“I said I would never do it again.”
“I can’t believe I’m back to the same old sin patterns.”
“Why can’t I stop doing this?”
“I thought I was past this.”
Why do we pursue sexual sin, particularly after we’ve come to loathe the impact it has on us, our spouse, our ministries, and our relationship with the living God? Have you ever said with the Apostle Paul, “Wretched man (or woman) that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Rom. 7:24)?
There are many reasons why we pursue broken sexual choices, but I would like to focus on one core motivation: unfulfilled longing for something transcendent. Our hearts are designed to long for something intimate, life-giving, and hope filled. Sexual sin makes many promises, but it can never give us these things. Even godly sex within marriage, as glorious a gift as it may be, fails to be the ultimate fulfillment our hearts deeply—and rightly—long for. Speaking of the folly of idolatry in his commentary on Isaiah, Ray Ortlund says, “It’s absurd to try to derive an ultimate experience from a less-than-ultimate resource. That’s false worship” (293).
This blog follows a previous post entitled, “Single Christian, Are You Enjoying Your Union with Christ?” and takes a deeper look into union with Christ.
Two Distinct Realities: Union and Communion
Before discussing the nuts and bolts of how to enjoy your union with Christ, it’s important to make a distinction between two concepts: union and communion.
Union with Christ is a position Christians enjoy as a result of the work of Christ on their behalf, uniting them completely to himself. It is passively received; it is not something merited, achieved, or fought for. It is an act of sheer grace from God’s benevolent heart down to the Christian. Marcus Peter Johnson describes union this way in his book One with Christ:
To experience fellowship with the Son is to be made alive in Christ, justified in Christ, sanctified in Christ, seated in the heavenly realms in Christ, built up into Christ, and given fullness in Christ. Those joined to Christ are “members of Christ,” “crucified in Christ,” “included in Christ,” “baptized into Christ,” and “the body of Christ.” They eat and drink Christ, they are one with Christ, Christ dwells in them and they dwell in him; they can do nothing apart from him (39).
When reading this definition, you may be tempted to think, “Well, that’s great, but I live in the real world and certainly don’t feel like I’m on cloud nine, united to Jesus all day, every day!” How are we to reconcile the glorious truth of our irrevocable union with Christ with our day-to-day reality, which, if we’re honest, often feels dull, disappointing, or at times even hopeless?
Understanding the dynamics of our communion with the triune Godhead may shed light on the frustration of this dissonance between what we read in Johnson’s definition and what we experience in our daily lives.
Communion with God is the felt experience of the life of God intersecting with our own; it’s the sense that we relationally interact with God himself through the varied means of grace. We share in the life of God and relate to him in the many ways he represents himself as father, king, intercessor, comforter, counselor, refuge, friend, high priest, elder brother, great physician, husband, and sympathizer with our weakness. This isn’t even an exhaustive list of all the ways God describes his communion with his people! Contrary to our union with Christ, our communion does ebb and flow. It is subject to our weakness, efforts, striving, and lack thereof. We may experience profound joy in communion with Christ and we may experience seasons of weariness and discouragement. Even mature believers go through times when they struggle to have rich communion with God.
Our communion with God—or lack of communion—is one key to the “why” behind our sinful behaviors and attitudes. John Flavel says it this way:
The soul is so constituted that it craves fulfillment from things outside itself and will embrace earthly joys for satisfaction when it cannot reach spiritual ones. The believer is in spiritual danger if he allows himself to go any length of time without tasting the love of Christ and savoring the felt comforts of a Savior’s presence. When Christ ceases to fill the heart with satisfaction, our souls go in silent search of other lovers (vol. 2, 438).
Growing in holiness and purity is not merely the “putting off” of unwanted behaviors, though it is not less than that. It is also the “putting on” and pursuit of God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Seeking deeper communion with God—the one who loves our souls—is a death blow to the pet sins we nurture because it brings the satisfaction we were longing for when we chose to pursue sin in the first place.
Acknowledging the Mystery
There is a degree of wonder and mystery involved in comprehending our union with Christ. When we pursue Christ, we’re endeavoring to do what only the Holy Spirit can enable us to do. In this life, we enjoy and commune with Christ by faith.
We must observe a posture of humility because, after all, we’re talking about communing with—enjoying, relating to—the living God. This is his world. All things are for him and through him and to him (Rom. 11:36), on his terms. Thankfully, we have a gracious God who wants to disclose himself to us—to be known and worshiped in Spirit and in truth. He is not hiding, so knowing God is not a scavenger hunt. Take heart! God relates to us intimately. He is deeply personal and specific, so there’s not a “one size fits all” method to unlock the secret to true communion.
It’s helpful to acknowledge that pursuing communion with Christ in a faithful way may differ for each Christian based on their season of life. A mother of young children, a man in hospice, a young professional, a pastor, and a teen all may have different habits of communion with God.
A dear brother in his nineties said that singing and playing his piano in worship to Christ has become more primary as Bible reading grew more difficult with age. Similarly, a mom with school-aged kids shared that in her single years she experienced her communion with God as primarily a silent, meditative time alone in the Scriptures. She laughed as she remarked, “I can’t remember the last time there was silence in our home!” As you seek after communion with God, seek first to be faithful in that pursuit. Rather than unlocking the secret to a transcendent experience, communion with God can grow even in the ordinary moments of daily life.
Why do we pursue sin in the first place? Often, it’s because we’re not pursuing our indescribably satisfying Savior. We try to fill our desire for transcendence with cheap trinkets when we have all the depth of the riches of wisdom and knowledge of God in Christ (Rom. 11:33). Indwelling sin can’t hold a candle to communion with God.
In the next installment of this blog series, I’ll discuss ten practical ways you can pursue deeper communion with Christ.
22 Sep 2022
Several years ago, a ‘worship’ song went viral with two million hits. With a beautiful melody and poetic words, it caught the hearts of many.
You’re the first thing I know I can believe in,
You’re holy, holy, holy, holy, I’m high on loving you
You’re the healing hands where it used to hurt,
You’re my saving grace, you’re my kind of church,
This, however, is not a song about the Lord Jesus Christ, but a romantic relationship. H.O.L.Y., the song’s title, refers to someone being “high on loving you.” The words of devotion and ecstasy are about a person providing healing and saving grace. This person is even described as a “church” within which to worship.
We all desire the security of feeling loved—and we’re all tempted to find that security not in God our Creator but in unhealthy relationships with people around us. Through books, songs, and movies we have stories of people craving and searching for an experience of love and security that can only truly—and in a healthy way—be met by Jesus.
