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Reflections on 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8: Part Three—The damage of sexual slavery: living for our desires

Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more. 2 For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. 3 For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; 4 that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, 5 not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; 6 that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. 7 For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. 8 Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.

If you are just picking up this post now, click here and here for parts one and two.

Paul’s plea to the Thessalonians is that they not live sexually as if they are free to do whatever they want. As he said in another letter: You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body (1 Cor. 6: 19-20).

And his point in verses 4-5 is this: If you are not serving God by living for him, learning to control your body’s powerful sexual desires, you will be a slave to desires you will not be able to control. And if that is what is happening in your life, if you are living sexually anyway you want, what you think is sexual freedom is, in God’s economy, slavery.

You will be living as if God doesn’t matter to you at all.

Here is what we need to know about desires and wants and how they are closely connected to our sexuality. Our sexuality is fed by desires that often are not sexual at all: like loneliness, fear, anxiety, depression, inadequacy, power, control, wanting to be loved, known or valued, fear of missing out, peer pressure—there are an unlimited number of wants and desires that become “over-desires” and rule over us. They become things we think we absolutely need in life; they become ultimate things; they become idols that we live for—to have or to avoid.

And if we use our sexuality to erase our loneliness, combat our anxiety or fears, or to convince ourselves that somebody now loves and wants us, then we will keep doing so in order that life gives us what we think we need.

But what they give us is an illusion of control when in fact they give us slavery; they control us.

And when we find ourselves at that place in life, Paul’s description of non-believers becomes true even for believers: we become like the Gentiles who do not know God. When our hearts are given over to something or someone else, Jesus is pushed aside. He simply is not enough for us—to give us what we need in life. So, we begin worshipping a false god of our own making.

Our sexuality reveals our spirituality; it reveals the allegiance of our hearts.

Today, pornography is a clear example of sexual-freedom-is-really-sexual-slavery.

Let me show you four ways our struggles with sexuality brings slavery—and how it hurts us and others.

One, it brings crippling self-doubt about salvation

Many Christians live defeated lives of fear and self-loathing. Their struggles with sex drives them away from God. They hide from him and from others. When they look to God all they see is a Judge, not a Savior who came to rescue them from the very slavery that binds them.

A man from a support group wrote this for our latest newsletter:

“When does the healing from a life time of viewing porn begin? How do I measure victory over a sin that has dogged my footsteps for decades? These are questions I struggled with for years …. I have spent most of my life in fear of being discovered. This sin warped and twisted all my relationships, from God, to my wife, to my children, to my friendships.”

People like my friend here think: “If I struggle here, I must not be a Christian.”

Two, sexual strugglers live double lives

I’m talking here about compartmentalizing, about splitting your life into separate parts. I can be a Christian at church and be someone else at school, at my workplace, etc. Sexual strugglers live double lives. Our organization’s president, John Freeman, just published a book called: Hide or Seek: When Men Get Real with God about Sex. He uses this phrase about sexual strugglers: They become game-players. They put their game face on when they are in public with other believers, but underneath the mask there is tremendous fear and shame and guilt.

Compartmentalizing, however, slowly bleeds into every area of your life. Another man in my support group said he’s been a liar all his life. Now in his 50s, his early encounter with porn as a child led him for decades to hide his sexual addiction, first from his parents and then from his wife and children.

He got so used to lying to cover up his porn addiction. He soon didn’t realize that he unconsciously lied to cover up all his behavior, no matter what it was. He could never relax and just be himself—his constant fear was being found out.

Three, the slavery Paul talks about leads to hopelessness

Crippling doubt about salvation, and living a fear-driven double life ultimately brings hopelessness about ever being able to be free. Many men and women give up—they either give up outwardly and leave the church or they give up silently and just go through the motions of living their Christian faith. But they distance themselves from church, and from family relationships, and those closest to them sense that something is amiss, but they can’t put their finger on it.

Slavery gives you the feeling that the gospel has no power. It is utterly useless to help you with the problems and struggles you face once you leave church on Sunday. And if you feel God himself can’t help you, you are indeed hopeless.

Four, slavery to our desires leads us to harm others

In verse 6 Paul slips in this: that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you.

Paul is referring to the relational damage of sexual sin. He connects it with sexuality: “in this matter.”

Here’s the point: Sexual sin is not a private matter. It is not a harmless, private activity. When our desires control us, we become intensely self-centered. Sex was designed by God as a means to bless our spouse. But when our focus is only in ourselves and what we can get out of it, we hurt people and relationships.

A husband who looks at pornography hurts his wife, as he prefers a fantasy life over his real one. At best, his wife becomes merely an object of his own pleasure like all the women he sees on the screen. He uses people.

Someone who engages in porn contributes to the sexual exploitation of the performers and the widespread damage to the minds and hearts of others who are in slavery to this. Increasingly the evidence is growing that sex trafficking is embedded in this porn epidemic.

And then there is sexual abuse. Child porn, and the awful tragedy of church leaders abusing men and women under their pastoral care, is the extreme display of all this sexual slavery.
Lust is not something that is easily contained. There is a reason Jesus said, in exaggerated language, in order to make a point: If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out.

When we feed our lusts, they will control us. Consume us.

Can you hear Paul’s plea: Don’t live by your desires, now that you know something of what this slavery looks like!

But if that warning is not enough, Paul gives a stronger one: the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you.

