My life in the past few years has included a variety of changes that I once could never imagine taking place.

My problem with homosexuality began approximately forty years ago, when I was a teenager. Life was very difficult for me even then. My formative years were those of confusion, loneliness, and parental psychological abuse. It seems that I could never measure up to my father’s expectations. There was an estrangement between the two of us that lasted all his earthly life. Anger, pain, and bitterness grew inside of me, and I carried them silently wherever I went. My view of masculinity became distorted. I longed for friendship with other men, but deep down I always felt unable to relate with them in a normal sense.

What followed next were many years of lying, covering up, and doing whatever I had to do to persist in this sin. It became very addictive, and I couldn’t seem to live without it.

There was a void in me that never seemed to be filled. As a result, I seemed to be always “looking for love in all the wrong places.” My life became a nightmare. I was constantly and frantically searching for something that I seemed never quite able to find.

I thought it was all hopeless and eventually got to the point where I really dreaded waking up in the morning, knowing that all I was going to face that day was emptiness in my soul. At that time I didn’t fully realize that it was my separation from God that was the real source of most of my misery.

It was as I began to think about my relationship with God, that he did a wonderful thing for me. Several years ago as I thumbed through the pages of Philadelphia Magazine, I came across an advertisement for Harvest USA. A few weeks later, I called the number. Little did I know how this discovery and subsequent interaction was going to deeply affect my life. When I called, I was immediately struck by the friendliness of a caring and seemingly understanding voice on the other end. I knew that I had to visit the office and find out more.

Through attendance at weekly meetings I began to draw on a strength that I never knew was available. The source of the strength is well explained in Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” That verse has been ringing true for me ever since. My view of myself and my masculinity began to change.

Through subsequent involvement with Harvest USA, my relationship with the Lord has flourished and grown. I began to get involved with other Christian groups and get Christian counseling, which I needed. At long last my struggle was over, and the simplicity of it all astounds me.

But my life today is not easy by a long shot. Nor do I really expect it to be. There are still problems, and I continue to live with enormous pressures. But there is a very discernible difference! I do not bear these things alone anymore, and I also realize that God will not allow me to be tempted beyond what I am able to bear. Living, no matter how difficult, makes so much more sense now that there is a clear direction to follow and wonderful goals to be achieved.

Jesus Christ is my focus and my salvation. Even though I once thought of myself as the lowest form of human life, I realize now that I am quite valuable. I can make choices based on the fact that I have as much to offer as any other man. I am accepted and loved in the truest sense. I am no longer separated from God, and he does not condemn me. This truth is actually simple but genuinely liberating to a person who has had to struggle with homosexuality nearly his whole life.

I thank God every day for the wonderful work of Harvest USA and for making me a part of it. The fellowship, true caring and friendship along with the steady leading of God, have certainly opened my eyes so that nothing seems hopeless anymore. I am one person who has conquered this battle and lives in constant wonder at the healing power of Jesus Christ. I highly recommend him for everyone!

Updated 5.29.2017

The following material is a response to a talk given by Matthew Vines, a student at Harvard, in which he challenged the traditional interpretations of Scripture regarding homosexuality. The video can be found at http://www.upworthy.com/every-biblical-argument-against-being-gay-debunked-biblically?g=4.

Here are the key Scripture passages that Matthew addresses.

Genesis 2:18-25

I am pleased that Matthew begins with this passage and honestly tries to address the primary contention of traditional interpretation–namely, that heterosexual marriage is the divine plan for sexual relations. It is a straightforward passage:

Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” So out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said,

“This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called Woman,
because she was taken out of Man.”

Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed. (ESV)

Matthew rightly represents the traditional contention that because this institution of marriage takes place before the Fall, the passage presents what God intends to be “natural.” That is a critical understanding. Once the Fall takes place and sin enters into the human condition, what may seem natural to man does not necessarily equate with what God intends to be right.

Matthew is a bit disingenuous in his claim that the “helper (or help-meet) for him” happens to be a female in this case. He says the helper could be another male for another person. He approaches a clear, straightforward passage like a lawyer looking for loopholes. “Well, it didn’t say you couldn’t have a marriage partner of the same sex.”

But the plain teaching of this passage to scholar and lay person alike, throughout two thousand years of history of Christianity (until the late emergence of pro-gay theology), is that the union between man and woman is presented as the divine institution of marriage. There is and will be no passage throughout the rest of Scripture that will present an alternative pairing of man and man or woman and woman. All references to marriage in both the OT and the NT is of a heterosexual pairing, many of which will refer specifically back to this passage in Genesis.

So the question for pro-gay adherents is this: Why would God have this passage placed at the beginning of Scripture, where it presents a heterosexual marriage as instituted at the time of creation, never have homosexual marriage even mentioned, and yet intend for homosexual marriage to be right and good?

Genesis 19:1-9

Matthew then examines another passage in Genesis.

But before they lay down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, both young and old, all the people to the last man, surrounded the house. And they called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, that we may know them.” Lot went out to the men at the entrance, shut the door after him, and said, “I beg you, my brothers, do not act so wickedly. Behold, I have two daughters who have not known any man. Let me bring them out to you, and do to them as you please. Only do nothing to these men, for they have come under the shelter of my roof.” But they said, “Stand back!” And they said, “This fellow came to sojourn, and he has become the judge! Now we will deal worse with you than with them.” Then they pressed hard against the man Lot, and drew near to break the door down.

Matthew’s argument here is that the situation is obviously that of gang homosexual rape. Furthermore, the real sin depicted is that of in hospitality. Ezekiel refers to the sin of Sodom as pride, indulging in luxury, and exhibiting a lack of care for the poor. All this is true, but the context of the Ezekiel passage (chapter 16) is that of depicting Jerusalem and Samaria in terms of prostitutes. In Ezekiel 16:50, God says, “They were haughty and did an abomination before me. So I removed them, when I saw it.” That abomination was, of course, the gang rape.

Rape, and gang rape, of course are obvious, disgusting sins. And Sodom is held up in the rest of the Scriptures as exhibiting the height of sinfulness. That is why Ezekiel is accusing Jerusalem and Samaria of being like and even worse than Sodom. He is telling them how low they have fallen. That is the same point Jesus makes when he tells Capernaum that it will go easier for the inhabitants of Sodom than for them (Matthew 11:20-24). In other words, chose the worse example to get your point across.

How low did Sodom go? The inhabitants are not merely inhospitable; they will even go as low as homosexual rape, even rejecting the alternative to rape women. Having said all this, I would agree that Genesis 19 is not a passage to make a strong case against homosexuality. I think one can point to it as another Scriptural disapproval, but it does not stand alone by itself against homosexuality.

Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13                                                                                  

You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination (18:22).

If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them (20:13).

Matthew’s primary assertion here is that the book of Leviticus is concerned with cultic law. He is correct in pointing out that scholars differentiate OT laws, categorizing them as moral, civil, and cultic, the last of which applies to the religious life of the Jewish people and which distinguishes them from other nations. He then notes that while cultic laws could also be moral laws, the way one knows that they have moral application is that they appear in other parts of the Jewish canon. When cultic laws are violated, they are described as abominations, along with moral laws. So, the mere use of the term “abomination” does not signify the violation of a moral law. Finally, when we come to the NT, there we have a clear declaration that the cultic laws—concerned about what is clean and unclean—are now removed.

Thus, as Matthew’s argument proceeds, one should understand these two verses in Leviticus as falling under cultic laws, which in this case identifies what is considered ceremonially clean and unclean. There is no further condemnation of homosexual acts in other OT Scripture; if there were, that would have moved such acts into the moral realm (because of his assertion that cultic laws are applicable in the moral realm if they appear elsewhere in Scripture).

Again, I appreciate Matthew’s respectful handling of Scripture. But I see two clear difficulties with his conclusion about these two verses. One, though the NT does, in fact, remove the OT restrictions about what may be ritually clean and unclean, it nevertheless continues to uphold the OT prohibitions on sexual relations. There is no indication that any sexual activity prohibited by the OT is now permitted in the NT. If anything, one could easily make the case that the permissible boundaries of sexual behavior are tightened rather than loosened. Two, there is no indication that OT law restricts sexual activity to mere ritual cleanness. Matthew is correct that homosexual behavior is not proscribed elsewhere in the OT, but such an argument as this reaches too far. Neither are sexual relations between father and daughter mentioned beyond Leviticus, nor is anyone advocating for that to be acceptable. The real question is how OT law views sexual relations.

Matthew makes another argument to limit the implications of these verses in Leviticus. He asserts that the Levitical law applied only to the Jewish nation up until the time of Christ. Taking his statement at face value, he must then accept that God–who not only regards same-sex relations as morally acceptable but also created individuals to have such attractions–nevertheless denied to his own covenant people the right to engage in an activity that is good in his eyes. In other words, he was willing to subject his people, who experience same-sex attraction (SSA), to lives of futile aspirations. Matthew eloquently describes the heartache of being denied expression of his sexual orientation. By his own argument, though, he concedes that this is what God did to his own covenant people. It is one thing to not be able to wear clothing of mixed material or be denied bacon. If I understand Matthew correctly, it is hellish to be denied the opportunity to fulfill one’s same-sex attractions.

Yet to accept Matthew’s argument, we are to understand that God subjected his people to such a prohibition only because he thought it was a good ritual for them to observe, in order to distinguish his people from others. We are to further understand that God intended for his covenant people–both the Jewish nation and the Christian church–to have understood all along that homosexuality is good apart from any explicit endorsement from his Scriptures.

Romans 1:18-32

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.

And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.

Matthew’s two main points in his examination of this passage in Romans are that “nature” refers to what is accepted custom, and that the violation spoken of by Paul is that of heterosexuals engaging in homosexual behavior. Verses 26 and 27 speak of exchanging and giving up one type of relationship for another.

If we follow his logic and keep in context with the passage, we must also conclude that each violator first started off with a true knowledge of God (21), determined not to honor him (21), and then began worshipping idols of animals (23). God then gave each of them up to impure lusts (24), followed by the exchange of natural to unnatural relations (26-27). But it doesn’t end there. These same individuals go on to be filled with the whole list of sins in verses 29-31.

Matthew’s argument fails here. It is clear that Paul is not presenting the biography of each sinner but rather he is describing mankind in general. His argument, beginning with this passage and running through 3:20, is that everyone stands under the wrath of God. This passage, Romans 1:18-31, presents the status of the Gentile world and demonstrates that it has only spiraled downward over the centuries. Going further, in chapter 2 and the first half of chapter 3, Paul will then address the Jewish people who consider themselves morally superior to the Gentiles. By connecting Romans 1:18-31 with the rest of his argument that stretches into chapter 3, the passage is put into its proper context.

