We define a sexually faithful church this way: A church that disciples its members in a gospel worldview of sexuality through education and redemptive ministry. The major point in this simple but far-reaching statement is this: For a church to teach, lead, model, and assist its people to live faithful lives within God’s design for sex, sexuality, and gender, discipleship is the key. Discipleship is a subset of the Great Commission, “making disciples of all nations, teaching them to obey all that I have commanded.”

This is the mission of the church. Placing sexuality within the context of this mission gives focus and direction to how we address it.

There is another passage that has long been recognized as paradigmatic for the ministry of the church.

“And he gave. . . shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ. . . so that we may no longer be. . . tossed to and fro. . . by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning. . . Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up. . . into Christ, from whom the whole body. . . when each part is working properly. . . builds itself up in love.” Ephesians 4:11-16 (ESV)

We see in this description of what faithful ministry looks like a guide, also, to sexually faithful ministry. We can identify in these verses four characteristics of a church that is faithfully discipling its members in a gospel worldview of sexuality. Such a church will be biblically grounded, mercifully honest, humbly led, and ministry minded. Let me briefly describe what we mean by each one.

Biblically Grounded  

“. . . no longer. . . tossed to and fro. . . by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning. . . ”

A mom and dad sit in my office, tearfully recounting to me the conversation with their son about his coming out as gay: “Mom, don’t you know, Jesus never talked about homosexuality. Besides, the few parts of the Bible that do talk about it are not addressing someone like me, who was born this way.” They are confused. They sense that what he is saying is wrong, but don’t know what to say or think.

A group of young girls run by me in church. They are singing a song from the latest Disney movie. The chorus urges them to look inside, follow their heart, and believe in themselves.

What do these scenarios have in common? They illustrate that the world around us is discipling us—especially our kids—all the time. It should not be surprising that we are being “tossed to and fro.”

Being biblically grounded means more than settling on the right doctrinal positions. It means giving people the kind of deep and regular teaching that effectively counters the constant barrage of messages they hear in this world. It means biblical teaching on sexuality and gender that does not only focus on “the bad.” It means winsomely communicating the Bible’s message of the beauty and goodness of sex. It means explaining how God’s good design for sex and gender helps us understand him and the gospel.

A church can give all the right answers from the Bible, and yet have no connection to those in their midst who languish in isolation, paralyzed by fear and shame.

But also, it involves teaching about sexuality and gender in the context of an entire worldview. It means identifying the misunderstandings, distortions, and even lies being spread in our culture about what the Bible does or doesn’t say. The “winds of doctrine” that are tossing our churches blow from a rival world. We need to learn to recognize the worldview foundations of our culture’s messages. We need to counter them with the biblical understanding of God, of the nature of reality, of what it means to be human, of what hope we cling to, of what redemption looks like.

Mercifully Honest

“. . . speaking the truth in love. . . it builds itself up. . . ”

He was in his early seventies and had come for help in his fight against pornography. Early in our discussions, two things stood out. He had been struggling with this sin for over half a century, and I was the first person he had ever talked to about it. This, even though he had been in the church his whole life, even an officer at times. These kinds of details are significant. We have found stories like his to be very common. The amount of time varies, but the prolonged period of struggle in isolation is typical. A church can give all the right answers from the Bible, and yet have no connection to those in their midst who languish in isolation, paralyzed by fear and shame.

Talking about sex is scary enough—for people and churches. It is scary because it is so personal. Even exploration of the theological meaning of sex makes us uneasy because objective theological talk always hovers at the borders of our subjective, personal story. People’s stories are filled with failure, pain, brokenness, and powerful shame.

However, keeping our personal stories hidden in isolation and darkness is the problem that hinders us from grasping the gospel that radically changes our lives. Hiding keeps people struggling with these issues from all the help, encouragement, comfort, and life that is offered by Christ through the means of the fellowship of the saints. That fellowship requires openness and honesty. As John writes, “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another” (1 John 1:7).

But to “walk in the light,” we all need an environment that is invitingly merciful. People need to know that there is much more to be gained by coming out of isolation than to be feared. Because of the gospel, there is grace, patience, hope, encouragement, love, strength—all the blessings of union with Christ and communion with his Body, the church, are offered to the ones who step into the light through faith. But our nature is averse to faith; we are hesitant to trust the mercy offered to us. So the proclamation of this mercy cannot be lackluster. The mercy of the gospel merits special emphasis because, as fearful sinners, we need assurance that the Savior is for us.

Unfortunately, it is not just our natural fear of exposure that is a challenge here. Some have had experiences in church, or have heard of others’ experiences, which confirm their fears—people shunned, shamed, or clumsily disciplined. But often it is not particular incidents that create a church culture of hiding. It is the unintentional signals that surround every public and private interaction, the social pressure to look good, the emphasis on the external beauty of the public worship, the insistence on the correct doctrine (a good thing, but not the thing), the lack of any visible models of humble confession graciously received, the way “sin” and “sinners” are talked or joked about, the way every discussion or teaching on sex or gender tends toward culture war rather than gospel hope.

