As designed by God, both sex and the gospel are bounded by exclusivity. The biblical concept through which we can understand what is meant by this is sanctification, or holiness. We often associate these terms with the process of growing in holiness as we turn from sin and act righteously. This is true.

But, more basically, holiness carries the idea of being set apart. Ultimately, God himself is most holy because he is set apart from us in the perfections of his being and righteousness.

God’s People Are Set Apart

The Bible speaks of God setting apart his people, the church, to belong to him. God does this by making distinctions to separate his people from all other peoples. In explaining the Passover event, through which God separated out his people from Egypt, he said, “But not a dog shall growl against any of the people of Israel, either man or beast, that you may know that the LORD makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel” (Ex. 11:7). King Solomon later says, “For you separated them from among all the peoples of the earth to be your heritage, as you declared through Moses your servant, when you brought our fathers out of Egypt, O Lord God” (1 Kings 8:53).

The rules of Leviticus enforce this call of being set apart to belong in a unique way to God: “I am the LORD your God, who has separated you from the peoples. You shall therefore separate the clean beast from the unclean, and the unclean bird from the clean. …You shall be holy to me, for I the LORD am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine” (Lev. 20:24–26). “Consecrate yourselves, therefore, and be holy, for I am the LORD your God. …I am the LORD who sanctifies you” (Lev. 20:7–8). The people’s commitment to holiness was simply a fitting response to God’s gracious separation of Israel from all others as belonging to him—his precious, chosen possession.

This is a gospel pattern. God graciously makes distinctions to put the church into a category different from the rest of humanity. He sets us apart as his bride. We then respond as those who belong to him. It’s a picture of faithful, exclusive devotion.

Marriage as Setting Apart

God’s divine purpose is for marriage and sex to share this pattern of exclusive devotion. In Ephesians 5:25–32, this aspect of making holy or sanctifying is especially emphasized with respect to a husband’s love for his wife. How does he do this? A husband does not remove his wife’s sin. But he does set her apart by distinguishing her from all other women. His sexual union with her is at the core of that distinction. He puts her in a different category than any other person; she alone belongs to him in the union of marriage. So, because sex is designed to uniquely express that union, in all things sexual he gives himself exclusively to her. Fittingly, she responds with the same exclusive commitment to him.

Setting Apart as the Gracious Initiative of Christ

This leads us to ask why Christ takes the initiative to set apart the church for himself? God says that he did not choose Israel because of a quality he saw in them—the size of the nation, their power, or their influence (Deut. 7:7). He chose them simply because he decided to love them.

In Ephesians 5, it’s clear that the church is set apart and presented in splendor and without blemish because Jesus gave himself for her, not the other way around. We have not earned the right to be set apart. God was not attracted to us as better than anyone else in any way. God does not look for the most beautiful people and set them apart to belong to him. No, he places his love on the people of his choosing and makes them beautiful by setting them apart.

Practical Implications for a Set-Apart People

What difference does this make to your daily Christian life?

  1. You are saved by grace. It was not your goodness that convinced God to save you or that keeps him loving you. He is not waiting for you to mess up one too many times so he can dump you for other, holier people. You are holy because Christ made you holy. What a great comfort!
  1. How should this affect your relationship to and love for Christ? Your love for Christ is your response to his loving you. You can rest and rejoice with gratitude in the security that comes from knowing that this is all his initiative, not his response to your deserving anything.
  1. Your fight with sin is empowered by gratitude, not by any need to earn or stay in God’s love. Firm in your gratitude for his setting you apart as his own, you want to grow in acting as one who belongs to him.

What difference does this make to your sexuality?

  1. God wants this gospel dynamic to shape our sexuality. Therefore, the long-term sexual union of marriage must be founded on a choice to love, not mere attraction that easily fades or wanders. This is not to say we should feel no attraction to our spouses—indeed, the mutual passion and delight of a husband and wife is also designed by God to show us the gospel! But in accordance with the gospel pattern, your spouse should not have to earn your delight. Rather, enjoyment of each other grows as a fruit of mutually setting each other apart in love.
  2. How does this work? Setting apart your spouse in love means you commit to make distinctions between your wife or husband and all others. This means, at least, that anything and everything pertaining to sex and romance is reserved exclusively for your spouse—every advance, every flirtation, every glance, every imagination, every intention is focused on the one whom you have set apart. In this context, enjoyment and delight grow over time.
  3. If you are single, use your time as a single to grow in your faith, confidence, and joy in being part of Christ’s set apart Bride. Learn to bask in the benefits of this gospel truth. Then commit to reflect it in your sexuality. If you remain single, you set yourself apart to belong only to Christ. If you will marry, handle your sexuality now as something which you will give exclusively to your future spouse—setting that person apart even today.

The gospel pattern of the exclusive love of God for his chosen people is our hope and our motivation for fighting sin. We’ve been undeservedly set apart to enjoy God forever—he set his love upon us when we were unlovely. May we grow in holiness as Christ’s exclusive love warms our hearts, reminding us of the eternal belonging he won for us within the set-apart people of God.

 

“What do we need to do to help them?” “How do we love those kinds of people?” “How are we supposed to speak the truth to them?” Have you heard or asked these questions about people in your church dealing with sexual issues? As well-meaning as these questions might be, they can create barriers between fellow Christians, separating God’s people. They metaphorically paint a circle in which some people are included because their struggles are more acceptable, while others are relegated outside of the circle. When we do this, we allow an “us versus them” mentality to form.

As Christians, we need to be extremely careful with such categorization. When it comes to sexual struggles, an us-versus-them mindset places the emphasis on someone’s sin or behavior, not the individual’s heart. Instead of viewing a person through the lens of Christ, as the Bible directs us, we look only at what is visible.

