16 Jun 2022
The purpose in a man’s heart is like deep water,
but a man of understanding will draw it out.
As my fifteenth anniversary of serving as Harvest USA’s Director of Women’s Ministry approaches, I’m moved to remember the deep waters that have spilled, poured, even gushed out in my office. These stories of traumatic pain, heavy shame, and piercing heartache from courageously humble women are transforming my faith and heart. Believers participate in God’s transformative power in each other’s lives by sharing and witnessing to his resurrection life amid trials and temptations. How could I not be changed by having a front row seat to this, week after week?!
One young seminarian came to my office and confessed aloud, for the first time in her life, a secret struggle with pornography. It was a tender, sacred moment. Immediately after her last word, she burst into tears; deep ache and shame were released as light broke into darkness.
A wife had her reality broken apart. Her husband had been adulterous for their entire marriage, giving way to same-sex temptations over and over with thousands of sexual partners. This dear woman said, “I always thought we had a great marriage, and so did everyone else.”
Another young wife and mom finally opened up to her friend about her same-sex desires. Though she had not acted upon them, her fears, shame, and confusion finally became too much. The safety of a good friend allowed those deep waters to be drawn out. Then she and I journeyed together for several months exploring what had been happening in her heart, thoughts, and life and how her SSA had impacted her. She’s fought hard, repeatedly humbled herself, and courageously kept herself in the light with trusted friends. She wrote the following poem when she was considering taking that scary, heart-pounding step of entrusting her secret to a trusted friend.
Behind the Veil
What will you see behind the veil
when I reveal deep waters of my soul—
scars from struggles of days gone by
still tender when exposed to love’s invite.
Will you enter this uncovered sacred space?
Will you stand speechless at the door?
Will you turn away and say no more?
I’m fearful to step from behind the veil
that conceals a battleground of tireless wars elapsed;
where anguished cries echo between dark and light.
Tattered heart laid bare, veil pulled back,
my face shines bright in victory of light—
weak and frail yet I stand in His might.
Will you meet me with those who face their fears
and linger here behind the veil?
Come, pause and discover the One who remains ever near beyond the veil.
His radiance brings light to the darkest night.
With tender care for his child, He absorbs every assault and gives victory of life.
Does one recover from living on the brink of death?
Lord, rescue me from its murderous threats.
Empty, cold nights haunt my bones
As I run in the dark, a child alone.
Jesus, you entered death’s threat in my stead.
Ominous cliffs crumbled into a rubble pile.
Threatening slopes made flat when you descended through the brink of death.
What casualties lie in its heap?
Lord rescue me from death’s residual sting.
His empty threats hold no power.
Whisper, Lord, and bring silence to death’s refrain.
Deep Waters Don’t Have to Drown Us!
Deep waters cover secrets—shipwrecks, otherworldly creatures, and dark, hidden caverns. We tuck our deepest sin, shame, and fear—as well as our secret dreams and hopes—into the hidden places of our souls. But our compassionate Savior sees all, and he calls us to walk in the light.
So, this week, I encourage you to pray two things:
First, ask the Lord to give you courage and humility to share your deep waters with someone. Are you a ministry leader bound up in pornography and terrified to let anyone know? Has a relationship become sexual or emotionally entangled to such a degree that you feel enslaved to this other person’s affections and demands upon you? Friend, Jesus sees and loves you; he knows! He cares too much to let you stay in the dark with those deep waters. Pray and ask him to give you the resolve to not stay hidden.
Second, pray that you will grow in courageous humility to be a ‘water drawer’—to have a patient, gentle, tenderhearted posture before the Lord and others who might need someone to help them and hear their confessions.
Reflect on the poet’s lament, above. Will you, by God’s grace, provide the opposite of what she and so many brothers and sisters fear?
Will you enter this uncovered sacred space? Yes, I will. I’m here to listen. I will hold your story of deep waters and help you find the healing and wisdom of the Living Water found only in Christ.
Will you stand speechless at the door? No, I will allow your story to invite me toward you. Though I may not know your path, I’ll help light your way with the Word we both need.
Will you turn away and say no more? I’m here. I will pray, listen, and stand with you, walking forward in the grace, hope, and forgiveness of Jesus.
I am fearful to step from behind the veil. I’ve been there too, my friend; you are not alone. But take one step and be known so that I can encourage you—not vaguely, but specifically.
There are deep waters all around us and in us. This week, ask Jesus to draw them out from you and through you. As we trust one another with our deep waters, we’re trusting Jesus, our crucified and risen Savior who is always faithful. His boundless grace covers and absorbs our darkness. May we enjoy him and walk daily in his light.
The following blog is an article from our 2021 Harvest USA Magazine entitled Standing Firm for His Glory. To read more articles from this issue, simply click here or visit www.harvestusa.org/magazines/.
“Godly husband, godly father, godly leader in the Church.” That was how I so wanted to be perceived by others, but it was a lie, and I hated myself because of it. The truth was that, for decades, I had struggled with sexually addictive behaviors: masturbation, pornography, and—eventually—binges of phone sex with other men. This was a secret that I was once convinced I would take to my grave because, if anyone knew the truth of who I was, I was sure I’d be despised, rejected, and abandoned by all, including my wife and children.
The fact that I struggled with sexual brokenness isn’t surprising, especially in light of my story and the fact that I have a sinful nature and live in a fallen world. I grew up in a Christian home with godly parents, but I carried a deep wound. My dad excelled in whatever he did, and others fully expected me to follow in his footsteps, but what he excelled in was not what I wanted to pursue. Indeed, I avoided his world because I feared that I might fail and be rejected by him and others. And so any deep connection with my dad was absent. He didn’t give me the physical touch, the play, the frequent affirmation that I so desperately wanted and needed.
A therapist said to me decades later, “You were a nine- or ten-year-old boy, walking across an emotional desert, desperate for a drink of water, and you found one. It just happened to be from a polluted well.” The polluted well was the attention of an older neighborhood boy who introduced me to sexual activity. This would set in motion a decades-long history of struggle with same-sex attraction and sexual acting out. While I was still attracted to women, there was always the pull of the other that produced overwhelming guilt, toxic shame, and repeated, desperate calls to God to remove this despised thorn.
My early sexualization was punctuated by two other traumatic events during adolescence. When I was 14, my dad invited a 24-year-old man with whom he had a professional relationship to spend the night—to share my room—when this man was in town for a special event. Little did my dad or I know that the conversation this man engaged me in after the lights were out would quickly turn sexual and would lead to sexual activity that left me devastated with guilt and shame. Similarly, a sexual encounter with a predatory college professor at age 18 would also reinforce the extent of the brokenness I felt.
