25 May 2023
Resource Highlight: Women’s Ministry
This month, Harvest USA Director of Women’s Ministry Caitlin McCaffrey highlights two resources for women. Sexual Faithfulness: Gospel-Infused, Practical Discipleship for Women is available as a free digital download, and Sexual Sanity for Women: Healing from Sexual and Relational Brokenness is now on sale!
We pray these resources are a blessing to you and your church.
04 May 2023
The Slippery Slope of Small Sins
This post was written by Harvest USA Men’s Ministry intern Ben Pearce.
“Just one more drink,” the drunkard says.
“I’ll just look for a little while,” the porn-addict explains.
“It’s just a little sin,” Satan whispers in our ear.
The road to life-shattering sin is paved by little sins. Small, daily decisions shape our desires and habits. The apostle James notes, “each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (James 1:14–15). James is not arguing that wrongful desire is not sin—it is. But he is stating that the lusts of our hearts do not remain in our hearts. These desires give birth to sinful acts. Christians who dwell upon sexual fantasy in their minds cannot excuse themselves by saying it’s only in their heads. Our thoughts ultimately lead to action. Each moment we dwell upon our wrongful desires, we train ourselves to see them as acceptable.
The road to life-shattering sin is paved by little sins. Small, daily decisions shape our desires and habits.
The first “little” sexual sin many of us indulge in is fantasy. This is hard to battle. As we reject one pernicious thought, another is right around the corner ready to entice our heart. Suddenly, the lies of the enemy become too sweet to reject. He who said, “You will not surely die” was a liar from the beginning (Gen. 3:3, John 8:44) and is still a liar now. Yet, although we’ve been warned, Satan’s whispering influence stirs our hearts. With full moral culpability, we all too often feast upon the banquet set before us.
As with all sin, fantasies gradually cease to satisfy, giving birth to larger sins (James 1:15). A man frequently begins by letting his gaze linger on women in public or on images in magazines and social media. His heart hardens and desire increases. Those lingering glances last just a little bit longer than they did at first. Before he knows it, he’s not satisfied with what he sees in these brief moments and seeks something more explicit. Though he may be married, he engages other women in inappropriate conversation or begins viewing explicit pornography. Conversations become flirtatious; pornography ceases to satisfy. Suddenly, a man realizes he’s committed adultery. Broken, he may cry “I never thought I would do this!” as loudly as he’d like, but he himself paved the way for his great sins.
So, what should we consider when we’re struggling with “little” sins?
- Christ Died for Small and Large Sins
John teaches us that Jesus Christ “is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2). When we’re told that Christ died for our sins, we’re not told that he died for our greater sins only. God’s wrath burns hot against all sin, even the most minor. Even for just a bite of forbidden fruit (Gen. 2:17) or a mouthful of forbidden honey (1 Sam. 14:43), God has warned that “the soul who sins shall die” (Ez. 18:20). While God does differentiate between small and great sins, his Son died for all sin without differentiation. Thus, as Christians, we must remember the weighty truth that every sin we commit, however small, is a sin for which our Lord Jesus Christ died.
This weighty truth cuts both ways. For the repentant Christian, his great hope and security is the reality that his sinful thoughts and desires are covered by the forgiving blood of Jesus Christ.
This hard and glorious truth should be a deterrent for us. The marred body of our Lord was wounded for even our most seemingly minor thoughts, words, and actions. The fantasies we indulged for even a fleeting moment had to be paid for by the suffering of our Lord. No sin comes without suffering.
- Take a Long View
The ongoing, unrepentant pursuit of small sins will ultimately consume us. Neither Satan nor our own flesh are satisfied with little sins; “negligible” sins are just the top of an increasingly steep slope. The Preacher of Ecclesiastes characterizes the foolish sinner in this way: “The beginning of the words of his mouth is foolishness, and the end of his talk is evil madness” (Eccles. 10:13). Unresisted sin gains a gradual foothold upon the soul. These advances are not easy to discern—we give in, just a little here and a little there. Before we realize it, we’ve habituated our soul to sin. Every advance weakens the will to fight until, finally, we eagerly fall to what was before unimaginable. Christian: Be alert! “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:12).
For the repentant Christian, his great hope and security is the reality that his sinful thoughts and desires are covered by the forgiving blood of Jesus Christ.
Sin is never isolated. Our Lord says, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander” (Matt. 15:19). Every thought and action we do not surrender to Christ today trains us for disobedience tomorrow. Every small sin we commit takes us further down the slope to the cliff of larger sins. We must prepare ourselves to resist the temptations of Satan and our flesh—to recognize when our desires deceive us, making us compromise “just a little.” Are we willing to cut sin off at its root?
- You Are Secure in Christ
If you’re trusting Jesus, sin will not win. A repentant sinner is secure, despite all his struggles with sin, because his obedience is rooted in Jesus’s obedience. Paul, who cried, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” also declared “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 7:24, 8:1). Christian, let your eternal security in Christ compel your fight against sin. Resist the slippery slope of small sins by looking to Jesus—he is our solid ground.
13 Apr 2023
A First Aid Kit for Sexual Temptation
This post was written by Harvest USA Men’s Ministry intern Nate Fowler.
My blood pressure seriously drops at the sight of blood. My four-year-old son once tripped and split his forehead on the corner of the table. Thankfully, I remained clear-headed enough to pull him into the bathroom and evaluate the matter until my wife brought our first aid supplies and took over.
Then, feeling the shock set in, I went to the kitchen for a splash of cold water in the face and an electrolyte-heavy drink. Within a minute or two, I was able to return with my wits about me and assist my wife. My son was safe; the fall just broke his skin. But I’m certain that if I’d remained in that bathroom any longer, the shock would’ve sent me to the ground, doubling my wife’s tasks.
Sexual Temptation Is Like Shock
Sexual temptation can be just as surprising as a medical emergency. Whether it’s a pop-up ad, a phishing email, a graphic movie scene, a visit to the beach—one minute we feel impervious, and the next we’re in a spiritual ambulance grasping for anything useful. What can we do in the moment of temptation? How can we address the shock before falling to sin? Which Scriptures or tools can help us respond effectively?
This is why I formulated a “first aid kit” for sexual temptation. This practical tool is meant to give direct assistance in the hour of need. I pray you’ll find it useful.
