Recently I caught up with one of the women who gave a personal testimony for our wives’ workbook, Jesus and Your Unwanted Journey. I hope this portion of our conversation encourages others who need reminders and evidence of God’s faithfulness amid the slow, painful process of pursuing marital restoration after sexual betrayal.
This is the original testimony of our ministry recipient, known as “C.C.” in the workbook:
I thought marriage would be the place where I would finally come to understand God’s love for me in a deeper way through the example of my husband’s love. Instead, God has chosen to teach me about his love by putting me in a place where I had to study his love so I could show it rather than receive it. I found myself running to the Lord, pouring out my pain to him about my unfaithful spouse and fellowshipping in his suffering. As I meditated on how God understood the pain of an unfaithful spouse (his people) and studied his response to their unfaithfulness, I learned about his long-suffering, pursuing love for me, and saw God begin teaching me how to love my spouse with his love.
Ellen: Hello, my dear sister! What’s been happening in your journey with Jesus since you wrote that testimony for our wives’ workbook a few years ago?
C.C.: In the last few years, my journey has continued to be painful. I needed to take a step which I’d begged God to never let happen; I separated from my husband with no guarantee of reconciliation. It required more courage than anything I’ve ever done. During this separation, God continues to deepen my understanding and appreciation for his character and love. How thankful I am that he won’t forsake me, even if my husband does—that he is always faithful, and his love is predictable. I don’t have to worry from day to day, moment to moment, if he is suddenly going to change!
“How thankful I am that God won’t forsake me, even if my husband does—that he is always faithful, and his love is predictable.”
After separating, we went through a few months where every time we met, my husband was acknowledging how he had sinned against me as he worked toward formally asking for forgiveness. I found myself anxious to tell him I had forgiven him, because I had already forgiven him in my heart before he asked. Once again, God used this journey to show me how his heart anxiously awaits my confession because he has already forgiven me, and he rejoices to tell me so!
Ellen: Can you share more about how you have experienced a lot of “undoing” in your understanding of God, faith, grace, and holiness, and how this impacted you as a wife?
C.C.: One area God has been untangling for me is personal responsibility. I thought that if I played any part in a scenario where a person reacted sinfully, then God viewed my “influence” as essentially “making” the other person sin. For example, if I didn’t agree with everything my husband said and this angered him, instigating a spiral into sexual sin as an escape, then it was my fault. I was constantly fearful, playing out each scenario in my head, trying to determine if I would be causing my husband to sin.
“Don’t run away from the hard work of pouring out your pain to God.”
As God has been untangling this for me, I have come to understand that, while surrounding factors may play a part in the context, sin comes out of a person’s heart because the sin was already there. In other words, I didn’t create the sin in my husband’s heart, he reacted sinfully because that was what was already in his heart. If I have acted in an unloving way, then I need to humbly repent before the Lord, but God never says that I can make someone sin.
Ellen: Imagine yourself back in the place you were when you first came to Harvest USA—the fear, grief, disillusionment, sense of overwhelm. Can you share some words of comfort and hope for wives who are in those excruciating early days after sexual sin comes to light?
C.C.: Regardless of what happens in your spouse’s journey, God has something for you! He will use this suffering to form Christ in you and it will be a beautiful thing. Don’t run away from the hard work of pouring out your pain to God. He will give you courage to do what you never thought you could do, and in the process, he will never leave you or forsake you. Keep asking God what it looks like to love wisely and well and think through the examples we see in the Bible of how Christ responded in similar sufferings. Ask God for community. It’s OK to need other people to pray when you can’t and to hope when you’re too afraid to hope. Make a playlist of songs that help you pour your heart out to God.
My song during this separation has been “Yet Not I but Through Christ in Me,” which speaks to my deepest hope:
The night is dark but I am not forsaken
For by my side, the Saviour He will stay
I labor on in weakness and rejoicing
For in my need, His power is displayed
To this I hold, my Shepherd will defend me
Through the deepest valley He will lead
Oh the night has been won, and I shall overcome!
Yet not I, but through Christ in me
If you have suffered the painful experience of sexual betrayal, our Harvest USA Direct Ministry is here to help. To reach out for help click either of the following links: Women’s Ministry or Men’s Ministry
Charles Dickens fans may wince at my blog title. His iconic first line of A Tale of Two Cities says, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” and I purposely misquoted it because it aptly describes the inner-wrestling I experienced for almost 40 years.
In all that time, I lived a double life—caught in a cycle of sin and shame, full of self-inflicted guilt, stuck in a rut that I thought was never going to end. But—praise the Lord! —God was working behind the scenes to bring something beautiful from it all.