(Looking ahead: is there a way forward through all this, a way for us, individually, and for us, as a church, to live our life in sexual integrity before God?)

Link to Part 4.

Reflections on 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8: Part Two — How we deal with our sexuality will lead us to freedom or slavery.

Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more. 2 For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. 3 For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; 4 that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, 5 not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; 6 that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. 7 For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. 8 Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.

In my first post on this amazing passage by Paul, I pointed out how God places a high value on how we live before him in these bodies we have. You can read that first post here

Again, Paul’s intent in this passage is to make it very clear that those who name themselves as followers of Christ cannot engage in whatever sexual behavior they wish as the surrounding culture promoted and permitted. But he also understood the struggle they were having in reining in attractions, desires and behaviors which were formally OK for them.

So, after he tells them that what we do with our bodies matters to God, he gives them another compelling reason for fighting sexual sin:

That how we deal with our sexuality will lead us to freedom or slavery.

There are two powerful cultural forces in play regarding sexuality in our world today.

The first one is that we no longer agree on what is right and wrong. The old rules and boundaries regarding sexual behavior are now considered repressive, confining, antiquated. What matters is love, however it is expressed. As long as there is agreement between consenting adults and no one gets hurt, everything is OK.

The second cultural force is that since there is no standard of truth, we all make our own truth. Personal stories are how we discover “truth” today. The individual—me—is the primary point of meaning and fulfillment. We don’t look outside of ourselves, to God or some sort of external standard, to find truth or meaning. We look inside, to our own feelings and experiences. I discover truth; this is “my truth.” No one has the right to say my truth is wrong. My story, the way I experience life, validates what is true.

These two cultural forces—that there is no right or wrong other than what I say is right or wrong, are reshaping sexuality today. Sexual expression, sexual attraction, sexual desires, sexual identity, sexual rights—it’s an anything-goes-sexuality culture. This is what is called sexual freedom.

But Paul—and indeed the entire Bible—calls this kind of life, not freedom, but slavery.

Look at verses 4 & 5, where Paul says: that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God;

What is Paul saying here? He is making clear that believers must not live lives of uncontrolled sexuality the way unbelievers do. Now, Paul is making a worldview statement here. He is not saying that all unbelievers live licentious sexual lives. Rather, he is saying that the world outside of God’s influence promotes living according to one’s passions.

He is saying to the young believers in this new church community, that though this is the world you came out of, and though you may still struggle with your sexuality, don’t give in to those desires as if it doesn’t matter what you do with your bodies.

Because it does matter.

Why? Because when you give your body over to your desires, you will find out what slavery is.

Now where do we see this? It’s understanding the key word here that Paul uses: “lust.” Not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God.

Lust is an interesting word. It’s typically a word used in a sexual context, but it’s not limited to that. The Greek word that we translate lust, epithumia, simply means “over-desire” or “strong desire.” The general meaning in the NT when it is used in a sexual context is that of a “ruling desire,” or an “inordinate desire.” A “controlling desire.” A desire that enslaves.

In other words, our desires, which arise from what entices us and what we ourselves want, eventually come to enslave us. And Paul is pleading: Don’t go there! Don’t give in to those over-desires. Don’t let yourself be a slave, controlled by something that brings destruction to your life. Don’t live as if God doesn’t matter to you.

We see this idea of behavior and slavery in another passage—James 1:13-15: It says, 13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. 14 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.

Now what is James saying here?

James is answering the question: What causes us to sin? His answer is that everyone is tempted from within (“by his own desire”), and that our desires, when we cultivate them, and focus on them, they eventually give birth to sin.

The word that is translated desire is the same word Paul uses: epithumia. And James is clearly using this word in a sexual context, also. In fact, James uses a sexual term that is translated “lured and enticed.”

Now what does this all mean?

It means this: We want what we desire—all behavior is based on my free will. I choose it. But at the same time our desires rule us. The NIV translates this passage in a vivid way: “But each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed.”

Do you see? Behavior always has this ongoing dynamic of being my free choice while, at the same time, I’m being dragged toward it or controlled by it. A modern interpretation of this was penned best by Bob Dylan: “You’ve got to serve somebody. It may be the devil or it may be the Lord, but you’ve got to serve somebody.”

You are free to do what you want—but you will be serving somebody. And if you are not serving God, living for him, you will be a slave to desires you will not be able to control. And if that is what is happening in your life, if you are living sexually anyway you want, what you think is sexual freedom is, in God’s economy, slavery.

You will be living as if God doesn’t matter to you at all.

(Looking ahead: What effect does living in slavery to my “ruling desires” hurt me and others?)

Links to Part 3

This article appeared in our 2015 magazine newsletter. It is being posted here for online reading and for those who may perhaps wish to comment on what it says.

She came into our first Sexual Sanity for Women (SSFW) gathering at our church, crushed, broken, and afraid. I welcomed her in, but felt like the smallest wrong word from me could send her quickly away. Her name was Becca (name has been changed), and she sat on the far edge of the couch, close to the door. It was obvious that if everything became too hard for her, she needed a quick escape.

I began the group by sharing my own painful testimony as a way to connect with the other women. I kept glancing over at Becca, continually praying for her, that God would give her courage to simply stay, for she was right where God wanted her to be. And she did. She stayed.