Here are three ways to characterize the “us versus them” mentality:

It speaks of people as a group. There is a truth to this, as well as a danger. The truth is that groups of people often share a characteristic or are in some way associated with each. When Jesus said to his disciples, “You give them something to eat” (Matthew 14:16), he was recognizing that all the people gathered before him were united in a group by their common situation of being tired, hungry, and a long way from home. When he said of the Pharisees, “Let them alone; they are blind guides” (Matthew 15:14), he was merely recognizing the voluntary grouping with which they had identified themselves.

But there is also a danger. The danger is that we overemphasize the group’s commonality that we deny the variety and individuality within the group. This is “painting with a broad brush.” One example of this is generalizing the characteristics of a group so much that we unfairly stereotype every individual. For example, “Gay people have an anti-Christian political agenda.” Well, in reality there are many who don’t.

It emphasizes difference at the expense of commonality. The attitude we are talking about focuses on what separates “my kind” from “their kind” without recognizing our commonality. This works against humility because our sinfully proud hearts always tend towards positive descriptions of ourselves and easily identify faults in others. An “us versus them” attitude keeps us stuck on those differences rather than encouraging us to recognize how alike we all are.

It emphasizes conflict at the expense of relationship and reconciliation. “Us versus them” defines the relationship by conflict—either our opposition to them or their opposition to us. In so doing, it does not seek connection. It seeks to conquer. It seeks to defend. It seeks to circle the wagons, to protect “us.” An “us versus them” attitude reinforces what separates us from a group of people and does nothing to move us toward engagement, redemption, reconciliation, and unity.

In the Bible, we see a plethora of us-versus-them examples. The religious leaders, the Pharisees and Sadducees, seemed quite certain that everyone outside of their own circle was a them. The self-righteous versus the sinners. The pious, mature adults against insignificant children. Powerful men as opposed to weak women.

One of the more prominent examples of this mentality was God’s chosen people, the Jews, pitted against the not-chosen people, the Gentiles. The division was so intense that Jews thought it was unlawful for themselves to associate with Gentiles. In Acts 10, we read about Peter and Cornelius, a commander of an Italian cohort. An angel of God visits Cornelius, a Gentile, and tells him to send men to Joppa and bring back Peter, a Jew. Cornelius obeyed. Then, starting in verse 9, Peter had a vision. Eventually, the men sent by Cornelius arrive, and, while Peter processed the meaning of the vision, he was told to go with the men without hesitation. Peter obeyed.

At this point, Peter knew he was going to visit Gentiles. According to tradition, such a thing would make him ritually unclean. So much so that when he arrived and met Cornelius, Peter said, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean” (Acts 10:28). Imagine that being the greeting you received from someone you have invited into your home! What happens next is one of the greatest realities in the Bible, apart from Jesus himself. In Acts 10:34–48, Peter shares the gospel with those present, and thus the Gentiles hear the Good News for the first time. “While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. And the believers from among the circumcised (Jews) who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles” (Acts 10:44–45).

Immediately, the barrier between us (Jews) and them (Gentiles) was torn apart. The Gentiles had come to genuine saving faith in Christ and were welcomed into the family of God. This is amazing news, especially if you, like me, are a Gentile. This had to be so discombobulating for the Jews, who for so long believed that they alone were God’s chosen. Word of the Gentiles’ conversion traveled quickly, and, when Peter returned, his fellow Jews criticized him, saying, “You went to the uncircumcised men and ate with them” (Acts 11:1–3). In other words, “What did you do?! What were you thinking?!” By God’s grace, the Jews eventually came around and glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life” (Acts 11:18).

So what does this have to do with us versus them? Everything! The truth is that all of us were once “them.” We all need help, hope, and rescue from things bigger than ourselves, namely sin. We are all, by nature, separated from God, but, because of Jesus’ great sacrifice, we are rescued from the penalty we deserve for our sin. We were the ultimate them, and Jesus, the ultimate us, invited us into his fold.

The us-versus-them mentality misses people because it misses the loving heart of Christ. Whereas categorizing people ends in exclusion, Jesus offers invitations to come as we are (Matthew 11:28–30). Jesus welcomed sinners and associated with the people that we might exclude. He calls those other people his own. He didn’t come to save the healthy but the sick, (Mark 2:17).

Here are three ways to move away from us-versus-them categories:

  1. Humbly confess and repent. To acknowledge that we yield to this mentality requires humility. We may not mean to categorize people or see them as different from us, but, by nature, we lean in that direction. Pray and ask God to reveal to you the ways that you put people in the category of “other.” What kinds of sinners are “less than” you? What kinds of brokenness in people’s lives do you run from? You could even ask those around you if they notice a tendency in you to ostracize certain types of people.
  2. Learn from Jesus’ example. Jesus destroyed human categorizations. He was constantly putting his arms around those in the outsiders’ club, the thems! Jesus spoke words of love and compassion for sinners, yet he spoke most directly and firmly to self-righteous leaders. He told pious adults to humble themselves like children if they wanted to enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 18:2–4). When the disciple John inquired about non-disciples driving out demons in Jesus’ name, Jesus told him to leave them alone because they were doing it in his name (Mark 9:38-40). Note, however, that we never see Jesus do away with categories altogether. Categories such as men, women, and children or Jew and Gentile do exist. He simply acknowledges that the most important category is this: those who know him and therefore have eternal life (John 3:15, 5:24). What we read in Scripture is that categorization isn’t based on our particular sin struggles but whether someone believes in Jesus or not.
  3. Be willing to listen. Over my past few years in ministry, I’ve learned about the depth of pain and suffering that people are enduring. Though suffering is happening all around us, most of us are unwilling to stop long enough to take notice. If we do notice, we are often too afraid to engage because it will make us uncomfortable. It’s tough to ask someone to help you understand what her pornography addiction has looked like over the years. It can be hard to hear about the heartache someone has endured while he turned from his attraction to the same sex. It’s uncomfortable to hear details of the devastation caused by someone’s choice to have an affair. As we listen, we might feel like our hearts are being exfoliated; our love of comfort and perhaps our self-righteousness are exposed as we are made aware of others’ suffering.