What’s in the Kit?
My kit is an envelope filled with extracted pages of journaled prayers, 3×5 cards with Scripture verses, letters from loved ones, and photographs. I place this envelope in my work bag and, when tempted, pause all obligations to open the envelope and prayerfully survey its contents. After a sufficient period of time, I’m reoriented and ready to fight the day’s temptations with vigilance.
Here are some principles to help you develop your own first aid kit for sexual temptation.
A first aid kit must be prepared to address several possible scenarios. Preparation and variety are vital for effectively addressing temptation (see 1 Pet. 5:8–9; Eph. 6:10–15; Phil. 4:8).
Here are some items I recommend:
- Psalms and Scripture verses. I have a single notebook page labeled “When Tempted, Pray…” followed by Psalms and personal prayers. I also have a list of Scriptural truths like, “My body belongs to God (Rom. 12:1–2; 1 Cor. 6:19–20)” or “My sanctification is more important to God than my ease (1 Thes. 4:3–8; Rom. 5:1–5; James 1:2–4).”
- A list of goals. For example: “To love God with all my heart, mind, soul, and strength,” “to love my wife as Christ loves his Bride,” and “to be a role model for my kids in this area.”
- A list of spiritual consequences for falling—things God’s Word tells us we can expect as a result of sin. For example, “quenching the Spirit and feeling God’s heavy hand (1 Thes. 5:19; Ps. 32)” or “unable to bear my brothers’ burdens (Gal. 6:2).”
- A list of spiritual rewards for fighting. For example, “joy and peace in the Lord,” “more time to focus on relationships, tasks, and hobbies,” or “feeling clean, pure, and free from shame.”
- Self-written prayers. Call on the Lord to fulfill his promises in Scripture (Acts 4:23–31). Feed your future self words you know you’ll need to hear.
- Letters written by loved ones. My wife has written verses and encouraging notes to remind me she’s in the trenches with me. I also keep general letters from family and friends.
- Photos of loved ones you’re fighting for.
- Poems or song lyrics that speak to the issue in a unique, compelling way.
- A list of people to contact in the moment of trial (ideally your accountability partners or one of the loved ones you’re fighting for).
- Voice or video recordings of loved ones if you can’t call.
You must be equipped with proper training. How do Navy SEALs learn to execute strategies effectively, or ice skaters learn to seamlessly perform daring stunts? How do EMTs know which tools and operations to use in a crisis? Muscle memory. They practice over and over until the motions are ingrained into their minds and bodies.
Deuteronomy 6:6–9 tells us that God’s commands become ingrained into our hearts as we teach them, talk about them (when sitting, walking, lying down, and rising), and as we bind them as signs on our hands, doors, gates, and even our eyelids.
These are some ways I practically apply this step:
- Place your kit with another frequently-used item. I keep my envelope in a folder in my backpack so, when I open that folder, I see it and have an opportunity to review the contents.
- Use your kit on days of minimal temptation. Even when my temptation level is around 15%, I try to pull out the kit for a couple of minutes and review my goals for fighting.
- Make it a part of your repentance plan. If I fall into sin, I follow this process of repentance: 1) Confess to God contritely. 2) Confess to my wife and accountability partners. 3) Spend as much time fighting sin as I spent succumbing to it. I use step three to bolster my first aid kit with Scriptures, prayers, and other resources that soften my heart.
Ease of Access
Lastly, A first aid kit must be accessible. Hikers don’t hope for a shack to miraculously appear in the middle of the woods; they carry the essentials on their backs. Neither can you embark on your daily spiritual journey without the proper supplies on hand. As a matter of preference, a hiker may decide to use GoogleMaps over a compass. Similarly, you might choose to:
- Develop your collection in an envelope, like me.
- File a digital collection on your smart device or in an online folder (if it’s not more tempting).
- Pack your kit into a collection of 3×5 cards.
Your decision should be based on what’s most useful and accessible to you. Either way, the most successful hikers are those who keep the essentials close at hand.
Bonus Expansion Pack
This tool is versatile. While my first aid kit for sexual temptation is fully developed, I’m working on a first aid kit for anger and have thought about creating one for gluttony. Whatever your area of sin, a collection of prepared materials, a plan for regular review, and easy access to the kit will strengthen your fight and help you look to Christ.
May the Lord bless you and keep you as you fight for him.
09 Feb 2023
Will God Really Comfort Me?
In one of our women’s biblical support groups recently, we were discussing the role of faith as it relates to receiving God’s comfort. The group members and I all confessed that we don’t always walk by faith and believe that God will comfort us in the manner and timing we want. A question emerged: Are we willing to forsake our false comforts to receive by faith what God promises to give? Could God’s promise to comfort really be true?
At the heart level, these women’s questions revealed deeper questions about the character of God himself. It’s a worthy endeavor to pursue questions that press us into what we truly believe about God’s commitment to be Father, Comforter and Home to us.
False Comfort or God’s Comfort
Have you ever felt the tension between what God says about himself and your daily, lived experience? Have you wondered if the comfort God provides will truly be enough for you in your temptation and pain?
In Psalm 116 we find the psalmist in dire circumstances: being confronted with death and hell itself (v. 3). What words might you use for your circumstances—do they feel like death? Or hell? Perhaps you’re losing your marriage, your health, or facing the pain of past sexual abuse. Maybe you’re suffering the loss of a loved one, a child walking away from the faith, or your decades of unmet longings for love and relationship. At Harvest USA, discipleship for sexual strugglers takes shape as we learn to allow the grace of God to train us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions in order to embrace self-controlled, upright, and godly lives (Titus 2:11–12). Part of that grace of God is undoubtedly his comfort and mercy.
How do we go from being people who regularly pursue sinful ways of escape or reward to those who seek and receive God’s help when our hearts long for comfort in the pain of this life? Or another way one ministry recipient put it: “Does God’s comfort actually work?”
I Love the Lord
In the opening two verses, we see the psalmist reflecting on what God has already done (past tense) and how it has impacted his present manner of life:
I love the LORD, because he has heard
my voice and my pleas for mercy.
