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.
09 Jun 2022
“Day after day, year after year, the message of shame filled my ears and heart. I ached to be loved, wanted, cherished, and desired, but instead I was learning to define myself by the way my husband treated me. Unwanted.”¹
This wife’s ache is a gospel cry. It’s a cry of loss in her marriage—a profound loss, a loss measured by the greatness of the gospel truth it was meant to picture. She is mourning the loss of the experience of exclusive belonging.
What is the foundation for the long-term sexual union of marriage? Our culture makes attraction the sole basis of the relationship, rather than one feature of it. But, as my previous post explains, God’s gracious act of setting us apart goes against this grain—and he intends us to be his image-bearers.
If human sexuality was merely animal, we could see sexuality as a simple stimulus-response based on attraction. But as image-bearers of God, our sexuality is to be a picture of the gospel. Delight grows in the security of having been graciously set apart for exclusive belonging.
Belonging, Security, and Delight
The passion and delight of a husband and wife is suggested in the idea of belonging. Belonging is not a mere legal category, as if we are chattel. You should hear it in the repeated refrain of the lover, “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine” (Song of Solomon 2:16; 6:3; 7:10). Christ’s setting us apart to belong to him is full of warm and intimate affection.
There is so much hope in the unchanging security of our union with Christ! Our belonging to God is not transient or changeable, but eternally fixed. Your beloved Savior chose you from eternity past—his abundant love cannot change because he cannot change.
Does this challenge how you believe God thinks of you? Do you assume he’s disgusted, impatient, disappointed, and angry? You need to know that he loves his bride, the Church, with the ardor and emotion of a lover! He has set us apart to belong to him as his bride. We are our Beloved’s, and he is ours!
The Ache of Being Unwanted
When people who are not set apart to belong to each other engage in sexual activity, not only does it serve mostly selfish purposes but it’s anti-gospel in nature. Personal pleasure at someone else’s expense, a sense of conquest, and a craving to feel wanted do not reflect Christ’s relationship with his bride.
The message of sex as we’ve learned it from our culture is, “For the moment, I want what you have” and “You seem to please me more than the other options in the room.” There’s no grace in this, no gospel. It’s based on an evaluation: What turns me on now? What meets my felt needs now?
Momentary, self-focused sexual activity lacks the fullness, security, and joy of belonging. Although it temporarily mimics the warmth of true belonging, it’s filled with inevitable uncertainty. Tomorrow, he may be with someone else, and she will be aching again, wondering if she will ever be lovable.
Consider how a husband’s porn use affects his wife. When a wife discovers her husband has been looking at porn, the sense of mutual belonging based on his setting her apart in an exclusive category is destroyed. She is immediately reduced to the level of every flaunted body online. She’s no different than every woman walking or driving by.
All the gospel-like benefits of security, value, and safety she enjoyed when her husband set her apart as his own are shown to be an illusion. What is communicated to her is that it’s really always been about competing to fulfill this man’s desire—a competition she knows she can never win. She is, using the word of the wife at the top of this post, “unwanted.” This is devastating.
Eternal Belonging in Christ
Where do we go with this? Wherever we fit into this story—a sinning husband, a hurting wife, a sinning wife, a single person afraid of not belonging to anyone—we can only go to the gospel first. Jesus is the only one who is truly faithful, and his faithfulness counts for us. We belong to him first.
It’s good news that the truth of the gospel, which our sexuality was meant to reveal, is not diminished by our failure and loss. Nothing we do or don’t do can change the eternal security of our union with Christ. We can learn to define ourselves by the way our Savior—our Husband!—treats us: set apart as his own. We are his, and our Beloved is ours, forever.
¹This quotation is from our soon-to-be-released resource, Jesus and Your Unwanted Journey: Wives Finding Comfort After Sexual Betrayal. Look for it on our resource page in July, 2022.
