This post was written by Harvest USA Women’s Ministry intern YaPing Li.
The single life has brought challenges for me—maybe you too. Suffering and being misunderstood can take different forms for those of us who aren’t married, whether we’ve never been married or are single again due to death or divorce. I planned to be single, but long-term singleness is still a learning curve. I’m lucky because I don’t burn with desire, yet neither am I cold to the beauty of marital fellowship. I can’t explain why, but singleness is God’s plan; he has chosen it for me.
Sometimes, suffering comes through lost opportunities. I feel this sting when I think about something on my bucket list (if heaven doesn’t come first): standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon and taking in the spectacular view of God’s designed colors and majesty. I don’t have a lifelong companion to share this joy with—to say, “Do you see it?! Are you thinking what I’m thinking? This is amazing!” I probably won’t have children to share stories like this with, either. At times, this causes my tears to fall.
I know my sorrow will transform into praise. No earthly wonder can compare to Christ’s own face, presence, and loving kindness. Still, life in this world—single or married—has its sorrows. This feeling of loss keeps me asking a question that can only be answered through the Scriptures: Where is my confidence?
God’s Word makes me want to know and pursue God’s goal for my singleness: that I would embrace Jesus and find my confidence in him.
I believe in the all-sufficiency of God’s Word, which enables me to walk through sorrow when it comes, looking to my hope in Jesus. God’s Word makes me want to know and pursue God’s goal for my singleness: that I would embrace Jesus and find my confidence in him.
Jesus really loves us—all of us. God’s ultimate goal for me isn’t that I paint a picture of a single woman living a perfectly holy and happy life, but that I would delight ever more in Christ. While I’m learning daily that his presence is sufficient, my life is not here to prove that living well single is better than a good marriage. Life is not a competition. It’s not about who can glorify and enjoy God most. In Christ, our fruitfulness comes from being faithful to God in the life he gives us, not personal triumph.
In God’s kingdom, the least is most satisfied. How we measure ourselves and others, including the least among us, says a lot about how we live as Christians.
God’s kingdom requires child-like admiration. We’ve all been children. When infants are separated from their parents, they cry, searching for the attentive gaze of their mother or father. They want to see their parents’ faces and be picked up in their loving arms. Their security and joy come from their parents. And when they’re with their parents, they want to stay in their embrace. That’s joy! Like infants desperate for their parents, all believers need the loving presence of God. As infants receive their parents, single men and women receive our Lord Jesus Christ in this world and the world to come. Our heavenly father is never far, and he will embrace us all the way home. Singles are not measured by their unmarried status, their gifts, or their ministry contributions. All are measured by the loving gaze of our Maker, Redeemer, and Advocate.
While I’m learning daily that his presence is sufficient, my life is not here to prove that living well single is better than a good marriage.
I may never travel to the Grand Canyon. But I can still be so overwhelmed by God’s abundant, loving kindness that a thousand Grand Canyons will not compare. And I can still be brought low. Single or married, we will be undone by Jesus Christ and be made into creatures who admire his goodness, kindness, beauty, gentleness, and compassion. All that he is and has will totally undo our worthless pursuits, competition, and ideas of worldly status.
I wonder if the more we embrace Christ, the more fulfilled our lives will be. Hence, the more content we can grow in our sexuality, relationships, and future hopes. “I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance, and need” (Phil. 4:12).
I have been brought low. I’ve been unfairly denied jobs. I’ve become more comfortable with the “Joy of Missing Out,” learning that many people, though they have good intentions, are busy and forgetful of a single woman. I’ve had chronic migraine headaches, leading others to think I’m antisocial, and have been unable to think about the future while waiting for two biopsy results. I’ve been misunderstood when requesting a third person in the car if a brother gave me a ride and hurt when people I cared for only wanted me as their counselor, not their friend. When Christmas approaches, I dread being asked about my plans—deciding who needs me most, where I will be blessed, and which family to celebrate with to glorify God. Some of these circumstances feel awful, while some are just inconveniences and opportunities to grow in Christ-like wisdom. In all these lowly circumstances, Christ is sufficient to receive my honest lament.
Encouragement When You’re Brought Low in Your Singleness
Maybe your struggles are more secret and difficult to share. Maybe you’ve thought about seeking help in your suffering or have received counsel that didn’t build you up, leaving you wounded. Maybe your suffering is tangled with big or small enchantments with sin and the flesh. I don’t know all your struggles, but Jesus does. And he publicly proclaims you to be his friend; he calls you his own. Christ’s love defends your honor; who dares to despise you when nothing can separate you from his love (Rom. 8:38–39)?
The time is now. Don’t just gaze at Christ from afar—go to him. Draw close to the God who loves you inside and out. Whether single or married, Christ alone is our confidence. Embracing him is our joy.
02 Mar 2023
Celibacy, Marriage, or Surrender?
If you or anyone close to you has struggled with exclusive same-sex attraction, you know that this is a particularly heavy burden to bear. I’ve heard painful story after story of men and women who wrestled in silence during most of their adolescence with confusion, shame, guilt, and increasing despair over the unrelenting experience of attraction to the same sex. No matter how many prayers they offered up, not only did their same-sex desires not go away, but desires for someone of the opposite sex never came.
More than ever before, we’re wrestling with questions of identity, sexuality, and what repentance and faithful living looks like for our brothers and sisters who struggle with same-sex attraction. Many churches and denominations have completely rejected a biblical sexual ethic and have embraced our God-denying culture’s definitions of love, identity, and sexuality.
But even within conservative biblical understandings of sexuality, there is still confusion and division over how to minister to our brothers and sisters wrestling in these ways.
I want to briefly address two common approaches to discipleship when it comes to the question of marriage, and then offer a third way that I believe is most helpful and most faithful to Scripture.
