All pleasure was meant to point us to Jesus, the only one who can satisfy the deepest longings of our hearts.

To learn more about this topic, consider purchasing Sexual Sanity for Men: Re-Creating Your Mind in a Crazy Culture and God, You, and Sex: A Profound Mystery by David White. When you buy these books from Harvest USA, 100% of your purchase will benefit our ministry.

You can also read the blog, Betcha Can’t Eat Just One: Redirecting Desire, which corresponds to this video.

Have you ever taken the Lay’s potato chip challenge and tried to eat just one? It’s not easy! Or consider the Pringles slogan: “Once you pop, the fun don’t stop!” Even though we know there are healthier options, those chips taste so good that we want to keep eating more.

On a more serious note, though, we often find it hard to refrain from unhealthy, non-food indulgences as well. Why? Our sinful hearts easily turn pleasurable experiences into idol worship. We encounter something good, and then we often treat that thing as ultimately fulfilling. Have you ever been given a good gift, like sex within marriage, only to use it wrongly, such as a source of pleasure only for yourself and not for your spouse? We usually don’t view pleasure as a good gift from God to be received with thanksgiving. Instead, we see it as a need or a right. The idol then has the chance to persuade your heart to continue feasting, to keep coming back for more pleasure.

Whenever you believe that life is truly found in a certain pleasure, you will continue to experience a gravitational pull in its direction. You will be torn between fighting sin and believing you can’t live without it.

But God wants us to understand life and pleasure in a very different way. Pleasure in itself is not bad. It’s a natural response to anything good that comes from God. C.S. Lewis shows us how pleasure goes awry in his book, The Screwtape Letters. Speaking from the standpoint of one demon to another, he writes, “All we can do is to encourage the humans to take the pleasures which our Enemy has produced, at times, or in ways, or in degrees, which He has forbidden. Hence we always try to work away from the natural condition of any pleasure to that in which it is least natural, least redolent to its Maker, and least pleasurable.¹”

Pleasure in its truest essence always finds its source in God. Sexual pleasure is not the problem. The problem resides in the receptor of pleasure, our hearts. As Lewis points out, our problem is that we indulge in sexual pleasure in forbidden times, ways, and degrees. We do this because we believe sexual pleasure will bring us life, justifying in our hearts our willingness to disobey God’s commands.

So what can you do to seek deeper transformation and experience pleasure as God intended? Here are three suggestions.

Cultivate a Heart of Thankfulness

Sinful pleasure has a dreadful way of killing our enjoyment of life. We become desensitized to so many good gifts while simultaneously becoming ultra-sensitized to one specific pleasure that controls our affections, time, and energy. Start re-sensitizing yourself to simple, good pleasures in life by thanking God for the food you eat, the bed you sleep in, the relationships in your life, and so on. Of course, all of these temporal pleasures from our benevolent Father pale in comparison to the pleasure found in our union with Christ.

Pursue Pleasure as an Act of Worship

God created you for worship. And while there are clearly-defined, formal ways in which God requires his people to worship him, he created you to bring him praise and glory in unique ways as well. In Chariots of Fire, Eric Liddell, an Olympic gold medalist, said, “God made me fast. And when I run, I feel his pleasure.” For Eric, running was an act of worship. Running brought him incredible joy and fulfillment. But he also refused to let running be his source of life. As the movie shows, when the pleasure of running was offered in a way that stirred Eric’s conscience, he refrained.

How has God made you to feel his pleasure? In what unique ways has he called you into worshipful activities? Whether it is painting, reading, playing sports, parenting, or cooking, acknowledge your Creator and Redeemer in those moments. The more you live before God with your pleasure, the greater power you will have to resist turning that pleasure into an idol.

Fasting as a Way of Realignment

What are those things in your life that aren’t sinful in and of themselves, but that you use in degrees that are sinful? These are things that take too much of your time, attention, and affection, showing that your heart is out of alignment. Are you over-exercising, over-eating, scrolling social media with a jealous heart, or interrupting others in conversation to make sure your own opinion is voiced? Just as a car needs a realignment if it’s veering to one side, so too our hearts need realignment. Fasting is one powerful and purposeful way to give up those activities that you know sinfully pull on your heart. I would recommend at least a week-long fast. The degree of pain and struggle you go through to give that up is indicative of the life you were deriving from it. Allow your fast to be a time of repentance and also a time of true pleasure and life, which can only come from the Life-giver.

