She wants to meet with you. She’s part of the youth group, but she’s been more of a marginal participant. Quiet, a bit aloof, definitely reserved. You’re eager to finally get a chance to know more about her. But when you finally get together, and after some awkward and hesitant initial talk, she says it: “I think I’m gay. I’m attracted to girls.”
If you’re like most youth leaders today, your first impulse is to wonder what to say that would be helpful. You don’t want to negate her sense of self, because that’s what she experiences, but nor do you want to confirm it, as if the matter is settled. The problem you have, and what is making you uncomfortable, is that you are not like that; that is, you are not attracted to people of the same sex like she is. Her experience is so unlike yours. What can you say? Your inclination is to retreat because you don’t think you can relate to her in any way that might be helpful.
But wait a minute. You have a lot more in common than you think. You are more equipped to help than you give yourself credit for. Or give God credit.
Start with 1 Corinthians 10:12-13, a familiar passage: “Therefore let anyone who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man” (ESV). Now look at the context of that passage. Paul is describing the desert journeys of Israel after they left Egypt. Israel stumbled, desired evil things (v.6), worshiped idols (v.7), and engaged in sexual immorality (v. 8). They put God to the test (v. 9), and constantly grumbled against him (v. 10) because they didn’t like how life was turning out for them. What’s the lesson Paul is teaching the young church in Corinth? This: Be careful! Though you as a Christian have been chosen and loved by God, just like the Israelites, you also live in a broken world, and life will not go smoothly nor be what you hope it will be. You, too, are tempted to grumble against God and be tempted by many things to fill your empty hearts (even if they are different temptations), so don’t think more highly of yourself than anyone else, nor think that someone else’s struggles or sin is so strange and different that neither you nor the gospel can connect with them.
Paul asserts that no temptation has seized us but what is common to humanity. No temptation. There is not a temptation under the sun that is not common to fallen humanity. While you might not struggle or sin in this particular way, you have everything in common with someone who has same-sex attraction. This student is not “other” than you. She is no stranger. She is a fellow sufferer who lives in the same fallen world that you do, and that is the world that Christ came to rescue.
What about James 1:14-15? James writes, “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” Beneath her attraction for those of the same sex, this girl has other intense desires within her. Desires that are similar to yours: desires for companionship, meaning, purpose, identity, salvation, etc. It is these desires, usually unaddressed and hidden in the heart, that the fallen human heart twists into misshapen idols that we live for and worship. Good things that become idols that lead to actions and behaviors that feel right and that give meaning and significance to a void that she (and all of us, too!) becomes desperate to fill. Her heart tempts her to attach these desires to things that cannot give life, nor glorify God—but so does your own heart!
Can you relate to someone who wants to be loved? Can you relate to someone who feels that their identity needs to be defined by someone or something other than Jesus? Can you relate to someone who wrestles and struggles with his or her particular besetting sin? Can you relate to those who want to follow Christ but find strong, competing, sinful tendencies within themselves moving them in wrong directions? This girl is not radically different than you. Her longings and struggles, of which one of them is same-sex attraction, may be different than yours, but the seed is the same. We all come from the same parents. There are sinful and broken tendencies within all of us that are experienced by each and every one of us. Christianity levels the playing field, and connects every one of us to each other.
Without seeing the common ground between us and someone else, we erroneously separate and distance ourselves from others. We either think less of them because we would never do those things, or we think less of ourselves in terms of our ability to help. Hebrews 4:15-16 levels the ground, closes the distance, because God himself came close to us, in his humanity, so that we might intimately know how much Christ is for us. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in times of need.” One of the wonders of the Incarnation is that Jesus lived a real, human life, and experienced all the desires, temptations, and sufferings that we experience. He knows what life is like; he is able to help us; he understands us; and he loves us in the midst of our struggles in a way that transforms us. We can trust him. We can rest in him.
We reflect the help, understanding, and love that Jesus gives to us by moving towards our students, not away from them. The issue I raised at the beginning is a bit misleading: it really isn’t a question about finding common ground. It’s about recognizing the common ground that we already have when we walk alongside someone who experiences same-sex attraction. We both share the same fallen, human condition, and we both have access to the same, divine help: a help that comes close to us in love and power.
Romans 13:14 tells Christians to, “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (ESV). Sexual strugglers who come into our office to talk with us often tell us that they don’t want to keep on sinning, but they don’t know how to stop life-dominating patterns of sexual sin. How can women engage the battle to turn to Jesus in faith and repentance and away from sexual sin? How can they receive by faith the words of Jesus to “take up your mat and go home” (Mark 2:11), believing—no matter how tiny that belief might be at the moment—that Jesus forgives their sin?
This verse from Romans gives us two clear and connected steps to take in finding growth and change from debilitating sexual struggles.
The first step is to “put on the Lord Jesus Christ.” Having acknowledged your sin before God and a trusted person (see previous blog post), now Jesus commands and enables you to “stand up and walk” by faith. What does it mean to “put on Christ?” It means three things:
- Seek consistent fellowship with God through his word and in prayer. This seems so basic that often we overlook it. Nothing, however, can replace cultivating our relationship with Jesus. When sexual sin has been a secret, shame-provoking part of a person’s life, often the heart has been dulled in devotion to Christ. Living water and fresh nourishment must be feasted upon regularly to fill and satisfy a hungry heart.
- Cultivate authentic relationships with Christians. Have you noticed that a good part of the Bible’s commands cannot be obeyed unless we are in relationship with other Christians? (See 1 John 1:7, which connects one’s walk with God to one’s walk with other believers.) God has designed our faith to be personal and intimate with him, but not apart from rich involvement in the life of other believers in the church. Do you have at least two people in your life with whom you can allow yourself to be fully known and prayed for? To be encouraged and discipled by? If you don’t, begin asking the Lord for such friends as these. It’s that important!
- Seek opportunities to love and serve others. There is grace, comfort, and joy to be poured into us and through us. We were not designed by God to be receptacles but conduits of his love and mercy. Look for opportunities to reach out to someone and show them love and care. For this you were made—“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).
Did you notice that I’ve said nothing regarding sexual sin in the advice I’ve given? That’s intentional! Most women who have struggled sexually have spent so much time focusing on “sin management” or battling against temptation, that they have neglected cultivating their relationships—with Jesus and with other sisters in the Lord.
Jesus, not the sin itself, must be the One upon whom you fix your gaze as you seek to walk away from sin!
The second step is to “make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” While cultivating and building up relationships is crucial, especially as a first step, you still need to know how to fight the battle! Overcoming sin patterns, including sexual sin, is never something we “happen upon” or coast into. No, sin must be intentionally fought as we flee temptations and deal directly with the heart issues from which they are triggered.
- Identify and then avoid and flee triggers and temptations. What are the situations, influences, people, and emotions which seem to weaken your resolve to obey God? Is it being alone? Watching certain types of entertainment? Anger, hunger, loneliness, boredom, and fear can push us to crumble in the face of temptation. 1 Corinthians 10:13-14 instructs believers to flee temptation as we receive the escape path he provides. To run on that path of escape increasingly means we must learn to discern when we are creeping near to sin. Ask yourself, “What helps me to sin, and how can I avoid these influences?”
- Fast from good gifts which are not good for you. One common struggle we all have is taking good things from God and then worshipping them—allowing them to mean more to your heart than God himself. Are there things that you use or have that, while either enjoyable or useful, are increasingly pulling you into temptation and sin? Your smartphone? Your laptop? Places you are visiting or people you are hanging around with? Will fasting from these things be difficult or inconvenient? Sure. I challenge you to try this. Hard as it might be, this may be a necessary step in order to focus your time and attention on Christ and recapture your thought life.
- Refuse to isolate or hide. It’s been said that the power of secret sin is in the secret. To “walk in the light” (1 John 1: 1-9) and to “renounce secret and shameful ways” (2 Corinthians 4:1-6) will mean sharing your life and struggles with others. This path of obedience (and grace!) flows from what I said above about cultivating authentic relationships.
These initial steps, walked out day by day, little by little, over a lifetime, WILL lead you increasingly into the spacious freedom which is ours through Jesus Christ. All of this is waiting for you. May you find in Jesus the humility to run to him—or be carried to him by others who know you—in order to discover the life you really want.
14 Jan 2014
By David White
Temptation is suffering
“Bob” sat in my office with tears welling up in his eyes. “It’s so hard to live for God and I am so tired! Will this ever stop?!” Bob has been wrestling with the guilt and shame that has come from his addiction to viewing pornography. Caught last year by his wife, he initially had a period of freedom from his compulsions. He thought he was past the struggle. He had set up boundaries with his computer and resolved not to view pornography again. It was hard going, but it worked.
Then it all failed. One weekend he slipped, and the compulsions to furtively look at porn assaulted him all over again. He found himself slipping again into a pattern of secretly looking at porn on his computer whenever he thought it was safe to do so. Eventually his wife discovered his viewing habits again, and under threat of separation or worse, he came to my office.
“Kyle” was another person I saw that day. In his late forties, he has been struggling against same-sex attraction for decades. Although Kyle never had a sexual encounter with another man, is vigilant against the perils of the Internet, and battles the uninvited thoughts regularly intruding on his mind, he has never found the “freedom” he hoped for. Life is a daily choice to deny his sexual desires. It is a painful existence to battle against cravings he never asked for and desperately wants to disappear, but they obstinately persist nonetheless. This is true regardless of the nature of your struggle with sexual sin. Whether your temptation is toward the same-sex, pornography, emotionally enmeshed relationships, etc., to battle those temptations is suffering! Do you know what it is like to live with intrusive thoughts or compulsive behaviors while longing to be free?
In a culture where sexual fulfillment is one of life’s highest aims, denying sexual satisfaction is tantamount to adopting a life of misery and emptiness. For the world, desire is supreme and must be obeyed. Particularly for those who struggle against same-sex attraction, the mere fact that the desire is so relentless is the world’s “proof” it is inborn and unchangeable. It is not something to be fought, but surrendered to. Such struggles with temptation are painful.
Our culture also provides a false definition of freedom. Freedom is not the absence of temptation; it is the increasing ability to choose holiness out of love for Christ, despite the relentlessness of temptation. To live in freedom from sexual sin usually means ongoing temptations and the suffering they bring, but be encouraged: Your struggle against sexual sin matters to God! The daily decision to die to yourself and to lay your sexual desires on his altar is a precious sacrifice of obedience that is a delight to the Lover of your soul! (See 1 Samuel 15:22 and Romans 12:1.)
What do we mean by temptation? Put simply, temptation is the desire to turn to a false god. This desire is fed by three culprits: the world, our flesh and the devil. For many of us, our desires bend toward sexual sin. Being tempted is not the same as sin–I’m sure any spouse would agree that to desire another partner is not the same as the act of adultery. Nevertheless, temptation tugs at our hearts only because of the sinful desires already residing there. Temptation is tempting because we are ever-ready to turn from God to indulge our pleasure. James teaches, “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. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire” (James 1:13-14, ESV).
God never tempts us. Temptations–whether originating from the world, our flesh or the devil–only have power because our hearts are always ready to run astray. We are the ones responsible for our sins. But do you know what is amazing? Although never their Creator, God uses temptations mightily for our good and his glory! When we begin to see another way of looking at temptations, we begin to understand that willpower and self-effort alone are a sure way of losing the battle. Fighting temptation head-on with willpower is doomed to failure. But fighting temptation with effort infused with a biblical perspective on temptation is an arsenal of great power.
God’s goodness in temptation
There are at least three ways that God’s goodness can be found even in times of temptation. Use these three perspectives to help you the next time you find yourself under the assault of temptation.
1. Temptation is a battle that draws us closer to God
First, temptation is an opportunity to know God better! The lusts of our hearts are masquerading as God. They lure and entice, promising joy, comfort, security, etc. Our sin offers us what only God can deliver. In the midst of our struggles with sin, we are invited to see the God whom sin mimics poorly for a fleeting moment. Sexual temptation is paramount in this parody. Why? Sex is a temporary, present phenomenon that is intense, glorious and pleasurable because it is intended to point beyond itself. Sex is ultimately about God. It points to the glorious pleasure, intimacy–the ecstasy!–experienced within the Trinity. Further, it points toward his relationship to us. Ephesians 5 teaches that the whole point of marriage is to give us a tiny glimpse of the love God has for us. Sex will be replaced in the New Heavens and Earth by the infinitely greater pleasure of God’s presence, which he tells us we can’t even begin to imagine! Rather than being weighed down in despair, temptations are an invitation to meditate on something far better: the wonder of the world to come and the pleasures of God we can’t even begin to fathom. Temptation can lead to worship!
2. Temptation is a battle that leads to spiritual growth
Second, temptation builds spiritual muscle. The Christian life is a fight. We are in the midst of a cosmic war – there is a reason we are exhorted to put on the whole armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-20). Temptation trains us in obedience. The seventeenth-century Scottish theologian, Samuel Rutherford, wrote, “Grace withers without adversity. The devil is but God’s master fencer, to teach us to handle our weapons.” There is no growth in holiness without a fight. If we long to hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” we need to battle the temptations that war against our souls! We will only arrive in heaven sweaty, caked with blood and dust, with the sword still in our hand.
It is hard to get our finite minds around this, but God’s ultimate purpose is to fit us for eternity. He does this particularly through trials. Scripture repeatedly urges us to see that hardships in life are not proof of his absence, but demonstrations of his presence. He promises, “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (1 Corinthians 4:17-18). Trials come to test the genuineness of our faith, which is more precious than gold (1 Peter 1:6-7). 1 Corinthians 3:10-15 describes a final judgment for all believers. You need to see that the “gold, silver and precious stones” built on the “foundation” of Jesus include the places where you chose to suffer for him! The Father rejoices in and rewards what is done in secret (Matthew 6:4-6, 18). He knows your sacrifice of obedience and rejoices in it! He knows when you are denying yourself out of love for Christ, and he promises to reward those who earnestly seek him (Hebrews 11:6). Our sovereign God gives you ample opportunity for reward in the life to come– moment by moment you are invited to demonstrate your allegiance to him in a way that will be celebrated forever. In what may seem like mundane moments, your suffering against temptation literally has eternal value!
Another way to think about this is to remember that your life is finite. Your days have already been numbered. Perhaps you’re experiencing how rapidly time flies. There is encouragement here: Temptation is finite. There are a fixed number of occasions left that you need to resist, no more will be added. Every incident of self-denial, each victory, is yours forever. There is one less temptation before God wipes away your every tear and the blood and sweat from your brow.
3. Temptation is a battle that shows us the love God has for us
Third, God meets us in temptation and as a result we learn to love him more. One of the glorious promises given to us is 1 Corinthians 10:13, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” One struggler I know commented that he discovered Jesus is the Way of escape. He found increasing freedom by embracing Christ in the midst of temptation, clinging to his promises, and trusting that obedience is better.
