A few weeks ago, I read an article about the recently released movie, Rocketman, which chronicles the life of openly gay and quite flamboyant British rock star, Elton John. The article exposed that the Russian government had removed all of the homosexual love scenes from the movie since Russian law interprets these as “lewd acts” and considers them lawbreaking.

Although I’m not sure that outlawing sin is the best way for believers to suppress our own sinful desires, let alone mandate that non-believers do the same, I was kind of thankful for this declaration since I believe that the Bible defines homosexual sex as sin. To be clear, however, the Holy Spirit is the one who confronts our sin and moves us to repent of it. He also moves us to believe in the power of the atonement, received by the Lord Jesus on behalf of our sin, and fights in and through us against sin that remains both in us and around us.

But, nonetheless, my response got me wondering and made me think: why am I so on-board with the Russians here? I guess a better question is: why am I not up in arms about other sins that are so prevalent in our culture?

Blind to Sin Around Us

To be clear, I was probably never going to see Rocketman, but it doesn’t change the fact that I had a visceral and agreeable response to the Russian government’s indictment on the movie. I mean, when’s the last time I agreed with the Russian government about anything?

What bothered me even more was that sexual sin that is so prevalent in our culture doesn’t seem to unnerve me nearly as much. Why not? Maybe because I’m blind. Maybe because sexual sin is so pervasive in our society that I simply don’t notice it anymore.

The movies we love, the shows we watch, the songs we sing: so much of what we adore in pop culture is chock full of sexual sin and innuendos that slip under the radar unnoticed. Maybe we do notice, but we just look away or justify our complicity providing an excuse that we can be in the world as long as we’re not of it.

There was a similar struggle in Old Testament Israel when God’s people performed idolatrous rituals and sacrifices in the “high places” that they learned from surrounding nations. The people had been influenced by the culture around them. Kevin DeYoung writes, “The high places were so entrenched in the culture, they seemed so normal, that even the good kings did not think to remove them. . . Sexual immorality is one of our high places. I’m afraid we–and there is an “I” in that “we”–don’t have the eyes to see how much the world has squeezed us into its mold.” (Kevin DeYoung, Hole in Our Holiness, page 108.)

Striving Toward Purity

For all of us, married or single, attacks upon our sexual purity are strengthening and increasing. One way we strive toward purity is by running from impurity (1 Corinthians 6:18, 10:13, Genesis 39:13). Remember Joseph and Potiphar’s wife? Joseph ran away from temptation so fast that he left his garment behind. Do we run from sexual sin?

So often I think we’re trying so hard to relate to the world that we’ve lost our edge. We’ve lost our desire for holiness. To be honest, I’m often shocked at what we consider okay to watch on a screen. The sexual sin we tend to accept, maybe because it’s heterosexual sin, is no less dangerous and should bother us just as much.

Let’s be honest. We all have our list of sins we love to hate. And we’re commanded to hate sin. But, we’re commanded to hate all of it.

We all have our list of sins we love to hate. And we’re commanded to hate sin. But, we’re commanded to hate all of it.

After reading that article, I asked myself: do I have the same visceral response that opposes the sex scenes in TitanicTop GunMy Big Fat Greek WeddingA Star is Born? Each and every Fast and Furious movie? Was I as repulsed as I should have been or did I even notice the sexual scenes in those movies that many of us embrace?

I know that we can’t come out of the woodwork to oppose all of the works of the flesh because if we did, that’s all we’d ever do. But is it possible that the Spirit who lives in us isn’t stirred regularly regarding sexual sin because we have quenched him in this area (1 Thessalonians 5)? Contrary to popular belief, we are supposed to judge sin. We are called to obey the Spirit as we use Scripture and wisdom to judge sin in us and in others, and Jesus tells us exactly how to do it. Simply put, we are instructed that we can’t be hypocrites when we judge (Matthew 7:1-5).

Homosexuality is sin. But so is coarse joking, adultery, sensuality, pornography, masturbation, and promiscuity. I’m not suggesting that we run for the hills and create a safe Christian commune so that we can avoid our culture entirely. However, I am praying that we (and I am part of the “we”) consider judging all sins, not just the sins we love to hate, before we decide to finally throw a stone. And maybe then we can become a small part of redeeming our over-sexualized culture and strive toward the holiness that God desires.

Editor’s note: This article was first published by enCourage in 2019.

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You can also watch the video, Transformed Hates and Loves, which corresponds to this blog.

As our focus increasingly centers on the Lord, the more our desires become conformed to what he loves and hates. The idea here isn’t to focus on a list of sins, but rather to fix our affections on Christ, who reorders our desires by opening our eyes and hearts towards what is good and holy.

To learn more about this topic, consider purchasing Sexual Sanity for Women: Healing from Sexual and Relational Brokenness by Ellen Dykas. When you buy this book from Harvest USA, 100% of your purchase will benefit our ministry.

You can also read the blog, The Sins We Love to Hate, which corresponds to this video.

“For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.” (Psalm 51:3 ESV)

I looked at my calendar, confused. I already had a dentist appointment scheduled Wednesday.  But another one on Friday? I skimmed my phone contacts and of course I hadn’t saved the dentist’s phone number. I checked my wallet for where I’d placed the business card—gone now. And I’d recycled our Yellow Pages long ago.

Old Me would’ve simply looked up the number in my Safari browser (and probably neglected to save it once again).