Idols lie to us that we are foregoing enjoyment when we forsake them. But nothing could be further from the truth. Idols take your heart’s capacity to enjoy infinite pleasures at God’s right hand (Psalm 16:11) and shrivel it up, so that you can only enjoy the confined, ever-shrinking space of creature-worship. Believe instead that your heavenly Father will give you “fullness of joy” in his presence.

¹C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, 1996), 44.

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You can also watch the video, How Does Jesus Meet Us in Our Desires?, which corresponds to this blog.

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

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

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

Blind to Sin Around Us

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

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

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

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

Striving Toward Purity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Desire in its best forms

God is a jealous, desiring God. How does one describe the unseen, all-knowing, omnipotent, ever-present God? Words and human experience can never do him justice. And yet, God uses words to teach us about himself. He is just, benevolent, holy, and sovereign. These descriptions evoke images of power, of needing nothing. God does not need anything, for in him everything obtains its life.

But notice, he does not only describe himself with terms of power and strength, but also with words that suggest desire and longing. God is not merely patient with us. No, he longs for us and would gather us to him as a hen would gather her chicks (Matthew 23:37). He pursues his wife (Israel) and hems her in even when she runs after other lovers (Hosea 2). He “burns” with jealousy for Zion so much so that he returns her to an honor she does not deserve (Zechariah 8:2-7), even paying the price himself for remarriage. If God desires us, longing for the glory he deserves from his creatures, then desire is not just something that we should resist.

God cares about and fulfills our desires

You cannot accuse God of being an ascetic or uncaring of your desires. We see numerous references to God’s attention to our desires. The Psalmist reminds God that he hears the desires of suffering people (10:17). He not only hears; he also acts. In Psalm 20 and 21, David sings of God’s hand in bringing about the desires of his heart. In Psalm 37, David clarifies the relationship between human desires and God’s response. When we delight in God, he delights to give us our desires (see also Matthew 5:6). He is a father who dotes on his children. He gives good things that satisfy (Psalm 103:5). Jesus picks up on this theme and reminds us that if we, who are evil, give good gifts to each other, then will not God, the creator of the universe, give good gifts to those who ask (Matthew 7:11)? Are you not yet convinced that God delights to fulfill your desires? Then listen to David as he bursts forth in song, “You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing. . . He fulfills the desires of those who fear him; he also hears their cry and saves them” (Psalm 145:16,19).

I can hear your objection. “But wait,” you say, “There are many desires that God never fulfilled for me. If he longs to fulfill our desires, why didn’t he fulfill mine? Why do I feel so empty? I want to be healthy, married, a parent, happy, content, but my prayers seem to hit the ceiling and return to me.” I do not dispute that living in the wilderness leaves much to be desired. The misery of living in this sin-sick world multiplies daily. Yet, did not God provide for your desires today? Did you not eat? Did you not find momentary rest for your weary body? Did you not see his beauty reflected in something or someone? Ah, we are exposed. We grow complacent with God’s good gifts. They aren’t gifts in our minds, just something that everybody gets. We are far too often like the Israelites in the desert. We overlook the good things God gives us and obsess on what he did not give. God’s good gifts are no accident or afterthought—some sympathetic gesture to a waif. Rather he gives them out of the overflowing desire for his own glory and for the completion of all that he has willed. Every good gift you have received has come because God has ordained your existence in an abundantly provided world (see Psalm 65). He supplies you with your food and with whatever joy, peace, laughter, and righteousness you have experienced.

Fulfilled desires are sweet

“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life… a desire fulfilled is sweet to the soul” (Proverbs 13:12,19a). These brief proverbs remind us of what we already know. When our desires are fulfilled, it is a satisfying moment. Even illicit gratification is satisfying, though deadly. “Stolen water is sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant” (Proverbs 9:17). Why else would we go back for more? When our desires are filled, we are comforted and secure. God comforts the brokenhearted and satisfies them with his bounty (Jeremiah 31:13-14). Satisfaction also brings joy and gladness. Moses supplicates, “Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days” (Psalm 90:14). Satisfaction brings knowledge. The children of Israel, once filled with manna, know that the Lord is their God (Exodus 16:12).

Sexual desire is complex, compelling, and good

Why would God put the Song of Solomon in the Bible? Wouldn’t it be better to use that space to tell us more about himself? What purpose does an erotic book detailing the urges and orgasms of an anonymous couple serve the kingdom of God? The man spends numerous lines waxing poetic about her genitalia and how he wants to play with her. She shivers and aches for her climax. No, this is not a harlequin romance novel. In fact, it is probably more erotic and explicit about sexual desire than our English translations will admit. Those who try to spiritualize the text to mean only something of how God feels towards his church surely do God an injustice. And what of the mysterious phrase that appears in the book on three occasions, “Do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires” (2:7, 3:5, 8:4)? These would seem to indicate that one must be careful with love and the power it wields. If you are not careful, your appetites may overwhelm you.

