“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.
21 Jul 2022
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.
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.”
30 Jun 2022
I want to speak to a husband or a wife who has remained faithful to their marriage vows but is experiencing the pain and unfulfilled longings of a sexless marriage. Perhaps you’ve tried to talk with someone about this, only to come away feeling misunderstood or even accused of things that may not be true. I hope this post will be a balm to your soul, and an encouragement to seek Christ in this trial.
God Is Glorified in Your Faithfulness
First, I want you to know that God is greatly glorified by your faithfulness to your spouse. Amid loneliness, confusion, unsatisfied desires, and painful feelings of rejection, you have resisted the easy escape of masturbation, pornography, and adultery. What a testimony to the sufficiency of God’s grace (2 Cor. 12:9)! If only we could pull back the curtain to see a glimmer of the eternal weight of glory that this momentary trial is producing. It’s no easy pill to swallow, but we all know the utter gravity of being in the presence of a brother or sister in Christ who has experienced profound suffering without blaming God or giving in to unbelief. Your faith is being tested but, as Peter says, it is more precious than gold and its genuineness results in “praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet. 1:7).
God Is Near to the Brokenhearted
Sex was designed by God to be one of the most intimate, affirming, life-giving experiences two humans can know. It’s one of the fundamental glues that holds a marriage together. We all long to be fully known and fully loved. And holy sex is one of the most tangible ways we experience the unconditional love of God for us, through our spouse. For that to be withheld can bring a flood of doubts and concerns. “Is my spouse tired of me?” “Did they find someone else?” “I guess I really am unlovable.” “I can never compete with my spouse’s ideal standard.”
God hears your heart and invites you to draw near to him. He can be trusted with your heart and your longings. Well did Isaiah say of Jesus, “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench” (Isa. 42:3; Matt. 12:20).
Questions to Consider
By design, sex is not a solo activity. It requires cooperation, trust, love, respect, and a mutual willingness to enter into a moment of unrivaled vulnerability. Because this act is so sacred, it’s understandable why many feel intimidated by it. I’d like to walk you through a few possible reasons why your spouse may not want to engage with you on this level. This is not meant to point the finger at any one person, but it is important to soberly assess how sexual intimacy is typically hindered in a fallen world.
- Life’s busyness. This is perhaps the most common scenario that leads healthy marriages into a sexual desert. The demands and pressures of work, kids, church, social activities, and school all crowd out time and energy for any kind of marital investment. Life is just about survival. While all marriages will likely go through seasons like this, busyness is typically not the only—or even the main—factor why one spouse may be completely avoiding any opportunity for sexual intimacy.
- Hidden sexual sin. Sadly, there are scenarios where your spouse may be avoiding sex with you because they’re satisfying their sexual desires outside of their covenant vows. Whether it be compulsive use of pornography or a secret affair, some spouses treat sex as an appetite, not an act of selfless love. If they’re getting their appetite satisfied elsewhere, they may feel zero responsibility within their marriage. This may be what you fear is happening in your marriage, and perhaps you have compounding evidence to back that up. You’ll need wisdom to know what confrontation should look like. But please don’t let fear and shame keep you from getting help.
- Physical brokenness. Sex is a powerful bodily experience. In many ways it is a whole-bodied experience. When I consider just how many ways our bodies could break down, I often think it’s a miracle that any of us walk around in a state of good health. Engaging in sex requires a relative degree of health. The fall affects some people’s sexual organs, making sex a painful, fearful experience. Men may struggle with erectile dysfunction and could be too scared to admit it to their wives. Heart conditions, motor diseases, and paralysis may restrict sexual activity. The list of health-related reasons to refrain from sex is probably longer than we even imagine. It’s important to consider this because your spouse’s refusal to have sex may be related to their health and not a rejection of you. It may be just as painful and lonely for them to refrain as it is for you, but perhaps they’re too scared to tell you what’s really going on.