In addition, Matthew’s argument that the sexual relations described in verses 26 and 27 are behaviors that went against one’s own natural affections, we need to note that the men and women described are, in fact, giving in to their passions. They are not forcing themselves to engage in conduct that seems unnatural to them, nor are they described as forcing themselves upon others. They are “consumed with passion for one another.” This is hardly the description of heterosexuals forcing themselves to go against their nature or of a two-party relationship in which one partner is being forced to go against his or her true nature.

Matthew is right that the term translated “nature” is also used of what could be considered customary, and he rightly describes its use in 1 Corinthians 11 where it speaks of hair length for men and women. But, as Matthew makes clear, we must look at context. Just as “nature” in the English language can have different connotations depending on context, it’s the same for the Greek. It is a far stretch to take this Romans passage description of the downward spiral of mankind (or even each individual) and believe that the real horror is that of men and women forsaking the customs of their times.

1 Corinthians 6:9-11 and 1 Timothy 1:8-11

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)

Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted. (1 Timothy 1:8-11)

Matthew, if I recall correctly, takes the same view that other non-traditionalists have taken with these passages–namely, that the type of homosexual behavior described here is that of prostitution. Indeed, this argument goes on to say that all NT references of homosexuality are about abuses. Supposedly, the Apostle Paul did not know of loving homosexual relationships, of the kind that is being promoted today.

And yet, in the Roman-Greco world of Paul’s time, homosexuality flourished openly, perhaps more so than our own post-Christian culture. For until the spread of Christianity, the culture did not have a strong sexually moral code. Historical work in the last fifty years has demonstrated its widespread practice in all its variations. That Paul, who was regarded as a highly educated man of his time apart from his Jewish education, who was raised in the Gentile environment of Tarsus, and who carried out his ministry throughout the Roman Empire, would not have known of “acceptable” same-sex relations begs disbelief.

At minimum, one can easily make the case that malakoi is used in 1 Corinthians 6:9 to describe men who serve as the feminine partners and arsenokoitai in 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10 to describe men who serve as the masculine partner. The only question is whether Paul intended to apply the terms across the board to all homosexual activity (rather than, as the non-traditionalists like Matthew do, apply Paul’s references to homosexuality to a more limited context, that of cultic prostitution).

What do you think, given what is known about Paul? Think of what Paul has to say about any sexual activity outside of marriage, regardless of whether the relations are “loving” or not. Do you think Paul thought of marriage as anything but between a man and woman, given that his moral code would be that of an orthodox Jew? Think of what he wrote in the Romans passage.

Consider a further point. Christians have always understood, historically, that the writings of the New Testament were under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, as were those of the Old Testament. To hold to a non-traditionalist position forces us to confront the same conundrum we encountered in Matthew’s argument from Leviticus. We have to believe that a practice which is blessed of God, who himself gave SSA as a gift to be enjoyed, nevertheless gives no explicit or implicit blessing in the New Testament. The apostle who wrote that love is the greatest of all and that to love one’s neighbor is to fulfill the law, cannot seem to understand that love could exist within homosexuality; or if he did, he keeps it to himself. To push things further on the grounds of Matthew’s argument, the Holy Spirit cannot figure out a way to get some kind of message across that would lead to its acceptance.

Of course, Matthew and others would say that the message is the one about love. I understand that. Then why doesn’t the New Testament come out and state it? Was Paul afraid? Was Jesus afraid? According to Matthew (correctly, by the way), the NT presents the OT laws on ritual purity to be nullified. Then why, as it does with diet and rituals, not give a single teaching about homosexual relations? Was it not deemed important? Was it considered an obvious acceptable practice? What was God thinking that he would leave his written Word silent on the subject, i.e. silent about its acceptability? The silence is deafening.

The place of the Fall 

Matthew makes reference to traditional teaching about the place of the Fall, but he does not (understandably) take time to consider it at any depth. But understanding the Fall is key to the whole subject of human behavior and what is considered acceptable.

From the Fall onward, Scripture chronicles the disease of sin that has set itself in the nature of man. Regarding sins of a sexual nature, there is no longer a natural sense of monogamy. Polygamy becomes a common and acceptable expression of marriage. Even in marriage, a man is expected to keep concubines and sleep with prostitutes (see the example of Judah in Genesis 38). Chastity, though it remains an ideal to honor, is no longer considered a realistic way of life for a man. While chastity before marriage has never been considered natural for a man outside of the Judaic-Christian heritage, in our post-Christian society, it is not considered natural for male or female. This is the result of the Fall. Sex became separated from marriage–marriage between one man and one woman–as taught in Genesis 2.

How does human society handle sin? It can seek to restrain sin with laws, or it can seek to accommodate sin by normalizing it. The societies of biblical times outside of the Judaic-Christian culture have always normalized sin, as does our post-Christian society today. Thus, one who is not sexually active is considered abnormal, especially when he or she will not participate in loving sexual relations. It is normal and healthy to engage in sex that is loving in whatever sense it is described. And it does not make sense to non-Christians to see Christians struggle to remain chaste. Why, they wonder, would it be considered wrong to do something that, at worse, brings a moment of enjoyment and fulfillment? Why deny what is a natural feeling and need?

This is what the Fall has done. Once man and woman began to hide themselves from God; once God evicted them from his presence and they went on their own way, their descendants moved further and further away from true knowledge of God and reversed the perception of what is natural. Or to put in another way, instead of examining and judging the rightness of their own feelings, they merely gave approval to their feelings, regarding them as natural, i.e. good in the eyes of God (in whatever way they regard him).

All societies and individuals still retain a sense of a moral code. In the best of societies, especially those that have been influenced by the Christian faith, that code is generally a version of Jesus’ own teaching that the greatest commandment is to love God and to love one’s neighbor. As you know, he also taught the golden rule–do unto others as you would have them do unto you. It is to this code where advocates for homosexuality appeal.

I think it is indeed their strongest argument. It certainly disarms the arguments that equate SSA with aggressive sins such as murder, lying, and violent sex. How can loving relationships, regardless of sexual orientation, be wrong? That is a powerful argument–too powerful actually, at least for the Christian.

For it is the same argument that polygamists make. It is the same argument that the unmarried make. It is the same argument that those caught in a loveless marriage make (which they are trapped in) when they find a love outside of marriage. It is the same argument that incest advocates make. (Did you know that consensual incest between adults is legal in China, France, Israel, the Ivory Coast, the Netherlands, Russia, Spain, and Turkey?) Without divine injunctions as to what is and what is not morally acceptable, one can only conclude that “love” trumps all restrictions because those restrictions are merely seen as cultural taboos.

Every argument that Matthew makes, as every other pro-gay advocate has argued, as to why homosexuality should now be acceptable by the church; and every attempt to explain a biblical text that labels homosexual behavior as unacceptable and should not be applied to loving same-sex relations is the same argument that can be used to remove most biblical sexual restraints. The reason Scripture gives laws as to what is and what is not acceptable sexual activity, and the reason we need Scripture for guidance is that what seems natural and good to us does not always equate with what is natural and good in God’s sight. That is what the Fall is all about.

We cannot trust our instinct. We cannot determine from our feelings what was natural before the Fall. Consider why it is that it is only in an increasingly post-Christian world that Christians and Jews are reconstructing how to interpret what the Scriptures have to say. This is not like the Reformation in which Christians reclaimed what had grown dormant in the church. What is taking place today is that the non-Christian world (which grows increasingly pagan) is forcing Christians like Matthew (and you) to accept desires and behaviors that Scripture gives no warrant to deem as good.

On the one hand, Matthew keeps emphasizing the point of reading scripture in context. But with the other hand, he then deconstructs context, isolating each passage to be viewed alone without acknowledging the context of Scripture as a whole. Why? Because he has given in to the fallen world’s worldview as to what is true, good and acceptable. That is the result of the Fall, and even regenerate Christians continue to yield to the ways of the world.

In studying the subject of common grace, I see how something which is so good can still be used in a post-Fall world for deception. How so? Common grace teaches that God gives blessings indiscriminately to the believer and unbeliever alike. Love is a common grace gift, which includes the blessings of loving relationships, even relationships outside of God’s intended design. The reason that living together before and outside of marriage is so popular is that it is pleasant. The non-Christian reasons that the biblical prohibition of sex outside of traditional marriage must be wrong, because they see people are happy for engaging in it. How then can it be wrong?

In the same way, the pro-gay argument comes down to one foundation: that of experience. See how same-sex couples can be happy? See how they can love? How can such love be wrong?

For the Christian, the answer never lies only in experience–how one feels or what happens to a person–but rather on what God’s Word teaches. And by the way, Scripture reveals, as does experience, that those who do not love can also feel happy and receive good things. For the Christian, then, love–important as it is–does not cover the whole story. Love–right love–also is concerned with holiness, with purity, with being right before the Lord. The expression and experience of that kind of love is not identified by human feelings but by what God reveals in his Word.

The place of the Cross

It is to the cross that we must come whenever we are deliberating on what is acceptable behavior. Matthew is resentful of heterosexuals telling him that he must bear his cross of denying to himself what they may freely enjoy. That is understandable. I would feel the same way.

But anyone identifying himself as a follower of Jesus Christ must look at his own life in sight of the cross that Jesus bore for us. After all, Christianity is not about a system of rules and doctrines. It is about good news, about the gospel, which tells us of the sacrifice made by God to win us to himself.

God the Son died on a cross. “Though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:6-8).

What do we do with that, with what our Lord had to do to become our Savior? Do we determine what crosses we will and will not bear?

But this is not about duty. It is everything about love. Do we love Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who died for us? Do we? Do we measure how meaningful or happy our life is according to what temporal blessings we may find or according to the costly mercy shown to us on the cross? This is not about guilt–Jesus died for me and now I will feel guilty if I don’t bear my own cross. This is about thanksgiving, about joy and peace that comes from knowing that I am forgiven, that I am accepted without strings as a child of my Father. It is about realizing that nothing compares to these riches.

Matthew sees two alternatives for himself–fulfill his SSA desires to allow him to have the homosexual version of a family and thus be happy, or deny his desires and live a lonely life. I want to look at those alternatives on two levels.

First, are those really the options for Christians–whether one has heterosexual attractions or same-sex attractions? Is fulfilling the desire for a family through marriage and having children the key to happiness, and not to have it is to live a lonely life? What then am I to tell the heterosexual singles who come to me for counsel, expressing the same sorrow as Matthew? Do I just comfort them with the acknowledgement that theirs is a lonely life? That they must simply look at it as a cross to bear, maybe for the rest of their life if they never marry?

Or should I lead them to the love that they may claim which is infinitely more superior than that of sexual love? Because, after all, it does boil down to sex. Why should a single person not become part of a family? We have a friend who is a single woman who adopted a son. She also has biological family, as well as friends who are closer than family. (There is a friend who sticks closer than a brother, Proverbs 18:24). I don’t think she considers her life a cross to bear. I think that she has taken the love of Christ shown to her and let it flow out so that her life is enriching both to herself and to others.