No, really, its best form

As good as sexual desire is, it pales next to desire for God and being united with Christ. The Psalms are full of descriptions of longings for God. David cries out for God, for his ways, his wisdom, and his presence. How are these depicted? There are numerous depictions of this desire as the cries of one who is thirsty and longing for water (e.g., Psalm 42:1; 63:1, 143:6.). In the New Testament, Paul records a similar sentiment. We groan while we are in this “tent” of a body and long for our guaranteed inheritance (II Corinthians 5:1-5). Notice that your good desires for God will bring upon yourself more pain! Doesn’t this run in stark contrast to much of our current depictions of the Christian life? “Come to Jesus,” we say, “and your life (as you have imagined it) will go well.” Instead, as we draw closer to God, our desire for him enlarges. Doesn’t this run in stark contrast to much of our current depictions of the Christian life? Satisfaction increases, but certainly so does agony as we develop an increasing awareness of our desperate need for God.

Yet do not be discouraged; our desires for God do not end in only pain. We do find satisfaction, comfort, fulfillment, joy, and peace. Psalm 131 depicts satisfaction with God as a baby on his mother’s lap whose stomach is filled, who no longer needs to grab at her breasts for more. When we take worship as our food, Isaiah records that we will delight “in the richest of fare” (Isaiah 55:2). These satisfactions are not just spiritual. Rather they reach out into the far corners of our lives. Solomon, who contemplated the search for satisfaction reminds his readers that any satisfaction we achieve has been a gift from God (Ecclesiastes 3:13).

Update 7.27.2018

The third testimony in this series is written by Christine, who says, “I kissed a girl…But I wasn’t born that way!”

I was 14 when I entered my first homosexual relationship (I am now 19 years old). When I look at the steps I took in that direction, I can see clearly now what I didn’t know then: that a) many factors influenced the decision I made that day; b) I had no idea how much those choices would impact my life, faith, and how I thought about myself; and that c) God allowed me to experience hitting bottom so I’d follow him with my whole heart rather than just continuing to “play church.” I’m grateful that God used all this to give me a heart for broken people—like myself—and especially for teens who are struggling to make sense of their own sexuality in the midst of so many different voices out there.

So, on that day when I was 14 years old, I skipped school with a friend, and, as we sat and drank a few beers, she teased me about a girl who had said that she had feelings for me. I had never really put much thought into same-sex attraction or homosexuality until probably a few months before, when I started hanging out with this friend and a few others who considered themselves to be bisexual. When this girl told me she liked me, I didn’t really know how to react. I wasn’t really attracted to her, but in the back of my mind lingered a lot of curiosity.

As my friend and I sat there, it somehow came down to her talking to this girl on the phone and telling her to meet us where we were. I kissed a girl that day. . . but wow, I had no idea about the can of worms that I had opened in my heart and in my mind that day! I remember going to work later and saying to myself, over and over, “I can’t believe I did that.” I was shaken. I went on to date this girl. To this day, I still sometimes wonder why. I didn’t really care about her and did very little to please her.

But what this first relationship did was open up for me a whole new realm, and it wasn’t too long after this that I fell hard for a girl. What followed then was a succession of relationships that were based on infatuation—attraction followed by desire followed by involvement, and then starting all over again with someone new. I knew in my heart that this was wrong, but my emotions and the rush of it all kept me “in.” I felt addicted to these relationships, wanting to do anything I could to make her happy. My teen life went on: Girls came into my life, and girls left my life—and guys did, too.

Over the past five years, there have been ups and downs for me as I have felt deeply the struggle with same-sex attraction. I’ve had countless people tell me that it’s impossible to change and that I would never be able to get out of this lifestyle. I was even taught by many Christians, “You are born this way, and this is a part of you that is unchangeable.”

All that is a whole lot of baloney and is NOT helpful!

My brother or sister in Christ—If you take nothing else out of this story, please just remember that our God has no limit to what he can accomplish in your life. He is the author of grace. He is known for doing the ”impossible” and loves you more than you could ever fully grasp. If this is your struggle, I sympathize with you because I know firsthand that this is not an easy road. It’s a road that is one of the most difficult ones I’ve ever traveled on.