- Relational brokenness. Marriage is a covenant established by God. Covenants are accompanied by signs. In our covenant relationship with Jesus, we are given the signs of baptism and communion. In marriage, a couple is given sex as the sign of their covenant union. Just as the sacraments are meant to remember, celebrate, and strengthen our union with Christ, so too sex in marriage is meant to remember, celebrate, and strengthen the union of husband and wife. Scripture instructs believers not to partake of the Lord’s supper when there is unrepentant sin or unresolved strife with another believer. The covenant sign should be forgone until those issues are resolved. To partake of the sign unworthily is a matter the Lord takes very seriously.So, too, in marriage: we cannot separate the act of sex from the quality of the marriage relationship. Paul Tripp says, “You always drag the character and quality of your marriage relationship into the marriage bed.” This means that if there is relational distance in your marriage, sexual distance may be a result of that. It’s not right to act harshly toward your spouse in the kitchen but then seek to act tenderly toward them in the bedroom. Sex is meant to be a celebration of all the love expressed outside the bedroom. How you love your spouse at the dinner table, in the car, in public, with your children, when you’re tired, when you’re sad, when you’re frustrated—it’s all making deposits into your relationship. If your marital account is running on a deficit of love and not a surplus, it may say a lot about why your spouse is so distant from you sexually.
- Personal brokenness. We all go into marriage carrying many things from our past. Past traumas or regrets may continue to haunt you to this day. God imbued sex with incredible power but, in a fallen world, that power has the ability to create destruction like few other experiences can. Past sexual abuse can make sex feel like the most dangerous experience imaginable. Shame about past sexual experiences could make your spouse feel like sex is only a dirty act. Some people wrestle with crippling anxiety disorders, and sex may be a trigger for those anxieties. For example, there is a condition called homosexual obsessive-compulsive disorder, or HOCD. This person does not struggle with same sex attraction. But they’re so fearful about having a homo-erotic thought that they’ll avoid situations that could trigger them. These types of anxieties are more common than you may realize.
Hope in Christ
Life in a fallen world is not how it was meant to be. But praise be to God that, as Margaret Clarkson wrote, one day he will transmute every earthly sorrow into gold of heavenly gain.
In my next blog, I will look at how you can walk this painful path with your Savior and your spouse. Jesus cares about this aspect of your marriage. He has marked out a way forward for you to honor and love your spouse as you entrust your longings to him.
02 Jun 2022
I believe God designed our hearts on earth to be motivated by future realities. We don’t eat ice cream at 4:00 p.m. because a delicious dinner is on the horizon. We don’t spend all our money on present desires because we need to save for the future. We accept painful physical exercise for short- and long-term health benefits. In our best moments, we’re always keeping the future in view.
It shouldn’t surprise us, then, that the apostles are so fixated upon the return of our Lord Jesus Christ. They repeatedly use the imminent and certain Day of the Lord as motivation for our present obedience:
“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Heb. 10:24–25)
“Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1 Pet.1:13)
“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.” (2 Cor. 5:10)
“Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.” (James 5:7–8)
“For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.” (1 Thess. 1:9–10)
“Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done.” (Rev. 22:12)
The apostles wrote this way because Jesus taught them to focus on his return. Jesus spoke in many parables about his second coming and the great need to be prepared: we must have oil in our lamps, the proper wedding attire, wise investments of our talents, and faithfulness in God’s house.
Denying Christ’s Return
But what does this have to do with pornography?
Sin is a denial of Christ’s return. Looking at pornography is a tacit agreement with the skeptics who say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation” (2 Pet. 3:4). If we don’t believe Jesus is coming back, why bother with obedience? Our motivation matters! And this is where we need to be careful to understand Scripture correctly.
Our obedience does not earn our salvation—that’s impossible. Anyone seeking salvation through their own righteousness will be greatly disappointed when Jesus returns. Our motivation is not, “Don’t look at porn so that Jesus will accept you.”
No, faith in Jesus’s person and work is the only way of salvation and true obedience is only possible because of our secure acceptance in Christ. The gospel powers our motivation to obey: “Don’t look at porn because, in his abundant mercy, Jesus has accepted you.”
Fixing Our Hearts on Christ’s Return
So then, how does Christ’s coming return motivate our present obedience? There are at least five ways:
- The crown of righteousness is for those who love his appearing (2 Timothy 4:8).
To be a Christian is to love Jesus—because he first loved us. Every true Christian can and must say, “Jesus, I love you.” Not only must we love him, but we must also love him above all others. What greater desire could we have than to see our Savior face to face? Fellow Christian, turn from pornography today because you love Jesus. May the thought of seeing him, as he is, turn your eyes from worthless things (Ps. 119:37).