Worshipping a Person or Loving Them
As H.O.L.Y. illustrates, romantic love is one way the worship of a person can displace Jesus as the worthy focus of our hearts. However, idolatry of people happens between parents and kids, in friendships and mentoring relationships. Wherever there are two hearts unanchored from worshipping and depending upon Christ, there is fertile soil for relational idols to grow.
Tim Keller describes idols as “anything more important to us than God, anything that absorbs our heart and imagination, anything we seek to give us only what God can give” (xix). When your meaning in life is to fix someone else’s life, to have your life fixed, your heart healed, or an empty heart made whole through a person, it’s false worship. Often this is called codependency, but it’s really idolatry.
God’s word is clear that he alone is to be worshipped, rather than any created thing—including people.
“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me.” (Ex. 20:2-3)
God is to have no rivals or replacements in our lives, hearts, and affections. Often, relationships with people can intrude upon our intimacy with God as our hearts’ devotion is easily hijacked by the human element that people, a good gift, offer to us.
“Has a nation changed its gods, even though they are no gods?
But my people have changed their glory for that which does not profit.
Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the Lord, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and dug out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.” (Jer. 2:11–13)
I’ve struggled over the years to keep people in their proper place in my life; I’m not alone! I’ve walked with so many women who have become consumed with a best friend, boyfriend, or mentor in their lives. What God may have provided as a gift has become ultimate, displacing God and resulting in an entangled mess of codependency. Paul says it this way: “. . . they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever” (Rom. 1:25).
This exchange of the created thing for our loving Creator is one of the most common sins. If you see yourself in this article, have hope! You are not alone. And let’s be clear: desires for unfailing love, to be deeply known, needed, pursued—even just to matter to someone—are beautiful aspects of being image bearers of God who loves us deeply, knows us completely, and exists Himself in a holy, relational Trinity.
The problem is that our image bearing capability has been distorted by sin. Our desires have become disordered. What is “natural” to us rises from our sinful hearts. All of us struggle in one way or another in our relationships. We crave and work at getting things from people that can truly only be found in our union with Christ.
Engage Some Diagnostic Questions
Is there a person in your life who:
- . . . you depend on for your sense of identity and value?
- . . . you obsess about in your thoughts?
- . . . you feel addicted to being in touch with throughout the day? Not having contact prompts you to feel threatened and insecure?
- . . . is needy for you to be a parent/counselor/surrogate-spouse for them, and you are happy and secure in this role of being a ‘need-meeter’ and rescuer?
- . . . has been a friend or counselee but has become someone for whom you have romantic feelings and / or have gotten involved with physically, perhaps even sexually?
Friend, did you answer ‘yes’ to any of those questions? If so, I plead with you to pause. You may be playing with fire, or you may be in the flames already. Displacing Christ with people may happen intentionally from a hard heart; it also happens when we are naïve. Regardless of how you got here, Jesus has a way out for you.
Steps to Take If You’re Entangled in a Relational Mess
- If this person is a family member, you’ll need to get help to understand what healthy boundaries are and what godly love looks and feels like. God is not calling you to abandon this relationship but to have your affections and the relational dynamics radically reoriented and transformed. Seek help from someone outside your family.
- For other relationships:
- If there has been sexual involvement, confess your sin to a trusted person, end the relationship, and commit to no contact with this person for an indefinite length of time.
- Seek Christ! You probably won’t feel like it, but fleeing to him and his Word is a must.*
- Expect a season of pain and grief that can lead you to God’s comfort. In one of his letters, John Newton said, “He wounds—in order to heal. He kills—that he may make alive. He casts down—when he designs to raise. He brings a death upon our feelings, wishes and prospects—when he is about to give us the desire of our hearts.”
- Pursue discipleship regarding the underlying heart issues that made you vulnerable to idolizing people.
- Hope! One day, the pain of this costly obedience will subside. Jesus is with you and he will never stop loving you.
- Believe! God Himself does battle with our idols as he transforms us into Christlikeness.
God has brought me a long way in my journey into relational wholeness and holiness. What was once a pattern in my life isn’t anymore. What felt necessary, life-giving, and beautiful (but was none of these), has faded from my heart and been replaced with a desire for Christ that fuels godly love rather than grasping relational lust. God wants to delight you with healthy, rich relationships, and my prayer for you as I post this article is that today you will have hope and courage to take the steps you need to be free.
*You might consider working through my 31-day devotional book, Toxic Relationships: Taking Refuge in Christ.
It may be glib, but it rings true: the only thing that never changes is change. I’ve got change happening in almost every area of life right now. You too? Consider this list of what I’m facing and see if it connects with your life.
- Change through death. My dad died several months ago, and family relationships have shifted since then. Not only have I joined the parentless club, but my relationships with my siblings and their families are growing into something different. In the last few years of his life, a lot of our interactions revolved around how Dad was doing. We texted, emailed, and talked about what kind of care he needed, who could do what, and then the dreaded end-of-life decisions. Over the past months, we’ve grown into new ways of connecting that don’t orbit around Dad’s care.
- Change through aging. Umm, I’ll just leave that, at that! But you can guess—bodies age and with that comes a changed appearance, different limitations, new dreams emerging, and a revitalized commitment to make the most of the time given to me in this life.
- Change through new relational landscapes. Our Harvest USA staff family has lost several beloved brothers and sisters to new callings and changed life circumstances; we’ve gained several new coworkers too. There have also been several significant changes in my personal life: my close friend and sister moved overseas with her family, another friend has grown more limited due to chronic illness, and still another moved out of the area.
- Change through spiritual pruning and soul surgery. God has been doing so much in my own heart over the past season. He’s been growing me through challenges, joys, grief, and a long awaited ‘birth’ of a book I’ve wanted to write for years. Writing Jesus and Your Unwanted Journey brought more tears than any other writing project I’ve worked on for Harvest USA. The excruciating stories that women have shared with me have changed and humbled me.
What about you? Do any of those categories hit home, my friend? Perhaps your marriage has suffered the painful blow of abandonment, death, or divorce. Maybe one of your kids just left for college and you aren’t so sure that the emptier nest season is as fabulous as you’ve heard. Or perhaps a friend has moved on, seeking connections elsewhere, and you feel lost and abandoned. You might even be facing the disorienting reality of someone ending their relationship with you because it had become sinful, and your friend/girlfriend/boyfriend/secret lover heard and heeded the loving call of Jesus to return home from the far country.
When the pain of change hits hard, we have a choice in front of us. We can cry out to Jesus for help, comfort, wisdom, and guidance or we can cry out elsewhere for temporary comfort, distraction, rescue, or a sense of stability. Where do you tend to turn?