New Me doesn’t have this option. As I paw fruitlessly through my wallet one last time, I feel a little angry. And a lot humbled. If I didn’t have a porn habit, sending pictures of myself for cheap approval, then I wouldn’t be fishing for something as routine as my dentist’s phone number, simply because my husband helped lock up the internet. Now I’ll have to interrupt my husband at work so he can Google it for me or wait until he returns home to log on for me so I can search for it myself. I feel childish and rather petty, seeking “permission” to use a computer or have a new app installed on my phone. But costing my marriage, my family, and certainly God’s glory for the sake of freely accessing the internet will never balance. I must know my sin.

I’m reminded of my sin, even as I experience changes in my daily minutiae, like figuring out a new way to locate a phone number. My sin is ever before me as I feel frustrated by these changes, however trivial. Then there are times when I feel victory as I see my almost-full cell phone battery from lack of use—and lack of temptation. My sin is before me when I’m quietly folding laundry and my brain starts to replay porn that I viewed five years ago. My sin is before me as I watch my husband spend two hours trying to correctly install web-filtering programs on our computers. Tenderly, my sin is before me when he hugs me afterward and tells me he loves me.

An hour after my missing-phone-number debacle, the dentist calls to confirm Wednesday’s appointment—like a nod from my heavenly Father that he sees my plight.

“Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” (Psalm 51:5)

 As a married woman—a pastor’s wife, at that—with a house full of preschoolers, I don’t much fit the “profile” of a porn-user. I have no history of abuse, and the only traumatic event I seek to escape is the tedious monotony of life on-call with preschoolers—diapers, laundry, dinner, dishes, repeat. Sometimes not fitting the stereotype can make me feel lonely, or exceptionally depraved. In those moments when I’m more responsive to God’s wisdom, I see it as a reminder of how desperate my heart is: no matter how orderly my life looks on the outside, I was born a sinner and a sinner I will be until Christ’s return.

As a married woman—a pastor’s wife, at that—with a house full of preschoolers, I don’t much fit the “profile” of a porn-user.

I didn’t date much in high school. I was painfully shy but constantly craved affirmation that I was good enough—pretty enough, smart enough, friendly enough. Motivated by curiosity and feeling some warped pressure to ‘keep up’, my first internet search for pornographic pictures occurred after hearing a fellow female classmate share that she missed having sex. I’d never even seen male genitalia and my research was a way to feel good enough, perhaps even prepared enough.

In college my curiosity morphed into intrigue. None of my friends dated much or seemed pressured to be in a relationship, while I felt plagued by loneliness. I discovered porn videos and in the solitude of my dorm room began fantasizing that I could be that woman in the videos—beautiful, desired, confident. Although I contemplated it, my resistance to sharing this new habit with anyone left me vulnerable and solitary. Praise God for his mercy, that he protected me from any harmful relationship in which my lonely heart would have undoubtedly sought affirmation in a man’s physical attention, rather than God’s perfect affection.

I met my now husband in my junior year of college. This led me into a prolonged season in which the internet wasn’t a temptation. He truly led me to desire a deeper relationship with God; beautifully the desire for affirmation elsewhere faded as I found it in this godly man and perfectly in God, Himself. As an engaged couple, we stumbled our way through a conversation about sexual histories and our desires and expectations for physical intimacy. I remember feeling deep shame creep over me as I shared pieces of my struggles, but what sweet, precious relief to yet again experience not only his forgiveness but my heavenly Father’s as well.

As newlyweds, we enjoyed—and struggled through, on occasion—our new physical freedom as husband and wife. I don’t remember feeling particularly tempted to find those old websites.  But that all changed when we began expecting our first child. That old context of loneliness resurfaced with no close workplace friends and my husband’s first pastoral position. Combine that with hormone surges from pregnancy and few defenses, I began to find new access to porn videos. My husband had just left for an overnight church retreat. I was alone. And then the old lies returned:  I’m not good enough…A good pastor’s wife wouldn’t look at porn…A good mom wouldn’t, either…Besides, no one would find me attractive, anyway…I’m not good enough.

As my pregnancy progressed, I had numerous frank conversations with my husband to build accountability and resistance to this sin. Hormones shifted, our baby was born, and we were thrust into that world of figuring out how to be parents. Busyness temporarily outweighed any room for temptation.

But in the swirl of acclimating to my new role as a mother, I never fully processed why I’d been tempted in the first place. I didn’t root out the reason why my husband’s affirmation was no longer sufficient for me. I didn’t confront my own lie that a pastor’s wife does not struggle like I did. I just assumed that, because these temptations went away on their own, I was “better” now.

Not surprisingly, when I was pregnant with baby #2, my struggle came roaring back. This time I found a website where women submitted their own pictures for comments and even re-postings. Never having dropped back to my pre-pregnancy weight after my first child and desperate for affirmation in spite of my growing belly from my second child, I submitted my own photo. Never mind that my husband showered me with compliments and sought my physical affection. Was I still desirable to others? After the initial thrill from that post faded, I was deeply ashamed. I sat in a Sunday service, fighting tears, knowing I just had to confess this to my husband, and that he’d be devastated. I was also fearful.  Could he be fired for this?  What was wrong with me? I remember a tearful conversation with him and lots of crying. Then I remember a season of waking early for time in the Word and prayer—something I’d never done before. All glory to the Holy Spirit for convicting me and enabling me to obey his leading!

“[A] broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” (Psalm 51:17b)

 Oh, how I have been dreading writing this next part of my story.

I wish I had learned my lesson. I wish I had taken more time to pray, reflect, and see where these “triggers” came from, other than blaming pregnancy hormones. I wish I had remained vigilant, even when the temptations relented, to maintain internet filters and time restrictions on my computer and smartphone and more honest accountability check-ins with my husband. But how easily we forget!

