The following is an excerpt from Ellen Dykas’ workbook for women, Sexual Sanity for Women: Healing from Sexual & Relational Brokenness. Published by New Growth Press. Copyright © 2013 by Harvest USA. This Harvest USA resource can be used in a one-on-one discipling relationship or in a small group. You can obtain this resource at our bookstore, www.harvest-usa-store.com
What does it mean to be relationally and/or sexually broken? The Bible clearly states that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). The impact of sin has had a devastating effect on all of creation. One aspect of this utter ruin is that nothing functions in the way our Creator originally intended. Our world is broken. Relational and sexual brokenness thus refers to the sin struggles and temptations that women and men battle against while they live on this earth. Relationships become a prime ground for our idols to be nurtured and developed, as we seek people to be what only Christ can be. Sex becomes a way to medicate the pain within our hearts—or to feel anything at all. Our gender and sexual identity become confused, blurred, and even frightening. All things may have been created through Jesus and for Jesus (Colossians 1:16), but no one experiences life entirely according to his good design. Our lives are broken—but the gospel of healing, restoration, and forgiveness has broken into our brokenness!
Women are sexual beings just as much as men are. However, they often experience an even “louder silence” regarding their sexual sin and temptation. The Christian community has taken slow steps in recent years to address issues of sexuality, including addictions of a sexual nature. However, the opportunities for women to have the gospel specifically applied to their areas of relational and sexual brokenness have been few and far between. It’s our hope that Sexual Sanity for Women will provide opportunities for women to gather together and receive encouragement and teaching that will help them to, “lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let [them] run with endurance the race that is set before [them], 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” (Hebrews 12:1-2, ESV).
A few thoughts as you begin to work through this study: Although an individual could journey through it herself, this material is meant to be used in a group setting. There is power in people coming together to walk in the light with one another, confessing weakness and sin, praying for one other, and urging each other on in the calling to put on the Lord Jesus Christ and to make no provision for fleshly desires (Romans 13:14). This process of throwing off sinful patterns of life is just that—a process! This material will assist women to begin that process of freedom and change and gives strugglers a place to start in addressing these deeply held and usually carefully guarded issues.
Many women who wrestle with their sexuality in sinful ways—including promiscuity, pornography, fantasy life, masturbation, and homosexuality—have other heart struggles as well. The Bible is clear that we all live out of our hearts, and yet our hearts have been impacted by living in a sinful world, where people sin against one another in traumatic ways. This study is not meant to provide in-depth counseling for the pain brought on by trauma and abuse. Professional counseling and/or pastoral counseling by wise, mature Christians is highly recommended as part of this process of opening up one’s personal history and struggles. Ultimately, healing and change is the work of our Savior Jesus Christ, who came to heal the brokenhearted and to set the captive free—including female captives and daughters of God who are brokenhearted!
Sexual addictions among women are rarely talked about. Women strugglers often feel loaded down with a heavy sense of shame. They feel they are somehow “extra-abnormal” because sexual sin is typically addressed only as a man’s problem. When we consider female homosexuality and same-sex attraction, there is confusion in the way it is discussed and understood. We hear many explanations about why individuals are attracted to the same gender. There has been a major push in the media to say that homosexuality is something that’s inborn and unchangeable, as in, “I was born this way.” Even within many faith communities, there has been growing acceptance of homosexuality as a God-blessed identity—“I’m a gay Christian.”
How does a biblical view inform not only the question, “Is being gay OK?”, but “what is homosexuality?” And does the Bible really address seemingly “private” sexual activities such as viewing and reading pornography or masturbation? And if I truly love and am committed to someone, what’s the big deal in expressing myself sexually with that person outside marriage? Finally, does God really have helpful advice about addictions in our lives, especially those of a sexual or emotional nature?
What we’ll learn (in the sessions that follow) will give us hope and confidence that God’s Word does speak into all these sensitive areas. Through the person of Jesus, God has given us more than a set of rules to follow or a series of steps to complete. He loves us and is actually after so much more than behavioral change. He is able to transform our hearts and minds and grow us into Christlike women!
The gospel of Jesus Christ speaks to every struggler—woman or man, younger or older. And whether the sinful pattern takes the shape of sexual promiscuity with men, women, (or both), homosexuality, emotionally enmeshed dependencies, or habitual sexual patterns (such as masturbation, pornography, or an obsessive fantasy life), God’s Word has hope for real change. This study will explore how these patterns develop and how, through faith in Jesus Christ and obedience to the truths of the gospel, new Christlike patterns can grow and flourish in the life of any woman.
In Matthew 12: 33-34, we read, “Either make the tree good and its fruit good, or make the tree bad and its fruit bad, for the tree is known by its fruit. You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.”
Jesus consistently describes behavior as coming out of the heart of a person. He puts it this way: “The tree is known by its fruit” (Matthew 12:33, Luke 6:43–45). He also says that it’s not what we put into our mouths that corrupt us, but what comes out of our mouths (our words) that corrupt us. He says the mouth speaks from out of the heart (Matthew 12:34). What Jesus seems to be saying is that the inner issues are what really drive us, and what we say or do reveals our hearts. Jesus consistently focuses on what’s inside a person, not just on outward manifestations of behavior. He compared the behavior of religious leaders to cups that were clean on the outside but dirty on the inside (Matthew 23:25). Jesus was very compassionate to individuals struggling with sexual sin. He showed great love and compassion to women who are sexual strugglers (Luke 7:36−48; John 4:7–26; and 8:1–11). If you were to encounter Jesus today, you could have confidence that he would not condemn you but would show you love and mercy. You could also be confident to know that he would not focus exclusively on your outward behaviors and sins, but rather on the deeper motivational issues that arise from the core of who you are in your heart. Beginning to deal with your sexual behaviors, relational struggles, and emotional attractions can be very scary and difficult. The purpose of this group is to provide a setting where you can deal with some painful and troubling issues within a caring and supportive group setting.