A sexually faithful church works to build a culture that is as merciful as Jesus himself. It is his mercy that calls us out of darkness and into the light of the gospel.

Humbly Led

“He gave. . . shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints. . . ”

I’ve been in many small group studies, Sunday school classes, and other church teaching events. But one stands out to me from all the rest. It was a Sunday school class for men, hitting many of the typical topics you would expect. One thing made this class different. The elders who led it made a clear commitment to lead in humility. None of us saw them make that commitment, but we saw the results.

So the proclamation of this mercy cannot be lackluster. The mercy of the gospel merits special emphasis because, as fearful sinners, we need assurance that the Savior is for us.

When it was time to discuss any topic, they took the lead in speaking honestly from the heart, freely admitting personal struggles and failures, acknowledging ongoing battles with sin and temptation, and pointing out areas where they still needed to grow in living out the truths of the gospel. It was clear from the start they were not interested in a race to the right answer. The way they modeled humility transformed that class into a place where men were encouraged to make the gospel real at the front lines of their struggles in daily life.

How these leaders lived was as important as what they taught. Leaders need the gospel like everybody else. Those who preach the gospel must also model gospel repentance and faith in their own lives. This means they don’t give the impression that they alone do not need gospel growth when it comes to sexuality. They also need to be honest about the presence of sin in their life, and of their daily reliance on Christ, seeking the power of his resurrection life to put it to death.

For all Christians, this kind of transparency happens in the context of honest and deep friendships of spiritual accountability. But leaders need to seek this kind of fellowship with urgency. The humility this engenders will cause them to deal with sinners (everyone) in their congregation with great gentleness and sympathy. It will move pastors to preach and teach on sexuality not as generals in a culture war but as shepherds mending a ravaged flock.

The Ephesians 4 passage points out that Jesus is the one who gives the church shepherds and teachers. The calling and skills of the leaders are dependent on the gifting of Jesus himself, and that engenders humility. It is a humility that shapes the way shepherds and teachers fulfill their Jesus-given purpose: to equip the saints to fulfill their mission.

Ministry Minded

“. . . the whole body, joined and held together. . . when each part is working properly. . . builds itself up in love.”

We have a fireplace in our home that we use often, but I am poorly skilled in the art of fire-starting. Almost invariably, my first try to light the fire catches flame quickly and promisingly. I settle back into a comfy chair to enjoy the warmth and ambiance of the blaze. But a few minutes later, the tongues flicker away into smoke, and I’m looking for more used newspaper and a new match.

Ministry, especially in difficult areas such as sexuality, can be like that. At Harvest USA we help local churches design and implement ministry to sexual strugglers. I was recently asked, “When these ministries start up, and then flounder, is there a common reason?”  My answer? They flounder because one significant leader either moves away from that church or loses enthusiasm from tiredness or burnout. Lone ranger ministries suffer from instability. The ministry fades like my initial fireplace effort.

Humility. . . will move pastors to preach and teach on sexuality not as generals in a culture war, but as shepherds mending a ravaged flock.

Lone ranger ministry is not the vision God gives us in Ephesians 4. There we see ministry that is broad and deep. The pastors and teachers are not the ones doing the ministry; they are equipping the saints to do it as a “whole body. . . each part working properly.” There is variety in this vision for ministry; not everyone is doing the same thing, but every part is active. And issues of sexuality and gender are essential areas of discipleship for every single person.

A sexually faithful church is discipling its people in all of their varied roles and stations: children, innocent and vulnerable; parents, overwhelmed and fearful; young adults, eager and reckless; singles, restless and anxious; marrieds, disappointed and confused; those dominated by sin, desperate and ashamed; those who think they have no sin, complacent and selfish. To minister to all these types of people, it takes an army of different people, “each part working properly.” It takes leadership that considers the unique needs of every sub-group, equipping the saints to meet these needs. This is especially so in ministry to those who have deep struggles with sexual sin. This kind of ministry needs a team. A church where the work of ministry is spread broadly and deep gains stability and momentum. It “builds itself up.” It becomes a fire that is effective and not easily extinguished.

All these characteristics describe what a sexually faithful church is. Is it possible? Absolutely—it’s God’s design, God’s work, as is written in Ephesians 2:10, “We are God’s workmanship. . . ”  We see evidence of God’s working in his church. We see more churches than ever asking for help to teach biblically on sexuality and gender. We see more talking about these issues with grace and honesty. We see pastors humbling themselves, leading in repentance. We are getting requests from churches all over the country to train teams to walk alongside those repenting from and affected by sexual sin. What about your church? Are you eager for Christ to build you up into maturity? Are you willing to be a sexually faithful church?

This article is from the harvestusa magazine Spring 2019 issue. You can read the entire issue in digital form here.

Ed was feeling overwhelmed. The couple that just left his office had been there for marriage counseling. The wife angrily revealed in the session that she discovered her husband had been looking at gay pornography. When she confronted him about it, he confessed that it had been a lifelong struggle. She felt betrayed, hurt, and doubtful that someone like her husband could ever change.