Everything Will Shift—Except God’s Promises
When you’re hit with pain due to changed circumstances, it’s important to cry out for comfort in the right direction. The enemy of our souls and our weak and easily deceived sin nature crave and seize any opportunity to pursue people, experiences, and feelings that may temporarily numb or relieve our anguish but, in the end, land us in a pit. God alone is the source of unchanging, unfailing love and comfort. He is your steadfast companion when the terrain of your life shifts, whether slightly and subtly or like a wave crashing over you.
Consider these promises from God’s Word:
Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. (James 1:17)
For I the Lord do not change. (Mal. 3:6)
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. (Heb. 13:8)
But people? Your best friend? The person you’re dating? Your spouse if you marry? Your health, financial portfolio, church? All will change and shift. Some of these changes will be sweet and feel good, while others may break your heart.
Painful Change Leads You to Your Steadfast Savior
Only through our relationship with Jesus do we have a relationship with someone who will never:
- Stop loving or change his desires for us. Jesus won’t ever say, “I just don’t have the feels for you anymore.”
- Abandon, break up with us, or join a new friend group, leaving us in the dust by saying, “You know…I just need to do me now…sorry.”
- Take back the forgiveness that has covered all our sins—past, present and future!
- Betray us or not come through on the promises he’s made. His words are trustworthy. God will never stop loving us deeply, even as he knows all the worst things about us and has experienced our sin against him every day. He’ll never stop offering to comfort us when our hearts are broken, lonely, or disappointed. He’ll never grow tired or give up on helping us grow and become more like him. He’ll never go back on his promise to give us strength to live for him and not ourselves. He’ll never grow tired of helping us and carrying our burdens.
- Change his plan to bring all his children into heaven at the time of his choosing.
- Die on us. We will never, ever, have to stand looking over a grave and then turn away to live the rest of our life feeling the empty hole of him not being here, of feeling how silent or quiet the world feels without him.
God’s Unchanging Love Brings Healing Change to You
God is not only unchangeable, he’s also full of holy, compassionate love for you, and he alone has the power to heal and change your broken heart. You may feel devastated today, hopeless and drowning in a sea of painful circumstances. Perhaps you’ve made choices you’re ashamed of, or now enslaved to certain behaviors, or completely consumed with a person—you might even say you’re addicted to this person.
Friend, because God is steadfast and unchanging, and you are in process of being made to be like Jesus, you have hope. Behaviors can be changed, relationships can lose their sinful grip on your heart, addictions can subside, and the pull of your desires diminish as you turn toward God with humble dependence. He is faithful and he will never stop loving you or being with you. That will never, ever change.
If your husband has sinned sexually, you might be surprised at how deeply you feel ashamed. Shame can be a vague, haunting, smothering feeling in our hearts. It may hover the way a low-grade physical ache emerges with the flu. Or it can suddenly fall over us, collapsing our hearts inward as if a heavy, water-soaked blanket was dropped on us.
The Bible connects shame and guilt, yet also distinguishes between them. Guilt communicates, “I’ve done something wrong.” Shame communicates, “Something is wrong with me.” Ed Welch, a biblical counselor, makes the distinction in his book Shame Interrupted:
Shame lives in the community, though the community can feel like a courtroom. It says, “You don’t belong—you are unacceptable, unclean and disgraced” because “You are wrong, you have sinned” (guilt), or “Wrong has been done to you” or “You are associated with those who are disgraced or outcast.” The shamed person feels worthless, expects rejection, and needs cleansing, fellowship [community], love, and acceptance. (11)
Note what Welch says about shame coming not only from our own sin but also from association with those who are disgraced. Just as you’ve perhaps been troubled by your troubles or anxious about your anxiety, maybe you’ve been carrying the shame of your husband’s sin as your own.
But your husband is guilty of sexual sin, not you. Regardless of how either of you (as sinners and sufferers) may have contributed to brokenness in your marriage, your husband chose to act on desires and pursue his own sexually sinful behaviors. Yet the intimacy of the marriage covenant does closely associate you with his guilt and the shame that comes with rebellion against our holy God. Why is this, and how does it happen?
Marriage, Sexual Sin, and Shame
Marriage creates a powerful opportunity for a husband and wife, in covenant before God and witnesses, to enter into a oneness-of-life relationship. Traditional Christian wedding vows usually include the following components.
Will you have this woman/man to be your wife/husband, to live together in holy marriage?
Will you love, comfort, honor, and keep her/him in sickness and in health?
Will you forsake all others, being faithful (relationally, mentally, sexually, emotionally, physically) to her/him as long as you both shall live?
In response to all of these questions, the man and woman both promise, “I will.”
The marriage covenant is unique, in part, because it’s the only God-blessed context for sharing sexual intimacy. The lifelong, exclusive, loving relationship provides a protected context for spouses to share themselves completely with another. Both spouses commit to do this in dependence upon and out of love for Christ. When experienced according to God’s design and intent, shared sexual love is indeed a beautiful gift that keeps on giving.
Sexual sin doesn’t merely intrude into a marriage as a physical act of betrayal; it brings destruction to the very foundation. This relationship of intimate oneness was built on trust and a mutual commitment to viewing yourselves as “we” rather than “I.” Wives experience covenant treason from the one man they promised to love, cherish, and faithfully honor, and from whom they were promised the same.
Sin in any relationship is serious, but since marriage is a unique covenant that represents Christ and the church, betrayal from a spouse is particularly devastating. Sexual unfaithfulness can shatter a wife’s sense of identity and worth. Her husband has not only gone outside the marriage but has actually brought pollution and idolatry into their union. Wives feel this intensely, even when they’re not the ones who pursued sexual unfaithfulness.¹
Jesus Brings Freedom from Shame
Sister, is shame a coat you’re wearing or a tattoo on your soul you can’t wash off? You may say, “Yes, but it’s not my fault. . . . I didn’t choose it; it was put on me!” Or maybe you’re convinced you caused the sin and deserve to bear this shame until your husband gets his act together, even just a little. If that’s the case, you need to hear this again: your husband’s sexual betrayal came out of his heart, desires, and beliefs—you did not cause it!
Jesus sympathizes with the shame you may carry in response to your husband’s sin and the condition of your marriage. Your Savior understands the ugliness of sin and the shame it brings; he’s experienced the painful betrayal of his bride, the church. Jesus, your loving, gracious, sovereign Lord, knows what it’s like to experience the “dirtiness” of someone else’s sin becoming his.
And there is hope in what Jesus achieved for us through his death and resurrection. As Heather Nelson explains, “In place of shame, [Jesus] gives honor, beauty, joy, comfort, justice, favor, and freedom—what our hearts long for most when shame rules our emotions, thoughts, and desires” (31).
Sister, only through faith in Jesus can you truly be free from the shame you carry, whether it’s due to your own sin or sin done against you by others, including your husband. The way we access Christ’s healing and cleansing from shame is by faith in him alone, believing that through him and by union with him we are forgiven of sin, cleansed from unrighteousness, and kept safe in his mercy.