This study will guide you through a model for understanding behavior called the Tree Model. It’s based on what Jesus said about being able to tell a tree by its fruit. This model will become critical to your understanding of why you do what you do. Remember, God is seeking much more than outward change through transformed behaviors! He is seeking heart change—which means that the deeper, inner issues in your life will be addressed and then “redressed” with the grace and truth of Jesus. True change and healing is possible, as we set our focus on Jesus Christ who has come to heal the brokenhearted and set the captives free!”
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In another excellent article, “God Gives the Best Sex,” Dan Wilson explains that God’s grace for the unmarried is the key to true joy as well as living out a godly sexuality. Because the idea of sexuality is often equated with sexual activity, those of us who are unmarried often miss the rich blessings God can pour out upon us as sons and daughters and as sexual beings. Godly unmarried sexuality is more than a call to abstain from sexual activity. Christ offers treasures to all who seek to live in a way that is pleasing to God as image bearers who are also sexual beings, including the unmarried.
Let us consider godly unmarried sexuality with three questions: What is it? How do we live it out? Why would we want to live it out?
WHAT is godly unmarried sexuality?
When it comes to discussions of sexuality, singles (from the never-married teen, to the senior-something single-again, and all those in-between) are often counseled in these sorts of ways: “Don’t! Be pure! Wait! Hands off!” “Guard your heart!” “It’s really not that great anyway!” “It’s great, but it’s not for you, unless you’re ‘burning’…then get married!”
To a degree, these words ring true. The unmarried are to strive to be sexually pure and chaste—but then so are married folks. Chastity is sexually lived out in a pure way; it is a commitment to keep sex in its proper place. Author Lauren Winner explains in Real Sex that, “…chastity is the free choice to live one’s sexual life in accord with Christian values—therefore everyone is called to live chastely” (p. 134). For the unmarried person, this means a life of purity through abstinence. For the married person, it means a life of purity through faithfulness. All who live in God’s world belong to him (Psalm 24:1, 2) and are designed and called to live a life of purity.
However, there is a profound reality of what godly unmarried sexuality is not. It is not merely about what we are doing or not doing with our genitals! Sadly, sexuality is often reduced to a definition along these lines, but it is crucial to have a fuller understanding of it while also being honest that we are embodied souls. To be an embodied soul means we are image bearers that live on earth in bodies which are created with the capacity for sexual expression. Sexuality involves our whole being—body and soul—and refers to how we experience and express ourselves as sexual beings.
Godly sexuality is something that is pleasing to God, acknowledging the value of God as the giver of sex, while keeping Christ central. While there is much overlap between married and unmarried sexuality, singles’ sexuality has unique features. Here are five basic principles that govern godly sexuality and which we will apply to the unmarried person:
1. It is Jesus-centric and Jesus exalting. In God’s world, Jesus is central to all aspects of life. Life is about valuing God at all times and in all ways. This means that the way we live out our sexuality as unmarried persons will find power and joy as Jesus is the focus of our deepest desires and affections. This does not mean we deny that we have sexual desires or that we struggle to be chaste; nor does it mean that we are condemned if we fall. The core blessings of the gospel are Jesus himself and the cross. As we run to him and cling to him in a radical way for enabling power to live purely and for forgiveness and cleansing when we fail, we are living as godly, unmarried sexual beings!
2. Godly sexuality loves my neighbor as I put others before myself. The second of Jesus’ two great commands—“Love your neighbor as yourself”—is core to godly sexuality inside and outside of marriage. This leads us to not sin against others through participating in sexual sin. This includes our thought lives, our affections, and seemingly “private” sins such as solo sex and pornography. No sin is truly private; others areas are always impacted. I never have the right to honor, esteem, and love myself more than my neighbor, and this includes the how and why of expressing my sexuality. This other-centeredness in sexuality can only be faithfully lived out though radical, self-sacrificing dependence upon Christ! (2 Corinthians 5:14, 15; Romans 14:7, 8)
3. Godly sexuality is concerned not only with physical relationships, but also mental and emotional attachments. As image bearers we are created for relationship. Holy relationships happen as the vertical (God and us) connects with the horizontal (people loving each other). Our relational connecting and attaching with one another was never designed by God to push him aside, but rather to deepen our love for him as we make much of him together. This means that our relationships are not to be all about striving to make each other feel good, but are to focus on pointing one another to Christ. This “shared love” encourages our hearts and spills out into loving others as well. When a person or relationship becomes the basis of our life, the Creator is pushed aside, and a worship disorder is taking place. This is ungodliness in our express of our sexuality.
4. Godly sexuality involves worship through discipline. In Real Sex, Lauren Winner brings out the rarely discussed concept of chastity as a spiritual discipline meant to align our wills with God’s (p. 124). Here, too, there is an overlap between godly unmarried and married sexuality. Faithfulness to one’s spouse (in thoughts, affections and actions) is not easy! Married or not, walking in holiness requires radical dependence upon Christ. It is a battle! It means a fight against the flesh which Paul explained was always “right there” in him, around him, and beside him (Romans 7:21). As singles seek to express their sexuality without physically engaging in sexual activity, there will be a battle that feels intense on some days, easy on others, perhaps pointless on many. Regardless, in God’s world, godly unmarried sexuality is good!
5. Godly sexuality is not only possible, but good in God’s design. Godly unmarried sexuality is not “Plan B.” It is not an elementary level of sexuality that is graduated from into advanced married sexuality. If that were the case, then Jesus himself was lacking, since he never attained a married level of sexuality. The expression of our sexuality may differ if we become married, but that does not mean that it is somehow “better.” Singles embody their particular gender, and sexuality in godly ways just as married individuals do. Single sexuality is not a deficient sexuality. If God has commanded the unmarried to be sexually abstinent, we can know that without a doubt that this abstinence is good and possible.