The second meeting was tougher. As the group members arrived, I could sense each woman laboring under the weight of her struggle. I began to feel my insecurity rise. Had I learned enough from my online group at Harvest USA to really think I could do this? Then I looked again, and I didn’t see Becca. I immediately thought her absence was due to something I said last week. I prayed, “Lord, please bring her back.” As I was praying, someone in the group who knew Becca well called her. “I am coming to pick you up. You need to be here as much as I do. You are not alone. We can walk this journey together, okay?” She wouldn’t take no for an answer, and she went and brought Becca in.

As we ended the lesson, everyone filed out the door except for Becca. She sat there, wanting to talk, but not sure where to start. I quietly sat down beside her, and reminded her that this was a safe, confidential place where she could experience grace and healing rather than judgment. Her eyes leveled on me as she decided if she could trust me. She took a deep breath, and then it all rushed out—her story of abuse and heartache, of sin and poor decisions, of guilt and shame, loneliness and despair. As her tears flowed, so did the words that she had trapped inside for so long. Words that she had been afraid to share for fear of judgment.

She felt that no one could understand a story like hers, and if her story ever got out, she would be looked down upon, ostracized. But the story had to come out. She was disappearing inside of herself as she fiercely closed off this part of her life. As she spoke I could see her visibly lighten as she threw off the weight of her silence.

As she ended, her eyes searched mine for some sort of response. Through my own tears, I thanked her for being courageous enough to open up. I told her that, yes, her story was one of sin and sorrow, but it was also one of redemption and change, and that God was already touching her heart, helping her to lay down her experiences at the foot of the cross. I also planted the seed that maybe, just maybe, God would bring her to a place where, one day, she could share with other women struggling in the darkness of their hidden shame.

Little did I know that God would open up that opportunity so soon.

A few days later I got a call. A woman in a small group that had been meeting for over a year had something to tell me. The group was stagnant, meeting more out of obligation than out of a desire to grow together. But something unexpected happened that breathed new life into the group. Becca, the quietest one there, told the group, men and women, that she felt she should share something with all of them. She felt moved to open up to them about portions of her past and present struggles in life.

Becca’s courage to speak ignited an atmosphere of trust and safety in the group. It would never be the same. Over time, every person in the group opened up about their own struggles. And just like that, the group was transformed from a purposeless group of individuals to a close-knit body of believers, joined together to glorify God in the midst of their struggles.

Of course, there is still much healing to be accomplished in Becca’s life. But she is an inspiration to us about the power of God to redeem and change broken people, which is all of us, if only we would be courageous enough to be honest with God and others.

This testimony came from one of Ellen Dykas’ participants in our online training for mentor and group leader classes. For information on what these training classes offer, contact Brooke Delaney at [email protected].

REAL LIFE CONVERSATIONS: Ministry is Becoming More Challenging as Men and Women in Our Churches Come Out

This article appeared in our 2015 magazine newsletter. It is being posted here for online reading and for those who may perhaps wish to comment on what it says.

I was just clearing my desk, getting ready to lock up the office, when the phone rang. I almost let it go to voicemail, but I decided to answer it.

It was a pastor of a reformed, evangelical church on the phone. Frantically, he shared his predicament. There was to be a receiving of new members into the church on Sunday. However, one situation now threatened to dampen the whole event and possibly cause confusion, disbelief, anger and hurt feelings all around.

He had, just an hour before, received a call from “Kevin,” one of the men becoming a member. After talking for about fifteen minutes about how happy he was to be joining the church, he dropped the news on the pastor. “I’m gay, you know. I’m a gay Christian.”

The pastor’s questions now came at me fast and furious. What was he going to do now, in the time between this phone call and Sunday? Why hadn’t Kevin told him this before? How could he have answered all the questions for membership in the affirmative? What about those in the church who had become Kevin’s friends? “You don’t understand, John,” the pastor told me, “This man is deeply cared for by many in the congregation. Active in the life of the church, he’s at every event—among the most faithful in serving. Everyone loves him. I thought we knew him. “

I offered the first thoughts that came to mind. “Looks like, between now and Sunday, you’re going to need to have a long conversation with Kevin, to better understand what he means.” The pastor seemed confused, “What do you mean? What kinds of things should I ask him?”

I told him that he should, right up front, admit to Kevin that this news shocked him, but still to encourage him that he really wanted to hear his story. Then he could ask some follow-up questions like: Why had he hidden this part of himself? Just what did he mean by saying he was gay? Was this merely a description of his sexual attractions, or was it a behavioral matter, or both? Were these things he wrestled with—or was it a firm identity that he embraced? How did he see the Word of God governing his life in regard to this? Did he have any problem with what Scripture says about homosexuality? How and where did the cross, the work of Christ and union with Christ, enter into Kevin’s life regarding his sexuality? Was he open to the admonitions and instruction of Scripture, and to pastoral support and care, to help him from living in ways that Scripture says aren’t appropriate for followers of Jesus?

In other words, the objective of these questions was to get to the ruling passions of Kevin’s heart and see where his view of Scriptural authority was in his life. The pastor had to discern whether Kevin understood what walking in repentance and faith looked like for him, as a same-sex attracted man. It’s one thing to have this man active and involved in the church. We want our churches to have open doors to people hearing the gospel, and coming to faith. But it’s another thing to join the community of Christ’s body but then live in any way one wishes. Is Kevin willing to enter the community of faith as all must enter, denying himself, taking up his cross to follow Christ, no matter how uncomfortable, disturbing and disruptive that might be? Getting these answers and deciding what to do next, for this pastor, would be would be quite an undertaking!