02 Jun 2022
I believe God designed our hearts on earth to be motivated by future realities. We don’t eat ice cream at 4:00 p.m. because a delicious dinner is on the horizon. We don’t spend all our money on present desires because we need to save for the future. We accept painful physical exercise for short- and long-term health benefits. In our best moments, we’re always keeping the future in view.
It shouldn’t surprise us, then, that the apostles are so fixated upon the return of our Lord Jesus Christ. They repeatedly use the imminent and certain Day of the Lord as motivation for our present obedience:
“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Heb. 10:24–25)
“Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1 Pet.1:13)
“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.” (2 Cor. 5:10)
“Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.” (James 5:7–8)
“For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.” (1 Thess. 1:9–10)
“Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done.” (Rev. 22:12)
The apostles wrote this way because Jesus taught them to focus on his return. Jesus spoke in many parables about his second coming and the great need to be prepared: we must have oil in our lamps, the proper wedding attire, wise investments of our talents, and faithfulness in God’s house.
Denying Christ’s Return
But what does this have to do with pornography?
Sin is a denial of Christ’s return. Looking at pornography is a tacit agreement with the skeptics who say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation” (2 Pet. 3:4). If we don’t believe Jesus is coming back, why bother with obedience? Our motivation matters! And this is where we need to be careful to understand Scripture correctly.
Our obedience does not earn our salvation—that’s impossible. Anyone seeking salvation through their own righteousness will be greatly disappointed when Jesus returns. Our motivation is not, “Don’t look at porn so that Jesus will accept you.”
No, faith in Jesus’s person and work is the only way of salvation and true obedience is only possible because of our secure acceptance in Christ. The gospel powers our motivation to obey: “Don’t look at porn because, in his abundant mercy, Jesus has accepted you.”
Fixing Our Hearts on Christ’s Return
So then, how does Christ’s coming return motivate our present obedience? There are at least five ways:
- The crown of righteousness is for those who love his appearing (2 Timothy 4:8).
To be a Christian is to love Jesus—because he first loved us. Every true Christian can and must say, “Jesus, I love you.” Not only must we love him, but we must also love him above all others. What greater desire could we have than to see our Savior face to face? Fellow Christian, turn from pornography today because you love Jesus. May the thought of seeing him, as he is, turn your eyes from worthless things (Ps. 119:37).
- Jesus will repay us for what we have done (Revelation 22:12).
Jesus teaches us to store up treasures in heaven that will last for eternity. He wants us to think like eternal investors. It’s exciting to think about small, frequent investments compounding over time into something much greater. I can’t overstate how much bigger the scale of compound interest is for eternal investments! Looking at pornography is the worst eternal investment policy.
- There is a holiness without which no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14).
This holiness is not referring to the imputed righteousness of Christ but the holiness of a believer’s sanctification. Our union with Christ deals with our guilt and defeats its power and corrupting influence in us. This doesn’t mean we’ll be perfect in this life, but we will be growing in holiness. Beware the lie that our present Christian life ever involves coasting. No, it is a constant striving! “Strive to enter through the narrow door” (Luke 13:24). “Strive to enter” God’s eternal rest (Heb. 4:11). “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14).
- Our holy living today is the future adornment of Christ’s bride (Revelation 19:8).
When Jesus returns, there’s going to be a wedding with Jesus the bridegroom and the church his bride. This is a corporate reality, but our individual lives matter. John speaks of this bride adorned with “fine linen, bright and pure,” representing “the righteous deeds of the saints” (Rev. 19). All Christians are in wedding preparation mode. Weeks—months—before the wedding, a bride is making meticulous preparations. But no matter how glorious she may look, there can be no comparison to the bride of Christ at the wedding supper of the Lamb.
- Christ’s return will consummate our union and communion with God.
Every time we think of Christ’s return, we should be reminded of what life is all about—communion with God. We have that communion now, through Christ, but it’s by faith. It’s not yet consummated. But when Jesus returns—then and only then will the dwelling place of God be with man (Rev. 21:3). Until that day, all creation groans with longing and expectation (Rom. 8:22). Meditating on Christ’s return brings us back to the heart and center of all meaning and existence.