These beautiful truths are good news for you and your husband. You are both holy, chosen, beloved saints if your faith is placed in Jesus alone (Col. 3:12). You are both sinners who continue to wrong God, each other, and other people (1 John 1:10) and sufferers who daily experience life in a broken, sin-filled world (John 16:33). Christ alone covers the guilt and shame of your husband’s sin, so neither of you has to carry it any longer.
This article is an excerpt from Harvest USA’s new resource, “Jesus and Your Unwanted Journey: Wives Finding Comfort After Sexual Betrayal,” launching August 31 at Harvest USA.
¹Women, including wives, do pursue sexual sin! Harvest USA is committed to ministering the gospel of grace to women who are sexual strugglers. Here I address the audience of the workbook from which this article is extracted: wives of husbands who struggle with sexual sin.
One of the most crucial questions a husband and wife ask after the discovery of pornography or an affair is, “How can trust be rebuilt?” Put simply, trust is built with consistent, selfless love over time.
However, this simple answer is not always easy to live out. For a spouse who has lived deceitfully for years, living in unwavering truth will be new territory. For a spouse who’s been betrayed and deceived, deciding if their spouse is being consistent in words and actions can be confusing.
The consistency + time formula is a helpful guide for couples who are committed to daily, proactive engagement to rebuild trust. Consistently checking-in, with both truth and tenderness, can help create and cultivate an intimate connection, which is necessary in the trust-building process. Check-ins are a purposeful, set-aside time for a couple to connect on a consistent basis about the things that are important to each person. They offer a husband and wife the opportunity to know and be known. When done well, check-ins can be used to help a couple truly walking in the light foster the spiritual and emotional connection that enables trust to be established once again.
Consistent Steps Taken over Time through Selfless Love
You might ask, “What can I do consistently? And for how long? What if I don’t feel loving?” One husband may decide to bring his wife coffee first thing every morning. Another may consistently answer the phone each time his wife calls. Still another may reliably go to bed at the same time as his wife. Each of these examples may help a wife begin to see her husband growing in dependability. But these consistent actions, while loving and significant, don’t accomplish everything needed to rebuild broken trust—God’s plan for marriage is far greater than a list of tasks for a husband and wife to do predictably.
In addition to a couple demonstrating reliability, God’s design for marriage includes a husband and wife faithfully loving one another with authenticity, intimacy, and integrity. The language God uses to describe the union of Adam and Eve’s marriage conveys unity. “Therefore, a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24).
However, sexual betrayal attacks that union. Every part of a marriage is deeply impacted by betrayal. The deceit that accompanies pornography use and affairs ravages a couple’s ability to be truly connected as God intended. One tool that can be fruitful for a couple working through the effects of betrayal is to engage in regular check-ins with each other to build both reliability and unity in marriage.
What Check-Ins Can Offer
The development or re-establishing of an intimate connection necessary for trust within a marriage. Trust-building will include heart change—allowing a husband who has been hiding to step out into the light. Honesty and transparency can lay the groundwork for a wife who has been devastated to begin to consider moving toward her husband emotionally.
A focused context in which to put learning into practice. For the wife who seeks to have compassion toward her husband but finds it so difficult under the painful weight of betrayal, the short and contained timeframe of the check-in offers an opportunity to be compassionate toward him. For the husband who is seeking to avoid the temptation to be defensive, the check-in provides an opportunity to practice listening without responding defensively.
A demonstration of openness, vulnerability, and growth. During a check-in, a spouse can show an increasing self-awareness along with an increasing Christ-awareness. It also allows each spouse to respond to the other’s vulnerabilities with care, aiming to be safe enough to be “naked and unashamed” (Gen. 2:25).
An expression of commitment to the marriage relationship. We put a child’s soccer game or a work meeting on the calendar because they are important to us. Similarly, having a regular check-in shows a level of seriousness toward repairing and caring for the union between a husband and wife.
Check-ins can be part of plan to develop an intimate, safe connection for both spouses to know and be known in a way that captures the unity of marriage described in Genesis 2.
Many different check-ins have been created to help couples foster a deeper connection with one another. However, sexual betrayal creates a rupture in a relationship that requires cautious care when engaging in connection. The pain of betrayal can leave a wife fearful, trepidatious, or simply not ready for some topics or conversations. Here, a husband would be wise to invite his wife to look at the suggestions available to include in a check-in. Together, they can to create a check-in that is valuable and worthwhile for their marriage.
- Feelings: How are you coming into this check-in? Name three feelings you are feeling or have felt today. Keep a feelings list or feelings wheel handy to reference.
- Encouragement: Offer three things you appreciate or admire about your spouse. CCEF counselor Aaron Sironi says, “Praise and affirmation are essential to the health and vitality of a marriage. Genuine praise and verbalized thankfulness are like marriage fertilizer (think Miracle-Gro®) in the soil of your spouse’s heart. They have the power to help heal an ailing marriage or strengthen an already healthy one.” Building encouragement into a check-in allows one to practice honoring and cherishing his or her spouse.
- Openness: Husband, based on what your wife has asked to know, share any boundary violations honestly and tenderly. Include steps you’re taking to grow in sexual integrity.
- Goals: Share three short-term goals, hopes, or dreams you have for the next month. Then share three long-term goals, hopes, or dreams you have for the next five years. A couple recovering from the devastating effects of betrayal may find they have not dreamed together in a long time, if ever.
- Request change: This is an opportunity to share something you would like to see change. It may be a request for the lights to be turned off when leaving a room or a request for a spouse to change entertainment choices. It may be a request to begin a regular prayer time before bed. With regard to building trust, Brad Hambrick notes, “Trust is the belief that reasonable requests will be honored without the need for relational leverage.” With gentleness and fairness, presenting requests and accommodating requests that are reasonable can help build trust.
- Prayer: To close your check-ins together, pray as a couple.
Some couples do check-ins every day, every other day, or weekly. Husband, be the one to consistently initiate the check-in according to the timeframe agreed upon; this can be a wonderful opportunity to sow seeds of trust. And be honest. Honesty is the cornerstone of trust-building. Brad Hambrick, in his workbook True Betrayal: Recovering from the Betrayal of Your Spouse’s Sexual Sin says, “Honesty is a primary indicator of someone’s level of commitment” (19). Honesty communicates dedicated devotion to your wife.
Healing Is Possible
There can be hope in the aftermath of betrayal. Hambrick casts a vision of a marriage where trust is being rebuilt: “an aspect of the ‘one flesh’ relationship is returning. You are beginning to experience your burden being reduced and your joys multiplied as you share them with your spouse again. The marriage is beginning to feel like a blessing again” (61).