This is not abstract theology Jesus is the Way of escape because he knows your pain specifically! “For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted” (Hebrews 2:18). How was he tempted? Lest you think his experience was different, Hebrews tells us, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15). Listen to that hope! He has suffered the same temptations you experience. Therefore, right in the midst of your battle with temptation, his help is real and substantial. Knowing that Jesus suffered like you, but did so victoriously, is a deep source of strength and comfort. He alone knows exactly what you need, because he alone knows exactly what it takes, having endured the same temptations, but without ever failing.
Temptation is actually a blessing because it draws us closer to God like nothing else. Confrontation with our weakness is an invitation to experience his strength–to deepen our relationship with him! This was Paul’s lesson in the midst of trial, when he was desperate for reprieve: “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). Jesus is after our hearts. He wants a genuine relationship with us and, if you’re like me, you are most open to that when you are humbled and brought to your knees. That’s why, for those who walk this road, there is great joy, even in the midst of battle!
There is a beautiful picture of the Christian life in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Return of the King. The Riders of Rohan traveled through the night along secret paths to rescue the city of Minas Tirith, burning and besieged in a sea of innumerable foes. As the riders charge into battle, facing almost certain doom, Tolkien writes, “They sang as they slew for the joy of battle was on them!” This is God’s invitation: We are in a battle, but there is reason for joy and song because, in the intensity of the fight, Jesus is with us and through the struggle gives us more of himself!
The hope of making it to the end
To live with unsatisfied desire is suffering. We regularly hear of prominent Christians, who struggled silently against same-sex attraction for years, but ultimately surrender to their desires. We hear of prominent Christians who are caught in adultery, or who are discovered to be visiting prostitutes. Their personal lives and their ministries collapse all around them.
The world mocks and jeers the faithful, touting, “It’s only a matter of time! When will you come to your senses and just give up!” Secular thought wonders why Christians struggle so much about sex; they look on amused as we fight a battle to uphold biblical sexuality and purity while they merely give in to their feelings and urges. What’s the big deal, they say?
Keep fighting the battle! Know that like the prophets of old, you are numbered among those “of whom the world was not worthy” (Hebrews 11:38). Please know that the Lover of your soul rejoices in your obedience; he promises an eternal reward beyond your ability to imagine and he will meet you here and now–spiritually and through his people–to give you the grace to overcome. (See Revelation 2-3 for the wonderful promises to “overcomers!”)
“Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.” (Jude 24-25)
This post was written by a guest writer, Marion Clark, Assistant Pastor of Lake Oconee Presbyterian Church.
The following material is a response to a talk given by Matthew Vines, a student at Harvard, in which he challenged the traditional interpretations of Scripture regarding homosexuality. The video can be found at http://www.upworthy.com/every-biblical-argument-against-being-gay-debunked-biblically?g=4.
Here are the key Scripture passages that Matthew addresses.
I am pleased that Matthew begins with this passage and honestly tries to address the primary contention of traditional interpretation–namely, that heterosexual marriage is the divine plan for sexual relations. It is a straightforward passage:
Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” So out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said,
“This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called Woman,
because she was taken out of Man.”
Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed. (ESV)
Matthew rightly represents the traditional contention that because this institution of marriage takes place before the Fall, the passage presents what God intends to be “natural.” That is a critical understanding. Once the Fall takes place and sin enters into the human condition, what may seem natural to man does not necessarily equate with what God intends to be right.
Matthew is a bit disingenuous in his claim that the “helper (or help-meet) for him” happens to be a female in this case. He says the helper could be another male for another person. He approaches a clear, straightforward passage like a lawyer looking for loopholes. “Well, it didn’t say you couldn’t have a marriage partner of the same sex.”
But the plain teaching of this passage to scholar and lay person alike, throughout two thousand years of history of Christianity (until the late emergence of pro-gay theology), is that the union between man and woman is presented as the divine institution of marriage. There is and will be no passage throughout the rest of Scripture that will present an alternative pairing of man and man or woman and woman. All references to marriage in both the OT and the NT is of a heterosexual pairing, many of which will refer specifically back to this passage in Genesis.
So the question for pro-gay adherents is this: Why would God have this passage placed at the beginning of Scripture, where it presents a heterosexual marriage as instituted at the time of creation, never have homosexual marriage even mentioned, and yet intend for homosexual marriage to be right and good?
Matthew then examines another passage in Genesis.
But before they lay down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, both young and old, all the people to the last man, surrounded the house. And they called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, that we may know them.” Lot went out to the men at the entrance, shut the door after him, and said, “I beg you, my brothers, do not act so wickedly. Behold, I have two daughters who have not known any man. Let me bring them out to you, and do to them as you please. Only do nothing to these men, for they have come under the shelter of my roof.” But they said, “Stand back!” And they said, “This fellow came to sojourn, and he has become the judge! Now we will deal worse with you than with them.” Then they pressed hard against the man Lot, and drew near to break the door down.
Matthew’s argument here is that the situation is obviously that of gang homosexual rape. Furthermore, the real sin depicted is that of inhospitality. Ezekiel refers to the sin of Sodom as pride, indulging in luxury, and exhibiting a lack of care for the poor. All this is true, but the context of the Ezekiel passage (chapter 16) is that of depicting Jerusalem and Samaria in terms of prostitutes. In Ezekiel 16:50, God says, “They were haughty and did an abomination before me. So I removed them, when I saw it.” That abomination was, of course, the gang rape.
Rape, and gang rape, of course are obvious, disgusting sins. And Sodom is held up in the rest of the Scriptures as exhibiting the height of sinfulness. That is why Ezekiel is accusing Jerusalem and Samaria of being like and even worse than Sodom. He is telling them how low they have fallen. That is the same point Jesus makes when he tells Capernaum that it will go easier for the inhabitants of Sodom than for them (Matthew 11:20-24). In other words, chose the worse example to get your point across.
How low did Sodom go? The inhabitants are not merely inhospitable; they will even go as low as homosexual rape, even rejecting the alternative to rape women. Having said all this, I would agree that Genesis 19 is not a passage to make a strong case against homosexuality. I think one can point to it as another Scriptural disapproval, but it does not stand alone by itself against homosexuality.
Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13
You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination (18:22).
If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them (20:13).
Matthew’s primary assertion here is that the book of Leviticus is concerned with cultic law. He is correct in pointing out that scholars differentiate OT laws, categorizing them as moral, civil, and cultic, the last of which applies to the religious life of the Jewish people and which distinguishes them from other nations. He then notes that while cultic laws could also be moral laws, the way one knows that they have moral application is that they appear in other parts of the Jewish canon. When cultic laws are violated, they are described as abominations, along with moral laws. So, the mere use of the term “abomination” does not signify the violation of a moral law. Finally, when we come to the NT, there we have a clear declaration that the cultic laws—concerned about what is clean and unclean—are now removed.
Thus, as Matthew’s argument proceeds, one should understand these two verses in Leviticus as falling under cultic laws, which in this case identifies what is considered ceremonially clean and unclean. There is no further condemnation of homosexual acts in other OT Scripture; if there were, that would have moved such acts into the moral realm (because of his assertion that cultic laws are applicable in the moral realm if they appear elsewhere in Scripture).
Again, I appreciate Matthew’s respectful handling of Scripture. But I see two clear difficulties with his conclusion about these two verses. One, though the NT does, in fact, remove the OT restrictions about what may be ritually clean and unclean, it nevertheless continues to uphold the OT prohibitions on sexual relations. There is no indication that any sexual activity prohibited by the OT is now permitted in the NT. If anything, one could easily make the case that the permissible boundaries of sexual behavior are tightened rather than loosened. Two, there is no indication that OT law restricts sexual activity to mere ritual cleanness. Matthew is correct that homosexual behavior is not proscribed elsewhere in the OT, but such an argument as this reaches too far. Neither are sexual relations between father and daughter mentioned beyond Leviticus, nor is anyone advocating for that to be acceptable. The real question is how OT law views sexual relations.
Matthew makes another argument to limit the implications of these verses in Leviticus. He asserts that the Levitical law applied only to the Jewish nation up until the time of Christ. Taking his statement at face value, he must then accept that God–who not only regards same-sex relations as morally acceptable but also created individuals to have such attractions–nevertheless denied to his own covenant people the right to engage in an activity that is good in his eyes. In other words, he was willing to subject his people, who experience same-sex attraction (SSA), to lives of futile aspirations. Matthew eloquently describes the heartache of being denied expression of his sexual orientation. By his own argument, though, he concedes that this is what God did to his own covenant people. It is one thing to not be able to wear clothing of mixed material or be denied bacon. If I understand Matthew correctly, it is hellish to be denied the opportunity to fulfill one’s same-sex attractions.
Yet to accept Matthew’s argument, we are to understand that God subjected his people to such a prohibition only because he thought it was a good ritual for them to observe, in order to distinguish his people from others. We are to further understand that God intended for his covenant people–both the Jewish nation and the Christian church–to have understood all along that homosexuality is good apart from any explicit endorsement from his Scriptures.
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.
Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.
And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.
Matthew’s two main points in his examination of this passage in Romans are that “nature” refers to what is accepted custom, and that the violation spoken of by Paul is that of heterosexuals engaging in homosexual behavior. Verses 26 and 27 speak of exchanging and giving up one type of relationship for another.
If we follow his logic and keep in context with the passage, we must also conclude that each violator first started off with a true knowledge of God (21), determined not to honor him (21), and then began worshipping idols of animals (23). God then gave each of them up to impure lusts (24), followed by the exchange of natural to unnatural relations (26-27). But it doesn’t end there. These same individuals go on to be filled with the whole list of sins in verses 29-31.
Matthew’s argument fails here. It is clear that Paul is not presenting the biography of each sinner but rather he is describing mankind in general. His argument, beginning with this passage and running through 3:20, is that everyone stands under the wrath of God. This passage, Romans 1:18-31, presents the status of the Gentile world and demonstrates that it has only spiraled downward over the centuries. Going further, in chapter 2 and the first half of chapter 3, Paul will then address the Jewish people who consider themselves morally superior to the Gentiles. By connecting Romans 1:18-31 with the rest of his argument that stretches into chapter 3, the passage is put into its proper context.
In addition, Matthew’s argument that the sexual relations described in verses 26 and 27 are behaviors that went against one’s own natural affections, we need to note that the men and women described are, in fact, giving in to their passions. They are not forcing themselves to engage in conduct that seems unnatural to them, nor are they described as forcing themselves upon others. They are “consumed with passion for one another.” This is hardly the description of heterosexuals forcing themselves to go against their nature or of a two-party relationship in which one partner is being forced to go against his or her true nature.
Matthew is right that the term translated “nature” is also used of what could be considered customary, and he rightly describes its use in 1 Corinthians 11 where it speaks of hair length for men and women. But, as Matthew makes clear, we must look at context. Just as “nature” in the English language can have different connotations depending on context, it’s the same for the Greek. It is a far stretch to take this Romans passage description of the downward spiral of mankind (or even each individual) and believe that the real horror is that of men and women forsaking the customs of their times.
1 Corinthians 6:9-11 and 1 Timothy 1:8-11
Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)
Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted. (1 Timothy 1:8-11)
Matthew, if I recall correctly, takes the same view that other non-traditionalists have taken with these passages–namely, that the type of homosexual behavior described here is that of prostitution. Indeed, this argument goes on to say that all NT references of homosexuality are about abuses. Supposedly, the Apostle Paul did not know of loving homosexual relationships, of the kind that is being promoted today.
And yet, in the Roman-Greco world of Paul’s time, homosexuality flourished openly, perhaps more so than our own post-Christian culture. For until the spread of Christianity, the culture did not have a strong sexually moral code. Historical work in the last fifty years has demonstrated its widespread practice in all its variations. That Paul, who was regarded as a highly educated man of his time apart from his Jewish education, who was raised in the Gentile environment of Tarsus, and who carried out his ministry throughout the Roman Empire, would not have known of “acceptable” same-sex relations begs disbelief.
At minimum, one can easily make the case that malakoi is used in 1 Corinthians 6:9 to describe men who serve as the feminine partners and arsenokoitai in 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10 to describe men who serve as the masculine partner. The only question is whether Paul intended to apply the terms across the board to all homosexual activity (rather than, as the non-traditionalists like Matthew do, apply Paul’s references to homosexuality to a more limited context, that of cultic prostitution).
What do you think, given what is known about Paul? Think of what Paul has to say about any sexual activity outside of marriage, regardless of whether the relations are “loving” or not. Do you think Paul thought of marriage as anything but between a man and woman, given that his moral code would be that of an orthodox Jew? Think of what he wrote in the Romans passage.
Consider a further point. Christians have always understood, historically, that the writings of the New Testament were under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, as were those of the Old Testament. To hold to a non-traditionalist position forces us to confront the same conundrum we encountered in Matthew’s argument from Leviticus. We have to believe that a practice which is blessed of God, who himself gave SSA as a gift to be enjoyed, nevertheless gives no explicit or implicit blessing in the New Testament. The apostle who wrote that love is the greatest of all and that to love one’s neighbor is to fulfill the law, cannot seem to understand that love could exist within homosexuality; or if he did, he keeps it to himself. To push things further on the grounds of Matthew’s argument, the Holy Spirit cannot figure out a way to get some kind of message across that would lead to its acceptance.
Of course, Matthew and others would say that the message is the one about love. I understand that. Then why doesn’t the New Testament come out and state it? Was Paul afraid? Was Jesus afraid? According to Matthew (correctly, by the way), the NT presents the OT laws on ritual purity to be nullified. Then why, as it does with diet and rituals, not give a single teaching about homosexual relations? Was it not deemed important? Was it considered an obvious acceptable practice? What was God thinking that he would leave his written Word silent on the subject, i.e. silent about its acceptability? The silence is deafening.
The place of the Fall
Matthew makes reference to traditional teaching about the place of the Fall, but he does not (understandably) take time to consider it at any depth. But understanding the Fall is key to the whole subject of human behavior and what is considered acceptable.
From the Fall onward, Scripture chronicles the disease of sin that has set itself in the nature of man. Regarding sins of a sexual nature, there is no longer a natural sense of monogamy. Polygamy becomes a common and acceptable expression of marriage. Even in marriage, a man is expected to keep concubines and sleep with prostitutes (see the example of Judah in Genesis 38). Chastity, though it remains an ideal to honor, is no longer considered a realistic way of life for a man. While chastity before marriage has never been considered natural for a man outside of the Judaic-Christian heritage, in our post-Christian society, it is not considered natural for male or female. This is the result of the Fall. Sex became separated from marriage–marriage between one man and one woman–as taught in Genesis 2.
