I have a question that I have been struggling with for a while and never had the courage to ask. I am a Christian single woman. I recently began to experience a same-sex attraction. I did not act on it or give in to it, but the shame and guilt are so heavy. I feel like God has given me over to sin, and I have been pleading with Him to take it away. It scares me horribly to think of being given over, like God has given me up. Why would God allow this in me?
I was in a relationship with a Christian guy and broke it off. I feel like I don't deserve to be in a relationship or be married if I have these temptations. I know that every sin is equal, but as a Christian, I think that it shouldn't become harder to walk in the light.
Several years ago, I was really into sexual fantasies. It was a bondage that I know damaged me, but the Lord saved me from that, and it is no longer a bondage. But now this. I feel almost like it would be better to be with the Lord than to struggle like this, as though my witness is gone. I don't know what to think.
Thank you for your courageous question. Too often Christians feel so ashamed of struggles with their sexuality that they suffer in silence.
In preparing to write this column I looked for help from a short book called Is God Anti-Gay? by Sam Allberry, associate pastor of St. Mary's Church in Maidenhead, UK. Allberry describes himself "as someone who experiences same-sex attraction." And yet he serves as a pastor. He has not lost his witness. In fact, he has a powerful witness. He says,
…what Jesus calls me to do is exactly what he calls anyone to do…. 'Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me' (Mark 8:34). It is the same for us all — 'whoever.' I am to deny myself, take up my cross and follow him. Every Christian is called to costly sacrifice. Denying yourself does not mean tweaking your behaviour here and there. It is saying 'No' to your deepest sense of who you are, for the sake of Christ.
Is it harder for someone struggling with same-sex attraction to follow Christ? Allberry says people assume that of him,
…as though I have more to give up than they do. But the fact is that the gospel demands everything of all of us. If someone thinks the gospel has somehow slotted into their life quite easily, without causing any major adjustments to their lifestyle or aspirations, it is likely that they have not really started following Jesus at all.
Allberry asks, "Is God anti-gay?" and answers, "No." He writes, "But he is against who all of us are by nature, as those living apart from him and for ourselves."
The fact that you have not acted on your feelings is evidence that God has not "given you over to sin," as you say. But that's not the only evidence. Your struggle against temptation is evidence of your faith in Christ. Allberry says,
It is not un-christian to experience same-sex attraction any more than it is un-christian to get sick. What marks us out as Christian is not that we never experience such things, but how we respond to them when we do.
I've experienced fly-by thoughts of curiosity toward porneia, the Bible's word for all sexual activity outside of marriage. This is the human condition in our broken world. We are all sexually broken because we are sons and daughters of Adam and Eve. The question isn't why do these temptations happen (see Genesis 3), but rather, what are we to do about these thoughts and feelings when they do.
When I am tempted to look at a man with lustful intent, I fight the temptation. How? By calling it what it is: sin; by looking away; and if I think sinful thoughts, by confessing them to God in prayer and asking Him for forgiveness. Also the church is called to be a place of refuge for confession. James 5:16 says, "Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working."
How might it look for you to confess your struggle to your pastor and other close, trusted Christian friends? I think Allberry's book is helpful here, too. He talks about his own experience of telling his friends and his church that he struggles with same-sex attraction (SSA) — keep in mind that he's one of the church's pastors. He writes, "It was a lengthy process and in some ways quite emotionally exhausting. But it was one of the best things I have ever done." He talks elsewhere in the book about ways that pastors and other church members can help fellow believers who struggle in this way.
Pastor care for those with SSA does not need to be structured, but it does need to be visible. Many churches now run support groups for members battling with SSA; others provide mentoring or prayer-partner schemes.
Those with SSA need to know that the church is ready to support and help them, and that it has people with a particular heart and insight to be involved in this ministry.
What he describes is biblically prescribed life in the body where we encourage one another and do all the "one-anothering" set forth in the New Testament. A biblical church family is essential to the Christian life even as it's an essential part of fighting sin.
Colossians 3:5 says, "Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry." The great Puritan theologian John Owen put it this way, "We must be killing sin, or it will be killing us." This is the opposite of all the messages around us which tell us to be true to ourselves and embrace our heart's desires, whatever they are. We must be careful when we do what we most want; often what we most want is sin.
You are right to fight your temptations. First Peter 2:11 says, "Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul." Notice the battle imagery. This is not a casual disturbance within us; it is war. Ephesians 6 urges us to suit-up for the battle.
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm (6:10-13).
How many of us have thought, I would rather die than struggle? You're in good company. See Jonah, Job, David, etc. But God doesn't give us that option. The struggle feels long, but set against eternity, it will be but a moment. Ask God, "How can I glorify You in the fight?" The hope of the Gospel is that when we are redeemed, the power that raised Christ from the dead is at work in us to change our desires and strengthen us to flee temptation and put sin to death.
Paul wrote to the believers at Philippi, urging them to persevere in their faith, "And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ." Paul labored under intense persecution (2 Corinthians 11:24-28), bearing in his body the marks of Christ, and endured the ever-present "thorn in the flesh." He asked God to deliver him, but God in His wisdom said no. This is the same Paul who wrote,
Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this [suffering] will turn out for my deliverance, as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account (Philippians 1:18b-24).
He looked forward to heaven, but he knew remaining on earth would benefit the people he loved, fellow members of the body of Christ. Paul endured for his fellow believers in Philippi and for us. We have the New Testament in large part due to his endurance, faithfulness and obedience. He submitted to God's will, even when it was painful, which was often. We are called to no less.
We must war against the world that feeds us ideas we might not otherwise conceive of (1 John 2:16); the flesh that conceives of what doesn't even enter the mind of God (Jeremiah 7:31); and the devil whose sole purpose is to steal, kill and destroy (John 10:10). These are powerful forces Christians are called to stand against. But because of God's great love for us, we are not left to our own strength or resources.
I will be praying for you.
Copyright 2015 Candice Watters. All rights reserved.