That is what happens for a Christian who looks to the cross. She doesn’t focus on what she doesn’t have. She is moved to see the glorious blessings she does possess and then focuses on how she will honor the one who died for her. She wanted a family. No one proposed. So she made a family in a godly way. The only thing that she has denies herself is sex. For, again, that is the only thing that differentiates romantic love and companion love–sexual passion. What every married couple knows is that what takes over a marriage through the years is companionship. Sexual satisfaction is an aspect, but only an aspect–not the core of the marital relationship.

The cross to bear for the single Christian, whatever their sexual attractions may be, is not denial of family or companionship, but sex. It is a hard cross to bear, no doubt. But don’t take it beyond what it is. It is the world, not God, that has turned sex into the all-important fulfillment of life.

Now go back to the cross–the very real cross that bore our Savior. See what our Savior bore for us–not a cross, but our guilt; not a denial of pleasure but the just wrath of God. Why would he do so? Because God loves us (John 3:16; Romans 5:8; 1 John 4:10). The Father gave his Son; the Son gave his life. How then can we resent giving up whatever his gracious hand brings into our life?

Second, Matthew makes the assumption that nothing can be done about SSA. It is fruitless to seek fulfilling relationships, either with the same-sex because of temptation or with the opposite sex because of lack of attraction. Is that true? I am not suggesting that all homosexuals can reorient to heterosexual attraction, but it is fatalistic to assume nothing can change. I just put down a book, The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert, the story of a lesbian who chaired the department of feminist studies at Syracuse University. This woman, who never struggled about her sexuality, quite content as a lesbian, nevertheless ended up happily married to a man. Is she someone who had really suppressed her true heterosexual nature and finally it came out? Or is she someone who, after coming to a knowledge of the gospel of Christ, found her understanding changed about what is good before God, and as she learned she gave herself over to a progression of change in her attractions and feelings?

I know Christian’s with SSA who have remained single, and some who have married opposite-sex partners. Whether single or married, they have found fulfilling relationships either with friends or spouses. I don’t mean to make the whole matter simplistic, but I do question the fatalistic assumptions made by Matthew and those in his camp. There are many testimonies of individuals who feared committing themselves to Christ because they did not believe they could control whatever their desires might be, only to find Christ’s Spirit doing the change in them.

The strongest argument made by same-sex proponents is that homosexuals can possess as strong a self-giving love as heterosexuals. And the argument is reinforced by Christians with SSA by their willingness to be bound by the same biblical restrictions as heterosexuals; that is, committed, monogamous marriage. The only difference is in who they are sexually attracted to, something which they do not control. That is a strong argument, and no doubt that is what drives sincere Christians to re-interpret otherwise clear scriptural teaching.

So, what of the argument? For me, the argument has a foundational error: It is an argument that is selective in application. Polygamists and incest practitioners make the same argument. Couples who choose to live together make the same argument. Individuals trapped in loveless and abusive marriages make the same argument in explaining their affairs. They have fallen in love, and their love is self-giving, enriching, life-affirming and mutually beneficial. What could be wrong with that?

Christians, however, must concede that Scripture sets up laws and boundaries that do not take into account the natural love-feelings of individuals. It does so, not because it does not recognize love but, again, because the Fall blinds us to what love really involves. Love does fulfill the law, but it is the law that reveals what love involves. And because we have inherited the consequences of the Fall, what feels like love and what is love do not go hand in hand.

Does not the divorce rate, the prevalence of physical and emotional abuse, and the many more loveless marriages that once began with deep-felt love in heterosexual marriages demonstrate how little we humans understand true love? To simply say that in cases where homosexuals really love one another, then it must be good–how strong is such an argument to make us doubt the teaching of Scripture?

In the end, let the cross be your focal point for understanding true love–the love that God has for you; the love of Christ marked by real sacrifice; the love that calls for sacrifice from us; the love that makes any sacrifice seem as nothing before the love of God.

This post was written by a guest writer, Marion Clark, Assistant Pastor of Lake Oconee Presbyterian Church.

Updated 5.29.2017

Laura, a Harvest USA intern, has a compelling story about God’s relentless grace that rescued her from sexual brokenness. Like all real stories, it’s still not finished, and there are broken paths along the way.

You can also read it in our blog, Sex, Lies, and God’s Design,” if you want to give Laura a comment or two. You can find our blog link on the front page of our website.

I’ve been learning the imperative nature of two words in the Bible. Without these two words, we are so dead and odorous in our sins, much like Lazarus was when Christ raised him from the dead. In fact, the fate of all humanity hinges on these words: “But God…”

Paul wrote in Ephesians, “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins…carrying out the inclinations of your flesh and thoughts and by nature were children under wrath…But God who is abundant in mercy, because of his great love that he had for us, made us alive with the Messiah even though we were dead in trespasses. By grace you are saved!” (Ephesians 2:1, ESV).

My story involves a long stretch of spiritual death—my wandering as a child under God’s displeasure. It’s a journey that involved a series of unholy sexual relationships with women and a long stretch of hopelessness that felt like my only companion. But God (!) was not content to leave me there. He used his earthly kingdom, the body of Christ, to bring me to a knowledge of himself and of the love he has for me—a love that would allow the death of his Son to reverse the death I was living.

I was a part of a large family by today’s standards. I was the second oldest of six children (one boy and five girls). It was just me and my brother for the first eight years of my life. I grew up a tomboy. My parents then had a string of four more daughters to make up for my own lack of girliness. The six of us vied for my parents’ attention and stretched them to the limits to provide for us. Materially, we always had enough, but emotionally it often felt as though the fount had run dry. Mom and Dad loved me, but there were often disconnects in the ways they showed it and the ways in which I could understand it.

My parents expressed their love for me in many ways. They were the first to step up and defend me, when there were outside threats—school bullies, teacher bullies, friend issues. But the internal threats went unnoticed—particularly my sense of their lack of affection and my misguided attempts to seek out that affection from other women. I found myself on the receiving end of derogatory words and expressions (“faggot”) that would be tossed around to gauge my reaction on the issue of same-sex attraction. Instead of coming to me with intentional questions to get a read on where my heart was—a move which would have been most invited if done in love!—my parents drove me away with malicious words and cold distance. It ultimately made me feel worthless instead of valuable.

I wanted so much to be loved for who I was. I was delighted to see my parents show up for my violin and ballet recitals, but how much more it would have meant for them to support me in the things I loved: writing, soccer, softball, and mountains. Their failure to show up in these areas—and the way they were critical of my interest in them—really widened a chasm in our relationship which over the years I would fill with anger and bitterness.

After being homeschooled, I entered a private Christian school in the sixth grade. My experience in that school was like watching the movie Saved (the 2004 flick starring Mandy Moore and Macaulay Culkin), except that I was actually in the movie. It was difficult to spend the next six years in an environment of legalism. The legalistic environment affirmed my frenzied attempts to keep up the appearance of what Christianity should look like by today’s standards, at the expense of searching out my own heart.

There was particularly no grace to be observed in the area of same-sex struggle. A good friend of mine was kicked out after a letter she wrote to another girl that expressed her affection for her was discovered. I could have easily been in her shoes—expelled for writing a similar letter that wasn’t confiscated by a teacher. At the end of my senior year of high school, while serving as class chaplain, captain of our soccer team, and juggling all the science courses that would make me a first-class applicant for pre-med programs, I was also actively engaged in my very first same-sex sexual relationship with another student from my school. But no one found out, because God had other plans. If I had been expelled, I most likely would not have ended up at the small Christian college where my life began to unravel and then turn around.

By the end of high school, I had become so tired of doing all the right things, making all of the right choices and the good grades, and never feeling like I was getting anywhere in terms of my relationship with my parents, whose affections I could not seem to buy for any price. I also felt my school slighted me for every honor imaginable. I felt that both my parents and my school offered nothing but derision in communicating with me at my deepest area of need. I decided that if all Christianity had to offer was back-breaking, law-keeping labor without any pay-off (or even a little bit of a break in the area of temptation and struggle every now and then), then what was the point? I could never be good enough.

Of course I was right in thinking like this! But I had no idea of the implications of what I was thinking, and I had no idea how what I was feeling would actually impact my relationship with Christ. I did not even know that my relationship with him could be a real relationship—I just took that for Christian jargon. Through all the struggles, God had intentionally primed me for my college experience. I was about to experience grace for the first time. I was going to know it when I saw it because it would be so drastically different from everything else I had experienced.

Grove City College is located roughly thirteen hours from where I grew up. This was good news for me in many ways, but particularly, it meant a geographical severing of the same-sex relationship I had begun in my last year of high school. The environment of grace at this school began turning the tide of doubt in my mind. I saw grace in action there from the faculty and staff. Of course, there was a rule book. It was called The Crimson. Included inside were visitation rules, the plagiarism policy, and alcohol abstinence regulations. It also laid out procedures for punishing the breaking of all of these rules. My expectations of how a Christian institution operated remained unchallenged.

However, in my first few months as a Grover, the lessons of grace I saw would shake the ground of all my “Christian” assumptions. One of my dearest friends was caught drinking on campus. I knew that this was an offense punishable by expulsion. I grieved the inevitable loss of one of the healthy female relationships God had blessed me with in my freshman year, but I grieved prematurely. She came back after her talk with an administrator of the school and told me a story that seemed unfathomable at the time. She said that after sharing the story of her family’s difficult situation on top of her own emotional turbulence adjusting to a new school and environment, she had been granted a second chance. I rejoiced with her but I did not really understand what was happening. I certainly did not see this as the first step in the revolutionizing of my own understanding of grace. Little did I know that what was revolutionary to me as an observer of grace would become painfully glorious as I had the opportunity to experience it firsthand.

My RA found me in violation of a rule that met the requirements for “grounds for expulsion” as stated in The Crimson. My mind again prematurely raced to thoughts of what will I tell my friends? My parents? Where will I apply to school? How will I ever live down the shame? But after running the gamut of the entire chain of command, the dean of students granted me what at the time felt like nothing less than a stay of execution. As I sat in her office, she started asking me questions. It seemed like she was trying to get to know me. “What is this about?” My mind again raced toward what I saw as the inevitable conclusion. “Just hurry up and dismiss me. Stop making this more painful,” I kept thinking. But about five minutes into our chat, I started wondering whether my dismissal was actually the intended end-point of the conversation. We continued talking and the conversation concluded with me agreeing to see the school’s counselor and her agreeing to let me stay. I was dumbfounded. They knew all the details of my situation, but I still felt like I had somehow pulled the wool over the school’s eyes, like if they really really knew me they would do the wise thing: pack my bags and ship me out. That would be Christian protocol, right? What do you do with a messy life? Deal out discipline, get rid of the leprosy; whatever it takes to clean the sin infection. As long as you don’t get dirty taking care of the problem, you’re okay. But that is not what this woman did. She rolled up her sleeves and intentionally dug into the mess of my life. In that moment, I experienced palpable grace for the first time in my life, and I was undone.