Situations like this will only become more common in the future. Actually, the future is now! The gay Christian movement is growing. It’s the new “third way,” promoted by advocates like Matthew Vines, Justin Lee, Rachel Held Evans and others. Many are being persuaded by their false Scriptural arguments and emotional stories, made more powerful by an increasing lack of biblical knowledge and understanding on the part of our people.

How those holding to an historic interpretation of Scripture will ultimately respond to all this is still very much on the table. The pressure to conform to and embrace this new rendering of Christianity in the church and in families is huge. For those who stand firm on God’s Word, they will face the derision of those who label us as out of touch, mean-spirited and irrelevant. Yet the compassion of Christ is found in his understanding of and grace for all of our struggles, while he continues to call us to a holiness that reflects God’s character. Truth and mercy did not compromise at the Cross: they met—in the One whose life, death and resurrection continues to transform any who come to him.

David White spoke for the second straight year at Cru’s Regional Conference in Washington, D.C. on December 29, 2014, where he gave a workshop, “Homosexuality and Christian Faith.”

This article appeared in our 2015 magazine newsletter.  It is being posted here for online reading and for those who may perhaps wish to comment on what it says.

“How do you respond to all the kids that injure or even kill themselves because of this type of teaching?”

Having just finished my presentation, I invited the sea of college students to ask questions or make comments, and immediately his hand shot up. Though asked respectfully, the question clearly had an edge. I responded as gently as possible, knowing that someone personally struggling with same-sex attraction (SSA) or has a close friend or family member who is, usually asks this question. It’s not an easy answer to give in a few sentences.

I acknowledged that the Church has sometimes sent condemning messages—bereft of the hope of the gospel—to SSA strugglers that led to self-loathing and despair. Sadly, it’s been communicated that people with SSA are “broken” sexually, but the rest of us are fine. (As if “straight” people don’t have problems with sex!) I spoke about how SSA is just another manifestation of fallen sexuality—a reality that affects all of us, and is something Jesus went to the cross to redeem. And now he is bringing healing and renewal to everything affected by the curse, especially in the area of our sexuality. Speaking to this issue with empathy is critical, but it is also imperative to speak the truth.

I went on to say that because this is God’s world and life only works well his way, telling anyone to live outside his bounds is not loving them or enabling them to flourish, but only ends in emptiness and death. I mentioned Proverbs 14:12-13, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death. Even in laughter the heart may ache, and the end of joy may be grief.” The world tells us we find meaning through pursuing our desires (especially our sexual ones), and that we can do this with impunity. But Scripture makes clear this is folly. Living for self and following our desires actually leads to discontentment and even greater bondage.

There were many other questions—mostly seeking to understand and not challenge. One young woman asked a crucial clarifying question: in my talk I rejected the idea of being a “gay Christian,” so did that mean people with SSA temptations aren’t saved? Sadly, she didn’t get what I had been saying.  Central to my talk was the idea that all Christians are in the midst of overcoming various struggles with the flesh, but that God is faithful to complete the work he’s begun, remaking us into new creatures while still living in a broken world. Jesus is now our core identity, and any self-identity label that “qualifies” who we are in Christ is not just inaccurate, it distorts that identity.

The inevitable “change” question arose and I talked about how a biblical definition of change is really focused on our hearts and submission to God, not becoming heterosexual for the person with SSA. (For a fuller discussion on this critical topic, check out my mini book:  Can You Change if You’re Gay? Available from New Growth Press: newgrowthpress.com.)

Students also wanted to know how to navigate their relationships with their LGBTQ friends and family without compromising their faith. We wrestled with some of the challenges confronting the American Church: if you welcome a gay couple to church and they come to faith, what do you do next? Do you force a “married” couple to divorce? What if there are kids involved? How do you handle church membership and the sacraments if they believe the gospel and understand their need for Christ, but haven’t yet come to the place of seeing homosexual behavior as sinful? These are all difficult and complicated questions in our post-Christian society.

With two minutes left I took a final question. Swallowing hard, I pointed to a young woman in the back. The hair, the clothes, the piercings. . . what was I thinking?! I was exhausted from the talk and the questions, and the last thing I needed was another complex issue to sort through.

I had no idea what to expect, but as soon as she started speaking, it was clear the choice was Spirit-led. A fairly new Christian, she had come to faith within the last year after living as a lesbian throughout her youth. She talked about the heartache of her experience, and her lack of peace and joy. She described how God surrounded her with Christian friends whose lives looked so different. They had the contentment and shalom her life sorely lacked. Resonating with what I taught about God’s design, she concluded with a profound point about our sexuality: because God is the life-giver, homosexual activity can’t fit his plan because it will never produce life. I couldn’t have come up with a more powerful conclusion! She underscored that inviting people to embrace something as “good” that God calls sin is cheering them on to destruction. She talked about the important role of Christian community and humble witness in her conversion. And she wondrously articulated the difference that Jesus makes in her life. It was a beautiful demonstration of how I was describing “change”—it’s not about becoming “straight,” but about loving God and submitting all of myself to his care.

I drove home praising God for his ability to end “my talk” perfectly! Please pray for this young woman as she continues to grow in her new-found faith, and for us—indeed, all believers in Christ— as we proclaim his Word in our increasingly broken and hostile culture.