The Poison of Hidden Sin
For 35 years, most people would have described me as a gregarious and friendly guy. My wife and I seemed to have a happy marriage. We were blessed with a big family. I had a good job. I was a homeschooling father, a leader in my church, lived in a nice home in a beautiful neighborhood, and was always quick with a funny story at social gatherings.
But what most people didn’t know was that I was fighting—and regularly losing—a battle with pornography.
I feared being exposed. I became good at lying to hide my activities. Protecting my secret became all encompassing, and after years of failure, it seemed impossible to overcome. I prayed time and again for forgiveness as well as for strength to win this battle over sin. But at other times I was apathetic, and placated my guilt by telling myself that my small personal sin wasn’t really hurting anyone.
I lived a double life—caught in a cycle of sin and shame, full of self-inflicted guilt, stuck in a rut that I thought was never going to end.
But that was an illusion. My sin wasn’t private. My family—and especially my wife—were affected by my “secret sin.” We kept up appearances of a well-ordered family life, but the reality was that our marriage was in trouble. Despite my wife’s many requests for us to get marriage counseling (which I deflected or ignored) we simply settled into a fairly soulless relationship.
God Steps In
Then, in a matter of months, God stepped in—in a way that was overwhelmingly confusing and disorienting, but which later became evident as his particular care for us. I lost my job, and less than a year later we had to radically downsize and move out of our spacious home of 17 years to a new city 300 miles away. Our new place was a compact church apartment, and my new job was the church custodian. I had been a busy traveling marketing manager, but now I opened and locked the church, mopped floors, changed light bulbs, scrubbed bathrooms, cut grass, trimmed hedges, shoveled snow, moved chairs and tables—and even dug graves!
We slowly began to realize that this devastating “subtraction” was God’s way of removing the things in my life that were holding me back from submitting myself more fully to his will. Up to that point, I had pretty much lost hope of changing the sinful patterns in my life. But in the heat of my sin, God didn’t let go of me. Instead, although I didn’t listen to his whispers and hardened my conscience to his shouts, he used this traumatic experience as a megaphone (as C. S. Lewis illustrates) to get my attention. We were isolated, basically starting over, and shaken to the core—but it provided a merciful opportunity to reassess our priorities and to hear the Lord’s voice anew.
My faith was weak, and I feared taking the biblical steps I needed to break free from pornography. But through it all, my wife never stopped praying and asking God to break through my stubborn heart. In hindsight, I can see how he heard my wife’s prayers and took pity despite my weak faith.
We were isolated, basically starting over, and shaken to the core—but it provided a merciful opportunity to reassess our priorities and to hear the Lord’s voice anew.
In an amazing series of providences, my wife met Ellen Dykas, the director of Harvest USA’s women’s ministry. And because their ministry offices were just a few miles away from our new apartment, they began meeting together so my wife could understand her own struggles (which mostly stemmed from the fallout of my sexual brokenness). As my wife shared with me about what she was learning, I finally took her advice, visited Harvest USA, and joined one of their discipleship support groups for men.
Healing and Hope
For the next two years, my part-time job and our simple living arrangements made it possible for both of us to study God’s Word deeply, assess our hearts, wrestle with past trauma and fears, and learn to trust God in areas where we had previously kept him at arm’s length. We slowly moved toward each other, working through our wounds, and reconnecting where we had lost trust.
The 22-month discipleship program at Harvest USA helped me in several ways. Each week we learned to become more and more vulnerable with each other, sharing personal failings, past wounds, and current struggles and calling one another to live more obedient to God’s will. We built transparency and trust and prayed for each other knowing we were dependent on God’s strength in our battle with sin. We also encouraged each other to develop a support network at our churches, recognizing how important it was to have others help us when the program was over.
Amid it all, God did not abandon my wife and me. Even when I cried for help while still unwilling to change my behavior, he was patient with me. I was a wandering sheep, but he was a pursuing Shepherd (Ezek. 34:12; John 10:11; Ps. 119:176). I was stubborn and recalcitrant, and he remained unwavering in his fatherly discipline. I didn’t know it, but when things seemed darkest and hopeless, he was at work behind the scenes.
Similarly, despite the hurt and loneliness my wife felt due to my sin, she held onto the promise that God would be a faithful husband to her (Isa. 54:5). When she cried out to him in prayer, she found him to be a comforter (Isa. 51:3; 2 Cor. 1:3–4) and counselor (Ps. 16:7).
Only Christ Satisfies
C. S. Lewis was right. God loves us so much that he will use painful experiences, even pain itself, to awaken us from being overly content with our attachment to worldly ease and the comforts of this life. He takes us through such difficult times not to punish us, but to make us more like Jesus. It is not easy, but we learn to love him more through it.
To bring about the deep and lasting change in our lives, God didn’t just change our circumstances—he broke the power of reigning sin by dying on a cross.