Couples are wise to ask how to build trust after betrayal. Doing check-ins allows them to invite each other and God into vulnerable places, trusting him to repair, rebuild, and reform a broken union into a marriage that glorifies God. A redeemed and renewed marriage is a work that no man or woman can do on their own—it is a work of God in a husband and wife who are faithfully committed to each other in Christ. Check-ins can help a couple grow in their connection with one another and with the Lord.
“I just don’t understand why God won’t allow me to have the two things I desire most: to serve him and to be in a romantic relationship.” The college student’s pained, confused question gave me pause as I grappled with how to respond. Though attending a conservative Christian university, romance, for this young woman, could only be found in the arms of another woman.
How would you have answered her sincere question that arose from her heartache within? I don’t remember what I said, but, years later, I discovered that she had in fact embraced a gay identity. Her faith had faded into the gray background of her life while she fully engaged in what felt like vivid-color freedom, following her desires to her “true” self.
Sexual Attractions and Following Jesus: No Private Real Estate
Recently, I’ve had many conversations about a freeing, gracious aspect of the gospel that isn’t popular these days: the lordship of Christ. Jesus explained that life in him means death to self in exchange for a glorious, new life lived under his loving care and ownership. Luke 9:23–24 says, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.”
To be sure, Christianity isn’t only about denying ourselves! However, what my young friend didn’t want to face is that life in Christ requires humbly surrendering to God as Lord, Creator, and Savior over all areas of our lives. There is no part of our being on which we can plant a flag that says “Mine!”—including our relational desires and sexuality. There is no private real estate for followers of Jesus.
Christians are caving to the worldly pressure to latch onto a false gospel of self-fulfillment, which includes the destructive heresy that sexual and romantic desires do not need the radical redemption of Christ. This is seductive and enticing because it promotes the idea that I can take up my cross and follow Jesus, denying myself here and there, but not in my sexuality and identity. It whispers that I can love and follow him on my own terms, having whatever kinds of romantic and sexual relationships I desire. However, the loving lordship of Jesus confronts us to daily die to self—and comforts us in the pain of daily surrender.
Jesus’ Holy Lordship Confronts Lovingly
There is no private real estate for the child of God. Being born again means being born into his family. We’re given citizenship into his kingdom with its accompanying commandments; we’re bound to a holy, heavenly Bridegroom through an eternal marriage union. In every aspect of belonging to God, devotion is meant to be complete and all-encompassing. The world, our sin nature, and the kingdom of darkness attack any full-orbed devotion with daily onslaughts that are sometimes frontal attacks, sometimes more subtle.
Paul’s awareness of false teachers compelled him to plead with believers, “For I feel a divine jealousy for you, since I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ. But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ” (2 Cor. 11:2–3). The movement among some Christians to affirm LGBTQ+ identities and sex outside of God’s design is, in part, fueled by the idea that Christ’s lordship does not need to change our sexual and romantic desires. He may be holy, but my sexuality doesn’t need his sanctification because it’s mine, and it’s fine just the way it is.
Christ our Lord never backs off from confronting the mindset of private real estate that is natural to all of us—but he is also loving! He doesn’t shame or manipulate us into surrender and trust; he invites, compels, and compassionately calls us first to relationship with himself and then moves on to transform what we most want in this life. Christ, our incarnate Savior, faithfully transforms our priorities, beliefs, and desires while also growing our hearts’ willingness to obey him in all things. Jesus claims lordship over our sexual desires and romantic attractions (or lack thereof) and invites us toward himself with compassion and compelling love, enabling us to surrender to him. Romans 12:1–2 offers us the same challenge and encouragement.
Jesus’ Holy Lordship Comforts Personally
The comfort and companionship of Jesus seemed far away and detached from the street-level longings of my young college friend. She wanted to be with a real, live person. Like many Christians, she struggled to reconcile a holy Lord, who could tell her what to do and not do, with the real comfort of unmet desires for which she longed.
Christ’s comfort increasingly can permeate our hearts when we rest in his care and take on the yoke of obedience, faith, and surrender. His yoke can’t be embraced, nor his comfort received, unless we are willing to turn from running our lives as private real estate owners. We aren’t created to own ourselves and bear the burden of creating a life built independently of God, brick by brick, with our plans, desires, and dreams. That kind of “building”—whether relationships, identity, sexual orientation, or attractions—is built on sand. It will eventually come crashing down to reveal the fractured foundation of selfishness and independence. Jesus offers us a different way.
Jesus is holy and demands our full allegiance while graciously giving us his full protection and provision. No matter what form of suffering, temptation, or failure we have personally experienced, we increasingly experience life rightly ordered when we surrender our desires to him—even desires concerning sexuality and relationships: “And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all” (Eph. 1:22–23).
This article originally posted for the Biblical Counseling Coalition, for which Ellen serves on the Leadership Council.
 Abraham Kuyper said, “. . . there is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: Mine!” Quoted in Abraham Kuyper: A Centennial Reader, ed. by James D. Bratt.
14 Jul 2022
Painful information has been revealed, and, most likely, your emotions and thoughts feel like a piece of driftwood on a stormy ocean. You’ve been tossed into a world you didn’t know existed: your husband’s sexual unfaithfulness. Or maybe you knew he had a “little struggle,” but the depth and scope of it have come crashing over you, throwing you against jagged rocks.
Jesus is with you in this unwanted place, and his first words to you are not “get over it,” “forgive and forget,” or “this is your fault.” No! His invitation is to draw near, listen for his love, receive his comfort, and lean on his strength. Take heart, sister. Jesus is near as you grapple with your new reality. Our ever-present God is with you in the pain of the revelations that have created a new terrain of life; he’ll stay with you as you walk forward in this unwanted journey.
Let’s consider a passage that, at first glance, may not seem to connect with you as a wife. The woman who has a transforming encounter with Jesus isn’t suffering because of a broken marriage but rather because of a broken body. She has no power to change her condition or make people really see, know, and love her. But the way Jesus treats this woman gives us great hope in our own brokenness.
Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. And behold, there was a woman who had had a disabling spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not fully straighten herself. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said to her, “Woman, you are freed from your disability.” And he laid his hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and she glorified God. But the ruler of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, said to the people, “There are six days in which work ought to be done. Come on those days and be healed, and not on the Sabbath day.” Then the Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger and lead it away to water it? And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?” As he said these things, all his adversaries were put to shame, and all the people rejoiced at all the glorious things that were done by him. (Luke 13:10–17)
This woman had lived “bent over” for 18 years—basically living at a 90-degree angle—and daily activities were incredibly difficult. Things we might take for granted were a struggle for her: hugging her children (if she had any), walking to the well to get water, reaching up to get a bowl. In addition, she most likely experienced shame and judgment. At the time, it was believed that if you were suffering, you must be a bad person under the punishment of God. She very well may have been the object of sneers and whispered gossip from misinformed and selfish onlookers. Perhaps she was avoided because, after all, what do you say to someone in this kind of situation?!