I became pregnant with our next child and my husband accepted another ministry call, prompting us to move away from all that was familiar and stable. Cue again loneliness and fear of not being “good enough.” Again, I found virtual strangers to whom I could send photos of myself—more cheap insurance as I, the Homemaker and New Pastor’s Wife, sought affirmation from somewhere. I attended new church services, pushing forward, but feeling miserable.

Finally, I closed out my online accounts permanently—no more photos. I remember cold afternoons in our new backyard, reading my Bible and praying while my kids played. Slowly the temptation faded; slowly I rebuilt my relationship with the Lord. Significantly, I chose not to confess to my husband this time. Having nailed this online door shut to strangers, I felt it would cause more harm than good. Feeling almost noble, I bore my guilt alone, as if that were punishment enough for my crime.

It festered…until I couldn’t keep my secret anymore. My out-of-the-blue, terrifying-yet-impossible need to confess to my husband ended in another heartbreaking revelation. This one was even more difficult, because my sin had gone on for so long without him knowing. He felt lied to. It took weeks before our marriage felt “right” again; even then, shame would still creep up on me. Restoring my relationship with Christ was another uphill battle; I felt plagued, living a lie while serving in my home and my church.

My struggle continues. Usually I measure my life as ‘spiritually neutral’, distinguished by peaks of godly growth, cancelled out by valleys of sexual sin. Since my battles come and go, it’s easy to box them up, like a winter coat that gets put away when spring emerges. Satan’s lust for victory is never far away, like recently when I snuck off to send another photo to a website.  Enter yet another hard conversation with my husband and new internet restrictions and countless tears. No internet filter can heal my desperation for true spiritual healing.

“Restore to me the joy of your salvation and uphold me with a willing spirit.” (Psalm 51:12)

Each failure makes my marriage harder to restore. Yet, each failure reminds me again of my wicked heart that desperately needs to rely on Jesus. I could throw away my computer, but my wicked heart will still find a way to sin—even if only in my mind. My weapons for protection are still the same: prayer, regular Bible reading, tools like Sexual Sanity for Women, and Harvest USA’s Journeyers in Grace biblical support group. I’ve had both a recent failing and victory as well. One day I recognized my own loneliness before it could lead me to temptation by simply texting a friend to see how she was doing. I’ve pushed myself to serve high school girls at our church, instead of letting that “not good enough” feeling cripple me.

Each failure makes my marriage harder to restore. Yet, each failure reminds me again of my wicked heart that desperately needs to rely on Jesus.

While I may never be sin-free in this life, by God’s grace my sin will continue to fade as he is ever illuminated.

Editor’s note: In this article, we do not disclose our ministry recipient’s real name because she has chosen to remain anonymous.


To learn more about this topic, consider purchasing Sexual Sanity for Women: Healing from Sexual and Relational Brokenness by Ellen Dykas. When you buy this book from Harvest USA, 100% of your purchase will benefit our ministry.

You can also watch Shalee Lehning’s video, How to Be a Person Who Welcomes Honesty, which corresponds to this blog.

“You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence.” (Psalm 90:8 ESV)

Sexual sin is not easy to speak about. And yet, in my experience, the key to overcoming it is to bring it into the light, in spite of that innate push to keep it hidden.

My first memory of my own sexual depravity reaches back to my earliest memories in childhood. I couldn’t have been any older than five years old, but even then I knew what I desired when I picked up a pen (maybe it was a crayon) and drew a picture of a naked woman.

One of my parents, I can’t remember which, saw my drawing and spanked me for my “artwork”. I still remember not understanding the reason why I was being punished. What I did learn was that, if I wanted to draw or see pictures like that again, I was going to have to keep it a secret.

Although I wasn’t hooked yet, the seeds of sexual sin were already beginning to take root inside of me. Growing up, there began to be occasions when I would sneak onto the computer when no one was around to look at pornography. When I hit puberty, my struggle became a consistent one. I was a pudgy pre-teen with a lot of social anxiety, terrified of women. With no confidence in myself, I didn’t think a girl would ever want to be with me. It was an awkward time that fueled a desire for escape, so I turned to virtual women—women who wouldn’t say “No” and would never reject me.

Pornography became my escape—even before I’d ever attempted to pursue a girl in real life. To this day, that low view of myself and fear of rejection has continued to fuel my sexual sin. As a man I still struggle with my fear of women, feeling much like that same pre-teen of years ago, without confidence or hope.

Pornography became my escape—even before I’d ever attempted to pursue a girl in real life.

Before finding the men’s biblical support group at Harvest USA, I failed to realize that there are other sins in my life which also need to be addressed—like anger, envy, and even gluttony. It was here at Harvest that God began to shine light on these other sins in my life as well, in addition to sexual sin.

Harvest has also helped me see that I’ve bought into a lot of lies about God. At my lowest points I have accused him of wanting to destroy me; in the midst of prolonged temptation, I have struggled with his provision. And I still struggle to find pleasure and joy in him, making my Christian experience more of an effort than the easy, personal relationship with God that I’d expected. Not until I came to Harvest was I able to identify these aspects of my struggle that had gone unrecognized beforehand.

Harvest was the first place where I felt comfortable being open about my sexual sin. And it was the first place where I met other men who admitted to struggling with the same things I do. Although I was nervous beforehand, I left my first meeting filled with hope and praise. I’ve learned that a temptation shared with others facing the same issue means you struggle together. This has enabled me to confront my own sin in very positive ways. My new friends are praying with me and for me, because they want to see me through this as much as I do.

“Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!”  (Ecclesiastes 4: 9-10)

Harvest has taught me how to fight sexual sin. One of the most important things you can do is to confess it with someone you trust. Harvest is where I’ve connected with several brothers in the faith who are willing to hear my confession. Always willing to offer help when I seek it, they have never given up on me, even when I’ve wanted to give up on myself. There is power in numbers when fighting sexual sin.

Another habit essential to my fight again sin is to literally voice my heartfelt lament to God. I love reading the laments of Scripture. The Bible contains lots of them, many generic enough to apply not just to my personal struggle against sin, but to a plethora of other life difficulties as well. This encourages me, knowing that God still speaks into a world that is difficult and imperfect, just as he spoke long ago to people facing difficulty and despair.

I’ve begun thinking of a lament as what happens when theology meets reality—not that theology is pitted against reality, but my theology often gets ahead of my reality. At Harvest they refer to this as ‘formal’ theology versus ‘functional theology’. I lament when the two don’t line up perfectly. And when the way I live doesn’t fit the way God calls me to live, that’s when I experience self-inflicted pain. That’s also when God wants me to recognize the weakness in my functional theology and return to him. God would rather me come to him with weak theology, than not at all.

And a lament to God should always be accompanied by praise. In its entirety, the Book of Psalms progresses from lament to praise. And that is where God is taking me right now. He is moving me to praise because he wants me to delight in his work in this world, especially his saving work through Christ. My temptations feel surmountable when I move from lament to praise.

Reflecting back over my time at Harvest, I appreciate the tremendous amount of personal growth that has occurred in my own life. But I still see a long road ahead. Slowly but surely, God has been peeling back the layers, showing me that sexual sin is intimately connected to other struggles in my life. Often, my battle against pornography is the result of other areas in my life which I’ve neglected. As I address them, my fight against sexual sin becomes more effective, which is also when I am able to see more fruit in other areas of my life.

If you desire change in your struggle against sexual sin, confession is a great step toward freedom.

If you desire change in your struggle against sexual sin, confession is a great step toward freedom. Be encouraged that “he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion” (Philippians 1:6). You are not alone. God is with you, and he promises to sanctify you and conform you to the image of his Son.

Editor’s note: In this article, we do not disclose our ministry recipient’s real name because he has chosen to remain anonymous.


To learn more about this topic, consider purchasing Hide or Seek: When Men Get Real with God About Sex by John Freeman. When you buy this book from Harvest USA, 100% of your purchase will benefit our ministry.

In this video, Ellen Dykas explains how to begin talking about your sexual history and why it’s critical to discuss past and current sexual struggles before engagement and marriage.

If you’d like to learn more, consider reading Ellen’s minibook, Your Dating Relationship and Your Sexual Past: How Much to Share. When you buy this minibook from Harvest USA, 100% of your purchase will benefit our ministry.

Derrick and Carli are three months out from their wedding. Invites have been sent, RSVPs have come in, the honeymoon has been booked. When they sat down last week for their final premarital counseling session, they both had the wedding jitters. However, a painful and unexpected truth came out in that hour of counseling—a secret Derrick had kept not only from their premarital counselor but from Carli as well. He had been struggling with pornography off and on for the last twelve years, since he was fifteen. He had tried everything he knew to overcome it, but he was always on his own, never daring to share this with anyone. Now that he was in seminary to become a pastor, the terror of being found out had kept him even more committed to hiding. However, as he explained, he loved Carli and wanted her to know about it before their wedding so that she would be able to help him.

Carli was shocked . . . and heartbroken. He’s just telling me about this now?

Now what do they do? Should they move ahead with the wedding and hope for the best? Do they postpone it? Do they call it off?

Michael and Shaina have been dating for eight months and are now beginning to talk about marriage. Sure, they have a few fears, but excitement is growing as they both sense God is doing an amazing thing in their relationship.

However, there are significant secrets hidden in each of their hearts. Each has engaged in pornography and masturbation, though it’s Shaina who is more actively pursuing porn online. She is most drawn to lesbian stories in the sites she visits.

Shaina has been encouraged that, since her relationship with Michael became serious, her struggle with lust seems less intense, even if she’s still giving into temptation. She’s thought to herself, “God must be preparing me to marry him. Maybe when I’m married to him, the temptations toward women will go away all together?”

Michael would be shocked to know that Shaina struggles with porn. It’s completely off his radar that women would be tempted in that way. He’s mentioned several times that men really “wrestle with lust . . . it’s a guy thing.” She wants to be confident in his love for her, but his comments have tempted her to feel dirty and ashamed because she’s looked at porn for years—lesbian porn at that—and isn’t a guy.

Should she be honest with him, or just with her two closest female friends who can keep her accountable? Wouldn’t it be more hurtful for him to know? After all, her private fantasy life isn’t really hurting anything, is it?

Maybe you connect with one of these stories. You’re engaged to someone you truly love and yet you wrestle with knowing exactly what you should share with your fiancé(e) about your past sexual experiences and your present temptations and struggles.

Perhaps you’re not in a relationship at all right now, but you’d like to be married in the future. You’re anxious about the how, the what, the when, and the how much of sharing the parts of your story that include sexual struggle and sin.

These are important things to seriously and prayerfully consider before you get engaged, and even more crucial to consider before you get married.

