Homosexuality and Change: Is it possible?
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!