30 Nov 2023
You broke up with your unbelieving boyfriend. You pressed pause on an unhealthy relationship. You confessed your porn addiction to your boss, and now you’re out of a job. You admitted your emotional affair, and not only is your spouse a tornado of emotions, but you’re in excruciating pain from cutting ties with your “secret person.” You decided to leave your church because they’ve wavered on a commitment to God’s truth regarding same-sex marriage. Now you’re discouraged, lonely, and weary about starting over with building Christ-centered, biblically faithful community.
Brother, sister, your obedience is beautiful in God’s sight. He knows how painful it is to honestly face losses which come through his pruning; he removes things from our lives in the process of sanctification.
The Father cuts things away from our lives so that we may bear more fruit, not less.
Tim Keller’s sermon on John 15:1–2, The Vinedresser, is full of comfort for you. He addresses the ministry God our Father has as the Master Gardener and how his pruning of us is essential for growth. Our Father examines us—the branches—looking for a few things. Are we abiding in Christ, the true vine? Are we drawing love and life from him or from something else? Are we bearing supernatural fruit, testimony that we’re vitally connected to Christ and his fragrant, fruitful life? Are we stagnant in our faith or resting in circumstances which threaten our devotion to Jesus?
Two verses into this beautiful chapter of Scripture, Jesus says something startling: the Father wounds, cuts, and prunes fruitful, abiding branches! Does he prune to punish? Shame? Sideline from the good life? NO! The Father cuts things away from our lives so that we may bear more fruit, not less.
When Loss Equals Gain
Keller says that our Father never cuts or prunes something out of life unless there is a loving purpose behind it. “The skillful eye knows that there are no random strokes of the [Father’s] pruning shears; nothing is cut off that wasn’t a gain to lose because it would be a loss to keep.”
Let those words soak in. The Lord will take his pruning shears and cut things out of our lives, even leafy branches and clusters of tasty grapes we’ve grown fond of. God may take good things, remove not so great things, or outright cut off influences leading us to sin. The purpose in every situation is that we become more like Jesus, bearing more fruit as his life surges, unhindered, through us.
Sometimes good things become ultimate things that distract us from what is best. Friendships, marriages, jobs, ministry opportunities, bank accounts, houses can be good gifts. Good gifts, however, can become more important to us than the Giver. That includes our relationships, use of technology, money, and so much more.
Ever-so-subtly, our focus shifts from Christ to this person, this thing, this feeling. Before we know it, we’re attempting to abide—draw life from, find our meaning in—that gift. We’re in a sinful mess and need rescue! Our Father loves us so much that he will tenderly draw near with his pruning shears to remove things for a time or maybe permanently. He may rearrange our life so that this gift returns to its right place “under the feet” of Jesus (see Eph. 1:22–23).
Turning from sin will mean loss, yet God never initiates the removal of anything in our lives unless he will use it for good—for growth in our lives and glory to his name.
When God’s purposes are mysterious to us, we can find refuge in who he is: a loving, purposeful Father.
No Random Strokes
When I had cancer surgery, I trusted the surgeon to wound me with precision and remove only the diseased tissue. Praise God that the surgery was successful; while my scar reminds me of the pain I endured, I am healthy and cancer free.
Friends, our Father is precise, purposeful, and effective in the surgery he does in our lives. There are no random, haphazard, out-of-his-control acts of pruning. Are you experiencing the Master Gardener’s pruning in:
- A relationship? Perhaps your relational terrain has been plowed and bulldozed, leaving an unfamiliar landscape that seems lonely and barren.
- A “not a big deal” temptation or sin struggle that is now in the light and your life is turned upside down?
- Finances, health, family? These important aspects of life aren’t flourishing anymore but floundering, perhaps failing.
“When You Feel the Steel, Cling to the Vine”
Jesus was cut, wounded, and put to death so that our experiences of pruning are temporary. Our Savior, slain and pierced on the cross for our sins, died and conquered death so that “by his wounds we are healed” (Isa. 53:5). When you feel the Father’s pruning, look away from your painful losses and fix your eyes upon Jesus. Grieve, cry, and pour out your heart to God with raw honesty—yet, in your grief, be careful not to push God away. Turning from sin will mean loss, yet he never initiates the removal of anything in our lives unless he will use it for good—for growth in our lives and glory to his name.
When you feel the cost of your obedience, don’t look back! Look to Jesus and cling to him. Jesus is with you in the changed landscape of your life, and he promises not to leave you. “He wounds,” wrote John Newton, “in order to heal, kills that he may make alive, casts down when he designs to raise, brings a death upon our feelings, wishes, and prospects, when he is about to give us the desires of our hearts.”
Father, for any who are walking out a beautiful and costly obedience to you, please pour out your comfort and strength upon them, that they may cling to Jesus by faith—and not turn back to sin.
 Keller, “The Vinedresser,” Jan. 12, 1992. https://gospelinlife.com/downloads/the-vinedresser-5769/, accessed Nov. 16, 2023
 Ibid., Keller.
 John Newton, Letter VII, November 6, 1777, The Works of the Rev. John Newton. … Published by Direction of His Executors. United Kingdom: n.p., 1821, 201.
A version of this article was originally published here: https://women.pcacdm.org/when-loss-comes-hold-on-to-jesus-wisdom-from-the-sermon-i-quote-most.
22 Nov 2023
There’s a hurting and often invisible population amid the LGBTQ+ revolution right now: parents. Each week I hear stories from moms and dads who communicate their pain, need, and sense of grievous loss in response to a child who is struggling with sexuality or gender or has embraced unbiblical ideology altogether. Proverbs 17:17 says, “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” I’d like to humbly offer a few suggestions to my brothers and sisters in the church about how to love this often-invisible part of the body of Christ well in their adversity.
Weep with Those Who Weep
We are all familiar with Romans 12:15: “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” Be prepared to enter the heartbreak of your brothers and sisters walking this difficult road. Even Job’s friends, who did not always offer the best counsel or help, entered into Job’s grief. Job 2:11 says, “Now when Job’s three friends heard of all this evil that was come upon him, they came each from his own place, Eliphaz the Temanite, and Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite. They made an appointment together to come to show him sympathy and comfort him.”
As people who need Christ, we ought to not be shocked that these issues are on our doorstep.
How can you grow into that kind of friend, seeking out parents who are hurting? You don’t always need all the right words to say; sometimes a quiet companion in suffering is just what someone needs. “And they sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great” (Job 2:13).
A Showcase or a Hospital?
As people who need Christ, we ought to not be shocked that these issues are on our doorstep. How is God wanting you to grow as a safe and trustworthy friend for others in their heartache? After all, we are fellow Christians who know that in this world, we face trouble. We all know the painful burden of others’ sins and the reality of our own dark hearts without Christ.