Most people who see life-long celibacy as the best or only option for Christians wrestling with exclusive same-sex attraction often explicitly or implicitly embrace a theology that sees same-sex desires as a core aspect of identity. Thus, many have no problem identifying as “gay Christians.” They’re not equating a gay identity with same-sex behavior—they still hold to the Bible’s design for sexuality when it comes to what is permissible sexual activity. But they also see exclusive same-sex desires as a largely unchangeable, life-long experience until the resurrection. Thus, the only option for the vast majority of these brothers and sisters is celibacy.
Pros of the Celibacy Solution
It’s commendable to see our brothers and sisters testify to the reality that Christ is all-satisfying. If following Christ means they’ll never experience sexual satisfaction, they willingly take up that cross. This choice of celibacy also points the entire church to what is eternal. Human marriage was designed by God to be a temporary sign that gives way to the reality of the church’s eternal union with our bridegroom, Jesus Christ.
The celibacy solution also recognizes the reality that there are many sin struggles in this life that God may allow to remain a formidable foe until we see Jesus face to face.
Lastly, the celibacy solution reminds us that while marriage is a blessing for many, it’s not a requirement for all. We can’t escape Paul’s provocative words when he states that “he who marries his betrothed does well, and he who refrains from marriage will do even better” (1 Cor. 7:38).
Cons of the Celibacy Solution
The celibacy solution typically comes from an unbiblical premise, spoken or unspoken, which states: “My exclusive same-sex attraction is immutable, unchangeable, and God almost certainly will do nothing about it.” It would seem that this theology places same-sex desires in a unique category from other sins. When Jesus does a radical work of bringing dead hearts to life, making someone a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17), this particular area remains unreachable from God’s grace.
This belief goes hand-in-hand with another unbiblical supposition: same-sex desire, if not consciously acted upon, is morally neutral. As long as you don’t allow the attraction to give birth to lust, there’s no need for change because this is not an area in need of repentance. But the church has historically rejected this premise which only identifies sin in the realm of conscious choice. The Bible makes it clear that the fall has corrupted not only our choices but our desires as well (James 1:14–15, Jer. 17:9).
While it’s important to maintain a distinction between “indwelling sin” and what we could call “willful sin,” both need redemption. When we limit the scope of sin’s reach, we also limit the scope of the gospel’s reach. To dive deeper on the topic of whether same-sex desires can be properly labeled sin, see my previous blog, “Is it Sin or Temptation?”
The call to repent of all sinful desires is non-negotiable. This will seem impossible if desire and identity are inseparably linked.
Some see same-sex attraction as morally neutral because they often see their attractions as integral to their identity. To lose this desire would be to lose a part of themselves that they don’t want to lose. Whether it be their creativity, their cultural tastes, or the way they interact with friends, they see their desires as foundational to their being. But to whatever degree repentance changes our preferences or the ways we interact with others, that can only be a good thing. The call to repent of all sinful desires is non-negotiable. This will seem impossible if desire and identity are inseparably linked.
In response to the celibacy solution, some conservative Christian thought leaders and pastors have advocated that many Christians wrestling with same-sex desires should place a high emphasis on seeking marriage with someone of the opposite sex. While they would not go so far as to say that it’s sinful for every Christian to remain single, they would say that in many (if not most) cases, true repentance of same-sex desires would eventually give way to new desires for biblical marriage.
They would also propose that the ethical opposite of same-sex desire is heterosexual desire within marriage. They would argue that Paul’s description of the call to singleness in 1 Corinthians 7 was not describing someone wrestling with exclusive same-sex desires but instead refers to those Christians who’ve been given the gift of great contentment in singleness. Therefore, it is not tied to a sense of inability to marry according to God’s design.
Pros of the Marriage Solution
The marriage solution fundamentally rejects the idea that exclusive same-sex attraction is tied to identity and therefore immutable. It also sees same-sex attraction as part of indwelling sin and therefore in need of redemption. It’s an aspect of the Christian’s experience that the gospel has the power to change. These pastors want believers who struggle with same-sex attraction to believe God is powerful enough to bring about incredible change even at the level of our desires. The very heart of the gospel is the proclamation that what was impossible with man is made possible with God (Matt. 19:26).
The very heart of the gospel is the proclamation that what was impossible with man is made possible with God (Matt. 19:26).
The marriage solution also rightly pushes back against an unhelpful feedback loop in the celibacy solution in which the belief that heterosexual marriage is impossible prevents the possibility of it. Our beliefs impact our desires, and vice versa. The more we believe a specific narrative, the more our expectations, hopes, and desires will be shaped by that narrative. If the narrative says someone should abandon realistic expectations of developing godly desires for marriage, then hope has no place to root itself. That desire will have no fertile soil to feed upon.
Cons of the Marriage Solution
The biggest problem with the marriage solution is that it turns the good opportunity of marriage into a command that Scripture does not warrant. There is no biblical backing to make a one-to-one correspondence between repentance and romantic desires.
Sexual desire is never commanded for a single Christian. If a Christian is already married, they’re called to cherish, love, and pursue their spouse—including, when appropriate, fanning the flames of desire so their attractions are devoted to their spouse alone. It’s also true that there may be a correlation between repentance of same-sex desires and a desire for marriage. As someone repents, the Lord may open their heart to an opportunity for marriage that he presents. If someone is convinced that their exclusive same-sex attraction is core to their identity, their unwillingness to consider marriage may indicate a lack of repentance. But that is a case-by-case area of wisdom and discernment.
But this gets to the question of the goal of repentance. The ethical opposite of same-sex lust is not heterosexual desire, but love (see The Opposite of Sexual Sin). The ethical opposite of lust is love for God and love for neighbor—in these two the entire law is summed up.
The Westminster Larger Catechism, question 138, asks, “What are the duties required in the seventh commandment?” The answer focuses on chastity as the main way we positively fulfill the seventh commandment. It says that marriage is a duty if someone does not have the “gift of continency”— “the exercise of self-constraint in sexual matters.” Self-constraint implies that there is something in need of restraining! Therefore, continency is not the absence of any sexual desire (whether hetero- or homosexual), but the ability to live a life of faithful obedience to God while lacking the proper context for sexual expression. This reflects Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 7:9 when he says that those who cannot exercise self-control should marry. We cannot conclude that the Bible requires marriage for someone who is faithfully repenting of sinful sexual desires with increasing self-control.