If you are reading this and feel like a them, that isn’t a bad place to be, even though it is painful. What I mean is, that’s where Jesus lived. In Luke 7:36–50, we read about a sinful woman—some say she was a prostitute—who went to Jesus while he was having dinner at a Pharisee’s house. This woman was a them, and, by what we read in this story, she knew she was unwelcome by the Pharisees. Yet she knew enough about Jesus that she was willing to blow past any us-versus-them barriers and show up at this dinner. She somehow didn’t care that religious leaders were present; she went to Jesus anyway. How is God inviting you to draw near to Jesus yourself and not let people put up obstacles they aren’t allowed to create? Jesus is still inviting you to come to him, so, brothers and sisters, go to him.

Grief is a loaded word. It is something we all feel but rarely acknowledge. Sometimes we try to dictate what we should be allowed to grieve, like when a terminal diagnosis is given or a loved one dies.

But what about the grief we experience when we give up the things we love in order to turn to Christ in obedience? In other words, we experience the deep pain of loss of the things we love when we turn away from our sin in repentance. We experience grief even though we pursue holiness and obedience. This type of grief isn’t named very much in our Christian circles.

Maybe you’re grieving a gut-wrenching heartbreak as you walk away from an unholy relationship, or the pain of singleness as you refuse to run to other lovers, or technology to fill the void of your aloneness. Or the dream job you walked away from because traveling constantly threatened to jeopardize your marriage. Or the reality that, despite your best efforts, social media continues to be an unsafe place that breeds discontentment and jealousy for you.

It hurts to turn away from comforts and pleasures that have replaced Christ. It is godly, and it is absolutely what we are called to do, but it hurts to let go of our desires. Our flesh dies a slow death, and, in the process, we suffer. I mean, is death ever comfortable?

2 Corinthians 7:10 says, “For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.” Godly grief is characterized by repentance that causes us to turn back from selfish pursuits and live for God. Worldly grief leads to remorse brought about by what we lose from a worldly point of view.

Grief in the repentance process leads us either toward Jesus or away from him.

Worldly grief that leads away from Jesus threatens to bring us right back to the destructive things we are trying to walk away from. The pain leads us away from Jesus as we give way to the temptation to focus on what we have been called to forsake, give up, and run away from (1 Corinthians 6:18–20 and 10:13–14, 2 Timothy 2:2).

His comfort and compassion for us are real as we work out our salvation (Philippians 2:12), putting to death what he died for on the cross. However, God never encourages us to focus on what we are giving up or letting go of; he knows this only exacerbates the spiritual pain associated with sin (Colossians 3:1–3).

In Matthew 19, we read about a rich young man who asks Jesus what he must do to have eternal life. After Jesus answers him, the man feels like he has kept all of the commands, yet wonders what he still lacks. Jesus tells him to go and sell all he owns and give it to the poor, and then he will have treasure in heaven. His response? “When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions” (Matthew 19:22). It appears that the cost was too much for him, and this man went away from Jesus because he couldn’t let go of his stuff.

Grief also has the ability to lead us towards Jesus, the one who bore all our afflictions, sorrows, grief, and pain, including spiritual sickness and pain, on the cross. Isaiah 53, commonly known as the Suffering Servant chapter, talks of our Savior as one who suffered and was pierced, crushed, afflicted. As he bore the judgement of our sins, Jesus’ physical agony in the Crucifixion was gruesome and intense, but his obedience to the Father is what counted.

Jesus lamented and suffered because he ran towards us in our sin, taking it on himself. He left the home of heaven to do this. We lament and suffer because he calls us to run away from our sin and towards him as our home. There are so many things here on earth to which we can attach ourselves, so the process of letting go and having things ripped away feels like death. God cares about all of the pain that we experience, but we can rest in knowing that Jesus carried it all for us on the cross: sin and the painful consequences of sin—including the grief we have in repenting from sin.

How do you to turn towards Christ with your grief?

  1. Give yourself permission to feel (1 Peter 5:7, Psalm 34:18). You have the freedom to grieve, cry, and be sad. That is a part of our human experience, and, sadly, these are emotions we often try to push past as fast as we can. As you allow yourself to feel, you open yourself up to the death of certain things while also feeling the peace of coming alive to others. It is both a letting go and an embracing. As Christians, we talk about lament and grief, but the practical outworking of that is honestly facing our feelings.
  2. Let other people know you in your grief (James 5:16). Grief makes our reality foggy. We need to hear other voices besides our own thoughts. Grief will scream for you to turn back to what you know, so we need people to remind us to keep going, that our sacrifices will be worth it. It is also a gift to be known by others, who can’t truly care for us if we don’t let them see us as we really are.
  3. Stand on promises found in God’s Word. Our feelings lie, so as you let yourself feel, don’t rely on them to navigate the rapid waters of grief. Instead, cling to the promise that there will be a day when God will wipe away every tear, when there will be no more crying or pain or suffering (Revelation 21:4). Meditate on the inheritance that is kept for you in heaven that will never perish, spoil, or fade (1 Peter 1:3–5). Hold onto the reality that God is with you and will never let you go (Isaiah 41:10). Stand firm on the promise that nothing in all of creation will separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:31–39).
  4. Pray. Pray Ephesians 3:14–21 for yourself. Pray for the strengthening Spirit to make space for Jesus to dwell in you. Pray for the ability to comprehend his incomprehensible love. Pray for the fullness of God to fill you up in every way so that God’s character will be reproduced in you by the power of the Holy Spirit. Pray also Psalm 27:13, that you would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living as there is still goodness for us to experience in this life, even as we grieve the release of certain desires.

How can helpers help?