Because he inclined his ear to me,
therefore I will call on him as long as I live. (Ps. 116:1–2, my emphasis)
Why does the psalmist love the Lord? Because when it really counted, he banked everything on God’s promise, and God did indeed hear his voice and pleas for mercy. Furthermore, how did the psalmist learn to live as a result of this experience of God’s help? The Psalmist has come to believe something about God’s character—that God inclines his ear to him.
Have you ever had a safe relationship where someone has inclined their ear toward you—maybe a parent, friend, pastor, or spouse? You can be certain they’ll listen and care when you bring a concern to them. This is the very heart of God toward all his children! As a result of exercising his muscles of faith by calling out to God in desperation and seeing God provide real help, the psalmist has learned a new way of living his life: calling on God as long as he lives (v. 2).
Make Room for God’s Help
To whom or to what do you currently call out when you suffer distress and anguish? Has a #1 friend, boyfriend, or girlfriend become your source of salvation from distress? What about escapes like pornography, building a fantasy life, or solo sex? Have these become your help in anguish, boredom, or stress?
Friend, you can bank on God being who he says he will be. He promises to comfort you, and he will. His character—his everlasting goodness—will never change. When was the last time you risked giving up false comfort, with your only hope being God’s character and promises? In the Church today, I fear we don’t often see the power of God displayed in our lives partly because we don’t take risks resting on God’s promises. We have our plans, programs, and safe ways of living, but these come at the expense of seeing how the Lord will provide as we live by faith in real time—with our real desires, longings, and expectations.
Has your conception of God and his loving power toward you become miniature and domesticated? Andrew Murray says it this way:
Oh that God would by his grace show you what a God you have, and to what a God you have entrusted yourself—an omnipotent God, willing with his whole omnipotence to place himself at the disposal of every child of his!
Are we willing to forsake false comforts in order to receive the comfort offered in Christ? The sober reality is this: if we’ve never sought God for help and comfort, and when we lay down familiar ways of coping to bank on God’s promises, we are stepping into a loss of control and a realm of relative unknown. Some call this a “leap of faith.” Compared to the known euphoria of sin, God’s comfort can feel like a letdown.
Yet God’s Word shows that the process of godly sorrow and repentance from our sinful ways of coping leads to salvation without regret (2 Cor. 7:10). God’s comfort is like gold—precious and everlasting—compared to the flimsy shine of dollar store tinsel. The pursuit of God’s promises, by faith, leads to reward (Heb. 11:6). Dear Christian brother or sister, will you, by faith, seek the true comfort God provides? As our Savior promises, “Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20b).
Are you a woman seeking freedom from sinful comfort-seeking? Harvest USA’s women’s ministry wants to serve you! Reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org. This process is confidential.
20 Oct 2022
I Want to Enjoy Christ More, But How?
This post follows my previous blogs, “Single Christian, Are You Enjoying Your Union with Christ?” and “Discouraged in the Battle Against Sin? Commune with the Living God!”
Understanding the dynamics of our communion with God can help us in the battle against sin, which, at times, can feel deeply discouraging. But it also sheds light on the deeper need in our hearts—to pursue joy and satisfaction in Jesus alone. As we seek freedom from sexual sin and say “No” to temptation, it’s important to feed the deepest longings in our hearts through communion with God.
Practical Ideas for Fostering Communion with God
In this life, we enjoy and commune with Christ by faith, so anything offered here is seen through that lens. Also, though the intent is practical, nothing will be a magic trick. There’s no “1, 2, 3 steps to victory!” or “Just do ______” quick fix for enjoying Jesus more. But, as we turn toward the practice of communion with God, here are 11 practical ways to pursue Christ.
- Bible Reading
Jesus’s high priestly prayer in John 17 gives us a glimpse into his own view of the Bible: “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17). One way to grow in holiness and commune with God is to read his Word. One habit I’ve adopted is to stop before my Bible reading and intentionally call to mind that the words on the page are God’s revelation of himself to me. I pray from Psalm 119:18, “Open my eyes that I may behold wondrous things from your law.” Enter into reading God’s Word with an expectant and humble posture, ready to receive of Jesus.
In his earthly ministry, Jesus frequently went away to spend time in prayer communing with his Father. As with any relationship, spending time talking to someone will deepen your relational intimacy with them. Though we can’t see God, the faithful act of seeking him in personal prayer will cause you to more deeply commune with him. As we do this, he increasingly becomes our functional refuge: “Trust in him at all times O peoples! Pour out your heart before him, God is a refuge for us” (Ps. 62:8).
In Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus, he prays that they might come to comprehend the love that God has for them. But how do they do this? Paul says they do this with all the saints! “That you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge” (Eph. 3:17b–19b, my emphasis). In my own life, I’ve powerfully experienced the local church to be a primary means of learning about and communing with God. When I see a woman—tear-stained face—raising her hands in worship to God, and I know that this dear sister is deeply grieving a miscarriage, I can marvel at the worthiness of Christ as I bear her burdens with her. When I extend forgiveness or am forgiven by a brother or sister in the local church, I can worship God as the one who is faithful and just to forgive all my sins. When I forbear with a difficult-to-love brother or sister, I’m reminded of how Jesus bears with my difficult-to-love self in my many weaknesses! A healthy local church life will help us worship Christ and more deeply commune with him.
Meditation is not emptying the mind. To the contrary, it is filling the mind with biblical truth. Meditation is the Christian’s way of slowly digesting truths about God—from God’s very own words—and intentionally calling them to mind to more deeply draw out these precious truths as we seek to apply them. God’s Spirit is an active agent in this endeavor. He reminds us of the words of Christ and leads us into all truth, enabling us to obey and believe.
Paul gives an example of one of the manifestations of being filled with the Spirit: “addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart” (Eph. 5:19). In our day, we have unprecedented access to a repository of rich songs from church history and incredible contemporary writing and music. If your heart is feeling cold, or communing with God feels too remote, try putting on a song with lyrics that specifically talk about God and his character or the gospel. Drawing near to God in song, with an aim to commune more deeply with him, is an often-neglected means of grace in private or family devotional time. Singing is not merely for congregational settings!