The marriage solution ties a heavy burden upon the necks of our brothers and sisters. It has too many similarities to the extra-biblical requirements of pharisaical laws. Just as forbidding marriage goes beyond the testimony of Scripture, so does requiring it.
I’ve sought to be accurate and charitable in my assessments of the first two solutions. Both views highlight some important truths and make fair criticisms of the opposite perspective. But their conclusions fall short of God’s wisdom.
Instead, if a brother or sister wrestling with same-sex attraction asks you if they should pursue marriage, see this as an opportunity to encourage them to bring their desires with open hands before the Lord.
For every unmarried Christian, the possibility of marriage must be fully surrendered to God. He claims Lordship over every part of your life.
Sometimes marriage seems to be the direction God is pointing them. They largely experience exclusive same-sex attraction but are open to marriage and desire to raise a family. If God calls them to marriage, there will be struggles (as in every marriage)—but it will also be an ongoing means of their sanctification and blessing. For others, their hesitancy to pursue marriage may be a lack of trust in their heavenly Father, revealing an idolatrous desire for control. The issue is not marriage itself, but what marriage is revealing about their hearts. For still others, they may not desire to pursue marriage because they are living contentedly with self-restraint as a single believer.
For every unmarried Christian, the possibility of marriage must be fully surrendered to God. He claims Lordship over every part of your life. We should hold up everything to God with open hands, including marriage, singleness, our career, where we live, how we spend our time and money, and especially including our desires. If you surrender to our Lord’s perfect will in this area, he will lead you. Perhaps God has a long, thriving season of service in the Kingdom that is only accomplished through singleness. That season of singleness may give way to marriage one day. The key is that your entire life is fully surrendered to him.
This is the standard for all followers of Christ! Jesus demands we give him everything (Luke 14:26). The only proper response to God’s amazing grace in salvation is to “no longer live for [ourselves] but for him who for [our] sake died and was raised” (2 Cor. 5:15). Our plans and our desires no longer have control, but “the love of Christ controls us” (2 Cor. 5:14). Our flesh naturally fights against this type of radical surrender, but the Spirit gently, patiently, sweetly, and convincingly continues to draw us into it.
My former colleague Dave White used to say that legalism and licentiousness are two sides of the same coin. They’re both sinful attempts to avoid a relationship with God. In a similar way, forcing or forbidding marriage cuts off the life of prayer that is required when considering such weighty decisions. For some of my single brothers and sisters struggling with same-sex attraction, God may be calling you to the scary work of praying about marriage. For others, you’ve been praying about this, you have submitted this to the Lord, and he has given you contentment in his call of singleness for your life.
A brief word to my married brothers and sisters who continue to battle against same-sex desires. You’re not alone in the fight to keep your desires singularly focused on your spouse. This is a battle every married person must faithfully fight. Remember, Jesus is Lord of your desires (Phil. 2:13)! Keep offering them to him. You may find it difficult at times to fan the flame of desire for your spouse, but this is an area that you can proactively cultivate by God’s grace. He wants to bless your Spirit-driven efforts at fostering a deeper longing for your spouse, as those efforts are the fruit of a singular and intentional longing for Christ.
Your heavenly Father can be trusted. He will not give you a scorpion when you ask for an egg, or a serpent when you ask for a fish (Luke 12:11–12). He loves you. He purchased you for his prized possession. He wants to lavish you with good things that result in praise and thanksgiving to his name. You can trust him with your desires, your future, and your entire life.
02 Feb 2023
“Sexual Sanity for Women” Is Ten Years Old!
When our first discipleship workbook, Sexual Sanity for Women: Healing from Sexual and Relational Brokenness, was published in January 2013, I was thankful and expectant. Thankful because producing this resource had been a long, somewhat challenging process and finally, after more than three years of book “pregnancy,” the workbook had been birthed. I waited expectantly to see the response and impact on women’s lives.
One message came in on publishing day from a woman: “You do know, right, that 99% of women in the church will never engage [with] this? Most churches won’t even consider this!”
I admit my response wasn’t, initially, fueled by one drop of compassion. I didn’t wonder what sort of backstory would lead someone to express this. No. Instead, I felt frustrated and angry. I didn’t want balloons and accolades—but perhaps a little encouragement and thankfulness!
Yes, but God rescued me from myself and I sensed his gentle, truthful wisdom. “Ellen, are the one percent worth it? Maybe she’s right. But that still leaves many hurting, gospel-desperate women who have expressed the need for this resource.” My heart changed in that moment.
God’s Stories from God’s Daughters
Praise be to God that the Spirit of comfort and counsel radically flipped my anger and frustration into tears of not just joy, but also tenderness. I’d had so many discipleship conversations with beautiful women who were the humble, needy, one percent.
Now, ten years later, I’ve had the priceless gift of hearing stories from all over the country and world of how God has used Sexual Sanity for Women to help women grow into Christlikeness as they pursued sexual and relational integrity.
From a biblical counselor:
Sexual Sanity for Women has been the most helpful, profound, and influential book I have ever used in women’s programs. For the past four years I have been using it regularly to walk with women of all ages in discipleship, as a chaplain teaching life skills in a shelter, and to my surprise to heal from my own history with sexual brokenness that I never realized permeated into every thought and behavioral pattern of my life. With the grace of the Lord, I have seen this study transform hearts and minds to grasp the beautiful rest, shalom, and freedom that only King Jesus can give. I am deeply appreciative to the Harvest USA Tree Model and the SSFW study for taking a sensitive and incredibly complex topic such as this and making it relatable, reliable, and redemptive. Thank you, Ellen Dykas & Harvest USA for such a wonderful and accessible study!
