hell. I’ve actually had countless gay Christians tell me that if it weren’t for their fear of hell, they wouldn’t be celibate at all.

This ought to horrify the mature-thinking Christian. We don’t perform acts of righteousness as a “get-out-of-hell-free” card. We grow in righteousness as a product of our faith in Jesus Christ. In a sermon on Galatians 5:1 (quoted above), John Piper observed, “The key to freedom is whether we have to do the work ourselves to escape punishment, or whether our Father comes down to be with us and help us.” If we do the work ourselves out of fear of retribution, we nullify the grace of God, choosing our works of self-righteousness over the gift of his Son (Gal. 2:21).

Nevertheless, when talking about homosexuality, Christians often reinforce a “get-out-of-hell” mindset by doubling-down on threats of damnation. After all, the thinking goes, if gay people don’t fear hell and damnation, then what’s to keep them celibate? Other Christians might not discuss hell explicitly but will communicate the same thing by questioning the salvation of any gay Christian who isn’t celibate and, by proxy, the gay person in front of them who struggles with the question of celibacy.

Such thinking betrays an anti-Gospel approach to the discipleship of gay believers. Instead of encouraging their gay siblings to rest in the finished work of Jesus Christ upon the cross, Christians communicate that Jesus Christ is not enough. Instead of teaching gay believers that their works are useless apart from Christ, Christians communicate that Christ is useless apart from their celibacy.

Gay Celibacy Doesn’t Impress the God of the Bible

“For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.” – Romans 3:38

These are some of the most basic principles taught to the most novice believers in Protestant Christianity. Our good works don’t save us. They proceed from Christ, not precede. “[T]he heart which is acceptable to God is not one which depends on its works,” John Piper said in a different sermon on Galatians, “…but rather one which trusts so fully in God’s grace that the result is a life of love.”

And a life of love fulfills the law of righteousness. “For the whole law is fulfilled in one word,” the Bible says, “‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (Gal. 5:14). We don’t achieve salvation by clinging to our righteousness. We achieve salvation by clinging to the love of God made manifest through Jesus Christ, who becomes our righteousness and who teaches us to live by teaching us to love (1 John 4:9, 19-21).

It’s for this reason that Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:3, “If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” Our grand displays of faithfulness don’t impress the God of the Bible. We could give away all that we have, even deliver up our bodies to be celibate, but if we don’t have love, rest assured, we gain nothing. Celibacy is a waste if it doesn’t proceed from the love of Christ.

Walking by the Spirit as a Celibate Gay Christian

“Walk by the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” – Gal. 5:16

When we “walk by the Spirit,” the Bible says in Galatians 5:16, we “will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” But objections to this principle abound. It feels dangerous to exchange our white-knuckle grip of morality for Jesus. How could we possibly do so without falling into sin?

Indeed, Paul faced this very same objection when writing to the Romans. “What shall we say then?” Paul asked his readers in Romans 6:1. “Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?”

He knew his readers, and he knew what they would think of this “grace.” Just a fancy way to justify sin. But “by no means!” he said. (v. 2) The whole point of the Gospel is that righteousness is no longer a requirement for salvation but a product of it. A thing we grow into. A process that begins on earth and completes itself in paradise. Sanctification.

Thus, the life of the believer is not characterized by sin but, rather, by it’s ever upward growth into the righteousness of Jesus Christ. And this life is the gay Christian’s to live. Christ is calling us to let go of our self-righteousness as the path to salvation and to embrace our Savior instead. Celibacy can’t be good when it’s nothing but a desperate attempt at saving ourselves. It must come through following Jesus and Jesus alone.

Choosing Jesus, Not Celibacy

“Then they said to him, ‘What must we do, to be doing the works of God?’ Jesus answered them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.’” – John 6:28-29

I never chose to be celibate. I chose to follow Jesus. And Jesus brought me into celibacy the way a teacher leads their student to their homeroom. I followed him there. And he made me desire to be there.

But just how many churches encourage their gay members to follow Jesus into celibacy? As opposed to maintaining their celibacy to follow Jesus? In my experience, not many. And what about celibate gay Christians? How many of us are celibate because we’re afraid of going to hell? And how many of us are celibate because our Savior simply brought us there?

The Bible calls upon gay Christians to follow Jesus and not a sexual ethic, however biblical and righteous it may be. Celibacy only becomes a life-giving vocation for gay people when we stop treating it like a ticket to heaven. Because it’s not. That’s Jesus.

18 thoughts on “Why Celibate Gay Christians Don’t Need to Fear Hell

  1. Susan Titus Reply

    Thanks for writing this out so well. You are right in saying this line of thinking regarding any of our “good deeds” should alarm the mature thinking believer. I pray that more accurate thinking comes to reflect the church.

    1. Bridget Eileen Reply

      Thank you so much, Susan! I pray the same thing.