- Jesus will repay us for what we have done (Revelation 22:12).
Jesus teaches us to store up treasures in heaven that will last for eternity. He wants us to think like eternal investors. It’s exciting to think about small, frequent investments compounding over time into something much greater. I can’t overstate how much bigger the scale of compound interest is for eternal investments! Looking at pornography is the worst eternal investment policy.
- There is a holiness without which no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14).
This holiness is not referring to the imputed righteousness of Christ but the holiness of a believer’s sanctification. Our union with Christ deals with our guilt and defeats its power and corrupting influence in us. This doesn’t mean we’ll be perfect in this life, but we will be growing in holiness. Beware the lie that our present Christian life ever involves coasting. No, it is a constant striving! “Strive to enter through the narrow door” (Luke 13:24). “Strive to enter” God’s eternal rest (Heb. 4:11). “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14).
- Our holy living today is the future adornment of Christ’s bride (Revelation 19:8).
When Jesus returns, there’s going to be a wedding with Jesus the bridegroom and the church his bride. This is a corporate reality, but our individual lives matter. John speaks of this bride adorned with “fine linen, bright and pure,” representing “the righteous deeds of the saints” (Rev. 19). All Christians are in wedding preparation mode. Weeks—months—before the wedding, a bride is making meticulous preparations. But no matter how glorious she may look, there can be no comparison to the bride of Christ at the wedding supper of the Lamb.
- Christ’s return will consummate our union and communion with God.
Every time we think of Christ’s return, we should be reminded of what life is all about—communion with God. We have that communion now, through Christ, but it’s by faith. It’s not yet consummated. But when Jesus returns—then and only then will the dwelling place of God be with man (Rev. 21:3). Until that day, all creation groans with longing and expectation (Rom. 8:22). Meditating on Christ’s return brings us back to the heart and center of all meaning and existence.
It’s hard to dwell on such weighty realities and then run to pornography. In the words of John Ross Macduff:
“Earth can now but tell the story of thy bitter cross and pain;
she shall yet behold the glory, when thou comest back to reign:
Christ is coming! Christ is coming!
Let each heart repeat the strain.”
“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)
04 Nov 2021
This might sound strange, even contradictory, but I’m convinced it’s true: Most people, if not all, watch pornography with their eyes closed.
No, this does not mean that their eyes are physically shut. Of course they’re watching with eyes glued to the screen. But, as they watch, they are deliberately refusing to look at what’s actually happening in a pornographic picture or video. Why? Because acknowledging the truth about pornography is difficult, shame-inducing, horrifying, and even nauseating—but the truth could be just what the Spirit uses to break the spell that porn has on you. So let’s actually take a look at what pornography is.
We’ll start with the most extreme cases. Because so much of pornography is free and hosted by sites that take content from various sources, there is no way to know whether the acts committed onscreen are consensual or not. Many women and minors are being trafficked in the sex industry against their will. Much of this is caught on camera and released onto the internet, and some even finds its way onto mainstream sites. The next video you watch may be a criminal act that you took pleasure in.
This does not mean all pornography can be legally defined as non-consensual, but let’s consider for a moment who ends up on a pornographic website. Were these men and women cherished as sons and daughters in their families? Were they told and shown from a young age the dignity inherent to them as image bearers of God? Do they have a loving community with friends they can turn to when life gets hard?
No, this is not the typical profile of someone in a pornographic video. Instead, these people usually come from abusive backgrounds of all kinds. Drugs and alcohol are ubiquitous in the porn industry, for understandable reasons: It’s hard to imagine living that life without copious amounts of numbing agents. Sometimes, actors’ managers are not upfront with them about what a scene will actually entail until the last minute, and, if they refuse, coercive threats are employed.¹
This is only skimming the surface of pornography’s true, sinister nature, but it doesn’t take long to see that pornography is an exploitative, dehumanizing, slave-recruiting, demonic industry. Christians who view porn are active participants in its oppression. This is the conclusion you will come to if you look at pornography with eyes wide open.
