“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.[1] 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.

[1] 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.

Name: Bob Heywood

Hometown: I’m from the Roxborough area of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Position: Men’s Ministry Staff

Description of work at Harvest USA: I facilitate biblical support groups for men and engage in initial visit appointments with men who reach out to us for help. These appointments allow me the privilege to speak into the lives of people from all over the country and world! I’ve had occasions to speak in some amazing venues in the past, but those opportunities have diminished in recent years.

How did you get to Harvest USA? I came to Harvest USA around 24 years ago because of my own personal struggle with pornography. After a few years of involvement with the groups, volunteering with facilitating groups, and then losing my job as an offset pressman, my pastor suggested I inquire whether Harvest USA could take me on as an employee. John Freeman graciously accepted me—if I could raise support. In six months, I raised enough support to start working part-time, and I’ve been working part-time ever since. I’ve been working here for 18 years now.

What is your favorite Scripture? Anybody who knows me knows that my favorite book of the Bible is 2 Corinthians. There’s a lot going on in that book, but one highlight for me is chapter five, verse twenty-one: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” A clearer gospel statement can’t be found. I love it.

What is your favorite thing about living in Philadelphia? I used to work in Old City Philadelphia at 2nd and Chestnut. I love that area and always enjoy going there for a visit. I also love the Roxborough area, where I was born and raised—it’s home to me. I’m also an avid Philadelphia sports enthusiast. But I have to admit, that has been a rough experience over the years.

Can you tell us an interesting fact about yourself? I’ve been married to my high school sweetheart for 49 years. I’ve also been going to the same church for 48 years. We’ve changed denominations twice but in the same congregation! I worked for the federal government for 28 years and was in the United States Air Force for four years. I came to Christ when I was in the Air Force in July 1971. My highest degree of education is Roxborough High, class of ‘69.

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.


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