- Scripture Memorization
The Psalmist asks, “How can a young man (or woman!) keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word,” and just a few verses later this idea is expanded, “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you” (Ps. 119:9, 11). Memorizing verses, passages or whole books of the Bible is a practical way to pursue communion with God. It’s a way to draw near to him, to demonstrate how precious his words are to you, and to submit your heart to him in humility, especially in your time of need. How our Father’s heart must delight in the preciousness of his people drawing near to him using his very own words of love and help!
- Speaking about God
When the writer of Hebrews encourages the readers to “consider how to stir up one another to love and good deeds” (Heb. 10:24), he says so in the context of drawing near to God and holding fast to our confession of hope in Christ. I believe the mutual edification of speaking about Jesus with one another can be a means to help us draw near and commune with God. Believers in Jesus, indwelt with the Holy Spirit, have the unique ability to help one another behold and commune with Christ. Let us consider this deep privilege and obey the command to consider how to do just this!
- Enjoying God’s Creation
Simply beholding the beauty of the natural world, the creation of God, can help draw the believer’s heart to worship and commune with the Creator. The Psalmist writes, “The heavens declare the Glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Ps. 19:1). Getting out into God’s creation can be a way to help center your own thoughts on the greatness of the Creator. It’s not the creation itself that we worship. Rather, the creation points us to the beauty, power, and majesty of the creator—Father, Son, and Spirit.
- Serving Others
In our service to others, particularly when we use the gifts God has uniquely given us, we can rest in and commune with God. Scottish Olympic sprinter Eric Liddell famously remarked, “God made me fast and when I run, I feel his pleasure.” There is opportunity for communion with and worship of God in serving and sacrificing for others. This is one of the dichotomies of the Christian life, that, as Jesus said, “it is better to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).
- Reading about God
The Bible is not the only book that can help our hearts engage with and commune with God. Good books about God can also stir up our affections for Christ and guide our hearts to worship and adore him. Consider reading a book about God’s character, his attributes, or the gospel. Perhaps reading a missionary biography or devotional book can help your heart grow in its affections for God himself. The purpose is not merely knowledge, but knowledge that elevates the heart to worship God for his perfections! Books that do this are a blessing and help to us in our efforts to commune with God.
In Matthew 6:16, Jesus doesn’t say “if you fast” but rather, “when you fast. . .” (my emphasis). The practice of fasting is particularly neglected in the West, but fasting can be a powerful way to commune with God. Giving an intentional time and space to the Lord, to direct your heart toward your dependence on him through fasting, can point your affections toward the truth that we are dependent on him for all things—at all times. For some, fasting from food may not be an option, so consider fasting from another legitimate thing such as entertainment, technology, or other enjoyments.
Persevere in Your Pursuit of Deeper Communion
Does this feel discouraging? Does it feel like a checklist or mountain to climb? Let your pursuit of communion with Christ begin in that very place—the place of your weakness and need. Tell God how you feel. He knows you and wants to help you see him more clearly. Cling to his promise in Jeremiah 29:13, “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” It’s not a daily mountaintop experience we’re pursuing, but rather a faithful and formative obedience—which leads to joy.
“I said I would never do it again.”
“I can’t believe I’m back to the same old sin patterns.”
“Why can’t I stop doing this?”
“I thought I was past this.”
Why do we pursue sexual sin, particularly after we’ve come to loathe the impact it has on us, our spouse, our ministries, and our relationship with the living God? Have you ever said with the Apostle Paul, “Wretched man (or woman) that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Rom. 7:24)?
There are many reasons why we pursue broken sexual choices, but I would like to focus on one core motivation: unfulfilled longing for something transcendent. Our hearts are designed to long for something intimate, life-giving, and hope filled. Sexual sin makes many promises, but it can never give us these things. Even godly sex within marriage, as glorious a gift as it may be, fails to be the ultimate fulfillment our hearts deeply—and rightly—long for. Speaking of the folly of idolatry in his commentary on Isaiah, Ray Ortlund says, “It’s absurd to try to derive an ultimate experience from a less-than-ultimate resource. That’s false worship” (293).
This blog follows a previous post entitled, “Single Christian, Are You Enjoying Your Union with Christ?” and takes a deeper look into union with Christ.
Two Distinct Realities: Union and Communion
Before discussing the nuts and bolts of how to enjoy your union with Christ, it’s important to make a distinction between two concepts: union and communion.
Union with Christ is a position Christians enjoy as a result of the work of Christ on their behalf, uniting them completely to himself. It is passively received; it is not something merited, achieved, or fought for. It is an act of sheer grace from God’s benevolent heart down to the Christian. Marcus Peter Johnson describes union this way in his book One with Christ:
To experience fellowship with the Son is to be made alive in Christ, justified in Christ, sanctified in Christ, seated in the heavenly realms in Christ, built up into Christ, and given fullness in Christ. Those joined to Christ are “members of Christ,” “crucified in Christ,” “included in Christ,” “baptized into Christ,” and “the body of Christ.” They eat and drink Christ, they are one with Christ, Christ dwells in them and they dwell in him; they can do nothing apart from him (39).
When reading this definition, you may be tempted to think, “Well, that’s great, but I live in the real world and certainly don’t feel like I’m on cloud nine, united to Jesus all day, every day!” How are we to reconcile the glorious truth of our irrevocable union with Christ with our day-to-day reality, which, if we’re honest, often feels dull, disappointing, or at times even hopeless?
Understanding the dynamics of our communion with the triune Godhead may shed light on the frustration of this dissonance between what we read in Johnson’s definition and what we experience in our daily lives.
Communion with God is the felt experience of the life of God intersecting with our own; it’s the sense that we relationally interact with God himself through the varied means of grace. We share in the life of God and relate to him in the many ways he represents himself as father, king, intercessor, comforter, counselor, refuge, friend, high priest, elder brother, great physician, husband, and sympathizer with our weakness. This isn’t even an exhaustive list of all the ways God describes his communion with his people! Contrary to our union with Christ, our communion does ebb and flow. It is subject to our weakness, efforts, striving, and lack thereof. We may experience profound joy in communion with Christ and we may experience seasons of weariness and discouragement. Even mature believers go through times when they struggle to have rich communion with God.