HOW is godly unmarried sexuality lived out?
Biblical wisdom is practical, but unfortunately teaching singles regarding sexuality is often given in sterile, bullet-point lists that focus on the externals of what to do and not do. Singles are normally just given boundary lines of what is not permissible or told what types of relationships are not acceptable. Yet there are many unanswered questions because many activities can be shifted into “gray areas” not addressed by this type of behavior-oriented teaching. For example:
- Do we label it dating, courting, or ‘hanging out’?
- What about the types of physical contact that are considered “sex?” Most people know genital sexual intercourse is off-limits for the unmarried, but what about solo sex, mutual stimulation, or oral sex?
- And how does this relate to relationships with our same gender? Is it permissible for two women to snuggle up while sharing a bed, experiencing sexual arousal from the physical affection, but not going any further? And what of two men who have no genital contact, but sexually arouse one another? There is no intercourse going on, but how can we tell if these kinds of things are permissible for the unmarried person?
To address these thoughts, we need to go back to what godly unmarried sexuality is: Godly unmarried sexuality exalts Jesus, puts others before self, is good, and reveals Christ to others.
To discern biblical wisdom regarding any of the above questions, the key issues become: “Is Jesus and worship of him central or is the self-ruling? Is Christ and love for him ruling, or am I more concerned with how far I can go? Is this action or thought leading me to love this person as a daughter or son of God, or is it a means to feel good?”
In Christ’s world, God gives the best sex. Sexual intercourse is meant to be experienced only within the context of a one-man, one-woman married union. Any actions or thoughts that lead toward sexual arousal (which God intended to be fulfilled through sexual intercourse) are not to be participated in outside the context of marriage. Does that mean a hands-off, no-touch guideline unless you are married? For singles it may mean exactly that! Radical devotion to Christ requires radical obedience because we want Christ and not our sexual pleasures to be exalted most of all.
Singles might say, “But we don’t have a ‘legal outlet’ for our sexual desires or for the powers that rage in these human bodies! What are we to do?!” This is an excellent question and needs to be addressed with biblical wisdom that is Christ-centric and shared with a compassionate tone of heart. It is true that those of us who are unmarried embodied souls still have sexual desires.
A gospel-drenched, Christ-centric view of our sexuality, however, gives great enabling hope on this point! We are not held captive to our bodies or to our sexual desires. Godly unmarried chastity, like many spiritual disciplines of abstinence, involves something normal and natural being abstained from. Chastity for the unmarried person is a kind of fast, and it may be a very looong fast. Winner’s thoughts here are encouraging: “…the unmarried Christian who practices chastity refrains from sex to remember that God desires your person, your body, more than any man or woman ever will. With all aspects of ascetic living, one does not avoid or refrain from something for the sake of rejecting it, but for the sake of something else. In this case, one refrains from sex with someone other than one’s spouse for the sake of union with Christ’s body. That union is the fruit of chastity” (Real Sex, p. 129).
What of our emotional desires? Do singles need to also be wise about the emotional intimacy they extend and pursue with others? Yes, but again this is an area where the married also need to practice wisdom and caution in their relationships (including some gender ones!) with those who are not their spouse. What I am not saying is that we shy away from revealing ourselves emotionally to each other. What I am saying is that the way we reveal, express, and share our emotional selves is also to be guarded. Ask if the goal of the particular relationship is oriented toward the self or love of God and others. I have found that a top “Jesus replacement” in my life is emotional comfort and feeling good about myself. This aspect of my own heart’s being prone to wander has led to some very unholy, emotional attachments with women and a few men, too.
It is actually good news that what God commands and says is good is possible through the blessings of the gospel. Godly unmarried sexuality is “Plan A” for those of us who do not have a spouse.
More on the “HOW”: Sober promises and specific wisdom
Galatians 6:7-8 speaks of God’s harvest principle: We inevitably reap what we sow. Despite this, God’s grace and mercy often give us harvests of blessing that we do not deserve. It would be an abuse of his grace, however, to not heed Scripture’s many sober promises. Consider two in light of godly unmarried sexuality:
- To pursue sexual expression outside of God’s design will lead to sorrow! (Psalm 16:4)
- Blessings will be missed and grace will be forfeited when we seek to trust in ourselves and our own strategies for dealing with our sexuality. (Jeremiah 17:5-9, Jonah 2:8)
God’s Word teaches that when we live life outside of his guidelines, including our sexuality, there is a harvest that we reap. Sexual desires, once stoked and given into, will be much easier to be given into again. Our thought lives record experiences, and it is not easy to forget past sins—especially if they were pleasurable. Regaining the mind for Christ is a battle. It is a winnable battle for sure, but the renewing process requires a radical approach. Living a chaste life sexually diminishes the negative harvest of sin. Does this sound like a tactic to “scare you” into unmarried chastity? It is not meant to be, but it is a sober warning! It is what God’s Word teaches us will happen when we put on SELF to the neglect of putting on Christ.
As a former co-worker used to say, Christ our Savior is a specific Savior! He enters into our journey as unmarried sexual beings with very specific help and wisdom. To live a pure life, we need him to be our specific Savior for our specific struggles. Consider what he offers us as we seek to live a godly life sexually. As you read this list and ponder these verses, honestly bring your specific points of temptation or consistent sexual struggle before him.
- Gives you himself (John 14:18).
- Knows and loves you in your temptation (Matthew 26:34, 35).
- Names you: mine, loved, forgiven, one who receives new beginnings from my hand.
- Enables and empowers you with an escape to resist temptation (1 Corinthians 10:13).
- Gives wisdom and discernment (Colossians 2:3).
- Gives you brothers and sisters to help and shepherd you. These brothers and sisters are his kingdom community for you on earth that he gives to teach, counsel, comfort, guide, and love you (Hebrews 3:12, 13; 10:24, 25).