Following that experience of grace, of being set free from a judgment and punishment that I deserved, I was primed to hear it from the pulpit. But before that time would come, I would have other impactful encounters in the church.

There were two situations within my home church growing up that shook my identity and, along with my family and school experiences, loomed like a large cloud of doom over my concept of Christianity. When I was a teenager, a young man in our church who was gifted musically and could dress better than the majority of the males in his class was consistently picked on and labeled “gay” by his peers. I do not know all of the influences surrounding his decision to embrace a “gay” identity. I do know that after doing so, he and his family were excommunicated from the church. Another young man had confessed to having homosexual desires (I don’t know to what extent they had been expressed), and his family’s solution, after prayerful consideration with church members, was to send him to live with family members in another state. This young man never returned home and eventually died of AIDS.

What this communicated to me, regardless of the realities that I did not hear or see, was that 1) the church is not safe, and it can be threatening (and thus I concluded that I would never share my struggle); 2) my sin is unforgivable. If people are being cut off and sent away over the same sins I struggled with, then apparently it is incurable and unforgivable; and 3) this led to the final conclusion that my temptation in and of itself is unforgivable. Because the line between sin and temptation was indistinguishable for me at that point, the temptation in and of itself was condemnable. This compounded the feeling already beginning to form within my mind, that I was a victim in this whole mess. I never asked for this struggle; I never wanted to be like this! It also went a long way in cementing same-sex attraction as my identity.

Healing within the church body began after I transferred from Grove City College to attend the school where I thought I would eventually go to medical school. I began attending Reformed University Fellowship. The pastor there, David, was engaging and personal. He wanted to hang out one-on-one with all the new students who showed up for large group, so I thought I would give it a shot, tell him my story. The worst that could happen would be the end of a relationship that hadn’t really even begun. I wasn’t attached to the ministry, so I figured it would be no skin off my nose. We sat down. I told him my story, and he listened. He was the first man, and really only the second person, I had told my story to, and as I sat there, at times almost provoking him in order to get him to show disgust or the vacant I-don’t-know- what-to-do- with-this-information stare, he listened. Just listened.

This interaction opened the door for future discussions with the pastor of the church I was attending at the time. In comparison to my voluntary, albeit provocative, confession to David, I was more coerced into speaking with John. I signed up for a trip to China with Mission to the World. Their application includes a twenty-something page packet that basically lists every sin known to man and then requests you to fill out your degree of struggle in each area. My response to the question inquiring about struggles with homosexuality was, understandably, cause for a follow-up.

They requested that I get in touch with my pastor to talk with him about a potentially dangerous relationship with another woman in the church that I was attempting to navigate. We talked for over an hour, but the thing that stands out to me most about that conversation was when he told me, “Laura, I’ve never seen such a beautiful picture of the way the body of Christ is supposed to work. This is what the church is supposed to look like. I’m so proud of you.” Much more was said, but as I left there was a tangible feeling surrounding me that can best be described as safe. I could not have asked for a sweeter outcome. It was the security I had longed for all my life and I found it in the place I least expected it, in the church, in my new home.

In later conversations, I told John how terrified I was at the thought of becoming a member of the church. The Christianity I knew growing up was always about rigid rule-keeping. Everything I had heard of and seen second-hand concerning church discipline told me that if I did become a member, the inevitable outcome would be my excommunication. If I struggled again, I would be gone. If, God forbid, I got into another same-sex relationship, I might even be sent off to another state. I expressed these concerns and got this response, “If you were to run away and commit yourself to a relationship with another woman, I would come after you. But not to hunt you down, not to crucify you —to bring you back where you belong, back with your family who dearly loves you.” I was rendered speechless by grace yet again.

David and John, along with other men and women in the church whom I eventually started opening up to, hugely impacted my life by laying out the truths of Scripture—what it really looks like to pursue the “least of these” as Jesus did and then actually inviting me, the leper, into their midst. A true test of the gospel mettle for my community came in the form of my fall back into sexual sin two nights after presenting my testimony to my congregation (take note on the reality of spiritual warfare so obviously at play here!). I was on the phone the next morning, first with my mentors in the church, then elders and my pastor. They were immediately there to drive me back into the fold with both stern warnings and assurance of pardon.

As I continue to receive grace in big and small ways from my Christian brothers and sisters, my relationships continually transform into the way they will eventually look when the whole earth is made new. This is true for my family relationships and my friendships as well as those relationships in which I feel my same-sex struggles creep in. Both the gracious healing and the nagging pains in these relationships point me to my future hope – and keep me longing for it. Therefore, I do not lose hope. Even as I struggle day by day against sin and suffering, I know my true hope is secured for me by Christ—through his death—and in Christ—through my relationship with him. That relationship transforms every other relationship I have. It motivates me to live a life that pleases Christ so that I may move ever closer to him. I’m so thankful to know he is my hope! I’m also thankful for the people God put in my life to point me to that truth.

In an article that John and I worked on awhile back, he wrote, “I think it is important to say that nothing I have learned about ministering to my friend who struggles with same-sex attraction is new or innovative. All I had to do was decide to reach out, to love and minister to this unique person created in the image of God, who struggles with sin just like I do and who struggles to live in a posture of repentance and faith in Jesus just like I do.”

It is this understanding of the Christian obligation to love that reaps the eternal reward of souls won to the kingdom. The more embedded I become in the local church and in the body of Christ in every sphere, the more confident I become that getting personal in the mess of people’s lives is a Christian mandate. This was the heart of Christ’s ministry; see John 4 for the account of Jesus’ radical approach to the woman at the well, or Matthew 8 for accounts of multiple “getting personal” stories, including the healing of lepers and getting rid of demons. It is inevitable that it should be the heart of ours as well.

It does not take perfect people to transform hearts and lives. It takes hearts and minds that understand the depth of their own unworthiness, their own shared status among “the least of these,” going out and sharing the good news of the transforming power of a relationship with Christ. Remember that you are a suffering sinner dependent on the turn of a phrase, “But God!” Now, go share the good news!

Updated 4.14.17

It can be hard as a Christian to know what to do if you are invited to attend a same-sex wedding for a gay friend, co-worker, or a relative. These relationships are not on the same level as someone from your own immediate family, but they are still important. Decisions will need to be made, and you want to convey that you both care for them and that your Christian faith is very important to you as well.  

Obviously, you need to put some earnest and thoughtful time and prayer into making your decision. Keep in mind that many Christians, even among those who are more conservative and see the Scriptures as wholly authoritative in their lives, approach this decision differently. Here are some key questions to ask yourself to help you make a decision.

1. What is your current relationship with the person getting married?

Are they a casual co-worker, friend, or distant relative, or someone with whom you have a closer, more intimate relationship? Has the invitation been given to everyone in your office, department, or family? Or has it been given to you because you have a closer relationship? These factors can help you determine how best to respond. For example, if the person is someone with whom you have a good friendship, then you will most likely speak directly to him or her about the issue of attending. If your friend knows you are a Christian, then this becomes another opportunity to share and discuss together what your faith positions are and what you think is best for you to do.

2. What would you be trying to convey by your attendance?

Some people have made the distinction between supporting the event, of which they don’t approve, and supporting the person getting married, whom they do love and care about. This distinction may depend on how vocal you have been about your Christian faith. What kinds of key conversations have you had with them? Do they know you are a Christian? Do they know your views about homosexuality? If so, your presence could actually “stun” them or really mess up the categories they may have about people like you. Christians, living intentionally by the gospel, can sometimes be confusing and provocative to people, causing them to rethink their positions. That’s a good thing.

If you feel that attending would advance and actually lend weight and credibility to your Christian witness, then you might decide in that direction. The nature of mercy is that it always discerns; it is not something sloppy or casual, but intentional. Mercy also “disrupts” in order to try to guide someone’s life path towards a newer and bigger eternal direction. So, in attending, you do not want your presence to convey a message that you are culturally “with it,” or that you are sophisticated enough to have no problem with people who embrace same-sex marriage. Rather, your attendance would be a calculated step, carefully chosen, that would be in line with your desire to pursue a relationship with this person because you care for them, enough to keep sharing the gospel with them.

3. What are you concerned about?

Are you afraid that your attendance would communicate your approval (like probably 99% of the people there)? Or are you afraid of having to explain why you feel you cannot attend? Are you afraid you would not know how to act or how to talk with other guests, most of whom might be gay or, at the least, pro-gay? There can be lots of fear issues involved in having to make this decision. Ask the Lord to guide you regarding these issues to your attending, or to your fears about repercussions from not attending. Fear or anxiety about disappointing someone is never a good motivator. A better question is this: What response of mine might cause further openness to the gospel?

4. Could you substitute something else, other than attending the event?

If, in good conscience, you reach the conclusion that you cannot attend the service, you might consider an alternative response, one that would not violate your faith positions or convey a wrong message, but would still affirm your love and care for the person. For instance, you might consider a card or gift. This would still show your care for them and acknowledge to them that this was an important day for them (it was, but you don’t necessarily have to join in on the celebration). You could say something like this in the card: “Sorry that I was unable to make it (note: if you are not close to them, they do not necessarily have to know why), but I know it was a special day for you, and here is a little token of my appreciation and care for you.”

If you are close to the person or couple but still conclude in good conscience that you cannot attend the wedding, then consider taking them out to lunch or dinner later on. Of course, this may be a tense or uncomfortable get-together, especially if the person who invited you felt hurt by your absence. But a quick follow-up may go a long way toward bringing understanding and another opportunity for you to share both the truth and mercy of the gospel.

5. Do one or both parties claim to be Christians?

Someone once said, “We shouldn’t expect regenerate behavior from unregenerate people.” In other words, we should not be surprised when unbelievers act like unbelievers. If the person or persons getting married are unbelievers, this doesn’t mean you have a green light to attend—but if someone claims to be a Christian and yet is in rebellion to God’s design and intention for how his people should live, and is celebrating it and inviting others to join in, then that is another matter. Some people have come to the conclusion that, if the persons are unbelievers, there is more decision room for the argument to attend the wedding. But others would argue that even if one of the parties is a confessing Christian, attending would be entering into their delusion that the marriage union is fine with God and is sanctioned by him.

As you can see, these are difficult issues to consider! Your decision must be surrounded with prayer and discussed with some close friends or family members. But know this: Yaour wrestling with this question of whether or not it would be appropriate to attend is itself evidence of your heart wanting to do the right thing to honor Christ and to open doors for the gospel. Realize that there is no one answer to this! You may face other challenges and questions from co-workers, friends, or relatives, regardless of the course you choose. This situation is much like the one the early church faced, when believers were confronted about behavior that some felt was permitted and others did not (eating of meat, setting apart special days, etc.). Romans 14 is a chapter that you would do well to read and reflect on as you wrestle with these issues. There will always be a tension between the freedom we have in Christ to do what we have prayerfully considered is permissible and the need to respect the different opinions of others on the same matter, especially when our behavior may deeply impact another believer.