I know a woman who was going through the heartbreak of walking away from a same-sex relationship in order to pursue Jesus. In the days and weeks after the break-up, nobody in her circle asked how she was doing. She thought she knew why they didn’t; the unspoken message was that this was not something she should be crying over, and her pain was part of the consequences that come with sexual sin. She wondered if they were afraid of feeling uncomfortable of hearing her talk about missing her girlfriend. One day, a friend of hers did listen as she cried and honestly shared her feelings. Her friend responded with, “I’m sorry; this must be so hard.” This was the first time this young woman had ever heard anyone acknowledge the heartbreak she was going through. It was a pivot point for her, and being seen in this way gave her courage to keep moving towards Jesus.

If you’re coming alongside someone who is experiencing the painful loss of false comforts and pleasures for the sake of Christ, don’t miss her heart. Be careful not to minimize or dismiss the heartache because what she is feeling is real, even for misplaced desires. Pray earnestly for him to know the God of all comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3–5) and that his love for God would overshadow what he is letting go of.

To those who are suffering these losses, their grief might feel like whitewater rafting. For awhile, it might be smooth sailing. Then they take a curve, and raging rapids throw them out of the boat. The rapids are real. Although you can’t swim for your friend, you can grab her life vest and pull her back into the boat. By doing so, you acknowledge that what he is going through is real while you help him hang on to Jesus in the rapids.

A few years ago, I talked to a man whose girlfriend had recently told him about her past, which included intimate relationships with women. When I asked what he thought about that, he said, “I want to marry a woman someday that has been through something hard. Dirty dishes in the sink aren’t as important to a woman who has walked through the fire.”

That comment has stayed with me for years. His perspective was refreshing. Instead of seeing his girlfriend’s past as a disqualification from being marriage material, he saw it as just the opposite. She had persevered and endured things that he knew very little about, but what he did see in her was a woman whom the fire had shaped through suffering.

2 Corinthians 5:16–17 says, “From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” These verses are loaded with meaning, but Paul is acknowledging how, after his conversion, he no longer evaluated people by external, human standards but rather by who they were in Christ, as new creations. Just like the Christian’s sins are paid for by Christ’s substitutionary death, the Christian’s old value systems are replaced with Christ’s righteousness. The cross frees the believer to live a life controlled by the love of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:14–15).

What does this have to do with the person you are dating and his same-sex attraction? It has everything to do with it! If this is a part of your girlfriend’s past, God counts her old life as ended. If this is a part of your boyfriend’s present, the power of sin has been broken. While this sin struggle may still be a part of his or her life, it no longer controls, and it certainly isn’t what defines that person.

The man in the story from above didn’t see the outward sin struggle of his girlfriend; instead, he saw her heart and, therefore, her beauty as a new creation in Christ. This is really hard to do when you are dealing with something that you perhaps don’t understand. If you are being really honest, maybe your boyfriend or girlfriend’s struggle feels even worse than other sins to you, but here are a few things to keep in mind:

Check your own sins first.

It is tempting to look at other people’s sins like they are worse than your own (Matthew 7:3–5). We might even see others’ sins and not really know how to deal with them. Before you allow yourself to worry about the nuances of your boyfriend or girlfriend’s sin, you should have the humility to first examine yours. If we see ourselves rightly, we are less likely to hold struggles against someone else because, after all, we all struggle. Some of us just struggle with things that are more public than others’ hidden sins.

Not every same-sex friend is dangerous.

A common misconception is that if someone is attracted to the same sex, then they could be attracted to anyone of the same sex; therefore, no one of the same sex is safe. This is simply not true! Same-sex attraction looks different for each person, just as heterosexual attraction does. We would never say that a person is attracted to every single person of the opposite sex, so we shouldn’t impose that assumption on people who have an attraction to some persons of the same sex.

Resist the temptation to project others’ sin into the future.

It can be tempting to over-fixate on how your boyfriend or girlfriend’s struggle will impact the future. You may wonder, “Will they always struggle with this? What if we get married and this becomes a larger issue? Will I be enough?” These are scary questions, but you don’t even know how your own sin struggles are going to present themselves in the future, so don’t waste time trying to predict theirs. If God plans for this person to be in your future, he will provide the grace needed to walk that out with this person.

With those caveats in mind, here are five things you can do to care well for your boyfriend or girlfriend’s heart:

  • Seek to understand your boyfriend or girlfriend’s heart. Resist the temptation to be a detective who only wants to know whether your girlfriend is going to struggle with this particular sin while you date her. As with any sin struggle, pain, heartache, confusion, and misunderstanding accompany sexual sin. If you learn what this experience has been like for your significant other, your questions might be answered, and you might even be surprised by the strength and faith that has led him or her to Jesus.
  • Treat this struggle the same as you would any other struggle. Instead of responding with, “I don’t know what to do about this,” you should simply do what we are called to do as Christians: Extend love and grace (1 John 4:7, 1 Corinthians 13). Bear one another’s burdens (Galatians 6:2, Colossians 3:13). Forgive one another (Ephesians 4:32). Show Christ’s love (John 15:12, Romans 12:10). Die to self (Luke 9:23). And so on.
  • See Christ at work. Truly see your boyfriend or girlfriend as a person, not just his or her struggle. Marvel at his or her perseverance. Look with wonder upon your boyfriend’s awareness of his dependency on Jesus. Respect your girlfriend’s strength as she stands upon God’s promises. God allows our struggles to bring us to himself. If this is what God uses in someone’s life, it is not for you to change or fix the struggle; after all, he or she will have to do the same thing for your struggles by appreciating God working in you.
  • Discern your emotional response. Work to understand the root of your heart’s response to this information. What is the cause of your fear, intimidation, anger, or insecurities? Are you worried? What specifically about this concerns you? Are you afraid? Are you intimidated? What is it that you don’t feel capable of addressing? Why? God might use this in your life and heart as much as he is using it in your significant other’s.
  • Acknowledge your significant other’s humility and courage to entrust you with this. To be honest is to be brave. It would be far easier for your girlfriend to keep this from you than it is to invite you into her struggle. Don’t miss an opportunity to encourage your boyfriend for taking the courageous step of being known in this way. Whatever you do, don’t use this information as a weapon. Instead of distorting the struggle to be all about you, how might God be giving you a unique opportunity to be a reflection of Christ, who diffuses shame and loves us with tenderness (Ephesians 5:1–2)?