- Gives you a kingdom calling to be lived out this side of heaven that will bear much fruit for his glory. This has everything to do with living in godly unmarried sexuality! We abstain from certain things, but also fully participate in others—like his holy work in this world (Ephesians 2:10; 1 Peter 2:9-10; John 15:5).
Actually, point number one above summarizes the entire list: Jesus gives us himself, and he is the path and provision for us to live godly lives.
How can we respond to Jesus with wisdom? We each need to have a specific battle plan. Again, as you ponder the following list, bring your specific areas of struggle, temptation and/or consistent areas of entangling sexual sin before him.
You need to be:
- Growing in a love for God and others that abounds in knowledge and insight (Philippians 1:9-11).
- Learning how to starve the flesh and feed the Spirit as you seek to understand what a “radical approach” will look like in your circumstances. For example, analyze the kinds of music, movies, and TV shows you engage in, taking note of their influence on you (Galatians 6:7-8).
- Aware of your body, since we are embodied souls. For example: Women, you need to know your hormonal cycle and be aware of what times of the month you may be more prone toward sexual desires being stirred up. Men, you need to know as well how your bodies react to certain visual, tactile, and audio stimuli. Reflect on how God is calling you to love him through the use of your body.
- Willing to NOT PLAY GAMES with sexual temptation and call it “grace.” This is an abuse of grace, and it is not worth it.
- Giving others “meddling rights” into your life. Invite friends to ask you the tough questions (James 5:16; Ephesians 4:15).
- Studying, savoring and praying God’s Word (Ephesians 6:18).
WHY would we want to live it?
Godly unmarried sexuality is lived out as a person seeks to live life fully given over to Jesus and his kingdom purposes, while also living a chaste lifestyle as a female or male image bearer. Through this beautiful calling, the unmarried person reveals Jesus and draws others to Jesus. At the most practical level, the sexuality of an unmarried person should be expressed in such a way that it is a signpost to Jesus. While godly married sexuality is a unique signpost to Jesus and his relationship with the church, the unmarried person also has a unique opportunity to reveal Jesus’ power and purity and to draw others to him.
The unmarried person is called to depend upon Christ, not enjoying the sexual pleasures of marriage, but finding pleasure in abstaining that aligns his or her will with that of God. This 24/7 fast draws attention to the enabling grace of Jesus to live a godly life as a single person. It involves resisting and refusing the loud voices of the flesh and our culture that screams, “Make much of me and run full force toward whatever feels good!” The unmarried person seeks to proclaim Jesus by living a life that is radically other-centered and committed to his kingdom purposes. This kind of obedience can only be faithfully lived out through radical self-sacrificing, dependence upon Christ—as such it is a life lived solely by grace!
14 Jan 2014
God calls us to live in community, so we should consider how to love and care for one another. Here are four thoughts for the married and unmarried members of the church to ponder as we seek to love our unmarried sisters and brothers in Christ and encourage them in godly sexuality.
The first two points apply to married people as well. We should remember that God’s truth on how to love and encourage others crosses over all age, cultural, and circumstantial distinctions and life situations. Personalized love should be shown to every person.
Consider how Christ-centric and gospel-filled ministry to the unmarried can be guided by these four principles:
1) A kingdom mindedness
Jesus’ command to “seek first the Kingdom of God” (Matthew 6:33) is a foundational truth. The Kingdom of God includes many realities. Here is a partial list: (a) love and loyalty for the King; (b) receiving the reign of the King in our lives (struggles, decisions, relationships, affections, etc.); (c) love and service to other kingdom citizens; (d) good works the King has prepared for each citizen to do (Ephesians 2:10); and (e) participation in the mission of the King and his kingdom. Our mission is that all the nations of this world will be blessed by hearing the gospel of grace and forgiveness in Christ.
When a church—leaders, adult education committee, women’s and men’s ministries, etc.—attempts to plan a ministry to the unmarried without Kingdom mindedness, that ministry can easily become focused on the here and now rather than the bigger picture of what God is up to in this world. When ministry is only planned around a focus on the present, good discipleship tools offered for singles (social groups and activities, counseling, seminars, conferences, etc.) will tend to encourage a perspective that implies, “We are singles who happen to be followers of Jesus,” rather than, “We are followers of King Jesus and citizens of his kingdom who happen to be unmarried.” There is a huge difference!
Our goal is not to make our unmarriedness ‘work’ or to be manageable while we live on this earth. Our goal is to seek first the Kingdom of God as we live in an unmarried state! When a kingdom of God heartbeat pulses throughout a local church family, it will change the way the unmarried are encouraged, discipled, counseled, and exhorted.
2) A foundation of family—God’s family!
It is significant that each local church not only disciples from a Kingdom-of-God mentality, but with a conviction that radically new, relational realities come with the gospel. We are sons and daughters of the Father, and thus are brothers and sisters to one another! Jesus said in the presence of his own family, including his mother, “‘Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?’ Pointing to his disciples, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother’” (Matthew 12:47-50). In Christ, we are entrusted with the gift of being true family to one another. This does not deny the beauty of marriage or human families. Rather, it elevates the spiritual reality of Christ’s blood creating a family of His own.
Effective and fruitful ministry to the unmarried will not seek to downplay the beauty and sanctity of marriage. However, there is cause for healthy examination of whether the local church idolizes marriage with questions, such as:
- Do we as a church view each other more as fellow church members, rather than as brothers and sisters in Christ? Do categories such as married, unmarried, single-again, widowed, and college/career signify ‘identities’ in our church, or do we view each other first as fellow Christ-lovers who happen to be single, married, etc.?
- Am I intentional and purposeful in seeking to love, know, and serve others who are in a different life situation than I am?
- For the married: Is our family closed or inviting? Do we only spend social time with others who are married? Do we teach our children that the ultimate goal is to grow up and have a family, or that the ultimate goal is to seek the Kingdom of God and to love him with all our hearts and lives?