During my time in professional school, I fell in love with a wonderful Christian woman, and we married soon after. Finally, I thought; surely marriage would fix me. Marriage was what I needed in order to quit doing the things that brought so much pain. And it did work, for a while. But, gradually, the same old sexually addictive behaviors crept back into my life. I told myself that I was only trying to reduce the stress resulting from my job.
I thought that once we had children, I would stop. I would have to stop. But the children came, and my sin didn’t stop. Against a backdrop of frequent masturbation and binging on pornography, I kept trying to find a way to stop, believing that God and I could sort this out, that no one else needed to know.
When I was in my mid-30s, my family and I were members of a small, reformed church in the Midwest. I was approached about serving as an elder. I resisted at first, feeling like a hypocrite, but after repeated overtures from the pastor and a godly man on the church’s session, I agreed to have my name placed before the congregation. I told myself that if I were elected to the office of ruling elder, I would have to stop doing what brought so much guilt and shame. I was elected to the office of ruling elder and ordained, but, much to my disappointment, the miraculous healing I was seeking did not materialize. It was not long before I was engaging in the same old addictive patterns, at times contemplating whether suicide wouldn’t be a better alternative.
And so the pattern was set, and the decades passed. Where was God in all of this? Why wouldn’t he remove this thorn? I became more and more convinced that there might not be any hope for me, disregarding all that I had been taught throughout my life about God’s faithfulness. In my early 40s, my wife and I were in a new city as a result of my work, and the evidence of God’s faithfulness to me began to take form, although I would not see that until years later. My wife, while serving on the missions committee of the church in which I was also serving as a ruling elder, came across a request for support from Harvest USA. I can remember her saying while she was reading the literature, “This is the most grace-filled, redemptive approach to helping individuals escape their bondage to sexual sin that I have ever seen.” I was intrigued and began reading it myself. I found a modicum of hope, but I was still too prideful to confess my sin to my pastor or my wife.
I see much more clearly now how God was at work in my heart even in those dark times. I would eventually confess my sexual brokenness and the details of how I acted out sexually to my pastor in a moment of desperation. He met me in my brokenness; he held me, he wept with me, he repeated the truth of the gospel to me, and he encouraged me to tell my wife about my sexual struggle. It was a proper suggestion but one that I had too much fear to pursue at that time, but, in that moment, I was met with the goodness and grace of the gospel by my pastor, and it gave me hope.
I told myself that this is what it would take—confession of sexual sin to my pastor—to break the hold that my sin had on me. Once again, I received short-term relief, but my sinful, addictive patterns soon grabbed hold of me again.
So I continued to struggle until, several years later, God gave me a desire to pursue bi-weekly telephone counseling with David White, who was Harvest USA’s Men’s Ministry Coordinator at the time. David kindly and patiently worked with me to help me see my profound brokenness. He too encouraged me to confess my sin to my wife. When I finally did so in a moment of great guilt and shame following a binge of acting out, we were thrown into a major crisis that led to intense marital counseling and a sexual sobriety contract in which I promised to disclose to my wife within 24 hours any sexual acting out. Finally, I thought to myself, this is what it would take to enable me to stop. But it didn’t. Fourteen months later, I binged again while my wife was out of town and continued my deceit by failing to confess to her as I had promised. I was convinced that if I kept my promise to confess to her, I would lose my marriage and my family.
The truth always comes out, and I am grateful now that that was true in my case. Two months later, my wife confronted me, and I knew that I had to answer her pointed question honestly, confessing to what had happened months earlier. We were immediately thrown into another crisis, but, in retrospect, this moment was God’s gift, for God used my desperation to save myself and my marriage to get me to a twelve-step fellowship meeting with other men, many of whom were Christians, and the missing piece to my decades-long search was found.
After God created Adam, he pronounced, “It is not good that man should be alone.” Yes, God gave Eve to Adam as a helpmeet, but he also designed Adam for deep connection with others. Man was created for real intimacy, something I had never experienced because I was too fearful that I would be completely rejected and abandoned if anyone knew what I had done.
As I began attending twelve-step meetings and experiencing an honesty from others that I had never before experienced, I slowly discovered that God used my deepest fear of others knowing my most shameful secrets to bring true repentance and healing. As I began to let go of my secrets and discover anew God’s goodness, kindness, and unfathomable grace, the transformation of my heart began.
While this transformation would occur slowly over the next few years, I discovered real intimacy, not only with these other men who loved me and encouraged me to walk in obedience, but also real intimacy with my wife and my children. I developed deep friendships with other men that were transformative. I gradually came to realize that this was what God designed me for, that there was no way I could have ever been freed from my addiction to lust without the community of other broken but redeemed brothers in Christ.
My wife and I have done a lot of therapeutic work over the past twelve years. There have been some rough times along the path of healing, but now, more than ever, we both see God’s merciful hand in our lives, confirming again and again the good news of the gospel. For that, we are both grateful. And the pastor to whom I had confessed my sin years earlier has walked with us through many rough times; I am grateful that he is still my pastor today. He loved me, and he showed up as the hands and feet of Christ when I did not think myself worthy of God’s love.
Today, my life is much different than it was for those many decades during which I attempted, in my pride, to live life alone in order to protect my secrets. I have a much more profound intimacy with Jesus, who makes me and all things new. I have the great honor and privilege of sponsoring and mentoring six amazing young men, ranging in age from 27 to 40 who, like me, struggle with sexual brokenness but, by God’s grace, are living in freedom and seeking to walk in obedience before God one day at a time. God gives me a front-row seat to watch the Holy Spirit at work in these men’s hearts and minds.
I will always be grateful for Harvest USA. Its ministry of hope, healing, and forgiveness rooted in the reality of the gospel touched my life during a dark time of my soul and led surely and amazingly to the reality of knowing God and others in a way I never thought was possible. And I am grateful that I have a church today where my pastors know my story and have often sent other men to me—to share my story and to sit with them in their brokenness, offering the hope of the gospel and of deep friendships with other men who struggle as I do. I no longer have to live life as the hypocrite who desperately wanted to be affirmed by others as “godly husband, godly father, godly leader in the Church.” Today, I have a fresh realization of the truth of the gospel and my desperate need for true intimacy with God and with other men.