It’s saddening, and even infuriating, that the victims of pornography are so rarely taken into account in our battle against it. Yes, first and foremost, pornography is a sin against God. Pornography is so offensive to God that we can say with David, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight” (Psalm 51:4). Let us never forget that reality! We must also acknowledge the great sin that pornography is against a current or future spouse. Sexual betrayal is so devastating that many betrayed spouses experience trauma and PTSD as a result. It is in recognizing the great damage they have done to their marriages that many people will start to fight pornography as if their very lives depend on it.
Sadly, I rarely hear people utterly broken and grieving over their sin against the people on the screen, which is perhaps indicative of just how dehumanizing pornography is. Even in their repentance, many people still don’t see these men and women as real human beings. They’re still less-than-human objects. They used to be objects of pleasure; now they’re seen only as objects of temptation to avoid, not image bearers to love and protect.
But God sees them. God cares infinitely for them. God takes up their plight. He is their avenger.
God created sex to elevate human dignity, not smear it. Godly sex is meant to be one of the most honor-giving, safe, intimate, protecting experiences a human being can know. Satan takes that amazing humanity-celebrating gift and uses it to destroy our dignity. God hates that! His holy wrath cannot let that stand, and we shouldn’t either. Pornography should stir up in you a holy, righteous anger. The people being treated as less than dirt are image bearers that God intricately spent nine months knitting together in their mothers’ wombs. You can’t be consistently pro-life and consume pornography. You can’t defend a human being’s dignity while in the womb and then, once out of the womb, strip him or her of it for your sexual pleasure.
This should be painful to read. It is a grave indictment, and one that I can’t escape from either. “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved…” (Ephesians 2:4–5).
God is so rich in mercy and kindness that he seeks out lost oppressors of his image bearers. He takes those who trampled on human dignity and crowns them with glory and honor in Christ. He does this all without forgetting the victims. He executes justice perfectly for your sin and mine by taking the punishment we so rightly deserve and placing it on his Son on the cross.
Many people struggle to believe that God can love them because of their pornography use. The way forward isn’t to minimize our sin; instead, we need to heed the words of Jack Miller when he said, “Cheer up! You’re a worse sinner than you ever dared imagine, and you’re more loved than you ever dared hope.” Or, to quote from our Savior, “Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little” (Luke 7:47).
As we refuse to pretend about the realities of porn while keeping our eyes fixed on Christ, we are guaranteed a greater appreciation and gratitude for how deep the Father’s love is for us in Christ. The weight of our sin quickly becomes overwhelmed by the torrent of his love for us. This leaves no room for pride or judgment of others. Instead, Christ calls us to be warriors against injustice and sin while, at the same time, showing and embodying the forgiving love of Christ towards sinners, of whom we are the foremost.
The Church of Jesus Christ is being called to acknowledge and restore the dignity of every image bearer of God. This is your role, and mine.²
² I deeply thank Ray Ortlund for his book, The Death of Porn: Men of Integrity Building a World of Nobility. My blog was inspired by his compelling, winsome, fatherly call to Christian men to take a stand in a world saturated by the oppression of pornography. I encourage you to take up his book and read!
21 Oct 2021
The temptation to single out one type of sin or one category of sinner as uniquely worthy of condemnation is common. It often springs from and feeds the self-righteous hypocrisy of our hearts, which seeks to find a point of comparison by which we can stand over another as morally inferior to us. This temptation is especially strong when the sin to which another person is tempted is one to which we feel no attraction whatsoever or which we find safely unattractive. Because we are confident that we would never do that, we find it easier to treat the person who would as particularly depraved. It is useful to our proud hearts precisely because we are sure that we are not personally susceptible to this depravity.
And yet it would be wrong for us to react to this possibility of self-righteous judgment by taking a ho-hum, cavalier attitude toward sexual sin and temptations. In the Bible, sexual immorality is a big deal. Most who are familiar with Scripture sense this. The subject of sexual immorality comes up often and is treated with heightened seriousness.
So here is our challenge: How do we understand and heed the seriousness of the Bible’s concern over sexual immorality while not giving space to our impulse to look down on others? I suggest three perspectives to help us maintain a proper biblical concern for sexual immorality without being self-righteous:
- Have a biblically high view of sexuality.