But what happens when a couple enters marriage and they don’t really know each other? Wise premarital counseling addresses important issues of family history, depth of faith in Jesus, finances, children, sex, roles of each spouse, desires for lifestyle (standard of living, social life, ministry involvement), etc. However, people often marry having avoided, or barely discussed, a critical component of their story: sexual history.

Sexual history refers to experiences of sexual activity with another person, or with oneself, sometimes through technology-based communication and/or sexual fantasy. Knowing a person’s sexual history includes understanding what his or her struggle has looked like in terms of length of time, frequency of giving way to temptation, attempts to fight and overcome sin, and a willingness or resistance to be transparent and accountable with others. Sexual history also includes traumatic experiences of being sexually harassed or abused.

There are any number of reasons dating people (and premarital counselors) avoid discussing sexual history:

  1. Fear. It’s scary and feels too vulnerable. Will my boyfriend or girlfriend reject me? Is my past or present struggle too much for him or her to handle?
  1. Some think, “Let the past be the past.” Sharing this will be more damaging than helpful. Leave it alone and trust God to work things out.
  1. Private sin struggles. Pornography, masturbation, sexual hookups, mental fantasy, etc. may seem to lose some of their tempting power in the euphoria of a new dating relationship. It’s easy to think that perhaps your relationship with this person has solved the problem, as Shaina believed.
  1. Shame. Derrick had kept his porn struggle hidden from everyone until that fateful moment in the counselor’s office. Shame is a persuasive yet destructive force that leads many to keep secret sin in the dark.
  1. Feeling intimidated. Therefore, they avoid them all together. Pastors, mentors, and counselors allow personal fears and feelings of insecurity to inhibit the necessary probing into these sensitive issues.

For couples to grow into an honest, truly knowing-each-other level of intimacy, it takes time, risk, and vulnerability. This needs to begin in the dating relationship, as both man and woman wisely open up their true selves, one to the other. Based on that true knowledge of each other, including sexual history and present struggles, each can discern if this is a relationship they want to commit to for life. For this to happen wisely and thoroughly, couples need other trusted people to help them navigate these crucial and often scary conversations—before they get engaged.

Why It’s Wise to Discuss Sexual History Before You Get Engaged

Couples are wise to not wait until engagement and “formal” premarital counseling to discuss sexual history. Pre-engagement is the time for the messiness to be shared and known—not in traditional premarital counseling, which is almost always pursued post-engagement. Why?

Engagement communicates, “I’m committing myself to marry you, as is. I delight in you, respect you, know you, and will support you to grow in Christ through your joys, trials, temptations, and struggles.” Therefore, before a couple gets engaged, they should be able to say, “I know you. I know your story, strengths, weaknesses, temptations, sins and the pattern of your life. I want to marry you and stand by your side, ministering to you as I also receive your love and ministry to me.”

Before a couple gets engaged, they should be able to say, “I know you. I know your story, strengths, weaknesses, temptations, sins and the pattern of your life.”

Consider another life-impacting decision that requires thorough knowledge and taking the time to gain detailed information before taking action: buying a house. Most people would never purchase a home before the costly, time-consuming process of completing a home inspection. Buyers want to know everything possible about a house before making one of the most significant purchases of their life. A thorough home inspection, conducted by an experienced and trustworthy person, will produce a report that addresses the true condition of that house, from the roof to the foundation. A well-done home inspection brings every problem—both present and potential—into the light. Relationships are much more complex than a physical structure—and thus the importance of knowing potential challenges is that much more crucial!

If it’s commonly accepted as wise to inspect a house, how much more so for couples to do the hard work of knowing, and being known by, each other as thoroughly as possible before committing to marriage? A man and woman need to know each other’s external and internal issues, both past and present, so that they can make a wise decision regarding a lifetime investment into a marriage. Sexual history is certainly one such issue.

Wisdom would lead this couple to invest the time, money, and effort to “go deep” in knowing this house to the best of their ability before purchasing it. Even though they’ve seen the house with their own eyes and have walked on the floors together, there’s more to learn. To avoid the cost and process of a professional home inspection, or to ignore the long-term implications found during the dangerous discoveries of one, would be foolish at best and catastrophic at worst.

Committing yourself to marry a person is so much weightier than buying a house! Taking the time, effort, and vulnerability to truly know a potential spouse isn’t an “inspection”—it’s a way to show humble love to one another and build trust. Rest assured, God delights in honesty and is committed to helping his children walk in the light before him and each other.

Jesus Strengthens and Comforts You in the Process of Sharing Your Sexual History

Sharing your sexual history can be a scary thing to consider. The Lord says that honesty is a good and necessary part of being joined with other Christians (see Ephesians 4:25). If honesty is crucial for our relationships in the church, how much more important is it for those who are preparing to join in the most intimate of unions? Here are some encouraging truths to consider as you prepare to be completely honest with a potential future spouse.

You’re not alone. One of the beautiful facets of a Christ-centered relationship is that it’s not just a twosome. Jesus is with you to guide, encourage, and enable you to do the right thing and walk in the light rather than hide (see Ecclesiastes 4:9–12).

God promises mercy to those who walk in the light. Proverbs 28:13 contains a sweet promise and a sober warning as well: “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.” A lack of joy and freedom in Christ, versus God’s mercy and grace—which reality do you want to live in? Which of these qualities do you want to be embedded in the foundation of your relationship? Jesus already knows us fully and loves us completely. This truth compels us to confess and turn from sin, which is the invitation given to us in the gospel! Humility before God in acknowledging your need of his gracious love will embolden you to be honest with the person with whom you are contemplating marriage.