Our communion with God—or lack of communion—is one key to the “why” behind our sinful behaviors and attitudes. John Flavel says it this way:
The soul is so constituted that it craves fulfillment from things outside itself and will embrace earthly joys for satisfaction when it cannot reach spiritual ones. The believer is in spiritual danger if he allows himself to go any length of time without tasting the love of Christ and savoring the felt comforts of a Savior’s presence. When Christ ceases to fill the heart with satisfaction, our souls go in silent search of other lovers (vol. 2, 438).
Growing in holiness and purity is not merely the “putting off” of unwanted behaviors, though it is not less than that. It is also the “putting on” and pursuit of God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Seeking deeper communion with God—the one who loves our souls—is a death blow to the pet sins we nurture because it brings the satisfaction we were longing for when we chose to pursue sin in the first place.
Acknowledging the Mystery
There is a degree of wonder and mystery involved in comprehending our union with Christ. When we pursue Christ, we’re endeavoring to do what only the Holy Spirit can enable us to do. In this life, we enjoy and commune with Christ by faith.
We must observe a posture of humility because, after all, we’re talking about communing with—enjoying, relating to—the living God. This is his world. All things are for him and through him and to him (Rom. 11:36), on his terms. Thankfully, we have a gracious God who wants to disclose himself to us—to be known and worshiped in Spirit and in truth. He is not hiding, so knowing God is not a scavenger hunt. Take heart! God relates to us intimately. He is deeply personal and specific, so there’s not a “one size fits all” method to unlock the secret to true communion.
It’s helpful to acknowledge that pursuing communion with Christ in a faithful way may differ for each Christian based on their season of life. A mother of young children, a man in hospice, a young professional, a pastor, and a teen all may have different habits of communion with God.
A dear brother in his nineties said that singing and playing his piano in worship to Christ has become more primary as Bible reading grew more difficult with age. Similarly, a mom with school-aged kids shared that in her single years she experienced her communion with God as primarily a silent, meditative time alone in the Scriptures. She laughed as she remarked, “I can’t remember the last time there was silence in our home!” As you seek after communion with God, seek first to be faithful in that pursuit. Rather than unlocking the secret to a transcendent experience, communion with God can grow even in the ordinary moments of daily life.
Why do we pursue sin in the first place? Often, it’s because we’re not pursuing our indescribably satisfying Savior. We try to fill our desire for transcendence with cheap trinkets when we have all the depth of the riches of wisdom and knowledge of God in Christ (Rom. 11:33). Indwelling sin can’t hold a candle to communion with God.
In the next installment of this blog series, I’ll discuss ten practical ways you can pursue deeper communion with Christ.
One of the most crucial questions a husband and wife ask after the discovery of pornography or an affair is, “How can trust be rebuilt?” Put simply, trust is built with consistent, selfless love over time.
However, this simple answer is not always easy to live out. For a spouse who has lived deceitfully for years, living in unwavering truth will be new territory. For a spouse who’s been betrayed and deceived, deciding if their spouse is being consistent in words and actions can be confusing.
The consistency + time formula is a helpful guide for couples who are committed to daily, proactive engagement to rebuild trust. Consistently checking-in, with both truth and tenderness, can help create and cultivate an intimate connection, which is necessary in the trust-building process. Check-ins are a purposeful, set-aside time for a couple to connect on a consistent basis about the things that are important to each person. They offer a husband and wife the opportunity to know and be known. When done well, check-ins can be used to help a couple truly walking in the light foster the spiritual and emotional connection that enables trust to be established once again.
Consistent Steps Taken over Time through Selfless Love
You might ask, “What can I do consistently? And for how long? What if I don’t feel loving?” One husband may decide to bring his wife coffee first thing every morning. Another may consistently answer the phone each time his wife calls. Still another may reliably go to bed at the same time as his wife. Each of these examples may help a wife begin to see her husband growing in dependability. But these consistent actions, while loving and significant, don’t accomplish everything needed to rebuild broken trust—God’s plan for marriage is far greater than a list of tasks for a husband and wife to do predictably.
In addition to a couple demonstrating reliability, God’s design for marriage includes a husband and wife faithfully loving one another with authenticity, intimacy, and integrity. The language God uses to describe the union of Adam and Eve’s marriage conveys unity. “Therefore, a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24).
However, sexual betrayal attacks that union. Every part of a marriage is deeply impacted by betrayal. The deceit that accompanies pornography use and affairs ravages a couple’s ability to be truly connected as God intended. One tool that can be fruitful for a couple working through the effects of betrayal is to engage in regular check-ins with each other to build both reliability and unity in marriage.
What Check-Ins Can Offer
The development or re-establishing of an intimate connection necessary for trust within a marriage. Trust-building will include heart change—allowing a husband who has been hiding to step out into the light. Honesty and transparency can lay the groundwork for a wife who has been devastated to begin to consider moving toward her husband emotionally.
A focused context in which to put learning into practice. For the wife who seeks to have compassion toward her husband but finds it so difficult under the painful weight of betrayal, the short and contained timeframe of the check-in offers an opportunity to be compassionate toward him. For the husband who is seeking to avoid the temptation to be defensive, the check-in provides an opportunity to practice listening without responding defensively.
A demonstration of openness, vulnerability, and growth. During a check-in, a spouse can show an increasing self-awareness along with an increasing Christ-awareness. It also allows each spouse to respond to the other’s vulnerabilities with care, aiming to be safe enough to be “naked and unashamed” (Gen. 2:25).
An expression of commitment to the marriage relationship. We put a child’s soccer game or a work meeting on the calendar because they are important to us. Similarly, having a regular check-in shows a level of seriousness toward repairing and caring for the union between a husband and wife.
Check-ins can be part of plan to develop an intimate, safe connection for both spouses to know and be known in a way that captures the unity of marriage described in Genesis 2.
Many different check-ins have been created to help couples foster a deeper connection with one another. However, sexual betrayal creates a rupture in a relationship that requires cautious care when engaging in connection. The pain of betrayal can leave a wife fearful, trepidatious, or simply not ready for some topics or conversations. Here, a husband would be wise to invite his wife to look at the suggestions available to include in a check-in. Together, they can to create a check-in that is valuable and worthwhile for their marriage.
- Feelings: How are you coming into this check-in? Name three feelings you are feeling or have felt today. Keep a feelings list or feelings wheel handy to reference.