Brothers and sisters dealing with the trauma of a child who has embraced a transgender or gay identity commonly describe their ordeal with words such as devastating, suffocating, sleeplessness, agonizing, earth shattering. The parents I’ve ministered to are generally earnest, sincere believers who have poured into their children’s lives and nurtured them in the Lord. Frequently, I hear stories from parents who were blindsided by their kids’ embrace of an LGBTQ+ identity. Their hopes and expectations for their kids becoming faithful adult followers of Jesus are crushed, and so are their hearts.
We want these believing parents and their children to see the church as a welcoming place where they can wrestle with these issues.
Pray about how you can be approachable and ready to enter into the sorrow of these parents. And consider talking with your church’s leaders about how they are thinking this through as they shepherd your congregation. We want these believing parents and their children to see the church as a welcoming place where they can wrestle with these issues. Remember Jesus’s words to the scribes and Pharisees when they murmured against him because he ate with publicans and sinners: “They that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:31).
Pastors, Preach on LGBTQ+ Ideology
Brothers, you have an amazing privilege to preach about the beauty of God’s good creation—male and female made in his image and the beauty of marriage between one man and one woman. Preach to the young people in the church; warn, urge, and encourage them in the way of truth. Don’t shy away from these topics. Based on the constant flow of Christian parents reaching out to us here at Harvest USA for help in dealing with their LGBTQ+ identified children, these issues are in our churches whether we know about them or not. We can’t abdicate through silence, hoping we’ll somehow be safe. Parents desperately need God’s ambassadors to be that prophetic voice to their children alongside them. If you’re preaching on this issue, it makes it a lot easier for parents to feel comfortable approaching church leadership for help.
Many parents feel alone and isolated, even in their church. This ought not to be. Often, when their child comes out of the closet, they go in the closet.
Many parents feel alone and isolated, even in their church. This ought not to be. Often, when their child comes out of the closet, they go in the closet. They feel shame and guilt. Unfortunately, many young people caught up in the LGBTQ+ movement are poisoned against their parents and coached to blame and attack their parents as toxic for not affirming their new identity. These parents need the church to be there for them. The church is God’s place for these parents to grieve, to receive wise counsel, to be bolstered in the truth, and to be supported in their many difficult decisions. And the church needs to be ready and willing to minister to their children, as well.
Humility and Love
Philippians 2:1–8 is helpful and instructive—it calls us to emulate the humility and love of our blessed Savior. Parents going through this kind of suffering won’t benefit from pronouncements of guilt, judgmental assessments of their parenting, or easy answers to their child’s struggles. They need kind, humble, and gracious brothers and sisters who will walk gently beside them and be there in all the ups, downs, and messiness of this difficult road God has called them to walk.
The parents I walk with are asking hard questions and doing serious heart work which requires faith, repentance, and a teachable spirit as we work through our curriculum, Shattered Dreams, New Hope. They’re often dealing with excruciatingly hard decisions about pronouns, new names, same sex wedding attendance, how to navigate their relationship with their child’s gay partner, how this issue affects family dynamics with other children and grandchildren, and a myriad of other things. Be the kind of friend who is faithful in prayer, ever ready to encourage, and willing to lament with them. And be real about your own suffering and shattered dreams.
These are just a few suggestions which I’ve ruminated on over the time I’ve been privileged to walk alongside these hurting parents. May God help us to be those who are known by our love and willing to lay down our lives for the brethren to the glory of God, the good of his church, and as a witness to the unbelieving world.
16 Nov 2023
Recently I taught Romans 1:18–32 for the women’s Bible study at my church. This passage shows God’s response to those who persist in rejecting him as Creator, Savior, and loving Lord. There’s no way to faithfully deal with this passage without explaining that all forms of sexual immorality are displeasing to our Creator. When we refuse to live under his design and instead invent our own “truth” about how we want to live sexually, we shake a defiant fist in his face.
Paul goes on in this passage to soberly proclaim that God’s holy hostility towards evil, what the Bible describes as his wrath, “is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (Rom. 1:18). God takes it seriously when the image-bearers he created push down his truth and choose lies. Our determination to pursue man-made rules for life—including all we do with our bodies—is dangerous.
God’s Holy Hostility and Lavish Love
Romans 1 is surely a passage our secular society would like to “cancel.” Why? Paul refuses to spin God’s truth to make it tickle his audience’s ears. He boldly names several expressions of ungodliness which provoke God’s holy hostility against evil: sexual immorality (any behavior outside the covenantal marriage of one man and one woman) and thinking that is unmoored from biblical truth. In fact, I wonder if the “giving up” to a “debased mind” (v. 28) is the most severe example of God giving people over to sinful desires. Courtney Doctor points out that Paul lists twenty-two fruits of God’s wrath (ESV) because “in response to continued rebellion and open idolatry, [God] will release people to the misery of who we are apart from him.” (38)
I don’t promote the shaming, angry, call-down-God’s-fire kind of preaching that is sometimes the caricature of Christian Bible teaching. Yet the Scriptures do present our God as holy and righteously angry toward sin, even as they reveal him as the loving Father and Rescuer of brokenhearted, hopeless sinners. Ephesians 2 is a clarifying and comforting complement to Romans 1:
“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 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—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” (Eph. 2:2–7)
In Christ Jesus, God takes us from death to life, from following the adversary to being seated with Christ in heaven, from being children of wrath to eternally loved children with access to heavenly riches. THIS is the truth we must cling to, believe in, and live out. Why would we choose something or someone else? Surely our Savior is worthy of being savored—not pushed away or suppressed.
Savor Jesus as the Good Creator and Lord
My favorite passage when I teach about biblical sexuality doesn’t include the word sex! Colossians 1:15–16 clearly and beautifully explains that Jesus “is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.”
I appreciate how Jackie Hill Perry comments on the impact it makes to realize that we have been made by and for Jesus. When she faced her Savior and Lord, then glanced at her attractions towards women, she grew to know that there was only one godly way to respond:
“My hands, head, face, legs, hips, hormones, private parts, voice, feet, fingers, feelings, were all made by Him and for Him. Apparently, this body was never mine to begin with—it was given to me from Somebody for Somebody. Somebody who’d made it for glory and not shame.” (51–52)
Making peace with what God calls sin is dangerous, to say the least; suppressing his truth to please our SELF never ends well. I’ve grown in faith through witnessing the beautiful savoring of Christ in the lives of many women who echo Jackie’s convictions. These sisters in Christ whom I’ve discipled have been tempted in same-sex directions, perhaps were in sinful relationships, and may have identified as gay for a time. I asked them how it impacts them when believers suppress God’s truth regarding sexuality.