That counseling session came on the heels of last week’s revelation that one of the girls in the senior high youth group had come out as transgender and wanted her peers and youth leaders to call her by a male name. And, there was a church session meeting just days prior, where a major topic of conversation was how to effectively discipline a church member who was in an adulterous affair.

As Ed sat in his office, looking out the window, he found himself asking the question: Lord! What do I do?

__________________________

Ed’s experience illustrates a growing problem many pastors, elders, and other church leaders face: how to respond to sexual and gender-related sin and struggle in the church. How do you minister to the strugglers themselves and help them walk in increasing faith and repentance? How do you comfort and support family members who are directly impacted by their loved ones’ struggle and sin? How do you respond to church members who resist repentance? And, how and when do you engage formal church discipline?

Those actions are all good and necessary. But, they are all reactive. They come into play after the struggle or sin has been exposed and after it has caused so much damage to the lives of God’s saints. And, they constitute only one part of the ministerial responsibility pastors and church leaders face.

The other side of the pastoral care coin (and the more important of the two) is the call for the church to proactively equip its members to walk in accord with God’s timeless, sovereign, holy, and wise design for sex, sexuality, and gender. At a minimum, being proactive helps Christians understand the inherent goodness of God’s created order when the temptation comes to selfishly misuse it. Proactively preparing God’s people for life in the post-Christian, anti-authoritarian, “authentic self” 21st Century goes a long way toward heading off life-dominating struggle and sin in the first place.

Proactively preparing God’s people could have potentially minimized the impact of the painful challenges now faced by those people in Ed’s church. Could proactive ministry have even prevented some of these issues in the first place? Possibly. As Ed silently pondered his question to the Lord, he asked himself: Is there anything I could have done differently so that these people wouldn’t be struggling in the ways they are now? Is there anything I could have done in advance so I wouldn’t be dealing with these broken lives now?

Proactively preparing God’s people for life in the post-Christian, anti-authoritarian, “authentic self” 21st Century goes a long way toward heading off life-dominating struggle and sin in the first place.

To minister both reactively (to those directly impacted by sexual and gender-related sin and struggle) and proactively (to the entire membership of the visible church), the church itself must be committed to a position of sexual faithfulness. At Harvest USA, we call such churches “sexually faithful churches.”

What is a Sexually Faithful Church?                                                 

The term “sexually faithful church” might sound a bit awkward. It certainly is one I never heard until we came up with it at Harvest USA a couple of years ago. This term is one that is meant to be a bit abrasive, as it is intended to call Christians and church leaders to action.

Though the term “sexually faithful church” may be new, it is an ancient, orthodox concept. Here is how we define a sexually faithful church:

A church that disciples its members in a gospel worldview of sexuality through education and redemptive ministry.

What does that definition mean? Let’s briefly explore that definition so you have a better appreciation of where we’re going.

A church that disciples. . . A sexually faithful church is one that intentionally and proactively engages in discipleship. Intentional discipleship is how members grow in the knowledge and fear of the Lord. It is taught and lived out in a way that helps church members apply God’s redemptive grace to their lives. Doing so encourages them to grow in their understanding and appreciation of God’s design for sex, sexuality, and gender, to resist temptation, and to increase their active ministry among the community of their fellow believers. Through peer and mentor discipleship, they discover practical ways to apply that teaching to their particular lives and situations and to live faithfully as God’s covenant people.

. . . its members. . .  Members at every age level, from young children to seniors, receive age-appropriate teaching about God’s good and wise design for their bodies and desires. They receive biblical, life-changing teaching about proactive accountability and living transparently and interdependently in the Body of Christ. Proactive accountability is a way for friendships to develop where friends are not afraid of sharing their struggles and are willing to ask hard questions when the need arises. Transparency and honesty is the bedrock of solid, godly relationships.

. . . in a gospel worldview of sexuality. . .  We use the word sexuality here as a blanket term to refer to sex, sexuality, and gender. God’s people learn that these attributes of created existence and image bearing are theirs precisely because, through the right exercise and enjoyment of them, we not only honor God, but we reveal his wisdom and glory to each other and the world. In a culture that says we are nothing more than the collection of feelings and desires that drive us, to understand and rest in God’s design for sex, sexuality, and gender bestows an uncommon dignity and glory on men and women as God’s image bearers and his servant-kings over his creation.

But our modern culture tells us that a gospel worldview of sex, sexuality, and gender is not only wrong but that it is also harmful to human flourishing. We’re told that teaching a historic gospel worldview on these issues of human personhood is culturally uninformed, out of touch, insensitive, and unloving. A sexually faithful church educates its members to know how to discern the distortions and falsehoods that increasingly deceive Christians into thinking that to love others means never to challenge their worldviews or their behavior. In other words, the sexually faithful church instructs its members on how to compassionately, patiently, and winsomely speak the truth in love to others.

 A Special Call to the Sexually Faithful Church

The call to be proactive in discipling God’s people in biblical sexuality must also deal with an issue the Church has not done well with: sexual abuse and the traumatic repercussions that come with it.