- Encouragement: Offer three things you appreciate or admire about your spouse. CCEF counselor Aaron Sironi says, “Praise and affirmation are essential to the health and vitality of a marriage. Genuine praise and verbalized thankfulness are like marriage fertilizer (think Miracle-Gro®) in the soil of your spouse’s heart. They have the power to help heal an ailing marriage or strengthen an already healthy one.” Building encouragement into a check-in allows one to practice honoring and cherishing his or her spouse.
- Openness: Husband, based on what your wife has asked to know, share any boundary violations honestly and tenderly. Include steps you’re taking to grow in sexual integrity.
- Goals: Share three short-term goals, hopes, or dreams you have for the next month. Then share three long-term goals, hopes, or dreams you have for the next five years. A couple recovering from the devastating effects of betrayal may find they have not dreamed together in a long time, if ever.
- Request change: This is an opportunity to share something you would like to see change. It may be a request for the lights to be turned off when leaving a room or a request for a spouse to change entertainment choices. It may be a request to begin a regular prayer time before bed. With regard to building trust, Brad Hambrick notes, “Trust is the belief that reasonable requests will be honored without the need for relational leverage.” With gentleness and fairness, presenting requests and accommodating requests that are reasonable can help build trust.
- Prayer: To close your check-ins together, pray as a couple.
Some couples do check-ins every day, every other day, or weekly. Husband, be the one to consistently initiate the check-in according to the timeframe agreed upon; this can be a wonderful opportunity to sow seeds of trust. And be honest. Honesty is the cornerstone of trust-building. Brad Hambrick, in his workbook True Betrayal: Recovering from the Betrayal of Your Spouse’s Sexual Sin says, “Honesty is a primary indicator of someone’s level of commitment” (19). Honesty communicates dedicated devotion to your wife.
Healing Is Possible
There can be hope in the aftermath of betrayal. Hambrick casts a vision of a marriage where trust is being rebuilt: “an aspect of the ‘one flesh’ relationship is returning. You are beginning to experience your burden being reduced and your joys multiplied as you share them with your spouse again. The marriage is beginning to feel like a blessing again” (61).
Couples are wise to ask how to build trust after betrayal. Doing check-ins allows them to invite each other and God into vulnerable places, trusting him to repair, rebuild, and reform a broken union into a marriage that glorifies God. A redeemed and renewed marriage is a work that no man or woman can do on their own—it is a work of God in a husband and wife who are faithfully committed to each other in Christ. Check-ins can help a couple grow in their connection with one another and with the Lord.
30 Jun 2022
Help! I’m in a Sexless Marriage (Part One)
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.
01 Nov 2018
I’m addicted to porn. I’m a sex addict. I have a porn addiction, but I’m now free for the last ten years. The word addiction is everywhere in our culture today. We live in an unprecedented age of ways and opportunities to become ensnared in life-dominating, destructive behavioral patterns. Whether it’s pornography, alcohol, drugs, gambling, or internet-gaming, we continue, as a society, to expand our list of what we would classify as addictive disorders.
But is the word addiction—and for that matter the label, porn addiction — really helpful when discussing habitual patterns of sin? Our culture has largely bought into the notion that if you have an addiction, you have a disease. I heard on the radio an advertisement for a local recovery center, and the opening statement said, “If you are struggling with addiction, you have a disease, it’s not a lapse in judgment.”
Many people latch onto the idea that an addiction is a disease because their behavior feels outside of their control. It’s become a monster they can’t contain, and it’s destroying everyone and everything they hold dear. It feels like someone or something else is in the driver’s seat of their lives.
Many people latch onto the idea that an addiction is a disease because their behavior feels outside of their control… that is the very nature of what sin does. Sin is enslaving. We reap what we sow.
But the church needs to slowly and carefully examine whether the word addiction and the anthropology it espouses is in line with Scripture and God’s revelation of who we are as human beings in a fallen world.
When it comes to the arena of sexuality, at Harvest USA we find some helpful things that this word captures for people’s experiences, but we also see how this language points people in a false direction about the true nature of their problems and where to find the solution.
I want to focus on 3 things about how a disease model of addiction can be helpful in explaining habitual sexual sin patterns.
- The addiction model highlights what it feels like not being able to stop.
That is the very nature of what sin does. Sin is enslaving. We reap what we sow. Research shows that the habitual use of anything that is highly stimulating reshapes the brain, creating a powerful neurological process of cravings and rewards that require greater and greater stimulation.
And the Bible affirms this. Paul says in Ephesians 4:19, “They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity.” (ESV) That last phrase, “greedy to practice every kind of impurity” is also translated as “a continual lust for more.”(NIV 1984). Sowing into sexual sin only creates greater and greater discontentment, and our brains and bodies feel that lack of satisfaction, and we easily believe the lie that maybe next time I’ll finally find relief from pain, loneliness, or boredom. But it only creates deeper enslavement. Pastors need to understand that when a person comes to them for help with a 30-year struggle with pornography, simply telling that person to stop it and pray more is insufficient for the momentum this sin has in their life.
- The addiction model captures the insanity that comes in a moment of temptation.
When someone has been captured by a desire to feed yet again into their enslavement, they lose all sensitivity to the consequences of their actions. They understand that just one more time might cost them their job, their family, even their lives, but in that moment, the pleasure that is offered in sin is worth losing everything to get. This is so helpful in practically setting up boundaries to keep you far from temptation because people recognize that they can’t be trusted with easy access to sin.
I tell men all the time that there is no such thing as a point of no return. No matter how deep they’ve gotten into a moment of sin, the door of escape is still available to them in Christ.
Werewolf movies get this right. In his right mind, the human man begs his family to tie him up in chains because he knows once that full moon appears, he will do things he will regret if he is not chained up. While we know as new creations in Christ that we are no longer slaves to sin to obey its passions, our new freedom in Christ does not imply an immunity to strong temptations in our lives.
I tell men all the time that there is no such thing as a point of no return. No matter how deep they’ve gotten into a moment of sin, the door of escape is still available to them in Christ. But sanctification does not mean we live life on the cliffs of temptation. A mature believer has learned that in a moment of temptation, truth and reason can feel impotent and of little value when pleasure is so viscerally offered, and this should keep us humble and aware that it is utterly foolish to play with fire and expect not to get burned.