  2. Foy Reply

    So good! And obviously true for all our fear based moral enforcement. But I have had to learn this particular truth in my marriage. I love being married to my wife, wouldn’t trade it for anything this side of heaven. But, that doesn’t mean it has always been easy. There have been very extended periods of celibacy during our marriage, not by my choosing. Thinking that God isn’t sufficient for that “need” and just “white knuckling it” doesn’t work for long. (I’m NOT comparing that to a life time of celibacy) I’ve said it before and say it again, your writings and those by other celibate LGBT sisters/brothers has really helped me learn how to love God first, most, and then be able to love my wife better because I’m not trying to have her fill needs that only God can.

    1. Bridget Eileen Reply

      Exactly, there’s truth here for all the ways we try to win God’s favor through fear-based morality. So blessed to hear how you see application not just for LGBTQ Christians but also for yourself and other believers!

  3. Darla Meeks Reply

    Excellent explanation of one of the toughest paradoxes of Christian thought. Without faith it is impossible to please God, and this is a thing of faith, our salvation. The law is good, but it does not deliver us from sin…it only reveals our sinfulness. In fact, Paul taught that the putting ourselves under the law rouses the flesh and aggravates sin and rebellion. Walking in the Spirit through Christ frees us from sinful thought and behavior. It brings forth the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity and self-control. Death to self through the power of the Spirit brings abundant life. As a celibate divorcee, these principles apply very much to me as it does to celibate gay people, so I very much relate. God has worked in me to actually enjoy walking in this life without a husband. It’s a happy thing…as long as my eyes are on Jesus and not on the earthly difficulties associated with being single and childless.

    1. Bridget Eileen Reply

      Exactly, it’s a paradox! It’s important to be willing to embrace a degree of mystery in the Christian faith. So appreciate your own story and testimony!

      1. Darla Meeks Reply

        And I yours, Bridget!

        “Lust is a poor, weak, whimpering whispering thing compared with that richness and energy of desire which will arise when lust has been killed.” – C.S. Lewis, “The Great Divorce”

  4. Melissa Reply

    People are shocked to hear that I was being led to celibacy by Jesus before I ever came to terms with my sexuality. Even Christians have accused me of putting a law on myself and I sort of shrug and say that in following Jesus, I found I could accept the teaching of Matthew 19. Sad I won’t be at Revoice this year but I’m praying for everyone going.

    1. Bridget Eileen Reply

      Love this so much. It can be so hard for people to wrap their minds around a story like yours…that someone could be led to celibacy apart from fear of sin related to their sexuality. Thank you for sharing this!

    2. Darla Meeks Reply

      I love the simplicity of your feelings on the matter, Melissa. This is what grace is like…we sort of tumble into obedience with a shrug. You just found that you could! I love that! Obedience is natural to the new creature almost like an instinct. You’re building your house on the rock of His commandments, and when the storms come, your house will stand.

  5. Richard Holloman Reply

    This is so good! Right on! Thank you!

    1. Bridget Eileen Reply

      Much appreciated!

  6. Michelle Reply

    Hey friend,
    This resonates so much with me, as I’m among those who have admitted to you in conversation, that fear is the main force driving my celibacy. I used to have love, but I lost it. So I have secretly feared (there it is again) that my celibacy is pointless. However, I don’t know how to get from Point A to Point B. How can I move from broken love, fear and resentment, back to new love and trust?

    1. Bridget Eileen Reply

      DMing you ❤?

    2. Terry Smith Reply

      I have a similar question to Michelle. How might one walk on the side of that fine line of acceptance versus obedience? It was my frightening experiences that helped bring me into the faith of Jesus Christ. Since the foundation of my faith is built on fear, anything that’s built upon it seems to be mixed with some anxiety. I have moments of humility, joy, and peace, but fear is always lurking. I’m still wondering if I please Jesus enough; whether in obedience to my sexuality, witnessing, and even in prayer. How do I reconcile this deep-rooted fear with simply trusting Jesus, knowing that this is the correct way to live?

      1. Bridget Eileen Reply

        Definitely not an easy question to answer and one that I couldn’t answer fully in a comment. But I will say for me that it started with claiming the truth of God’s word where it says “he has not given us a spirit of fear,” recognizing that where fear was present in my life, it was not from him, and then substantial prayer and fasting, asking for his help in overcoming fear and resting in his grace.

  7. Janis Spalding Reply

    Bridget, my favorite paragraph begins, “I never chose to be celibate. I chose to follow Jesus…” I find your words quite liberating for any believer as we seek to understand this paradox and live in that place. Jesus is the one who enables us to follow his prompting in all of our uniqueness. Thank you for writing and helping gay and straight believers understand how Jesus leads us to follow Him ! Write on dear girl.

    1. Bridget Eileen Reply

      So appreciate your encouragement…thank you!

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