Such trials and times of testing are evidence of God’s undying love for us. In them, he reveals to us the folly of thinking that the transitory pleasures of this world will satisfy.
But we also learn how far he is willing to go to show us that we will only be truly fulfilled and happy when we seek him first. To bring about the deep and lasting change in our lives, he didn’t just change our circumstances—he broke the power of reigning sin by dying on a cross. By doing so, he set us free indeed! As the Apostle Paul wrote to the believers in Rome, “But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (6:22–23).
24 Aug 2023
Joan McConnell serves as Harvest USA’s Director of Parents and Family Ministry.
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! (Romans 11:33)
To be able to look back on one’s life and see at least some of the Lord’s ways and purposes is not just a privilege; it is astounding. In Take Heart: Daily Devotions to Deepen Your Faith, David Powlison says, “We are caught up into the purposes of a Savior and a King” (157). Through pain and joy, the Lord has prepared me to serve with Harvest USA.
Several years ago, when I was interviewed before joining Harvest USA’s Board of Directors, I remember saying, “it just makes sense.” I meant that, for decades, the Lord had been weaving strong threads into my personal resume—threads that were not necessarily welcome. However, in the light of his sovereignty, I had to trust that they had purpose. Those threads included growing up in a broken home, having a 38-year marriage damaged by my first husband’s pornography involvement, and, eventually, my dear son’s pursuit of a homosexual lifestyle. By God’s grace, I realized I needed to use the pain rather than ignore or resist it.
I met Harvest in 2004. The Lord’s timing was more than coincidental with my son’s situation. In a church that has supported Harvest for years and uses their resources widely, my background easily led to my facilitating a Harvest-organized parents’ support group since 2013. I also became involved in Harvest events my church hosted. Now, stepping from membership on the Harvest Board into service on its staff “makes sense” again since my personal passion has long been for those whose lives are touched. . . and, yes, changed. . . when family members struggle with sexual issues.
The vision of Harvest’s parents and family ministry has two facets. First, of course, is the need to understand what’s going on in the life of a sexual struggler and to learn what Christ-like ministry toward them should be. Second is the need to offer an undergirding ministry to that closest circle of parents and relatives. I especially look forward to opportunities to create insightful, biblical resources that meet the second need.
The threads of education and experience also weave into my work at Harvest USA. Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I’ve lived in the picturesque “travel postcard” of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, for 33 years. I have two grown children, one grandson, and eight step-grandchildren. After 29 years teaching Spanish and Latin, I joined my church staff in 2007 for women’s ministry and counseling, all of which has used my training at Houghton College, Dallas Theological Seminary (MA in Biblical Studies), and Liberty Theological Seminary (Doctor of Ministry). Though twice widowed, I continue to see my Father’s goodness and to rely upon another verse from Romans (11:36): “For from him, and through him, and to him are all things. To him be glory forever!”
17 Aug 2023
Yes, that’s the question I invite you to ponder, sisters and brothers. I’m not asking if you believe in God or if you pray and go to church together. My question aims at your heart: is Christ central in your marriage, or is he a friendly neighbor? Do you push Jesus aside, expecting your spouse to meet all your needs, give you an identity, complete you?
Well, friend, if you do, you’re not alone. In my sixteen years of journeying with wives who’ve faced their husbands’ sexual infidelity, I consistently heard three humbling realizations come out of their hearts:
- I knew I depended on my husband too much, but I had no idea how I made him (and our marriage) an idol.
- I’ve been a Christian for so long, yet the pain of this situation has revealed that my relationship with Jesus isn’t as deep as I thought.
- Facing my husband’s sin is devastating, yet God is using this trial to draw me into a closeness with Jesus and a depth of faith that I didn’t know was possible.
When Jesus isn’t in his rightful place, marriages (and all relationships!) will struggle. No person can fill his shoes as our eternal bridegroom, friend, heart-healer, and so much more; Christ alone is our loving Creator, Lord, and Savior.
Three Views of Marriage
I’ve heard three prominent views of marriage over the years from Christians. For all of them, Christ and two believing spouses are in the mix; the difference lies in the place each one occupies. Look at the chart below and see if one seems to describe your marriage or serious dating relationship.
No spouse would choose the pain of sexual betrayal; it was never God’s intent for you. However, from the ashes of devastated trust, I’ve watched wives receive the Lord’s healing and transforming discipleship through this pain. Christ invites and shepherds wives (and husbands, too) to allow their disappointment in marriage to lead them to re-place Jesus as their priority relational focus, putting him back where he should be, in the very center.