Voices that confuse: Reclaiming Biblical Truth from Interpretative Distortions.

This article appeared in our 2015 magazine newsletter.  It is being posted here for those who prefer to read it online and may perhaps wish to comment on what it says.

The church is in confusion today. The voices advocating for the inclusion of same-sex relationships in the church have been loud enough to sow confusion even among ordinary church members in solid evangelical churches. The typical layperson’s grasp of Scripture on the issue of homosexuality is weakening. Studying the Scriptures on the matter doesn’t seem to help anymore.  Why?  Because these passages are increasingly undermined by strong, cultural worldviews that are driving alternative interpretations of Scripture.

Do you know what they are?  These “background doctrines” are influencing how Scripture is being read today. Living our life before God, aligning our will with his, is the central objective of our Christian faith.  It matters how we live, and on what basis we claim God’s approval.

Here are just three of the worldviews we need to see operating in the background, along with ways we can respond to them with biblical faithfulness.

One, personal stories drive biblical interpretation.  

In our culture, personal stories are how we discover “truth” today. The individual—me—is the primary point of meaning and fulfillment. We don’t look outside of ourselves, to God, to find truth or meaning.  We look inside, to our own experience.

We see this when we look at behavior.  There are no longer any agreed-upon moral standards to determine what is right or wrong.  I discover truth; this is “my truth.” And no one has the right to say my truth is wrong. My story, the way I experience life, validates what is true.    

Do not think this is merely a secular way of thinking.  It is making headway into the church in subtle, but powerful ways.

For example, a video made several years ago, For the Bible Tells Me So, presents emotionally powerful stories of kids who grew up in the church, and who took their own lives because of the discrimination, abuse, depression and isolation they felt growing up gay.  These are powerful stories and they should move us.  But the objective behind telling these stories is to cause us to question why we should hold on to the traditional view of homosexuality in light of how painful—even life-threatening as the argument goes— that positon is for people who live with same-sex attraction.   The message?  Holding on to the orthodox view hurts people. It’s dangerous.

This illustrates how we decide what is right or wrong—how does it impact others; how does it impact me?  Divine revelation, which is God’s story, becomes secondary to my personal autobiography.

How do we respond to this cultural worldview, that our personal stories interpret God’s will for us?

1. We do need to listen to people’s stories. There are things we need to learn in all these stories of those living with same-sex attraction. Our hearts should be moved to compassion by stories of isolation, loneliness, abuse, rejection, fear. But subjective experience can never be the basis for arriving at objective truth.  Personal stories illuminate; they challenge us; they help us apply the truth of Scripture to our lives.  But they must be viewed in the light of what Scripture teaches about life and God.  We need an objective word outside us to fully understand ourselves.

        Personal stories illuminate, challenge us, help us apply the truth of Scripture to our lives.  But they must be viewed in light of what Scripture teaches about life and God.

2. We need to recognize that all our stories are broken. There is a hidden message inserted into these stories when they are presented in these ways, and it’s not immediately evident. It’s this: my sexuality, no matter how it presents itself, is essentially good. The reason I struggle here is because the traditional view of Scripture doesn’t acknowledge the truth of my own experience.  I am not in need of rescue or redemption from myself—what I need is freedom to be what I believe I should be.

But the biblical view is that everything about us is broken by the Fall.  When Jesus pursued society’s outcasts (a major theme of pro-gay apologetics) he meet them where they were—but he didn’t leave them there.  He healed the lepers and he forgave the “sinners and prostitutes.”  When we truly meet Jesus, we are not affirmed in the direction we want in life—our life is turned upside down and redirected.

3. We need to give true compassion. Ultimately, to allow these stories to reshape God’s word to approve what it does not, is to offer a false compassion. Our compassion must be God’s compassion and not the world’s. God’s compassion comes to us in and through our suffering—and we recognize that sometimes God does not remove our “thorns in the flesh.” We dare not think we can be more merciful than God by encouraging someone to live in ways that are incompatible with his calling.

Two, modern culture is superior to ancient culture.

This worldview doctrine goes like this:  We moderns know more than people who lived long ago.  They were ignorant. We’re not.  They didn’t have the knowledge and data that we have today.

Now, this worldview centers on two arguments.

The first one is that sexual orientation is genetic and fixed. Same-sex attraction is part of God’s design for sexuality, and is therefore natural and good. We know this from science.

The second one is that the Bible’s negative view on same-sex relationships was because the biblical writers did not observe, in their culture, positive, monogamous same-sex relationships like we see today.  They were concerned with promiscuity, exploitative sex like prostitution, and deviant sexual practices centered on cultic worship. So the Scriptures that prohibit homosexual behavior do not apply to loving, faithful same-sex relationships. It’s time to bring the ancient Bible into our time now.

So, how do we respond to this cultural worldview, that modern trumps ancient?

1. Regarding the argument that being gay is genetic, and that orientation is immutable, we respectfully say that it has not been proved. Saying it is, is only a bare assertion. Right now the dominant evidence points not to nature, but to nurture—and maybe some sort of combination. But, let’s be careful and wise here. We should be open to whatever medical research is discovering.  We should not close our minds to the possibility that homosexuality might have some genetic or biological component.  The Fall has affected everything about us, even down to the smallest level of our biology. But the Bible’s claim to be our guide to faith and life—in other words, how we ought to live—is not altered or threatened by this. Ultimately, science cannot make a moral judgement.