In 1 Corinthians 6:12–20, Paul explains to his readers why sexual immorality is so serious: It’s because sex is so precious. Paul opens his discussion by quoting a typical cultural understanding of sex—that it is just an appetite, a biological drive to be fulfilled: “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food” (6:13). Paul contradicts this directly with, “The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.” His point? This is not a mere issue of appetite, a biological need for the flourishing of the human animal. Human sexuality is not primarily biological; it is theological.
This assertion alone is in radical conflict with almost all that our culture believes and teaches about sexuality. But the further we go into this truth, the more incredible it becomes. For Paul goes on to describe the content of the theology of sex, which is nothing less than union with Christ: “For, as it is written, ‘The two shall become one flesh.’ But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him” (6:16–17). He says the same thing to the Ephesians, “’…and the two shall become one flesh.’ This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church” (5:31–32). We have only begun to plumb the riches of biblical teaching on the ways that sex as God designed it displays to us the wonder of the salvation given to us in union with Christ. His lavish love and delight in his Bride, the intimacy and affirmation of his setting apart his Bride as belonging to him exclusively, the safety of his commitment to never leave or forsake her—these are a few of the enormous gospel realities which true marital sexuality was designed to picture. Sexual immorality, in all its forms, destroys this picture.
David White says it this way:
“Sexual sin damages the self in a way that is unique, unlike any other sins. Why? Paul points to the profound mystery, reminding that sexuality is a reflection of the ultimate union with Jesus. Sexual sin dilutes the greatest wonder in the universe. The glorious hope of the world to come is living in a face-to-face relationship with Jesus—of which marriage and sexuality is the closest terrestrial analogy.”¹
In summary, sexual immorality is so serious because it corrupts and deprives us of something so good.
- Respect the personal and relational power God has given to sexuality.
No one needs to be convinced that sex offers powerful pleasure. The ubiquity and endless variety of options in sexual immorality reflect the pursuit of this pleasure. But lingering beneath our fascination with sexual pleasure, there remains a sense that something more profound is involved, something deeply personal and enduring. The Bible teaches that sex cements the bond of a husband and wife in a lifelong union (Mark 10:8–9). In some mysterious way, this bonding aspect is still present even when we rip sex out from its lifelong, marital context, as Paul explains, “Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For as it is written, ‘The two shall become one flesh’” (1 Corinthians 6:16). We can try to take sex out of the marriage bond, but we can never completely take the marriage bond out of sex. It’s just the way God made it.
As it turns out, there is even a biological component to this bonding. The pleasure of sex corresponds to the powerful release of certain chemicals that have the effect of forming a strong social bond.² On the one hand, this is a wonderful reality that should fill us with gratitude and praise. “Our bodies are the splendid interweaving of the physical and the spiritual. God’s design of our physiology should generate deep awe and worship.”³ But the dark side of this is that all forms of sexual immorality unleash this bonding power in destructive ways. As Paul says, “He who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her.” Or, as William Struthers warns concerning the use of pornography, “Unfortunately, with repeated sexual acting out in the absence of a partner, a man will be bound and attached to the image and not a person.”⁴ Imagine how this damages a future or present marriage. This biological bonding effect is also part of the reason people can speak of sexual addiction. Everything you do sexually contributes to a physiological momentum that builds toward a bondage not easily broken.
Sex is powerful. God made it so. This makes misuse of sex especially dangerous personally and relationally.
- Know that all humanity, yourself included, falls short in God’s design for sexuality.
Notice that my first two points do not apply to just one type of sexual sin. They are based on what sex truly is, the meaning God designed it to communicate, and the relational power God gave it. Every departure from the original design defaces the picture and abuses the power. Isn’t this Jesus’ point when he said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart?” (Matthew 5:27–28). Jesus did not say it leads to adultery; it is adultery in the heart. It is an act of the heart that misuses sexual pleasure and violates its gospel-shaped design. Who of us is qualified to throw a first stone (John 8:7)? It is spiritually dangerous to focus moral concern on one kind of sexual sin without recognizing the commonality with our own transgressions.
If we have the Bible’s high view of sex as a picture of the Church’s union with Christ and a respect for the power God has given it, we will not only take sexual sin very seriously, but we will also examine ourselves, confess the many ways we have failed to desire and fulfill God’s perfect design, and cast ourselves again and again at the mercy of the gospel. Yes, sexual immorality is a big deal, so let’s keep pointing each other to our only faithful Bridegroom.