First, the church must acknowledge the hiddenness of this sin and work diligently to care for the victims of sexual abuse, recognizing the devastating impact abuse has on survivors. The church should compassionately help and support survivors to heal and to flourish spiritually, emotionally, and socially.

Second, the church must address the issue of the offenders when the abuse is within the congregation. It must not fail to engage the authorities to see that the laws of the state are upheld, in both investigation and prosecution. And then, it must carefully guard the entire church with policies and procedures that protect against further abuse while helping the offenders to repent and grow. Restrictions on offenders are not punitive; they are restorative for everyone.

Proactive accountability is a way for friendships to develop where friends are not afraid of sharing their struggles and are willing to ask hard questions when the need arises. Transparency and honesty is the bedrock of solid, godly relationships.

And third, a sexually faithful church must never shield its leaders from appropriate investigation when allegations are made against them. Careful investigation by those who are not close to the people involved is what is needed to uncover the facts and seek the truth. That will mean getting outside consultation from professionals and a willingness to listen to them and act on their input. Our people need to see this from us. The world needs to see this from us—because one cover-up scandal after another is steadily turning people away from the institution of the Church. How can we persuade people to follow God in this area of sexuality when we misuse it, and then lie about it?

The History of the Sexually Faithful Church

God commanded his people in the Ten Commandments and elsewhere throughout the Law to be sexually faithful. There are numerous New Testament instructions to be sexually faithful; perhaps the most direct of which is Paul’s admonition to “Flee from sexual immorality” in 1 Corinthians 6:18.

But this imperative is more than a bare command. God’s people are instructed, throughout the length and breadth of Scripture, to both obey the Law and to do so in the context of transparent community.

That instruction goes back to the beginning of Israel as a covenant community. During the period when God established the first community of believers under Moses, he made clear the manner through which God’s people were to be trained in the knowledge and fear of God and equipped to live faithfully. That manner was twofold: teaching, followed by accountability in community. Let’s look at each of them in more detail.

Teaching is commanded to take place in different venues and to different audiences. The Law was to be read publicly to the entire congregation during certain public worship observances (Deuteronomy 31:10-11). Parents were commanded “diligently” to teach the Word of God to their children, in all sorts of settings: “talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise” (Deuteronomy 6:7).  Living out the instruction of God’s Word, in the most deliberate manner, was to be a way of life in the home.

While the community was to receive the recitation of the Law in public worship and talk about it with their families, they were also commanded to focus on God’s revelation during their “quiet time.” Psalm 119 was written as a celebration of God’s Law as the perfect pattern for life itself. Readers are exhorted to “do as I do,” with reference to the writer’s words: “I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways” (Psalm 119:15). And, it goes almost without saying, that throughout the Old Testament there are the specific commands forbidding certain sexual behaviors (Leviticus) and the agony God displays in dealing with Israel’s adultery (see the Prophets).

In the New Covenant, Paul tells his hearers in Romans 12:2 that covenant believers will be transformed in all respects as their minds are renewed through interacting with God’s Word. He says to Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:15-16 that being intimately acquainted with Scripture makes us “wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” and that Scripture makes us “complete [and] equipped for every good work.” In a remarkable passage, Paul implores the church at Thessaloniki to intentionally live sexually faithful lives based on the instruction “you received from us (in) how you ought to walk and please God” (1 Thessalonians 4:1-8).

Whether in the context of the covenant community or the family or alone, God’s people are to remember God’s Word on a daily basis. We are meant to live it out and be utterly transformed by it.

A sexually faithful church educates its members to know how to discern the distortions and falsehoods that increasingly deceive Christians into thinking that to love others means never to challenge their worldviews or their behavior.

This transformation is not for us alone, merely for individual personal growth. We are messengers of the gospel, and the way we live—and that specifically includes the way we live in and with these bodies God has given to us—is so that we will “shine like lights” in a broken world (see Philippians 2:15). This is the fulfillment of the promise made to Abraham in Genesis 22:18: “and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.”

To the extent that we, Abraham’s spiritual offspring, obey the fullness of the revelation from that same Teacher, we shall indeed bless those around us in our families, workplaces, schools, and communities.

A Vision for the 21st Century Sexually Faithful Church

To be sure, becoming a sexually faithful church requires a commitment to culture change in our churches. That commitment occurs both at the organizational level (the whole church) and the individual level (the particular believer). It requires a commitment to participate in a lifestyle of discipleship with other believers.

Culture change means teaching God’s people what Scripture really teaches about sex, sexuality, and gender—and that God, as wise and loving Designer of human beings, is the only Authority on how these aspects of personhood should be enjoyed. The sexually faithful church must help its members learn how to discern theological truth from distortion and to know how to engage cultural lies with confidence. Whether it involves compassionate correction or a more robust rebuke, communicating God’s will on these issues must always be the truth, spoken in love.