God enables us to love rather than be self-protective. Jesus loves us, and also sends us to be ambassadors of his love to people around us (see 2 Corinthians 5:20–21). This includes your girlfriend or boyfriend. Galatians 5:13 commands us that in Christ, we are to no longer live for ourselves, but rather to serve others. A decision to be honest about your past and present sexual struggles may not seem like a way to love and serve someone, but it truly is. You are honestly acknowledging and offering a component of your life story to this person. You are inviting them to know and trust you. Hiding, spinning the facts, and telling half-truths are all basically the same thing: deceitful self-protection. For a future marriage to be healthy, it must be built on transparency and solid trust, which itself begins to grow in an honest dating relationship.

God forgives our sin and redeems our past. As God forgives you, you and your future spouse will have many opportunities to offer and ask for forgiveness, participating in Christ’s work of redemption in each other’s lives (see Colossians 3:12–17). Your relationship becomes a testament to the power of the gospel to make all things new, and to restore years of sinful living. In fact, one of the beautiful ways that God uses the unique “one-flesh” union between husbands and wives is to give them a 24/7/365 experience of being known, unashamed, and loved. This images God’s steadfast love for his people who sin, who are weak, and who have painful and stigmatizing scars.

God provides helpers. Another comfort of Christ, though it may feel scary at first, is that you have brothers and sisters to walk with you. Jesus doesn’t expect couples to navigate their relationship alone. In the euphoria of a new relationship, some couples can pull away from other key relationships, which will hurt them in the long run. Such isolated future spouses evolve into an island of two—and when the storms hit, they have only each other to rely on. Proverbs 11:14 encourages humility, which reaches out to others for help, “Where there is no guidance, a people falls, but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.”

Jesus is our eternal companion and spouse. Finally, Jesus is with you now and forever, and will never abandon you. Your relationship may not survive the vulnerable process of sharing your sexual past. It’s better to know now, before making lifelong marriage vows, if this person can accept and be committed to the real you.


Editor’s Note:
This article is adapted from Ellen’s minibook, Your Dating Relationship and Your Sexual Past: How Much to Share. When you buy this minibook from Harvest USA, 100% of your purchase will benefit our ministry.


To learn more about this topic, watch Ellen’s accompanying video, Why Couples Who Are Considering Marriage Need to Share Their Sexual History.

A middle-aged man languishes in self-conscious shame and isolation as he sits in church week after week. For over 20 years, he has struggled with sexual sin. Never has he asked for help or confessed to another person. He is convinced, not only by his own shame but also by the heated rhetoric in his church against his type of sin, that this is the worst sin to which he could confess. He must never let anyone know.

Are some sins worse than others? No, and yes. A famous instance of this qualified answer is found in the Westminster Shorter Catechism. On the no side, “every sin deserves God’s wrath and curse;” on the yes side, “some sins in themselves, and by reason of several aggravations, are more heinous in the sight of God than others” (Q.s 83, 84).

The Larger Catechism expands on this to give a list of examples of these “aggravations” (Q. 151). Many people automatically place sexual sins in a “worse than other sins” category. Is this a proper and helpful application of this idea of aggravations of sins?

My goal here is only to give some preliminary considerations.  I start with the observation that there is a sense that “not all sins are equally heinous” is common sense and obvious. Sampling a grape from the produce aisle is not as heinous as stealing a Mercedes from the parking lot. It is common sense that some sins are worse than others, but we need to be very careful how we use this idea. Here are four perspectives that bear on how we should approach this issue.

Our Natural Spiritual Blindness 

When Jesus says in Luke 6:41, “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” he is calling attention to a tendency that is common to us in our fallen condition, our tendency to think less of our own sin and more of others’.

This tendency flows from our basic sinful instinct towards self-justification. Placing attention on another’s sin distracts attention from our own. Also, we find it easier to recognize and condemn any sin that we see in someone else of which we consider ourselves innocent. This extends to the question of discerning “worseness” of sins. We tend to think the worst sins are the ones with which we don’t struggle.

We tend to think the worst sins are the ones with which we don’t struggle.

What does Jesus give us as a corrective to this tendency? We should assume the opposite is true. Our own sin is worse. My brother’s sin is a speck; mine is a log. If we are alert to our own spiritual tendency to self-justify, and to the grave danger that poses, we will be wise to magnify our own sin. Indeed, “the saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost” (1 Timothy 1:15).

The Nature of Our Concern 

If our concern is to pass judgment, rather than to love and shepherd, we are immediately on the wrong track. This is not unrelated to the first point above, for it is our desire to confirm the relative sinfulness of others while minimizing our own that also motivates us to act as if we are a judge over them. A few verses earlier in Luke Jesus says, “Judge not, and you will not be judged.” James warns, “There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?” (James 4:12).

Of course—as is usually pointed out in any discussion of judging—this isn’t to say there is no place for discerning the sinfulness of actions or even considering the relative gravity of sins. But it does speak to our purpose in doing so. For what purpose is it helpful to discern the relative gravity of a sin?

I have already stated it above; to love and shepherd. Pastors and elders, especially, are called to give guidance and discipline to help those under their care to progress in their faith and Christian life. In doing this, they cannot treat all sins exactly alike; they must wisely discern the course of interaction with each person and situation. This includes carefully discerning, among other things, the relative gravity of any sin involved.

Let me illustrate the difference between a judgmental concern and a shepherding concern.  Imagine two different scenarios. In the first, a roomful of people conducting a campaign rally for one of the presidential candidates sees a man enter the room wearing paraphernalia of the opposite party. In the second scenario, a roomful of doctors at an oncology conference sees a man enter with a prominent cancerous mole on his face. In both of these scenarios, the situation is perceived with special gravity, and the reaction is strong.  But the nature of the concern is completely different.