- The addiction model highlights the need for a zero-tolerance policy on sin.
When someone clicks on a pornographic website, they’ve already made multiple concessions with sin. Perhaps they were committed to not being online certain hours of the day, but they broke that rule. They also committed to staying off certain sites that are portals or triggers to sin, like a particular news site, but they justified it because of a story they really wanted to read. People often stay stuck in habitual patterns of sin because they aren’t willing to obey Jesus’ command to gouge out your eye or cut off your hand if it causes you to sin.
Many people want to simply manage their sin and just keep it at a functional level. Too many Christians are content with allowing pornography to be a part of their lives, as long as it doesn’t get too “out of control.” And too many Christians actively trying to stop looking at pornography are not willing to take the radical steps necessary. Christians need a zero-tolerance policy with sexual sin.
The church needs a sober understanding of the epidemic of entrenched patterns of sexual sin that are present in the lives of people in our pews. People feel stuck, they are on the brink of hopelessness, wondering if change is really possible. And the addiction model captures sin’s danger and people’s despair. But it’s not enough, and labeling sin as nothing more than an amoral disease is far less than what Jesus offers us. Stay tuned for more thoughts.
19 Sep 2018
Thoughts on Revoice
Much was said about Revoice before the first talk took place in St. Louis on July 27-29, 2018. And much has been said since. As one who attended the conference and engaged with the speakers and attendees, here’s my perspective.
First, let me answer the question some people asked me: why would you attend this conference? Simple; given what I knew about it, I was concerned. Concerned, because the stated purpose of Revoice is provocative: it exists to “support, encourage, and empower gay, lesbian, same-sex-attracted, and other LGBT Christians so they can flourish while observing the historic, Christian doctrine of marriage and sexuality.” Concerned, because Revoice has the potential to influence many in the Church, leading Christians to rethink their understanding of sex, sexuality, gender, and sin.
As a seminary professor cautioned me many years ago, “Whenever someone comes up with a new understanding of Scripture, it needs to be examined very carefully. You can’t assume that 2,000 years of Spirit-led biblical interpretation has been wrong.” That’s wise counsel in any instance, but particularly in this one. From my perspective, Revoice is calling the Church to reconsider historic, orthodox understandings of personal identity and sin.
That’s serious, and it is a discussion that we must enter into with much prayer and discernment.
The workshops and plenary sessions presented a wide diversity of views from an array of presenters. Overall, the content seemed more an attempt to gather people together under a common banner than to advance one specific idea or concept. While some teaching was commendable, others were not so.
Here is what I found positive. Every speaker I heard stated that acting on same-sex attraction was sinful. This is consistent with the traditional, orthodox understanding of God’s design for sex and sexuality. A second positive message was that marriage is between one man and one woman, for life. Again, an affirmation of the biblical paradigm for marriage.
I also appreciated that many of the speakers asked good questions; questions about how the Church could better care for same-sex attracted Christians. These are questions the Church has not been asking, much less answering.
What are the options for relational and emotional fulfillment for followers of Christ who do not, and may never, consider marriage? How can the Church become a real, vital family for them, encouraging these brothers and sisters to likewise live for others in the Body? These questions, and how we answer them, are not inconsequential. They are difficult ones. They are not issues of accommodation or political correctness. They are about what it means to truly be the Body of Christ.
Now, here were the issues that concerned me. I’ll categorize them under three headings: identity, the Body of Christ, and the nature of change.
Identity. There was a theme throughout the conference calling for those who experience same-sex attraction to self-identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual. A great deal has been written about what this means and doesn’t mean, and this post will not have the length to explain the nuanced positions (on both sides). So I will briefly mention two things that struck me about this contentious issue.
First, while Revoice says that using identity language is not saying that sexual orientation is the core part of one’s personhood, it nevertheless is a position that echoes the noise from our culture. Our post-Christian culture says that one’s sexual identity is the deepest core of personhood, hence the multiplicity of words and letters to describe oneself.
The speakers at Revoice would say that using the term is, at best, descriptive; it merely describes an enduring pattern of same-sex attraction. But the concern I cannot shake is that using self-identifying terminology such as this confuses, and in doing so it inevitably gets embedded in the culture’s understanding of gay or the LGBTQ+ acronym. Again, as used culturally, the language proclaims that one’s sexuality is a major, if not the predominant, understanding of human personhood. It is not unreasonable to assume that what is said now as merely descriptive will soon be only understood as a major category of being a Christian (see my comments on the Body of Christ below). That would be a significant error.
But, secondly, using these terms is more than merely descriptive. The historic, orthodox understanding of sexual desires that are outside of God’s design is sin. The speakers at Revoice are nuancing that perspective, calling same-sex attraction a way of looking at and experiencing the world and is only sinful when it is acted upon sexually. This is a significant theological change.
As I heard from my seminary professor, there is good reason to trust two millennia of biblical interpretation on this. Currently, there are passionate debates on whether same-sex attraction apart from same-sex sexual behavior is sin or not. (You can see Harvest USA’s position on same-sex attraction here.) Again, the length of my remarks here about my time at Revoice cannot adequately discuss these arguments.
Nevertheless, it is this issue where the biggest battles are going to be fought. And, as believers, and especially as church leaders and pastors, we need to study this carefully, adhering to Scripture and not human experience.
I’ve discussed some of this issue in my blog post Gay + Christian. My main point was that it is inappropriate for a Christian to self-identify according to any pattern of sin or struggle. Paul proclaims this astonishing news: “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). The compelling and controlling power of corrupted characteristics, desires, drives, and compulsions (sin) that used to characterize us begin to fall away in our union with Christ. No prior life, or identity, should redefine who we are in Christ, as Christians.
Revoice must realize that advocating for the use of such terms is not an insignificant thing. It is one charged with meaning, ripe for being continually misunderstood, and one which will encourage those who call themselves “gay” or “queer Christians” to further identify with, or long for, the broken and sinful characteristics associated with those labels.
The Body of Christ. Developing a separate queer culture within the Church undermines the unity of the Church. The seriousness of this issue cannot be overstated.