¹ See David White, God, You, & Sex (Greensboro: New Growth Press, 2019), 148.
² See William M. Struthers, Wired for Intimacy (Downers Grove: IVP, 2009), 105.
³ God, You, & Sex, 82.
⁴ Wired for Intimacy, 105.
26 Aug 2021
It’s happened to me more times than I can count. I’m sitting with a man who has given in to sexual sin for the majority of his life. He’s tried many things to stop, but he keeps failing to say “no” to temptation. He’s fighting to believe that victory is possible, but he feels weary and scared. Teetering on the edge of hope and despair, he asks me a simple question: “Does the battle ever get any easier?”
While simple questions rarely have simple answers, David Powlison was fond of saying, “[There is a] simplicity on the far side of every complexity.”¹ So the simple answer to this question is, “Yes, the battle does get easier.” However, in order to understand what that really looks like, we need to wade through the complex depths of the human experience.
The battle has a context
In humility, we always need to treat each person as a unique individual, and that requires great attention to the details of their lives. I always want err on being slow to speak and quick to listen. I want to assume that I don’t know what this person needs unless I first get to know them. I want a holy curiosity about his or her life. I don’t just want to know about his sexual sin. I want to know about his family, his childhood, his hopes, his disappointments, his suffering, and his understanding of the world, God, and himself.
As I get to know someone more intimately, I begin to understand in greater ways the functionality of sexual sin in his life. I see more and more the specific false promises that sin has tailor-made to fit someone’s particular desires and weaknesses. Consider the complex algorithms employed by modern social media giants. How is it that Facebook knows exactly what advertisement will hook you? It’s because Facebook has studied you. Facebook knows your heart based on what you click on and how long you stay. Sin operates in the same way. The battle is so difficult partly because you have an enemy who knows exactly where you are weak. Sin preys on its knowledge of your life, your sufferings, your heart, and your desires, and it exploits them.
Growth in the battle against sexual sin requires an increasing self-awareness of your own life experiences and how they have shaped you. Your enemy knows your weaknesses. Do you?
The battle has a past
If we’re honest, we often live our lives thinking only about the present, and sin capitalizes on this short-sightedness. If I only think of life in 24-hour chunks, then what’s the big deal about eating one or two donuts? No problem, right? But what if I eat two donuts every day for a whole week? That’s 14 donuts. What if I eat that same amount for an entire month? Now you’re looking at close to 60 donuts! It’s not hard to see that this kind of lifestyle will lead to major health problems down the road. The problem is that you can’t simply stop eating donuts one day and then pretend like you didn’t eat donuts every day for the past 10 years. The effects of those 10 years will linger and perhaps have lasting, lifelong consequences.
We reap what we sow. In Galatians 6, Paul doesn’t sugarcoat the impact of years of sowing into fleshly desires. He writes, “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption” (Galatians 6:7–8). Sin has a corrupting impact on our hearts and minds. Every time you give in to sexual temptation, you are sowing seeds of corruption. Think of it like an investment. Sexual sin isn’t just an isolated event. Giving into temptation today makes it harder to resist tomorrow. And science has now definitively shown how habitual pornography use in particular actually rewires your brain to make you that much more prone to return again and again to your sin.
Someone who has sown into sexual sin for decades has a difficult battle ahead of him because he has invested into corruption. Even if in the present he does all the right things to avoid temptation, he will still be reaping the consequences of sowing into a corrupt mind for so long. This is why it’s so difficult to not automatically lust after others. This is why people feel like they lose all self-control when triggered by specific circumstances that lead them right back to their well-worn paths of sin.
That’s the bad news. Most people wait far too long to stop investing into sin and corruption. Just like you can’t erase years of unhealthy eating, you can’t erase years of sinful seed sowing either.
The battle has a future
But the good news of the gospel is far better than being given a do-over. Jesus is greater than our sin, he’s greater than our pasts, and he’s promised us a future that is bright with biblical hope.
First, we must acknowledge that God’s grace in Jesus Christ is more powerful than decades of sinful sowing to the flesh. Jesus, by the Spirit, raises the dead to life. There is no one who is too far gone from the free offer of the gospel. Our hope is not simply in being cleaned up; our hope is that we have been made new creations who are definitively alive to God in Christ.