In this article, we do not disclose our ministry recipient’s real name because he has requested to remain anonymous.
02 Sep 2021
Perhaps you have heard it said, or felt it clearly implied, that homosexuality is the worst possible sin. Perhaps your testimony includes some kind of personal experience of homosexuality or same-sex attraction, and you have felt—whether they meant to communicate this or not—that others considered you the worst kind of sinner. When this opinion is openly expressed, it is not uncommon to hear Romans 1 referenced, especially the point about homosexuality being contrary to nature.
Is this correct? Does Romans teach that homosexuality, being contrary to nature, is therefore the worst sin?
To begin, let’s admit that not conforming to nature does have a bearing on sin. In Romans 1, this concept is connected to rejection of the Creator. Those who exchange the truth of God (that he made everything and rules over its design) for a lie (that we are autonomous beings who may choose to live how we wish) worship and serve the created—for which the Greek word is ktisei—over and against the Creator—para ton ktisanta (1:25). That is, we might say, to make up a word from the Greek, they make themselves “para-creational.” These creation-worshippers, then, are the very ones who, for that same reason, also exchange the natural—physiken—use of the body for the unnatural use—para physin—or “para-natural” (1:26). Paul is arguing that the willingness to ignore the normativity of created design and intent for the body is a manifestation of the willful rejection of the Creator.
So, in discussions of whether homosexuality is sin, the issue of created design is plainly relevant. You can also see why the Westminster Larger Catechism would list “against the light of nature” (Q151.3) as one of the many contextual considerations that aggravate the seriousness of any particular sin. All sin, of course, is a manifestation of our rejection of the Creator and logically flows from that rebellion. All sin is, in this sense, against the Creator’s design. But in Romans 1, Paul rhetorically seizes on the obviousness to his readers of this particular rejection of natural design. This obvious contradiction of natural design makes especially clear the connection that all sin has to rejecting the Creator of nature.
Nevertheless, the language of Romans 1 does not mean that any sin that is “contrary to nature” is for that reason the most heinous sin, or even that it is automatically worse than any other sin. As I explained in a previous post, “Are Some Sins Worse Than Others?,” determining the relative heinousness of any sin act is complicated and context-specific. The catechism, for example, lists many factors to consider, of which being “against the light of nature” is only one. The effect of this list is not to automatically put any one whole class of sins in a worse category than other classes of sins, but to urge church leadership to wisely shepherd individual cases before them according to the unique situational context. But even in the text of Romans, it is clear that Paul did not intend to single out sins contrary to nature as the pinnacle of wickedness.
First, in the immediate context, one of Paul’s main concerns is to encourage unity in the gospel, especially between the main demographic division of Jew and Gentile. His concern is that each individual in the church, whether they be Jew or Gentile, would have no basis on which to look down upon or judge the other. In the flow of Romans 1 and 2, he does this by progressing from the “unnatural” sins of the Gentiles that would seem so obvious to his Jewish-background readers to the more common and less obviously unnatural but equally debased (1:28) sins like covetousness, strife, deceit, haughtiness, boastfulness, disobedience to parents, and the like (1:29,30). The mere inclusion of some of these sins in this list should be enough to curb the temptation to feel morally superior (see my post on Romans 1). But, significantly, Paul ends this list by adding, “Though they know God’s righteous decree” about such things, they do them anyway (1:32)—a point that the Larger Catechism would describe as another factor increasing the heinousness of a sin that it is committed by a person “of greater experience or grace” (Q151.1). The rhetorical effect is clearly to humble the readers who, because of their greater biblical training and theological heritage, would be tempted to judge their Gentile brothers and sisters (even though his original audience, of course, would not have had the catechism’s language!). Thus, he culminates this section with the rebuke, “Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges” (2:1).
But, some may ask, doesn’t the very idea of “contrary to nature” carry a certain pejorative power, conveying an emotional intuition against what clearly ought not be? That is to say, doesn’t it capture what some have described as the “yuck” factor? Well, the point that I have been trying to show is that that kind of understanding is not consistent with Paul’s concern in Romans 1–2 for humility and unity in the gospel. I would also suggest that his other use of this phrase supports this point. The Greek phrase translated “contrary to nature” (para physin) shows up twice in the book of Romans: First, here in chapters 1 and 2, at the beginning of Paul’s argument, where he is mainly urging Jewish Christians to a humble gospel disposition toward the Gentiles. The other time this phrase shows up is in chapter 11, at the end of Paul’s argument, when he flips the coin to make a similar plea to the Gentile Christians: “Now I am speaking to you Gentiles… For if you were cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, the natural branches, be grafted back into their own olive tree” (11:13, 24, emphasis added). Ironically, Paul’s first use of the phrase is as a description of the sin that comes from rejection of God, but his second use of the phrase is to illustrate the unexpected grace of the gospel! Both times, the phrase occurs in the context of encouraging Christians to a humble, gospel-based love for those who are otherwise very different from themselves.
What can we conclude from this? If we listen carefully to the apostle Paul, we will never use the category of “contrary to nature” to favorably compare ourselves to any other sinner or class of sinners. Rather, we will in humility seek out, and point others to, “the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe,” acknowledging that there is really “no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” (3:22–23).
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.
[Throughout my journey,] walking towards God and not away from him takes effort and deliberate choices. However, just yesterday, God brought to mind a quote from Harvest USA’s women’s support group: “I do not want to let Satan make me ineffective.” I also came across these words on a bookmark: “I refuse to…I choose to…,” something we had discussed in our group.
So, I refuse to let Satan squash my desire to glorify God with my sexual struggles. Instead, I choose to believe that God is good and faithful. His truth far outweighs the thoughts and emotions trying to take over my attitude. I will persevere with my eyes focused on Jesus and eternity, not on myself or on this life of light and momentary afflictions (2 Corinthians 4:16–18). Now, my testimony.
I have been a Christian since I was young, but it wasn’t until high school that I started to understand how the real gospel applied to life. Not long after, I figured out that I am attracted to women. It’s been about 15 years since I started this journey, and a lot has happened.
The part I’d like to share with you has to do with shame. Satan’s greatest weapon against me has been shame. Shame is a lie that says we’re worthless because of things we’ve done or things that have been done to us. Those lies must be measured against God’s truth because God tells us something very different. He tells us we are worth his Son’s life.