One thing you can count on: Like Jesus, you’ll probably be misunderstood regarding the implications of any choice you make. So, when you make your decision, know that you have made it on the basis of what will honor God; be at peace on that basis.

Post-script: What about a baptism or baby shower?   

Although slightly different, some of the above questions and criteria could be applied toward the invitation to attend a baby shower, a christening, or a baptism service, when same-sex couples invite you to attend after the birth or adoption of a child. This situation is a bit further removed from a wedding service, when the issue of same-sex marriage is outside of God’s design; but with a child it can be a bit more complicated, as the child is not responsible for the circumstances in which he participates in such events.

Updated 4.18.17

It seems that homosexuality has embraced our culture, and the culture has embraced homosexuality. It is a part of the fallen nature of things that man has always been an expert at creating ingenuous ways to celebrate his brokenness. So, men and women in the gay life have no corner on this.

Apart from faith in Christ and submission to the authority of Scripture, we are all experts at rationalizing and justifying what we want to do. The more we live, in any way, outside of God’s design, the more we convince ourselves that what we are doing is OK. This happens on both an individual level and a corporate, cultural level. Homosexuality is not the only thing that was once considered unacceptable or immoral but later is embraced by the culture (consider abortion and sex outside of marriage).

Scripture says we’re all a mess and that we all need forgiveness and cleansing. Biblically speaking, we’re all in the same boat. We all need the same medicine of the gospel to free us from whatever attachments or idols we cling to—from whatever we have decided gives us life apart from Christ. This realization about ourselves should bring to us a growing compassion for others. Believers in Christ should be the first ones to acknowledge that we still pursue our own personal idols, and it is only by the persistent work of the Holy Spirit in our lives that we become aware of our own sin and the need to repent of it.

Homosexuality is one of those topics that draws intense and passionate reactions. Complex issues of the heart usually do. Christians are in a sort of no-man’s-land here today. Suggesting to those who have embraced the current cultural position that homosexuality is sinful and not part of God’s design for sexuality appears as uneducated, homophobic and ridiculous. On the other hand, though, suggesting to fellow evangelical believers that God loves and forgives sinners who struggle with homosexuality and that we should do the same may appear compromising and wishy-washy.

While we can oppose the advancement of a social movement that would encourage everyone to embrace this cultural shift by vocalizing our concerns and participating in the political process, for Christians a far deeper response to homosexuality and the gay community is needed. When believers proclaim the gospel of Christ both to gays and to the culture at large in a loving, redemptive manner, punctuated with grace and truth, this sets us apart and truly reflects the person of Christ. In such a heated and increasingly emotionalized debate, Christians have a responsibility to represent Christ to a fallen world in four ways. 

Patiently listen

“Let every person be quick to hear” (James 1:9, ESV). This doesn’t mean looking for loopholes in a debate or seeking a chance to criticize and find fault as you talk about this issue. We must listen in order to understand the heart of what a person is saying. This is hard work, a relational skill to be learned. It’s not natural. It takes practice. Listen to what moves other people. Listen for their passions, what they value, what their experience has been, especially with other Christians, and what they fear.

The more you understand a person’s point of view, the more you can profit from it. Why do they think the way they do? What events have led to their adopting of their worldview? What’s been their experience of Christianity—of other Christians or the church in general? What wounds from their family of origin and from other people lie festering in the background? As adults, we’re a composite of all these things—upbringing, personal wounds, cultural norms, and our own heart-generated responses to these powerful, shaping influences. Get to know the persons to whom you are talking so that you truly know who they are. Otherwise, we tend to conveniently lump them into a group, label them on the basis of what we read in the news, and think this is “knowing” them.

Personally repent

“Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans? . . . No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:1-5). Only a redeemed sinner, knowing he stands condemned apart from Christ’s death on the cross, can reach a sinner who doesn’t know he needs redeeming. What’s your motivation when you engage someone with the gospel? Is it to reach lost people with the enduring love that has found you out—a love that has exposed you as a cutthroat and depraved sinner and yet has embraced you with fatherly love? Is it your own awareness that, at heart, you’re a sham, a misfit, a counterfeit, a phony and that there is nothing good inside you to warrant God’s love, yet he still died in your place to make you whole? Do you really care about people who struggle with same-sex attraction as men and women who need the love of Christ, or do you only want them to shut up and disappear? Remember that Jesus said, He who is forgiven little, loves little” (Luke 7:47). If you have no love for those who claim a gay identity, then you have not understood the forgiving love of Jesus in your own life.

Patiently listening and personally repenting also means loving those who are different, who believe differently. The gay community has long been demonized by Christians, held up as the example of the worst kind of people. This is grossly unfair and unloving, not to mention unbiblical. No single group of people corners the market on sinful behavior outside of God’s design. There is simply no place for believers to verbally demean or physically abuse the same-sex attracted. If your neighbor or colleague proclaimed to you that he didn’t believe in God, would you go around mocking him?

Gently instruct

“The Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone . . . correcting his opponents with gentleness” (2 Timothy 2:22-25). How do you talk to people who don’t believe what you do? An argumentative, win-at-all-costs approach does not conform to what Paul wrote to Timothy. You need to ask the Holy Spirit to instruct your own heart as you instruct others. Engaging someone “with gentleness” does not mean being weak or vacillating in your argument; it means treating everyone with respect and dignity even when they persistently disagree. An unloving and impatient heart is a hindrance to the gospel message. The Lord’s command to us through the words of Paul teaches us here “to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people” (Titus 3:2).

“Gently instruct” also means that your words must be grounded in the truth of Scripture, not your own opinion. The real issue regarding what Scripture says about homosexuality is not about whether the key passages are culturally relevant anymore, but whether Scripture in its entirety still has authority over all of life. It should always be the truths of Scripture, and not our demeanor or presentation of it, that people reject.

Do you really care about homosexuals—or do you only want them to shut up and disappear?

Talking to those who are blind to the reality of their hearts but who live in a world that applauds their sin is both a privilege and a challenge. They are victims of their own sin and the lies and sin of others. Therefore, they’re caught. But they’re also accountable before a holy God for their continued choice to live life on their own terms and not submit their lives to the lordship of Christ. We must represent both aspects of the truth as we share Christ.

Mercifully pursue and then engage the heart

“Have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire, hating even the garment stained by the flesh” (Jude 22-23). God calls us to be neither reclusive nor rude but to move boldly into confusing, high-stakes situations with the gospel of God’s mercy.

We bring the gospel where it is most needed: to the vocally anti-Christian pro-gay activist, to the mild-mannered clergy who says the love of Jesus means affirming homosexuality as God’s gift, to the confused and scared teenager who fears he’s gay and there’s no other option. Showing mercy means practically caring for people. It means being patiently and persistently available to help those who live in a fallen world. It means lovingly holding our ground against those who say that our beliefs are hateful.

We must not wilt from the irrational heat of those who say that we are hateful bigots merely on the basis that we do not agree with their beliefs.

As we do this, we’re able to move into other people’s worlds. Engaging people by asking good questions, respectfully, is an important part of this. I once approached a man who was marching in a gay rally. Subsequently, I had a two-hour conversation that ended with this man shaking my hand and thanking me for stopping him—in spite of the fact that I shared the gospel with him! I had listened to him, heard his concerns, and engaged his heart with matters important to him. Didn’t Jesus do the same?

My approach appealed to his heart. Listening, asking questions, and engaging people with respect, even if we have fundamental differences, invites people to share their stories more quickly than anything else. When we take time to get people into their stories, they become more open to us and to the gospel.

Jesus, of course, was the master of all that I’ve just described. We should be, too. His methods are the most under-utilized and missed aspects of evangelism. They also make the deepest and most heart-felt impact, often leaving people wanting more!

This article originally appeared in the May 2010 edition of Tabletalk magazine, but has been edited and expanded for this publication. 

Updated 4.18.17

“I’m gay…”

Your heart is racing. You’re not sure what to think. You feel a little uneasy, maybe a lot. Your roommate has just revealed what you already thought; maybe you had no idea at all.

You are no longer wondering what’s up with your roommate, but now you’re wondering how you are going to deal with his or her homosexuality. Time seems to stand still for just a moment as you look into each others eyes, both wondering what your reactions will be.

It could just as easily be your office mate. Maybe instead of, “I’m gay,” this person with whom you spend so much time in such close quarters has said instead, “I’m bisexual.” Maybe someone else had already told you; maybe everybody else seems to have known already. Maybe you’re thinking about what this means for your relationship or for your reputation. But right now you have someone before you who’s revealed something so personal and important that you must respond. What do you say? What do you do?

If something is difficult for one roommate, that difficulty is likely to affect the other. Your roommate may have a keen interest in how you handle this disclosure. What you think and feel about your roommate matters. Like yourself, your roommate is a precious person made in the image of God. Like you, this person is a sinner, prone to doing the wrong thing and to taking things the wrong way. Like yourself, your roommate doesn’t know what is going to happen next and may be a little ill at ease waiting to see your reaction.

You may feel a tension between standing up for what you think is right and living out what you believe. Standing for the truth and acting in love can seem almost completely at odds with each other. This is a kind of pressure Christians feel all the time, but homosexuality is such an emotional issue it can heighten the tension. Sharing a common space with someone usually involves conflict, and living or working together everyday creates a lot of opportunities for friction. If you are a Christian, these conflicts are also opportunities to extend the grace of the gospel.

What not to do!

Before considering what positive things you can do to extend this grace to your roommate, you might want to take the time to make sure you avoid some common mistakes that may interfere with showing God’s love. Things you will want to be sure not to do include the following:

Scold

Yes, it is of course appropriate and even necessary at times to communicate clearly to people what God says is true about their conduct, even or especially when what they are doing is sinful and destructive (Ezekiel 3:17-21). Nevertheless, believers frequently give in to the temptation to feel better about themselves and their situation by communicating God’s truth in a condescending, self-righteous, impatient, and/or indignant manner. What’s the difference between speaking boldly and simply scolding? Your heart. Let’s face it: You, like every human being, are prone to sin with your speech, and to be proud in your heart, and to be irritable at having to deal with something you’d rather not deal with at all, especially when it involves conflict. You need to take a long look (and maybe a second or third look) at your own heart and motives before you pronounce God’s judgment in God’s name on your roommate’s homosexuality (James 1:26).

Fold

Alternatively, you don’t want to just concede convictions that are based on God’s truth, but it can be very tempting to abandon what seems to be an impractical set of beliefs in favor of values that make it easier to get along with folks. If your roommate is nice or emotionally fragile, misunderstood or mistreated by others, it doesn’t help anyone for you to give ground to falsehood for the sake of convenience (Proverbs 25:26).

