An interesting and thoughtful answer to a tricky pastoral question from living out
A very well observed piece in the Week on what is going on in the gay marriage debate and why Christians won’t back down.
(HT: Yvonne Nickerson)
Living out is a new resource for anyone who wants to think through issues of same-sex attraction from a biblical perspective. Put together by friends of mine their example, honesty and desire to serve the God they love in faithful ways is a remarkable example to us all. Please make use of the resource to equip the church to understand the issues, find help for your own struggles and use it to pray for these men at a time like this.
Here are my notes (part 1) from a City Church men’s breakfast held last Saturday morning exploring issues of lust and pornography.
A. Why can’t we talk about it?
1) a secret sin
2) a shameful sin
3) a highly-addictive sin
4) a debilitating sin
5) an enslaving sin
6) an isolating sin
All of which is a recipe for denial and deceit.
B. Why might we not be in the fight?
2) We’ve tried everything and failed
3) We don’t know how to apply the gospel to sexual sin in a way that helps us fight sin
4) We dare not ask for help or speak to others about our sin
C. Is change possible?
Yes,by God’s grace. Change happens when you
1) Face your behaviour honestly
2) Understand the roots of your behaviour
3) Go to God to work true (gospel) change in your behaviour
4) Include others as God’s change-agents in your behaviour
1) Face up to your behaviour
Flee sexual immorality – 1 Corinthians 6:18
a) What is it doing to God?
- Dishonouring God – 1 Cor. 6:18-20
- Denying Christ – 1 Cor.6:18-20
- Grieving the Spirit – Ephesians 4:30
b) What is it doing to me?
- Robbing you of your joy
- Rendering you ineffective in ministry
- Weighing you down with a guilty conscience
- Creating barriers between you and your wife, girlfriend
- Our salvation is at stake
- Hebrews 12:14 - Without holiness no one will see the Lord
- Matthew 5:27-30 - “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.
- Ephesians 5:3-5 - But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a man is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.
c) What is it doing to my spouse (future spouse)?
Porn (or lust more generally) hijacks your brain. One secular author has said:
Countless men have described to me how while using porn, they have lost the ability to relate or be close to women. They have trouble being turned on by “real” women, and their sex lives with their girlfriends or wives collapse.
2) Understand your behaviour
The problem is in your heart and not in your Internet provider – Mark Driscoll
a) Understand and avoid the circumstances in which you are tempted.
David Pawlinson advises asking ourselves to work out the triggers for temptation;
- When does it happen? What is going on? What happened that day?
- What were you thinking about? What was the nature of the temptation?
- What did you do about it? Did you act on it?
- If you didn’t act on it, how did that happen?
- If you did what did you do after you fell?
- How did you recover? What was the after-effect?
Keeping this journal will help you see what is really going on in your struggle with pornography. As you start to grapple with your deeper sin patterns, you’ll see that your problem is much bigger, your need for grace is much deeper, and your goal is much more magnificent than you ever imagined.
b) Understand the underlying causes of sexual temptation
Is it hardship, boredom, hurt, anger, betrayal, loneliness?
Sexual temptation is rarely simply about sex. Sexual temptation is usually much more about idolatry. When we stumble into sexual sin what we are seeking is a form of salvation. In secular language we might say ‘escapism’ but what we are really doing is asking our fantasies to rescue us from a world of insignificance, rejection, loneliness, boredom, etc.
Tim Chester writes:
Our longing for porn is a version of our longing for God.
The following six-points are adapted from Tim Chester’s book and highlight how in six different ways we look to pornography to save us from ourselves. He then goes on to show how the gospel is the real answer to our temptations.
i. Porn says ‘in my world you’re significant’
The fantasy-world of pornography is attractive to people because at least in that world they are not only noticed but they rule! Porn provides a fantasy world in which you’re potent, adored, the centre of attention. Women ‘offer’ themselves to you. That is a very attractive thought to self-centred fallen humanity.
Is that really good news?
Any gospel that put’s you at the centre and through which everyone else exists only to serve you is not good news at all. It’s not only fake reality but a very damaging one! The gospel is the daily lesson of learning not to see yourself as the only one that matters.
God’s gospel also says ‘in my world you’re significant’ but in a true way.
We’re significant because we matter to God. He loves and adores us but not because we are lovely but simply because he has chosen to love us. So we receive God’s love in an undeserved way because of Jesus. The result – God is in his proper place and I am in mine.
ii. Porn says ‘in my world you’ll never be lonely’
Porn promises the relationship we seek and the intimacy we crave. In the world of porn I don’t face rejection and I never need feel lonely.
As Tim Chester comments; Porn offers a safe alternative to intimacy
‘It seemed like a safe way to be sexually active without getting involved in a real relationship.’
‘Fearing rejection, we retreat into the fantasy world of porn in which women adore us and offer themselves to us without risk.’
God’s gospel is one in which he says ‘in my world you’ll never be lonely’.
Rather than retreating in false intimacy because we cannot risk rejection. The gospel offers us the unconditional acceptance that I crave and need. In a relationship with God that will go on for ever.
I may or may not enjoy the intimacy of marriage and of a sexual union in this life but the gospel promise is that human intimacy even between a husband and a wife is just pointing us ahead to the perfection of an intimacy with God that will continue for ever.
iii. Porn says ‘I can make your problems disappear’
Porn for so many is a form of escapism. People leaving their problems far behind as they seek an adrenaline fuelled high. Porn offers to takes you to another place on a legal high.
So when circumstances are too daunting. When you’re facing exams, deadlines, difficulties at home or work the quick fix of porn is the gospel for many.
Is that really good news?
Like any other form of abuse porn creates its own vicious circle. It gives you a brief high but then comes the big low of shame and guilt. And so you repeat it all over again.