The Three Legged-Stool Marriage welcomes Jesus as the third leg holding up the marriage. The problem is that he’s understood to be one of three equal partners: wife, husband, and Jesus. But the Bible says Jesus is to have supremacy—the first place (Col. 1:18)—in all things, including your marriage.
Over time, a new kind of spiritual and relational intimacy grows as two spouses prioritize loving and trusting Jesus as their source of life, security, meaning, and unfailing love.
The Spouse-Centered Marriage displaces Jesus as central in the relationship and demands that your spouse provide what can only be found in Jesus: unfailing love, identity, and value. Marriage is a gift, but it was never intended to displace the Giver of that gift. When God says, “You shall have no other gods before me” (Ex. 20:3–5), he means it!
As common as these two views are among believers, God has something better for you: a Christ-Centered Marriage. Over time, a new kind of spiritual and relational intimacy grows as two spouses prioritize loving and trusting Jesus as their source of life, security, meaning, and unfailing love.
Repenting of Spouse Idolatry by Re-Placing Jesus
“Re-placing Jesus” refers to at least two steps of obedience. First, a humble acknowledgement that, somewhere along the way, other people or things have displaced Jesus as Lord over your heart and marriage. The Scriptures clearly point to the beauty of marriage and the gift of shared, committed love over a lifetime. Though sin pollutes and erodes marital intimacy, friendship, and mutual enjoyment, God gave marriage as a gift for his people and ultimately as a signpost to his eternal, selfless, steadfast love for us (see Isa. 54:5, 62:5; Eph. 5:31-32; Rev. 19:7, 21:9–11).
A Christ-centered marriage will exhibit two spouses as needy saints who continue to sin yet look to the gospel for help.
Second, God calls you to proactively, consistently cultivate your relationship with Jesus and receive discipleship about how he created marriage to work. After all, all things were created by, through, and for him (Col. 1:16), including your marriage. Reach out to mature Christians and ask for prayer and encouragement. Look for singles and married people who honor Christ in their lives and couples who don’t present as having it all together. A Christ-centered marriage will exhibit two spouses as needy saints who continue to sin yet look to the gospel for help. Ask how they weather the hard times, how they’ve kept Christ as their priority, and what they do to grow as lovers of Jesus together as a couple.
Your view of marriage may not be what God wants it to be right now, yet Jesus never runs away—not even when we displace him with gifts. Friend, are you married? Look to Christ! Are you dating someone special? Look to Christ! Cry out to him as your only worthy Lord and the only source of unfailing, unwavering love.
08 Jun 2023
Name: Jim Barr
Hometown: I was born in Pennsylvania, raised in Massachusetts, but spent more than 35 years in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia where my wife and I raised our family. We’re now empty nesters living in Lafayette Hill, a suburb of Philadelphia not too far from the Harvest USA office.
Position at Harvest USA: Director of Ministry Partnerships and Stewardship.
Description of work at Harvest USA: Some people would call my job fundraising, but I describe it as friend-raising. One important aspect of my work is to update and encourage those who support our ministry—both individuals and churches. Their prayers and financial support are crucial to our work, and I want them to know how people are finding help and hope, how marriages are being restored, and how churches are being strengthened because of their partnership. Additionally, I seek opportunities to meet with people, particularly pastors, to share about Harvest USA and the gospel-based resources we’ve developed.
I want to expand the awareness of Harvest USA across the United States and into other nations so that more men, women, and families discover how the love and mercy of Christ can provide them the healing and hope they’re desperately seeking.
Fundamentally, though, this is more than a job. You see, my life and marriage were wonderfully changed by the ministry, and I want to expand the awareness of Harvest USA across the United States and into other nations so that more men, women, and families discover how the love and mercy of Christ can provide them the healing and hope they’re desperately seeking.
What is your favorite Scripture? That’s like asking me which of my seven children is my favorite—can’t do it! But I have always been intrigued by how Eugene Peterson translated John 1:14 in his paraphrased Bible called “The Message.” He put it this way: “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.” I think he captured the reality that God actually became a man and knows our joys and sorrows intimately.
How did you get to Harvest USA? Even though my wife and I had been a part of three churches who have supported Harvest USA, it was when we moved to Philadelphia in 2019 that I visited the Harvest USA offices looking for help with my own struggle with pornography. After years of shame and hiding, I found true and lasting freedom through their biblical support group and discipleship program. The change was so profound that I immediately volunteered to mentor another group of men and was able to provide counsel and accountability for others at my church. Then, when Harvest USA contacted me about working here, I saw an opportunity to use my past professional experience—and my personal testimony—to advance the work of Harvest USA and continue to help others.
After years of shame and hiding, I found true and lasting freedom through (Harvest USA’s) biblical support group and discipleship program.