This woman’s physically bent and disordered body is a picture of how our hearts can become bent and disordered through sin’s impact upon us, through betrayal and trauma. Do you feel “bent” now that your husband’s sinful behaviors are in the light? You may feel weighed down with anxiety or depression, or as if you’re shuffling through life, unable to see what’s next, as this woman would have experienced physically.
A Broken Woman Meets Jesus
Consider how Jesus responds to this hurting, nameless woman.
He is present. He’s more than a teacher or speaker in a synagogue. He has now come to make his home in us, our indwelling Lord who has come near to the brokenhearted. He’s not a God who texts or video chats with us; he is here. He sees us as we really are.
He is a teacher. Jesus was there to teach people that day, and we all need help learning, don’t we? Through Christ and his Word, we have a gentle, wise teacher to show us how to navigate not only sexual sin in marriage but also marriage itself.
He sees her and calls her to come near. Our Savior is relational! He doesn’t merely notice this woman, seeing her from a distance in her bent-over state. She’s most likely at the back of the room. Yet Jesus sees her and goes out of his way (stepping out of normal synagogue protocol) to call her to himself. Jesus puts his radical love and compassion on display as he also allows her weakness to be on display.
He touches and heals. Jesus could have accomplished this same healing privately. He could have noticed the woman and just healed her as she sat back alone. However, he makes this very public as he proclaims freedom over her and then touches her, which would have been another offense to the religious protocol. What would this woman have felt as she heard these words and felt his hands on her back (or maybe her head)? How comforted she must have felt to be noticed, invited, known, touched, and healed by this loving teacher!
He defends and celebrates her. Can you imagine how ashamed she might have felt when the religious leaders pushed back on what Jesus had done for her? Jesus confronts their utter selfishness by exposing that they cared more about their livestock than her. The very ones who should have served, cared, and offered her compassion failed to do so.
Just like this woman, you didn’t choose your situation. Just like this woman, you have a Savior who sees you and invites you to draw near and receive his words of hope, healing, defense, and celebration. He doesn’t take lightly the pain or bentness you carry today because of your broken marriage. Will you draw near to him? Will you courageously journey toward him, regardless of what others may say? If you do, you’ll find all you need in him.
This article is an excerpt from Harvest USA’s soon-to-be-released resource, “Jesus and Your Unwanted Journey: Wives Finding Comfort After Sexual Betrayal.”
07 Jul 2022
In part one, I outlined some major reasons why your spouse may be avoiding sexual intimacy in your marriage. You might still feel the reason behind this distance remains a mystery. On one level, it’s important to lovingly seek to understand why your spouse refuses sexual intimacy because their reasons will influence how you respond. But even if your spouse can’t or is unwilling to articulate why, there is still a way forward in your marriage.
(This blog assumes the reason your spouse is sexually unavailable is not due to present sexual sin. The way forward in that situation is vastly different than what I outline below. You can find resources for responding to and battling sexual sin here.)
Pray for Your Marriage
God cares about the sexual health of your marriage—it’s part of his glorious design. But he doesn’t care about sex for its own sake. He cares about sex because it’s an important piece of your entire marriage. While it’s good to pray for the Lord’s blessing on your sexual intimacy with your spouse, it’s even better to pray for his blessing on your marriage holistically. God wants your marriage to display the “manifold wisdom of God. . . to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” (Eph. 3:10). Your marriage is designed to reveal the mystery of the gospel. Whenever you’re praying for your marriage to be strengthened, you’re praying according to God’s will.
A Good Marriage without Sex?
It’s not a foregone conclusion that if a couple is not regularly engaging in sexual activity, their marriage is struggling. If a spouse gets in a car accident and is paralyzed, sex is done. But that couple can still show sacrificial love, affection, affirmation, and unity in many other ways. The same is true for older couples. A couple’s sexual relationship has a life cycle to it, and while that cycle may look different for each couple, statistically the frequency of sex greatly decreases as couples reach their twilight years. This is simple biology, and it says nothing about the health of their marriage. Sex is a very important part of marriage, but the absence of it does not nullify the marriage.
Patiently Seek Conversations
Most couples struggle to talk about their sexual relationship. It feels awkward and intimidating. And if your spouse is avoiding sex altogether, they’ll probably avoid conversations about it as well. It requires great discernment and courage to engage your spouse. Hopefully you know your spouse well enough to understand what makes them feel comfortable and when they’re likely to be willing to have difficult conversations. But if your marriage is only sustained by avoiding conflict, you may need outside help from a marriage counselor to learn how to constructively have harder conversations. Good communication in your marriage is the foundation for building sexual intimacy. You can’t skip this step. There may be a lot of groundwork to be laid before any conversations about sex can happen.
Show Interest in Your Spouse
It’s no coincidence that the Bible uses the word “know” to speak euphemistically about sex. Adam “knew” Eve. This is why our culture’s obsession with one-night stands is completely antithetical to God’s design. Sex with a stranger only leads to loneliness, isolation, and insecurity. If sex is the consummative act of knowing your spouse, the more you know them in all facets of your relationship, the more natural it is for that knowledge to culminate in a celebration of knowing one another sexually.
Seek to know what makes them laugh, and what makes them cry. Show them daily that your own hobbies and interests are always subordinate to their needs. And, whenever possible, help them to connect your interest in them with God’s interest in them. Encourage them to see through you to their Savior. Seek daily to represent Christ in your home.
Weep with Them
If the Lord allows you to know the deeper reasons behind your spouse’s avoidance of sex, you have an opportunity to selflessly minister to your spouse—for their sake. If their reason is physical or personal, show them deep compassion and sorrow over the ways they’ve suffered through this alone. You’ll need wisdom for how and when to present potential solutions such as counseling or medical intervention; don’t rush to “fix them” to remove a barrier to sex. Again, selfless service is the goal—which is also the goal in sex. You must strive to communicate that you care more for their health and healing than you do your sexual fulfillment. Your spouse will be able to tell if your efforts to help them are truly motivated by a concern for them or simply a concern for yourself.
Be Courageous and Patient
If it’s clear there aren’t physical or personal reasons that would make it wrong to pursue your spouse sexually, then I encourage you to take an investment approach to romancing your spouse. This will look different for men and women, so for this situation I’ll use a husband as the example.