- “It hurts and grieves my heart to see someone buying into a lie, being tossed and shipwrecked by false ‘winds and waves’ of doctrine…by feelings and emotions.”
- “The most frustrating and hurtful temptations come from my own brothers and sisters in Christ who are waving the rainbow flag on social media.”
- “It makes me sad, and I feel betrayed. At one moment, we’re fighting together against sin and the enemy, and then they give up the fight—it’s like I feel keenly the weakness that comes in losing a battle partner—and I am more vulnerable in their departure.”
Sexuality and gender are good gifts, but they were never meant to replace Jesus in our lives. For all the talk on attractions, orientation, and desires, how might we answer the earnest plea which one curious spiritual seeker asked Philip?
“Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” (John 12:21)
Let’s show Jesus as the One greater than all. As good and beautiful as his creation is, Jesus is more worthy of our desires than anything!
21 Sep 2023
It was a snowy day in January 1850, and Charles Spurgeon was only 15 years old. Walking to Sunday service at his own church, he was overcome by the snowstorm and slipped into a small, sparsely attended church along the way. The pastor was absent, presumably due to the storm, and a lay leader took to the pulpit. He preached on a single verse from Isaiah:
“Look to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other.” (Isaiah 45:22)
That day changed young Charles Spurgeon forever—he came to a saving knowledge of Jesus. Spurgeon went on to be one of the most prolific ministers of the 19th century, whose mark on the church today is hard to overestimate.
Spurgeon was saved through the irresistible call of God’s Word to look to the only Savior. But what does “look to Christ” mean? It may feel frustrating because it sounds so deep and spiritual. How do we do it?
Deadly Snake Bites
In Numbers, we come to a truly harrowing scene as the people of Israel travel with Moses through the wilderness:
From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom. And the people became impatient on the way. And the people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.” Then the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. And the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you. Pray to the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live. (Numbers 21:4–9)
Did the people have to crawl over and touch the bronze serpent to be healed? Did they have to chant any particular words or pray with special emotion? No! They looked.
Our Only Cure: Look and Live!
When we look to Christ, we’re doing the same thing that the snake-bitten Israelites did in the desert. Stung by serpents, with venom coursing through their veins, they were doomed. The problem was within them—death was certain. Can you see the amazing simplicity of their salvation? As Spurgeon said, “look and live!” What must we do to receive God’s effective and ready help? Simply look! Even those who are suffering and weary can look. You may not feel you can run a race; maybe you can barely lift your head. But can you look?
Jesus is not only the destination for our soul’s rest; he is the way as well.
Jesus points to this story, too: “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:14–16). What is salvation? Believing in—looking to—Jesus.
But looking to Christ is not a single action when we first come to saving faith. Looking to Jesus is a believer’s continual act and lifelong pursuit. Jesus is not only the destination for our soul’s rest; he is the way as well (John 14:6).
Where do you find yourself today? Are you stuck in a rut? Does your broken marriage, your pornography secret, or the struggles of your child feel like a death sentence? Have you given up hope that Jesus can help you in the mess of your suffering and sin?
Reasons We Don’t Look
Shame can feel like a heavy blanket covering us. It can be a powerful de-motivator, keeping us from risk or transparency because our hearts are sunk deep down. I’ve been there. The paradox is that the true antidote to shame is to be known and loved amid it, not waiting to look to Jesus until you feel you’re on the other side. Jesus bore our shame; he became sin on our behalf (2 Cor. 5:21). As your compassionate Savior, he sympathizes with you as you feel shame’s sting; he longs to meet you in it with his gentle care.
It’s humbling to look outside yourself for the rescue you need. Some days I’m addicted to self-sufficiency— “pulling myself up by my bootstraps.” One painful lesson I’ve been learning is that my pride keeps me from receiving the humbling help I need from outside myself. Why is it so humbling? Because I have nothing to do with it! Looking to Christ requires that we abandon all hope in ourselves—our best intentions, our best efforts—and wholly cast ourselves on Christ’s mercy and strong help.
Sometimes looking to Christ seems too good to be true. How can God really help me? What could Jesus possibly do in this darkness? We ask these questions from a place of unbelief and hard-heartedness, not knowing that the God we serve is able to do more than we could even ask or imagine (Eph. 3:20)!
Jesus Is Your Only Real Hope
Referring to Israel’s pilgrimage in the wilderness, Jesus speaks about himself as the bread of life and gives an incredible promise: “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:40).
Your growth in holiness depends on Jesus and happens as you behold him!
Jesus repeats the very same “look and live” concept, and he points to himself as the only hope for eternal life. Believing Jesus is not merely coming to Christ for salvation; by believing, we have life in his name (John 20:31). The whole life of the Christian—in suffering, through struggles with sin, and all the way to heaven’s sinless glory—is believing the Lord Jesus, not just all that he has said, but all that he is to his people. Looking to Jesus is turning our attention to him as our only hope, rescue, and refuge and surrendering to obey him, whatever the cost.
Behold! Your Path of Sanctification
What does all this have to do with the struggle of a pornography addiction or feeling ensnared by an unholy relationship? Friends, it is only by looking to Jesus that we will be transformed to look more like him (2 Cor. 3:18). Your growth in holiness depends on Jesus and happens as you behold him! Will you agree today that your greatest need is to look to Jesus and live? Let your heart be changed by beholding him in his Word, with his people, and by his Spirit. We all need help to grow more like Jesus; we can’t do it alone. Reach out to a trusted friend, a church leader, or Harvest USA. In whatever darkness you’re carrying, you’re not alone.
14 Sep 2023
This post is an edited excerpt from Across the Kitchen Table: Talking about Trans with Your Teen, by Sam A. Andreades. Available to preorder now at Harvest USA!
A difficult case confronted Jesus as he came down from the mountain in Mark 9. His disciples had been trying to help a father whose boy was really messed up, but the problem was too difficult for them. What follows is the longest description of a healing/exorcism in the Gospels. The uncommon amount of detail affords us insight into how Jesus worked to restore people to wholeness. While we do not know all that Jesus did each time he made someone better, this lengthy example shows that it sometimes involved a process.
Jesus the Diagnostician
Jesus works with families. The process of addressing the child’s need first turns into an instruction for the friends trying to help—in this case, the disciples (Mark 9:14, 18–19, 28–29). It then turns into an address of the father’s need as well. Jesus talks to the father about the man’s own heart as revealed by the situation (Mark 9:22–24).