To give you a picture of where I went with shame, I basically walked out on my life four years ago. I distanced myself from almost everyone who loved me. I refused to associate myself with God. I rarely went to church. It wasn’t anger at God that led me to do those things; it was shame. I didn’t think I was worthy of calling myself a Christian, let alone broadcasting that I claimed to be one. I was in a very deep pit of darkness because I saw no way out and no future with purpose. Shame had eaten me alive.
My shame is rooted in a strong desire to be right—not me being right and you being wrong, but more like me doing what is right and honorable and always pursuing perfection in my thoughts and actions. (To be clear, these are the expectations I have for myself, not what I expect from others.)
For someone who wants so desperately to be right and pure, just knowing that my own sexual desires are twisted and broken produces a lot of shame. Choosing to actively pursue relationships with women, while knowing these choices were in direct rebellion against God, intensified my shame. My struggle lasted a number of years before my greatest shame, which came from taking that last step with women that I didn’t think I would ever take. When I finally let those relationships progress to a sexual level, I did it with a huge bang. God’s not kidding when he says that, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18).
I’m not sure if I just refused to let go of my shame or if I wasn’t aware I could, should, or needed to do it. Whichever it was, I know I felt utterly lost and powerless. God used a dear friend gently, but plainly, telling me I was hurting Jesus by not letting go of my shame. I was saying that his suffering and death weren’t enough. I tried to rationalize keeping my shame by saying he was already taking the punishment for my sins; I didn’t want him to have to feel the weight of my shame, too. But where is the gospel in that? He voluntarily died knowing that he would also be carrying that shame for me. That day, I asked forgiveness for holding onto my shame and started giving it over to him. He willingly took it; he keeps his promises.
God didn’t leave. He waited and then pursued me hard because he loves me. Once I repented, God started preparing my heart to step back into serving him. I completed the counseling homework I had previously abandoned. I was seeking God.
One day, I ended up in John 21. Now, nearly every time I read the exchange between Peter and Jesus after Jesus’s resurrection, I tear up. Peter had denied knowing Jesus three times before Jesus’s crucifixion after stating he would never do that exact thing. Peter’s pride showed, and then he fell hard—just like me! He denied even knowing Christ who loved him and who was willing to sacrifice his life to be Peter’s Savior. Imagine the shame!
But Jesus gently reminded Peter that his actions did not negate his love for Jesus. Peter couldn’t bring himself to say that he loved Jesus after his denial. He knew he had chosen to preserve himself instead of sacrificially loving Jesus. The tenderness Jesus shows Peter hits deep in my heart. Jesus recognized the struggle in Peter and made a point to assure him that he still loved him.
Then Jesus tells Peter to tend his sheep and follow him! I know levels of shame and certainty that I no longer had anything to give in this life, let alone give to God. I felt so broken that I would never be able to do anything worthy again. I thought I had failed God and had lived in complete rebellion: denying God, giving up hope that I could ever change, believing that he did not love me because he had left me with this unbeaten struggle.
If you can imagine the shame, then you can also imagine the feeling of knowing that God isn’t done with me; he has work for me to do. Reading about Jesus telling Peter he was worthy of being used for the kingdom’s sake is something I can latch onto. The work to which God called him was not second-rate. Does that give you hope for what God has in store for you? It does for me!
I need to hear the gospel frequently. That is the only thing that keeps me above water and out of the woods. God has provided people in my life to help me keep my eyes on him because, as much as this single, independent woman would like to do it on her own, it’s just not possible.
God provided a fellow struggler who shared her story publicly at a conference we both attended. She has been on this road with me longer than anyone else, and we have experienced the full gamut together. A great core group of people in my church have been walking with me for years, celebrating the victories, pointing me to Jesus, praying me out of the pits, and just doing life together. They are the people I can’t hide from, and that’s a good thing.
I’ve been connected to Harvest USA for almost nine years now, and I’ve seen God use the Women’s Ministry in my life. They have opened my eyes to Jesus’s compassion by helping me work through some of the deeper intricacies of my heart’s struggle. I have found a community of others pursuing Jesus in their sexual brokenness. I didn’t know I needed that community as badly as I did, but God did. He always provides.
I have been praying that anyone who reads this will have a renewed sense of hope. Because there is hope. I say that with such certainty. I’ve seen God show up over and over again in my life. He’ll do the same for you—I promise!
This blog is an adapted article from our Fall 2020 Harvest USA magazine, which is available as a free digital download. In this article, we do not disclose our ministry recipient’s real name because she has requested to remain anonymous.
05 Sep 2019
In looking back and celebrating the work God has done through Harvest USA for the past 35 years, we thought it would be good to share a testimony from the early years. The following testimony from Steve DeVries appeared in the Fall 1989 issue of Harvest News, which was followed by John Freeman’s recollection, “In Memoriam,” in the Fall 1992 issue.
I was brought up in a typical middle-class home on Long Island, NY. It was at about age 13 that I had my first gay sexual experience. Although at that time it seemed an innocent and isolated occurrence, little did I know the devastating effect it would have on my life.
Those early experiences led to 15 years of guilt and confusion. A move to the West Coast to attend college brought new freedoms that were damaging. The move enabled me to seek out gay bars and begin involvement in the gay life. This was something the small farming community from which I had come had not afforded me.
Never willing to face the loneliness of my life for very long, I found temporary peace in new surroundings. Los Angeles, San Francisco, Las Vegas, South Florida, and a year in Europe only enabled me to keep running away. I thought that I could find happiness in a constant stream of new people, new places, and new things. Although I was getting more involved in the gay life, I was still conscious of enough confusion to seek out psychiatrists. I found out that the psychiatrists often needed psychiatrists.
During this time, I also tried to push myself into heterosexual relationships, at times getting serious enough to come through with promises and diamond rings. I never could go through with it. Those years were characterized by guilt and misery.
By the age of 28, I just gave in. I rationalized and made the necessary excuses. I said, “Well, this is the way God made me and wants me. I’m gay, and I’ll have to live with that for the rest of my life.” So I dove into that for the next 15 years. Along the way I learned that alcohol dulled the pain (and hidden guilt). Alcohol enabled me to not feel, and a continual stream of brief relationships that meant nothing gave temporary relief.
Still looking for that ultimate “pain killer” at age 40, I got into crack, one of the most deadly drugs on the market. I don’t know how, but I did find success in business and money. I had all the material trappings of a successful yuppie. I was making a ton of money.
Alcohol enabled me to not feel, and a continual stream of brief relationships that meant nothing gave temporary relief.