It’s hard to dwell on such weighty realities and then run to pornography. In the words of John Ross Macduff:
“Earth can now but tell the story of thy bitter cross and pain;
she shall yet behold the glory, when thou comest back to reign:
Christ is coming! Christ is coming!
Let each heart repeat the strain.”
Have you heard a sermon on singleness lately? If you’re honest, as a single Christian, perhaps you bristle at the thought of the topic. Maybe you’ve been wounded or just plain frustrated by some of the messages you’ve heard—likely on themes of contentment, sexual purity, and guarding against selfishness. I heartily affirm these as relevant themes for godly single Christians to consider. But when was the last time you, my single brother or sister, considered how the abundant riches of Christ can be uniquely experienced in your singleness?
Do you regularly relish the wealth of Christ that is yours to be received and enjoyed right now? Surely there’s more to life than just holding on for your condition of singleness to change.
Whether you’re single and waiting or have become single through the painful loss of widowhood or unwanted divorce, this post is particularly for you. Still, because all true believers are brought into irrevocable union with Christ, all Christian readers can rejoice over these truths regardless of their marital status.
What are some features of singleness that can draw out—or perhaps even enhance—some of the blessings of a believer’s union with Christ?
Have you heard about the pitfalls of being single? Perhaps you’ve heard negative discussions around things like excess free time, the need for wisdom in relationships, temptation toward sexual sin, and concerns about selfishness. These are all real concerns, and faithful singles should pursue obedience in them. However, have you considered your time of singleness as an opportunity for undivided devotion to Christ? For simplicity in your devotion to him?
In 1 Corinthians, Paul gives the most explicit instructions for marriage and singleness found in the New Testament: “But if you do marry, you have not sinned, and if a betrothed woman marries, she has not sinned. Yet those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you that” (1 Cor. 7:28). He goes on to say:
I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband. (vv. 32–34)
I believe Paul is describing a simplicity that lends itself to an undivided heart toward Christ. Is Paul saying here that those in a season of widowhood or singleness have simple, worry-free lives? I don’t think so. But one of the opportunities unique to singles is to pursue undivided simplicity and devotion to Christ, while looking to the reward. Christ himself, and communion with him, is that reward.
Christ Our Reward
Consider Jesus’s words in the Great Commission, as he’s sending his people out to fulfill his mission: “Behold! I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20). Or when Jesus speaks of his Holy Spirit and says, “And I will ask the Father and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever” (John 14:16, emphasis mine). Is this not one of the things our hearts long for most? We long for someone who will make a permanent covenant with us—one who will be with us forever, who will be “our person,” our closest companion. Jesus himself promises to be nothing less than this to us, by faith, in this present age.
These are not mere platitudes or simple ideas to appease us as Christians. These are rich truths to be received, meditated upon, and taken hold of by faith! Dear Christian brother or sister in a season of singleness, would you consider today the riches of Christ? They’re not only yours for all eternity but can be received by faith today! Would you take hold of them in Christ with all your heart? By prayer? In community with the family of God?
Receiving Christ in a Season of Unmet Longings
Maybe these words sting a little for some. How can I enjoy Jesus when I’m experiencing the pain of unmet desires? What if Jesus seems like a consolation prize to settle for? I want to affirm the good desire for romance, sexual expression, and companionship that are found in a godly marriage—but even this good thing only points to the greater reality found in Christ.
Let’s listen to Paul’s words again: “I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord” (1 Cor. 7:35). Paul’s goal for this exhortation is clear: undivided devotion to the Lord. Just before this, Paul, in speaking to all believers, says:
This is what I mean, brothers: the appointed time has grown very short. From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away. (vv. 29–31)
Even those in godly marriages are called to live in such a way that the glory of Christ is at the forefront because the present form of this world is passing away.