We similarly find, in trying to help a condition like teen trans, God challenges our own hearts. As secular psychologists Susan and Marcus Evans recognize, “exploring the family dynamics is an essential part of any assessment [of gender dysphoria].” As you help your son or daughter, God is after your growth as well. At the very least, a gender-troubled loved one will require you to grow in love and faith. You, as the parent, are instrumental in your child’s progress.
Then the Diagnostician turns to the boy himself. Jesus has a way of drawing the real problem out of people. In his presence, the evil possessing this man’s son soon shows (Mark 9:20). The boy is in the grip of a spirit that brings him to body-mutilation. This self-destructive force has overcome his soul (Mark 9:18, 20 and Matthew 17:15 emphasizes the boy’s self-harm). As Jesus observes the manifestation with the father, he asks the man a telling question about his son: “How long has he been like this?” (Mark 9:21, NIV). Jesus is interested in the boy’s history; it somehow helped to hear what may have led to the present condition.
Breakfast and Other Past Events
Revisiting the past to study a key moment when “it all started” occurs in other places where we see God’s counsel in the Bible—in fact, the first one. God revisits the beginning of Adam and Eve’s problem by asking them what they had for breakfast (Gen 3:11). He thereby takes them back to see the decision they made that produced the shame under which they now labor. Isaiah the prophet conveys God’s diagnosis of how Israel had, at one point, gone wrong in adopting another means of security instead of God himself. He takes them back to a past key time when they “made a covenant with death” (Isa. 28:14–19).
Going backward sometimes helps people go forward. A probable cause of pronounced body alienation is earlier-life trauma. As John Calvin put it, “Satan mixes up his attacks with natural means.” Sins by others against our bodies can greatly exacerbate the shame to which we are already susceptible. If one feels like one’s body is the problem, a reasonable place to look for the source of that discomfiture is in an experience that would make one want to separate from the body. Unfortunately, childhood sexual abuse, an example of the kind of trauma that can derail a person’s gender, can take place without anyone finding out until much later.
Sometimes, for example, in response to being hurt by a man, one finds in an abused girl a desire to be a man in order to not get hurt: “I want to be a man because men are not vulnerable.” Early on, she makes a decision to never get hurt again, and this is the best way to ensure it. She deeply wants what she perceives as the protective power of being a man. Sometimes, a sexually abused boy concludes, “I am treated by men as a woman, so I must be a woman.” He internalizes his abuse and shields himself from disgust by the strong desire to be a woman.
Of course, such a horrid experience as child abuse is very difficult to revisit. It is easier to say, “I’m in the wrong body” and never have to speak of it again. But, if that is our reality, ignoring it further damages us. When a person is ready to talk about past excruciating experiences, licensed counselors can help provide the delicate care needed to make the recalling tolerable. Furthermore, revisiting such awful memories can only help if the person reinterprets them in light of God’s presence and acceptance. As cited above, God directed his first “How long has it been like this?” question to Adam and Eve. God revisited their initial decision to help them connect their wrong reaction to temptation to what they were currently experiencing. He then lovingly clothed them, giving them a new way to deal with their shame (Gen 3:21). Jesus’s questioning of the boy’s father showed that his presence can overcome any trauma, even if it dates to childhood (Mark 9:21).
In Prison No Longer
When, as Jesus found in his diagnosis, we see a greater evil has taken hold, God will take greater measures. One time, a cross-dressing man—we’ll call him “Archie”—contacted me at his wits’ end. He came over to talk, and we reviewed his strange history. Since age fourteen, Archie had periodically adopted a woman’s persona. Therapist after therapist, psychologist after psychologist, told him this was just how he was made. But it didn’t help. He ended up in prison. When he got out, he said, “I am still in prison.” He was, at times, close to suicide. When, decades later, he finally broke free of the addictive medications he was on, he began to have clarity about himself.
As he described his strange history to me and asked for my help, he made no bones about having a demonic possession. It was more a matter of Archie doing the diagnosing rather than me. He could tell that Satan lay behind his man-denying behavior. The Dark One exploited the sexual molestation visited on Archie at six years old by an evil grandfather.
I do not tend to rush into these things. Archie had not been to church in 25 years. But he did understand his guilt, shame, and need for reinterpretation in Christ. After further discussion, prayer, and enacting appropriate safeguards, I (as I’ve done on rare occasions) performed an exorcism. That was the beginning of Archie as a changed man. In my last contact with him, he wasn’t in prison anymore. (We can expect more need for demonic deliverance as our culture continues its steady march to paganism.)
Trauma-induced gender tearing can be redeemed by re-understanding it to be inside the care of our heavenly Father and including it in the reason for Christ’s work on our behalf. But this the Holy Spirit is faithful to do with God’s children. It is remarkable to see him apply Jesus Christ’s excruciation to areas of pain in our lives to bring about healing, forgiveness, and, in the end, freedom. Yet this, he does.
 Susan Evans and Marcus Evans, Gender Dysphoria: A Therapeutic Model for Working with Children, Adolescents and Young Adults (Oxfordshire, Oxford, England: Phoenix Publishing House Ltd., 2021), 93.
 John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries (1852; reprint, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1981), XVI:II:322.
03 Aug 2023
Beloved, I wonder if you can relate. I remember praying, “Father, my transgressions are ever before me. I do the very thing I hate. Why do you call me ‘son’ despite this wretched body?” I felt hopeless, cursed, and unloved. I heard the gospel’s truth, but, as sexual sins poisoned me, my sinful heart persisted in lying about my identity.
Remember Truth: Our Identity in Christ
For me and for you, believer, the foremost remedy is remembering who we are in Christ. Please turn with me to Romans 8:12–17. I pray you may see the truth today.
12 So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. 13 For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.
The Apostle Paul begins verse 12 by drawing a conclusion (“so then”) from verses 9–11, which talk about union with Christ. In union with Christ, life is enabled by the Spirit even though our mortal bodies are bound to die in sin. This is why Paul says believers are “debtors” in verse 12—without Christ, death is the only thing at work in us. But with Christ, we are given the gift of eternal life because he paid the ultimate price on our behalf. Thus, in a deep sense, we have a tremendous debt before the Lord in light of our deserved death, the due penalty of the law of sin.
We are set free from sin and able to persevere in this broken world because the Lord is with us. Through him, we can look at our brokenness and have hope.
Remembering the truth of who we are in Christ—because of his perfect life, atoning death, and victorious resurrection—changes how we live every day and leads us in perseverance against sin.
Remember Faith: Our Adoption in Christ
Death means complete separation from God (v. 13). The only way to avoid death is to abandon the flesh. “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” But how can any of us accomplish this? Truly, we cannot! That is why Paul grounds our actions in this foundation: “by the Spirit.” In faith, we need to remember two things from this verse.