Then the bottom fell out. I was arrested for coke possession, spent one night in jail, and was released in the morning. Within a month I was arrested for possession of crack again. This time it hit the headlines of the newspaper in the small South Florida town in which I lived and worked. I was fired from my job and began a prison term.
I remember sitting in prison, contemplating and even planning my suicide. I began to pray for the first time in a long time. I prayed that God would do something. I had lost everything. I got involved in AA and various drug programs and became substance-free. But I knew that still was not enough.
As part of my parole, I landed a job in the Philadelphia area. I began to frequent gay bars again, but something wasn’t the same. I didn’t drink, but I would just sit there and look at all those lonely people. Only, somehow, I now couldn’t relate. Now I felt completely lost. I kept thinking, this is the only thing I’ve known. What am I going to do now? It was about this time that I read an ad in the newspaper for Harvest USA, which said there was help and hope for people like me!
Thank the Lord I found that ad. I called the number and went in and talked with John Freeman. He listened for a long time and then told me about Christ and how Jesus really cared about me and my problems. During that first appointment, I accepted Christ into my life.
It’s hard for me to understand and explain, but after that, my life changed dramatically. I began reading the Bible, praying, and developing a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. I had always known deep down that there must be some purpose to my life. Now I knew! Perhaps the biggest change has been that the loneliness and insecurity that plagued my life are gone. I’m a new man in Christ, and the Lord is my personal friend. It’s really unbelievable. No crack or cocaine can come near it.
Now I felt completely lost. I kept thinking, this is the only thing I’ve known. What am I going to do now? It was about this time that I read an ad in the newspaper for HARVEST USA, which said there was help and hope for people like me!
In January 1989, about six months after giving my life to Christ, I faced a new problem. That month I went to the dermatologist to check out a patch of skin on my face. It turned out to be Kaposi’s sarcoma. I have AIDS. I have since begun the AZT treatment and the whole medication thing.
The Lord may heal me or he may not. That’s not in my control. The important thing is that the Lord is enabling me to deal with this. Even my own family has been extremely supportive. On a recent trip back home, my parents, though not Christians, perhaps summed it up best when they told me, “Steve, it really doesn’t matter if the Lord heals you or not. The crucial thing is that you’re healed in your heart!”
Steve DeVries, a brother in the Lord who left an impact on everyone he touched, died on September 2, 1992, with his family at his bedside. He was mourned by everyone at Harvest USA.
I first met Steve in October of 1987 when he responded to an ad Harvest USA had placed in the newspaper seeking to reach those who wanted out of the gay life. Steve saw the ad and came in for an initial interview. I remember especially how humble Steve was during that interview. He was particularly aware of how he had been trying to gain some sense of wholeness and meaning through gay encounters—only now it was not working anymore.
During that initial meeting, I sensed that the Lord had his hand on Steve in many ways—too many to go into in this short space. He began asking all the “right” questions about his need for something deeper and more foundational in his life. As I shared the gospel with Steve and explained what the life and death of Jesus Christ had to do with his problems, I could sense a light going on inside his head. Steve ended up asking the Lord to come into his life that very day!
The next two years for Steve were filled with growth and fellowship. He had attached himself to a local church and was involved in the life of the church. Yes, he still struggled, but he was intent on walking a life of obedience; he had given the Lord the position of “boss” in his life. For all intents and purposes, he had chosen to get his needs met through the Lord and his relationships with other believers, not through living a gay life.
I remember the day, almost two years after our first meeting, that Steve dropped into the office for a surprise visit. Within a few minutes of sitting down with another staff member and me, Steve burst into tears. You would have to have known him to know that this was not like Steve. A successful businessman at the age of 42, he had a confidence and sense of security about himself combined with an inner sense of control that didn’t leave much room for displays of emotions. A warm and sensitive man, yet outwardly always quite controlled, this outburst signaled that something was drastically wrong.
Steve went on to tell us that, having not felt well for several weeks, he had been to a clinic to get a test to see if he might be carrying the HIV virus. The test was positive. The three of us wept. Yet even then, Steve managed to vocalize his awareness that God was with him in this and would not abandon him. God had brought him this far and would not let him go.
As the men in the group observed his tenacity in handling his disease process in a way that both maintained his dignity and yet was rooted in his relationship with Christ, they slowly warmed to him.
As time passed and Steve became more symptomatic, he turned to a local ministry that assisted AIDS patients. He began to face the realities of this deadly disease. In a mature and methodical way, he began to tie up the loose ends of his life in the Philadelphia area and prepared to move back to his parents’ home in upstate New York. With a sense of sadness that he would no longer be in the area, we said goodbye, knowing that Steve had come to occupy a special place in our hearts.
Back in his hometown and still in relatively good health, he made the necessary medical contacts that would increasingly become a part of his life. He told me about an initial visit with a physician. Sensing the need to talk about Christ with this doctor, Steve explained to him just how he had come to know the Lord and how Christ had given him the power to break from his gay life. The doctor was taken aback by Steve’s testimony and expressed his own sorrow that now that Steve had AIDS, Steve was now feeling guilty and seeking change. The doctor implied that Steve’s faith was a reaction to getting AIDS and had little to do with him leaving the gay life. Steve corrected the doctor by explaining that his encounter with the Lord and his changed life had happened several years prior to the HIV diagnosis.
Steve also wasted no time in getting involved in a local AIDS support group with the idea of not just getting support for himself, but with a focus on how the Lord might use him to touch others with the same grace he now knew personally. Within a few minutes of the first meeting, Steve saw that most of the people in the group were gay men with HIV. During the sharing time, as men went around and shared how they were coping with the disease, Steve shared how he was coping, where he had come from, and what God was doing in his own life.
The results were predictable. Hostility, anger, and contempt were immediate reactions. Several men told Steve not to come back to the group and that they did not need his kind of “preaching.” But Steve did go back, withstanding the mistrust and unpopularity his initial introduction to the group had caused. He just kept going back again and again.
As the men in the group observed his tenacity in handling his disease process in a way that both maintained his dignity and yet was rooted in his relationship with Christ, they slowly warmed to him. On one occasion, Steve phoned me from his home on a Sunday afternoon to ask me to pray. He was in the middle of a cookout, and 20 men from his support group were there! Although still resistant as a group to their need for redemption and grace, one by one, many of the men had sought Steve out privately to spend time with him. During these times, he tried not only to be a friend but to minister the gospel in word and deed.