What is your favorite thing about living in metro-Philadelphia? The city is often called “America’s Garden Capital,” so along with the world-renowned museums, the Liberty Bell, and the iconic statue of Rocky Balboa, we’ve enjoyed visiting some historic estates that have beautiful grounds and gardens. The 1,800-acre Wissahickon Valley Park with its dozens of hiking trails, beautiful stone bridges, and even an historic covered bridge is our go-to destination for getting back to nature.
Can you tell us an interesting fact about yourself? When our seven children were young, Sunday mornings had to be streamlined to get everyone dressed, fed, and out the door in time for church. It became a tradition that I made a big pancake breakfast for everyone almost every week, which included lots of different toppings and yummy variations. At some point one of my kids determined that I usually made 50 to 60 pancakes each week—and at some point (according to their calculations), I had made more than 40,000 pancakes over the 20-plus years that we had children in our home! Even I was surprised by that!
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.
23 Mar 2023
This post was written by Angela Suh, a Women’s Ministry intern at Harvest USA.
As a Harvest USA intern, some of my time has been dedicated to serving sexually betrayed wives through our biblical support group. I quickly learned that sexual betrayal in marriage has complicated, painful consequences and observed the tension these wives experience through feeling hopelessly stuck in their marriages.
A sexually betrayed wife faces her husband’s violation of the marriage covenant. When children are present, she may have to consider boundaries and relational dynamics within the home. She may be burdened with the family’s finances if the sexual betrayal caused his unemployment. Wives are sometimes unseen by their church leadership and left to suffer alone. Regardless of their circumstances, these betrayed wives are “bent over” (Luke 13:10–17), desperate (like Hannah, 1 Sam. 1), and longing to be seen (Gen. 16).
As I grieved with these women, I turned to God’s words to Hagar—a woman shunned, moving toward a dead end, and longing to be seen.
Echoes of the Fall
Hagar was Sarai’s Egyptian servant. Because Sarai was frustrated by her infertility, she commanded her husband, Abram, to “go in to” Hagar so Sarai might obtain children through her. He listened, and when Hagar conceived, she looked at Sarai with contempt. Therefore, Sarai dealt harshly with Hagar and Hagar fled (Gen. 16:1–6).
Sin drives this entire narrative. Sarai sinfully doubted God’s promise to provide a son, leading her to take matters into her own hands. Abram’s sinful desires caused him to listen to his wife’s voice and sleep with Hagar rather than protect Sarai (and Hagar) with God’s promises.
Does this ring a bell? Sarai and Abram’s behavior mirrors the fall in the Garden of Eden. Rather than clinging to God’s commands and promises, Eve doubted his words. She pursued knowledge with her very own hands— “she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate” —like Sarai, who “took Hagar the Egyptian, her servant, and gave her to Abram her husband as a wife” (Gen. 3:6 and 16:3, my emphasis). Adam ate the fruit, without any question or objection, and Abram took a second wife.
Although the degree and impact of our sin may differ, it’s humbling to acknowledge that we have more similarities than differences when it comes to sinning against God.
Then the story in Genesis 16 reveals another layer of sin: Hagar responded to the wrong committed against her by being sinfully contemptuous of Sarai and running away (Gen. 16:4).
Sin begets sin and comes from the heart (Luke 6:45). The complex consequences of sexual unfaithfulness are not random or isolated from the person or circumstances. But they are birthed from the desires of the heart (James 1:14). Wives can see their husbands’ sin for what it is even as, by God’s grace, they soberly recognize and confess their own sinfulness. This is not to shift the blame or put responsibility for the husband’s unfaithfulness onto the wife. But we live in a sinful world as sinful individuals. Although the degree and impact of our sin may differ, it’s humbling to acknowledge that we have more similarities than differences when it comes to sinning against God.
The God Who Sees
In Hagar’s flight, she meets the angel of the Lord “by a spring of water in the wilderness.” He asked, “Hagar, servant of Sarai, where have you come from and where are you going?” (Gen. 16:7–8). The angel of the Lord identified Hagar for who she was and met her where she was. Among all the titles and names he could’ve used, the angel identified her as “servant of Sarai.” He looked at her with sober and realistic eyes.
The dualistic inquiry, “Where have you come from and where are you going,” recognizes Hagar’s past and notices her destination. Often, a sexually betrayed wife is so consumed by her husband’s failure and sin that all she wants to do—if not physically, then emotionally and spiritually—is run away.
But God’s Word shows our Father stopping to ask his broken daughters where they’re coming from and where they’re going. God is all-knowing; he doesn’t need this information. It’s like God asking Adam, “Where are you?” after the fall (Gen. 3:9). Of course, God knows—he is the God who sees. If God already knows, why does he ask?