- First, believers can’t be only passive about their faith in Jesus. A movement needs to take place. Because of the cross, believers are enabled—or, perhaps, conditioned—to mortify sin. If you belong to Jesus, there will always be something in your heart telling you to fight against fleshly evil. You are simply no longer driven by sin but life in Christ. Coming to faith in Jesus is necessarily connected with actively fighting sin: “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry” (Col. 3:5).
- Second, we don’t have the strength to fight the good fight on our own. We come short of being able to do anything about these deeds of the flesh—pornography, abusive traumas, torn families, and never-ending, painful days of suffering. We are utterly incapable of fixing it—it’s too much. This is why Paul exhorts us to put to death the deeds of the body “by the Spirit of God” (v. 14, my emphasis). We are set free from sin and able to persevere in this broken world because the Lord is with us. Through him, we can look at our brokenness and have hope. Though our sins are red like scarlet, we can proclaim “they shall be as white as snow” (Isa. 1:18). If you ever needed evidence about God, beloved, here it is. Your fight against sin is the very evidence of the Spirit of God moving in and through your life. He claims you as his possession, giving you belonging and status. God’s Word calls you his sons and daughters, a people led by his Spirit (Rom. 8:14). The world and the flesh have no claim over you, only the Spirit.
Verse 15 expands on this new identity in Christ. “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’” Paul writes from the context of the Roman Empire, where the adoptee is removed from their previous state and placed within a new family. Old debts are transferred, a new life begins, and the head of the household owns the adoptee, with all accompanying liability. This child is born again into a new hope, receiving a unique name that grants privileges, responsibilities, and a belonging. Thus, adoption perfectly explains what it means to have newness and fullness of life through the relationship a believer is brought into with Jesus Christ.
This is how God embraced his people throughout history, like a father who takes an illegitimate child into his family.
Yes, it’s out of adoption that we call God “Abba, Father.” This expression of warmth and confidence that God is our heavenly Father carries a filial tenderness and reverence made possible by the Spirit, without whom such a declaration would be pretentious and false.
And this is how God embraced his people throughout history, like a father who takes an illegitimate child into his family. That’s the reality and beauty of adoption. Children of God now have full access to and relationship with him.
Remember Hope: Our Longing in Christ
But the Christian life is hard as we wait for Jesus to return. You’ve probably felt the weight of suffering prolonged, maybe for many seasons—your prayers feeling empty and silent. We are in pain while longing for the final day when our faith will be made sight.
Nevertheless, this longing is one critical way in which we experience redemption being applied in our lives. We are already the adopted children of God. However, there is a deep-seated ‘not yet-ness’ about this reality. We rejoice as God’s people. And yet, having received the Spirit of adoption, we groan inwardly, waiting eagerly for the resurrection of our bodies upon Christ’s return (Rom. 8:18–25).
The promise is that when he appears, we shall be like him, and he will transform these bodies of humiliation into glory. “But our citizenship is in heaven,” Paul says, “and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself (Phil. 3:20–21).”
This expresses the heart of our present and future condition and is an essential element for understanding the Christian life. The law alone is not enough. If we only had the law, it’d be challenging to understand the agony of the Christian life because those with the Spirit experience profound incompleteness. And it is within that context that we cry, “Abba Father.” Paul is not talking about an upbeat cry. The language for “cry” in Greek is typically used in times of immense pressure and opposition, portraying a violent atmosphere rather than a peaceful one. This cry springs from an anguish that leaves us fragmented, where the fullness of God-given privileges comes face to face with our brokenness and prompts us to cry, out of all unsettling weaknesses and earthly difficulties, ‘Abba, Father.’
Be comforted, hurting believer: the fact that you’re calling out to the Lord in your desperate longing reveals that you belong to him.
And we are not alone, for the Spirit is with us in our cry. “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (v. 16). Our spirit and God’s Spirit express their mutual witness in crying, “Abba, Father.” It’s impossible to express this unless the Spirit is working in our lives. Be comforted, hurting believer: the fact that you’re calling out to the Lord in your desperate longing reveals that you belong to him. Beloved, I hope you see “what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God” (1 John 3:1).
Remember Love: Our Sanctification in Christ
Verse 17 defines the destination of God’s adopted children. Glory awaits us in the guarantee of eternal life! The adoptee is an heir of God and co-heir with Christ through the inheritance given by the Lord—this inheritance is our union and communion with Christ as his portion (in suffering and glory) is shared with us (John 17:5, 24). It’s not as if we contribute to redemption. No. Christ alone bore the cross and rose from the dead to reconcile the world to himself. But it’s about the call to obediently “walk as children of light” (Eph. 5:8b) because “the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience” (Eph. 5:6b). This looks like partaking in the sufferings of Christ, filling up what is lacking in his afflictions (Col. 1:24), and yearning for future glory.
Oh, beloved, I pray you may see the Father’s love in all this. What else is there? Yes, “faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor. 13:13). Because “God so loved the world,” millennia can pass but the gospel shall remain (John 3:16a).
And when breathless, suffocated by the lies of sexual brokenness, come as you are, oh, child of God, and cry “Abba! Father!”
Therefore, remember the call of Christ: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34b). And when breathless, suffocated by the lies of sexual brokenness, come as you are, oh, child of God, and cry “Abba! Father!” Fix your gaze upon Christ who promised, “So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you” (John 16:22, my emphasis). Isn’t it worth waiting for such joy, my friend? Eternal life with Christ. Join me for one more day, just one more day at a time.
I’ve been representing Harvest USA at many national Christian conferences over the last two years. We get a lot of traffic at our exhibit tables, and once people find out what we do, most of them tell me about their child, grandchild, or friend who has come out as gay or transgender. Almost everyone I meet has been personally touched by the LGBTQ+ wave sweeping our country. And the overwhelming majority of people identifying as LGBTQ+ are young. What is happening to our millennial, Gen Z, and alpha generations?
In the latest Gallup poll for 2022, only 2.7% of baby boomers and 3.3% of Gen Xers identified as LGBTQ+ versus 11.2% of millennials and 19.7% of Gen Z. Along with that, while there was only a slight increase in the total percentage of Americans identifying as LGBTQ+ from 2012–2020, that number showed a marked uptick from 2020 to 2021. How do we make sense of this data? While there are many factors involved, here are just a few things to consider.
COVID Lockdowns and TikTok
Regardless of what you think about COVID lockdowns, we can’t deny the social impact of forced isolation. Kids were taken out of school and put in front of screens. Not only were many of these children receiving consistent LGBTQ+ indoctrination in their virtual classrooms, but they were also getting heavy doses of it on social media. By April 2020, just as the lockdowns began, TikTok surpassed 2 billion downloads worldwide.