2. About same-sex relationships, when Paul wrote Romans, same-sex relationships, even long-term ones, were not uncommon. Paul traveled widely in the Greco-Roman world, he was a highly educated man, and it is safe to say that he would have been familiar with the varied sexuality embedded in Greco-Roman culture, just as anyone is today who has studied the classics. Paul is clearly saying that all homosexual behavior—not just promiscuous sexual behavior or sex connected with idolatry—is in need of redemption by the atonement of Jesus Christ.

3. We can agree that the Bible is not a science or medical textbook. But let’s be clear on what it is: A book that is authoritative on the human condition.  It makes that claim—it says what is wrong with humanity and how God is redeeming it.  2 Timothy 3:16 is one of a number of passages that assert the Bible’s authority over how we ought to live.

One more thing: If Scripture is subordinate to whatever cultural perspective is current, then how can we believe anything God says?  We will always throw out portions we don’t agree with, if we see the Bible as merely being man’s ancient attempt to understand God. Faith, then, will always default to what I want in life.  As Tim Keller often says, if the Bible is an eternal word from God, then we should not be surprised that every generation and culture will be offended by something in Scripture. God’s ways are not our ways.

Finally, Doctrine is bad; love is good. 

Doctrine kills the human spirit.  Religious rules and propositions place burdens on people, robbing them of freedom. The Bible is about love, and that’s what matters.  Whatever is loving among people is to be celebrated, especially when it includes those who have been religiously excluded or mistreated. So, any passages that appear unloving to any group of people are reinterpreted or dismissed as not being authentically from God (or Jesus).  This argument is being made forcefully today:  How can loving relationships, regardless of sexual orientation, be wrong?  That is a powerful argument. A powerful emotional argument.

Do we have a response here?

1. The biggest problem with this argument is that love needs an objective definition. Love is more than a desire that pulls me or a feeling that overwhelms. If the strength of my love for someone makes it right, then anything goes. I can love whomever I want, in whatever way I want. The logical end of this worldview is a definition of love expressed by Woody Allen when he married his adopted step-daughter:  “The heart wants what the heart wants.”

But love without definition or boundaries is not harmless. The Fall has corrupted all good things.  Without a moral standard, love is easily twisted into self-centered pleasure, vulnerable to abuse and power. That’s not love. God’s design for sex—and marriage— was originally good, and it remains so even today, in spite of our continual failing to faithfully live within its life-affirming boundaries. The transcendent meaning of sex and marriage is a vision we need to grasp anew.

Love needs definition—and it is found in the One who is Love himself. The foundation for loving others is first to love God and obey his commandments (1 John 5:1-3).

2. It is significant to note that Jesus always appealed to Scripture when addressing controversial issues. When he discussed sexual behavior with the Pharisees, in the context of marriage and divorce (Matt. 19:3-6), he referred to God’s creational order of male and female as affirming the only permissible boundaries for sexual expression. The so-called “silence” of Jesus on the issue of homosexuality is clearly dismissed by his recognition of God-ordained sexual boundaries.

3. There is another hidden message in this post-modern doctrine—that love requires sex. Intimacy is not possible without it. But intimacy is much richer and more varied than sexual expression. Intimate relationships—where vulnerability, transparency, companionship, selflessness, and a sharing of mutual interests and life-goals are lived out—happen in friendships, too.  God cares deeply about our relationships.  He knows that some will not marry or cannot marry, and that can be a significant loss to live with. He knows that. But he has placed us in a community of his Body, and deep, loving friendships should be the norm. We have lost that perspective today.  C.S. Lewis said, in The Four Loves, “To the Ancients, Friendship seemed the happiest and most fully human of all loves; the crown of life and the school of virtue. The modern world, in comparison, ignores it.”

Finally, how we live regarding all issues of life ultimately reveals our hearts toward God. “Thy will be done”—or my will be done—describes everyone’s relationship with God. To possess a reliable compass to see if we are living for him or for our own desires, requires that we submit everything to God.  Unless we work hard to discern our own personal or cultural “background” agendas, the temptation to merge God’s will with our own will always remain deceptively strong.

I’ve worked closely with Mitchell (name has been changed for this blog post), a member in one of our men’s support groups. Mitchell struggles with depression, sometimes to the point of entertaining suicidal thoughts. Mitchell feels hopeless: he’s middle-age, single, unemployed, and right now living in his parent’s home. His loneliness feels unbearable. Challenging him to reach out and connect with others, both in the support group and at his church, is, well, a challenge. You see, his same-sex attraction increases his loneliness in the church.

But community is vital; it matters, so I keep gently encouraging him to move out of his loneliness by believing that Jesus is present in his life, and that, being filled with Christ, he can approach

Dave White

Dave White

people not from a needy emptiness, but from a filled heart that can give to others. Men like Mitchell need deep, strong friendships, as we all do. But it is more vital for men like him who live with same-sex attraction. Sadly, those with same-sex attraction deeply fear rejection, and therefore increase their loneliness in the body of Christ. But it is in Christ’s body, the community of his people, where we are to learn to be fully present with others, in our weakness and struggles. “If one member (of Christ’s body) suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together (1 Cor. 12:26).

How far the church still needs to go to be that kind of community!