The Complexity of the Factors 

Often, when this topic is discussed, sin is compared in general categories, in the abstract. But in real life, sin doesn’t exist in the abstract. We deal with unique individuals with complicated histories and contexts. This is what the long list of possible “aggravations” in the Larger Catechism is encouraging shepherds to consider.

The context of a particular sin can be considered in multiple categories. If we isolate one category from all others, the issue may seem fairly simple. For example, if the category is “how fully acted out is the sin,” we would say it is worse to actually steal a grape than to fantasize about stealing one; or, if the category is “extent of harm,” we would say it is worse to steal a car than to steal a grape. But what if we ask if it is worse to fantasize about stealing a car or to actually steal a grape? Suddenly it is not so clear. In real life, each instance of sin is even much more complicated. Broad, generalized judgments are often not helpful.

The Common Root of All Sin

In the end, any one of the sins humanity produces is more like every other sin than it is different. This is because every sin grows from a common root. “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it. For he who said, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ also said, ‘Do not murder’” (James 2:10, 11). In other words, our rebellion against God is our root sin, and every other way we sin is another expression of that treason.

In the end, any one of the sins humanity produces is more like every other sin than it is different.

This helps us understand the other half of the Catechism’s answer: “Every sin deserves God’s wrath and curse.” It is this perspective that encourages us, rather than dwelling on the sins we think are “worse,” to give more attention to the sins we think are small and inconsequential.  For behind their respectability and unremarkableness, these sins conceal a heart committed to the darkest evil.

These four points do not answer all the questions about this issue. But they give necessary perspective on the whole discussion.

In order to keep Christ enthroned in your desires, thoughts, and relationships, what do you need to keep saying YES to?

To learn more, read Ellen Dykas’ accompanying blog, Learning to Say Yes and No.

 

All of us face the difficult task of discerning what to say yes and no to. In our ministry at Harvest USA, I have daily opportunities to engage people who need help with their sexuality or gender struggles, or to write, or to encourage a staff member, or to reach out to one of my donors.

When I was in my twenties, Numbers 9:22 popped off the page into my heart and became a guiding verse from Scripture for me.

“Whether it was two days or a month or a year that the cloud lingered over the tabernacle, staying above it, the sons of Israel remained camped and did not set out; but when it lifted, they set out.” (NASB)

This Old Testament version of a spiritual GPS came about in the wilderness wanderings of God’s people. God promised to guide them through manifestations of his presence hovering over the tabernacle as a cloud by day, and a pillar of fire by night (see Numbers 9:15-23 and Psalm 78:14).

Wow, seems so great, right?! Today, this might look like praying about something from the following list, glancing outside to see where the cloud is, and following it wherever it goes.

Lord, that woman seems to need a friend; should I reach out and call her—offer to meet up for coffee, or not? Lord, should I…

    • Start a blog?
    • Make this purchase?
    • Be a small group leader at church?
    • Look for a job that pays more but will be more time-consuming?
    • Talk to my pastor about a concern I have about leadership, or “just” pray?

How do we discern what to say yes to and when we need to say no? In a world of thousands of choices, how do you decide what is the best way to spend your precious, limited resources of time, emotional energy, relational capacity, finances, and physical strength? Consider how the use of your time also factors into becoming a man or woman of sexual integrity.

Our Daily Yes

Thirty years later, the principle of Numbers 9:22 continues to keep my heart oriented to the big picture of being a Christian, and this is what we need to remember when it comes to stewarding our sexuality. Our lives belong to Christ and this gives us the most foundational YES we live out: Lord, wherever you lead, however you lead, I will follow you and do what you ask of me, keeping my eyes on you and throwing off distractions (see Hebrews 12:1-3).

Christ clearly and lovingly commands his followers to a life characterized by heart commitments: to die to self, take up our cross and follow him, love him and his commands, teach the gospel to others, be holy, set our hearts on things above, throw off sin and distractions, enter into and receive his rest (Luke 9:23; John 15:1-10; Matthew 28:18-20; Colossians 3:1-4; Hebrews 12:1-3; 4:9-10; 1 Peter 1:13). And that’s just for starters!

Simply put, our daily yes to these things is lived out through loving obedience and submission to our Lord Jesus Christ. Whatever promotes, encourages, helps, and nurtures that obedience, we say YES to. Whatever distracts, tempts, or weakens us from living a Christ-centered life, we say NO to.  The gospel’s trajectory of transformation in our lives is a process of increasing yeses to obedience and decreasing noes to disobedience.

Wisdom for Gray Areas

But, you ask: OK, that sounds great, but what do I do about practical decisions where the Bible doesn’t give a clear-cut answer? The last time I checked, there weren’t any pillars of fire hovering over my home!

Let me unpack some biblical guidelines that help me.

    1. What’s the motive of your heart in the issue at hand? Will it help you resist temptation or will it lead you to give in? (Proverbs 3:5-6)
    2. As best you can discern, what will you reap from this decision? (Romans 8:5-8, Galatians 6:7-9)
    3. Consider the trajectory of God’s work in your life. Does this decision seem to be in sync with him or not? (Ephesians 2:10, Philippians 2:13)
    4. What do the mature and wise-in-Christ people in your life say about it? (Proverbs 11:14, 15:22; Titus 2:1-15)

God continues to use Numbers 9:22 to orient my heart and vocational decisions as I’ve committed to going where he wants me to go, do what he wants me to do, and to leave where/when/who he calls me to leave. In a beautifully intimate way, all believers have the Spirit to guide and protect us in our desire to live faithful lives as relational and sexual beings.