Valentine Curiel (MA), Counseling Director, Cornerstone Church, Simi Valley, CA
From a former ministry recipient of Harvest USA:
Sexual Sanity for Women: Healing from Sexual and Relational Brokenness (SSFW) has been a life changing resource for me. I learned what I knew about sexuality through my own experience of sexual abuse, as well as being exposed to my father’s pornography from a young age. On top of that, I attended church and even pursued a Bible and seminary degree with little to no training or discipleship in the area of sexuality from those experiences, nor did I have any meaningful teaching or discipleship on these topics in the church. This ought not to be! By my 20’s I was confused, ashamed, and stuck in deep patterns of relational brokenness, as well as dabbling in my own pornography use. As a woman, I was confronted by silence from the church on these street-level issues that I was facing to an increasing degree. I reached out to Harvest USA as a broken and hopeless woman. I remember saying, “I don’t feel like I am in control of my own life anymore.” When I bought a copy of SSFW, I kept it hidden under my bed, and only read it in secret. Through God’s kindness, this resource was a significant part of how the Lord set me free. Topics like how our past informs our present struggles, temptation, and how to embrace God as our true Father, comforter, and home set me on a totally new trajectory in my Christian life. The Lord has shown his kindness to me in many ways, and I can’t speak of his work in my life without mentioning this life-changing resource.
An Exciting Future for Women’s Ministry
And the woman who sent that message to me on publishing day in 2013? After the Lord comforted and corrected me, I reached out to her to find out why she thought the way she did. It turned out that this dear sister in Christ had shame and painful experiences with the church in her background. She had felt missed, silenced, and utterly un-helped.
Wow. She was herself in the 1% but didn’t know where to find caring, Christ-centered help. Our interchange began a relationship that continues today. In fact, this very dear woman became a faithful financial supporter to me. She became an advocate for Harvest USA to women’s ministry leaders, pastors, and churches—several joined my support team!
Harvest USA is committed to a vision for ministry that includes robust, Christ-centered, gospel-driven discipleship for women. Thank you to every woman who has entrusted your story to our team. Thank you to every woman who has journeyed through SSFW with college students, singles, married women, women in prison, and hurting women forced into shelters. Thank you to every male church leader who has trained others up for this essential work.
Truly—as Jesus regularly and boldly sought, loved, touched, forgave, healed, and set free so many women during his earthly ministry, may the church continue to grow in extending this vital kingdom work to women of all ages.
Have you heard a sermon on singleness lately? If you’re honest, as a single Christian, perhaps you bristle at the thought of the topic. Maybe you’ve been wounded or just plain frustrated by some of the messages you’ve heard—likely on themes of contentment, sexual purity, and guarding against selfishness. I heartily affirm these as relevant themes for godly single Christians to consider. But when was the last time you, my single brother or sister, considered how the abundant riches of Christ can be uniquely experienced in your singleness?
Do you regularly relish the wealth of Christ that is yours to be received and enjoyed right now? Surely there’s more to life than just holding on for your condition of singleness to change.
Whether you’re single and waiting or have become single through the painful loss of widowhood or unwanted divorce, this post is particularly for you. Still, because all true believers are brought into irrevocable union with Christ, all Christian readers can rejoice over these truths regardless of their marital status.
What are some features of singleness that can draw out—or perhaps even enhance—some of the blessings of a believer’s union with Christ?
Have you heard about the pitfalls of being single? Perhaps you’ve heard negative discussions around things like excess free time, the need for wisdom in relationships, temptation toward sexual sin, and concerns about selfishness. These are all real concerns, and faithful singles should pursue obedience in them. However, have you considered your time of singleness as an opportunity for undivided devotion to Christ? For simplicity in your devotion to him?
In 1 Corinthians, Paul gives the most explicit instructions for marriage and singleness found in the New Testament: “But if you do marry, you have not sinned, and if a betrothed woman marries, she has not sinned. Yet those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you that” (1 Cor. 7:28). He goes on to say:
I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband. (vv. 32–34)
I believe Paul is describing a simplicity that lends itself to an undivided heart toward Christ. Is Paul saying here that those in a season of widowhood or singleness have simple, worry-free lives? I don’t think so. But one of the opportunities unique to singles is to pursue undivided simplicity and devotion to Christ, while looking to the reward. Christ himself, and communion with him, is that reward.
Christ Our Reward
Consider Jesus’s words in the Great Commission, as he’s sending his people out to fulfill his mission: “Behold! I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20). Or when Jesus speaks of his Holy Spirit and says, “And I will ask the Father and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever” (John 14:16, emphasis mine). Is this not one of the things our hearts long for most? We long for someone who will make a permanent covenant with us—one who will be with us forever, who will be “our person,” our closest companion. Jesus himself promises to be nothing less than this to us, by faith, in this present age.
These are not mere platitudes or simple ideas to appease us as Christians. These are rich truths to be received, meditated upon, and taken hold of by faith! Dear Christian brother or sister in a season of singleness, would you consider today the riches of Christ? They’re not only yours for all eternity but can be received by faith today! Would you take hold of them in Christ with all your heart? By prayer? In community with the family of God?
Receiving Christ in a Season of Unmet Longings
Maybe these words sting a little for some. How can I enjoy Jesus when I’m experiencing the pain of unmet desires? What if Jesus seems like a consolation prize to settle for? I want to affirm the good desire for romance, sexual expression, and companionship that are found in a godly marriage—but even this good thing only points to the greater reality found in Christ.
Let’s listen to Paul’s words again: “I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord” (1 Cor. 7:35). Paul’s goal for this exhortation is clear: undivided devotion to the Lord. Just before this, Paul, in speaking to all believers, says:
This is what I mean, brothers: the appointed time has grown very short. From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away. (vv. 29–31)
Even those in godly marriages are called to live in such a way that the glory of Christ is at the forefront because the present form of this world is passing away.
If this idea doesn’t get you excited, I would encourage you to consider that God created your longings and therefore knows how to fulfill them better than any other. Psalm 16:11 makes a stunning claim about God: “In your presence is fullness of joy, at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” The life of a single Christian, united to Christ, can be truly rich. As Sam Allberry writes, single believers have an opportunity to display the sufficiency of God’s promises in the gospel and his love for us relationally.