The God Who Saves
God calls out and approaches in judgment. Yet God’s pursuit of Adam and Eve reveals his mercy. In questioning Hagar, God reveals his kindness.
Friends, his inquiry is not to put us to shame but to meet us exactly where we are; he is never too far behind or ahead. Even when Hagar couldn’t see her destination, God carefully and firmly directed her. His ways and thoughts are higher than ours (Isaiah 55:9).
After the angel of the Lord commanded Hagar to return to Sarai and declared God’s promises, she identified God as “a God of seeing.” She said, “Truly here I have seen him who looks after me” (Gen. 16:13). While broken and rejected, Hagar was seen and looked after by God, and that was enough for her.
While broken and rejected, Hagar was seen and looked after by God, and that was enough for her.
Hagar’s circumstances were not fixed. She still had to bear Abram’s child and return to her mistress. However, Hagar didn’t find comfort in her circumstances but in the God who cared for her. Out in the desert—lonely, scared, and running away from a terrible situation—the God of the universe pursued Hagar. He knew her, looked after her, and “listened to [her] affliction” (Gen. 16:11).
This is my hope and prayer for wives suffering from sexual betrayal: that they would lay their souls bare before God and be satisfied in him alone. I pray for reconciliation, for husbands to turn from their sins. But above all, I pray for wives to know and believe that God sees and looks after them. He gave his one and only Son, the perfect Husband, to take on his bride’s every sin and redeem all her suffering. He will bring us to our final dwelling place, where he will wipe away every tear. There will be no more death, sorrow, crying, or pain (Rev. 21:4). Until that day: Come, Lord Jesus, come.
02 Mar 2023
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.
This guest blog was written by Tara Hallman, former Harvest USA women’s ministry staff member.
Christmas can be difficult for a betrayed wife. This Christmas may be the first since discovering her husband has been using pornography or had an affair. For others who’ve known about their husband’s struggle for years, the holidays mark another year of suffering without seeing hoped-for changes.
The Christmas season is a time to be around family and friends as we celebrate the birth of Jesus. But when a marriage is broken, the holidays can be excruciating. Wives usually feel disconnected as many relatives and friends have no idea about the secret pain they carry. They put on a smile, trying to be ‘merry and bright,’ while inside, they’re hurting. A husband’s sexual brokenness can make once-safe things, like time with family and friends, feel unsafe.
What can a woman do when fear, loss, shame, and disappointment follow her into the Christmas season? How can she find longed-for hope, peace, and rest?
Mary’s Life, Redirected
This Christmas season, we will again encounter Mary in the nativity story. I hope that a hurting wife can see Mary as an example of a woman of faith who faced unexpected trials in life with strength and dignity. As we focus on the birth of our Savior this year, I want to encourage women who have been betrayed to notice Mary and watch how she responded when her life did not go the way she planned.
In Luke 1, we find Mary headed in one direction. A young Jewish woman, she had faith in Yahweh, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. She knew the Scriptures, as evidenced by her song, the Magnificat, which contains at least 14 Old Testament references (Luke 1:46–55). Mary was likely just a teenager planning her life, wedding, and future when the angel Gabriel showed up. He told her she was favored, perplexing her. He said she would bear a child to reign over the house of Israel forever. Since she was a virgin, she asked how this would happen. He told her the Holy Spirit would come upon her and she was to name her little boy, the Son of God, Jesus. The angel delivered a message that would take Mary’s life and turn it in a different direction, and she chose to respond in three significant ways.
- Mary chose to believe God.
Her first response was, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). Mary took God at his Word, which is no little thing. All through Scripture, from the story of Abraham (see Gen. 15:6) through the New Testament, God calls his people to trust him—to believe his Word and act on it.
Mary’s story fits right in with the many biblical examples of people trusting God with dependent faith. Centuries before, Abraham believed God’s promise that one day the Savior would come through his offspring. Here, young Mary believed God’s Word that she would give birth to the promised One. Now all who believe in Jesus belong to him and are truly Abraham’s seed, heirs of the promise.
To wives who are in pain and betrayal, wondering how to make it through this Christmas season: I want to encourage you to take the first step to trust the Lord. Like Abraham, who trusted when it seemed impossible, and Mary, who trusted when it was not what she would have chosen, believe God. He is bigger than your circumstances. It is no little thing to believe Him. Betrayed wives report feeling unsure of what is real in their life. They say it can feel like walking in quicksand, and it would feel so good to find solid ground. Jesus is that solid ground; those who are in him can stand firm.
Consider this: If we have lost everything dear to us in this life (God forbid it) but maintain our faith in Jesus, then truly—truly—we have lost nothing of eternal significance.