How does human society handle sin? It can seek to restrain sin with laws, or it can seek to accommodate sin by normalizing it. The societies of biblical times outside of the Judaic-Christian culture have always normalized sin, as does our post-Christian society today. Thus, one who is not sexually active is considered abnormal, especially when he or she will not participate in loving sexual relations. It is normal and healthy to engage in sex that is loving in whatever sense it is described. And it does not make sense to non-Christians to see Christians struggle to remain chaste. Why, they wonder, would it be considered wrong to do something that, at worse, brings a moment of enjoyment and fulfillment? Why deny what is a natural feeling and need?
This is what the Fall has done. Once man and woman began to hide themselves from God; once God evicted them from his presence and they went on their own way, their descendants moved further and further away from true knowledge of God and reversed the perception of what is natural. Or to put in another way, instead of examining and judging the rightness of their own feelings, they merely gave approval to their feelings, regarding them as natural, i.e. good in the eyes of God (in whatever way they regard him).
All societies and individuals still retain a sense of a moral code. In the best of societies, especially those that have been influenced by the Christian faith, that code is generally a version of Jesus’ own teaching that the greatest commandment is to love God and to love one’s neighbor. As you know, he also taught the golden rule–do unto others as you would have them do unto you. It is to this code where advocates for homosexuality appeal.
I think it is indeed their strongest argument. It certainly disarms the arguments that equate SSA with aggressive sins such as murder, lying, and violent sex. How can loving relationships, regardless of sexual orientation, be wrong? That is a powerful argument–too powerful actually, at least for the Christian.
For it is the same argument that polygamists make. It is the same argument that the unmarried make. It is the same argument that those caught in a loveless marriage make (which they are trapped in) when they find a love outside of marriage. It is the same argument that incest advocates make. (Did you know that consensual incest between adults is legal in China, France, Israel, the Ivory Coast, the Netherlands, Russia, Spain, and Turkey?) Without divine injunctions as to what is and what is not morally acceptable, one can only conclude that “love” trumps all restrictions because those restrictions are merely seen as cultural taboos.
Every argument that Matthew makes, as every other pro-gay advocate has argued, as to why homosexuality should now be acceptable by the church; and every attempt to explain a biblical text that labels homosexual behavior as unacceptable and should not be applied to loving same-sex relations is the same argument that can be used to remove most biblical sexual restraints. The reason Scripture gives laws as to what is and what is not acceptable sexual activity, and the reason we need Scripture for guidance is that what seems natural and good to us does not always equate with what is natural and good in God’s sight. That is what the Fall is all about.
We cannot trust our instinct. We cannot determine from our feelings what was natural before the Fall. Consider why it is that it is only in an increasingly post-Christian world that Christians and Jews are reconstructing how to interpret what the Scriptures have to say. This is not like the Reformation in which Christians reclaimed what had grown dormant in the church. What is taking place today is that the non-Christian world (which grows increasingly pagan) is forcing Christians like Matthew (and you) to accept desires and behaviors that Scripture gives no warrant to deem as good.
On the one hand, Matthew keeps emphasizing the point of reading scripture in context. But with the other hand, he then deconstructs context, isolating each passage to be viewed alone without acknowledging the context of Scripture as a whole. Why? Because he has given in to the fallen world’s worldview as to what is true, good and acceptable. That is the result of the Fall, and even regenerate Christians continue to yield to the ways of the world.
In studying the subject of common grace, I see how something which is so good can still be used in a post-Fall world for deception. How so? Common grace teaches that God gives blessings indiscriminately to the believer and unbeliever alike. Love is a common grace gift, which includes the blessings of loving relationships, even relationships outside of God’s intended design. The reason that living together before and outside of marriage is so popular is that it is pleasant. The non-Christian reasons that the biblical prohibition of sex outside of traditional marriage must be wrong, because they see people are happy for engaging in it. How then can it be wrong?
In the same way, the pro-gay argument comes down to one foundation: that of experience. See how same-sex couples can be happy? See how they can love? How can such love be wrong?
For the Christian, the answer never lies only in experience–how one feels or what happens to a person–but rather on what God’s Word teaches. And by the way, Scripture reveals, as does experience, that those who do not love can also feel happy and receive good things. For the Christian, then, love–important as it is–does not cover the whole story. Love–right love–also is concerned with holiness, with purity, with being right before the Lord. The expression and experience of that kind of love is not identified by human feelings but by what God reveals in his Word.
The place of the Cross
It is to the cross that we must come whenever we are deliberating on what is acceptable behavior. Matthew is resentful of heterosexuals telling him that he must bear his cross of denying to himself what they may freely enjoy. That is understandable. I would feel the same way.
But anyone identifying himself as a follower of Jesus Christ must look at his own life in sight of the cross that Jesus bore for us. After all, Christianity is not about a system of rules and doctrines. It is about good news, about the gospel, which tells us of the sacrifice made by God to win us to himself.
God the Son died on a cross. Though he was in the form of God, [he] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:6-8).
What do we do with that, with what our Lord had to do to become our Savior? Do we determine what crosses we will and will not bear?
But this is not about duty. It is everything about love. Do we love Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who died for us? Do we? Do we measure how meaningful or happy our life is according to what temporal blessings we may find or according to the costly mercy shown to us on the cross? This is not about guilt–Jesus died for me and now I will feel guilty if I don’t bear my own cross. This is about thanksgiving, about joy and peace that comes from knowing that I am forgiven, that I am accepted without strings as a child of my Father. It is about realizing that nothing compares to these riches.
Matthew sees two alternatives for himself–fulfill his SSA desires to allow him to have the homosexual version of a family and thus be happy, or deny his desires and live a lonely life. I want to look at those alternatives on two levels.
First, are those really the options for Christians–whether one has heterosexual attractions or same-sex attractions? Is fulfilling the desire for a family through marriage and having children the key to happiness, and not to have it is to live a lonely life? What then am I to tell the heterosexual singles who come to me for counsel, expressing the same sorrow as Matthew? Do I just comfort them with the acknowledgement that theirs is a lonely life? That they must simply look at it as a cross to bear, maybe for the rest of their life if they never marry?
Or should I lead them to the love that they may claim which is infinitely more superior than that of sexual love? Because, after all, it does boil down to sex. Why should a single person not become part of a family? We have a friend who is a single woman who adopted a son. She also has biological family, as well as friends who are closer than family. (There is a friend who sticks closer than a brother, Proverbs 18:24). I don’t think she considers her life a cross to bear. I think that she has taken the love of Christ shown to her and let it flow out so that her life is enriching both to herself and to others.
That is what happens for a Christian who looks to the cross. She doesn’t focus on what she doesn’t have. She is moved to see the glorious blessings she does possess and then focuses on how she will honor the one who died for her. She wanted a family. No one proposed. So she made a family in a godly way. The only thing that she has denies herself is sex. For, again, that is the only thing that differentiates romantic love and companion love–sexual passion. What every married couple knows is that what takes over a marriage through the years is companionship. Sexual satisfaction is an aspect, but only an aspect–not the core of the marital relationship.
The cross to bear for the single Christian, whatever their sexual attractions may be, is not denial of family or companionship, but sex. It is a hard cross to bear, no doubt. But don’t take it beyond what it is. It is the world, not God, that has turned sex into the all-important fulfillment of life.
Now go back to the cross–the very real cross that bore our Savior. See what our Savior bore for us–not a cross, but our guilt; not a denial of pleasure but the just wrath of God. Why would he do so? Because God loves us (John 3:16; Romans 5:8; 1 John 4:10). The Father gave his Son; the Son gave his life. How then can we resent giving up whatever his gracious hand brings into our life?
Second, Matthew makes the assumption that nothing can be done about SSA. It is fruitless to seek fulfilling relationships, either with the same-sex because of temptation or with the opposite sex because of lack of attraction. Is that true? I am not suggesting that all homosexuals can reorient to heterosexual attraction, but it is fatalistic to assume nothing can change. I just put down a book, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert, the story of a lesbian who chaired the department of feminist studies at Syracuse University. This woman, who never struggled about her sexuality, quite content as a lesbian, nevertheless ended up happily married to a man. Is she someone who had really suppressed her true heterosexual nature and finally it came out? Or is she someone who, after coming to a knowledge of the gospel of Christ, found her understanding changed about what is good before God, and as she learned she gave herself over to a progression of change in her attractions and feelings?
I know Christian’s with SSA who have remained single, and some who have married opposite-sex partners. Whether single or married, they have found fulfilling relationships either with friends or spouses. I don’t mean to make the whole matter simplistic, but I do question the fatalistic assumptions made by Matthew and those in his camp. There are many testimonies of individuals who feared committing themselves to Christ because they did not believe they could control whatever their desires might be, only to find Christ’s Spirit doing the change in them.
The strongest argument made by same-sex proponents is that homosexuals can possess as strong a self-giving love as heterosexuals. And the argument is reinforced by Christians with SSA by their willingness to be bound by the same biblical restrictions as heterosexuals; that is, committed, monogamous marriage. The only difference is in who they are sexually attracted to, something which they do not control. That is a strong argument, and no doubt that is what drives sincere Christians to re-interpret otherwise clear scriptural teaching.
So, what of the argument? For me, the argument has a foundational error: It is an argument that is selective in application. Polygamists and incest practitioners make the same argument. Couples who choose to live together make the same argument. Individuals trapped in loveless and abusive marriages make the same argument in explaining their affairs. They have fallen in love, and their love is self-giving, enriching, life-affirming and mutually beneficial. What could be wrong with that?
Christians, however, must concede that Scripture sets up laws and boundaries that do not take into account the natural love-feelings of individuals. It does so, not because it does not recognize love but, again, because the Fall blinds us to what love really involves. Love does fulfill the law, but it is the law that reveals what love involves. And because we have inherited the consequences of the Fall, what feels like love and what is love do not go hand in hand.
Does not the divorce rate, the prevalence of physical and emotional abuse, and the many more loveless marriages that once began with deep-felt love in heterosexual marriages demonstrate how little we humans understand true love? To simply say that in cases where homosexuals really love one another, then it must be good–how strong is such an argument to make us doubt the teaching of Scripture?
In the end, let the cross be your focal point for understanding true love–the love that God has for you; the love of Christ marked by real sacrifice; the love that calls for sacrifice from us; the love that makes any sacrifice seem as nothing before the love of God.
Laura, a Harvest USA intern, has a compelling story about God’s relentless grace that rescued her from sexual brokenness. Like all real stories, it’s still not finished, and there are broken paths along the way.
You can also read it in our blog, Sex, Lies and God’s Design, if you want to give Laura a comment or two. You can find our blog link on the front page of our website.
I’ve been learning the imperative nature of two words in the Bible. Without these two words, we are so dead and odorous in our sins, much like Lazarus was when Christ raised him from the dead. In fact, the fate of all humanity hinges on these words: “But God…”
Paul wrote in Ephesians, “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins…carrying out the inclinations of your flesh and thoughts and by nature were children under wrath…But God who is abundant in mercy, because of his great love that he had for us, made us alive with the Messiah even though we were dead in trespasses. By grace you are saved!” (Ephesians 2:1, ESV).
My story involves a long stretch of spiritual death—my wandering as a child under God’s displeasure. It’s a journey that involved a series of unholy sexual relationships with women and a long stretch of hopelessness that felt like my only companion. But God (!) was not content to leave me there. He used his earthly kingdom, the body of Christ, to bring me to a knowledge of himself and of the love he has for me—a love that would allow the death of his Son to reverse the death I was living.
I was a part of a large family by today’s standards. I was the second oldest of six children (one boy and five girls). It was just me and my brother for the first eight years of my life. I grew up a tomboy. My parents then had a string of four more daughters to make up for my own lack of girliness. The six of us vied for my parents’ attention and stretched them to the limits to provide for us. Materially, we always had enough, but emotionally it often felt as though the fount had run dry. Mom and Dad loved me, but there were often disconnects in the ways they showed it and the ways in which I could understand it.
My parents expressed their love for me in many ways. They were the first to step up and defend me, when there were outside threats—school bullies, teacher bullies, friend issues. But the internal threats went unnoticed—particularly my sense of their lack of affection and my misguided attempts to seek out that affection from other women. I found myself on the receiving end of derogatory words and expressions (“faggot”) that would be tossed around to gauge my reaction on the issue of same-sex attraction. Instead of coming to me with intentional questions to get a read on where my heart was—a move which would have been most invited if done in love!—my parents drove me away with malicious words and cold distance. It ultimately made me feel worthless instead of valuable.
I wanted so much to be loved for who I was. I was delighted to see my parents show up for my violin and ballet recitals, but how much more it would have meant for them to support me in the things I loved: writing, soccer, softball, and mountains. Their failure to show up in these areas—and the way they were critical of my interest in them—really widened a chasm in our relationship which over the years I would fill with anger and bitterness.
After being homeschooled, I entered a private Christian school in the sixth grade. My experience in that school was like watching the movie Saved (the 2004 flick starring Mandy Moore and Macaulay Culkin), except that I was actually in the movie. It was difficult to spend the next six years in an environment of legalism. The legalistic environment affirmed my frenzied attempts to keep up the appearance of what Christianity should look like by today’s standards, at the expense of searching out my own heart.
There was particularly no grace to be observed in the area of same-sex struggle. A good friend of mine was kicked out after a letter she wrote to another girl that expressed her affection for her was discovered. I could have easily been in her shoes—expelled for writing a similar letter that wasn’t confiscated by a teacher. At the end of my senior year of high school, while serving as class chaplain, captain of our soccer team, and juggling all the science courses that would make me a first-class applicant for pre-med programs, I was also actively engaged in my very first same-sex sexual relationship with another student from my school. But no one found out, because God had other plans. If I had been expelled, I most likely would not have ended up at the small Christian college where my life began to unravel and then turn around.
By the end of high school, I had become so tired of doing all the right things, making all of the right choices and the good grades, and never feeling like I was getting anywhere in terms of my relationship with my parents, whose affections I could not seem to buy for any price. I also felt my school slighted me for every honor imaginable. I felt that both my parents and my school offered nothing but derision in communicating with me at my deepest area of need. I decided that if all Christianity had to offer was back-breaking, law-keeping labor without any pay-off (or even a little bit of a break in the area of temptation and struggle every now and then), then what was the point? I could never be good enough.
Of course I was right in thinking like this! But I had no idea of the implications of what I was thinking, and I had no idea how what I was feeling would actually impact my relationship with Christ. I did not even know that my relationship with him could be a real relationship—I just took that for Christian jargon. Through all the struggles, God had intentionally primed me for my college experience. I was about to experience grace for the first time. I was going to know it when I saw it because it would be so drastically different from everything else I had experienced.