If this idea doesn’t get you excited, I would encourage you to consider that God created your longings and therefore knows how to fulfill them better than any other. Psalm 16:11 makes a stunning claim about God: “In your presence is fullness of joy, at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” The life of a single Christian, united to Christ, can be truly rich. As Sam Allberry writes, single believers have an opportunity to display the sufficiency of God’s promises in the gospel and his love for us relationally.
Ask God to help you see things the way he sees them. How might your perspective need to shift to align with his holy and righteous view? He longs to meet you and help you as your loving Lord.
Invite God into the painful moments when you feel the sting of being single. Another wedding without a plus one? Feeling left behind in life as your friends move on? These moments of sorrow also include an invitation for you to have Christ himself bear your burdens with you.
Ask God to search you for ungodly attitudes, thoughts, and behaviors around your singleness. Repent and turn from these things. Maybe you just don’t believe that Christ can fulfill the deepest longings of your heart. Maybe you’ve tried to seek him in the past and it didn’t seem to “work.” Don’t do this alone! Seek the help of trusted brothers and sisters walking with you along the journey.
Wait on the Lord as you long to receive the good gifts he has for you in your singleness. Jesus is the greatest gift. There are no guarantees about when or how he will show up; be on the lookout! It helps to keep in mind that we still experience the felt comforts of Jesus amid a broken world this side of heaven. Have your heart and eyes wide open for the ways in which he is meeting you with his sustaining grace in the present even as he points you toward the ultimate fulfillment of your all your longings in heaven—namely, perfect fellowship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Single brothers and sisters, let’s pursue our glorious Savior, Jesus Christ, with all that we have, in whatever season God has called us to for today. He not only gives us good gifts in every season, but he himself is our portion and our eternal delight (Ps. 16). Enjoy your unshakeable union with Christ today. He is worthy!
Caitlin McCaffrey is our new Women’s Ministry staff member and will start in July 2022. Please consider joining her financial support team here!
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.
07 Oct 2021
Think about the last time you gave into a vice that you had been trying to avoid. Maybe it was sexual sin, drunkenness, gluttony, or binging on entertainment. While there are many complex reasons for turning to our sins of choice, the most common one involves some kind of suffering that we are trying to escape or numb.
The men in our biblical support groups at Harvest USA have voiced the most common scenarios that precipitate running to sexual sin:
- An argument with a spouse or some other relational turmoil
- Struggling to fall asleep
- Stress or anxiety related to work or school performance
- General feelings of dissatisfaction in life
All of these situations involve some form of suffering. And how do we respond to suffering? We want to mitigate it in some way—quickly. Our first responses will often involve trying to change, fix, or resolve whatever situation is causing us suffering. If our efforts work, great! The suffering is relieved. But what if your spouse is still angry with you? What if you can’t fall asleep and it’s four o’clock in the morning? What if you get fired from your job for losing the sale? What if your efforts to form relationships continue to fall flat? What if the suffering doesn’t go away?
This is a crucial fork-in-the road moment! You can’t remove the suffering, so now what? How you respond in this scenario determines whether you will see growth in Christian maturity or whether you will remain in patterns of unbelief and sin.
We all know the classic cartoon when the character is presented with two paths. One path is sunny, with birds chirping, flowers blooming, and hope just over the horizon. The other is dark and stormy, with crows squawking and danger lurking. It’s obvious which path is more appealing.
Spiritually speaking, in times of suffering, sin often masquerades as the safe, enticing, bliss-filled answer to our suffering, while following Jesus looks like the path of despair. Of course, it’s only a matter of time before sin’s charade falls apart. Our enemy is more than happy to give us a moment of reprieve from our pain if, in the long run, he can add to our suffering through our sinful responses to it.
So, while sexual pleasure, alcohol, or double chocolate mousse cake may give a hit of dopamine that brings temporary relief, our sin is never the answer to our suffering.