We learn from Mary that the Lord may set us on a path we prefer not to walk. Mary faced shame, being misunderstood, fear, and the unknown. Many wives who come to Harvest USA find themselves in circumstances they did not choose. We cannot change their circumstances, make their husband change, or save their marriage, but we can help them know the Lord truly, love him deeply, and trust him with their lives.
Consider this: If we have lost everything dear to us in this life (God forbid it) but maintain our faith in Jesus, then truly—truly—we have lost nothing of eternal significance.
- Mary chose to seek community.
Mary’s second response to God was to seek community when she went to Elizabeth. Wives will be blessed to move toward safe, wise women who will provide them truth and comfort. Today, we are being taught by everything around us. If you’re a wife facing betrayal, be mindful of who or what is teaching you in this vulnerable time when you’re hurt, angry, and fragile. I love that God put Mary and Elizabeth together at a time when they both faced serious changes in their lives and were potentially misunderstood by those around them.
- Mary chose to worship her Savior.
Remember, Mary didn’t know what Joseph, or her community, would say about this shocking news. But in the uncertainty of her future, she chose to praise God. In the Magnificat, we see the joyful faith of a young woman who has been set on a path that would include joy intermingled with suffering. May we, like Mary, worship our God even during our unfinished story.
The very last place we see Mary in the New Testament is in the Upper Room (Acts 1:14). Not surprisingly, we find her doing these same three things: believing God, seeking godly community, and worshiping her Lord. By this time, she was a believer in Jesus Christ as her Lord and Savior. She had seen him live, die, and be resurrected. Her Son lives! May we also fix our eyes on the One whom Mary undoubtedly could not take her eyes off. Jon Bloom writes, “Mary’s greatest blessing was not being the mother of The Child. Her greatest blessing was that her Child would save her from her sins. And this blessing is given to everyone who believes in him.”
May we, like Mary, worship our God even during our unfinished story.
If you are a wife whose marriage has not turned out the way you dreamed it would, and your husband has hurt you deeply, know that your heart and your losses matter. This new path you find yourself on, though you’d never have chosen it, is not plan B in God’s eyes. He can and will do good things in and through you. And the things you’ve lost, precious as they are, pale in comparison to what you have in Christ through faith.
May your response to your unchosen circumstances of your life mirror Mary’s response. May you choose to respond in faith and worship of our Lord Jesus Christ.
If you’re facing the fallout of sexual sin in your marriage or know someone who is, consider downloading Harvest USA’s newest resource. Jesus and Your Unwanted Journey: Wives Finding Comfort After Sexual Betrayal is a 10-session discipleship workbook available at no charge.
And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. (Phil. 1:9–11)
Sexual intimacy in marriage is one of God’s gifts. It furthers humanity, cements the marriage covenant between a man and a woman, and fosters love and joy in their union.
Christians confess these things. But do we truly, deep-down, believe sex in marriage is pure? All too often, I don’t. Many factors can taint the purity of marital sex in our minds and hearts. Sexualization seeps into almost every part of western culture, and the world’s view of sex as base and animalistic surely affects us more than we realize. We may feel hesitancy and shame about enjoying marital sex. And if we’ve been abused or struggle with sexual sin, it can be difficult to believe that sex can honor God or be safe.
The world, the flesh, and the devil all conspire to convince us that what God says is good really isn’t good, and our battle-weary hearts struggle to accept the purity of this gift.
And what we believe impacts how we live. It’s harder to engage with your spouse in a loving and vulnerable way through intimacy if sex feels sinful. We may know the truth with our heads, but how do we respond to rogue feelings?
Christ Is Enough
Being a Christian means hiding in the righteousness of Christ, always. If we’re trusting Jesus, every single wrong belief and warped motivation has been crucified with Christ (Gal. 2:20) that we may live in him (Rom. 5:18)! Our hope doesn’t rest in our behavior or feelings, but in Christ’s finished work. If God says sex in a loving marriage between a man and a woman is good, and if you’re married, then intimacy with your spouse is good—regardless of your feelings.*
Here are four truths to help us “talk back” to our feelings.
- We’ve been declared righteous according to Christ’s death and resurrection.
Faith in Jesus alone justifies us, not our works (Rom. 3:23–24). Apart from Christ, our hearts are twisted. We may bring sexual sin and its accompanying shame, or the shame of sins committed against us, into the marriage covenant. We’ll be fighting sin and feeling the pain of sins committed against us until heaven. This is why justification is such liberating news—our souls are safe because of Jesus.
God has set his favor upon us. He sparked faith in our warped, corrupted hearts, making them new and empowering us to walk in good works (Eph. 2:4–9). If you’re married, your marriage relationship is one of those good works. Marriage illuminates the all-surpassing gift of Christ, our Bridegroom, to his people. Being justified by faith means we can take our worried eyes off ourselves and fix them on our Savior. We’re united with Christ, reconciled with the Father, and helped by the Spirit. We can walk in good works because of Jesus.