One of Christ’s chief desires for his Church is that we would be dynamically united to him and one another. We are to be “members [of the Body] one of another” (Ephesians 4:25), joined together by and through the power of Christ so that we might build up the entire Body to become increasingly like Christ, for the glory of God (4:15-16). Creating division or another category of believers within the Church through advocating for a separate subculture (queer or otherwise) detracts from that course.
One of the terms used repeatedly throughout the Revoice conference was “sexual minorities.” Here we find another term being promoted that is embedded in the language of our culture: “minorities,” people being described by their marginal status within the larger power structures of the majority.
What value is there to a Christian identifying as a sexual minority? How does that help him or her? How does it enhance the integrity and unity of the Church? How does it honor Christ? How does it help Christians who struggle with sexual or gender-related sin to walk in repentance? I can’t see the benefit, though I do understand the rationale for some of Revoice’s use of this term.
And it’s this: Brothers and sisters who experience same-sex attraction or struggle with their sense of gender have often been misunderstood, and at times mistreated, by the Church. The Church has often not been a place of hope and healing for men and women affected by sexual and relational brokenness.
But the answer is not to create a separate queer culture within the Church, where Christians who identify as LGBTQ+ can flourish. If the Church is called to unity, then this is an opportunity for the Church to repent and be increasingly sensitive and compassionate to those wounded by the power and effects of sin—and even wounded by the Church.
We must do better in this regard, for the glory of Christ. Churches must find ways to cultivate and provide appropriate, godly relational intimacy for people who might never be married. We must find ways to value singleness as a calling (as Paul does in 1 Corinthians 7), and include unmarried Christians in the full life of the Church. And, we must resist the longstanding temptation to name same-sex and gender-related sin patterns as worse than other patterns of sin. Our same-sex and gender-struggling brothers and sisters are sinners in need of the same grace as anyone else. No more, no less.
The Nature of Change. One side effect is that such labels tend to stick. It is a lie of the world to believe that same-sex attraction or gender dysphoria is innate and unchangeable. I am not for a moment stating that change in desire or attraction always happens. Many Christians have been hurt by that belief. But such change might happen. It’s a process completely under the sovereign purview of God.
Through taking on a “gay Christian” identity and retreating into a queer subculture, one is immersed in an environment where such change in affections might be discounted or rejected altogether. The camaraderie and connectedness that occurs within the isolation of the subculture can become life-giving. The pursuit of holiness and repentance can be abandoned in favor of relational comfort and companionship.
We live in a day when more people than ever before (particularly those under 40) self-identify as LGBTQ+. According to a 2016 Gallup survey, 7.3% of millennials self-identify as non-heterosexual.[i] That’s a marked increase over prior surveys and a much higher self-identification rate than other age groups in the U.S. adult population.
Now, the experience and feelings of same-sex attraction and gender-dysphoria are not unusual, particularly among adolescents and young adults. For example, one study shows that as many as 10.7% of adolescents are unsure of their sexual orientation.[ii] However, most of these individuals have not adopted a gay or lesbian identity upon entry into adulthood. The reason? They realized as they exited their teen years that they were not primarily sexually attracted to others of their own gender. In other words, they concluded that their experiences of such desires were not determinative.
Here’s the problem in using such labels: The Church will find itself aligning with the culture’s mantra that personal experiences and desires are identifying and determinative (core identities), even when experienced when one is young and still in the process of forming one’s identity and view of life. What hope will we give to young Christians who experience non-heteronormative feelings and desires? They will logically conclude that this is how God made me. And if God made me this way, then there is no connection between same-sex attraction and gender dysphoria and sin.
There’s no need for redemption, no need for change, no need for repentance.
The Church must always hold out the possibility of change for all people wrestling with all sorts of sin patterns. One can’t encounter the living God without being transformed. The transformation begins in the heart, and will inevitably lead to behavioral change. It may not be everything a struggling believer may hope for, but it will be a level of change that increasingly glorifies God and shapes that person into who God calls him to be.
For each Christian wrestling with same-sex attraction or gender struggles, that transformation will look different. Over time, it should include this perspective: that to embrace a gay or transgender identity, and the enticements that come with it, is counter to the new creation that person has become in Christ. If the Church communicates that there is not a need for sanctification in every aspect of the believer’s life, then it mishandles God’s Word and misleads God’s people.
Where do we go from here? The Church must commit to redemptively engage Christians who self-identify as LGBTQ+. The biblical paradigm for such engagement is speaking the truth in love. This is the process that Paul describes in Ephesians 4:11-16: a process in which various members of the Church play a role. It is a gracious process, rooted in the love of authentic friendship, wherein brothers and sisters compassionately confront each other’s sinful attitudes and acts, as well as assist one another towards obedience as they faithfully follow Christ in their struggles. Through engaging in this process, Paul tells us we not only build ourselves up but we also “grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ…” (Ephesians 4:15).
This means that we must be willing to engage each other through authentic friendship. We must labor in love to understand every struggler and their personal history and take the time to prayerfully and thoughtfully help each one understand why they struggle in the ways they do. It means helping them grow in their comprehension of how the Person and Work of Jesus Christ is actually what they need more than anything else.
Responding to Revoice isn’t a single action. It isn’t a blog post, or a sermon, or a pastoral counseling session. It involves the often difficult and time-consuming work of getting to know the stories, the experiences, the joys and fears of Christians who wrestle with same-sex attraction and gender dysphoria. It involves the Church becoming a place of true refuge and help for them, as they grow (alongside the rest of us) into the places the Lord has made for them in his Body.
The Harvest USA website is full of resources you can use to grow in your understanding of how to engage Christians wrestling with all kinds of issues related to sex, sexuality, and gender. Our mission is partly to help the Church become a safe place for those dealing with sexual sin to walk in increasing faith and repentance. Contact us, and ask us how.
You can learn more about same-sex attraction and homosexuality by purchasing our 15-session video series, God’s Design for Sexuality in a Changing Culture, which is perfect for Sunday school and small group settings.
[i] Gary J. Gates, reporting for Gallup and citing the 2016 Gallup survey, news.gallup.com/poll/201731/lgbt-identification-rises.aspx, last accessed 03/16/2018
[ii] Remafedi, G., Resnick, M., Blum, R. & Harris, L. (1992). Demography of Sexual Orientation in Adolescents. Pediatrics, 89 (4), 714-721