The life of faith has not always been easy or comfortable, but I’m deeply thankful for God’s kindness in leading me, year after year, and for the wisdom he’s given me in decision making. My Christian life is imperfect, but the more I taste the spacious freedom of obedience and faith, the less I’m tempted to give way to an unholy or foolish YES or NO!


To learn more, watch Ellen’s accompanying video, The Importance of Saying Yes to Jesus.

As a teen, I had a major porn problem. And that was magazines and VHS tapes (does anyone remember the VCR?). But that’s nothing compared to what kids face today.

Teens are confronted with a staggering level of temptation. I would have failed middle school if I had access to the pornographic material now available to kids.

Here’s the sad, hard truth: it will be nearly impossible to completely shield your child. Porn infiltrated my Christian elementary school in 1979, and now the ubiquity of digital devices (forty years later) means porn is always at our fingertips. It is more realistic to plan how you will respond when exposure to porn occurs than to try to prevent porn from slipping through the inevitable cracks in whatever protection system you devise.

It is more realistic to plan how you will respond when exposure to porn occurs than to try to prevent porn from slipping through the inevitable cracks in whatever protection system you devise.

Here are four ways to do that:

  1. Respond in faith: don’t freak out!

Don’t give way to fear and begin extrapolating the worst case sexual scenarios awaiting your child. And don’t make it about you and your disappointment, as if your child failed you in some way. Depending on your temperament, avoid the two typical default extremes for most parents: bringing down the hammer or burying your head in the sand.

Instead, before talking with your child about their porn usage, thank God for exposing your child’s sin! Because God disciplines the children he loves (see Hebrews 12:5-11), this is evidence of his favor on your child. Trust God’s purposes here, believing he is wooing your child more closely to himself. Ask God for grace to enter into the situation and to give you his words of life to speak to your child. Abide in him as you love your child through this (see John 15:5). Don’t try to handle this alone!

  1. Be direct

Confront the situation— honestly and with love. Don’t dance around the topic or use veiled accusations like “Have you done anything I should know about?” Let your child know what you’ve discovered and express your concern. But remember: tremendous shame surrounds sexual sin. Your child already feels this, so be sure your approach points them to Jesus.

First, assure your child of your love and that there is nothing he can do to negate that. Second, remind him of God’s love and encourage him with the hope of the gospel. The essence of the Christian faith is God’s pursuit and redemption of us, not based on our worthiness, but the wonder of his matchless love and grace. Your child needs to be reminded of this confidence now more than ever!

Further, explain that these behaviors come from the heart. Help your teens begin considering how they turn to false comforts to cope with the challenges of life in a fallen world. It is helpful for you to model repentance here. What false comforts tug at your own heart when you are stressed and struggling? Acknowledge your own weakness and propensity to turn to the things of the world instead of God. Your self-disclosure demonstrates your own ongoing need for Christ’s mercy and the empowerment of his Spirit. Your child needs to see that her parent(s) also struggle with sin and weakness, so when she comes to you for help, she knows you understand.

Gently ask your child to open up about the history of his or her sexual struggles. Your own humility and openness about your struggles in this area may invite a responding honesty.

  1. Establish better safeguards

Hopefully you’ve taken steps to guard the technology in your home. If not, now is the time to start! Monitoring technology has vastly improved over the years. Some combination of parental filters and accountability software is necessary. For the home, the best software or devices are those linked directly to your Wi-Fi router. Usually there is the ability to place varying levels of restriction on different devices, so that a family PC or tablet can be set at a very high level of filtering to protect young children, while an older teen’s smart phone might have fewer restrictions while on the home network.

But the main thing is the capability of viewing the browser history on all devices. Some of these products also have an “on the go” feature that maintains filtering and tracks data usage of phones, iPads, etc., even monitoring the devices on other networks. I am intentionally not promoting specific products because new ones emerge regularly, but do some research and determine what will work best for your family. This is going to cost you something, but the money spent is worth it to protect your child’s mind and heart.

Good discipline is not punitive because Jesus was punished for us. Discipline, though painful at times, is intended to steer us in the right direction (see Hebrews 12:5–13). Discipline includes establishing wise and protective boundaries, proportionate to the age and maturity of your child.

Do not take lightly the effects of pornography. Take proactive steps, but avoid bringing down the hammer and exasperating them (as we are warned in Scripture: see Ephesians 6:4; Colossians 3:21). A total internet lockdown or relegating to flip phones might produce short-term compliance, but it is unlikely to form mature disciples of Christ. Only repentance and a deepening relationship with Jesus, modeled through your walk with Christ, will do that. Parent to those ends!

  1. Keep walking with them

It is important to realize that this will be an ongoing temptation. Again, porn is everywhere, and access is easy. Many parents are gung-ho when the problem first rears its ugly head, but don’t persevere in addressing these challenges. Be faithful in prayer and ask God to reveal sin, but don’t stop there! Stay on top of technology and be willing to ask the awkward questions about how your child is doing sexually. This includes ongoing monitoring of his relationships. Through it all, continue pointing them to Jesus and his love. Remind your child of the mercy that covers their sin and the power given to obey through his outpoured Spirit.

Editor’s Note: This blog is adapted from David White’s new book, God, You, & Sex: A Profound Mystery, which is available now. When you buy God, You, & Sex from Harvest USA, 100% of your purchase will benefit our ministry.


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