Harvest USA will launch the Sexually Faithful Church Initiative later in 2019. In the months to come, you’ll see more and more resources produced by Harvest USA to help your church become, increasingly, a sexually faithful church. We realize that educating and equipping the members of your church to become a sexually faithful church is a process. We want to partner with you to help make it a reality—for the glory of God, and a witness to the world.

This article is from the harvestusa magazine Spring 2019 issue. You can read the entire issue in digital form here.


Tim has more thoughts on this topic and shares them in the accompanying video: What Is a Sexually Faithful Church? These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc

What if the Church were to increasingly be a place where God’s people were equipped proactively to understand his will and design for sex, sexuality, and gender? Where they were discipled to live in submission to God’s design, because they understand something of God’s wisdom and grace in giving them these good gifts?

That’s what the Sexually Faithful Church Initiative is all about. It’s a movement Harvest USA is starting later this year, because we want the Church to be the place where God’s people not only learn about what behavior God forbids, but where God’s people are discipled and equipped to live faithfully because they understand the character of the Giver and the nature of the Gift. Watch this video from Tim Geiger to learn more. You can also read Tim’s blog “Why a Sexually Faithful Church?” that accompanies this video.

More and more Christians are entering marriage with a sexual past. Couples need to be aware that virtually no one is entering marriage free of sexual struggle and sin. For this reason, Ellen Dykas explains how to begin talking about your sexual history and why it’s critical to discuss past and current sexual struggles before engagement and marriage. To learn more, read Ellen’s blog, “Sexual History: Why You Need to Address it Before Getting Engaged.

What happens when a couple enters marriage, and they don’t really know each other? Of course, engaged and newlywed couples can’t possibly know each other to the degree they will after years of marriage. Wise pre-marital counseling usually addresses important issues like family history, faith, finances, children, sex, roles, etc. However, often people marry having avoided a critical component of their story: sexual history.

When a woman and man commit to marriage, it should mirror God’s eternal, exclusive, united-together relationship with his people (Ephesians 5:25-33). The unique one-flesh relationship (Genesis 2:241) of marriage refers to a concept broader than sexual intimacy. Marriage involves two people becoming one in sharing all of life and an intimate knowing of each other.

That’s why knowing your future spouse’s sexual history is so important. Sexual history refers to experiences of sexual activity with another person, with self, mediated through technology, sexual fantasy, etc. Knowing a person’s sexual history includes understanding what the struggle has looked like as far as length of time, frequency of giving in to temptation, attempts to fight and overcome sin, and a willingness to be transparent and accountable with others. Sexual history also includes traumatic experiences of being sexually harassed or abused.

There are many reasons people avoid discussing their sexual history: fear, shame, and feeling intimidated by tough topics are just a few. Private sins like porn and masturbation sometimes seem to fade out when a dating relationship is going well. Some unwisely say things like, “Let the past be the past; move on into the future with this person you love and start fresh!”

Why it’s wise to discuss sexual history before you get engaged.

Most brides begin wedding preparation within days of getting engaged. It’s an exciting time as engagement communicates, I’m committing myself to marry you, as is. Before a couple gets engaged, they should be able to say: “I know your strengths, weaknesses, temptations, sins and the pattern of your life. I want to marry you knowing what I know.”

When dating and engaged couples hide the real deal of their sexual history and current struggles from their loved one, they set the stage for broken trust and future broken hearts.

Jesus strengthens and comforts you in the process of sharing your sexual history.

This may feel scary, but you’re not alone as you consider honest conversations with the man or woman you’re dating or engaged to. Jesus is with you to guide, encourage, and enable you to do the right thing and walk in the light rather than hide or avoid.

Secondly, God promises mercy to those who walk in the light. Proverbs 28:13 says, “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.” His mercy comes through forgiveness, redemption, and providing friends to walk with you through this process.

Finally, Jesus is your eternal companion and spouse. He is with you for all of time and will never abandon you! Your relationship may or may not survive the vulnerable process of sharing your sexual past, but Jesus will never leave you or forsake you.

General principles for sharing sexual history.

Here are some general ideas to help you think through this process:

  1. Remember, the goal is to be known as someone who needs God’s grace in this area, not to vent or dump all the nitty-gritty details of sexual behaviors. Ask a wise friend or mentor to pray for you and help you discern what you need to share.
  2. Next, remember that this will be an ongoing conversation, not an intense, one time tell-all. Cultivating patient listening and transparent sharing will set your relationship on a healthy trajectory for marriage if you move forward.
  3. When is the best time to begin these conversations? There isn’t a spiritual formula to figure out the exact moment when a couple should share with one another about their sexual history. Each relationship is unique; however, if both of you are seriously considering marriage, then it’s important to begin revealing parts of your sexual past.
  4. If you’re on the receiving end of hearing a dating partner’s sexual past, here are the important things you want to find out. Keep in mind that you’re not looking for perfection but integrity and commitment to walk in repentance.

• How is he/she seeking to walk in faith and repentance? Is it all-out or half-hearted?
• Does this person have solid friendships in his/her life, people who both love and ask the hard questions in light of knowing him/her?
• If sexual sin is a present tense reality, what is the trajectory of the struggle? Is there a decrease in giving way to temptation and an increasing strength to resist and flee?