You probably did not anticipate a sexual struggle like this to be one of the challenges in your dating relationship. Perhaps you knew you would have to deal with selfishness, different priorities, and baggage from each other’s pasts. Likely, God has surprised you with caring about someone whose story contains a significant sexual struggle. Is God’s grace sufficient to let Christ’s love compel you forward and to refrain from looking at this person from a worldly point of view (2 Corinthians 5:14–17)?

If marriage is in view for your relationship, you will need to realistically face this struggle together, as with any sin. To a degree, most marriages experience things like intimacy challenges, painful feelings of rejection, and loneliness.* Ultimately, all of us need to unlearn our culture’s slavery to spontaneous passions and instead learn intentional and sacrificial intimacy. The unique nuances of walking alongside a spouse dealing with same-sex attraction is different for each couple. None of these challenges should be minimized, and, as you walk this out together, inviting others whom you trust into this challenge is a wise and perhaps necessary choice.

Whether your relationship continues moving forward or not, you have an invitation to love this brother or sister by imitating Jesus. The patience, understanding, and care you model to her through your dating relationship might be what God uses to show her Jesus. Men and women who drink deeply of the grace of Jesus and forsake the attractions that feel so natural to them are courageous. They should not be made to feel like they are unlovable but, rather, should be embraced with the compassionate love of Christ through his people—especially those whom they are moving towards in romantic relationship. This is not other to Jesus, and it shouldn’t be to any of us either.

* For further reading about same-sex attraction in marriage, see Tammy Perlmutter’s article, “My Mixed Orientation Marriage,” on our website.

In recent years, there’s been a lot of online chatter and debate about homosexuality and same-sex attraction. I have a burden on my heart for how our brothers and sisters who wrestle in this way are faring in the midst of these debates. I recently reconnected with a dear sister who we’ll call Danae. I hope our conversation encourages you!

All of us have a unique story of faith, growth, and working out our salvation. How has same-sex attraction been a part of yours?

Danae: I first realized I was attracted to women when I developed an emotional connection with a friend after college. Eventually, our relationship turned sexual. Prior to that experience, I wasn’t aware of romantic or sexual attractions to women; this relationship was purely emotional to begin with. Yet, looking back, I became aware that I didn’t experience the boy-crazy phase that excited my peers. I dated men but never felt emotionally connected to them, which didn’t raise any alarm bells until I experienced emotionally intoxicating feelings with my female friend. I finally understood what friends had been talking about earlier in life. I felt excited and ashamed at the same time that these feelings came through relationship with a woman.

After dating guys, what was it like for you to be in a relationship with that friend? 

Danae: Well, like I said, it was intoxicating to finally be in a romantic relationship that felt like love! The reality is that we slowly grew into a very entangled, emotional enmeshment, but the path into it seemed so life-giving: Our schedules revolved around each other; she just understood me in ways that guys never did; it seemed like I was finally home in a mutually loving relationship. The guys I dated were nice enough, but I never really felt that I truly liked them.

What kind of faith battles did you have once getting involved in same-sex relationships? 

Danae: It was tough! I knew that this newfound joy was at odds with my Christian faith, and it created a whirlwind of confusion. How could what felt so good and right to me with this woman be so bad? I’d seen so many dysfunctional heterosexual relationships, and yet my girlfriend and I shared respect, care, and love for each other. There was a massive amount of heartache and confusion that began swirling in my life as I processed what felt natural to me but what the Bible calls not only sinful but also unnatural. My feelings won out, and, after that first relationship ended, I was pursued by other women and had several secret girlfriends over the next few years.

So what led to your willingness to re-surrender to Christ’s loving Lordship over this part of your life?

Danae: It was a gut-wrenching process for me, and, honestly, it still is at times. I felt love in these relationships with women, so to choose to let go and pursue obedience to God not only meant leaving someone I loved but also facing my fear that I might be single for the remainder of life. The cost of losing love, of not knowing what God would give in its place, was terrifying. Another layer of pain for me was that when I began sharing my story with other believers, they celebrated my obedience but offered very little understanding of the deep grief I was experiencing. Even if same-sex relationships are sinful, the loss of them still included heartache, pain, and confusion for me.

I know you suffered in silence for quite awhile, unknown and unsupported. What gave you the courage to eventually open up to someone?

Danae: Desperation! The pain and confusion I was experiencing eventually became greater than my fear of others finding out. I was desperate for help, for answers, for Jesus, and for hope that I could live a different way. A ministry leader moved towards me with compassion, patience, and an amazing gift of listening and drawing me out. She created the first safe place for me to be totally honest. It was scary but so worth it. She discipled me through Sexual Sanity for Women, and, while it wasn’t easy, lightbulbs came on as I began to understand, for the first time, how hurt and angry I was. There were deep layers of unbelief that emerged, and my mentor gently walked with me (and still does today!) as I faced the reality that I wanted to run my own life, and, in fact, thought I deserved to have what I wanted—what felt good to me. It’s been a slow journey that continues to this day, requiring me to trust God and his Word more than I trust myself, my feelings, and the way I think my life should work.

What is it like for you, with all the online debate among God’s people about homosexuality and how to talk about same-sex attraction? Does it help or hinder you? 