Grove City College is located roughly thirteen hours from where I grew up. This was good news for me in many ways, but particularly, it meant a geographical severing of the same-sex relationship I had begun in my last year of high school. The environment of grace at this school began turning the tide of doubt in my mind. I saw grace in action there from the faculty and staff. Of course, there was a rule book. It was called The Crimson. Included inside were visitation rules, the plagiarism policy, and alcohol abstinence regulations. It also laid out procedures for punishing the breaking of all of these rules. My expectations of how a Christian institution operated remained unchallenged.
However, in my first few months as a Grover, the lessons of grace I saw would shake the ground of all my “Christian” assumptions. One of my dearest friends was caught drinking on campus. I knew that this was an offense punishable by expulsion. I grieved the inevitable loss of one of the healthy female relationships God had blessed me with in my freshman year, but I grieved prematurely. She came back after her talk with an administrator of the school and told me a story that seemed unfathomable at the time. She said that after sharing the story of her family’s difficult situation on top of her own emotional turbulence adjusting to a new school and environment, she had been granted a second chance. I rejoiced with her but I did not really understand what was happening. I certainly did not see this as the first step in the revolutionizing of my own understanding of grace. Little did I know that what was revolutionary to me as an observer of grace would become painfully glorious as I had the opportunity to experience it firsthand.
My RA found me in violation of a rule that met the requirements for “grounds for expulsion” as stated in The Crimson. My mind again prematurely raced to thoughts of what will I tell my friends? My parents? Where will I apply to school? How will I ever live down the shame? But after running the gamut of the entire chain of command, the dean of students granted me what at the time felt like nothing less than a stay of execution. As I sat in her office, she started asking me questions. It seemed like she was trying to get to know me. “What is this about?” My mind again raced toward what I saw as the inevitable conclusion. “Just hurry up and dismiss me. Stop making this more painful,” I kept thinking. But about five minutes into our chat, I started wondering whether my dismissal was actually the intended end-point of the conversation. We continued talking and the conversation concluded with me agreeing to see the school’s counselor and her agreeing to let me stay. I was dumbfounded. They knew all the details of my situation, but I still felt like I had somehow pulled the wool over the school’s eyes, like if they really really knew me they would do the wise thing: pack my bags and ship me out. That would be Christian protocol, right? What do you do with a messy life? Deal out discipline, get rid of the leprosy; whatever it takes to clean the sin infection. As long as you don’t get dirty taking care of the problem, you’re okay. But that is not what this woman did. She rolled up her sleeves and intentionally dug into the mess of my life. In that moment, I experienced palpable grace for the first time in my life, and I was undone.
Following that experience of grace, of being set free from a judgment and punishment that I deserved, I was primed to hear it from the pulpit. But before that time would come, I would have other impactful encounters in the church.
There were two situations within my home church growing up that shook my identity and, along with my family and school experiences, loomed like a large cloud of doom over my concept of Christianity. When I was a teenager, a young man in our church who was gifted musically and could dress better than the majority of the males in his class was consistently picked on and labeled “gay” by his peers. I do not know all of the influences surrounding his decision to embrace a “gay” identity. I do know that after doing so, he and his family were excommunicated from the church. Another young man had confessed to having homosexual desires (I don’t know to what extent they had been expressed), and his family’s solution, after prayerful consideration with church members, was to send him to live with family members in another state. This young man never returned home and eventually died of AIDS.
What this communicated to me, regardless of the realities that I did not hear or see, was that 1) the church is not safe, and it can be threatening (and thus I concluded that I would never share my struggle); 2) my sin is unforgivable. If people are being cut off and sent away over the same sins I struggled with, then apparently it is incurable and unforgivable; and 3) this led to the final conclusion that my temptation in and of itself is unforgivable. Because the line between sin and temptation was indistinguishable for me at that point, the temptation in and of itself was condemnable. This compounded the feeling already beginning to form within my mind, that I was a victim in this whole mess. I never asked for this struggle; I never wanted to be like this! It also went a long way in cementing same-sex attraction as my identity.
Healing within the church body began after I transferred from Grove City College to attend the school where I thought I would eventually go to medical school. I began attending Reformed University Fellowship. The pastor there, David, was engaging and personal. He wanted to hang out one-on-one with all the new students who showed up for large group, so I thought I would give it a shot, tell him my story. The worst that could happen would be the end of a relationship that hadn’t really even begun. I wasn’t attached to the ministry, so I figured it would be no skin off my nose. We sat down. I told him my story, and he listened. He was the first man, and really only the second person, I had told my story to, and as I sat there, at times almost provoking him in order to get him to show disgust or the vacant I-don’t-know- what-to-do- with-this-information stare, he listened. Just listened.
This interaction opened the door for future discussions with the pastor of the church I was attending at the time. In comparison to my voluntary, albeit provocative, confession to David, I was more coerced into speaking with John. I signed up for a trip to China with Mission to the World. Their application includes a twenty-something page packet that basically lists every sin known to man and then requests you to fill out your degree of struggle in each area. My response to the question inquiring about struggles with homosexuality was, understandably, cause for a follow-up.
They requested that I get in touch with my pastor to talk with him about a potentially dangerous relationship with another woman in the church that I was attempting to navigate. We talked for over an hour, but the thing that stands out to me most about that conversation was when he told me, “Laura, I’ve never seen such a beautiful picture of the way the body of Christ is supposed to work. This is what the church is supposed to look like. I’m so proud of you.” Much more was said, but as I left there was a tangible feeling surrounding me that can best be described as safe. I could not have asked for a sweeter outcome. It was the security I had longed for all my life and I found it in the place I least expected it, in the church, in my new home.
In later conversations, I told John how terrified I was at the thought of becoming a member of the church. The Christianity I knew growing up was always about rigid rule-keeping. Everything I had heard of and seen second-hand concerning church discipline told me that if I did become a member, the inevitable outcome would be my excommunication. If I struggled again, I would be gone. If, God forbid, I got into another same-sex relationship, I might even be sent off to another state. I expressed these concerns and got this response, “If you were to run away and commit yourself to a relationship with another woman, I would come after you. But not to hunt you down, not to crucify you —to bring you back where you belong, back with your family who dearly loves you.” I was rendered speechless by grace yet again.
David and John, along with other men and women in the church whom I eventually started opening up to, hugely impacted my life by laying out the truths of Scripture—what it really looks like to pursue the “least of these” as Jesus did and then actually inviting me, the leper, into their midst. A true test of the gospel mettle for my community came in the form of my fall back into sexual sin two nights after presenting my testimony to my congregation (take note on the reality of spiritual warfare so obviously at play here!). I was on the phone the next morning, first with my mentors in the church, then elders and my pastor. They were immediately there to drive me back into the fold with both stern warnings and assurance of pardon.
As I continue to receive grace in big and small ways from my Christian brothers and sisters, my relationships continually transform into the way they will eventually look when the whole earth is made new. This is true for my family relationships and my friendships as well as those relationships in which I feel my same-sex struggles creep in. Both the gracious healing and the nagging pains in these relationships point me to my future hope – and keep me longing for it. Therefore, I do not lose hope. Even as I struggle day by day against sin and suffering, I know my true hope is secured for me by Christ—through his death—and in Christ—through my relationship with him. That relationship transforms every other relationship I have. It motivates me to live a life that pleases Christ so that I may move ever closer to him. I’m so thankful to know he is my hope! I’m also thankful for the people God put in my life to point me to that truth.
In an article that John and I worked on awhile back, he wrote, “I think it is important to say that nothing I have learned about ministering to my friend who struggles with same-sex attraction is new or innovative. All I had to do was decide to reach out, to love and minister to this unique person created in the image of God, who struggles with sin just like I do and who struggles to live in a posture of repentance and faith in Jesus just like I do.”
It is this understanding of the Christian obligation to love that reaps the eternal reward of souls won to the kingdom. The more embedded I become in the local church and in the body of Christ in every sphere, the more confident I become that getting personal in the mess of people’s lives is a Christian mandate. This was the heart of Christ’s ministry; see John 4 for the account of Jesus’ radical approach to the woman at the well, or Matthew 8 for accounts of multiple “getting personal” stories, including the healing of lepers and getting rid of demons. It is inevitable that it should be the heart of ours as well.
It does not take perfect people to transform hearts and lives. It takes hearts and minds that understand the depth of their own unworthiness, their own shared status among “the least of these,” going out and sharing the good news of the transforming power of a relationship with Christ. Remember that you are a suffering sinner dependent on the turn of a phrase, “But God!” Now, go share the good news!
14 Jan 2014
Desperate for change
“I love children. I’ve always wanted a family. I just can’t imagine myself ever getting married. I mean, how would sex even work?! I don’t think this is working.” Wiping a tear from the corner of his eye, “Frank” shook his head and threw up his hands in exasperation.
A Christian man in his 30s, wrestling with same-sex attraction (SSA), he was beaten down by the relentlessness of his temptation and his seeming inability to change. Like most men and women struggling with SSA, Frank hoped coming to Harvest USA would translate into deliverance from his homosexual desires. For him, defeating SSA meant eradicating ongoing homosexual temptation and essentially becoming heterosexual. This is what change means for many people, and anything short of that feels like a “bait and switch.”
First, we need to acknowledge that the ongoing, persistent nature of a struggle with SSA is very hard for those who desire to follow God’s word regarding his design for sexuality. For the vast majority of men and women, it will be a lifelong experience in this fallen world. It is a unique and, at times, excruciating cross they are called to bear, but it is not a hopeless journey. For it is there, in that struggle, that God wants to meet them. (For a fuller description of how God uses our battles with temptation for our good and his glory, please see another article, Suffering with Temptation)
Conflicting views of change
In our culture, a cacophony of voices are expressing radically divergent perspectives on change. Because the media shouts the loudest, a growing number of people have adopted the view that SSA is “inborn and unchangeable.” After all, no one ever asked to have SSA. The desires come unbidden, and they stubbornly persist. It is never a conscious choice. Although direct genetic and/or physiological origins have never been scientifically proven, the spirit of the age insistently asserts that altering sexual orientation is as futile as trying to change skin color. It is argued that the very attempt is psychologically harmful, so California recently made it illegal for therapists to talk to teenagers about the possibility of change.
Sadly, even the church’s voice has too frequently been unhelpful. To begin with, homosexuality is often viewed as particularly abhorrent and far more broken than heterosexual brokenness. Further, some Christians act like SSA is simply a chosen “lifestyle” that can be easily deselected. Perhaps more pervasive is a triumphalist Christianity that suggests any significant sin struggle is easily overcome as long as someone has enough faith. This is why I tend to cringe at the typical church testimony: “My life was a mess, but then I got saved, and now everything is grand!” Anything short of painless, temptation-free, easy obedience is chalked up to an individual’s failure to really believe, as if our journey in this life is a gentle Sunday stroll to heaven.
Finally, most people (particularly those who struggle with the issue) see change as nothing less than the utter eradication of their SSA, coupled with a big boost in heterosexual desire. Mistakenly, they believe that ultimate change means a traditional marriage, children, a house in the burbs with a white picket fence and eventually grandchildren. There is an understandable longing to find relief from the unwanted attraction and ongoing temptation, but this expectation goes far beyond the promises of the Bible. How can we sort through all these dissonant voices?
Re-aligning the focus
Since Freud, our culture has placed an inordinate focus on our sexuality. So many women wrestle with body image because they are programmed to believe that sex appeal is one of the most important aspects of their person. In this environment, it’s not surprising that people build their fundamental identity around their sexuality.
This is not to deny that sexuality is an important aspect of our humanity, but consider for a moment how building the core of our identity around sexuality radically diminishes what it means to be human. The Bible gives us two primary categories for identity-formation, tied to the reality that we are body and spirit. First, we are created as God’s “image bearers,” either male or female, and second, we are either “in Christ” or not. Perhaps this sounds overly simple, but to be “in Christ” means to be an adopted child of God, an heir to his eternal kingdom. Our identity is completely bound up in him; this union with him is both foundational and of infinitely greater worth than what our culture proclaims is our sexual “orientation.” A biblical anthropology does not recognize “sexual orientation” as a core identity marker. This is why I am very concerned by the growing number of Christians who uphold biblical sexual morality in practice, but maintain the identity of a “celibate, gay Christian.” God doesn’t want our identity wrapped up in the broken places of our humanity, but in the glorious redemption that is ours in Christ!
Men and women coming for ministry to Harvest USA are always surprised by how little we talk about sex. Seriously. Why? For us the issue is not sexual orientation; we’re not in the business of making people “straight.” For 30 years, our focus has always been the gospel–that God has reconciled us to himself through Christ, not counting our sins against us (see 2 Corinthians 5:14-21). God initiated a relationship with us, and that relationship becomes the defining core of our identity. The focus on who I am is no longer on my sexual attractions, desires, or tendencies (or anything else, for that matter!). Increasingly, it’s not on me at all–my life is radically reoriented around him.
I love how 2 Corinthians 5:14-15 describes this reality: “For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.” God’s great love for us in Christ becomes the center of our identity and the controlling factor in our lives. In Jesus, we find the “treasure in the field,” the “pearl of great value,” and everything formerly prized is counted “as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (see Matthew 13:44-46; Philippians 3:8).
At Harvest USA, we believe the opposite of homosexuality isn’t heterosexuality–it is holiness. To be holy means to be set apart for God. This is what it means that we are reconciled to him. He is our God, and we are his people. To be a disciple means taking up a cross, willing to lose my life for his sake, believing his promise that in so doing I will actually find abundant life. Thus Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in The Cost of Discipleship, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die”
The Bible’s starting point
Ultimately, the “inborn and unchangeable” claim rests on personal experience, not science. The argument goes, “I never asked for SSA. I’ve always felt this way. It is natural for me. Therefore, God made me this way.” But here’s the rub: the Bible teaches that what is “natural” to us is broken! Nothing in this world is the way it’s supposed to be. All of us have a sexuality in need of redemption. What I mean is, no one goes through life with blinders on, experiencing a dormant sexuality until they finally meet that special someone of the opposite gender, get married, and then spend the rest of their lives in starry-eyed, selfless devotion to that person, never looking to the left or right. In a fallen world, sexuality is bent in innumerable directions, but all of us have a broken sexuality. My wedding ring is completely foreign to me naturally. Apart from Christ, when I was single, I cheated on every woman I dated. I’m not naturally wired for monogamy–I needed a radical, supernatural intervention by the Spirit of God to overcome my “natural” tendencies and begin living differently.
Beginning in Genesis 3 and running straight through to Revelation, the Bible assumes that our “natural” state is broken and anti-God, meaning we live for self, not him. This is the natural “orientation” for all humanity–to live self-determinative, autonomous lives apart from God. This means who we are naturally is not God-given! Our feelings, our attractions, the worldviews we develop as we are shaped by life can’t be trusted. Thus the very starting point of pro-gay theology is completely unbiblical. As C.S. Lewis wrote, “Fallen man is not simply an imperfect creature who needs improvement: he is a rebel who must lay down his arms.”