Ask God to help you see things the way he sees them. How might your perspective need to shift to align with his holy and righteous view? He longs to meet you and help you as your loving Lord.
Invite God into the painful moments when you feel the sting of being single. Another wedding without a plus one? Feeling left behind in life as your friends move on? These moments of sorrow also include an invitation for you to have Christ himself bear your burdens with you.
Ask God to search you for ungodly attitudes, thoughts, and behaviors around your singleness. Repent and turn from these things. Maybe you just don’t believe that Christ can fulfill the deepest longings of your heart. Maybe you’ve tried to seek him in the past and it didn’t seem to “work.” Don’t do this alone! Seek the help of trusted brothers and sisters walking with you along the journey.
Wait on the Lord as you long to receive the good gifts he has for you in your singleness. Jesus is the greatest gift. There are no guarantees about when or how he will show up; be on the lookout! It helps to keep in mind that we still experience the felt comforts of Jesus amid a broken world this side of heaven. Have your heart and eyes wide open for the ways in which he is meeting you with his sustaining grace in the present even as he points you toward the ultimate fulfillment of your all your longings in heaven—namely, perfect fellowship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Single brothers and sisters, let’s pursue our glorious Savior, Jesus Christ, with all that we have, in whatever season God has called us to for today. He not only gives us good gifts in every season, but he himself is our portion and our eternal delight (Ps. 16). Enjoy your unshakeable union with Christ today. He is worthy!
Caitlin McCaffrey is our new Women’s Ministry staff member and started with us in July 2022. Please consider joining her financial support team here!
17 Jun 2021
On Fellowship, Authenticity, and Identity
His response surprised even me. He had asked how many were in the group. “Six?!” he exclaimed, his eyes wide with shock and dismay. I was inviting him to join a group of men who met regularly to share fellowship in the gospel and encouragement in the same lifelong sexual sin struggle as he. I had been the first person with whom he had ever been so honest. But a group was, for now, still too much. He was not yet ready for even a few more to know him that well.
By inviting him to express himself with open humility before a larger number of men, I was gently coaxing him into fellowship in the light with God and others (1 John 1:5–7). Without such fellowship, there is no gospel joy, no gospel transformation; fear and shame are both jail and jailor—especially for those who struggle with sexual sins and temptations. Far too often, the message they have received is that they will be rejected if they let anyone know that they even struggle with such things. Many know this through cruel experience. So they remain in hiding and isolation. Sin and darkness reign and grow in that place.
This is why Harvest USA strives to create an environment that encourages people to come into the light, to speak the hardest truth about themselves, to speak in community about the temptations and sins that have dominated their lives. And we believe that many churches still need to be encouraged to grow in this. We urge community in which both truth and mercy are undiminished. I see many churches making progress in this direction.
And yet, we do not view this simplistically as a pendulum that needs to swing to the other side. Yes, the Church must continue to grow in being a place where sin struggles of all kinds can be discussed and met with gospel mercy, gospel challenge, and gospel hope, not disgust, disdain, and condemnation. But as we make this progress, we need to be alert to some pitfalls along the way. I will describe two.
- The pitfall of God-less authenticity
We live in a culture that prizes a sort of brazen authenticity that is only occasionally corralled by, “TMI!” Our culture’s love for authenticity is not exactly the same thing as the fellowship we aspire to. In fact, it is quite different. Put simply, in our culture’s practice of authenticity, God is not in the audience. Our culture presupposes the non-existence of God. In this context, authenticity flows from the individual’s need to create meaning from within herself. Without a transcendent standard, without God, authenticity is unmoored from accountability. There is no aspect of confession, no sin, only honesty and freedom of expression.
We must resist this God-less authenticity. First, because its presupposition is false; God does exist, and we are accountable to him. But also, because the gospel—the good news—is that our accountability to God need not lead to condemnation. There is grace, redemption, and hope in Christ. It is largely because our world either does not know or does not believe this that it seeks an authenticity based on denying God’s existence.
- The pitfalls of “identifying”
In our culture, “identification” has become a common tool in the service of authenticity. So, for example, someone might “identify” as gay or some other subset of LGBTQ+. The idea is tricky to describe and evaluate, but some precision and clarity is necessary. Here is the relevant dictionary definition¹:
identify as: Assign (a particular characteristic or categorization) to oneself; describe oneself as belonging to (a particular category or group)
As defined here, especially in the first sense of assigning a characteristic to oneself, this is fairly common. Grammatically, it involves connecting a predicate adjective or a predicate nominative to ourselves—“I am blonde,” “I am a conservative,” “I am male.” But not every instance of saying something about self is “identifying as.” The second part of the definition adds the sense of placing ourselves in a category, class, or group. The idea of “identification” comes with pitfalls in two directions—one to the left and the other to the right, we might say.
Pitfall #1: Communicating the unstated assumptions of identity politics
It is the second part of the definition, placing oneself in a category or group, that has come to be used in what some call “identity politics.” Used in this way, identifying with a particular group generally implies a whole set of other unstated assertions about that group. Let me suggest a few of the unstated connections that often are implied in such identification:
a. This use of identity is generally claimed on the basis of a trait that is assumed to be indelible.
b. The connection of the group is not merely by commonness of trait but, rather, forms a distinct community with mutual belonging and purpose.
c. The group or class identified by that trait is assumed to have been subject to systematic persecution or oppression.
d. Therefore, as a corrective of c., both the trait and the community identified by it are to be affirmed and celebrated.
e. Lastly, a point which seems to go with the cumulative combining of the previous four: When identification is done in this “identity politics” way, it often represents a level of personal meaning and significance that places it at the core of the sense of self.
Perhaps you can already see how some of these, or perhaps all of them, would be a problem for a Christian if the trait that was the basis of the identification was a sinful condition. Viewing the trait as indelible conflicts with the gospel promise of ultimate glorification and current progressive transformation. A sense of mutual belonging and purpose with a distinct community might, if carefully defined and limited, be seen as a mission-field connection. But it is just as easy to imagine it becoming an alternative and competitor to the Church. As to points c. and d., while godly compassion will always seek to come near to suffering with healing and justice, it cannot do so by affirming or celebrating sin. Finally, no identification with any trait or with any category or group should compete with the gospel reality of what we are in Christ, variously described in the Scriptures.