- For the unmarried: Do we draw attention to our singleness to the point that the radiance of Jesus through us is smothered? Do we complain against and despise the will of God in our lives? Sometimes those of us who are not married are distracted from who we are in Christ because we do not have a ring on our finger. This is not living out our identity as a son or daughter of God!
Last year I attended a seminar at a local church that was focused on the theme of relationships. It was clearly publicized towards the married, dating, and singles. Singles were encouraged and welcomed to come. The teaching was biblical and mainly focused on the relationship of marriage. However, the way in which the seminar was run led me and several other unmarried folks to feel extremely uncomfortable! After each teaching session there was a ‘discussion time’ in which couples went off alone to share together what they were learning.
Those of us who were single or at the conference alone, however, were instructed to stay in our seats and to ponder how to apply the principles in our relationships. This was not necessarily a bad approach, but it seemed like my unmarriedness was being put under a flood light as I sat there by myself, while most of participants went off to have an intimate discussion. Two words sum it up: awkward and lonely! Had it not been for the two dating-each-other friends with whom I was attending the conference, the next day’s sessions would have been absent of at least one unmarried woman.
My experience at that seminar is the way many unmarrieds feel every Sunday when they go to worship. However, lest this sound like whining, the unmarried, along with the married, must not only live out of a Kingdom mindedness and an understanding of the family of God, but promote it. Both singles and married people need to focus on making their church function like a family.
3) Biblical wisdom
We must be faithful to present the wisdom of God as we disciple and counsel the unmarried. It has been said to me, “Well, after all, singleness really is about selfishness!” and, “Well, when you’re content with God alone, then you will get married!” Such words are not only unhelpful but unbiblical! Singleness can indeed be governed by selfish desires, but so can marriage! Learning contentment in God should not have as its goal the getting of what we really crave and desire.
Biblical wisdom will:
- Put Christ first as King, Healer, Forgiver, Companion, and the One who is always loving and worthy of being trusted, followed, and served.
- Teach that we and our situations do not belong to ourselves but to him, and thus we do not have the right to ‘do with it’ what we want.
- Not shy away from rich truths that God desires to reveal through those who are unmarried and surrendered to him. (See 1 Corinthians 7:7-8, 32-33, 35; Matthew 19:12; and Isaiah 56:1-7. Also listen to John Piper’s sermon on Isaiah 56 at www.desiringgod.org.)
- Seek to draw those of us who are unmarried towards Christ and trust of him, rather than to appease us or only soothe the struggles we experience as unmarried persons.
- Teach and exhort us about having a radical approach to our sexuality. For this to happen, biblical wisdom must be applied specifically to specific individuals!
4) Specificity in view of a person’s circumstances of unmarriedness
Someone close to me said, after a 14-year marriage ended in divorce, “I feel like I’ve been dropped in a foreign country. I don’t want to be here. I don’t know how to act or relate to others.” Another friend honestly shared with me, after hearing me teach on singleness to an audience of married and unmarried women, “Ellen, I don’t know how to relate to singles. I feel uncomfortable around them.”
A recent informal survey that I gave, entitled “How can the church best minister to singles?”, revealed that there are as many ideas on how to encourage and love the unmarried as there are people! What was obvious, however, was that unmarried and married respondants both agreed that ministering to the unmarried is not about primarily speaking to their singleness, but about Christ! This was said in a variety of ways, pointing to the need for solid teaching which exalts (a) Christ, (b) his Kingdom purposes, (c) the gifts that he has entrusted to all his followers, and (d) kingdom community among believers that is honest and family-of-God oriented.
God’s family loves by knowing others in specific ways. This is important as we seek to love unmarried people: We must know them well and specifically! The struggles, temptations, dreams, and desires of a 25-year-old person who has never been married may look and feel very differently from a 55-year-old who has children and finds herself single again. The unmarried 35-year-old virgin will have different issues than the 35-year-old who has been sexually active from age 15. To have a ‘generalized’ plan and script that serves as a coverall for anyone who is unmarried is dangerous—and unhelpful!
We should seek to minister the specific love and wisdom of Christ, to the specific struggles and needs of the unmarried we know. Here are some examples:
- If you are unmarried, be willing to be ministered to through not only encouragement but also by being challenged, exhorted, and asked the difficult questions. Are you allowing yourself to be known and held accountable? Also, are you reaching out to other unmarrieds? Are you pointing each other to Jesus more than some new person to date or marry? Are you exhorting each other to not ‘play games’ with sexual temptations or unholy emotional attachments?
- When speaking with singles, we all need to be asking questions like, “What is your experience as an unmarried person? In what ways are you misunderstood by others? How is Christ revealing himself to you through being ‘his alone?'”
- Churches need to have honest, direct, and biblical teaching and preaching on sexuality and sex that addresses married and unmarried realities. This teaching must go deeper than statements like, “Don’t!” “ Wait!” “You need to change your desires or behaviors or dreams!” “Have you tried searching online Christian communities?”
- When speaking with individuals who find themselves single again, be courageous, and prayerfully ask how they are walking out the call to be sexually abstinent. This requires wisdom for sure, but many people struggle in secret and with a sense of deep shame and defeat.
- Matchmaking might be desired by some and not by others, so ask if a person would like assistance in the prayerful discovery of others.
- Be willing to use odd numbers in groups and not just even ones (i.e. couples) when planning a social event. Remember, we want to promote the concept of our being the family of God.
- Build relationships with the unmarried who just have “let’s hang out together” friendships, not only those oriented around mentoring.
Much of the prior advice seems very basic, but for some reason churches seem to organize and complicate the simplicity of living as the community of Christ. Our goal is not to “fix” singles, but to discover how each one of us is able to best glorify Christ with the unique gifts he has given us in our particular circumstances.
The fourth testimony in our series is written by ‘Emily,’ who writes, “I let go of a gay identity when I embraced my true identity in Jesus.”