Danae: To be honest, it depends. It can be heartbreaking and confusing on one hand, encouraging and inspiring on the other. It all depends on what the motivation of these discussions are. God’s Word has become precious to me, and knowing that his design is for our good has changed the way I view this struggle. To know that some Christians have gone soft on what the Bible clearly says is so deflating. When believers promote “gay Christianity,” it’s so disheartening because I’m seeking to be faithful to Jesus! My own brothers and sisters are forsaking the God who I’ve turned towards when turning away from sinful relationships! And yet I want to mention as well that it can be demotivating to hear leaders fighting about this stuff online as only an issue that needs to be clarified biblically. We absolutely need to have biblical faithfulness about this topic, but I also plead with leaders to not forget the people who are in the throes of working out their faith and repentance because of personal battles with same-sex desires. I’m grateful that Harvest USA seems to keep a helpful balance of biblical clarity and truth woven with compassionate, ground-level discipleship.

One final question for you: What would you say to the woman or man who is reading this and who is where you were so many years ago—hurting, wrestling in secret, and scared to reach out for help? 

Danae: You’re not alone! I understand how scary it might seem to open up to someone about your same-sex relationships, inclinations, and what you really believe about all this. I get it—I really do! Jesus is not only inviting you, but also calling you, out of hiding and shame into himself, towards his love. That’s the true “outing” that all of us need, not to identify with our desires but to bring all of it to God. He’s promised to provide comfort and courage for the road in front of you—a road that will be hard and painful to some degree. Like I said earlier, I have grieved my sin and grieved what I lost when I gave up my sinful relationships. Yet living for and through Christ is the only true path towards the deep love we all want. Don’t give up; just take one step at a time.

Please pray for Danae and the many Christian women and men who are following Jesus faithfully, daring to push back on shifting convictions among God’s people.

Do the Ten Commandments intimidate you? I grew up hearing about them, and every so often they came up in the church services I attended. What were they anyway: Ten things that get us in trouble? Ten ways to keep people from enjoying life?

As I’ve grown in the Lord and studied the Scriptures, I’ve realized that these commands are God’s way of loving us by putting guardrails around our desires, thoughts, and behaviors. When God commands one thing, he is at the same time protecting us from what disobedience to that command brings.

The First Commandment: Keep God as our hearts’ priority

In my fourteen years of ministry at Harvest USA, I have probably discipled women with the First Commandment more prominently in view than any other. Women whose marriages have been devastated by a spouse’s sexual sin, or those who are battling to overcome pornography, emotionally entangled relationships with other women, sexual fantasies, and promiscuity, have all been helped by honest conversation about the First Commandment. It says, “And God spoke all these words, saying, ‘I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me’” (Exodus 20:1–3).

In other words, God loves us too much to allow other things to displace him in our desires, priorities, and hopes. When he is in his rightful place as loving Lord, Savior, and healer of our hearts, our relationships with people and our sex lives are protected.

Elevating people over God never ends well

Women and men alike wrestle with turning to created things, including God’s sweet gifts of people and the blessing of sexual joy, over relationship with him. Whether you call it codependency or idolatry of people, the heart’s motivation is the same: You need to make me feel good about myself, and if you don’t, I’m sunk.

Have you ever thought or said something like the following?

  • Why hasn’t he texted me today?! Is he spending time with someone else? Why wasn’t I invited? Am I being replaced?
  • I love her so much—I need her! If this relationship ends, I don’t want to live anymore; life has no meaning without it.
  • You make my day, and you have the power to break my day. My heart, stability, and sense of being valuable and lovable rise and fall with how much attention you give me. You are me, and I am you. Don’t leave me!
  • I know I’m a bit over the top in how involved I am in my kids’ lives, but they need me—I’m their mother! If my marriage is suffering, so what? God gave me these children, and they are my reason for being alive. If they don’t need me, I won’t exist anymore.
  • I just can’t understand why my marriage isn’t as satisfying as I thought it would be. I mean, isn’t it supposed to be the one relationship in my life that meets all my needs? Isn’t my spouse supposed to complete me?

It’s good to desire satisfying and loving relationships

God is the Creator of relationships, whether in the context of friendships, family, ministry, work, neighborhoods, and, of course, spiritual siblings in the Body of Christ. However, God never intended for us to turn other people into our primary refuge or home. God wants us to depend on him, to live under his authority and care, and to grow in satisfaction with his love for us. When we are secure in Christ, our love for the people in our lives can be healthy, holy, and honoring to God. But when love for Christ and obedience to him become secondary to our relationships or aren’t a part of them at all, friendships, romantic relationships, mentoring relationships, and family relationships can all slide into idolatry.

According to the Bible, whenever something or someone sidelines God from our thoughts, desires, and focus, our lives have gotten off track. The toxic nature of these kinds of relationships can be difficult to diagnose because they can feel so intoxicating! The emotional buzz or euphoria that often accompanies intense conversations, physical affection, or someone’s adoration of us can be addictive. However, a dynamic of “I need your need of me, and you need my need of your neediness” is messy at best and destructive at worst. Instead of helping us to grow and flourish, sinful dynamics in our relationships imprison us.

I’ve had my share of relationships in which my love for and dependency upon God was displaced by my love for a person’s need of me or my role in that person’s life. I know what it’s like to be anxious, fearful, jealous, and insecure when relational terrain suddenly changes, and you’re left feeling ousted, left behind, and brokenhearted. God has me on a trajectory of growing freedom from interpersonal patterns that were mired down for years in toxic, unholy dependency.

No matter where you are, God is compassionately aware of the circumstances you’re in and knows, really knows, what you are feeling. If you are in relational turmoil, are you willing to have the eyes of your heart and mind reoriented toward him? To gaze upon who he is and then begin to diagnose why there is toxicity in one or more of your relationships? To consider who Jesus is and then move toward humbly understanding that people will be in their rightful places in our lives when he is in his rightful place?

We need faith-fueled realism

You may struggle to believe that God can change your codependent patterns, and perhaps you don’t feel desirous of change. Are you, however, willing to ask God to work “in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13)? Your first step in pursuing spiritual growth is to believe God’s Word and to surrender control of your life to him.

Your next step is to have realistic expectations. Most of us want quick, pain-free solutions to our problems, and problematic relationships are no exception! But your desires, interpersonal patterns, and relationships won’t change overnight. Instead, repentance brings about directional change—a slow, steady upward trajectory of growth, transformation, and healthiness.