These unstated implications of identification, as used in identity politics, are the reason why we at Harvest USA have preferred the term “same-sex attraction (SSA)” over terms like “gay” or “lesbian.” You’ll notice that there is no “S” in “LGBTQIA+.” The goal is not to have a different way to say the same thing; it is to avoid the pitfall of communicating those problematic assumptions listed above while encouraging unhindered openness and fellowship in the Lord.
However, this brings us back to the concern I started with, and the other pitfall…
Pitfall #2: Reacting against any language that sounds like identification in such a way that people are driven back into silence and isolation
Focusing so strongly on the issue of identification can inadvertently communicate that honest description of sin struggles is unsafe. Rather than the mercy of the gospel gently inviting self-disclosure and confession, a culture of shame and stigma encourages everyone to “play the game,” look good, and make sure nobody finds out what the real battle is in our hearts and minds. In order to love those who are struggling to come into the light, we may need to be less concerned with the terms used and more concerned with their hearts. That may require us to forego a discussion of terms of identity and the wisdom of using particular language, and instead prioritize discipleship in the gospel truths that counter all of the false implications that may be attached to their current vocabulary.
Also, we should keep in mind that outside of the world of identity politics, it is quite normal to “identify as,”—to assign a particular categorization to oneself or describe oneself as belonging to a certain category or group—while neither intending nor being heard to mean any of the unstated assertions listed above. It is even possible, if wisely subsumed in a gospel context, to do this with a sinful category. For instance, Paul can write, “The saying is trustworthy, and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost” (1 Timothy 1:15). He is displaying an extraordinary humility of self-expression, identifying not merely as “sinner” but, in the older versions, “chief of sinners.” And he encourages others to do the same. But Paul communicates none of the erroneous implications listed above. His freedom to identify as a sinner is firmly set in the context of redemption. His identification as chief of sinners does not share the same place in either his argument or his sense of self as does his identification as “an apostle of Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 1:1). No one reading Paul in context would think otherwise. His use of identity language here is subsumed under and serves the gospel: “But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost [of sinners], Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life” (1 Timothy 1:16). Paul carefully and wisely uses language in a way that does not encourage people to remain in sin and darkness, but draws them from it to the mercy of Christ. Indeed, it would seem healthy for all of us to stand before the Lord and declare who we are apart from him, that he may declare to us who we are now in him.
Let us pray and strive for wisdom and humility as we call people out of darkness into fellowship in the light and into an identity in Christ which is eternal.
¹“identify.” Oxford’s Lexico.com. 2021. https://www.lexico.com/en/definition/identify (8 June 2021).
06 May 2021
Who Are You?
Our world today is obsessed with self-concept and “identity.” We have never been more encouraged to form thoughts about ourselves and to shape our lives by those thoughts. But what our culture lacks is an objective truth beyond ourselves by which our self-assessments might be shown to be false and harmful.
The Bible is full of stories of people just like us—people who are blind to who they really are and blind to their own blindness! Since Adam and Eve, we humans have tried to understand ourselves under the guidance of our autonomous hearts. The result is that we alternate between thinking too highly of ourselves and thinking too lowly of ourselves. We are either building ourselves up in pride, arrogance, and entitlement or descending into self-defeating despair and depression. The lies we believe about ourselves have contributed to the power of sin over us.
Consider some of the characters whom we know from Scripture. Let’s try to straightforwardly state the things they believed about themselves.
- First, Adam and Eve thought, “I am like God.” Then, “I am more able to discern good and evil than God.” And finally, “I am a doomed rebel. My only hope is to flee God.”
- How about Lamech, Cain’s descendant who thunders menacingly at his wives, “…listen to what I say: I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for striking me. If Cain’s revenge is sevenfold, then Lamech’s is seventy-sevenfold” (Genesis 4:23–24). How does Lamech define himself? “I am powerful; I am entitled to fear and respect.” Or, could it be, “I am unsafe and vulnerable, and I must protect myself by controlling others with violence and fear?”
- How about the son in Jesus’ parable who has come to be known as the “prodigal” (Luke 15:11–13)? What does he believe about himself as he asks for “what is coming to me” and then goes off to squander it in “reckless living?” “I am entitled to ease and prosperity. I flourish because I am true to myself.” And, after he came to his senses, returning with his rehearsed speech to his father, perhaps he thought, “I am an unlovable failure.”
- How about Saul, after having been anointed by Samuel as God’s choice to be king, cowering and hiding among the baggage (1 Samuel 10:20–22)? “I am doomed to failure.” “I must rely on my own resources and strength to succeed.” “I am a fraud; if people ever saw me truly, they would reject me.”
Do you recognize any of those thoughts in yourself? Do you cling to self-thoughts that are both exaggeratedly autonomous, independent, and selfish, as well as fearful, condemning, and self-loathing? Are you the one whom David describes, “Transgression speaks to the wicked deep in his heart; there is no fear of God before his eyes. For he flatters himself in his own eyes that his iniquity cannot be found out and hated” (Psalm 36:1–2)? Or does your heart speak with the voice of Psalm 22:6, “But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by mankind and despised by the people?” Those with sexual sin in their past and present know both sides of these thoughts about self, often simultaneously.
What can be done? How does one find freedom from such destructive thoughts?
The answer lies outside of yourself. The supreme lie of our current world may be the ever-present message that you must define yourself, that you find your identity within, whether in your experience or in your heart (defined in the Disney way). That is the oldest lie humans were ever told. But the truth is that you do not have the authority to define yourself. None of us do. So who does?
If we do look outside of ourselves, our first tendency is to look to other people. Their praise or their abuse weighs heavily in our self-identification. Of course, the psalmist thinks he is “a worm and not a man,” for he is “scorned by mankind and despised by the people.” If you have been bullied or abused, you may find it easy to think of yourself as “as a worm and not a man.” Also, many of our relational and sexual choices have the aim of surrounding ourselves with the society of those who (we think) will rescue our broken sense of self or reinforce our chosen identity. But other people do not have authority to define you.