But here’s the problem: Anyone struggling with habitual sin knows that truth, and yet it doesn’t stop them from going back to it anyway. Why is that? Simply put, we struggle to walk by faith, not by sight. Walking by faith is often painful, while walking by sight is quick and easy in the moment of suffering.
There is a simple yet difficult gospel truth that you must embrace in order to mature in faith: Suffering is how we grow. If you don’t believe me, see for yourself what Scripture has to say (Romans 5:3–5, James 1:2–4, 1 Peter 1:6–7, John 15:2). Suffering is always part of God’s means to conform us more into the image of our Savior, who was known during his earthly ministry as the suffering servant. Jesus himself “learned obedience through what he suffered” (Hebrews 5:8) because a savior who never suffered could not save us. While Jesus suffered under the Father’s wrath so that we would never have to, he didn’t suffer on earth so that we could avoid all earthly suffering. In fact, the opposite is true. Being united to Jesus means that suffering is a marker of our lives on this earth as we “fill up what is lacking in the Christ’s afflictions” (Colossians 1:24).
That is a really difficult pill for all of us to swallow. How can we possibly accept that truth? What makes that pill go down is the reality that God uses our suffering, in love, to conform us into the image of our Savior (which is the deepest reality of Romans 8:28–29).
But how does this work? How does God use suffering to shape us?
My favorite hymn is probably William Cowper’s “God Moves in a Mysterious Way.” Take some time to slowly meditate on these three stanzas. If you know the music, sing them!
Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take; the clouds ye so much dread
are big with mercy, and shall break in blessings on your head.
Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, but trust him for his grace;
behind a frowning providence he hides a smiling face.
His purposes will ripen fast, unfolding ev’ry hour;
the bud may have a bitter taste, but sweet will be the flow’r.¹
What is Cowper saying here? He’s saying that God has good for you in your suffering. He has loving purposes behind it all. The most immediate purpose, the most obvious good that God intends in your pain, is that your suffering would draw you into humble, dependent relationship with him.
One of the greatest tragedies of turning to sin in our suffering is that we rob ourselves of the comfort that God is offering. In what context does Paul call the Father the God of all comfort? It’s in the context of affliction (2 Corinthians 1:4). God has a special comfort reserved specifically for your moments of suffering. There is nothing sweeter than his comfort in the midst of bitter affliction.
But here’s the rub: That comfort is not something we can control or demand in our timing or liking. God often calls us to wait upon him. That comfort may be come on the far side many tears, great anguish, desperation, and even feeling abandoned by God at times. This comfort is laid hold of by faith, not by sight, but it is a comfort that God has purchased for you and guarantees for all of his children in Christ who will look to and wait upon him.
Vaneetha Risner proposes a great way to think about suffering. She observes that we often ask the question, “If God loves me, why is this happening to me?” But a better, faith-filled question asks, “Because God loves me, why is this happening to me?”² This does not mean that all suffering has easy answers if we just trust God—some suffering may never make sense this side of eternity—but your heart’s posture in trusting the Lord’s loving purposes is what matters.
While we’re not called to enjoy or invite suffering into our lives, see it as an opportunity when it comes and listen for your sympathetic High Priest’s loving invitation to come to him as your refuge, your strength, your high tower. As you come to him, he promises to use the fire of affliction not to destroy you, but to refine you.
As you trust God and turn to him in your suffering, you will find that your faith grows. At every turn, his promises remain true and become even more meaningful and significant as God lovingly forces you to cling to them for your life. A faith that is never practiced, never relied upon, never needed is a very weak faith. God wants to strengthen your faith in him; he wants you to experience how strong he really is. And there’s no better way to know God’s strength than in our weakness
¹Cowper, William. “God Moves in a Mysterious Way,” Trinity Hymnal (Rev. Ed.), No. 128.