Just because he was a Christian did not mean that Steve escaped the pain and suffering associated with HIV and AIDS. He simply had a supernatural way to deal with it. One entry in his diary contained the following solace which came to comfort his soul on many occasions: “When I feel pain, I think about the Lord, and the pain goes away. When I’m frightened, I think about the Lord, and I’m not scared anymore. When I am lonely, I think about the Lord, and the loneliness goes away.”
Just because he was a Christian did not mean that Steve escaped the pain and suffering associated with HIV and AIDS. He simply had a supernatural way to deal with it.
During the last two years of his life, some of our staff had continued contact with Steve. He wrote and called us regularly. He gave his testimony in 1990 to a room of 250 people. He joked about my having told him to keep his talk to 10 minutes, but since he had driven seven hours to get there, surely I would not mind if he took longer! That was Steve! He was always hard to contain when it came to his talking about the Lord.
I also recall spending time with Steve at a lodge two summers prior to his death. With particular fondness, I recall sitting out in the darkness around the campfire. The cool night air and total darkness around us stood in stark contrast to the millions of bright stars upon which our eyes were fixed. Steve spoke of his own growing intimacy with the Lord and how the Lord had taken care of his every need. It was there that I realized I was a bit envious of his constant recognition of God’s faithfulness and grace. His own dying process and coming to terms with the end of his life only seemed to expand his reflection on and appreciation of the sovereignty and grace of God. My own day-to-day awareness of these truths seemed dull in comparison.
It is my hope that you will remember Steve and think about his trust in the love and compassion of Christ. I hope you will be challenged to tell others about your own walk with the Lord and speak about his mighty deeds everywhere you go. Most of all, I hope you see the “what if” possibilities in the people around you who do not know Christ. Envision what that person could be if he or she knew the love and grace of the Savior, like Steve.
This article also appeared in the Spring 2019 issue of harvestusa magazine. You can read the entire issue in digital form here.
John Freeman shares additional insight in the accompanying video: Remembering Steve DeVries. These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.
05 Sep 2019
In this video, John Freeman remembers Steve DeVries, a Harvest USA ministry recipient, who is now with the Lord. You can also read the accompanying blog, “Healed in the Heart,” which includes a testimony written by Steve in 1989 as well as reflections from John that were written in 1992 after Steve’s death.
The Church needs to acknowledge that all Christians struggle sexually in some way. But it must also recognize, and attend to, those in its midst who struggle with same-sex attraction. While the biblical worldview of sex and sexuality does not embrace gay relationships, that does not mean the Church ignores or mistreats those who try to live faithful lives with a struggle they did not choose.
Tim Geiger gives five ways you can walk alongside someone who struggles with same-sex attraction, communicating along the way that he or she is a fellow believer who is loved and valued—by God and by you! You can learn more by reading Tim’s blog, “Loving Our LGBTQ+ Struggling Brothers and Sisters,” and our recent harvestusa magazine where this article first appeared.
A sexually faithful church must take seriously its role to love, embrace, disciple, and include those who struggle with attractions and desires that conflict with Scripture.
Those who live with an enduring pattern of same-sex attraction, and those who feel that their sense of gender is in conflict with their body, struggle deeply with feeling different. In a church culture where marriage and family are placed on a high pedestal, where relationships that move from dating to courtship to engagement to wedding are celebrated, those with same-sex attraction wrestle with loneliness, isolation, and discouragement. They know and have heard repeatedly that God is opposed to same-sex marriage. They see a future that feels cut off for them.
Upon hearing this, some in the Church who do not struggle with same-sex or gender issues may feel tempted toward impatience with their brothers and sisters who do. But I encourage you to resist that temptation, as well as its close relative, the temptation to offer quick solutions.
Feelings of painful loneliness and isolation aren’t temporary feelings of distress for those who experience same-sex attraction or gender struggle. They are a present and future reality. They can’t be easily dismissed or replaced with positive thinking. These are deep heart-wounds that the Lord calls the Church to help dress, treat, and heal, over a lifetime.
But what does this look like? What are the options for relational and emotional fulfillment for followers of Christ who do not, and may never, experience the joy of a relationship that leads to marriage? How can the Church become to these brothers and sisters a home, a place of security and comfort where they feel connected to others in the Body of Christ, where their genuine sense of being different will be fully met by the love of Christ, the embrace of brothers and sisters, and a rich life of living for others in the Body?
These questions, and how we answer them, are not inconsequential. They are difficult ones. They are not issues of accommodation or political correctness. They are about what it means to truly be the Body of Christ for every follower of Christ.
How can the Church become to these brothers and sisters a home, a place of security and comfort where they feel connected to others in the Body of Christ, where their genuine sense of being different will be fully met by the love of Christ, the embrace of brothers and sisters, and a rich life of living for others in the Body?
I am thankful that in the last several years these questions are being wrestled with by the evangelical church. But while I have been encouraged by this new-found desire for the Church to reach out to and include same-sex attracted and gender-struggling men and women who desire to follow God’s design for sexuality, I have also seen three ways these questions are being answered in ways that are not encouraging.
Here are the issues that concern me. I’ll categorize them under three headings: Identity, The Body of Christ, and The Nature of Change.
There is a significant push to accept a gay identity for those who experience same-sex attraction. A great deal has been written about what this means and doesn’t mean, and this article will not have the length to explain the nuanced positions (on both sides). So, I will briefly mention two things that concern me about this contentious issue.
First, while those who advocate for this position insist that using identity language is not saying that sexual orientation is the core part of one’s personhood, it nevertheless is a position that echoes the noise from our culture. Our post-Christian culture says that one’s sexual identity is the deepest core of personhood, hence the multiplicity of words and letters to describe oneself.
On the one side, the argument is that using the term is, at best, descriptive; it merely describes an enduring pattern of same-sex attraction. But on the other side, the concern I cannot shake is that using self-identifying terminology is confusing, and it inevitably gets embedded in the culture’s understanding of gay or the LGBTQ+ acronym. Again, as used culturally, the language proclaims that one’s sexuality is a major, if not the predominant, understanding of human personhood. It is not unreasonable to assume that what is said now as merely descriptive will soon be only understood as a major category of being a Christian (see my comments on the Body of Christ below). That would be a significant error.
Secondly, the historic, orthodox understanding of sexual desires that are outside of God’s design is sin. But some are reshaping this understanding in this direction: Same-sex attraction, acted upon, remains sinful, but as a condition of one’s being or identity, it is benign and can be a beneficial way of looking at and experiencing the world.