- Christ’s righteousness covers us.
R.C. Sproul illustrates this doctrine of imputation in his children’s book, The Priest with Dirty Clothes. When Jonathan irreparably stains his robe, he goes to the great prince desperate for help to clean his clothes so he can stand before the king. Shockingly, the prince puts Jonathan’s filthy clothes on himself and gives Jonathan his own royal robes. He smiles, saying, “These are the clean clothes I promised you. They are yours forever. They will never wear out. There is not a spot of dirt on them and nothing can make them dirty. They are perfect for you.”
Think about that! Nothing can mar the righteousness that’s ours in Christ—not our sin (past or present), not sin done against us, not our feelings.
What does this have to do with sex? We can wrongly believe purity is rooted in our behavior. If we’ve sinned or been sinned against sexually, that’s it. Game over. We’re “used goods.” But the gospel truth is that our purity is found in Christ—it’s rooted not in us, but in the spotlessly pure robes of Christ’s righteousness covering us.
At the end of Sproul’s story, Jonathan wants to be good enough to wear the prince’s clothes. “But you cannot be good enough, Jonathan,” the prince says. “You must live your whole life trusting in my goodness while you wear my clothes.” We will never be pure apart from Christ. Yet, in Christ, we’re adorned by a purity more shimmeringly beautiful than we can imagine.
- God uses ordinary means to sanctify us.
Day by day, by the power of his Spirit, God is doing extraordinary work in us through ordinary means—reading his Word, prayer, fellowship with believers, partaking of communion, suffering, relationships. For believers who are called to it, marriage—in all its dimensions—is part of that process.
As we learn to submit to another, preferring them before ourselves, seeking their wellbeing, and caring for their emotions, God is sanctifying us. As we embrace the vulnerability of sexual union, committing ourselves to our spouse again, knowing and being known in all our imperfections, God is sanctifying us. God will use even marital sex to work out our sanctification. Christian, you can enjoy sex with your spouse not only as something good in itself, but as part of the Lord’s sanctification in your life.
This is good news, but we still sin against God and each other. Have you ever thought, “I can’t even have sex with my spouse without sinning in my mind!”? The frustrating reality of ongoing sin can tempt us to avoid sex altogether. But that’s not the answer. As Jim Weidenaar said, simply avoiding sex would be like saying, “I can’t pursue relationships with people in church without my pride and anger surfacing, so to avoid more sin I’ll be a loner.”
“Instead,” Jim said, “it’s as we pursue loving relationships that we recognize sin and true growth happens. The path of sanctification, in sex or any area of life, requires us to exercise faith. Though the road is rocky, our Savior will help us grow even as we grieve, confront, repent of, and work through sin day by day.”
- We’re headed to eternal glory.
Neither marriage nor sex within marriage are ultimate or eternal—like all God’s gifts, they’re signposts pointing to the greater realities of Christ and his love for his people. One day we will physically be with Jesus, our heart’s satisfaction, forever (Ps. 16:5–6). We’ll be free from sin and shame, delighting in the consummation of our souls’ deepest longings.
Paradoxically, this frees us to treasure our earthly marriage more than ever and to not take it too seriously. The intimacy of marriage is a lovely gift, but it pales compared to that great day when we see our Lord face to face. Christ himself is our joy! He is our inheritance. He is our tender husband. The marriage union is a temporary gift; spiritual union with Christ is our eternal reality.
How does this head knowledge work its way into our hearts, so our felt experience matches the truth we confess?
We may still feel that sex with our spouse is impure. Feelings are stubborn and must occasionally be given “a stern talking to.” But that doesn’t always change them. In this fallen life we will sometimes be overset by feelings that run roughshod over us, leaving no reprieve, no peace. But amid all the turmoil of all the feelings, we have a sure and steady refuge for our soul in Christ our Savior. We can shelter in him, crying with the psalmist, “God is our refuge and strength; a very present help in trouble” (Ps. 46:1).
And as the Holy Spirit continues to work in us, our belief in Christ’s sufficiency will grow. The answer, if we’re married, is not to avoid sexual intimacy with our spouse* nor to ignore the feelings. Neither can we examine ourselves thoroughly enough or purge ourselves of sin! No, our hope is found in Jesus.
Who Jesus is and what he has done triumphs over our feelings. Robert Murray McCheyne wrote, “For every look at yourself, take ten looks at Christ” (293). Let’s look to Christ, our Savior, and hide in his righteousness. We can trust him with every part of our lives.
*This assumes your marriage is not abusive. If you’re facing harm from your spouse, remove yourself to safety and seek guidance from a trusted counselor.