In our pluralist society, many choose to reject the Bible’s doctrine of man, but for any who want to call their faith Christian, our broken natural state, our utter inability to change ourselves, and our desperate need for God’s supernatural intervention is the only starting point for understanding what is wrong with us (and the world at large!). This is where change begins.
A Biblical view of change
The hope of the gospel is that God does what is impossible for us: He gives us a new heart that understands our need for his grace and embraces Christ by faith. This new heart is what enables us to obey. And, as we looked at above, obedience begins to flow from affection for God in response to his love for us. Although the new heart we are given when we come to Christ by faith is in some measure instantaneous, the outworking in our lives is a lifelong process. And the truth is that temptation, struggle, and loss will be a lifelong reality, not just for the SSA struggler, but for everyone who lives in this fallen world.
So to speak of change biblically means, in Christ, we now have the ability to obey God and align our life to his will and design. Transformation means I am no longer a slave to my desires. By his Spirit, God empowers us to obey, even in the face of ongoing temptation and the tug of our flesh. Listen to how Paul describes this battle: “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do” (Galatians 5:17). As we live in relationship with him, and equally important, as we live authentically with others in the community of Christ, the Spirit of God reins us in, and even though we “want” to continue pursuing sinful activities, his hand restrains us in love as we surrender to him. Because he knows what is best for us.
Living in obedience is the demonstration that we know Christ (1 John 2:1-5). In our wisdom change looks like the removal of SSA, but God’s purposes are powerfully at work in our suffering with temptation (see the aforementioned article). His promise is that there will always be a way out of temptation so we are able to endure it (1 Corinthians 10:13). God doesn’t magically transport us out of the mess; rather, like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, we need to pass through the fire, but with a promise: He is with us, and we won’t be consumed (check out Isaiah 43:1-7 for this glorious theme).
Looking to the One who empowers change
Will it be like this forever? Absolutely not! I realize that the thought of living with lifelong temptation, with sexual attractions and pulls that you wish you didn’t have, can at times feel crushing, but believe me, it gets better. Temptation may persist, but that doesn’t mean it will be at the same intensity all the time. I always tell people, if there’s a predator after you, it makes a HUGE difference if it’s a lion…or a gnat. One will destroy your life; the other is a nuisance. The more you walk in obedience, the more temptation will become less life-dominating (more the “nuisance” and less the destructive threat).
As you live according to his word, seek the support of others in the body of Christ—which is absolutely essential for any change-oriented movement. As you intentionally turn from your idols, you begin to see reality more clearly. You begin to see the hooks connected to the idols that draw you in your struggle away from obedience to Christ (idols of comfort, pleasure, avoidance of pain, the need for relationship at any price, to name a few), and you learn to identify them and avoid them. More importantly, you begin to experience “abundant life” in your relationship with God and others—relationships with others that can be deep, enriching, and need not be sexualized.
In following Christ, many men and women have experienced a lessening of SSA desires and attractions over time, but some have not. Some have experienced growth in heterosexual desires (especially with regard to a specific person of the opposite sex that they love or are married to), but some have never experienced a change in sexual desires. The essence of the fruit of change is the Spirit-led ability to resist and turn from temptation to past desires, and we believe any one in Christ can grow along that trajectory. Will there be times of failure? Yes, as there is with anyone dealing with other deeply-rooted issues, like anger, overeating, various addictions, and so on.
As I grieved the loss of my first wife, facing the overwhelming challenge of being a single parent to twin tween girls, God met me in my grief, loneliness, and sexual longing as he never had before. At one point, reading through the gospel of Matthew, two passages spoke to me. First, when Jesus was talking about his return, he mentioned that he didn’t know when that day will come–only the Father knows. Consider that: For 2,000 years Jesus has been waiting, perhaps patiently asking with each new morning, “Father, is it today?” He has been waiting a long time. This is not to diminish your time of waiting. I’m not saying Jesus has it worse, so buck up. What I want you to see is that he knows what it takes to wait. He knows exactly the grace you need as you are “waiting” on him, not just for the future when he returns, but now, every day, trusting in him as he works change and growth in your life according to his timing.
Second, at the Last Supper, he passed the cup saying it would be the last time he would partake of the fruit of the vine until he drank it with us in the kingdom. He left us the Supper and told us to feast frequently, remembering him until he returns, but he himself is fasting. He is depicted in Scripture as our victorious King, ruling the universe by the word of his power, but he is a patiently waiting and fasting king. He is patient but eagerly looks forward to sitting down at the wedding feast with you and I, at the marriage arranged by his Father from the foundation of the world.
Web Addendum to Homosexuality: Is change possible?
How is “change” fleshed out in the life of an SSA struggler? We’ll look at 5 categories:
1. A changed perspective on sexuality
2. A changed approach to community
3. A changed experience of same-gender friendships
4. A changed view of victory
5. A changed hope
A changed perspective of sexuality
God wants to change our perspective on sex. He wants us to learn that all of life, which includes our sexuality, is ultimately about him—knowing him, following him, glorifying him. Perhaps more than any other passage, 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8 links our sexuality with our spirituality.
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. For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; 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; 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. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you. (ESV)
How we comport ourselves sexually reveals the allegiance of our hearts. That’s why Christians are supposed to exercise self-control in this area, because out-of-control/out-of-bounds sexuality is what the world of unbelievers do and advocate! Why does God want our sexuality to be exclusive, to be expressed only within the bounds of his design? Put positively, God created sexuality to give us a glimpse of himself and his relationship with us. Thus Paul, in describing the roles of a husband and wife within marriage, says “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:32).
God calls us to radical sexual fidelity within marriage because it is intended to mirror our radical spiritual fidelity to him (and his fidelity to us, his people, his “bride!”). This is why the closest thing that approximates God’s heartache over our idolatry is described throughout Scripture as adultery. (For further reading, see Dan Wilson’s article on our website, “God Gives the Best Sex.”) This means the issue is not whether we are heterosexual or homosexual, or any other prefix of your choice. As mentioned in this newsletter article, the opposite of homosexuality is not heterosexuality but holiness. Really, we are called to be Christo-sexual. This means we submit our desires and affections to Jesus, learning how to manage our bodies “in holiness” and sexual integrity.
For those who are married, they need to realize that even within a marriage at its glorious, most God-ordained best (and really, no marriage on fallen earth can attain that), sex is something more than physical: Sex points beyond itself, anticipating the great consummation of the Wedding Feast of the Lamb (Revelation 19: 6-10). Sex between a husband and a wife is a gift that is, in one sense, gazing in a mirror dimly, catching just a glimpse of the reality that living forever in the presence of God is “fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11). God is not about squashing our pleasures; he wants us to experience true pleasures, which are centered in relationship to him.
For singles, this means joining Jesus and being faithful to him, (yes, even as a single individual we are joined to him), believing he is our ultimate Bridegroom. He understands what it means to be faithful as he too fasted and prayed in obedience before the Father. The challenge is to see our unsatisfied sexual longings as a reflection of his longing for us. We are invited to let our desires, even our lust, be turned to worship as we embrace him rather than satisfy our flesh. He is delighted by this sacrificial obedience. He promises “no good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly” (Psalm 84:11). Anything sacrificed for the sake of Christ will be restored to you a hundredfold! On the Last Day, no one will look back and wish they had more sex. God has pleasures in store for us that he says we can’t even begin to imagine. I suspect we need a resurrection body to even take them in–our current bodies couldn’t handle it! (For more on this, see Ellen Dykas’ article on our website, “Godly Unmarried Sexuality.”)
Similarly, married people are called to be “Christo-spousal-sexual.” What I mean by this somewhat awkward phrase is that husbands and wives are to submit their sexuality to Christ and be committed to serving the desires of their spouse. Even those who are married are to learn how to manage their bodies in holiness! If you are married, God is calling you to become “spousal-sexual,” to have a single individual (yes, of the opposite gender) be the recipient of all your sexual longing and expression. This is radically counter-cultural and against nature for all of us in a fallen world.
So, it isn’t sufficient for people with SSA to begin experiencing heterosexual desire, get married, and perform heterosexually. (And perhaps begin struggling with heterosexual lust!) The point in all this is that making the goal for SSA people to become heterosexual falls so far short of God’s goal. There needs to be a greater redemption of our sexuality. Christ-centered sexuality is about submitting our sexual desires, longings and affections to him, learning by his power how to live “in holiness” and within his good and perfect design, with one of the strongest aspects of our personhood (made even stronger by the fall, our sin and our sexually-obsessed culture).
Is this easy? No. Is it possible? Yes. By his grace that transforms every human heart that comes to him, and by the means that are further expressed below in the other ways SSA, Christians can change to faithfully follow Christ.
“Changed” approach to community
“I used to be tin foil, now I’m plastic wrap.” This is a former group member/volunteer’s self-description. What does he mean? He used to live a life of hiding. For literally decades, no one knew about his struggle with sexual sin and the SSA desires warring against his soul. That aspect of his person was safely hidden behind the façade of Christian husband, father, and successful businessman. The reality of his deepest struggle and pain was neatly wrapped beneath an opaque covering, and he was careful to keep the shiny side outward. Although he made some strides behaviorally–turning away from porn and solo sex–he lived in bondage to his uncontrolled desires and the crippling fear of exposure, not to mention the inner anguish that comes from not being truly known by others…even his wife.
In stark contrast, he is now “plastic wrap.” He is known by others. A particularly sweet ministry experience for me was speaking at a men’s breakfast at his church a couple years ago where he shared his testimony. He first heard of our ministry when I came to speak at the church years prior. He was shocked that anyone could stand in front of a group of men candidly discussing a struggle with sexual sin and the difference Jesus makes in the battle. Now, it had come full circle–he was up front, before the brothers from his own church, sharing about where he’d been and what God is doing in his life. This is radical transformation!
In our guilt and shame, we are desperate to stay hidden. Lives of isolation or plastic smiles characterize men and women struggling with sexual sin in the church. Whether you isolate or create a façade, both are crushing to your soul because we are created to be in relationship and experience intimacy with others. Remember: It was not good for Adam to be alone. This doesn’t mean every person needs to marry, but it does mean every person needs community! The invitation of the gospel is to come out of hiding because God’s promise to you is that if you trust in him, you will never be put to shame. You will not be left exposed; he will clothe you with the righteousness of Christ. How do you begin to do this?
1) Pray. Ask God to open your eyes to the people around you who are “safe” and with whom you can open your heart. Ask him for wisdom about timing and for opportunities to share. And pray for courage. I can’t tell you how many men have come back rejoicing because they faced their fears and began to open this issue to others.
2) Talk to your pastor. Your pastor should be the safest person with whom to share your struggles with sin. If this is not the case, you need to ask yourself whether you are in the right church! If you regularly hear messages that condemn homosexuality (or any other sin) as somehow worse than other sins, or “It’s Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve” banter, then it may not be a safe place. But in most cases, I would encourage you to risk having the conversation with your pastor. Give him the benefit of the doubt before you start “church shopping.”
3) Talk to you small group leader. Assuming the same disclaimers given above, many churches have home Bible studies, and these leaders often function as de facto elders in shepherding God’s people. Especially if you are in a large church, this may be the most appropriate spiritual authority to approach.
4) Existing friendships are obvious people to let in to your places of struggle. I realize this significantly ups the ante. Pastors and other ministry leaders have to accept us, but friends can reject us. Yet, it is in these relationships where we most long to be known, and maintaining a façade is all the more painful. You will always doubt the sincerity of the friendship, and shame will always dog you until you risk exposing the deepest secrets about yourself.
5) Share with your family. First, let me underscore again the importance of prayer here! Many people have deeply broken family relationships that are the antithesis of “safe.” Others, however, stay silent out of fear or pride. The result is a deepening sense of estrangement or rejection, especially if SSA is disparagingly discussed at family gatherings. I have sat with dozens of parents and siblings deeply distraught over careless comments made prior to knowing their loved one’s struggle. Although initially terrifying, many testify that opening this area of their life to their family was used by God to free them from decades of fear and shame.
God’s design for his people is for us to live inter-dependent lives with one another. The New Testament describes us as various body parts “nourished and knit together,” connected to our Head, Jesus Christ, and growing “with a growth that is from God” (Colossians 2:19). Further, we only reach maturity as “each part is working properly” (Ephesians 4:16). As my colleague Bob Heywood describes in his testimony “From Isolation to Community,” our lives begin to change as we let others in to our struggles. And for people who have lived lives of posturing and isolation, this is radical life change indeed!
“Changed” experience of same-gender friendships
“I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan; very pleasant have you been to me; your love to me was extraordinary, surpassing the love of women” (2 Samuel 1:26).
This is David’s lament over the death in battle of his best friend, Jonathan, the son of Saul. With all same-gender relationships in the Bible (including Jesus and John), pro-gay theologians are always trolling for evidence of same-sex eroticism. For them, David’s comparison to “the love of women” is the ultimate “proof” that David and Jonathan were sexually involved. Unfortunately, space will not permit me to engage such exegetical gymnastics, but the very argument demonstrates the importance of this next area of “change.”
As mentioned previously, sexuality in our culture has become a defining factor of personal identity. This carries the assumption that sexual experience is the pinnacle of human existence. That means denying your innate sexual desires or choosing celibacy relegates you to a subpar, even subhuman, existence. In one trans-Atlantic email exchange, a man from the UK concluded, “If what you say is true than my life can only be lonely and sad.” What is his underlying assumption? Real joy and true companionship is only found in a sexual relationship. Back to David and Jonathan–our distorted, sex-obsessed culture can’t begin to conceive of a nonsexual, same-gender friendship where the bond of brotherhood (or sisterhood) is deeper than sex.
To our great detriment as a society, it seems we have lost the wonder and power of friendship. In his book The Four Loves, Lewis contrasts sexual love which is inwardly focused on the couple and their relationship, with friendship—two people standing side-by-side, looking beyond themselves at something else. Their unity is based on something outside the relationship. (Incidentally, this is why the best marriages always have friendship at their core!) Along with everyone else, men and women with SSA in the body of Christ have the wonderful opportunity to experience the great blessing of community, to know the joy and satisfaction of non-sexual friendships. From the very beginning, God declared it was “not good” for humanity to live alone, yet apparently the answer is not for everyone to marry. Jesus said some would choose to be “eunuchs” for the sake of the kingdom (Matthew 19:11-12). Paul urged people in the church to refrain from marriage if possible for the same reason (1 Corinthians 7:29-35). Either God is a killjoy, or sex is not the greatest experience of our existence! The reason why both Jesus and Paul could steer away from making marriage normative for all is because something greater (Someone—the ultimate Bridegroom!) has come and a new community, his Bride, has been formed. Within this community, despite its flaws, we are united by our love for him, by the desire to proclaim and extend his kingdom, and by the anticipation of our ultimate home. Thus, there is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female because we are united in Christ (Galatians 3:28).