Consider what happens when our youth are cut off from the real world and plugged into an attractive, addictive virtual world algorithmically curated to show only one perspective?
Social media platforms specialize in creating echo chambers, with sophisticated algorithms designed to keep our attention as long as possible. The more we click on one type of video or post, the more we’ll see that type of content. Even if we click on just one pro-LGBTQ+ post, we’ll start seeing more of them. The more we click, the more dominated our feed becomes. Consider what happens when our youth are cut off from the real world and plugged into an attractive, addictive virtual world algorithmically curated to show only one perspective?
Hidden Experiences or New Interpretations?
Many will argue that the dramatic increase in people identifying as LGBTQ+ stems mainly from growing social acceptance. They’ll say the numbers have always been this high, but only recently have people felt safe to be public about it. While that may be true for some, it doesn’t account for the large statistical differences between generations. Now that there is social acceptance, you’d expect just as many boomers as Gen Zers identifying as LGBTQ+.
Instead, we’re witnessing a social contagion to which young people are particularly susceptible. Adolescence is a scary, confusing time for everyone. Our bodies and minds are going through countless changes which we struggle to know how to interpret. But now doctors, teachers, therapists, scientists, and politicians are giving new answers for these age-old questions. Consider that 66% of Gen Zers identifying at LGBTQ+ identify as bisexual. Why has bisexuality become so prevalent? Boys and especially girls will often go through seasons during adolescence when they might develop new feelings for a friend of the same sex. Historically, those feelings wouldn’t have materialized into anything more than a fleeting quasi-crush, leading to little (if any) questioning of their sexuality. But today, their radars have been trained and conditioned to see even the slightest attraction toward the same sex as incontrovertible evidence that they are indeed bisexual.
The questions used to be, “How do I live as a man? How do I live as a woman?” But now the question every child is being forced to consider is, “Am I a boy or a girl?”
The same is true for gender identity questions. All boys and girls will ask questions about what it means to be a boy or a girl: What activities should I like? What feelings are masculine or feminine? Fallen humanity has always struggled to live as the men and women God calls us to be. But, by and large, these questions were limited to our roles, not our ontology. The questions used to be, “How do I live as a man? How do I live as a woman?” But now the question every child is being forced to consider is, “Am I a boy or a girl?”
The Battle for a Better Story
I recently spoke at a retreat for a few hundred Christian college students from a variety of secular campuses. I was sobered by the extent to which worldly categories have infiltrated this generation. The deck has been stacked against them. They’ve been fed language, narratives, and parameters that prohibit any biblical categorization for who we are and how we are to live. Truly, Gen Z needs an entire deconstruction of their sexual worldview for a biblical framework to make any sense.
This deconstruction won’t start with logical arguments and statistics; they’ve been captured not by data, but by a story. A story of liberation, meaning, justice, and beauty has captivated their hearts and they’ve found their identity within it. A competing narrative strikes at the core of who they understand themselves to be. This will feel extremely scary; all their defenses will be on high alert against these threats to their identity.
Many who currently find their value, meaning, and identity in an LGBTQ+ label will, in God’s good timing, find Christ alone to be their all-in-all.
But this is where Christians have every reason for unshakable hope and confidence: we have a better story to tell. The gospel is the only narrative that accounts for everything we experience in this life and promises transcendent, everlasting hope and purpose. And we have the best Story-Teller in the universe! If you’re a Christian, it’s because you were told the story of the gospel by the Holy Spirit. Yes, you audibly heard it through a human voice. But spiritually, your ears were opened, and your heart brought to life by the voice of God himself. Jesus, our great Shepherd, calls his sheep by name, and his sheep know his voice (John 10:27).
Jesus died for Gen Z and alpha generation sheep. Many who currently find their value, meaning, and identity in an LGBTQ+ label will, in God’s good timing, find Christ alone to be their all-in-all. Who is sufficient for these things? “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matt. 19:26). May we fervently pray for the hearts and minds of our youth as we point them to the solid hope of God’s better story.
In this fallen world, we’ve all experienced suffering, distress, and anguish—and we’ve all sought relief in sinful ways (Rom. 3:10). Maybe you’re seeking relief from a stressful job through secret pornography use. Perhaps experimenting with opposite-gender clothing makes you feel secure in a harsh world, or an unholy relationship has become your refuge when you feel forgotten and unknown by your spouse.
Men and women walking away from sinful patterns often lament the loss associated with leaving their sin behind. This makes sense because that choice sin feels vital. What our sin provides often feels like life to us; through it we experience comfort and pleasure. We feel loved, significant, in control.
What happens when we give those things up? Does Jesus provide the comfort and pleasure sin once supplied? Can God’s comfort and deliverance really compare with sin’s attractions?
The Psalmist’s Testimony
Psalm 116 introduces us to someone in agony. We can likely relate to the psalmist’s urgency and need: “I suffered distress and anguish” (v. 3), “O Lord, I pray, deliver my soul!” (v. 4), “I am greatly afflicted!” (v. 10), “All mankind are liars!” (v. 11).
Men and women walking away from sinful patterns often lament the loss associated with leaving their sin behind.
Yet we also see the perspective of one who has been delivered: “For you have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling; I will walk before the Lord in the land of the living” (vv. 8–9). He has received God’s comfort—and it delights his heart.
What God’s Comfort Doesn’t Provide
God doesn’t give his glory to another. He is Lord of all. He’s in control of everything and his ways are perfect. Our hearts long to be “little lords” and control our universe. When a single woman feels the sting of loneliness, she takes control over her feelings by watching things she knows are ungodly. When an older man doesn’t have the sexual intimacy he desires with his wife, he seeks control by chatting with much younger women online. In contrast, the comfort God gives is not something we can turn off and on to modulate our discomfort on demand. Receiving God’s comfort requires a heart willing to submit to his ways rather than grasping for control.
Modern life trains our bodies and minds for immediacy. One hundred years ago, no one would’ve believed that I can now take a small device out of my pocket and, within an hour, a person I’ve never met will deliver donuts to my door. A big draw toward sinful patterns is the immediacy of relief they provide. In the words of a former Harvest USA staff member, “God’s comfort doesn’t always rush with excitement in the same way sexual sin does.” We must endure a painful period of learning to fast from sinful comforts to receive the true comfort of God.