²Risner, Vaneetha. “If God Is with Me, Why Did This Happen?,” Desiring God. August 4, 2018. https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/if-god-is-with-me-why-did-this-happen.
26 Aug 2021
It’s happened to me more times than I can count. I’m sitting with a man who has given in to sexual sin for the majority of his life. He’s tried many things to stop, but he keeps failing to say “no” to temptation. He’s fighting to believe that victory is possible, but he feels weary and scared. Teetering on the edge of hope and despair, he asks me a simple question: “Does the battle ever get any easier?”
While simple questions rarely have simple answers, David Powlison was fond of saying, “[There is a] simplicity on the far side of every complexity.”¹ So the simple answer to this question is, “Yes, the battle does get easier.” However, in order to understand what that really looks like, we need to wade through the complex depths of the human experience.
The battle has a context
In humility, we always need to treat each person as a unique individual, and that requires great attention to the details of their lives. I always want err on being slow to speak and quick to listen. I want to assume that I don’t know what this person needs unless I first get to know them. I want a holy curiosity about his or her life. I don’t just want to know about his sexual sin. I want to know about his family, his childhood, his hopes, his disappointments, his suffering, and his understanding of the world, God, and himself.
As I get to know someone more intimately, I begin to understand in greater ways the functionality of sexual sin in his life. I see more and more the specific false promises that sin has tailor-made to fit someone’s particular desires and weaknesses. Consider the complex algorithms employed by modern social media giants. How is it that Facebook knows exactly what advertisement will hook you? It’s because Facebook has studied you. Facebook knows your heart based on what you click on and how long you stay. Sin operates in the same way. The battle is so difficult partly because you have an enemy who knows exactly where you are weak. Sin preys on its knowledge of your life, your sufferings, your heart, and your desires, and it exploits them.
Growth in the battle against sexual sin requires an increasing self-awareness of your own life experiences and how they have shaped you. Your enemy knows your weaknesses. Do you?
The battle has a past
If we’re honest, we often live our lives thinking only about the present, and sin capitalizes on this short-sightedness. If I only think of life in 24-hour chunks, then what’s the big deal about eating one or two donuts? No problem, right? But what if I eat two donuts every day for a whole week? That’s 14 donuts. What if I eat that same amount for an entire month? Now you’re looking at close to 60 donuts! It’s not hard to see that this kind of lifestyle will lead to major health problems down the road. The problem is that you can’t simply stop eating donuts one day and then pretend like you didn’t eat donuts every day for the past 10 years. The effects of those 10 years will linger and perhaps have lasting, lifelong consequences.
We reap what we sow. In Galatians 6, Paul doesn’t sugarcoat the impact of years of sowing into fleshly desires. He writes, “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption” (Galatians 6:7–8). Sin has a corrupting impact on our hearts and minds. Every time you give in to sexual temptation, you are sowing seeds of corruption. Think of it like an investment. Sexual sin isn’t just an isolated event. Giving into temptation today makes it harder to resist tomorrow. And science has now definitively shown how habitual pornography use in particular actually rewires your brain to make you that much more prone to return again and again to your sin.
Someone who has sown into sexual sin for decades has a difficult battle ahead of him because he has invested into corruption. Even if in the present he does all the right things to avoid temptation, he will still be reaping the consequences of sowing into a corrupt mind for so long. This is why it’s so difficult to not automatically lust after others. This is why people feel like they lose all self-control when triggered by specific circumstances that lead them right back to their well-worn paths of sin.
That’s the bad news. Most people wait far too long to stop investing into sin and corruption. Just like you can’t erase years of unhealthy eating, you can’t erase years of sinful seed sowing either.
The battle has a future
But the good news of the gospel is far better than being given a do-over. Jesus is greater than our sin, he’s greater than our pasts, and he’s promised us a future that is bright with biblical hope.