As already noted, it is hard to live with unsatisfied sexual desire, but sex is not life-giving. The church needs to be at the forefront of rediscovering the blessing of community and friendship. God has always been in the business of placing “the lonely in families” (Psalm 68:6), and this should find its greatest fruition within the body of Christ. People struggling with SSA are ultimately longing for emotional connection with others, and often their thwarted desires are sexualized. I have seen significant healing in men who persevered in developing healthy relationships with other men. Now, it needs to be acknowledged that there are some unique challenges for SSA strugglers pursuing same-gender relationships, so it requires wisdom.
1) It probably doesn’t make sense to pursue a close, intimate relationship with someone you find particularly attractive. However, many men say that attraction dissipates over time. As they get to know the “real” person—warts and all—the idealized, sexualized man on the pedestal is brought down to reality.
2) Avoid looking for a “best friend.” This is often a strong desire for men and women with SSA, but this intensity of relationship tends to exclude others and invites an over-dependence on a single individual. Even in the one-flesh relationship of marriage, a couple should never be an island unto themselves. All relationships should exist in the context of broader community. A “best friend” relationship, even if never sexualized, will tend to prevent you from developing a larger base of relationships.
3) Cultivate a broader network of multi-layered relationships. It’s healthy to have close friends, good friends, warm acquaintances, and others you know by name. It seems in his earthly life, even Jesus had varying levels of relationship: the crowds who followed him, the 72 he sent out, the 12 disciples who were with him from the beginning, the three he invited to the mount of transfiguration, and John, “the disciple whom Jesus loved,” who reclined against him at the Last Supper. Throughout my Christian experience, I have been blessed with brothers who I describe as sharing “vital relationships.” I need them in my life to stay sane, to help me see blind spots, to spur me on in loving my wife and kids, and most importantly, to point me to Christ when I am drowning in guilt and shame…or pride and self-righteousness. This is the truth: I would not still be in ministry today if I did not have these men in my life! And when I meet one of them in a coffee shop to talk and pray, we intentionally greet each other with a big hug, despite the raised eyebrows, because we want people to know that same-gender friendship is still alive and well and available to them.
Changed view of victory
My colleague Bob Heywood recently took a family trip to Disney World and came back with what we’ve all been waiting for: the magic wand! Maybe he should have visited Harry Potter World because so far the wand hasn’t worked. But that’s what so many men and women with SSA are looking for. As an unbeliever in college, I worked as a waiter in center city Philadelphia, having many gay co-workers. Because I had problems with alcohol, if they were the only ones going out drinking, I went with them to the gay bar. You know what they’d tell me? “If you could put a pill on this bar right now that would make me straight, I’d take it!” Now these were not men laboring under religious guilt, they were living the gay life to the hilt. . . and it wasn’t working. Even as an unbeliever, that stuck with me; despite the pro-gay media messages I was fed by the culture (which have increased exponentially in the past 20 years), the real people I met with SSA longed to be free. But here’s the problem: Even in Christ, we still want the “pill.” We want Christianity without the challenge of obedience, without the tug of our flesh. And not just people with SSA; most Christians really wish that life in this world was easier. We want the triumphalist version of the Christian life to be our experience. The truth is all of Scripture speaks against this. Just as “change” is usually seen as the eradication of all temptation, so “victory” is usually seen as a perfect track record. Although we should expect that growth is progressive—radical life transformation is at the heart of the gospel—it is a process that takes time and is marked by failure. In his description of battling lust in Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis said that, at least initially, it doesn’t seem like we receive enough grace. We keep falling. But he goes on to articulate the importance of learning to repent. There is great spiritual value in training ourselves to continually return to God for mercy. . . again and again and again, and then rousing ourselves to start the fight of faith afresh. One of the crucial areas of new obedience is learning to face the worst about ourselves without “sugar coating” and cling to the hope we have in Christ.
This is victory! The ability to face our failures honestly without making excuses, justifying, blame-shifting, etc., reflects significant life change. And the paradox of the Christian life is that the more we truly acknowledge the reality of our sin, the gospel grows sweeter and change happens. Victory grows from acknowledging failure to increasingly resisting temptation because you grow in knowing him. You rest in who he is and what he has done for you and increasingly you trust what he says about you. The Bible teaches that ultimate life change and victory only come through his grace (see Titus 2:11-14). This is the fount of true, lifelong victory.
Finally, God offers us a different hope. SSA strugglers are tempted to place their hope in transformation in this life. With a culture that makes sexuality such a high priority, it is hard for us to imagine life without sex. For 10 years I’d been telling people that the glory and ecstasy of sexuality is ultimately about Jesus. Then my wife passed away and he called me to live it. For three years he called me to celibacy, bringing my longing to him. It was hard (and further complicated by grief), but I experienced the truth I was teaching. He is enough. He does satisfy my soul. Despite the sadness, loneliness, and times of intense longing, I experienced a fullness and richness in life. As mentioned in the section above on friendship, God doesn’t intend any of us to live in isolation. The choice isn’t between a romantic, sexual relationship or loneliness. All of us are invited to experience community as members of his body.
But, despite all the blessings poured out on us in this life, our ultimate hope is not of this world. As we grow in grace, our longing is increasingly for him. Our vision of heaven is less about escaping the pain of life in a fallen world; rather it becomes more and more about—at long last!—seeing him face to face. One of the passages that encouraged me during that season was Hebrews 12:1.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
Building off the “roll call of faith” in Hebrews 11, it begins declaring that we are surrounded by a “great cloud of witnesses.” These witnesses declare that our struggle is not as long as it may seem in the midst of the day-to-day grind. Why? Because he’s worth it. Abraham doesn’t wish he stayed in his father’s house instead of living in tents. Moses is not looking back and wishing he had indulged in the pleasures of sin in Egypt.
Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated—of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. (Hebrews 11:36-38)
God declares that the world was not worthy of them. And they would have you know they have no regrets!
Perhaps you, too, are suffering ridicule. People in your life can’t understand why you would deny yourself. You are labeled a fool and warned that life is slipping through your fingers. It is true—this life is fleeting. But there is a world coming that is literally beyond your ability to imagine. On the Last Day, no one will look back and regret sacrificing their desires for his sake. The idea of missing out on sexual experiences will be ridiculous. There are pleasures and delights beyond our comprehension that are eternal. Even the earthly pleasures given by God are fleeting. He wants you to know pleasures that are eternal and pure. And they will all begin when he personally comes to you and wipes away every tear from your eye. Persevere . . . with hope . . . because he is worth it!
14 Jan 2014
By John Freeman
One question that is often asked here at Harvest USA is also commonly asked in our culture. “Why do people, Christians even, go back to a gay life after they have come for help?” It’s a legitimate question.
For Christians who believe the historic word, the Scriptures, and believe that faith in Christ makes one a “new creation,” the issue may seem confusing, but the answer must be honest and biblically-grounded. Let me give you six reasons to explain what might be happening here, as we have seen some common denominators over the years in our ministry work.
1. It’s just too painful
Pain is a major motivator for all of us. We seek to avoid pain, and if we are in pain, we seek to get out of it. Even if the pain we are experiencing is something we need to go through in order to reach a better place, the experience of the pain itself can motive us to go back to our original state.
Whenever we cultivate sinful behavior or thought patterns, there is always a “death” that goes along with putting off and abandoning that behavior or thought pattern. There is a void in the place of the person you need to leave or the addictive habit you need to stop. What once filled your heart, even though it was ungodly to do so, leaves a pain-filled emptiness inside. However, this is an important part of the healing process! It must happen! Repentance is more than just saying “I’m sorry;” it involves a change of mind and heart and necessitates a different action—turning around and going in the other direction.
There is pain involved in denying ourselves what we wish for in the depths of our heart. It’s true of the drug addict coming clean, of the single person saying “no” to continuing to have sex outside of marriage, and of the person struggling with same-sex attraction or behavior. Sometimes it just hurts to see that you can’t go back to that old place that was so familiar, so second nature.
“Wait a minute,” you might say. “How could someone hunger for one’ old life when he or she has the presence and promises of God?”
It happens. Why? Because it is our nature! The Bible talks about how the Israelites were led out of captivity in a powerful way by the miraculous power and presence of God. Yet, when hard times came, they hungered for their past bondage, believing that what they had was better than what God was giving to them (see Exodus 14:1-12). It’s in all of our natures!
Some people who begin journeying out of homosexuality know they must cut off associations, friendships, and those with whom they have been sexually involved. That’s a kind of “death,” albeit a death that will lead to life. Sometimes people who begin such a journey don’t want to endure it any longer when they encounter that pain, and they despair of Christ ever giving them a feeling of peace and enjoyment that characterized their old life at times. So, they go back.
A second way to avoid pain can come when we see the muck and mire of our own hearts. Most people wrongly think that their first need is to be pain free. We know biblically, however, that our first, greatest, and ongoing need is to be forgiven. Only when we see our hearts as they really are do we begin to grasp our deep need of Christ. Yet so often we will go to any length to avoid seeing the true condition of our hearts.
I call this the “Tupperware Syndrome.” Sometimes I’ll go to the refrigerator, hungry for a snack. Because my wife is a Tuppeware adherent, I must discover through extensive investigation what leftover lurks beneath the lids of all those containers. Occasionally, I’ll lift the lid and before I even see what’s inside, I can smell it: the odor of something that’s been in the refrigerator way too long. It’s gone bad. What’s my reaction? I press down the lid and slide it back in the fridge. I’m going to let someone else deal with it. Well, that is often the first response when we see the ugliness of what is in our heart.
Even when we begin to follow Jesus earnestly, we must deal with the scars on our hearts, scars caused by our own actions and the actions of others against us. The truth is that Jesus changes us through a process of growth, but the pain of our past and the ramifications of our sinful choices and behaviors may remain. Although God gives us a new future, he doesn’t rewrite our past. The past may leave a dark blot and an open wound in our hearts. Into that pain, the struggler must believe that God really does give us a new beginning, a clean record (from our past sins), and a new way to interpret life, heal from our wounds, and live in a way that brings glory to God. Pain is not an enemy in this new journey; it is what opens us up to who we are and who God is, so that we might see a new path forward.
2. The cost of obeying Christ seems too high a price to pay
For many people, the call to obey Christ and live within the boundaries of sexuality designed by God is just too hard, and its benefits too intangible and not immediate enough. Unfortunately, this is the kind of society in which we now live. If anything seems too difficult or doesn’t produce immediate results, then it’s not worth the time and effort. The downside of life in a technologically-based society is the false utopian ideal that everything should work or should be fixable now! Growth that can only take place over time, and the very idea of struggle itself, is dismissed as unnatural.
I remember something Gail Barker, our first secretary at Harvest USA, said to me one day more than two decades ago. Gail was telling me that while she was growing up in the 1940’s, life was difficult, and everyone just accepted the idea of struggle as a part of life. She went on to say that was why people enjoyed times of respite from struggle. There was an awareness that life was not easy, and therefore one came to appreciate the times when life was not so hard. But those moments were brief, which made them so much more valuable. This is especially important for those who desire to come out of a homosexual life to realize.
God calls us all to obedience to his will, to what he knows is best for his creation, and that entails turning away from those things which seem to offer life, but in reality lead to the death of the soul. Those who have embraced homosexuality have opened a Pandora’s Box and have found false comfort and counterfeit life in a mistaken attempt to make sense of a broken and fallen world. That’s true for anything anyone embraces outside of God’s design, not just for this issue. Sometimes, then, God’s call to all of us to live a life of holiness (that is, a life live according to God’s call, separated and apart from the innumerable ways the world encourages us to live) seems not worth the price to pay. Like I mentioned in point number one, that price is nothing less than a “death;” the death that comes from leaving behind those things that once gripped your heart and felt good and affirming.
There is suffering involved in self-denial. The book of Hebrews reminds us that it is costly to walk in self-denial in order to live fully engaged in a life with God. In Hebrews 11:24-26, we read, “Moses refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter; choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward.” To deny oneself immediate pleasure and gratification is only possible when you look ahead to a greater future, one that is only realized by immersing oneself in God and in the people of God.
Of course, to speak of a road of self-denial and suffering seems like an unattractive option to most people. That is understandable, as many who come to Harvest USA say that they can’t imagine a future life without sexual involvement with a person of the same-sex. Yet it will be the path, at least most strongly in the beginning, for those journeying out of a homosexual life.
But there is an answer here. Unless that person comes to see Jesus as the one who takes center stage in his or her heart, displacing all others and the idols that draw us away from following him, then there will be an overwhelming and unending ache over what has been left behind and what is being denied. Seeking to end that ache makes going back into sin that much easier and attractive. Jesus has to be seen as more attractive, worth much more than the denial of the flesh. Self-denial is not displaced by nothing; it is replaced, slowly, over time, by a growing relationship with Jesus, and it is in that relationship that the grace and power to live a whole new life comes. It is a life that has its own joys and pleasures, made all the richer in the knowledge that such a life pleases the One who redeemed you by his death for you. We have learned at Harvest USA that unless people grasp that there is a greater reward that comes with obedience, then they don’t make it.
3. A failure to develop a prayer and devotional life
By developing a prayer and devotional life, I’m not talking about the kind of desperate praying that one does by begging God, “Please change me!” I understand why some pray such prayers and are exhausted by the years of such praying. Many of the people who come to Harvest USA have already been here for far too long. Their early connections with or interest in the gospel really had to do with finding relief from an intolerable situation. Once someone really comes to God on his terms, this kind of immature prayer fades away. After all, it is a prayer that is wholly focused on self, wishing (demanding?) that God alter his life by divine fiat so that no further effort or struggle need occur. It’s an understandable prayer, and we feel for those whose cries speak it.
Replacing this kind of prayer must be the kind of prayer life that realizes that it’s only in communion with God where I can come to my senses about my heart, my struggles, and the world around me. This is the kind of prayer life that doesn’t look to God to make me feel better about my struggles but has, as its focus, a growing desire to know the living Lord in the depths of the chaos and unbelief that swirl though my soul.
Psalm 88 is a classic study of a heart given to prayer even where there seems to be no resolution to the struggle. This is not a feel-good psalm! It is one of the few psalms where the psalmist doesn’t experience any obvious joyful breakthroughs. In fact, it’s filled with unbelievable sarcasm. The end of the psalm is as distressing as the beginning. That is, until you look carefully at some of the words.
The one common refrain throughout the psalm is, “I cried out to you.” It’s repeated three times. This is a key to understanding the psalm and the one who wrote it. The suffering psalmist realizes that coming before the Lord is the important thing—not necessarily to gain relief, but to know that the God of the universe is aware of his suffering. Upon closer observation, one realizes that the process of this prayer offers resolution.