Recently, he sent me an email that shows how far he has come:

This morning as soon as I began the thought, “What man’s arms are around me? I’m lonely!” I stopped. I acknowledged that no man’s were, and no man’s ever would be. But this time I began to picture in my mind Jesus at the end of my bed with his hand on my back; just being there. I imagined him holding me (you always say, Dave, that we are the bride of Christ). Though I wish I could see, feel, and touch Jesus, I never will in this life, but I acknowledged he was there and hadn’t abandoned me. That in that room, in the early hours of the morning, he was with me saying it was OK.

And I believe it. In this moment I believe it’s OK. The depression, the joblessness, the dependence on another for my survival, it’s all OK. I realize now that, especially in the dark days, I have to reach past my own hopelessness and dig deeper to find and hold on to the hope that is Christ. I am far from having this down yet, but I am closer.”

I praise God for his good work in Mitchell’s heart. His story displays the power of God’s work in community, where in our support group Mitchell is slowly learning how to cling to Christ for comfort during loneliness, and for courage to reach out to engage with others, where he is beginning to establish relationships with men as a fellow brother in Christ.

I pray that what we have in our support groups would be replicated in our church communities! Maybe Mitchell, in his weakness, will lead his church to become the kind of community Christ desires

This is the third of a multi-part blog that chronicles Allan Edward’s journey from discovering his same-sex attraction to how he responded, and what his faith in Christ meant for him all along the way. Check out Allan’s interview on NPR, which was a catalyst for this series of blog posts: http://www.npr.org/2015/01/04/374857829/a-pastor-moves-past-his-attraction-to-men-and-so-does-his-wife)

When I’ve talked to older guys about their struggles with pornography, they often tell me that it was different, harder, in the old days to get a hold of pornography. I came of age in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and the Internet was brand new. Getting online meant surfing through chat rooms within AOL. But it wasn’t long before I was able to start finding pictures of guys in bathing suits, wrestlers, and the like. But it was the early days of the Internet, and covering my tracks hadn’t occurred to me.

I remember sitting down with my parents on the good furniture, in the nice living room, one afternoon when I was in tenth grade or so. Apparently my little brother had found some awkward (read: inappropriate) pictures on the computer, and they wanted to ask me about it. I broke down right then and there. My attempt to hide my secret pleasure from my parents was over. After two years of keeping this secret, I’d been found out, and the image I’d worked to create and maintain collapsed. I’d lost my parents trust, which—more importantly, to me at the time—meant that I’d lost my free pass to pornography.

It wasn’t until years later that I began to synthesize the pain of this experience. At the time the crushing weight of shame seemed unbearable. But the more I reflect back on this experience, I’m so thankful for it. Living life in the shadows and constantly hiding how you feel is a psychological weight that I now realize I couldn’t have borne much longer. But at the time, having to sit there and talk with my parents about sexual attraction was possibly the worst experience my seventeen-year-old self could imagine.

Today, when I think about that moment, it makes me think of peroxide. I have no idea what parents do to treat kid’s wounds today, but whenever I fell off my bike and skinned my knee as a kid, the pain of the fall was a shadow of the pain I would feel later when my mom or dad would open up a bottle of peroxide and pour the disinfecting stream onto my bloody knee. While it certainly hurt, I knew the pain was for a purpose: the bubbling, stinging peroxide would keep my scrape from becoming an infected and festering wound.

That’s how honesty is, even when it comes to issues of sexuality. When the truth comes out, you might lose something, the way I lost some access to my secret pleasures. But you gain something too; you gain authenticity.

When I had this conversation with my parents, it felt like finally being known after living a long time in the shadows. Sadly, many youth who struggle with same-sex attraction come to believe that it means that they have a particular identity—that they are gay, bisexual, or queer. So, when they have this kind of “coming out” conversation with family, they are declaring an identity. I think coming out conversations are really hard for Christian families. For me and my parents, I wasn’t coming out in the sense that I was declaring a new identity; I was coming out of hiding and asking for help.

If you or someone you know struggles with same-sex attraction, and believes that embracing a gay identity is not an option for their life, then know that it can be just as hard for them to talk about it as for someone who comes out and declares a gay identity. But, on the other hand, if your child or a friend comes out to you, declaring a gay identity, I’d urge you to react to that news with patience, grace, and understanding. Even and especially if you hold to orthodox Christian beliefs about sexuality.

My parents, as confused and probably hurt as they were, showed me kindness and patience. It was probably easier for them to do so, as I wasn’t taking on a new identity. But parents who have children who do declare themselves LGBT need to have even more grace and patience as they walk with their child through this, and, along the way, lovingly point them to the truth of God’s word.

This is the second of a multi-part blog that chronicles Allan Edward’s journey from discovering his same-sex attraction to how he responded, and what his faith in Christ meant for him all along the way.

“So, how do you identify yourself?” That’s the question I’ve tried to answer to friends, in-laws, and even a reporter from National Public Radio. (To listen to an interview with Allan and his wife, click here: http://www.npr.org/2015/01/04/374857829/a-pastor-moves-past-his-attraction-to-men-and-so-does-his-wife)

As a Christian kid, having erotic fantasies about other guys on an almost daily basis shocked and surprised me. I went from not completely understanding what was going on in my heart and mind, to understanding that what I was doing was wrong. And when the guilt and shame set in, the identity crisis began.