First, we must acknowledge that God’s grace in Jesus Christ is more powerful than decades of sinful sowing to the flesh. Jesus, by the Spirit, raises the dead to life. There is no one who is too far gone from the free offer of the gospel. Our hope is not simply in being cleaned up; our hope is that we have been made new creations who are definitively alive to God in Christ.
But while the new birth does a definitive, eternity-shifting work in our lives, the working out of our sanctification is a much slower and more painful process—and here is where we return to the idea of investing.
The principle of sowing and reaping works both ways. Not only does sowing to the flesh reap corruption, but Paul also goes onto say, “…but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us no grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:8–9).
When you turn from sin to Jesus, you are not only repenting today, but you are also investing into repentance for tomorrow, and next week, and a year from now. Saying “no” to sin today makes it easier to say “no” to sin tomorrow.
But, as Paul warns, we can grow weary of saying “no.” We can feel like giving up at times because we aren’t reaping as much as we expected in the short-term. This is why the battle must be fought through faith in the promises of God that are all “yes” and “amen” in Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 1:20).
If you have just started investing in your retirement fund, you know how futile it feels to make such a slow crawl towards your retirement goals. You faithfully sow paycheck after paycheck into this fund, expecting to see a great return on your investment. In those beginning years, checking your balance might tempt you to cut back on your monthly payments or stop all together and instead save up for a nice vacation next summer. You look at other people who have been investing faithfully for 10 years longer than you have, and you think it’s impossible to ever get to their level—but that is short-sighted thinking. Just as you are called to trust in the promises of your financial advisor (promises that have less-than-perfect guarantees), so we are called all the more to trust in the promises of our heavenly Father!
So when someone asks me, “Does the battle ever get any easier?,” my response is, “Are you ready to invest for the long haul?” While I can’t go into everything that investing entails, I want to highlight a few simple, God-ordained means by which we can sow to the Spirit.
Negatively speaking, we sow to the Spirit by removing all hindrances and sin that weaken our endurance in the race set before us (Hebrews 12:1). The battle won’t get easier if we continue to keep temptation close at hand. No one struggling with alcohol hangs out at the bars, and yet we often do very little to truly cut off access to sexual temptation, especially through technology.
We also sow to the Spirit by acknowledging our weaknesses and making wise arrangements that will helps us in those areas. A weakness may be a time, a place, a circumstance, or an experience. You need to know where you’re weak and plan accordingly. So often we lose the battle because we fail to plan, and we don’t take our failures as opportunities to learn.
Positively, we sow to the Spirit through the ordinary means of grace, including, but not limited to, prayer, the reading of Scripture, hearing the Word preached, and genuine fellowship with believers. It is rare to meet a man ensnared in sexual sin who also has vibrant fellowship with God through daily prayer and Bible reading.
You may have never thought about it this way, but I’m convinced that fighting sexual sin is a “good work.” In fact, I would go so far as to say it is Kingdom work. And when no one else in the world sees or cares about your resistance to temptation, God sees you, along with innumerable angels who fall down in worship before him who is worthy of your obedience, even when it requires great pain and endurance.
If you will faithfully sow into this Kingdom work, not giving Satan a foothold, you will find that the battle gets easier. As my former colleague David White liked to say, “Faithfully sowing to the Spirit makes temptation go from being a lion that will devour you every time to becoming a mosquito in your life. Mosquitos can be annoying and pesky, but they don’t devour you. But if you continue to sow to the flesh, you are feeding the lion.”
Where will you invest your heart and time today? What you do in the present is an investment into your future.
¹David Powlison, “Answers for the Human Condition: Why I Chose Seminary for Training in Counseling,” The Journal of Biblical Counseling, Fall 2001: 49.
31 Oct 2019
All of us face the difficult task of discerning what to say yes and no to. In our ministry at Harvest USA, I have daily opportunities to engage people who need help with their sexuality or gender struggles, or to write, or to encourage a staff member, or to reach out to one of my donors.