This reminds me of a line from the movie, Shadowlands, which is the story of C.S. Lewis and his wife, Joy. In the movie, he was once congratulated on his wife’s remission from cancer. One of his college friends tells Lewis that his prayers seem to be changing things. Lewis’ response is remarkable. He says, “Oh, I don’t pray to change things. Prayer changes me.” Whether or not Lewis actually said those words in real life, it is still a profound and true statement.
Bringing our hurting, unbelieving, struggling hearts before the Lord in true honesty (as honest and true as the psalmist of Psalm 88, whose words are scathingly honest!) is crucial for any believer and especially so for someone who is struggling with homosexuality. Prayer must turn from attention to self to attention to the One who loves us, no matter our sin or struggle. He does care; he does pay attention. But he wants, first and foremost, for our hearts to be dependent on him and not on getting his gifts (changed circumstances) so that we can go on and live our life as we please.
This is a very subtle thing, but it is something significant that begins to characterize the heart of the struggler. How does demandingness show up? In a variety of ways.
The most common way is demanding that feelings and attractions change, usually on the person’s own timetable. Sometimes months or years later, a man will complain to us that he still feels strongly attracted to men, or a woman is still attracted to women. Our response is, “Why does that surprise you?” It would surprise us if they didn’t.
You see, if you spend years cultivating desires and acting on attractions and feeding temptations, it is perfectly understandable that your heart is still stirred by what has characterized your life. If a man or a woman has spent years looking at others in a way that diminishes the image of God in them, reducing others to what he or she can get from others, then that will be the first place one’s heart will turn to until he or she learns over time to love others biblically. This is an important lesson to learn; otherwise, you will be surprised at the ferocity of the desires of the “old man” or “old woman.” It is within this context that a struggler can demand for God to stop those attractional pulls and desires instantaneously, but they need to understand that there can be many reasons these feelings will still occur.
What else is going on here? One, there is a false idea of what healing means, as well as a lack of understanding of what it means to have the old (sinful) nature and the new (redeemed) nature war within you. This ignorance leaves one vulnerably exposed to the wiles and schemes of the evil one, and that can lay a foundation of demandingness in the heart.
As for what healing is, there is confusion about, and sometimes a demand, that God remove feelings and attractions for the same sex, while at the same time, cause feelings and attractions for the opposite sex. It has been our experience that God doesn’t bring one out of a general lust for the same sex and into a general lust for the opposite sex. Rather, as one begins to have an understanding, acceptance, and appreciation of who one is in their true sexual identity, they can begin to experience a lessening of same-sex attraction over time. What may also occur is an attraction for someone of the opposite sex (not generalized but specific toward one person with whom they are in relationship). But it is important to note that the ability to walk in obedience and experience a sense of wholeness in Christ can occur whether or not one ever develops sexual attraction for the opposite sex.
At times during their initial interviews, when someone is asked why they came to Harvest USA, we’ll get this response: “I want to be like everyone else. I want to be married and have a traditional family.” We tell them that, while that is a noble and good goal to have, it cannot be the reason for their coming to Harvest. Why not? Because, invariably, when feelings don’t change and these expectations don’t materialize in the person’s timetable, they will grow disillusioned and want to give up. Often underneath this is the demand, “God, you better come through for me! Look how much I have given up for you!”
5. Disappointment with God
Demandingness and disappointment go hand in hand. Disappointment with God is a natural consequence of demands not met. Proverbs 13:12 says, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but desire fulfilled is a tree of life.” How true this is. That is why it is very important to know why we are following Christ.
Too many people come into Christianity because of what they want God to do for them. On the one hand, it is important to realize that there are things only God can do for us. Only he can make our hearts come alive to him (what the theologians call regeneration); only he can forgive and cancel the debt of sin we have incurred; only he can shape us to conform to his image and give us a changed character and a new direction for our lives; only he promises us to never to leave nor forsake us; only he can raise us from the dead and give us life everlasting.
On the other hand, we must realize that some of the deepest desires of our hearts may never be fulfilled. A deep disappointment with God can occur when we place those desires (however unaware we may be of doing so) in a place of prominence in our lives. We are mistaken when we think that it is only bad desires that are sinful in our lives; sometimes even good desires can become so large and important in our lives that they take a place of centeredness in our hearts, and then we find ourselves living for them rather than for God. James 1:14 says, “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.” James is using a Greek word, epithumia, which basically means “over-desire,” or “very strong desire.” These desires can be good, but they can also be destructive if they are out of balance in one’s life (“I must have this in my life!”) or out of bounds (outside of God’s design).
Too often, even without realizing it, God can be viewed as a kind of spiritual Santa Claus. All of us have a wishlist miles long. One must be sure of what the “desire fulfilled,” like in the Proverbs passage, is for them. To think with a biblical worldview of life, we need to acknowledge that we may not get everything we desire while on this earth. We are left to live with longings and desires, many of which will not be fulfilled this side of the new heavens and the new earth.
There is nothing that exposes the real foundations of our faith as when we realize that we are deeply disappointed with what God has allowed to be, or not allowed to be, in our lives. It is one thing to submit to God in his withholding, grieving those things that we have wished for while trusting in his goodness for his specific plan in our lives; it is another thing altogether to develop a deep disappointment with God, which will inevitably produce a cold and demanding heart.
It is easy to look at our disappointments in life and question whether or not God is really good; whether or not he knows what is best for us. If we do not answer that question affirmatively, then we can find ourselves slipping into disobedience where, with our actions, we will make sure we will not be disappointed again. Watch out for demandingness and deep disappointment! They go together, and they mark the path of impending spiritual disaster.
6. Living in dishonesty
People don’t just “jump” back into disobedience. What usually happens is that they walk back step by step, and both they and those around them are typically unaware of what is happening. In every case at Harvest USA, where someone has come for help and then gone back into the gay life, this has been the case. When some have come back later, and we ask them when they first began to experience strong and overwhelming struggles to the point of giving in, they will point back to a specific period in time long before they fell.
Yet, they never opened up to anyone about the struggle! Instead, they chose to pursue bondage again to sin—totally in secret. When questioned about why they didn’t come and share their heart with anyone about their struggles, virtually the same answer is given: “I knew you would tell me it was wrong.”
In each case, when the heart begins to do what it wants to do, the idea of honesty with those closest and best able to help was intentionally not pursued. Often, the person will be open with those in the gay life—or even with those in a gay-affirming church—during their time of secrecy with you. Why? Because when they decided to slip back, the thought of hearing what you would say would cause them even more distress! Already struggling, they wanted to get out of the struggle (see the point on demandingness), and hearing truth, even truth spoken with love and mercy, was something to which they had already closed their ears.
Those who begin to walk in this kind of dishonesty are sometimes beyond help at this point. They see their new change of heart as a new kind of “freedom” because it eliminates (even if only temporarily) the distress they are in.
Fear and shame enter into this kind of dishonesty. We have seen it in those who have come to us after spending time in Christian counseling, having never really opened up about the real issue of their same-sex attraction or behavior. Instead, they talked about loneliness, depression, and the like, issues that skirted around and shrouded the truth of their struggles.
It’s been our experience that no one gets better; no one grows, unless they “lay the cards on the table.” All the time! Both with God and with other people. People dealing with homosexuality, as with other sexual sins, must be ruthlessly honest with themselves and a few, selected other people they are willing to trust. Sexual struggles and sin move people into lives of denial, secrecy, and silence. These self-protective mechanisms are simply deadly. It is only in a community of mercy and truth (what should characterize the church) that fear and shame can be overcome and honesty becomes as regular as breathing. If only the church were truly like this, would we see men and women less likely to flee into sexual sin and into communities that support such behavior? When the church, even imperfectly, loves sexual strugglers with mercy and truth, then the struggler is in a better position to see and respond to Christ’s love even when their hearts are divided. God understands our divided hearts, our doubts, and our deep pockets of unbelief.
These situations are painful for all concerned. It is especially painful to see those you love, with whom you’ve spent much time, and in whose lives you have built a growing relationship with seem to desert all that they once held so strongly. No one escapes this tragedy.
These six factors are the big ones that move people to revert back to sinful behavior. I must point out that these reasons are not unique to people with same-sex attraction. I have seen men and women in the church who have deserted the faith or left their marriage vows, and their reasons for doing so can be the same ones I highlighted here. The heart of the person dealing with homosexuality is not unlike the heart of any other sinner. Every one of us is prone to follow his own course in life. It’s only the Lord’s grace and goodness that keeps anyone pursuing the truth and living life on God’s terms rather than his own.
14 Jan 2014
“I think I’m gay.” Ed and Marie’s hearts stopped for an instant and everything around them seemed to stand still. It was like the shock of hearing that someone close to you has suddenly died. Now, as they hear these unexpected words from their oldest son,
Mark, 20 years old and home from college on spring break, Ed and Marie wonder if this is also a death of a kind—a death of their hopes and dreams for Mark, the death of their desires for a “normal” life of their own.
After the initial shock, all sorts of questions flooded their minds. Was this something they were responsible for? What will this mean for their two younger children—will they be gay, too? Will Mark ever change? How will they deal with Mark’s “friend” (though there was no “friend” at this point) if he wanted to spend the holidays with them? What would the other members of their church say? Worse yet—what would they think—about Mark, and about them as parents? They wanted to ask their son questions. They wanted to tell him they loved him. Yet all they felt they could do was try to process the information they already heard—“I think I’m gay.”
So what do you do when you hear those words, or find gay pornography on your child’s computer or phone? How would you respond if you were the parents? How would you help a friend or someone in your church respond if they were in this situation? There are no easy answers, but a few strategies may help you, your child, or the friends you are trying to help through the difficult initial days or weeks of hearing this news and trying to understand it.
You don’t need to know all the answers
Don’t feel as though you need to have all the answers, or even know all the questions to ask, right at the beginning. It’s okay to tell your child after his or her initial disclosure, “This is a lot to think about and take in. I need some time to think over what you’ve said. I’d like to sit down with you to talk about this in more depth later—after I’ve had some time to calm down and reflect.”
Prayerfully consider which questions you might ask. Ask your spouse, a trusted friend, or pastor to help you think through some questions to ask, then write them down. Your child was in charge of the initial disclosure, and he has probably been thinking about what he would say on this day for many weeks, months, or even years. So, you don’t have to quickly respond. Don’t be rushed. Go at your own speed.
Affirm your love for your child
No matter what ultimately happens, no matter what you son or daughter says, feels, or does, he or she is still your child. Express your love for her. Promise her that there’s nothing that would ever cause you to withhold that love. This may be difficult to do, but the most important way that parents can minister to their child who has adopted a gay identity is to keep the lines of relationship open. Your child’s behavior is not rebellion against you, although, if there is anger in her declaration, you will most likely be the prime recipient of that anger. Keep in mind that ultimately your child is rebelling against God. Therefore, maintaining love and contact with your child is the best way to witness to the Lord’s unfailing and faithful love in her life.
Ask your child what he means by saying he’s gay
Don’t take for granted that your child’s understanding of the term he uses to describe himself is the same as yours. Ask your child how he came to this conclusion, how long he has been thinking about it, and how certain he feels it is true.
You may find that your child isn’t so much making a statement about his identity as it is his assessment of a situation in which he perceives himself as helpless. “I’ve been struggling with these feelings for years—and the only reasonable conclusion I can draw is that I must be gay.” Saying you’re gay and saying you’ve been wrestling with feelings you don’t understand and don’t want are two completely different things. This is an important point to clarify with him.
You don’t need to know details about your child’s sexual activity
If your son or daughter is over 18, this information is often not helpful for a parent to know and may serve only to separate parent (who may experience additional shock) from child (who may experience guilt and shame over revealing such personal details to her parent[s]). It is okay to ask general questions, “Are you in a relationship? With whom? Who else knows?”
If your child is under 18, then it is important to ascertain some level of detail about his or her behavior. “Is what you feel limited to fantasy and masturbation? Is pornography involved? Have you had sexual contact with anyone?” Keep in mind that asking these kinds of questions can be difficult for you, as a parent, to ask and for your child to hear. Here it may be wise to enlist the services of a good Christian counselor, one who can help you learn how to talk to your child on these sensitive matters and who might better relate to your child.
Also in the case of a minor, it is important to assess the situation and determine if laws have been broken and if your child is at risk from a predator, either in person or online. It is also essential to determine if sexual abuse has occurred and if so, to report this to law enforcement as quickly as possible. Talk to a counselor or pastor who is familiar with your state’s laws about child sexual abuse to determine how to proceed.
Ask your child if he is content to adopt a gay identity, or if he wants to change
Some children will quickly state they’re happy—and if your child does, you likely won’t be able to convince him otherwise. Others, though, may report years of angst, guilt, and shame over their feelings and behavior and will express either some desire to change or wonder if that is even possible. If so, enter into that struggle by sensitively talking to him, Again, it may be helpful to have your child talk with a Christian counselor who both affirms what Scripture says about godly sexuality and one who can relate well to youth.
You can’t change your child
You are not the one who is going to change your child. No matter how badly you might want to see change in your son’s or daughter’s life, no matter how much you pray, no matter how convincing your argument, you won’t be able to convince your child to change. Your child’s complaint ultimately isn’t with you; it’s with God.
Only a transforming relationship with Jesus Christ will lead to the heart change that is needed before behavioral change will ever occur. God wants to do business with your child’s heart. She has adopted or is struggling with a gay identity because, at some level, she has believed lies about God, herself, and others (Romans 1:21-25). She has come to believe what the world believes about life, sexuality, purpose, God, etc., instead of viewing life through the lens of Scripture.
On the other hand, what you can be is an agent of change in your child’s life, because it is the Lord who will do the changing (2 Corinthians 5:18-20). Such change is likely to come about within the context of community—through your relationship with your son or daughter, or through his or her relationship with another mature, compassionate Christian.
Your child doesn’t need to become straight
What your child needs is what God calls everyone to, and that is a life of faith and repentance in Christ. Having heterosexual sex will not solve your child’s problem. There is more to this issue than sexuality. The ethical opposite of homosexuality is not being straight—it is believing the truth about God (2 Corinthians 10:4-6) and living a lifestyle of faith and repentance—a life that is increasingly oriented toward the worship of God and is marked by a transforming relationship with his Son, Jesus. Godly sexuality is about holiness; it is about living life by God’s power within his good design. Your child’s struggle with homosexuality is something the Lord means for your good.
What a strange statement! Yet, if we believe that God is sovereign and at work in each of his children in every circumstance (Philippians 2:12,13), then God intends this present suffering as a means to grow you in faith and dependence in him.
You can’t do anything to control your child’s struggle or repentance. You can, however, respond to what the Lord is calling you to do in terms of faith, obedience, and repentance in your own life as you struggle with these issues in your own family. Will you rest solely in God’s love and sovereignty, or will you resort to try and resolve these issues on your own in a spirit of self-sufficiency?