Husband, see every act of love as a deposit into your relationship. Pray for wisdom to discern what your wife is comfortable with in different moments. Perhaps a kiss on the cheek or a gentle hug will not be rejected. But you have to be courageous and committed to continual investments. Just like any kind of wise investment plan, you should place greater emphasis on future results, not present rewards. This mindset will guard you against easily giving up when your initial efforts to woo your wife fall flat. It’s also important that you have support from people who can encourage you when you start to get discouraged. In appropriate ways (making sure to avoid embarrassing or shaming your wife) it can be helpful to share with trusted friends how you’re feeling about your relational investments. They can prop you up and pray for you in seasons when you feel like giving up.
Christ Pursues His Bride
While husbands have a unique role in representing Christ in their marriage, both husband and wife need to lean on Christ with their sexual disappointments and show his love to one another.
It’s important to reckon with the reality that you cannot love your spouse well unless you love Christ more. If Christ is not your wellspring of life, you will be seeking that life from your spouse, but they can never provide it. Sex can’t give you what only Christ can. Your romantic pursuit of your spouse will only be sustained and honoring to God if it’s coming from a place of growing contentment in the Lord.
Wrestle with God through the pain of your unmet longings. It’s okay to wrestle. It’s okay to feel pain. You don’t need to pretend it doesn’t affect you. But the aim of that wrestling should be increasing rest in our Lord’s promises, purposes, and power. God wants you to love your spouse from a place of freedom. He doesn’t want you to be in bondage to your desires. But that freedom is costly—it’s not an easy road, but Christ has already blazed the path for you as your forerunner.
As you wrestle with God about feeling rejected, my hope is that you will come to see that Christ knows your experience intimately. The entire story of the Bible is one epoch after another of God’s people rejecting him. Your spouse’s sexual unavailability may not be a rejection of you, but that probably doesn’t remove the sting. And this is where Christ comes as your sympathetic high priest. He wants you to know that you’re sharing in the fellowship of his sufferings, that even this trial is a tool to refine your faith and glorify God.
Even though God’s people have a long history of rejecting their Husband, he doesn’t stop pursuing them. He doesn’t stop loving them. He doesn’t stop wooing them. “Behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her” (Hos. 2:14). God pursues his bride and tenderly draws her in. He’s done that for you and for me. Just as Hosea’s pursuit of Gomer was a picture of God’s pursuit of Israel, your faithful, tender, patient, long-suffering pursuit of your spouse is a picture of the loving pursuit of God for his church. Whether or not sex is the culmination of this pursuit, it’s still a pursuit that honors God, conforms you into the image of Christ, and conveys his love for your spouse.
“There just isn’t anything else I can say.” My counselor looked at me kindly, but with a very serious face. “If you continue in this pattern, I will still be your friend. But there isn’t anything new I can say to help you other than what I’ve already said.”
Many of us know how hard it is to work up the courage to tell someone for the very first time about a secret sin habit. We’ll often be encouraged to “get help.” But what are we supposed to do when we’ve repeatedly received help yet are still enslaved to habitual sin?
For almost two years, I was stuck in an addictive pattern of sin. Two women spent countless hours giving me biblical counsel, I talked to Ellen Dykas more than once and worked through the entirety of Sexual Sanity for Women. Over time, I became aware that what I was doing was truly wrong and took practical steps to resist temptation. But I kept returning to the same sin despite the wealth of love and biblical teaching that had been poured into me. I felt more and more hopeless about ever breaking free. Nobody, including me, could make me stop.
“You Need a Word from God”
After my counselor told me she didn’t have anything new to say to me, she said I needed “a word from God.” She did not mean hearing God’s voice audibly but having God himself teach me through his Word by impressing it deep into my heart. I needed more than simply being convicted by a specific verse or passage. I needed a word from God that would be life changing—something I would never forget.
Both of us began to pray that the Lord would do this special work in me. Some days I prayed for it very earnestly. Other times, though I prayed, I did so in a rather weak, hopeless way. It was getting harder and harder to believe that something like this could actually happen.
An Endless Pattern of Sin
From the age of 13, through college, and well into my 30s, I had sexual struggles that I kept hidden. At times, I would confess specific sins to the Lord. But for many years I didn’t realize I had a much bigger problem than individual times of giving in to temptation. Heart attitudes that I didn’t think about were driving my actions, and I didn’t realize how enslaved I was to certain habits until I tried to give them up.
One day I was in a very bad mood and went online deliberately looking for what could best be described as the “counsel of the ungodly.” I chose to follow that counsel, and to this day I regret it greatly. That was the beginning of the two-year period of a terribly addictive habit.
Those two years were characterized by a repeating pattern of sin, confession, avoiding sin, drifting spiritually, experiencing intense temptation, and yielding to it once again. I would be like a sane, spiritually-minded Christian one moment and a selfish, stubborn, confused person the next, bringing the reality of my relationship with God into question.
As a child, I professed faith in Christ, and certain things in my life seemed to be evidence of true belief. However, I repeatedly questioned the reality of my salvation because of the power of this sin habit and my seeming inability to break free from it. I knew that, though believers will sin, true believers are no longer mastered by sin because they have died to sin and are alive in Christ (Romans 6).
Even when I was not questioning my salvation, I often wondered if God was truly forgiving me for specific sins when I would confess them to him, and worried about whether I had genuinely repented—or repented well enough.
The intense stress of all these spiritual battles affected me physically, causing, or at least exacerbating, significant digestive issues. I also experienced symptoms of physical withdrawal when I tried to resist temptation. Much of what Psalms 32 and 38 say about sin’s effects on the body describes my experience during this time.
At one point, I became strongly convicted about “loving pleasure more than God.” It was extremely sobering to realize that I loved feeling good far more than I loved God. Nevertheless, I kept going back. Having a sense of conviction about sin was not enough to keep me from returning to it.
Confess the Sin of Unbelief
My confusion and hopelessness increased over time. I could not completely give myself over to my own desires and turn my back on my faith. But it felt as though the biblical truths I knew so well did not work in my case. Would God ever completely deliver me from this enslavement?
One day, one of my counselors said, “I think you need to confess the sin of unbelief.” Something in me thought maybe she was right, but I did not fully understand what that specifically meant for me. Several days later, I would remember her words, and the Lord used them to bring me to a major turning point.
I was alone one evening, wrestling with despair, temptation, and a whole array of ugly thoughts, hopeless about ever breaking free from this pattern of sin. But then I realized that my despair and hopelessness were “the sin of unbelief”—I was not believing and trusting God. Hopelessness reflects on God himself, as though he were not able and willing to deliver.
Suddenly, “having a form of godliness but denying its power” (2 Tim. 3:5) took on a new meaning. The Lord pressed that verse deep into my heart, giving me a strong conviction that it was describing me personally. Outwardly I looked like a good person. But inwardly, not everything lined up with what I professed to be. I desperately needed God to use the same power he used to raise Jesus from the dead to bring about genuine change in my heart (Eph. 1:18–20; Heb. 13:20–21).