When I was in my twenties, Numbers 9:22 popped off the page into my heart and became a guiding verse from Scripture for me.
“Whether it was two days or a month or a year that the cloud lingered over the tabernacle, staying above it, the sons of Israel remained camped and did not set out; but when it lifted, they set out.” (NASB)
This Old Testament version of a spiritual GPS came about in the wilderness wanderings of God’s people. God promised to guide them through manifestations of his presence hovering over the tabernacle as a cloud by day, and a pillar of fire by night (see Numbers 9:15-23 and Psalm 78:14).
Wow, seems so great, right?! Today, this might look like praying about something from the following list, glancing outside to see where the cloud is, and following it wherever it goes.
Lord, that woman seems to need a friend; should I reach out and call her—offer to meet up for coffee, or not? Lord, should I…
- Start a blog?
- Make this purchase?
- Be a small group leader at church?
- Look for a job that pays more but will be more time-consuming?
- Talk to my pastor about a concern I have about leadership, or “just” pray?
How do we discern what to say yes to and when we need to say no? In a world of thousands of choices, how do you decide what is the best way to spend your precious, limited resources of time, emotional energy, relational capacity, finances, and physical strength? Consider how the use of your time also factors into becoming a man or woman of sexual integrity.
Our Daily Yes
Thirty years later, the principle of Numbers 9:22 continues to keep my heart oriented to the big picture of being a Christian, and this is what we need to remember when it comes to stewarding our sexuality. Our lives belong to Christ and this gives us the most foundational YES we live out: Lord, wherever you lead, however you lead, I will follow you and do what you ask of me, keeping my eyes on you and throwing off distractions (see Hebrews 12:1-3).
Christ clearly and lovingly commands his followers to a life characterized by heart commitments: to die to self, take up our cross and follow him, love him and his commands, teach the gospel to others, be holy, set our hearts on things above, throw off sin and distractions, enter into and receive his rest (Luke 9:23; John 15:1-10; Matthew 28:18-20; Colossians 3:1-4; Hebrews 12:1-3; 4:9-10; 1 Peter 1:13). And that’s just for starters!
Simply put, our daily yes to these things is lived out through loving obedience and submission to our Lord Jesus Christ. Whatever promotes, encourages, helps, and nurtures that obedience, we say YES to. Whatever distracts, tempts, or weakens us from living a Christ-centered life, we say NO to. The gospel’s trajectory of transformation in our lives is a process of increasing yeses to obedience and decreasing noes to disobedience.
Wisdom for Gray Areas
But, you ask: OK, that sounds great, but what do I do about practical decisions where the Bible doesn’t give a clear-cut answer? The last time I checked, there weren’t any pillars of fire hovering over my home!
Let me unpack some biblical guidelines that help me.
- What’s the motive of your heart in the issue at hand? Will it help you resist temptation or will it lead you to give in? (Proverbs 3:5-6)
- As best you can discern, what will you reap from this decision? (Romans 8:5-8, Galatians 6:7-9)
- Consider the trajectory of God’s work in your life. Does this decision seem to be in sync with him or not? (Ephesians 2:10, Philippians 2:13)
- What do the mature and wise-in-Christ people in your life say about it? (Proverbs 11:14, 15:22; Titus 2:1-15)
God continues to use Numbers 9:22 to orient my heart and vocational decisions as I’ve committed to going where he wants me to go, do what he wants me to do, and to leave where/when/who he calls me to leave. In a beautifully intimate way, all believers have the Spirit to guide and protect us in our desire to live faithful lives as relational and sexual beings.
The life of faith has not always been easy or comfortable, but I’m deeply thankful for God’s kindness in leading me, year after year, and for the wisdom he’s given me in decision making. My Christian life is imperfect, but the more I taste the spacious freedom of obedience and faith, the less I’m tempted to give way to an unholy or foolish YES or NO!
To learn more, watch Ellen’s accompanying video, The Importance of Saying Yes to Jesus.
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).