If your partner is half-hearted, casual, and/or doesn’t see any of this as a big deal, STOP. Do not proceed forward in this relationship. Words of affection, promises to love you, and even a commitment to pray more are not enough! You need to see ongoing, intentional steps to flee sin and grow in Christ before you take one more relational step with this person.

Sexual history is an important and significant topic to discuss in dating relationships, especially if you are considering marriage. But remember, such history does not define or identify any of us; Jesus does! He’s the King of his kingdom and so as we trust him, rest in his love and grace, we’ll have the wisdom we need for our relationships.

This blog first appeared on enCourage, the PCA’s website for Women’s Ministry, but it has been slightly edited for this post.

Ellen talks more about sexual history on her accompanying video: Why Couples Who Are Considering Marriage Need to Share Their Sexual History. These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.

During Jesus’ earthly ministry, he often called people to give up one thing to gain something better. He told the rich young ruler to sell all of his possessions to gain treasures in heaven. He told Peter and Andrew to give up their profession of fishing to become fishers of men.  And in Mark 8:34-38, he calls his disciples to the most radical exchange yet. He said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it” (vv. 34-35).

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a pastor who returned to Germany during the Nazi regime to pastor the Church in resisting Hitler, is famous for these words: “When Jesus call a man, he bids him come and die.” For Bonhoeffer, he lost his life in following Christ.

The invitation to lose your life is not just for martyrs. The call to lose your life for Christ’s sake is inherent in the Gospel message itself. And this invitation to lose your life to find it is the hope that Jesus extends to a man or woman wrestling with porn.

Porn usage is about worshiping idols. Idols are those things we use to find life, especially to fill the emptiness we feel when our lives aren’t giving us what we think we need.

One of the biggest lies that our idols feed us is that you can find life in them at no cost.  Porn holds out empty promises of intimacy, satisfaction, control, comfort, and the rush of feeling alive. And it offers them immediately.

Pornography offers you false life while hiding its dagger of death.  Jesus offers you true life while explaining the cost up front.

But the hook in that bait is that it takes from us much more than it could ever offer. Yes, pornography offers euphoric pleasure for a brief time, but it will eventually take everything you hold dear. It will take your integrity, your relationships, perhaps your job, your peace, and ultimately, it will take your soul. This is why Jesus pleads with the crowd gathered around him: “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?”

Pornography offers you false life while hiding its dagger of death.  Jesus offers you true life while explaining the cost up front. Yes, following Jesus will cost you your life. But when you see that he lost his life to give you yours, you will begin to see that the false life that porn offers was never worth keeping in the first place.

Paul testifies to this exchange in Philippians 3. Paul’s life was wrapped up in his status, his performance, and his pedigree as a Pharisee. He found all of his satisfaction and value outside of Christ. But once he saw the surpassing worth of knowing Christ and being found in him, he saw all that he was giving up as rubbish. It was all loss compared to gaining Christ. I trust that all of us in Christ have tasted at least glimpses of this reality.

But lest we paint an unrealistic picture of this exchange, we need to acknowledge that the life Christ offers us is received through much suffering, and it must be received by faith!

Paul acknowledged that he suffered the loss of all things so that he might gain Christ. “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of knowing Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus as my Lord” (vv.7-8).

Losing our lives is not an easy process. Jesus said that to come after him, we need to deny ourselves and take up our cross. There is a cross to carry in order to fight against pornography.  It is, first, a cross of denying urges and desires which scream at us to satisfy them.

But it is not only lust that dies a painful death, because pornography is a means by which people seek to satisfy all kinds of desires. People turn to pornography to escape loneliness, to find comfort in stressful seasons, to get a sense of intimacy with others, to experience what it feels like to be accepted and desired. And pornography offers experiences that feel like those desires are being met.

It is only on the far side of faith that we receive God’s good promises for us. It requires no faith to find comfort in pornography. But comfort without faith only leads to death.

So, when Jesus calls us to lose our lives in our fight against pornography, he is calling us to give him all of those desires and all of the autonomous ways we have sought to satisfy them.

He is inviting us to pray in this way, “Lord Jesus, my desire to feel comfort in the midst of stress, I give that over to you. Lord, I acknowledge that I have desired comfort more than I have desired fellowship with you. I confess that I have sacrificed honoring you in exchange for satisfying myself. And I also confess that I have not waited on you and trusted you for your comfort. I sought to take matters into my own hands instead of seeking life from you, the life-giver. I believed the lie that obedience never leads to satisfaction. Lord help me to wait on you for your comfort. Help me to receive by faith your promise to satisfy my heart with good things.”

It is only on the far side of faith that we receive God’s good promises for us. It requires no faith to find comfort in pornography. But comfort without faith only leads to death.