The authority to define you lies outside of yourself, not merely in the sense of being outside of your individuality. It is outside of your nature. Only your Creator defines you. And if you have spent your lifetime defining yourself, the identity your Creator gives you will surprise you. Remember that prodigal son? Even when he returned to his father’s house, he only brought with him his self-plausible ideas about who and what he was. The father completely surprised him with love, life, and glory that he could not have anticipated. It turned out he was not a worm, not a failure, not a slave—neither a slave to his own desires and choices nor a slave to his father’s anger and justice. He was a beloved son. What a surprise.
Will you stop defining yourself and let God begin to surprise you?
Take a moment to simply consider what your son or daughter desires. What is he longing for? What does she feel she is getting from her identity that she cannot live without? Questions like this move you to discover what lies beneath the surface and lead you to a deeper understanding of your child.
To learn more about this topic, consider downloading Shattered Dreams, New Hope: First Aid for Parents Whose Son or Daughter Has Embraced an LGBTQ+ Identity which is available as a free digital resource. You can also purchase Explaining LGBTQ+ Identity to Your Child: Biblical Guidance and Wisdom by Tim Geiger. When you buy this minibook from Harvest USA, 100% of your purchase will benefit our ministry.
You can also read the blog, “What Lies Beneath Your Child’s Sexual and Gender Identity,” which corresponds to this video.
Understanding your child’s perceived sexual and gender identity is no simple task. Perhaps you have tried to piece together how your child may have come to these conclusions about himself, but you still don’t understand what may have really formed the person he is today.
Although you may never be able to completely answer the how and why questions, you can be sure of one thing that lies beneath your child’s perceived sexual or gender identity: the desires of her heart.
Scripture speaks often about the fruit of our actions coming from what lies in our hearts:
“…from out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45).
“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:4).
“For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality…” (Matthew 15:19).
This is a simple yet profound truth that gives great insight into the reasons for why a person comes to do what they do. Take a moment to simply consider what your son or daughter desires. What is he longing for? What does she feel she is getting from her identity that she cannot live without? Questions like these move you to discover what lies beneath the surface and lead you to a deeper understanding of your child.
As you explore these questions, you will probably discover in your child’s heart some of the most fundamental desires that we all experience: the desire to be loved, the desire for acceptance and affirmation, the desire for freedom from pain and suffering, the desire for comfort or affection.
Perhaps your child longs to be accepted and loved by a particular person or group. Maybe she has always felt unwanted or different from others and desires to be affirmed and feel attractive. Often, going through tough experiences shapes the way we view ourselves and the world around us. If your son or daughter has learned that they can meet an overriding desire through sexual experiences, a romantic relationship, or a unique community, he or she will hold onto it tightly and oppose anything that may threaten the security of keeping it close.
We pursue particular desires because we think we are the authorities on how to bring ourselves joy and contentment. But when we pursue them apart from God, or when we cannot fulfill a particular longing, we begin to live for these desires, doing everything in our power to bring about their fruition. Jeremiah 2:13 paints a vivid picture of Israel’s disobedience in this way.
“My people have committed two sins:
They have forsaken me,
the spring of living water,
and have dug their own cisterns,
broken cisterns that cannot hold water..”
This is the inclination of our sinful hearts. We seek to have our needs met outside of God’s provision for life, and we turn to broken cisterns that we think will give us nourishment. Although the things to which we turn for life in the created world are nothing more than leaky cisterns, we revisit them over and over again, believing these wells can satisfy our souls.
Somewhere along the way, your child has come to believe that his sexuality or gender expression is a central means to having his desires met. Becoming aware of his underlying desires will not only help you understand your child better but will also have significant implications for your relationship with him. Let’s consider a number of things you can cultivate as a result of this insight.
Lead with empathy and compassion. Rather than reducing your daughter down to her behavior, you are able to consider how your child’s suffering and pain have uniquely shaped the particular desires that she wants to be met. Knowing your own tendency to turn to your choice broken cisterns can help you see that you are more alike than different from your daughter.
Dealing with tension and even hostility in relationship with a child is so challenging for parents. Understanding the role that desires play will help you make sense of his defensiveness and rejection of your interpretation that his sexual or gender identity is sinful.
Pray More Meaningfully
Rather than simply praying for behavioral change, pray for the desires of your child’s heart to be molded to God’s, knowing that he wants to satisfy your child’s desires with good things. Pray that God would show himself to be living water, faithful to meet your child in her thirsts.
Have Conversations that Move to the Heart
Knowing something about how desires lead to behaviors moves conversations beyond the surface fruit and helps you to discover what is in your child’s heart. Ask why his identity or sexuality means so much to him and how his sexual or gender expression meets his felt needs.
Although this may seem like a daunting task, as you apply these relational measures, your understanding of your child and what God may be after in your child’s life will become a little clearer. You will see that God does not simply desire to redeem your son or daughter’s behavior; he is after the heart. Though you aren’t able to see the whole picture clearly, he is still at work!
You can also watch the video, “Desires Fueling Your Child’s Sexual and Gender Identity,” which corresponds to this blog.
16 Aug 2018
Your Child Says “I’m Gay”
You cannot change your child when your child says “I’m gay.” No matter how badly you might want to see change, no matter how much you pray, no matter how convincing your argument, you won’t be able to convince your child to change. Your child’s issue ultimately isn’t with you; it’s with God.
Only a transforming relationship with Jesus Christ will lead to the heart change that is needed before behavioral change will occur. God wants to do business with your child’s heart. Your child has adopted a gay identity because, at some level, he has believed lies about God, himself, and others. Romans 1: 21–25 is a clear and sobering description of human behavior in a broken and fallen world. Paul lays out an argument about how the knowledge and pursuit of God is suppressed and twisted in favor of believing lies about God and turning to idols to find life:
“For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.” (Romans 1: 21-25)
This is not a passage to hammer your child with about their same-sex attractions! Romans 1 isn’t targeted merely to homosexuals. Paul is talking to all of us! He is saying that everyone in the world has been so impacted by the Fall (Genesis 3) that we all are guilty of serious idolatry, and only a real, transforming relationship with Jesus Christ will enable us to live in increasing wholeness and godliness before God.