Fudge

Sometimes we are tempted, not so much to say “no” to God’s truth and “yes” to falsehood, but rather to say “maybe” to both. To put the truth up for grabs only makes things more confusing (Proverbs 24:10-12). If you are really not sure what God thinks about same-sex attraction, or if you are not sure you really care all that much what God thinks, it is important to be honest about your doubts. However, if you are sure about what’s true, don’t hide behind the fact that other people hold differing opinions in order to avoid a conflict about your own.

Grudge

You may be tempted to quietly smolder in resentment, thinking your roommate has mistreated you by putting you in this situation. Every little thing—even things that haven’t the remotest connection with your roommate’s sexual preference or practice—can become an aggravation because of a largely unresolved conflict that remains unaddressed. Better you should have a conflict over something important than about who left a dish out on the counter or who left the window open when it rained (1 Corinthians 13:5).

Gossip

The disclosure of sensitive and potentially damaging information by one person to another is an occasion for caution, not for chit chat. Someone may or may not care a great deal about what you say about them or to whom you say it. Either way, you may find yourself itching to talk with someone about your roommate’s disclosure, not to help you sort out what to do, but rather to satisfy a delicious hunger to tell others something personal and private about someone else. Address the desire in your heart to gossip.  To help you process the information, perhaps you can identify one trustworthy person whose insight you think might be helpful to you and who will keep the information confidential. Talking with one good confidante is fine; choose well and stop there (Proverbs 11:13; 25:9-10; 26:20).

Fight

Especially if the person telling you he or she is gay appears hostile, defiant, or overly assertive, you may be tempted to fight fire with fire by being similarly hostile, defiant, or assertive. Even if the person with whom you are speaking is mild-mannered and polite, just the potential for conflict can provoke you to want to forcefully destroy what contributes to your tension, even if that something is another person. Fighting only gives your roommate good reason to dismiss everything else you might say or do (Proverbs 15:1-4; 20:3).

Spite

In avoiding a fight, you may be tempted to take little jabs here and there at your roommate, moving from holding a grudge to spiteful, indirect conflict to effectively mistreating a person because he or she has told you they are gay. You may find yourself wanting to get back at your roommate in little ways, only to find you are reinforcing what he or she may have already taken for granted C Christians hate gays (Proverbs 24:28-29).

Flight

Finally, in an attempt to avoid both conflict and mistakes, you may be tempted to retreat from the situation altogether. You may look to minimize your contact with this person, restrict your conversation to “safe” topics, and avoid situations where you are likely to have to deal with anything related to your disagreement. You may even consider having your room assignment changed. What this may communicate (though perhaps not your intention) is that the other person’s sexuality is not something you can or want to deal with (Proverbs 25:19, 28:1).

What you can do

So what can you do to respond as a Christian to your roommate in these circumstances?

Pray

Before you do anything, before you say anything to anybody else, pray. If you are not sure what to do or say, you can ask God for wisdom and know he will give it to you (Nehemiah 2:4, James 1:5).

Talk

Sometimes the person making this disclosure may not want to talk with you anymore about it, but that would be unusual. If your roommate thinks you are someone with whom he or she can be open, that’s a good sign that they might want to continue the conversation. First off, you can ask questions like, “Is this something you’ve talked with a lot of people about?” “Were you concerned about telling me?” “How long have you been aware that you felt this way?” “How has that been for you to grow into this understanding of yourself?” When in doubt, ask and listen (Proverbs 15:28, 18:13).

You can volunteer your own thoughts too, being careful not to insist that the other person agree with you. For example, you can say things like, “That’s different for me. I’m not used to folks telling me that,” or, “Thanks for telling me. I appreciate you being honest with me that way.” If you are asked something like, “Well, what do you think?” you might respond along the lines of, “Well, I’m not sure—I feel a little confused and at a loss,” or, “Actually, I have religious beliefs about homosexuality, and I’m kind of concerned about how you might react.” This then puts the other person in a position either to leave things where they are for a bit, or to go a little deeper with you knowing you are sensitive to how delicate a conversation it may be (Proverbs 15:18, 17:14, 20:3).

Know your options

Sometimes people can feel trapped by a roommate’s disclosure of homosexuality. One way not to feel like your options are taken away is to know what those options are. For example, there are circumstances in which you could understandably request a room reassignment. You may not necessarily want to change your living situation, but knowing whether and how can make you feel a little more like you could if you had to. At the same time, roommates are often very insensitive to how they use their common space, and there are some concerns that, while not unique to having a gay roommate, may make a move advisable. If your roommate is participating in activity in your room that bothers you (e.g., using sexually explicit language or material, hosting late night visits or parties, sexual activity, etc.), it would be appropriate for you to bring up your concerns directly with your roommate. If for whatever reason this discussion doesn’t resolve your concerns, you should plan to discuss them with your resident adviser after inviting your roommate to come participate in that discussion with you. Your RA can help you sort out your options in a peacemaking role. These may not be concerns related specifically to same-sex attraction, just average roommate problems. Knowing your options can help you feel less trapped by your circumstances.

Show compassion

Showing compassion may be the hardest part of dealing with your roommate. On the one hand, you may not feel a lot of compassion, so that being motivated to be compassionate can seem impossible. At the same time, you may not meet with a warm reception in your attempts at compassion, so that you may feel rebuffed or just a failure if you don’t have “success” in your efforts. However, if you focus on your responsibility to show compassion rather than on your feelings or on the other person’s reception, you will find it a lot easier (James 3:17-18).

Compassion involves caring about those aspects of your roommate’s life where and when you can—caring about what they care about, sorrowing where you can and rejoicing where you can. Obviously, as with all people, your roommate may rejoice in sin or despair under conviction, and you may not find it appropriate to rejoice or sorrow with them in all instances. Still, there is likely a lot more to your roommate’s life than rejoicing in sin, and these are circumstances and instances in which you can care about a fellow human being without requiring ideological agreement. Jesus did not wait for us to agree with him that we are sinners before he showed us compassion. On the contrary, “This is how God demonstrates his love toward us: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

Provide perspective

Sometimes if your religious convictions are known to others, folks will have (understandable) assumptions about what you think, feel, or believe. Often the relative importance or particular place that same-sex attraction holds in your own world view may not be immediately apparent, and the more you talk about it, the more likely it will appear to others that it is a colossally big deal in comparison with other issues in your mind. Without trying to prove that you are right, you can try to help your roommate understand why you are uncomfortable, why other issues make you uncomfortable, etc. At the same time, you might want to go out of your way to demonstrate clearly how you don’t fit an evangelical or fundamentalist stereotype of hatred, hypocrisy, etc. Where you do fit such a stereotype, you can model repentance and humility, putting your own sin in a perspective your roommate, by God’s grace, can understand.

Include in your life

If you are uncomfortable with your roommate, without realizing it you may be withdrawing yourself from that person in such a way that he or she may feel excluded. While this may not be your intention, what you communicate to someone when you are reacting unconsciously out of personal interest is that such people are to be avoided. They may notice you don’t talk with them about the same things you do with others, that you act differently, do different things. You can go a long way towards relieving tension and living out the gospel just by deliberately including your roommate in all kinds of things in your life. Talking with your roommate about your relationships, your fears, your goals, and your questions can show that God’s people can welcome him or her into their lives without being contaminated (Luke 15, 1 Corinthians 5:9-10).

What you can’t do

Even as you think about what you can do, and try to avoid things you shouldn’t do, it may be helpful to be clear in your own mind what you can’t do.

Make excuses

Because you are a Christian and your roommate is gay is no excuse for your sins. Indeed, if you think you can sin openly with impunity is to communicate that hypocrisy is okay, but same-sex attraction is not. Show your roommate what confession, repentance, asking for forgiveness, and restitution look like. Maybe he or she will catch on.

Make everything okay

Life is not easy, neat, or okay, and neither are people. There is an understandable impulse to change conflict and tension into peace and order. All you can hope for between two sinners is either (a) honest humility amidst sin in our hearts and conduct, or (b) superficial conflict avoidance amidst sin in our hearts and conduct. Take your pick: One’s messy now, one’s a lot messier later—and later may be too late to show the gospel to someone in need.

Make anyone different

Think about your own sin. Is it in your own power alone to change your whole heart and life to be what it should be? No! What makes you think you can change somebody else, or talk them into doing what you can’t even do yourself? What you can do is ask God to help you change, and then ask him to work that same kind of change in your roommate’s life.

Make God do what you want

God doesn’t always do what we want him to do or on our time table. Often people will get very resentful towards God for not relieving their tensions the way they want when they want. God is wiser and more patient than we are, and he knows best how to work in your circumstances. You can tell God what he’s promised you; you can tell him thank you in advance for keeping his promises, but you can’t tell him how to do what he knows best—deal mercifully with sinners like ourselves.

What you must do

“…So, what do you think?”

God has called us to love our neighbors as ourselves (Galatians 5:14). How would you want anyone to react to you when you were celebrating something that was wrong? Can you imagine the disappointment you might feel to learn someone close to you objected to something that in your mind was foundational to who you are as a person? On the other hand, can you imagine how distrustful you might feel toward someone you learned had been less than honest with you about something so important? Whatever you do, you must be honest. “An honest answer is like a kiss on the lips” (Proverbs 24:26). Be yourself, be real, and trust God to work in your circumstances for his glory through your weaknesses and failings, for his glory and for the good of all who will heed him.

Updated 4.18.17

Fifteen years ago, there were only a few books for Christians dealing with sexual brokenness issues: overcoming pornography, navigating the deep wounds caused by affairs, handling one’s same-sex attractions, and keeping oneself pure. Today, a multitude of such resources exist...

Solutions for dealing with sexual purity issues abound today. By the way, I don’t really like the word “purity”  for several reasons: 1) it’s overused; 2) no one really knows what that word means anymore; 3) it’s definitely not most people’s track record or experience; and, 4) it seems unattainable, which invites despair. I much rather prefer the words “godliness” or “holiness,” because either word offers much more hope, as they imply that God is so invariably involved in the whole process.

The advice on how to deal with sin and temptation, along with the resulting guilt and shame from failure and sin, comes from varied sources today—mostly with lots of advice about what to do and not to do. One professional says to snap your wrist with a rubber band when tempted. Another says to have multiple accountability partners and call them at the first sign of temptation. We are told we need to deal with issues arising from our family of origin, work the steps, and journal our feelings/temptation cycles. Still others talk about how we need multiple Internet filters, reporting systems, and barriers in place 24/7. Just trying to get free and stay free can be a full-time job!

Now don’t get me wrong. All these things are good tips and can be very helpful tools. But they just don’t identify the core problem we all face. They don’t deal with the larger issue of why we find ourselves so trapped and enslaved by our struggles and sin. While it’s helpful to be aware of our family origins and the environmental triggers that lead us into trouble, sometimes I think we just make purity—or “godliness”—all too complex. No wonder we throw up our hands in frustration and agony, wrestling with a miserable record of trying to deal with this stuff. We try. We fail. We try again. We fail again.