What might growth look like?

  • Honestly examining your relationships and asking others to give you feedback on how they see it.
  • Putting space between yourself and a person upon whom you are too dependent, especially if you’ve been involved with each other outside of marriage. If you are married and involved in an affair, this relationship needs to be severed immediately!
  • Initiating time with a new friend or an acquaintance, which shows a growth in your willingness to engage with other people relationally.
  • Engaging with a community of believers through a Christ-centered, biblically faithful local church. God’s people are your “household of faith” (Galatians 6:10), and local churches provide a unique opportunity to cultivate a variety of types and depths of healthy relationships.
  • Reading God’s Word as a way to know him, love him, and cultivate your relationship with him.
  • Longing for God more and more, loving him, and seeking him out as your primary relationship.

Jesus frees us from toxic relational dynamics

People problems have been around as long as people have existed outside the Garden of Eden! You’re not alone in this struggle. Many are familiar with the fear, anger, anxiety, discontentment, jealousy, and pain that come when others don’t seem to like, love, or respond to them in the way they desire—in the way they’re convinced they need. Women and men alike have experienced what it’s like to feel trapped, even imprisoned, in a relationship that is obsessive and consuming.

That’s why, of all the prayers and songs David uttered from his heart as a shepherd, king, military commander, sinner, and chosen one of God, the cry that resonates with me the most is, “Bring me out of prison, that I may give thanks to your name! The righteous will surround me, for you will deal bountifully with me” (Psalm 142:7). God has indeed brought me out of relational prisons and allowed me to have healthy, Christ-honoring relationships in my life. Even though I am surrounded by the righteous, I’ll never outgrow the need for God to be my refuge, first love, and source of security—and neither will you!


This post is based on Ellen’s 31-day devotional book, Toxic Relationships: Taking Refuge in Christ.

Finding a greeting card for someone you love can be tough! Have you noticed how the messages in cards are often exaggerated, lofty, and unattainable?

“You make life complete and worth living for!”

“Mom and Dad, you are my unfailing rock and support. Without you, I would have failed to accomplish anything of worth.”

“You’re the friend I’ve always longed for, the other half of my heart living in another person.”

Movies and music also frequently touch upon deep longings for unfailing love and commitment. As image bearers of God, desiring intimate relationships is in our spiritual DNA—yet God alone can offer us unfailing love. We can taste love like this in human relationships, but spouses, parents, children, friends, siblings, and mentors are supposed to point us to God’s love, not hijack our heart’s devotion to him.

Codependency: Worldly Wisdom vs. Scriptural Truth

In the 1980s, self-help books popularized the term “codependent” to describe dysfunctional relationships in which an individual excessively relies upon others for worth, approval, and self-identity. Professional organizations made diagnoses for personality and relationship-based disorders. One example was dependent personality disorder, described as an “excessive and pervasive need to be taken care of; submissive, clinging, needy behavior due to fear of abandonment.”¹ Tragically, the American Psychiatric Association offers little hope because “personality disorders are resistant to treatment!”²

The word “codependent” isn’t in the Bible, and yet Scripture addresses unholy relationship patterns. What the world calls codependency, God’s Word calls “idolatry,” the worship of anything or anyone other than him. When we displace God with human relationships, relational idolatry happens.

God’s explicit command is that we have no other gods, including people, before him in our lives (Exodus 20:2–3). The sin is subtle, but the idolatry that causes codependency happens when relationships entice us away from the Lord, and we selfishly demand that someone give us, or receive from us, love, attention, and affirmation.

Our closest relationships can present the fiercest temptation to turn from the Giver to his gifts. Codependent relationships are idolatrous because they usurp Jesus’s rightful place. Instead of yielding to the Lord who loves us, we yield our sense of well-being to a person. Even though these connections at first feel emotionally intoxicating or comforting, a painful harvest of discontentment, anxiety, and insecurity eventually develops because people can’t fill, heal, or satisfy our hearts!

Delighting In, Rather Than Running After, People

Codependency, or relational idolatry, is something I personally know well. God used Psalm 16, particularly verses 1–4, to help me step away from broken patterns of relating to people.

“Preserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge. I say to the LORD, ’You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.’ As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones, in whom is all my delight. The sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply.”

David looks to God as his refuge, the One apart from whom there is “no good!” This echoes Jesus teaching his disciples that the truest intimacy and security could only be found in relationship with him: “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). When we abide in Jesus alone, he will bear good fruit in our relationships.

Having proclaimed God as his true refuge and Lord, David expresses a godly heart posture towards people: a holy delight in and affection for them. He cautions that when we desperately run after anyone to feel good about ourselves, devastating consequences will result: sorrow, pain, and grief.

Jesus’s Example

When you “watch” Jesus relate to people in the Gospels, he is never aloof or selfishly distant. His relationships weren’t fueled by flattery, people-pleasing, or demands that people make him feel good about himself. John 2:24–25 explains how Jesus lived out Psalm 16:1–4: “But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.”

Jesus loved, served, and enjoyed people without “entrusting” himself to them in the same way that he entrusted himself to his Father. He compassionately and selflessly loved people and obeyed the command to love God alone with all his heart, soul, mind, and strength. For all of the Bible’s commands regarding marriage, friendship, parenting, and neighbors, God never said to place our trust in people with our whole being—yet we are to love as he has loved us (John 15:12). That kind of love and trust is rightly focused on our Savior, who refused to allow people to capture his heart’s focus and “sideline” God.

God-dependency Displaces Codependency

If you struggle with idolatry in your relationships and recognize the symptoms of codependency in your life, take heart! Worldly wisdom cannot offer effective treatment for a spiritual matter, but the gospel can through Jesus. He offers all that we need to grow into healthy and holy people. Jesus offers you himself! Our Savior makes a home in us through an eternal union based on his grace. This is the most intimate, satisfying, and healthy relationship anyone could ever enjoy!