Jesus is inviting you, brother and sister, to find life in him. The world, the flesh, and the devil all proclaim with one voice that following Jesus by faith is foolishness. But that voice comes from a thief who came to steal and kill and destroy. Jesus, along with a great cloud of witnesses, calls you to lose your life for his sake in order to find it. And he came that you may have life, and have it abundantly.


Mark talks more about this on his accompanying video: Losing Your Life While Losing Porn. These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.

Pornography is more than looking at sexual images; it’s an all-encompassing worldview that many men and women embrace to find relief from their struggles in life. But by turning to porn, they find deeper struggles. Jesus shows us a way out and forward:  lay down your life. Lose it in order to find it.

Click here to read more on what Mark is saying on his blog: “Losing Your Life: Jesus’ Invitation to a Porn Struggler”

I hope my first three blogs in this series have helped you consider taking some practical steps to increasingly live with sexual integrity in your life and your relationships.

We’ve looked at how, by faith, we need to throw off anything that distracts or hinders us (blog 1); to learn how to persevere through tough times and not give up (blog 2); and to watch over our hearts to discern when discouragement and discontentment will set us up for failure (blog 3).

In this final blog on making progress in living a life of sexual integrity, here’s the fourth thing we need to do: to keep Jesus and the race he ran in the front of our minds and hearts. It’s this fourth thing that undergirds all the others in pursuing sexual integrity.

We need to take encouragement to put on the mind of Christ, who himself kept one primary goal in his mind during his race.

It’s both an encouragement and a challenge for me to ponder this exhortation: Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:13, ESV).

Peter’s words encourage me when I’m weary or discouraged. Sometimes life feels overwhelmingly tough, even when it has nothing to do with sexual integrity! Or sometimes old temptations rise back up, and I can feel shame in finding myself struggling with the same thing again. But if I prepare my mind for action, I can turn towards God and trusted friends for help and encouragement right when I need it.

Just last week a friend helped me become “sane” again when I was struggling with the seedling of an old sin pattern that emerged again. Her text message to me read, “We need to pray together about this before it grows into something bigger!”

In pride, I hesitated at first but then welcomed the invitation to confess, examine, and pray with someone about the situation. My friend helped me set my hope on Christ, that he would give me what I needed, and that kept me from spiraling inward and getting stuck in examining my temptation, rather than fixing my eyes on Christ and his very present help for me.

Now, there’s everything right in examining our hearts and gaining clarity on the temptations facing us, but we can do that and not take the next step. It’s the next step that is crucial!

I needed to have my thinking reoriented by both the present grace and the future grace that Christ gives me. I needed to hope again in what God can do in and through my present struggles (read that verse in 1 Peter again).

Peter’s words challenge me that I must also put my hope in the grace which is to come: the ultimate redemption which will fill the earth upon Christ’s return. It’s so important to practice redemptive remembering both backward and forward: that Christ has finished his race and that the glorious and final overcoming of sin, death, and the kingdom of darkness is coming. It is still yet to come, but it IS coming!

OK, you say, how does looking ahead help me now in my present struggles with pornography, or sexual fantasy, or unholy relationships that I get myself entangled in?

Remember earlier when I said to put on the mind of Christ, who himself kept one primary goal in his mind during his race? We need to realize that Jesus had us in mind when he endured temptation and suffering!

Hebrews 12: 2-3 says, “…looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross…Consider him who endured such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.”

Thinking about, reflecting upon, meditating on Jesus’ sufferings and his obedience through everything he endured is the key way we faithfully walk our race of faith.

Our mind is to have Christ in mind; our goal is to honor Christ, to glorify him, in how we grow to trust him and live for him.

Jesus’ mind was to have us in his mind; his goal was to anticipate the joy he would have when his death and resurrection secured our place with him.

“…who for the joy set before him endured the cross…”

There is a finish line. Look at it, like Jesus did. All of human history is moving toward Revelation 4 and 21, which speaks of Jesus sitting on the throne, the One who will wipe away every tear from our eyes. All sin, death, suffering, every struggle you have had in running this race of faith will be overturned; everything will be made new (Revelation 21:5).

And then you will fully believe that it was all worth it.

Sisters, don’t live and act like this life is all there really is. Don’t live out of the acronym FOMO (fear of missing out) and think and live sexually in ways that dishonor Christ because you are not getting your needs met.

RUN, sisters, RUN this race of faith with sexual integrity! Find running companions. Don’t try to go solo. As Hebrews 12 says, when our hands are drooping and our knees are wobbly and weak, God sends encouragement through other believers, other runners in the race of faith.

Let’s together help one another to grow in living with sexual integrity, urging one another to look to Jesus when this dark world distracts or entices us.

We can persevere in this life of faith by considering Jesus: our great High Priest, our Loving Savior, the One who sat down on the throne…and is coming again to complete the work he has started!

Link to Part 1.Part 2.Part 3.


You can watch Ellen talk more on this subject here in her video, Running the Race Well—Part 4. These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.
 Updated 6.13.2017, 5.31.2018

Running my race of faith well and with sexual integrity is tough! If I’m going to make progress in living a life of sexual integrity, I need to handle four things well. First, I need to intentionally throw off distractions and everything that hinders me (my first blog on this). Second, I need to persevere, learning that hanging tough in rough times is when I most experience Christ’s strength and comfort (my second blog).