Let me be clear about the source of my guilt and shame. Although I was raised in an evangelical home, there weren’t thundering sermons in my church attacking the “gay agenda.” There weren’t a lot of jokes at our family gatherings about effeminate men. Honestly, there was very little talk about sexuality at all.

A lot of people who experience same-sex attraction and grow up in a Christian context do experience shame when their community is full of harsh language about homosexuals. Homosexual behavior is certainly sin, and homosexual attraction is not God’s design for human sexuality, but the fact that homosexuality has been lifted up as the ultimate sin by many in the Christian community has not helped Christians who struggle with same-sex attraction find grace and repentance. Making one sin the sin hasn’t represented the gospel well to the watching world.

Pointing to one sin pattern as the cause of all societal ills isn’t in line with the gospel of God’s grace. As Paul reminded the legalistic Christians in Rome, God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance (Rom. 2:4). Such kindness has been missing in the words and actions of the Church, however. Instead, hateful words and ignorant speech have enveloped many people who experience same-sex attraction in shame and have even contributed to destructive decisions.

My own experience with shame wasn’t birthed from such an environment. I was the son of two loving parents, and an older brother to two awesome younger brothers. I grew up in a church that preached God’s grace as the only hope for all people, not just one kind of sinner or another. My home, my family, and my church didn’t teach me to hate or fear homosexuality. I believe I felt guilt and shame because I was keeping a secret. I was a performance-oriented kid who loved to please my teachers and parents. But now, I was harboring a secret, and I was convinced that if I told anyone, I would have to stop.

Honestly, I liked how it felt to fantasize and please myself. It wasn’t long before I knew that what I was doing was morally wrong. But more important to me than doing what was right was feeling good.

You see, I’d always been a sneaky kid. I’d sneak cookies and candy. I’d sneak downstairs to watch television. And now, I was sneakily making myself feel good by objectifying my classmates.

The thing about a sneak is this: If he’s good at it, he’ll still look good to everyone around him. I was a sneaky kid, and I felt guilt and shame because I knew I was living a lie. On the outside I was a good kid, but on the inside I was nurturing a habit that turned people into objects for my pleasure.

Lies tend to be found out—and mine was no exception. Soon my fantasy life turned to a secret obsession with pornography, and that obsession would be discovered by my parents, forcing me to have a frank conversation with them. You’d think they’d naturally become a new source of shame for me. While they were certainly confused, my parents showed love, not hate; care, not condemnation. Sin brings shame, but a loving parent can turn shame into hopeful resolve.

This is the first of a multi-part blog that chronicles Allan Edward’s journey from discovering his same-sex attraction to how he responded, and what his faith in Christ meant for him all along the way.

“So, how do you identify yourself?” That’s the question I’ve tried to answer to friends, in-laws, and even a reporter from National Public Radio. (To listen to an interview with Allan and his wife, click here: http://www.npr.org/2015/01/04/374857829/a-pastor-moves-past-his-attraction-to-men-and-so-does-his-wife)

The problem with talking about identity is that we seem to want simple phrases. “I’m gay.” “I’m straight.” “I’m a celibate gay Christian.” “I’m ex-gay.” I guess my story begins with this central issue:

Allan & Leeanne Edwards

Allan and Leeanne

as a Christian who began experiencing same-sex attraction in adolescence, I didn’t understand my identity. I still struggle to talk about my identity in relatable terms today. Here’s what is most clear to me: my identity is in Christ. Like Paul says in Galatians 2, I’ve been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.

I grew up in a “becoming” Christian family, by which I mean that my parents came to really believe and understand the gospel when I was between the ages of four and six. From that time on, I was raised in Bible-believing evangelical churches that emphasized the grace of God in saving sinners and bringing them into a personal relationship with Him through Jesus.

I came to believe this message at a pretty young age. I was six or seven when the old Randy Travis song, “Have a Little Talk with Jesus,” played on the radio, and I remember telling my mom I needed a relationship with Jesus. My faith matured as I did and I remember in my early adolescent years praying to “give all of my life” to Jesus at summer camp.

But it was about this time, around 13 years old, that I began to see I was really different from other boys my age. I’d always been picked on for my weight or for not liking the right sports or music, but as I went through junior high a new taunt popped off the lips of school bullies: “gay.” To be honest, I didn’t understand what the word really meant. The kid who sat behind me in chorus said I was gay because I paid attention and sang in chorus class. If I’d remembered the fact that he, too, was in chorus class maybe I wouldn’t have taken the taunt so seriously.

Having not sat in the back of the bus, I suppose I came late to the world of understanding sexual activities, jokes, and lingo. But it didn’t take long for me to realize that my interest in arts and academics and my lack of typical alpha male characteristics meant I was “gay.”

It wasn’t long after those junior high years that I started to have my own sexual awakening. As a straight-laced “good” kid, I was ashamed and kind of shocked at my first experiences with masturbation. It was a short leap from fantasies about girls to fantasies about guys. I knew it was wrong, but honestly I don’t think I really knew what it was yet.

It took almost a year for me to put words to the experience: I was having “gay fantasies.” I was a youth group kid, a follower of Jesus, a Christian. I was the kid who brought his pastor in for career day, who never saw a Christian T-shirt he didn’t like… and I was having gay fantasies. The language of “identity” hadn’t yet entered my vocabulary, but I began having an identity crisis, and I knew there was no one I could talk to about it.


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