However, when we begin to understand who we are “in Christ” and start to take hold of and live out our intimate and inseparable union with him in his life and death—when we grasp that, nothing, including our sins and repeated failures, can separate us from the love of Christ. When we wonderfully give up and see that we can’t do one thing to add to what Christ has done for us; and when we rejoice in the knowledge that, as Martyn Lloyd-Jones said, “God is our Heavenly Father who always delights to see us coming to him (at our time of deepest need), to receive us, that he is looking upon us with favor, smiling upon us, always ready to bless”—well, that changes everything (Romans: Assurance, Exposition of Chapter 5,  Banner of Truth, 38-39).

It changes everything, because it changes us. It transforms us! We no longer are orphans, living out a weary existence by our own wits, but we are loved sons and daughters of a king. We are royalty! We serve a king who gives himself to us intensely, relentlessly, and completely. There’s no short cut to understanding this, no fast-track or multiple-step program to spiritual health. This is a journey of a lifetime, one that is filled increasingly with what every one of us longs for: love, peace, meaning, and a never-ending future. To effectively deal with the barrage of temptations we face—the idols, sexual and otherwise—that are always vying for a place in our hearts, Jesus must “become more precious to us than those vile lusts have been,” as a Valley of Vision prayer says.

Pastor Scotty Smith says this about realizing who we are and what we have in Christ: “The more precious he becomes to us, the more we watch our guilt and shame melt away. The more we see him for what he really is, the more we see all other precious currencies as the fool’s gold they really are. The more we come to him, the more we realize that it’s him who is always coming to us first” (Everyday Prayers, February 3).

Yes, there are things we must do—and not do—in our journey towards holiness. But the real key to freedom lies in understanding just who we are and who we will be.
Updated 4.19.2017

The following is an excerpt from Dave White’s book, Sexual Sanity for Men: Re-Creating Your Mind in a Crazy Culture. Published by New Growth Press. Copyright © 2012 by Harvest USA. This Harvest USA resource can be used in a one-on-one discipling relationship or in a men’s group. You can obtain this resource at our bookstore, www.harvest-usa-store.com

 

Week 1, Day 5: Jesus restores our manhood

We’ll discuss this in greater detail later on, but realize right now: Jesus’ mission is to make us real men! He wants us to be free from enslaving desires and behaviors. He doesn’t want us to be emasculated men, but “strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy” (Colossians 1:11).

Jesus invites us to joy and contentment as we learn that the Christian life is best characterized, not by what we don’t get to do, but by the abundant life Christ offers us. God wants to give us more, not less. Our flesh, the world, and the enemy would have us believe that God is holding out on us, but these are vicious lies against the God who, in love, both created and redeemed us. Jesus describes this contrast poignantly in John 10:10, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” Brothers, God is not holding out on us in calling us out of our sinful behavior and desires—he wants to give us life! He offers to liberate us from our bondage and bring us to sexual sanity.

The irony is, Jesus promises to give us what we’re hoping to find in sexual sin. Sex has become an idol for us, but the reality is that our idols are counterfeits that make huge promises, but always fail to deliver. They promise life, but bring only destruction and loss of what is most valuable. They promise excitement and contentment, but eventually lead to emptiness and despair. In a tragic demonstration of the truth of John 10, sexual sin robs us even of the ability to experience sexual fulfilment. As we examined yesterday, we are left only with a “continual lust for more.” Pursuit of sexual sin leaves us sexually insatiable and unsatisfied, filled with yearning and discontent.

But here’s the rub: Often the Christian life doesn’t fit our expectations. It doesn’t seem like an abundant life. We experience everything from minor diasppointments to horrific trauma—even as Christians—that seem to belie the promises offered by Jesus. There are reasons we turn to sexual sin. The challenges of life in a fallen world cause us to question God’s goodness and faithfulness. We’re tempted to live like orphans, taking matters into our own hands and looking for contentment and comfort wherever we can find it.

But Jesus was straight with us. He told us that the Christian life would involve taking up our crosses, denying ourselves, and laying down our lives for his sake and glory. Although some make the declaration, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life,” this really needs to be qualified. When Jesus invites you to follow him, he hands you a heavy cross—with splinters—that you’re expected to throw up on your shoulder, carry up a steep hill, and when you get to the top . . . they’re going to kill you.

But, Jesus’ promise to us is that there’s a resurrection on the other side of that death. We are called to deny ourselves because the reward he offers is greater than our desires. He says that if you try to save your life you’ll lose it, but if you lose it for his sake, you’ll find it.

You know the experience of slavery. Sexual sin has robbed you of life and strength—your manhood. Jesus is calling you to a hard road, but a much better road than the one you’ve chosen to travel—and with a far greater destination. The road of sexual sin leads to all kinds of death, but the road Jesus calls you to walk leads to life now and life forever. As you follow him on this road, you’ll begin to experience greater life, joy, strength, and even sexual contentment. Only Jesus can give you what your heart is ultimately longing for!

We began this week by looking at Paul’s utter frustration with his sin in Romans 7. But for Paul, it didn’t end there. He doesn’t stop in a place of despair, but cries out, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24–25).

Paul remembers the hope of the gospel, even in the midst of being confounded by his sin. And he goes on from that place of struggle to write one of the most glorious passages in all of Scripture: Romans 8, which radically focuses on what God accomplished for us in Christ and the incredible promises held out to us in the gospel. This is perhaps the most beautiful picture of repentance in the Bible. In the face of his sin and utter inability, Paul begins to worship. He reminds himself not only of the forgiveness we have in Christ, but the amazing fullness of our redemption. He begins by declaring, “There is therefore now no condemnation” (verse 1) and finishes by proclaiming that nothing can “separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (verse 39). Throughout this chapter, Paul rehearses the mercy showed to us, the outpouring of the Spirit who intercedes for us because we don’t even know how to pray for ourselves, the promise that God will complete his work bringing us to glory, and on and on. In the face of his sin, Paul reminds us of the fullness of life offered to us. He lays hold again of Jesus, gets on his feet, and back into the battle against sin.

Jesus wants you to experience freedom and joy. He promises you abundant life and—in the midst of the battle against sin—wants you to discover in him what will truly satisfy your soul. He wants to free you from slavery and show you what it truly means to be a man!

Week 2, Day 3: Leaky cisterns and broken masculinity

Again, sexual sin is idolatry. It is a violation of the first Great Commandment to love God, as well as a violation of the second Great Commandment to love others as ourselves (Matthew 22:34–40, Mark 12:28–34). Sexual sin is always exploitative. It always takes those made in the image of God and turns them into objects for my pleasure. Do you see how the violations of these commands hang together? We exploit others (violating the second command) and, in the same moment, long to be personally exalted (violating the first command).

At first glance, it may appear that the object on the monitor, the dancer, etc., is the focus of our idolatry. But think about it: What goes on in your fantasies? You’re creating a world where everyone exists to serve, adore, and please you! That is the great offense of sexual sin. In a very tangible way, we set ourselves up as little gods and pretend others are ours to rule. In our minds we refashion the universe, throwing God out of the picture, placing ourselves at the center, and populating it with God’s creatures to worship us.

This is yet another way that sexual sin radically undercuts our masculinity. As men, we are called to cover and protect others, especially women and children. We are created to be guardians over the weak. It is a blasphemous twisting of God’s design that we cease to be protectors, instead using our strength to oppress others, turning them into objects to consume sexually. In Ezekiel 34, God brings a stinging indictment against the leaders of Israel, describing them as shepherds who devour their sheep, rather than feeding them. When we engage in sexual sin, we are guilty of the same charge. We exploit those we are called to care for.

Depending on what behaviors you engage in, this oppression can be either blatant or subtle. Perhaps this seems a little abstract. How exactly are you charged to care for the model on the page, or the actor in the video? As we’ll examine in more depth later, men were created to serve and care for others. When you partake in pornography, you are participating in the oppression. Just because you are not behind the camera, you’re not absolved of guilt. Most people in the porn industry (both men and women) suffered sexual abuse, some as young children. There is a history of pain and exploitation behind the seductive eyes and pretense of pleasure.

Of course, when your behavior involves physical contact with others, the offense is more obvious. Whether prostitution or a long-term affair, in our sin we take advantage of those who are weaker—even when they’re willing and enthusiastic participants—for our own selfish ends. This oppression is in stark contrast to who God calls you to be as a man!

Although this often sounds sexist in today’s culture, men’s greater physical strength is part of God’s design, so that he might cover and protect those who are weaker, particularly in the context of marriage (1 Peter 3:6). Similarly, he is called to be the spiritual head of his wife (Ephesians 5:22–33). This doesn’t mean that men are better, or more spiritually mature, than women. To be head ultimately means to reflect Jesus by laying down our lives for our spouses. In fact, our tendency toward passivity since the fall probably contributes to God’s command that we lead. He knows that in our sin, most of us are naturally bent to sit back and let women take charge. Although bad teaching on gender roles has caused great harm, when a man follows God’s calling, dying to self to serve like Jesus, there is no exploitation. Women are blessed and able to flourish, not treated as servants. In Christ, there is no male and female. There is a fundamental equality among all citizens of the kingdom.

When we live in sexual sin, we are violating who we are created to be. First Corinthians 6:18 says, “Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.” There are a lot of implications with that statement. We’ve already looked at the reality of diminishing returns and our inability to experience sexual satisfaction. But sexual sin also makes us operate radically contrary to God’s design for us as men. Sexual sin not only emasculates us through robbing us of strength and enslaving our souls, it places us outside God’s design and calling, becoming lesser men, less truly human as his image-bearers—and more like brute beasts. We rob ourselves not only of the good gift and righteous pleasure that God extends through sexuality, but we diminish ourselves as those created to uniquely “image” him in this fallen world.

All this matters deeply to God. Those we exploit are his creation. They exist to honor and serve him, not us. Remember the scary declaration from yesterday, “the Lord is an avenger in all these things” (1 Thessalonians 4:6). Jesus is returning to settle the score with his enemies. Read through the glorious description of Jesus’ triumphant return in Revelation 19:11–21, then ask yourself: Whose side would you want to be on?

And this is crucial: The verses immediately before describe Jesus’ wedding feast. Those we exploit are not mere creatures—the equivalent of God’s pets. They are his bride! If the life of an adulterer is in danger from an enraged, betrayed husband, how much greater are our souls in peril if we take lightly our violation of Jesus’ betrothed?

What does this mean for those of us who are in Christ and continue to oppress others sexually? Hear again this warning: “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, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life” (Galatians 6:7–8). Remember, your sexuality is a litmus test for your spirituality.