In this view, the experience of having same-sex attraction enhances one’s life, particularly in the realm of non-sexual friendships and community. Instead of being a remnant of indwelling sin, which must in Christ be mastered and overcome, same-sex attraction is like a personality trait to be nurtured and enjoyed.
I’ve discussed this in my blog post “Gay + Christian?” My main point there is that it is inappropriate for a Christian to self-identify according to any pattern of sin or struggle. Paul proclaims this astonishing news: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV). The compelling and controlling power of corrupted characteristics, desires, drives, and compulsions (sin) that used to characterize us begin to fall away in our union with Christ. No prior life, or identity, should redefine who we are in Christ, as Christians.
No prior life, or identity, should redefine who we are in Christ, as Christians.
Those who advocate for such terminology need to realize that doing so is not harmless. It is an endeavor charged with meaning, ripe for being continually misunderstood, and one which will encourage those who call themselves “gay” or “queer Christians” to further identify with the broken and sinful characteristics associated with those labels.
As I heard from my seminary professor, there is a good reason to trust two millennia of biblical interpretation on this. Currently, there are passionate debates on whether same-sex attraction apart from same-sex sexual behavior is sin or not. (You can read Harvest USA’s position on same-sex attraction here.)
This is the issue where the biggest battles are being fought. As believers, and especially as church leaders and pastors, we need to study this carefully, adhering to what Scripture says and not human experience.
The Body of Christ
Identity labeling leads to separation at some level. It distinguishes something foundational or characteristic about the person and others who share that identity form and develop a separate culture.
There is nothing new about doing this. We resonate and connect with others who share histories, events, places from which we’ve come, struggles, etc. Shared experiences bring us together and overcome our isolation and loneliness.
But it matters a great deal what those shared experiences are and the meaning that is attached to them.
Another term I am hearing is “sexual minorities.” Here we find another term being promoted that is embedded in the language of our culture: “minorities,” people described by their marginal status within the larger power structures of the majority.
Developing a separate subculture within the Church undermines the unity of the Church.
One of Christ’s chief desires for his Church is that we would be dynamically united to him and one another. We are to be “members [of the Body] one of another” (Ephesians 4:25), joined together by and through the power of Christ, so that we might build up the entire Body to become increasingly like Christ, for the glory of God (4:15-16). Creating a category of believers within the Church through advocating for a separate subculture (queer or otherwise) detracts from that course.
What value is there to a Christian identifying as a sexual minority? How does that help him or her? How does it enhance the integrity and unity of the Church? How does it honor Christ? How does it help Christians who struggle with sexual or gender-related sin to walk in repentance? I can’t see the benefit, though I do understand the rationale.
And it’s this: Brothers and sisters who experience same-sex attraction or struggle with their sense of gender have often been misunderstood and mistreated by the Church. The Church has often not been a place of hope and healing for them.
But the answer is not to create a separate queer culture within the Church, where Christians who identify as LGBTQ+ can flourish. If the Church is called to unity, then this is an opportunity for the Church to repent and be increasingly sensitive and compassionate to those wounded by the power and effects of sin—and even hurt by the Church.
Churches must find ways to cultivate and provide appropriate, godly relational intimacy for people who might never be married. We must find ways to value singleness as a calling (as Paul does in 1 Corinthians 7), and include unmarried Christians in the full life of the Church. And, we must resist the longstanding temptation to name same-sex and gender-related sin patterns as worse than other patterns of sin. Our same-sex and gender-struggling brothers and sisters are sinners in need of the same grace as anyone else.
The Nature of Change
One side effect is that such labels tend to stick. It is a lie of the world to believe that same-sex attraction or gender dysphoria is innate and unchangeable. I am not for a moment stating that complete change in desires or attraction always happens. That belief has hurt many. But change can happen. It’s a process completely under the sovereign purview of God.
Through taking on a “gay Christian” identity and retreating into a queer subculture, one is immersed in an environment where such change in affections might be discounted or rejected altogether. The camaraderie and connectedness that occurs within the isolation of the subculture can become life-giving. The pursuit of holiness and repentance can be abandoned in favor of relational comfort and companionship.
Loving fellow brothers and sisters who live with same-sex attraction and gender struggles will mean taking the time to hear their stories, their experiences, and the fears they have as they navigate a church culture that has not always embraced them.
Now, the experience and feelings of same-sex attraction and gender-dysphoria are not unusual, particularly among adolescents and young adults. For example, one study shows that as many as 10.7% of adolescents are unsure of their sexual orientation.1 However, most2 of these individuals have not adopted a gay or lesbian identity upon entry into adulthood. The reason? They realized as they exited their teen years that they were not primarily sexually attracted to others of their own gender. In other words, they concluded that their experiences of such desires were not determinative.
Here’s the problem in using such labels: The Church will find itself aligned with the culture’s mantra that personal experiences and desires are identifying and determinative (core identities), even when experienced when one is young and still in the process of forming one’s identity and view of life. What hope will we give to young Christians who experience non-heteronormative feelings and desires? They will logically conclude that “this is how God made me, and if God made me this way, then there is no connection between same-sex attraction and gender dysphoria and sin.”
There’s no need for redemption, no need for change, no need for repentance.
The Church must always hold out the possibility of change for all people wrestling with all sorts of sin patterns. One can’t encounter the living God without being transformed. The transformation begins in the heart and will inevitably lead to behavioral change. It may not be everything a struggling believer may hope for, but it will be a level of change that increasingly glorifies God and shapes that person into who God calls him to be.
For each Christian wrestling with same-sex attraction or gender struggles, that transformation will look different. At a minimum, it will include this perspective: that to embrace a gay or transgender identity, and the enticements that come with it, is antithetical to the new creation that person has become in Christ. If the Church communicates that there is not a need for sanctification in every aspect of the believer’s life, then it mishandles God’s Word and misleads God’s people.
Where do we go from here? The Church must commit to redemptively engage Christians who self-identify as LGBTQ+. The biblical paradigm for such engagement is speaking the truth in love. This is the process that Paul describes in Ephesians 4:11-16, a process in which various members of the Church play a role. It is a gracious process, rooted in the strength of authentic friendship, where loving assistance goes side-by-side with loving confrontation. This is how we “grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ. . . ” (Ephesians 4:15).
Loving fellow brothers and sisters who live with same-sex attraction and gender struggles will mean taking the time to hear their stories, their experiences, and the fears they have as they navigate a church culture that has not always embraced them. It involves the Church becoming a place of true refuge and help for them, as they grow (alongside the rest of us) into the places the Lord has made for them in his Body.