Bring others in
No matter how strong your faith, you can’t deal with this on your own. Seek out trusted and spiritually mature friends, family members, church members, and pastors to help you both interpret the events in your family from a biblical perspective and to help you respond in a holy and God-glorifying way to your child’s decisions. God often ministers to his people through the context of Christian community. Don’t let your fears get in the way of faith.
If you think there is no one who can handle these issues, then pray. These trusted people are out there! Ask the Lord to open your eyes to see someone with whom you might speak. The Lord can raise up someone to walk with you, and frequently does, in response to prayer—though they may not be the people you expect.
You can also contact Harvest USA to ask about the Shattered Dreams/New Hope Parents Intensive Seminar, designed to help parents who are in exactly your situation by helping you to understand it in the context of God’s Word and in community with God’s people.
Setting boundaries in your relationship with your child
It may be appropriate to set some boundaries in your relationship with your child if she persists in her behaviors. Those boundaries will be unique for each family and will often change as needs and circumstances dictate. Boundaries should exist to protect your family and to protect your child. Boundaries should never be punitive or manipulative. To do so fails to reflect the faithful love of God through Jesus Christ, which should be the overarching principle of relationship with your child. Jesus uncompromisingly spoke the truth in love. We, as his disciples, can do nothing else.
How can I help my child?
Pray. Pray for wisdom, pray for faith, pray for strength to reflect the love of God through Jesus Christ to your child. Keep the lines of communication open with your child. Make sure your child knows that he can always come to you. At the same time, give him space to make his own decisions. Respect those decisions, but don’t necessarily agree with or condone them. Let your child realize the natural consequences of his behavior. If your child makes decisions to pursue self-destructive or otherwise sinful behavior, communicate the sinfulness of that decision and your disappointment—but never withhold your love.
The Lord has sovereignly placed you in this situation, with a son or daughter who is struggling with unbelief and sin in particularly hurtful ways. Rest assured that he is at work in all things—especially the hard ones—for the good of those who are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28). He hasn’t forgotten you. To the contrary, he is the only One capable of helping you to grow in faith and hope in the midst of a dark and difficult time. Believe that he can!
It can be hard as a Christian to know what to do if you are invited to attend a same-sex wedding for a gay friend, co-worker, or a relative. These relationships are not on the same level as someone from your own immediate family, but they are still important. Decisions will need to be made, and you want to convey that you both care for them and that your Christian faith is very important to you as well.
Obviously, you need to put some earnest and thoughtful time and prayer into making your decision. Keep in mind that many Christians, even among those who are more conservative and see the Scriptures as wholly authoritative in their lives, approach this decision differently. Here are some key questions to ask yourself to help you make a decision.
1. What is your current relationship with the person getting married?
Are they a casual co-worker, friend, or distant relative, or someone with whom you have a closer, more intimate relationship? Has the invitation been given to everyone in your office, department, or family? Or has it been given to you because you have a closer relationship? These factors can help you determine how best to respond. For example, if the person is someone with whom you have a good friendship, then you will most likely speak directly to him or her about the issue of attending. If your friend knows you are a Christian, then this becomes another opportunity to share and discuss together what your faith positions are and what you think is best for you to do.
2. What would you be trying to convey by your attendance?
Some people have made the distinction between supporting the event, of which they don’t approve, and supporting the person getting married, whom they do love and care about. This distinction may depend on how vocal you have been about your Christian faith. What kinds of key conversations have you had with them? Do they know you are a Christian? Do they know your views about homosexuality? If so, your presence could actually “stun” them or really mess up the categories they may have about people like you. Christians, living intentionally by the gospel, can sometimes be confusing and provocative to people, causing them to rethink their positions. That’s a good thing.
If you feel that attending would advance and actually lend weight and credibility to your Christian witness, then you might decide in that direction. The nature of mercy is that it always discerns; it is not something sloppy or casual, but intentional. Mercy also “disrupts” in order to try to guide someone’s life path towards a newer and bigger eternal direction. So, in attending, you do not want your presence to convey a message that you are culturally “with it,” or that you are sophisticated enough to have no problem with people who embrace same-sex marriage. Rather, your attendance would be a calculated step, carefully chosen, that would be in line with your desire to pursue a relationship with this person because you care for them, enough to keep sharing the gospel with them.
3. What are you concerned about?
Are you afraid that your attendance would communicate your approval (like probably 99% of the people there)? Or are you afraid of having to explain why you feel you cannot attend? Are you afraid you would not know how to act or how to talk with other guests, most of whom might be gay or, at the least, pro-gay? There can be lots of fear issues involved in having to make this decision. Ask the Lord to guide you regarding these issues to your attending, or to your fears about repercussions from not attending. Fear or anxiety about disappointing someone is never a good motivator. A better question is this: What response of mine might cause further openness to the gospel?
4. Could you substitute something else, other than attending the event?
If, in good conscience, you reach the conclusion that you cannot attend the service, you might consider an alternative response, one that would not violate your faith positions or convey a wrong message, but would still affirm your love and care for the person. For instance, you might consider a card or gift. This would still show your care for them and acknowledge to them that this was an important day for them (it was, but you don’t necessarily have to join in on the celebration). You could say something like this in the card: “Sorry that I was unable to make it (note: if you are not close to them, they do not necessarily have to know why), but I know it was a special day for you, and here is a little token of my appreciation and care for you.”
If you are close to the person or couple but still conclude in good conscience that you cannot attend the wedding, then consider taking them out to lunch or dinner later on. Of course, this may be a tense or uncomfortable get-together, especially if the person who invited you felt hurt by your absence. But a quick follow-up may go a long way toward bringing understanding and another opportunity for you to share both the truth and mercy of the gospel.
5. Do one or both parties claim to be Christians?
Someone once said, “We shouldn’t expect regenerate behavior from unregenerate people.” In other words, we should not be surprised when unbelievers act like unbelievers. If the person or persons getting married are unbelievers, this doesn’t mean you have a green light to attend—but if someone claims to be a Christian and yet is in rebellion to God’s design and intention for how his people should live, and is celebrating it and inviting others to join in, then that is another matter. Some people have come to the conclusion that, if the persons are unbelievers, there is more decision room for the argument to attend the wedding. But others would argue that even if one of the parties is a confessing Christian, attending would be entering into their delusion that the marriage union is fine with God and is sanctioned by him.
As you can see, these are difficult issues to consider! Your decision must be surrounded with prayer and discussed with some close friends or family members. But know this: Yaour wrestling with this question of whether or not it would be appropriate to attend is itself evidence of your heart wanting to do the right thing to honor Christ and to open doors for the gospel. Realize that there is no one answer to this! You may face other challenges and questions from co-workers, friends, or relatives, regardless of the course you choose. This situation is much like the one the early church faced, when believers were confronted about behavior that some felt was permitted and others did not (eating of meat, setting apart special days, etc.). Romans 14 is a chapter that you would do well to read and reflect on as you wrestle with these issues. There will always be a tension between the freedom we have in Christ to do what we have prayerfully considered is permissible and the need to respect the different opinions of others on the same matter, especially when our behavior may deeply impact another believer.
One thing you can count on: Like Jesus, you’ll probably be misunderstood regarding the implications of any choice you make. So, when you make your decision, know that you have made it on the basis of what will honor God; be at peace on that basis.
Post-script: What about a baptism or baby shower?
Although slightly different, some of the above questions and criteria could be applied toward the invitation to attend a baby shower, a christening, or a baptism service, when same-sex couples invite you to attend after the birth or adoption of a child. This situation is a bit further removed from a wedding service, when the issue of same-sex marriage is outside of God’s design; but with a child it can be a bit more complicated, as the child is not responsible for the circumstances in which he participates in such events.
It seems that homosexuality has embraced our culture, and the culture has embraced homosexuality. It is a part of the fallen nature of things that man has always been an expert at creating ingenuous ways to celebrate his brokenness. So, men and women in the gay life have no corner on this.
Apart from faith in Christ and submission to the authority of Scripture, we are all experts at rationalizing and justifying what we want to do. The more we live, in any way, outside of God’s design, the more we convince ourselves that what we are doing is OK. This happens on both an individual level and a corporate, cultural level. Homosexuality is not the only thing that was once considered unacceptable or immoral but later is embraced by the culture (consider abortion and sex outside of marriage).
Scripture says we’re all a mess and that we all need forgiveness and cleansing. Biblically speaking, we’re all in the same boat. We all need the same medicine of the gospel to free us from whatever attachments or idols we cling to—from whatever we have decided gives us life apart from Christ. This realization about ourselves should bring to us a growing compassion for others. Believers in Christ should be the first ones to acknowledge that we still pursue our own personal idols, and it is only by the persistent work of the Holy Spirit in our lives that we become aware of our own sin and the need to repent of it.
Homosexuality is one of those topics that draws intense and passionate reactions. Complex issues of the heart usually do. Christians are in a sort of no-man’s-land here today. Suggesting to those who have embraced the current cultural position that homosexuality is sinful and not part of God’s design for sexuality appears as uneducated, homophobic and ridiculous. On the other hand, though, suggesting to fellow evangelical believers that God loves and forgives sinners who struggle with homosexuality and that we should do the same may appear compromising and wishy-washy.
While we can oppose the advancement of a social movement that would encourage everyone to embrace this cultural shift by vocalizing our concerns and participating in the political process, for Christians a far deeper response to homosexuality and the gay community is needed. When believers proclaim the gospel of Christ both to gays and to the culture at large in a loving, redemptive manner, punctuated with grace and truth, this sets us apart and truly reflects the person of Christ. In such a heated and increasingly emotionalized debate, Christians have a responsibility to represent Christ to a fallen world in four ways.
“Let every person be quick to hear” (James 1:9, ESV). This doesn’t mean looking for loopholes in a debate or seeking a chance to criticize and find fault as you talk about this issue. We must listen in order to understand the heart of what a person is saying. This is hard work, a relational skill to be learned. It’s not natural. It takes practice. Listen to what moves other people. Listen for their passions, what they value, what their experience has been, especially with other Christians, and what they fear.
The more you understand a person’s point of view, the more you can profit from it. Why do they think the way they do? What events have led to their adopting of their worldview? What’s been their experience of Christianity—of other Christians or the church in general? What wounds from their family of origin and from other people lie festering in the background? As adults, we’re a composite of all these things—upbringing, personal wounds, cultural norms, and our own heart-generated responses to these powerful, shaping influences. Get to know the persons to whom you are talking so that you truly know who they are. Otherwise, we tend to conveniently lump them into a group, label them on the basis of what we read in the news, and think this is “knowing” them.
“Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans? . . . No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:1-5). Only a redeemed sinner, knowing he stands condemned apart from Christ’s death on the cross, can reach a sinner who doesn’t know he needs redeeming. What’s your motivation when you engage someone with the gospel? Is it to reach lost people with the enduring love that has found you out—a love that has exposed you as a cutthroat and depraved sinner and yet has embraced you with fatherly love? Is it your own awareness that, at heart, you’re a sham, a misfit, a counterfeit, a phony and that there is nothing good inside you to warrant God’s love, yet he still died in your place to make you whole? Do you really care about people who struggle with same-sex attraction as men and women who need the love of Christ, or do you only want them to shut up and disappear? Remember that Jesus said, “He who is forgiven little, loves little” (Luke 7:47). If you have no love for those who claim a gay identity, then you have not understood the forgiving love of Jesus in your own life.
Patiently listening and personally repenting also means loving those who are different, who believe differently. The gay community has long been demonized by Christians, held up as the example of the worst kind of people. This is grossly unfair and unloving, not to mention unbiblical. No single group of people corners the market on sinful behavior outside of God’s design. There is simply no place for believers to verbally demean or physically abuse the same-sex attracted. If your neighbor or colleague proclaimed to you that he didn’t believe in God, would you go around mocking him?
“The Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone . . . correcting his opponents with gentleness” (2 Timothy 2:22-25). How do you talk to people who don’t believe what you do? An argumentative, win-at-all-costs approach does not conform to what Paul wrote to Timothy. You need to ask the Holy Spirit to instruct your own heart as you instruct others. Engaging someone “with gentleness” does not mean being weak or vacillating in your argument; it means treating everyone with respect and dignity even when they persistently disagree. An unloving and impatient heart is a hindrance to the gospel message. The Lord’s command to us through the words of Paul teaches us here “to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people” (Titus 3:2).
“Gently instruct” also means that your words must be grounded in the truth of Scripture, not your own opinion. The real issue regarding what Scripture says about homosexuality is not about whether the key passages are culturally relevant anymore, but whether Scripture in its entirety still has authority over all of life. It should always be the truths of Scripture, and not our demeanor or presentation of it, that people reject.
Do you really care about homosexuals—or do you only want them to shut up and disappear?
Talking to those who are blind to the reality of their hearts but who live in a world that applauds their sin is both a privilege and a challenge. They are victims of their own sin and the lies and sin of others. Therefore, they’re caught. But they’re also accountable before a holy God for their continued choice to live life on their own terms and not submit their lives to the lordship of Christ. We must represent both aspects of the truth as we share Christ.
Mercifully pursue and then engage the heart
“Have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire, hating even the garment stained by the flesh” (Jude 22-23). God calls us to be neither reclusive nor rude but to move boldly into confusing, high-stakes situations with the gospel of God’s mercy.
We bring the gospel where it is most needed: to the vocally anti-Christian pro-gay activist, to the mild-mannered clergy who says the love of Jesus means affirming homosexuality as God’s gift, to the confused and scared teenager who fears he’s gay and there’s no other option. Showing mercy means practically caring for people. It means being patiently and persistently available to help those who live in a fallen world. It means lovingly holding our ground against those who say that our beliefs are hateful.
We must not wilt from the irrational heat of those who say that we are hateful bigots merely on the basis that we do not agree with their beliefs.
As we do this, we’re able to move into other people’s worlds. Engaging people by asking good questions, respectfully, is an important part of this. I once approached a man who was marching in a gay rally. Subsequently, I had a two-hour conversation that ended with this man shaking my hand and thanking me for stopping him—in spite of the fact that I shared the gospel with him! I had listened to him, heard his concerns, and engaged his heart with matters important to him. Didn’t Jesus do the same?
My approach appealed to his heart. Listening, asking questions, and engaging people with respect, even if we have fundamental differences, invites people to share their stories more quickly than anything else. When we take time to get people into their stories, they become more open to us and to the gospel.
Jesus, of course, was the master of all that I’ve just described. We should be, too. His methods are the most under-utilized and missed aspects of evangelism. They also make the deepest and most heart-felt impact, often leaving people wanting more!
This article originally appeared in the May 2010 edition of Tabletalk magazine, but has been edited and expanded for this publication.