But while the new birth does a definitive, eternity-shifting work in our lives, the working out of our sanctification is a much slower and more painful process—and here is where we return to the idea of investing.
The principle of sowing and reaping works both ways. Not only does sowing to the flesh reap corruption, but Paul also goes onto say, “…but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us no grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:8–9).
When you turn from sin to Jesus, you are not only repenting today, but you are also investing into repentance for tomorrow, and next week, and a year from now. Saying “no” to sin today makes it easier to say “no” to sin tomorrow.
But, as Paul warns, we can grow weary of saying “no.” We can feel like giving up at times because we aren’t reaping as much as we expected in the short-term. This is why the battle must be fought through faith in the promises of God that are all “yes” and “amen” in Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 1:20).
If you have just started investing in your retirement fund, you know how futile it feels to make such a slow crawl towards your retirement goals. You faithfully sow paycheck after paycheck into this fund, expecting to see a great return on your investment. In those beginning years, checking your balance might tempt you to cut back on your monthly payments or stop all together and instead save up for a nice vacation next summer. You look at other people who have been investing faithfully for 10 years longer than you have, and you think it’s impossible to ever get to their level—but that is short-sighted thinking. Just as you are called to trust in the promises of your financial advisor (promises that have less-than-perfect guarantees), so we are called all the more to trust in the promises of our heavenly Father!
So when someone asks me, “Does the battle ever get any easier?,” my response is, “Are you ready to invest for the long haul?” While I can’t go into everything that investing entails, I want to highlight a few simple, God-ordained means by which we can sow to the Spirit.
Negatively speaking, we sow to the Spirit by removing all hindrances and sin that weaken our endurance in the race set before us (Hebrews 12:1). The battle won’t get easier if we continue to keep temptation close at hand. No one struggling with alcohol hangs out at the bars, and yet we often do very little to truly cut off access to sexual temptation, especially through technology.
We also sow to the Spirit by acknowledging our weaknesses and making wise arrangements that will helps us in those areas. A weakness may be a time, a place, a circumstance, or an experience. You need to know where you’re weak and plan accordingly. So often we lose the battle because we fail to plan, and we don’t take our failures as opportunities to learn.
Positively, we sow to the Spirit through the ordinary means of grace, including, but not limited to, prayer, the reading of Scripture, hearing the Word preached, and genuine fellowship with believers. It is rare to meet a man ensnared in sexual sin who also has vibrant fellowship with God through daily prayer and Bible reading.
You may have never thought about it this way, but I’m convinced that fighting sexual sin is a “good work.” In fact, I would go so far as to say it is Kingdom work. And when no one else in the world sees or cares about your resistance to temptation, God sees you, along with innumerable angels who fall down in worship before him who is worthy of your obedience, even when it requires great pain and endurance.
If you will faithfully sow into this Kingdom work, not giving Satan a foothold, you will find that the battle gets easier. As my former colleague David White liked to say, “Faithfully sowing to the Spirit makes temptation go from being a lion that will devour you every time to becoming a mosquito in your life. Mosquitos can be annoying and pesky, but they don’t devour you. But if you continue to sow to the flesh, you are feeding the lion.”
Where will you invest your heart and time today? What you do in the present is an investment into your future.
¹David Powlison, “Answers for the Human Condition: Why I Chose Seminary for Training in Counseling,” The Journal of Biblical Counseling, Fall 2001: 49.
19 Aug 2021
The following is adapted from Unit 2, Lesson 1, of our newest curriculum for men, Discovery: A Biblical Support Group Curriculum for Men Pursuing Sexual Integrity, which is available as a FREE digital download here.
Do you really think the Church can be helpful to you in your current struggle? What impact do you think the Church has had, good or bad, on your struggle with sexual sin?
In Harvest USA’s Tree Model, the soil—your environment—is everything around you that you cannot control. Most of what has happened in your past is “fallen” and has been influential in the development of your particular sin patterns. Influential, but not determinative. The soil is not determinative because, ultimately, your heart is always interpreting and interacting with the soil. As we have seen in the last several lessons, though, the fallen world in which you live—in which your heart seeks life apart from God—plays a very significant role.