Now, another thing: I’ve come to see how crucial it is to watch over my heart and be aware of when discontentment is hovering and lingering. I need to be honest about painful circumstances and deep disappointments that I’m facing.

Why these things? What do they have to do with living a life of sexual integrity?

Because disappointment tends to grow into discontentment, and discontentment can lead us in one of two directions. Which direction you go in is critical.

Positively, a growing sense of discontentment in my life can lead me to run to God, which is exactly what he wants us to do. Hebrews 12:1-13, which is the passage I’m looking at in all these blogs, says that I’m to run the path “marked out for us” (NIV). This path—filled with disappointments and discontentment—is the one God will use in my life to transform me.

I need to stay in this lane.

In other words, sexual integrity (living honestly and intentionally within God’s stated boundaries for sexuality) is not something that is just handed to us. It is pursued and embraced as we wrestle with the fallenness of our own hearts and all of life in general. God intends that trouble and pain would draw us to himself in dependence and humility.

Hebrews 4:16 says beautifully, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (ESV). I would suspect that, like me, millions of people throughout history have crumpled down at that throne with aching and disappointed hearts. The One sitting on the throne graciously welcomes disappointed and discontented people!

Look at Hebrews 4:16 again. Do you see it? Jesus embraces us when we run to him with aching and angsty hearts!

What surprises many people is that pornography, and even sexual fantasy, are not primarily fueled by sexual lust. Lust is a key part of it, but it first begins in a heart that is failing to handle disappointment and discontentment well.

But on the negative side of disappointment and discontentment, it can lead us in a dark and dangerous direction. Instead of going to Jesus, we go anywhere and elsewhere. Why? Because our painful emotions seek relief, seek escape, seek comfort.

Recently a woman confessed how years of looking at pornography created a fantasy world in her mind. It was a quick and easy place of escape when trouble came. Her fantasy world was simply more appealing than the real world in which she lived. It was as if her heart said, “That path God marked out for me? I’m not going there!”

What surprises many people is that pornography, and even sexual fantasy, are not primarily fueled by sexual lust. Lust is a key part of it, but it first begins in a heart that is failing to handle disappointment and discontentment well.

In the case of this young woman, emotional lust and a craving to feel good (loved, pursued, celebrated) propelled her towards the unreal world of sexual fantasy and pornography. The places in her life that were disappointing to her (her singleness, her loneliness in not having women friends, and some tough, physical trials) seemed to vanish in the hours she spent online.

So, what was this woman to do—just “sit” in her disappointment? Should she believe the lie that echoed in her heart: “This is your lot in life. Just deal with it!”?

Absolutely not! Jesus calls her to himself, not to a fatalistic resignation about her life. As I said in my second blog, God isn’t calling us to merely gut it out.

Jesus wants her to fix her eyes on him, trusting that he is with her on this path and that he will provide what she needs. Her life is filled with trials and temptations, but also with an abundance of mercy and comfort from God that is readily available to her.

He wants her to stay in her lane, fixing her hopes on him rather than frantically escaping her troubling emotions. Jesus, who is with her on this path, is the reality her heart really needs. Made-up worlds in our minds, sexual or not, can’t offer lasting comfort or peace!

To run the race of faith with sexual integrity, we must be honest about how we struggle with discontentment. I struggled for years with my own escape to fantasy life, but I’m thankful that I’m not tempted to look at porn or to rent movies that are sensual or sexual. I’m saying this to encourage you, that it is possible to overcome deep-seated sin patterns!

However, when the stress of ministry and responsibilities are high, I can be tempted to run after Netflix, Redbox, or the hundreds of free DVDs at the public library. And when I give way to escaping into entertainment in an unplanned way, out come the salty snacks. Unplanned eating leads to overeating for me.

Running in the path marked out for me means fixing my eyes on Jesus when life is simply hard, when nothing seems to go well. It means calling out for help to Jesus and to his people, confessing my weaknesses, burdens, and the sinful temptations that lurk all around me.

Staying in my lane also means that in the toughness of life, I submit to God’s authority as my loving Lord and allow my heart to go where Mary’s did. When faced with an unbelievable task, to do something that was impossible because of who she was, she replied, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).

Oh, to grow in that kind of peaceful trust of God when the path marked out for me is different from my plans and even my desires. With Christ in us and beside us, we can run this race well! We can stay in our lanes with our hearts fixed on Jesus.

Link to: Part 1.Part 2.Part 4.


You can watch Ellen talk more on this subject here in her video, Running the Race Well—Part 3. These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.
Updated 5.22.2017, 5.31.2018

In the Bible, living out one’s faith is sometimes referred to as a race. A race we are called to run well—and that includes living with our sexuality. Living a life of sexual integrity involves perseverance—and that is something Jesus enables us to do.

Click the following link to dig deeper into what Ellen is saying on in this blog: Women: Running the race well—Part 2.


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