Stepping Out in Faith
The Lord mercifully did not simply give me a deep sense of conviction and then leave me! He just as strongly impressed on my heart, “the one who comes to me I certainly will not cast out” (John 6:37). This verse gave me confidence that when I come to him for forgiveness, he really will forgive. He will not turn me away.
That evening, the Lord helped me trust him in a way I never had before. I surrendered everything, confessing many wrong actions, thinking, and attitudes. More than anything else, I was ashamed that I had treated Jesus terribly, loving pleasure more than him, even in light of all he sacrificed for me.
This kind of surrender meant stepping out in faith when I felt exposed and vulnerable. I was extremely conscious of all the times I’d “repented” then repeatedly turned back to the same sin. But the Lord helped me trust him for complete deliverance from this addictive habit. Despite how I felt, trusting him was the safest thing I could possibly do! He is the most trustworthy Being in the universe, with an immeasurable resource of power available for resisting even the most difficult kinds of temptation.
Everything Is Different
So much has changed since that night. My relationship with the Lord is now characterized by an overwhelming love for him. Learning more about my own sinfulness and experiencing deliverance and forgiveness have made God’s grace indescribably precious to me. If sin were no big deal, God’s grace would not mean that much!
Surprisingly, the overwhelming power of temptation has been broken. Now there is strength for resisting temptation that I did not have before. But if I do choose to sin, I am so grieved about it that I run quickly to the Lord, seeking and trusting in his forgiveness. How could I hurt the One I love after all he has done for me? Being completely confident that I’m forgiven motivates me to pursue holiness now more than ever before.
Are you stuck in sin? The Lord is able and willing to deliver you! Ask him to convict you of the sin of unbelief and to impress his Word deep into your heart. Only in Heaven will there be complete freedom from the possibility of sinning. But even in this life, Jesus, who paid the penalty for our sin, will break the enslaving power of canceled sin!
Now may the God of peace—
who brought up from the dead our Lord Jesus,
the great Shepherd of the sheep,
and ratified an eternal covenant with his blood—
may he equip you with all you need
for doing his will.
May he produce in you,
through the power of Jesus Christ,
every good thing that is pleasing to him.
All glory to him forever and ever! Amen. (Heb. 13:20–21, NLT)
The parents sitting before me had tears streaming down both their faces. Their 22-year-old daughter was now married to another woman. These Christian parents experienced understandable grief and heartache.
“It’s not just the pain over our daughter that’s so difficult—it’s the fact that grandparents and many of our friends have embraced it all. They all see us as the problem; we’re what’s wrong in the whole situation.” Though they believed that God’s Word was their guiding principle, they feared that they, too, might cave under the mounting pressure.
This couples’ fear is not unusual when facing these kinds of challenges. Siblings, grandparents, and friends of someone who identifies as LGBTQ+ or adopts LGBTQ+ theology all face similar trials when they are called to reflect both the truth and mercy of the gospel. How do we walk through this minefield, pursue humility in our own hearts, and yet remain firm in God’s Word? Here are a few things to consider.
Expect misunderstanding and persecution. Our culture’s man-centered theology is based on the heart’s desires, where there are no absolutes and everything is relative. When we take a contrary position, we become a threat and affront to others. Nowhere is this more evident today than in the debate about sexuality and the Bible. Believing that God speaks clearly and authoritatively about sex and sexuality is supposedly bigoted, unloving, and socially incorrect. You may be viewed as the problem or the enemy. Don’t let that shipwreck you! Expecting these responses and believing on Scripture’s reliability guards you from dismay when people react against your lack of approval or enthusiasm.
Engage and ask good questions. As others voice their disagreement with you, realize that all worldviews—how people see themselves, the world, and God—stem from past experiences, wounds, and powerful emotions wrapped around sinful and twisted hearts. While we cannot correct others’ views and convictions—which is the work of the Holy Spirit—we can try to better understand them by diving more into their story, who they are, and why they believe what they believe. This usually happens through genuine listening and asking good questions, which often helps people drop their defenses, leading to more productive, non-combative conversations.
Also, consider sharing your testimony, particularly highlighting your need of God’s grace. Admittedly, being able to do this is a supernatural work, especially when it comes to our families, where emotions can run high and quickly escalate. But taking initiative in conversations like this can actually strengthen your faith and make you feel less defensive yourself.
Embrace the hurt and suffering that come with being misunderstood or seen as the bad guy. Even though you may attempt the first two points above with sincerity, you may still experience real, ongoing pain and heartache. When we see family or friends pursuing a destructive path contrary to God’s will and his Word, we often feel powerless and hopeless. I’ve found that many Christians who eventually adopt the mentality of “gay is okay with me and with God” usually do so because they simply feel worn down and want to be thought well of by others. You may feel like you are alone in a desert, barely holding your own with your beliefs about God’s Word—but know that Jesus is with you. He too was in those desert places as he obeyed the Father and stood on Scripture.
Remember that these are spiritual issues. Ephesians chapter six reminds us that there are often forces, behind the scenes, invested in keeping those we love in confusion and error. Ultimately, only God can address the spiritual issues of family and friends’ blindness and rebellion. If you constantly feel pressured to change others’ views or make them see the light, you will likely end up frustrated and perhaps even begin to question your own beliefs.
Those who walk in blindness need what Tim Keller calls a “self quake” and a “God quake.”1 God is the one who must intervene to change hearts. Can you relinquish (not abandon) your family, friends, or loved one to the Lord? Can you trust God to write his story in their hearts and lives in his way and in his timing? The gospel is the greatest need for those who pursue sexuality on their own terms—along with those who agree with them and buy into worldly sexuality.
Bathe everything in prayer. Pray for those who disagree with you. This is pretty self-explanatory! Prayer both softens our hearts and allows us to seek the best in and for those who we love. You may feel incapable of doing anything about what others believe—or believe about you; for the most part, you are! However, we can pour out all of our troubles, fears, confusion, and hopes at the throne of grace, as well as gain the courage to boldly persevere.
Remain grounded in the Word yourself and seek the support of others. You are vulnerable to outside voices tempting you to give in, but the best remedy for standing firm for the long haul is to remain in God’s Word, continually steeping yourself in his perspective and truth. When I speak about how the Bible should inform our sexuality, someone invariably comes up to me and says, “Thank you. I needed to hear that and be reminded of the real truth again.” We always need to be reminded of the truths of Scripture. But we also need the help and encouragement of others who will walk with us, shoulder our fears and burdens, and hear our pain and confusion—people who will always point us to the Savior and the truths of God’s Word.