Growing up Delaware, I never had any crushes or broken hearts on guys or girls. In high school, I began watching documentaries on public television about same-sex attracted people and found myself drawn to them. Into the void left by an undeveloped sexual preference, I began to place a preference on being gay as a sexual option, which I thought offered a stronger connection to others. It was this sense of connection that drew me in, along with the knowledge that being gay would give me a sense of identity. An attraction to women developed, but through my early college years in Los Angeles, I never pursued a relationship.
During that time I became a Christian, but after dropping out of college and entering the workforce, I began attending a gay-affirming church which taught that homosexuality was a God-blessed option. On my first visit, I fell in love with a woman wearing a tie-died T-shirt who was playing guitar for the worship team. Suddenly, my visit to this church took on a whole new emotional spark. I came out, was accepted as a lesbian, and made friends with others who embraced being both gay and Christian.
I began dating the woman with the tie-dye T-shirt, and that relationship continued off and on for several years. During that time, I struggled with a feeling that what I was doing was wrong. Even while I was thrilled with the relational connections I was making with other gay men and women, this feeling of wrongness never left me. I ended my relationship with this woman several times for this reason, but I kept asking her to come back. Finally, the relationship ended, once and for all.
I later moved back to Delaware and began attending a Sovereign Grace church. This church had just finished a series called Different by Design, and I immediately bought a copy of the sermons. They were about how men and women were created to be equal but were different. I learned how all of creation is ordered by the relationship between Christ and his bride, the church. I saw how marriage between a man and a man, or a woman and a woman, turned creation on its head.
I repented of my gay identity and began actively learning about marriage and what it would mean to be relationally committed to a man. Three months later, I met the man who would become my husband, and a year after that we married. I love my husband, and I enjoy the sexual relationship we share.
I still struggle with same-sex attractions. I still find women attractive, but I keep my eyes from lingering on their images in my mind. My strongest lesbian inclinations now only exist in my dreams. I sometimes awaken, longing for the connections provided by a gay identity, but I know now that there would be no sense of peace if I embraced that. I also know that my identity must be in Christ, and that is something I must keep my mind focused on. I have always longed to be known in a deep way. Whereas before I filled my longing to be known through the connections I made in my gay relationships, I now find that I am known deeply—by my husband and by God.
The third testimony in this series is written by Christine, who says, “I kissed a girl…But I wasn’t born that way!”
I was 14 when I entered my first homosexual relationship (I am now 19 years old). When I look at the steps I took in that direction, I can see clearly now what I didn’t know then: that a) many factors influenced the decision I made that day; b) I had no idea how much those choices would impact my life, faith, and how I thought about myself; and that c) God allowed me to experience hitting bottom so I’d follow him with my whole heart rather than just continuing to “play church.” I’m grateful that God used all this to give me a heart for broken people—like myself—and especially for teens who are struggling to make sense of their own sexuality in the midst of so many different voices out there.
So, on that day when I was 14 years old, I skipped school with a friend, and, as we sat and drank a few beers, she teased me about a girl who had said that she had feelings for me. I had never really put much thought into same-sex attraction or homosexuality until probably a few months before, when I started hanging out with this friend and a few others who considered themselves to be bisexual. When this girl told me she liked me, I didn’t really know how to react. I wasn’t really attracted to her, but in the back of my mind lingered a lot of curiosity.
As my friend and I sat there, it somehow came down to her talking to this girl on the phone and telling her to meet us where we were. I kissed a girl that day. . . but wow, I had no idea about the can of worms that I had opened in my heart and in my mind that day! I remember going to work later and saying to myself, over and over, “I can’t believe I did that.” I was shaken. I went on to date this girl. To this day, I still sometimes wonder why. I didn’t really care about her and did very little to please her.
But what this first relationship did was open up for me a whole new realm, and it wasn’t too long after this that I fell hard for a girl. What followed then was a succession of relationships that were based on infatuation—attraction followed by desire followed by involvement, and then starting all over again with someone new. I knew in my heart that this was wrong, but my emotions and the rush of it all kept me “in.” I felt addicted to these relationships, wanting to do anything I could to make her happy. My teen life went on: Girls came into my life, and girls left my life—and guys did, too.
Over the past five years, there have been ups and downs for me as I have felt deeply the struggle with same-sex attraction. I’ve had countless people tell me that it’s impossible to change and that I would never be able to get out of this lifestyle. I was even taught by many Christians, “You are born this way, and this is a part of you that is unchangeable.”
All that is a whole lot of baloney and is NOT helpful!
My brother or sister in Christ—If you take nothing else out of this story, please just remember that our God has no limit to what he can accomplish in your life. He is the author of grace. He is known for doing the ”impossible” and loves you more than you could ever fully grasp. If this is your struggle, I sympathize with you because I know firsthand that this is not an easy road. It’s a road that is one of the most difficult ones I’ve ever traveled on.
I know what it’s like to hold what you desire most in this world and let it go because it’s not right. I know how much letting go of a person can disintegrate everything you thought you were as a person. I know also that even in my lowest times, when I’ve turned my back to God, he always had a grip on me. How did I know that? Because I could never really feel at peace. It’s sad, but true, that if I could have been at peace at living in sin, I would probably be writing a different story right now.
So hang in there and take it day by day. Change is possible, and so is getting out of a situation you feel totally stuck in. I don’t know where you are at today or what your story is, but please do not lose hope. Keep your relationship with God constant; surround yourself with people who lift you up and point you to his word and to Jesus. The Lord has blessed me and taught me so much. There is nothing like feeling loved, cherished, and desired from the God who created not only the universe but everything in it. The road will not be easy, but by God’s grace we can all make it to the other side. Change is indeed possible!
