09 Jul 2020
Our childhood experiences impact how we all think, desire, believe, and act as adults. But is there any value in reflecting upon those past experiences for the sake of repentance and transformation in the present? Believe it or not, this is a highly debated question among counselors, ministers, and anyone seeking to help those who are struggling in life.
At Harvest USA, we believe that understanding where we’ve come from, what has influenced and shaped us, and how to apply the gospel to those experiences is absolutely vital. Here are two ways that a growing understanding of the shaping influences in your life can help you battle sin and temptation today.
Healing Is an Aspect of Repentance
In Sexual Sanity for Men, Dave White writes, “You are not merely the sum total of all the individual decisions you make. The aspects of life outside your control are extremely significant and impact you as an individual.”¹
Repentance involves choosing to turn from sin to God. Notice this: We don’t repent of our sufferings; we repent of our sin. In order to effectively turn from our sin, we are helped by understanding why we sin. One major motivation behind sin is an autonomous desire to deal with suffering on own terms. A son whose parents neglect him and show him no comfort easily finds himself turning to masturbation for self-soothing, a pleasurable alternative to crying himself to sleep. A girl who is rejected by her peers and degraded by her father behaves with increasing promiscuity to find validation and worth. A young boy who is sexually abused by an older man is thrown into a world of fear, confusion, shame, and even awakened desire, which he has no ability to process; further, his family culture of “don’t ask, don’t tell” keeps him from sharing with anyone about this traumatic experience.
So many men and women who struggle with sexual sin see Jesus only as their judge. They are all too aware that he sees their sin, but they have no concept of him seeing their suffering, especially suffering that happened decades ago, though it continues to deeply impact their lives today. Jesus came to be their Healer, Warrior, Advocate, and Comforter. Once people begin to experience Jesus as one who is for them, who has not forgotten their wounds, who came to heal them, he becomes a refuge for them in times of temptation and guilt. Most sexual strugglers have been hiding not just their sin from Jesus, but their suffering and shame as well.
God designed us to be fundamentally relational, as well as vulnerable to external influences. This is not a result of Adam’s fall into sin. Children are meant to be shaped by their parents, family, and larger covenant community, which should all be saturated with his Word. We are so moldable as children because God wants Scripture to inform our hearts, minds, and desires, both as it is formally taught and as it is lived out in everyday interactions and relationships. As Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.”
Though God intended for us to flourish, man’s fall into sin has made our vulnerability to external influences a heavy liability. We all grow up in a world and culture that rebels against God and his Word. From very young ages, boys and girls are bombarded with unbiblical messages about what is desirable, what it means to be successful, what is means to be a man or a woman. Throughout our lives, we breathe in these messages every day so that none of us are immune to their shaping influence. So many of the men to whom I minister have never given thought to the fact that their beliefs and desires were, on certain levels, taught to them.
But this actually is the beginning of some very good news because, if our beliefs and desires are moldable, we have the opportunity to have them refashioned after God’s own heart. While decades of belief and wrong desire are not easily reformed, our hope for transformation rests in the reality that our union with Christ guarantees this kind of change—albeit with slow, gradual steps—as we daily abide in Christ and his Word.
A Word of Caution
As with every shaping influence in our lives, both good and bad, none of these external influences are ultimately determinative. A child may grow up in a godly, strong, safe, Christian environment and still choose to live a life of rebellion against God. Conversely, a child who grows up in a toxic, painful, ungodly environment is not without hope for gospel transformation that leads to a life of increasing sanctification.
This means that we can’t blame our sin on external circumstances. The Bible always locates sin in our hearts. God will not excuse our sin because of our circumstances. But neither does God discount our circumstances. He takes into account every nuance of our lives, from the biggest moments of trauma to the smallest offense imaginable. He remembers them, cares for us in them, and ultimately uses them to serve our worship of Jesus. Jesus came as a suffering servant: “He had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people” (Hebrews 2:17). A greater understanding of the way we’ve suffered leads us to a greater understanding of the love of Jesus, the One who willingly bore our shame, suffering, sin, and guilt, to reconcile us to God.
¹ David White, Sexual Sanity for Men (Greensboro, NC: New Growth Press, 2012), 51.
You can also watch the video, “You Are Always Being Influenced,” which corresponds to this blog.
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.