Use this passage to remind yourself that, while you can work toward being an agent of change in your child’s life, you can’t expect that you will be able to convince your child to change or make him change. It’s only the Lord who does the changing in our lives. Such change is likely to come about over time, within the context of Christian community—through your relationship with your son or daughter and through his or her relationship with other mature, compassionate Christians who are willing to walk with those who struggle with same-sex attraction and not abandon them through this journey.
Your Child Doesn’t Need to Become Straight
Your child’s deepest need is not to become straight. Your child’s deepest need is the same as every person in this world—a life of faith and repentance in Christ. Having heterosexual sex will not solve your child’s problem. There is more to this issue than sexuality. The ethical opposite of homosexuality is not “becoming straight.” Godly sexuality is about holiness. It is about living out one’s sexuality by increasingly being willing to conform and live within God’s design for sex. Godly sexuality is not merely about being heterosexual; it is not merely about being married and having two kids and living in the suburbs.
Godly sexuality also includes being single and celibate, refusing to be controlled by one’s sexual desires because one chooses to follow a higher value in one’s life—to follow God even when it’s not easy or popular (particularly in the area of sexuality today). Rich relationships and friendships are possible and achievable for singles. Again, the world will have us believe that a life without sex is tragic and not “true to yourself,” but Jesus and the witness of the New Testament is evidence against that false worldview.
Being celibate today is not an easy road. If your son or daughter chooses to follow God’s design for sexuality by remaining celibate, they will need to find people who will support that decision and help them live a godly life. But celibacy may not be the only path that is open before them. There are some men and women who, in turning away from a gay-identified life have found a fulfilling marriage relationship with the opposite sex. Over time, many have found a lessening of same-sex attracted desires and some have even found growth in heterosexual desires (most often not in a general sense, but toward a specific person with whom they have grown to love).
In other words, it is important to bring multiple stories of transformation and change to the discussion. You do not know what the Lord has in store for your child’s future. Marriage may be out of the question—for now and possibly for the future. Waiting upon the Lord and seeking his will and wisdom is what is needed, and that will be the faith journey your child will have to walk.
This blog is an excerpt from our minibook, When Your Child Says “I’m Gay” by Tim Geiger, published by New Growth Press. To purchase this minibook and other resources from Harvest USA, click here.
02 Feb 2017
A New Blog on Gender
Affirming Gender is a new blog site that Sam A. Andreades, pastor, author, and speaker, has put together to create an online forum to discuss issues of gender and transgender. Sam is the author of enGendered: God’s Gift of Gender Difference in Relationship, a biblical and engaging study of how God has given humanity the gift of gender, and of the difference that gender makes in relationships and the rest of our lives.
A few months ago, Sam gave us a rich, in-house teaching on gender and transgender issues, and all of us here at HARVEST USA want to commend his ministry in this crucial area. Check out his new website, and start thinking about and exploring gender in ways that are both biblically solid and, perhaps, different than you would think. That this is a discussion on gender we need to have now is an understatement, given that we now read almost daily about gender being immaterial to who we are as persons or changeable according to the opposite gender we would like to be.
Sam is giving us permission to post some of his blogs that we think help our followers to think through these issues in theological and pastoral ways. Get to know Sam…he’s well worth your time online.
Here’s Sam’s post on affirminggender.com, dated December 31, 2016:
I saw it begin at Yale in 1980…
It was in the campus air. Women’s Studies had begun as a field, laying a groundwork for Queer Theory in the 1990s. The people in the know would introduce it slowly, of course, to make sure it wasn’t completely abhorrent. It was the program to tear down the gender binary.
I noticed it in the women’s styles. Long hair was out. Wearing short hair as a girl was a statement. The style was not just easier to brush, but an attempt to cut off any sign that women differed from men.
There are several reasons for the destruction of gender, but this was one. The two camps of academic second-wave feminism (1970s–1980s) were battling about whether to empower women by showing them to be capable of supposed masculine traits or to seek equality by valuing femininity and what women do, working to reconstruct society’s values to value what women are. Neither side won exactly, but the resulting synthesis was a program to obliterate any sense of difference between the genders.
Some women resisted the program. Feminist author-to-be Naomi Wolfe was different, of course. Her incipient tendency to be a gadfly was evident even then in her long, full, flowing, brunette mane, which she refused to cut. She was annoying people even then.
Later-to-be Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, had just left the law school seven years before, with her hair intact. But she learned there, as we were all learning, that baking cookies was sub-par—if you are a woman, that is. That a calling of making a home for a family was for losers. In the process, we were being taught to disdain our mothers for the stability they made in their homes for us, the stability from which we went on to our great achievements.
They were right about there not being a difference in scalp hair. Men and women’s hair both grow long unless it is cut. As the apostle Paul recognized so long ago (1Co 11:14-15), “the nature of things” in Roman culture gave women of that time glory in their hair, as in American culture of the previous decades. So whose hair is long or short is not a matter of gender.
And yet it was.
Because gender is about relationship, ultimately with the other gender. Shearing that cultural artifact was about defying a practice that expressed a complement to men. It didn’t matter whose hair was short, but it did matter that there was some cultural way of expressing difference. And that was the point. Difference was to be erased.
But gender is all about making a difference. That is why Paul instructs the Corinthians to use the cultural practice to express truth about gender in marriage (v. 16). Erasing all distinction between women and men distances them from one another. And then follows the big mistake of believing that women’s problems can be solved without men, without reference to men, in spite of men.
But that will never happen. And that is why this blog exists. To call us in a better direction. For when you lose gender in relationship, you lose gender.
Welcome to the Affirming Gender blog, Post #1!