Our sinful patterns operate as a functional “escape valve.” We can simply opt-out of feeling sad, uncomfortable, or angry by soothing our hearts with sexual sin. The way of Christ is a way of self-denial and affliction. Who wants to sign up for that!? But take heart. God does provide a way of escape from temptation (1 Cor. 10:13). He also provides himself as a refuge for our souls. But how do we taste his comfort?
How Does God Comfort Us?
- By His Spirit
“I will not leave you as orphans, I will come to you” (John 14:18). How tender and personal is the comforting ministry of God’s Spirit! The Holy Spirit also gives counsel (John 14:26), promises to be with us forever (John 14:15), and, ultimately, points to Jesus (John 15:26). Are you willing to let go of your own ways of seeking comfort to receive the far-surpassing comfort of God’s Spirit?
- Through His Word
David says, “I rejoice at your word like one who finds great spoil” (Ps. 119:162) Why would David write this? We see the answer in Jesus’s words to the Pharisees: “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life” (John 5:39–40).
The Scriptures are a precious comfort because they bear witness about Jesus, in whom we have eternal life. God’s Word reveals Christ to us! Read his Word and pray, “Lord, show me the beauty of Christ in the Word.” This will bring great comfort to your weary soul.
- Through His People
The Church is designed to be a source of help, comfort, and encouragement to the Christian. God’s people are the hands and feet of Jesus to be used by God to comfort and help weary and afflicted believers. Safe Christians can provide a refuge in your pain and remind you of the truth when you’re struggling and weary with sin.
- By Faith
The life of the Christian is a life of faith (2 Cor. 5:7). Therefore, much of the comfort we receive is by faith. This seems to be one of the most difficult pivot points in getting free from ensnaring sin patterns. How our hearts long for the immediate, physical, and familiar when we’re suffering and need comfort. Take heart, brother or sister in Christ. You will one day see Jesus face to face! You will have the comfort you long for in all its fullness. Your Savior will personally wipe away your tears (Rev. 21:4).
What If I Don’t Feel It?
Practically speaking, this may all sound unrealistic. I can appreciate skepticism if you’ve never had an experience of victory over temptation through the felt comforts of Christ.
Sinful comfort feels immediately satisfying, but it’s an illusion. It will only draw you deeper into loneliness and despair. God’s comfort sustains, protects, and nourishes your soul.
At one point, I deeply struggled to receive Jesus’s comfort—his real comfort—and longed to know what others were speaking of. I clung to Hebrews 12, where we see two benefits of submitting to the Lord’s discipline. It yields the “peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” and, more stunningly, causes us to “share in his holiness” (Heb. 12:10–11). I had to embrace the mindset that I was being trained by the Lord himself. I began looking to a future yield, to this precious “peaceful fruit of righteousness” that my heart increasingly desired. This takes endurance. It means taking individual steps of faith—without the feelings—as you wait for your “spiritual muscles” to grow in your practice of communion with Christ through exercising your faith.
Sinful comfort feels immediately satisfying, but it’s an illusion. It will only draw you deeper into loneliness and despair. God’s comfort sustains, protects, and nourishes your soul. Pray honestly and ask, “Lord, teach me to receive the comfort only you can provide.” The Lord longs to answer when you call out to him.
“Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you.” (Isaiah 30:18)
The holiday period has passed and a new year has begun. But perhaps this has been a season of sorrow in your life, as it has for me. I wish to write this article to you—especially as we contemplate the days ahead with trepidation.
Perhaps your child didn’t return home for Christmas and, though it’s February, you left the lights up just in case she does. Your eyes have become tired of tears as memories of your beloved one are wrapped up in arguments about sexual brokenness.
What can I say to parents grieving the news that their son is about to transition? That their daughter is marrying a transgender man? The fluctuations of gender identity destroy what we hold dear and what God himself created. There aren’t enough brushstrokes to settle the rising dust of human depravity. Indeed, those who follow Christ face a continuous barrage of conflict and suffering.
We know what the Bible teaches about gender, but how do we live in this world? What should we speak or do—particularly when our hearts are breaking for our loved ones?
Oh, so much has been theologized. We know what the Bible teaches about gender, but how do we live in this world? What should we speak or do—particularly when our hearts are breaking for our loved ones? Now is the right time to hear Jesus’s words from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).
Beloved, I know it’s hard. Don’t stop your tears from falling. Yes, bury your face within the palm of your hands and weep. In the darkest times, when our faith is being tested and we’re hard-pressed to consider God, the Holy Spirit works in our hearts to produce steadfastness, preparing us to acknowledge the Lord’s authority and rule.
So permit yourself to mourn. If there are troubling, heavy words your heart needs to spill out, may I encourage you to lift them in prayer to the Lord? He will incline his ears to you (Ps. 17:6). Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you (James 4:8). Remember Paul who, with a thorn in his flesh and a messenger of Satan harassing him, was “content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities” because God’s power is made perfect in weakness (2 Cor. 12:10). Out of this context—weakness—we sing with hope as David did, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me” (Ps. 23:4).
By the Spirit, Christ sustains you and enables you to fight for him. His power is made perfect in you as you stand upon the threshold of utter weakness, still proclaiming with all your heart that Jesus IS your King.
Even your weakness and grief are part of the good fight! “It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart. Sorrow is better than laughter, for by sadness of face the heart is made glad” (Eccles. 7:2–3). In the Lord’s hands, the sadness you suffer refines your soul. It causes you to grasp for a glimpse of eternity and makes you yearn for renewal in Jesus, our soul’s strength. It reminds you of the Lord’s promise—from all eternity past to all eternity future, we “have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, Abba! Father!” (Rom. 8:15b).
Your suffering may look like an untamable monster today, but rest assured that its days are numbered. It is transient.
Truly, as you endure trials that can tear apart relationships and challenge your faith, remember that “this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Cor. 4:17–18). Your suffering may look like an untamable monster today, but rest assured that its days are numbered. It is transient. For “all flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the Word of the Lord remains forever” (1 Pet. 1:24–25a, Isa. 40:6–8). The battle belongs to our triumphant Lord.
Until Christ returns, beloved, we are to fix our eyes upon him who commands death to be no more and whose Word remains unchangeable. “In him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28a). By having this mind among ourselves we do suffer, upholding the call to seek the lost, pointing them to life in Christ. You may be hated for this as your child leaves home. You may be persecuted by your own family and afflicted by every ungodly law. But it is precisely when you’re being given over to death for Jesus’s sake that the life of Jesus is manifested in your mortal flesh (2 Cor. 4:11).