However, those of us who are in Christ, who have been given a new heart, also have new soil in one sense. Our new identity in Christ is not a lone identity. God puts every person with a new heart within a new context, the Church, which is called “the Body of Christ” in Scripture. Eventually, the new life we have in Christ will thrive in a wholly new heaven and new earth, perfect soil for a glorified humanity. For now, in this time of living by faith and not by sight, the Church is our experience of renewed soil. We are emphasizing here the fact that your placement in the Church is something that God has done; you don’t actually get to decide whether or not you will be a part of Christ’s Body.
Though a model can make everything seem neat and tidy, this life is messy and challenging, even in the Church. All of the patterns, habits, and desires of the old life are still with us. As the Apostle Paul says in Galatians 5:17, “flesh” wars with “Spirit.” This is the case for all the other people in Christ’s “Body” as well. The Church is made up of forgiven sinners on the path of being transformed, put into relationship with other forgiven sinners on the path of being transformed. So, the soil of the Church will seem like part-fallen soil, part-renewed soil. Yet, as with each of us individually, the Church’s true and eternal identity is not defined by the sin that remains but by the righteous and glorious future that is guaranteed in Christ. Indeed, the Church is the true and only soil in which our new hearts are designed to grow and thrive, so we must consider how God intends for that to happen. This is the subject of the next few lessons.
When we are united to Christ by faith and given new hearts, those new hearts are placed by God into the context of his Church, the community in which they are designed to grow and thrive.
In Ephesians 2:18–22, Paul uses three metaphors to describe the Church: citizenship, a household, and a building. We want to draw out some of the implications of those metaphors. A citizen belongs in his or her nation or commonwealth. A citizen has both rights and responsibilities—rights to benefits, to protection, and to enjoy the riches and resources of the nation, as well as responsibilities to loyalty and to participation in joint national activities, whether celebrations or wars. It shouldn’t be too hard to see how these things apply to our inclusion in the Church.
Household implies family, and the Church is our true family. The head of this household, our Father, is very rich! As members or his family, we enjoy his wealth, which is strength and power in our inner beings. It is Christ in our hearts through faith and a strong foundation “rooted and grounded in love.” Just like the love shared in a normal family is experientially deeper than in general relationships, we have insider knowledge of the love of Jesus as we experience his love in the context of the church family. God, who is more powerful than we can ever think, makes that power to work in us together, not just in individuals.
How much of what we wrongly seek in sexual sin—safety, love, affirmation, togetherness, power, and strength—is rightly provided to us in the Church? For many of us, our natural human families were not a source of many of these things, but we make a great mistake if we transfer our disappointment and pessimism about our families of origin to God’s family. We need to vigorously pursue the resources of being in God’s family.
Verses 21–22 depict the Church as a building or structure—specifically, a “holy temple.” The image of a temple highlights that God himself is among us, “a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” “Being joined together” and “being built together” communicate the idea of the many different people in the Church enjoying deep unity. The vital connection to the foundation, the apostles, the prophets in the Bible, and Christ as the cornerstone is common to all the individual parts.
Despite a certain cynicism about the Church, we must strive to see the Church as God intended her to be. Our experiences in the Church as sexual sinners have often been rocky. The truth is that the Church hasn’t been a friendly, welcoming environment for many sexual strugglers, but this is not the way God designed it. It is never wrong for us to hear the promises of God’s Word and dare to believe them, in spite of past experiences.
It is far too easy for us to respond to descriptions of what the Church is designed to be by becoming cynical or critical of all the ways we think people in the Church have fallen short of this ideal. Indeed, the failure of God’s people is real; we are called to forbear and forgive within the Church, as well as cry out to God to heal his Church and make it flourish. We also should be asking God to help us see how our own actions or inactions have contributed to the Church not being what we may have hoped. Either way, God is asking each of us to play a part in being the Church. As we grow in this, not only will it bring essential help and strength for our own battles with sin, but we will also be used to encourage and build up others in the Church.
May you gain an appreciation for the necessity of the Church for your growth in Christ; reflect on how your sin struggle has negatively affected your ability to reap the full blessings of life in the Church; and grow in motivation to seek nourishment for your heart in the soil of the Church.