Christine’s story provides a great picture of how some (not all!) grow into a gay identity: a relationship that feels good; sexual/physical pleasure; and people all around affirming this as inborn and unchangeable. What do you think: Have you or someone close to you walked a similar path of “growing into” a gay identity? If so, take encouragement from Christine’s story: She’s grown into a deeper faith through all of this. She knows more deeply that the God of heaven is a God of grace and love.
The second testimony in our series is written by “Susan,” who says, “My self-described labels changed…but my identity in Christ is secure and permanent!”
Twenty-one years into my marriage, my husband announced one day, “I’m leaving you for another woman.” I was devastated. I fell into a deep, emotional abyss as my life and my heart broke into a million tiny pieces. My friend, who had been talking to me for several years about Christ, stepped into my pain with gentleness and love. Into my broken world she ministered to me, sitting with me for hours as I poured out my pain and my tears. She read to me from the Bible and continued to share Jesus with me.
Several months later, I did ask Jesus into my heart and accepted him as my Savior. My friend and I continued to meet almost daily. Ours was a completely new level of relationship for me. With her I felt complete and deeply known for the first time in my life. I needed her desperately and soon began to long for her when she was absent. Without noticing it, my life began to revolve around our time together. When we were together, she held me as I cried, rubbed my back, and dried my tears. Her touch was such a comfort to me, and there was an intense feeling of being connected. It was just a matter of time before we moved into sexual touching and then a full sexual relationship. Even as a new Christian, I knew that this was not okay with God, and I struggled to understand how what felt so right could be wrong. After several years, our secret relationship became public, and what then began as a new devastation in my life was actually the first step of a new journey into wholeness.
This new struggle lasted for many years. I have moved from identifying myself as a lesbian, to a woman who struggles with same-sex attraction, to a follower of Jesus who has experienced relational brokenness. I have learned, with the help of godly counsel and Bible study, that the intense, all-consuming, emotional connection I craved from another person was not God’s design for healthy relationships. What I perceived as intimacy was a dysfunctional enmeshment, an entanglement of two relationally broken people looking to each other to fill the space that only God can fill. I had put my relationship with my friend on the throne of my life, occupying the place that belongs only to Jesus. Praise God that he continues to heal me as I seek to worship only him and find the answer to all of my longings in Christ.
Notice how “Susan” describes the change she experienced in her sense of identity: from lesbian to same-sex struggler to a follower of Christ who battles temptation in this area. How is this hopeful for you as a woman or man who is tempted to cross God-designed sexual boundaries in order to feel loved?
The first testimony in this series is written by Ellen Dykas, Harvest USA’s Women’s Ministry Coordinator. She writes about being ‘spousal-sexual’—is it a new category to consider?
After I began to serve with Harvest USA, I attended an Exodus International conference in 2008 and participated in an open discussion among women’s ministry leaders who serve in sexual-wholeness related ministries. The focus of our discussion that day was this heated question: Is change really possible for the same-sex attracted person? In the room were nearly 25 women from all over the country, and they talked about the different stories of their homosexual experiences.
Many of the women were now living lives of sexual abstinence as singles, after having turned to Christ. There were a few women who, while at one time openly identifying as gay, were now married to Christian men. Others, who through emotional dependency found themselves in homosexual relationships, were now growing wisely in loving other women well within godly boundaries.
All their stories were testimonies of change, each one specific to her unique life. One testimony, however, really hit my heart. A married woman named Ann said, “You know, I’m not attracted to women anymore, but I’m also not attracted to men; yet I adore my husband!”
Ann’s story of having grown in her identity in being a loved daughter of God, and then being ‘spousal-sexual,’ really rang true for me personally. I am not someone who is same-sex attracted, but I am also someone who hasn’t had the “typical” heterosexual crushes that my friends all had. There have been a few men with whom I have experienced emotional and physical attraction, but for most of my life I felt very “other.” I didn’t seem to fit in any category.
But Ann’s words really taught me afresh that it only takes one man to be a husband! So, I began to focus my prayers for relationship along this path: “Lord, if you have marriage for me, then I ask you to keep my heart and ALL my attractions guarded until and unless they be focused on
the man you’d have me to marry. I want to be ‘husband-sexual!’”
This freed me up so much and was another huge way the Lord moved in my own heart years ago to grow me in seeking to have my heart set on Christ and his will, rather than fitting into categories of sexuality that our culture (and the church, too) have defined as our identities.
For my next three blog posts, I’ll be sharing testimonies from women who have wrestled with same-sex attraction and also have been a part of the ministry of Harvest USA. Each of these sisters will share their unique stories and personal thoughts on how Christ brings true “change.”
What are your thoughts about the idea of “spousal sexuality?” Do you think as a category it is helpful or unhelpful? Please share your thoughts!
16 Oct 2012
Not long ago I spent some time with two younger women, one newly married and the other about four years into a marriage with two kids. It was a sweet time, an encouraging and Christ-filled time, and also a time in which my self-diagnosis of G.I.G. (Grass is Greener) Disorder raised its ugly, discontented head.
Does the shoe of this diagnosis fit you too? Do you also give way to believing that the grass really is greener over there? After I was with them, I spiraled down for a few hours while craving their story: of marriage, a house, a family, of the loving pursuit and “capture” of a man into marriage. I wanted to be able to live the stories I heard them sharing!
How does G.I.G. Disorder impact me?
- I want her/his marriage, not mine!
- I want to go back to singleness… it was so much easier then!
- How come their family seems to be so functional and healthy… why was I born into this mess?
- Why am I tempted in a same-sex way… how come I got stuck with this?
- Really God… really? My son/daughter is struggling with this? Why are you allowing this trial when none of my friends’ kids are wrestling this way?
- No! No, God, I do not want to walk with a husband bound up in sexual addiction. Give me some other trial like the one that ____ or____ or____ has in her marriage. Why do you let them have it so easy in their marriage while mine is a mess?