Beloved, remember Christ. He promises life to us:
This will be your opportunity to bear witness. . . . You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and some of you they will put to death. You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your lives. (Luke 21:13, 16–19)
21 Jan 2022
It may or may not surprise you that the majority of men seeking help from Harvest USA are married. The majority of these husbands are not coming to us because of their own conviction over sin but because they were caught. They were living, often for decades, in darkness, and now they’ve finally been forced into the light. They usually come to us with a mixture of pain and relief—the pain of the consequences of their sexual sin and its accompanying deception, and also the relief of no longer living as hypocrites.
This initial exposure is freeing and provides with it real opportunities for change and transformation. While there are many dangers and snares along the path towards marital restoration, none is more common and more deadly than going back into the darkness.
For any of you familiar with twentieth-century American poetry or Christopher Nolan’s brilliant film Interstellar, you probably know the poem by Dylan Thomas, “Do not go gentle into that good night.” In his poem about death, Thomas provides incredible wisdom for a husband tempted to go back into hiding. He writes,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Husbands who are battling sexual addictions are not only wrestling against the allure of sexual sin. They are also facing the constant temptation of lying about it to their wives. I’ve heard all of the major excuses for going back into the darkness:
“I love her too much to hurt her by telling her.”
“I know how she’ll react; she just can’t handle this.”
“She’s not supposed to be my accountability partner; I have men in my life I confess to.”
“Confessing to her doesn’t help me; she’ll just use that as fuel to punish me later.”
“I’ve already confessed it to the Lord.”
While we recognize that there are rare and extreme situations where it may not always be prudent or loving for husbands to confess their sexual sins to their wives, the general rule we find to be most beneficial for marriages is called “the 24-hour rule.”
What is the 24-hour rule?
The 24-hour rule is when a husband promises that he will confess, within 24 hours, any time that he engages in behavioral sexual sin—including masturbation, pornography, fantasy indulgence that lasts for minutes at a time, and anything worse than these behaviors. This includes any active pursuit of these behaviors, even if he is unsuccessful, such as seeking ways around internet filters to find pornography.
What the 24-hour rule is not
The 24-hour rule, misapplied, has the potential to become very detrimental to a marriage, which is why clear, objective expectations are essential. It is unhelpful for a wife to be privy to every single battle a husband faces with sexual temptation. We believe she deserves to know the battles he clearly loses, but not every battle he faces.
While every couple requires a nuanced approach, we generally try to steer couples away from certain scrupulous standards of confession. We generally do not encourage couples to adopt the following types of confession as a rule:
- Every time a husband takes a second look
- A sexually suggestive image appears on his device apart from his active pursuit of it, and he immediately flees from it.
- Tempting thoughts that come into his mind but against which he has fought and upon which he does linger for minutes at a time.
It’s important that couples understand the difference between a “rule” and Spirit-led confession. The purpose of the 24-hour rule is to build trust, as I will explain later. Understandably, breaking the rule has devastating consequences in breaking trust, but a husband can also freely confess as the Spirit leads. So, while it is not a rule that a husband confesses every battle with temptation, he may share about specific temptations with his wife from time to time, which can have very positive results for both of them. She can encourage and pray for him, and he can continue to learn how to trust his wife and be more vulnerable with her.
Expecting a husband to confess every temptation or lustful thought is often a grasping for control and only leads to a further breakdown of the fragile trust they are seeking to rebuild.
Why the 24-hour rule?
An entire book could and probably should be written on why this kind of rule is so helpful in marriages seeking restoration after sexual betrayal, but here are just a few reasons why we find this guidance so crucial:
- Often in these situations, the greatest damage done to the marriage is the loss of trust and the difficulty of earning it back. Succumbing yet again to the snare of pornography does great harm to a recovering marriage, but the difference between confessing openly and being caught in covering up sin is worlds apart.
- Wives usually want to know when their husbands have been unfaithful with pornography. It hurts them to know, but they still would rather know than be left in the dark. The most common response I hear from wives to their husbands is, “I’m hurt that you did this, but I’m grateful that you told me.”
- Committing and being faithful to a 24-hour rule takes the burden off of a wife to be a detective. Wives often feel scared when weeks or months have gone by without hearing from their husbands how they’re doing. In this scenario, no news is sadly often not good news. Faithfulness to the 24-hour rule guards wives against fretfully wondering what is true.
- The 24-hour rule forces husbands to live in the realty of their decisions. One of pornography’s greatest lies is, “This isn’t hurting anyone.” Needing to confess each instance kills that lie very quickly. I’ve heard many husbands talk about how great their marriages are apart from this one issue. Men have an uncanny ability to compartmentalize and downplay the impact of their sin on their marriages. Hiding this sin and never talking about it creates a very powerful illusion that things are great, but this backfires in the end. The more a wife believes her husband is being faithful, the greater the disappointment, hurt, and sense of betrayal once she finds out that’s not true.
- Confession creates opportunities for genuine relationship. Whether a husband knows it or not, keeping this sin hidden forces him to put up his defenses. He can’t be his true self around her. He’ll need to hold some of himself back from her. The two of them can’t truly be naked and unashamed, but being open with his wife provides the foundation for truly knowing one another.
- Confession gives his wife an opportunity to forgive him and for him to receive her forgiveness. This is a beautiful display of the gospel, reminding them both that we only have a saving relationship with Jesus because of his grace! Our marriages should point us to the gospel every day, and living in the darkness kills that opportunity.
- The 24-hour rule upholds the great responsibility, dignity, and honor of the marriage covenant. Most couples take vows at their weddings, and many will vow to “forsake all others.” Pornography breaks this marriage vow and tramples upon it. The offended party not only has the right to know but also needs to be involved for proper restoration to occur. A commitment to the 24-hour rule is an outworking of your commitment to your vows.
- Willing confession of sexual betrayal in a marriage is scary for a husband to do. Confession takes all of the control out of his hands, forcing him to entrust himself to the Lord. This is such a critical step in repentance. He must lose his life in order to save it. Sin so often seeks to make life work on our own terms. Hiding your sin is a prime example of a refusal to let God be the Lord of your life.
On more than one occasion, I’ve sat with wives in tears as they come to realize their husbands have been hiding their sin. Their faces show their embarrassment, shock, disappointment, and confusion. But what is perhaps most heartbreaking is watching them plead with their husbands to come back into the light. They aren’t asking their husbands to be perfect, only honest! These women are willing to forgive, to help, to pray, but they feel completely shut out, disregarded, and unsafe when they realize they’ve been deceived. Deception virtually wipes out any growth a marriage has made, leaving wives feeling like they are back at square one. But the enemy is so crafty in telling husbands the very opposite lie—that confession will take them back to square one. Deception, not confession, is your enemy, brothers! Fight it; put it to death. Entrust yourself to Christ because he will never forsake you! Rage, rage against the dying of the light.