I know what it’s like to hold what you desire most in this world and let it go because it’s not right. I know how much letting go of a person can disintegrate everything you thought you were as a person. I know also that even in my lowest times, when I’ve turned my back to God, he always had a grip on me. How did I know that? Because I could never really feel at peace. It’s sad, but true, that if I could have been at peace at living in sin, I would probably be writing a different story right now.

So hang in there and take it day by day. Change is possible, and so is getting out of a situation you feel totally stuck in. I don’t know where you are at today or what your story is, but please do not lose hope. Keep your relationship with God constant; surround yourself with people who lift you up and point you to his word and to Jesus. The Lord has blessed me and taught me so much. There is nothing like feeling loved, cherished, and desired from the God who created not only the universe but everything in it. The road will not be easy, but by God’s grace we can all make it to the other side. Change is indeed possible!

Christine’s story provides a great picture of how some (not all!) grow into a gay identity: a relationship that feels good; sexual/physical pleasure; and people all around affirming this as inborn and unchangeable. What do you think: Have you or someone close to you walked a similar path of “growing into” a gay identity? If so, take encouragement from Christine’s story: She’s grown into a deeper faith through all of this. She knows more deeply that the God of heaven is a God of grace and love.

Updated 5.19.2017

Our culture teaches us that the strength of our masculinity is directly connected to our sexual activity. It celebrates sexual conquest, mocking monogamy in marriage and chastity in singleness. We are told “real” men have sex multiple times a week, have had many sexual partners, use porn personally and to “spice up” their sex lives, etc. The culture is trying to tell us that these chains are a sign of strength. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Sexual sin does not make us more of a man; it emasculates us! You need to know that your sexual sin makes you complicit in injustice, oppressing those who are weaker, those we are called, as men, to cover and protect. It profoundly impacts our view of others.

As a single man, it affects your ability to selflessly engage others. Rather than considering how to serve others and lay down your life, lust programs you to view others as a commodity, as objects that exist for your pleasure. Even if your sin is limited to fantasy and masturbation, you are training yourself in broken, selfish sexuality. Your experience of self-centered sex shapes your expectations for the marriage bed, radically undermining God’s design that spouses are to serve each other sexually, focused on the other’s pleasure, not their own. Should God provide a spouse, you will expect sex to be primarily about your pleasure.

For married men, it robs you of the ability to love your wife and children. You brought selfish expectations of sex into marriage and have taken matters into your own hands when it failed to satisfy. Because sexual sin is such a source of “life” for you, those you are called to love and cherish, shepherd and protect, become an annoyance. They are reduced to obstacles, keeping you from the pleasure you crave.

In the end, sexual sin sucks life and vitality from us. This is part of what is in view when 1 Corinthians 6:18 describes sexual sin as against our own bodies. Perhaps more than any other form of sin, it leaves us utterly drained spiritually. Far from demonstrating our power, sexual sin is a profound revelation of our weakness as we are enslaved to our behaviors and desires. As my colleague, Dan, says, “A real man can stare down his erection.” In other words, he is not a slave to his desires. A real man is stronger than his lust.

Further, in tragic irony, our pursuit of sexual sin ultimately robs us of our ability to experience sexual satisfaction. Ephesians 4:19 describes the reality this way: “Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more” (NIV). The Greek word pleonexia literally means a “desire to have more.” It refers to utter insatiability. When we abandon ourselves to indulge in sexual pleasure outside of God’s design, the result is slavery. Like a donkey chasing a carrot on a stick, the harder we strive to experience sexual satisfaction, the more it eludes us—even as our reckless pursuit of sexual contentment takes us into ever-deeper perversions. Indulging “every kind of impurity” means that what once satisfied us does so no longer, and we need to go deeper into the mess to find the same thrill.

Jesus’ mission is to “set captives free” (Isaiah 61:1-3). He doesn’t want us to be emasculated, but to be men who are “strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy” (Colossians 1:11). The hope of the gospel is freedom from the things that enslave us, as his power works in us through his Spirit.

Do you believe that sexual sin is emasculating? How does the man you are in your fantasy life compare to the reality of your experience of slavery?

This excerpt was taken from Harvest USA’s workbook for men, Sexual Sanity for Men, Recreating Your Mind in a Crazy Culture, published by New Growth Press. This workbook is excellent for small groups and one-on-one mentoring.

You can also visit the Harvest USA bookstore to browse our other resources, which we hope you will find helpful.

Updated 5.8.2017

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