The Spirit finally rescued me from my slide into discontentment, comparison, and covetousness (all standard fare of G.I.G. Disorder) by whispering to my heart that day. “Ellen, tell your story!” Yes, the story that the Author of life has written and is writing for me.
So I did that. I took some time and journaled out portions of my story: from the year I was born, to the weaknesses and strengths I have, to experiences I’ve enjoyed and trials I’ve endured, to being single at 26, 36 and now 46 years old. I considered those temptations and battles God has given me victory over, and those temptations that stubbornly remain and keep me dependent and humble before the Lord.
Only Ellen Dykas can live out the life God has designed for her. And that applies to you, too. Only you can live out the story God has written for you. Other people’s stories are theirs, and they do not fit the uniqueness of who God designed you to be. One day, our goal is to arrive at 2 Timothy 4:7, and say, as life slips into eternity, “I’ve fought the good fight, I’ve finished the race, I’ve kept the faith.” To crave and pursue living the story of someone else is actually one of the ways that we end up craving Jesus-replacements in our lives. Why? Because if his plans for us aren’t enough, then we’re believing that he isn’t enough either.
Consider how you struggle—successfully and, at times, unsuccessfully—with G.I.G Disorder. What do you need to believe in order to be at peace with the story God has written, and is still writing, for you?
12 Oct 2012
One thing have I asked of the Lord,
that will I seek after:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord
and to inquire in his temple.
Psalm 27:4 (ESV)
In my last post, “Living a Life That Becomes a Life Well-Lived,” I was sharing my thoughts on how to live now in such a way that our lives will have been lived well. David’s words here in Psalm 27 give us (me!) more clues about what this means: knowing what your “one thing” is going to be. David said that his “one thing” was to dwell in the house of the Lord, or as we might say now from our vantage place of being in Christ, to faithfully abide in the Lord Jesus. David said that he wanted to dwell in the Lord’s house so that he could:
- Gaze upon the Lord’s beauty
- Inquire of the Lord
I like the way that Pastor John Piper has often said in his teaching ministry, “Let your passions be single!” He’s speaking of a devoted and undistracted life, for and towards Jesus Christ, of making sure that our “one thing” is faithfulness to Jesus—abiding in Jesus as we love, know, and seek to obey his Word. When our “one thing” becomes a part of many things, or when our “one thing” is self, comfort, pleasure, or the affection and/or sexual attentions of other people, then we find ourselves living an anti-Psalm 27:4 that goes something like this:
One thing I have sought after and asked of the Lord, and that is,
‘Please leave me alone God!’ I mean, I want your attention but not now, okay?!
I want to build and nestle inside a home of my own making, where it feels good,
and no one bothers me about what I’m gazing at.
I’ll inquire of you, Lord, but later—okay?
I don’t mean to offend you, Lord, but I just need (fill in the blank) right now and you…
well, you just don’t seem as real as him/her/it/this.
I love you Lord, but I need him/her/it/this.
Sexual sin and disordered relational entanglements can be “one thing” that offers to us an instant payback of sexual and/or emotional pleasure, a comforting distraction that dulls and temporarily erases our inner pain and heartache. When our “one thing” isn’t Jesus, so many other things will rush in to fill the void, and entice, tantalize, seduce, woo, and offer to us a form of life. But it will be death in the end.
How do you focus on the true “one thing” of living fully for Jesus amid all the struggles of this life? I’d love to know what helps you do this.
10 Oct 2012
Lately I’ve been soberly pondering how to live now; I want to have lived a well-lived life at the end. One of the blessings of serving at a ministry like Harvest USA is growing in grace while being daily confronted in my work with the devastation of sexual sin. Our staff and I are honored (truly!) to be invited into the pain of men, women, couples, and parents, and to walk alongside them.
They are facing the wreckage, pain, and heartache as hurting Christians who, after a season of giving way to sin, are now turning back to Christ. As the grace and love of Jesus Christ floods into and awakens someone from the dulling and destructive impact of living in sexual sin, the road is both glorious and painful. Emotional affairs, random sexual hook-ups, feasting on the ugly and foul “banquet table” of pornography, enslaving and obsessive co-dependent relationships, and sexual sharing with one or more persons outside of marriage—these are the things we hear in our offices and our support groups daily.
It’s glorious to hear of the Lord’s rescue of women from temptation and sin, yet painful to watch them “wake up” and realize, “How did I end up here? How do I get out of here? How do I change?” It’s terribly sobering for me and causes me to shudder every so often, knowing that this woman, or this man, or this marriage got “here” by taking a lot of little steps over time. All these steps are ones that we choose, even while, in the moment of struggle, we may feel that they just “happened to me.”
Gospel hope and wisdom tells us, though, that a life well-lived is also the fruit of taking a lot of little steps in a given direction… over and over, day by day.
Recently some sobering confessions of secret sin were shared with me just as I had finished reading an autobiography of Helen Roseveare, a missionary to the Congo from 1953-1973. I was also at that time beginning to read a biography of Charles Spurgeon, an amazing Bible teacher, preacher, and pastor from the 1800s. This woman and this man are two of my heroes of the faith, and their stories remind me that well-lived lives include suffering, ongoing battles against sin, and lots of seemingly little steps of obedience.
I also began to read and reflect upon Paul’s pastoral letters to Timothy and Titus, wondering how Paul arrived at a point where he could say towards the end of his life, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7, ESV).
I’m pretty sure that a part of the answer to this question is in knowing that a life well lived happens as we live each day and through each circumstance like Paul did: deciding in this moment to fight when confronted by temptation and sin; committing today to run the race and fix my eyes upon Jesus, surrendering in this situation to trust the Lord through faith, believing that his purposes are always good for me.
What do you think? Are there heroes of the faith in your life? Who do you look up to, and what are the daily or habitual faith steps they took that bore the fruit of a life well-lived? No one walks this life of faith alone. God has given us a “cloud of witnesses” to show us how to live well.