Jesus also forgives us when we sin in our relationships, and he heals our broken hearts. Many people were never taught what healthy relationships look like, much less how to cultivate relationships and friendships fueled by rightly ordered love. Pray that God would guide you to love that abounds with knowledge and discernment.

Finally—though so much more could be said—Jesus came to transform your heart so that you would be captivated by his love and freed to move towards people with God-honoring motives rather than selfish demands. With Jesus in his rightful place as our loving Lord, other people will increasingly take their proper place as gifts to be enjoyed.


¹ https://www.theravive.com/therapedia/dependent-personality-disorder-dsm–5-301.6-(f60.7), accessed by author May 29, 2020.
² Ibid.

You can also watch the video, “Once Codependent, Always Codependent?“, which corresponds to this blog.

If you struggle with codependency and obsessive attachments, take heart! The Lord can help you and change you.

To learn more about this topic, consider purchasing Sex and the Single Girl: Smart Ways to Care for Your Heart or Your Dating Relationship and Your Sexual Past: How Much to Share by Ellen Dykas. When you buy these minibooks from Harvest USA, 100% of your purchase will benefit our ministry.

You can also read the blog, “Codependent No More: Encouragement for Keeping Christ Central in Our Relationships,” which corresponds to this video.

It’s not enough to simply think about desires and beliefs in a vacuum. Our context and our circumstances strongly shape what our hearts believe and desire.

To learn more about this topic, consider purchasing one of our minibooks, Explaining LGBTQ+ Identity to Your Child by Tim Geiger and Raising Sexually Health Kids by David White. When you buy these books from Harvest USA, 100% of your purchase will benefit our ministry.

You can also read the blog, “Your Childhood Experience Matters,” which corresponds to this video.

We live in a culture of the immediate and find waiting for anything insufferable. The advertising industry exacerbates the situation, ironically stoking perpetual dissatisfaction by promising each new product will really satisfy you. Add to this the cultural obsession with sexual fulfillment, coupled with the prominent lie that a life without sex is meaningless, and there is tremendous pressure to live for sexual satisfaction.

Living with unfulfilled sexual desires is seen as the height of folly.  Not just folly; some even argue it’s actually harmful. As a result, many Christians wrestle with the Bible’s sexual mores in the face of discontented sexual experience.

The first thing that needs to be said is living with unsatisfied desires is hard! Christians are mocked because the world is shocked that we don’t “join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign” us (1 Peter 4:4). Because the profound mystery of sexuality points to Christ’s love for us as his bride (Ephesians 5:32), there is an experience of transcendence even in its sinful expression. This means the absence of sexual fulfillment is a real and painful loss.

The absence of sexual fulfillment is a real and painful loss.

I know something of this challenge. After 12 years of marriage, I lost my first wife suddenly after complications from her breast cancer treatment. Diagnosis to death in five weeks. Although we were acclimating to a dire prognosis, her sudden death was like the shock of a car accident. As you can imagine, there was an intense experience followed by an eruption of emotions. When the dust settled, what remained was the challenge of being single again—including living with unsatisfied sexual desires.

The hard truth is Jesus described self-denial as a hallmark of following him (Matthew 16:24; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23). There are two aspects of sexual self-denial I want you to consider: 1) unsatisfied desires are a place where God meets his people; 2) unsatisfied desires whet our appetite for the world to come.

Unsatisfied Desires Are a Place Where God Meets His People

Paul describes God as “the God of all comfort” (2 Corinthians 1:3), but here’s the rub: you only learn this through suffering. Paul discovered this after being “so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself” (v. 8).  God wants to meet you in your places of pain and unsatisfied desire. “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18). When we are pushed beyond our ability to endure, God shows up to strengthen and restore. That’s why Paul later recounts that Jesus wanted him to learn, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (12:9).

Know this: Jesus gets your experience. His grace is sufficient because he suffered through temptation and unsatisfied desires victoriously. Are you drawing near to the Lover of your soul in your pain and disappointment? Does sexual discontent drive you into the arms of Jesus, or other lovers? According to Ephesians 5:32, sex and marriage are signposts pointing to our relationship with Jesus. This means even our unsatisfied longings are an invitation to know his burning desire for us, his deep longing for the coming wedding supper that launches God’s new creation in fullness (see Revelation 19:6-9).

Unsatisfied Desires Whet Our Appetite for the World to Come

Further, unsatisfied desires are such a critical aspect of Christian discipleship because, in some way, God asks all of us, “Will you wait on me? Will you trust me?” We can live with unsatisfied desires now because the Day is coming when we’ll know pleasure forevermore at his right hand. The blessings of this life should lead to the worship of the Giver of all good gifts. In this transitory world, where all joys and pleasures are fleeting, they should lead us to long for the solidity and permanence of the world to come. The kingdom that cannot be shaken. The momentary delights of this life point forward to the eternal world to come.

Unsatisfied desires are such a critical aspect of Christian discipleship because, in some way, God asks all of us, “Will you wait on me? Will you trust me?”

Whatever your sexual experience, all of us need to see Jesus more clearly at the signpost of sex. Are the blessings you experience deepening your love for the Giver of all good gifts? Does your pleasure in marriage lead to praise and worship of God? Can you give thanks in your singleness and allow your longings and sexual desires to direct you to his heart for you? Can you hold fast to his promises to make your life fruitful for his kingdom even in the absence of marriage or biological children? The call of the Christian is to go deeper with him through the pilgrimage of life in preparation for the world—and relationship!—to come. Learning even now the truth we’ll know fully when we see him face to face, that his “steadfast love is better than life” (Psalm 63:3).

Editor’s Note: This blog is adapted from David White’s new book, God, You, & Sex: A Profound Mystery, which is available now. When you buy God, You, & Sex from Harvest USA, 100% of your purchase will benefit our ministry.


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