In the first century the Jewish leaders blew off Jesus’ warning because they were the physical offspring of Abraham. But the New Testament makes clear that the true Israelite is spiritually, not physically, generated. In the same way, I fear many in the 21st century American church have a very flip view of their sin because they’re “under grace.” The Bible always assumes that those in Christ will increasingly live as members of his kingdom, the new created order. Our lives will bear fruit that comes from the heart, not mere outward deeds. If you continue to sin sexually, brother, I urge you to take it extremely seriously. Jesus hates what you are doing and is an avenger of the oppressed. It may be that your sexual behavior demonstrates what is ultimately most true of your spiritual state—much more than your formal profession of faith!

But be encouraged: You wouldn’t be reading these words if you weren’t seeking change on some level. The Christian life is a tightrope. Our hope is never our performance, but only the grace and mercy of God. At the same time, his power is at work to effect change, and we should expect our lives to grow and bear fruit.

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Updated 5.29.2017

Have you ever wanted to unburden yourself from a problem or share a deep, dark secret, perhaps of a difficult or sexual nature, with someone? If you have chosen to reveal your heart in this way, reflect on this for a moment: What was it that allowed you to feel safe enough to open up?

As I have personally pondered this question, I asked myself, “What do I need to do to help someone feel safe enough where honest revelations of the heart can be shared?” Or to put it another way, “How can I help my church community become a safe place where strugglers can unburden themselves from secrets that have kept them enslaved to sexual struggles and sin?”

I’ve come to several principles gleaned from Bible study, ministry, therapy, teaching, and supervising counselors, as well as from friends and my own life experiences regarding how to help people talk about their struggles. Here are some insights from those observations that I hope will be helpful to those who struggle with sexual sin and those who want to help.

1. Make honesty the only policy you live by 

We all desire to talk with a friend who will honestly tell us what they think. Why? Because an honest person is a safe person—at least you know what you are getting is the truth. Good or bad, a friend is someone who does not withhold truth, but tells it like it is. Because we know that they have our best interest at heart, we are confident they will tell us the whole truth.

Yet it does seem difficult for Christians to be honest. This is surprising because we make such a big deal about lying. It’s a sin to tell a lie, but we are all too human. Those half-truths and shaded meanings come quickly to the sons and daughters of Adam.

Perhaps we struggle with telling the truth because we have been taught that not being nice is the greatest sin. For the average Christian, the truth is, on occasions, something to be covered over and avoided because it is not nice.

“Why would this be?” you might ask. Confrontation and genuineness are a problem because, above all else, we often value being comfortable, not just with our surroundings but most of all with our emotions. Honesty makes us a little too uncomfortable. It means we have to be involved. “Do you really want to know what I have to say?” someone asks. Eventually, others might even see that we are not perfect and mention it to us. Then what would happen?

Twelve-step groups teach that honesty is not just telling the truth, but the telling the ‘whole’ truth. Therefore, lying is not just failing to be truthful about facts. Leaving out key events, emotions, thoughts, and details or leaving a person with a different impression other than what is right or what really happened is also lying. Often in the church community, people try to be nice, and so the reason given for a particular decision may not be the real reason.

Here is an example: A woman on the missions’ committee has no social skills. She is rude, and as a result of her, rudeness no one wants her to head committees or work with her any longer. However, when she is rejected from becoming the head of the committee, she is told another, more palatable reason, so as to not ruffle any feathers. This lack of honesty with someone dealing with a very obvious problem (which everyone else can see) makes the sexual struggler that much more reluctant to share his story. Why? Because the underlying message they hear is, “We can’t handle the truth here.” These short-cuts or lies, as the Bible calls them, end up short-changing spiritual growth. In the effort to avoid conflict, we fail to really love. Honesty creates the environment where honest revelations of the heart can grow. Honesty is the best policy because, as Proverbs 27:6 says, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy” (ESV).

You help someone open up about a hidden truth by being and becoming someone who is honest, first, about yourself. You don’t hide your issues or struggles; you speak openly and plainly about them. With others, you consistently practice telling them what you see in their lives and in their behavior, and in doing so, you create a place of safety for the sexual struggler. They know you are a real person, someone with inner strength; that you are someone who can handle the truth because you love them.

2. Make humility a central part of your character 

The Bible instructs us that we are not to think of ourselves more highly than we actually are. Jesus on many occasions attacked the Pharisees because they placed themselves in a better light than that which was true. They were always more spiritual than those who followed them, and they wanted everyone to know it.

If you want to be someone who is a safe haven to receive honest revelations of the heart, you must have an attitude of humility, starting with you first. There is an old joke about a pastor who was walking through the sanctuary and felt God’s presence. He knelt down at the front near the altar and began to pray, crying out loud, “Lord, I’m nothing. I’m nothing. I’m nothing.” A short time later, the associate pastor was walking by and heard the pastor calling out, and he, too, was moved. He entered the sanctuary and knelt by the pastor and began to cry out, “Lord I’m nothing. I’m nothing. I’m nothing.” As it happened, the church custodian passed by a short time later and saw the two ministers. He too was moved and came to the front of the church and called out the same as the other two. About this time the associate pastor looked over at the pastor and said, “Look who thinks he’s nothing now.” Pride takes many forms. The Bible instructs us that, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

The opposite of pride, then, is to look honestly at ourselves and be open to looking at our own faults first and admitting them. I John 1:8-9 says, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Humility involves modeling for the struggler your own honest heart revelations. For an entire church community, it means that the leaders of the church model before the congregation a humble and honest spirit about themselves. A humble attitude is not an option if we desire the growth of a safe climate where openness develops. This can begin by admitting not our deepest darkest sins, but the common sins that we all struggle with. Once this is done, consistently over time, you will be identified as a safe person to whom one can share the deepest and messiest stuff of one’s life. By allowing humility to grow deeper into your character, you are letting strugglers know that you are not someone better or more holy than they are—just another follower of Christ who needs his work done in their life, as well.

3. Give comfort in confession 

Once we have examined ourselves and begun to admit our own struggles, we can help others find comfort in confession. The truth is, if you are going to hear the honest revelations of people’s hearts, you must become comfortable with confession. This means having a tolerance for messiness. If you are to minister to people effectively, you must be willing to let things get a little messy (maybe a lot messy). In an operating room there will be blood, pain, skin, and even some guts. But all of these are necessary if the healing process is going to take place. What is important is not the blood or guts, but that in spite of the messiness, the surgeon (and hopefully the patient) believes that the effort will be worthwhile.

God certainly does believe it is worth the effort. How many times have you yourself brought the same sins to God? I have brought the same dirty laundry over and over and over. Why does God not become disgusted by our sin, by our weakness, by our messiness? Because he chooses relationship over the pain. He has chosen confession as the place of connection with us and lets us find comfort and safety there. So we too must connect with others in the messiness of their lives. As you hear their confession, grieve with them and weep with them over the damage they have done in their own lives and in the lives of others. Then lead them to the cross of Christ where a holy God brought truth (the stain of our sin) and mercy (his free grace) together. As we wade through the messiness that often accompanies honest revelations of the heart, we connect with others and lead them to connect with our Father.

4. Demonstrate acceptance 

If you yourself have shared with another person an honest revelation of your heart, what was the response? Whatever the it was, if you have experienced sharing with someone deep and painful things from your heart, you know that the response given is extremely important. As a counselor, I have heard many, many confessions. Many things come into play as someone confesses a sin or heart struggle with me. My own words, facial expressions, body language, and attitude are all being weighed very carefully by the confessor. This is, in a sense, the moment of truth. The person stands before you emotionally naked, as it were, and you are there to pass judgment—or so they will often fear. As you hear the revelation, at that moment you have the power of life or death, blessing and cursing. I believe that this is one of the most sacred trusts we possess in these encounters. We must use extreme caution in our response, because heaven and hell literally may be in the balance.

This does not mean that you agree with what the person did or said. I have rarely had to convince a confessor of their wrong. It simply means that you stop, look past the confession itself, and look at the person. The revealer has taken a step of faith, and it is important that while they understand they are wrong—yes and even sinful—they are accepted and loved.

5. Take time to care for the whole person  

“There is a time for everything,” Solomon said in Ecclesiastes 3. If you are meeting with a struggler over a period of time, he or she needs to know that you will hear what they have to say, even if they bring to you more or less the same stories of failure. But what you are doing in this helping relationship is building a friendship; you are not merely meeting with a ministry project. There is a place in this emerging friendship where breaks are needed from sharing even honest revelations. This gives everyone a breather. It helps the struggler see that there is more to them than their particular struggle or temptation. There are other things to talk about and to share.

We must help each other not fall into the trap of defining ourselves by our struggles. We must remind ourselves, as well as others, that we are not our struggles. God has said that we are a new creation. There should be times when we relax, go out for a meal together, share an event, worship together, laugh, and have fun. God is still central in all of these things.

The poet Samuel Coleridge once compared friendship to a “sheltering tree.” Growth of this kind, that of a strong tree, takes time, even years. Yesterday, as I walked with a friend, we shared some things that we have not shared with perhaps anyone. As I thought about this later, I realized that our sharing came about because I have walked with this friend several times a week for over four years. The passage of time with others and the investment of time is a key healing element that many need. There is no shortcut to this. When you minister to the whole person by getting to know them in a number of contexts you create community that can be a “sheltering tree.” It is beneath this tree that real, honest revelations of the heart are safely shared.

6. You and the church must be grace-full 

We must convey to strugglers, and to the whole church community, that sexual struggles are common. But more than that, we must communicate that grace is greater than any sin they have committed. I know of a client who kept a sexual difficulty quiet for over fifty years. For some reason, this church member decided to share the secret at a Wednesday night prayer meeting he had been attending. The result? The pastor asked that the person not return to the church. This ought not to be. The church must overflow with grace.

Paul, writing to the church at Corinth says, “Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor male prostitutes, nor homosexual offenders, nor thieves, nor greedy, nor drunkards, nor slanderers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But, you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of God.”

I have always wanted, when preaching, to mention this passage and then say, “As I read this passage, I want you to stand as I mention the sin that you have struggled with.” (Perhaps this is why I get asked to preach only once at so many churches). The truth is that if we truly realized the measure of grace given us in Christ, then honest revelations of the heart would be the norm and grace would fill our churches. The bottom line, when all is said and done, is, Does grace or sin win? If we extend grace the way that God says we should, grace always has the last word.

A final warning 

A final word of caution is in order here. While the suggestions mentioned here seem relatively simple, they are not. They are, in fact, impossible. Let us not forget that what has begun in us is supernatural and that we need the power of God in our lives daily to even begin the process. It is only in constantly remembering this again and again that we develop the correct attitude and learn the best approach to hurting people. Then we can be responsive to him as he leads us to be his instruments in creating a safe place for the honest revelations of the heart.

Your friendship and your church can be a safe place for honest revelations. This blog is based on a prior article by Rev. Philip Henry.

Updated 7.27.2018

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