This article was first published in the Spring 2019 issue of harvestusa magazine. You can read the entire issue here.
1 Remafedi, G., Resnick, M., Blum, R. and Harris, L., Demography of Sexual Orientation in Adolescents. Pediatrics, 89 (4), 714-721 (1992).
2 The term “most” applies to Generation X. In contrast to the Millennial generation, of whom 7.3% self-identify as non-heterosexual, that number is significantly lower (2.4%) for prior generations (year of birth 1980 and before).
Tim shares additional insight in the accompanying video: How Can the Church Love Those Who Struggle With Same-Sex Attractions? These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.
21 Mar 2019
“This feels so compulsive!” he complained. Tom feels like he is always fighting sin. He fights against a tendency to desire and pursue sexual pleasure from men. He believes in Jesus and has seen significant changes in the direction of his life. But his same-sex attraction did not magically go away when he trusted in Christ. His faith is in crisis, “Maybe they’re right; this is just who I am.”
What do we have to offer someone like Tom? Does the gospel have an answer to this crisis, the crisis of continually fighting sin? Yes. And a vital part of that gospel answer is what theologians call indwelling sin. Why would I bring up sin to someone in a faith crisis, especially one involving same-sex attraction? Because the Bible’s teaching on indwelling sin connects the gospel to our deepest struggles.
The Universality of Sin
Scripture teaches that we are all sinners; all who share in the human nature represented in Adam share in the corruption of sin (Romans 5:12; Ecclesiastes 7:20). But more than that, each of us is sinful in every part of us (Rom. 3:10-19; 8:7). We are whole people, with bodies, minds, wills, and affections, and it is as whole people that we are corrupted by sin. At the deepest level, what the Bible calls the heart, we recognize in ourselves a tendency towards sin (Matthew 15:19; Jeremiah 17:19).
This tendency has a corrupting influence on our thinking, our emotions, and even our physiology. This sinful leaning (what theologians call original sin) is behind whatever sin acts we commit (what theologians call actual sin). The result: sin feels natural to us.
And this is rather unconscious and spontaneous in real life. We fall into the same kinds of behavior over and over despite a desire to stop. A mature Christian faith comes to the humble self-appraisal that behind all our actions, mixed in with all our feelings, appetites, and urges, is a continual tendency towards sin.
Here’s Tom’s dilemma and ours: this sinful tendency doesn’t disappear when we become Christians. How are we to understand this? What does it mean for Tom, and us, when we were taught that faith in Christ gives us victory over sin?
Here we turn to the teaching of Paul in Romans 7, from which the term, indwelling sin, originates. But first we need a view of the context in which he brings this idea up.
Good News about the Universe and You
In the chapters leading up to Romans 7, Paul lays out a tale of two humanities, the first being “in Adam,” and the second being “in Christ.” In Adam describes our natural state, corrupted by sin, condemned by the law, bound for death. Paul often uses the shorthand, “the flesh” to refer to this.
A mature Christian faith comes to the humble self-appraisal that behind all our actions, mixed in with all our feelings, appetites, and urges, is a continual tendency towards sin.
But who Christ is, and what he did, changes everything—literally, everything—all of reality, including human nature. Christ takes upon himself the flesh of Adam, and in that flesh he dies. Though without sin or sinful tendency, Jesus fulfills the sentence of death that is on sinful humanity. Then, he is raised from the dead. And here is the key—it is not just that Jesus came back to life. Rather, he is resurrected with a new kind of life, an immortal, eternal, powerful life. He is declared to be righteous and therefore given the eternal life that from the beginning was promised to righteous humanity.
And this resurrection life which Christ was given is nothing less than the first installment of God’s plan to re-create the whole universe into a glorious and unspeakably beautiful new reality! Paul’s main point? We, who by faith are united to Christ, have our true identity in that new reality. Paul’s way of saying this is that we have died with Christ and were raised with Christ (Rom 6:1-11).
A Startling Implication
Next, Paul takes this new reality in Christ idea into our real-life struggles. In the early portion of Romans 7 (vs. 7-12), he is explaining that the law of God must be considered good, even though it produces death in us. It’s not the law’s fault, but ours; it is our persistent tendency to break the law that forces the law to prescribe death.
Then, in verse 17, he relates our tendency to break the law to our new identity in Christ in a startling way, “…now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me.”
How in the world can he say such a thing? What does he mean? The answer is not that he is arguing for some sort of psychological dissociation. It is not anything in our psychology that accounts for this new “me.”
What Paul is asserting is that there is something new now; there is a new “me” even while the experience of the sinful tendency remains. In other words, something has happened that has redefined the Christian’s true identity separate from the sinful tendency he experiences.
It is the new reality, the new humanity every Christian has that has objectively come into existence with the resurrection of Jesus Christ and which defines us if we are united to him. That is why the conclusion of Paul’s argument is, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (8:1).
Why does this matter to Tom who remains troubled by his persistent tendency to pursue intimacy with men?
Why does it matter to the Christian husband troubled by his persistent tendency to use his eyes and mind to sexually enjoy women other than his wife; to the church elder dogged by his tendency to feel self-righteous contempt for others; to the teenage son battling his tendency to resist and oppose parental love and wisdom? And the list goes on.
What Paul is asserting is that there is something new now; there is a new “me” even while the experience of the sinful tendency remains.
Here is why it matters. Who doesn’t struggle with the troubling resiliency of sinful feelings? Who doesn’t get discouraged at the unrelenting battle against our tendency to sin?
The answer is not that you can, by your own effort and with the right therapy, remove your tendency towards sin; this will lead you to despair. The answer is not that you should come to peace with your tendency towards sin, call it a part of you, and identify with it; this leaves you without hope and without God. The answer is not to say that true Christians no longer experience the pull of a sinful human nature; this is unbiblical and contrary to your experience and leaves you confused and desperate.
The answer is this: Jesus has borne our sin and our tendency to sin, died with and for it, and has been resurrected, inaugurating a whole new reality which shapes our hope for the future and defines us in the present. The continued experience of the tendency to sin is to be expected in this life. But that experience, for the believer, is only the “sin living in me”; it is not a part of who I am for all eternity. Who I am is defined by the resurrection life of Christ. This is not a small thing. It is the gospel. It is everything.
The gospel answer of union with Christ is the only answer that doesn’t disappoint! This is your new identity!
And as it turns out, living out of your new identity in Christ is the only way to make progress against sin. But that’s for another post…