God says ‘Do not escape your troubles – know God in your troubles’
Escapism is a failure to come to terms with reality and an unwillingness to face up to life in a fallen world. For the Christian valuable lessons are learnt in the troubles. Lessons that often can’t be learned any other way.
Paul pleaded with the Lord to take away his troubles ‘the thorn in his flesh’ but Jesus said ‘my grace is sufficient’. That is the good news of the gospel.
Paul writes: Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.(Philippians 4:5-6)
iv. Porn says ‘I am your reward for a good life lived’
For some porn is a form of escapism from the pressures of life but at other times it can function as a reward for endurance. Maybe the temptation comes from the thought that my hard-work goes unrecognised at home or work or in an even more subtle and perverse way my sacrifice for the gospel goes un-thanked then porn says I can compensate you for your labours or I can reward you for…
We might say ‘I’m giving up stuff for Christ, even the chance to be sexually active as an unmarried Christian man and porn is my compensation.’
God gospel promises a reward for obedience that is a good ultimate and lasting joy
Porn may tempt with a quick fix but it is Christ who promises a true reward when we work hard for him. Yes, we may have to wait for our final reward and it is primarily a future one but the promise of blessing now for those who serve him well is given by Jesus too.
Jesus says: I tell you the truth, Jesus said to them, no-one who has left home or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age and, in the age to come, eternal life. (Luke 18:29-30)
Chester comments: The life of obedience is not the bad life or the sad life. It’s the good life. Life with God and for God is the best life you could live. Change is about enjoying the freedom from sin and delight in God that God gives to us through Jesus.
v. Porn says ‘I am the god that always gives you what you want in exactly the way you want it’
The gospel of porn is a call to switch allegiance to a god who is altogether more willing to give us what we want. Why serve a God who does not satisfy your every demand when porn will?
When we turn to the idol of porn Chester notes it ‘can be an expression of anger, revenge, resentment or ingratitude…Porn may even be an act of anger against God, when life hasn’t turned out the way we want.’ It can mean turning to a god who is no god at all out of frustration with our Christian life.
Why go God’s way in life if that involves difficulty and delay? When Satan offers Jesus the kingdoms of this world he is tempting him to take what will one day be rightfully his and grab it now.
God’s gospel says ‘will not God graciously give us all things’
In the gospel of Jesus God has promised us everything we need even if that is not everything that we want. I once heard Tim Keller say in a sermon ‘unless we are willing to let God contradict us haven’t we simply made God in our own image’.
In the gospel of God is a call to recognise and rejoice in the thought that God has withheld no good thing from us for he has given far more than we deserve and he has given us his son.
vi. Porn says ‘I can save you from yourself’
All false gospels are attractive because they promise us a new life. A life in which we can be different people. Porn says I can give you significance, intimacy, freedom from worry, reward and success and all with ease.
Porn offers us a way out of a tough life. It offers us heaven on earth. Well at least for a time. The attraction is in the quick fix, instant result.
‘I just want to feel that I’m OK, I turn to porn instead of God because the gospel doesn’t tell me that I’m OK.’
The biggest lie of all is in this gospel that is no gospel at all. For this gospel of porn is a gospel that takes us far from Christ and from the God who made us and loves us. In choosing this gospel we turn our backs on the only gospel that can save.
God’s gospel says ‘only God can save you from yourself.’
He is the one who atones for our sin and he is the one making us new. His spirit is able to transform us into the likeness of Christ with ever-increasing glory.
A friend of mine was enjoying a pint in the pub when a guy he didn’t know offered him a job. The job was working on a building site for a multi-storey office block. My friend had never done anything like it but was up for a challenge so he turned up, found a hard hat and walked on-site. Within a few hours he was operating a pneumatic drill breaking up a concrete floor that needed to be re-laid. Within a few minutes of starting he was falling through the floor onto another concrete floor below. He missed scaffolding pipes by a few inches that would have broken his back. He could have died, he ‘should’ have died and if he had, others would have been guilty of his death.
You might say he should have had the sense to have not been there in the first place, but nevertheless someone should have been protecting him. He was put in a dangerous place that he had no right to be in — unprepared for the dangers that awaited him, he nearly lost his life.
I tell the tale because I have recently been reminded that I have a job that involves protecting people from entering dangerous places. The pastor-shepherd protects the flock and the way we protect, at least in part, is by saying ‘don’t go there’ when we see or sense danger.
That charge to protect is a call to ‘preach the negatives’. Our preaching needs to challenge wrong living but it also needs to warn of dangerous theology. In a talk I heard last week I was reminded that false teaching doesn’t even necessarily have to affirm that which is false. False teachers often start by promoting dangerous ideas in an altogether more subtle and invasive way. Rob Bell’s book Love Wins is a case in point. When you turn deadly ideas into open questions, you invite God’s people to enter dangerous places.
Hugh Palmer, Rector at All Souls Church, London (the home of John Stott’s ministry for over 50 years) warned in a recent talk that Bell’s book ‘opens the door to tragic places and never closes them’. You don’t have to walk through the door yourself to be a false teacher, you merely have to open one after another and invite others to explore for themselves where they would like to go.
Our ministry has to have some negatives. We protect the flock by preaching the truth but also by locking and double-locking the doors of dangerous and deadly ideas and then we stand in the way of anyone reaching for the handle.
Paul writes in Acts 20 in his farewell message to the Ephesian elders;
Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard!
The preacher must know the truth, preach the truth and warn against those ideas that oppose the truth.
It’s desperately sad to see Steve Chalke walk away from evangelical truth in his recent statements in support of practising homosexuality, arguing that it is consistent with Biblical Christianity. But what is also culpable is the decision of those at Christianity magazine to promote his ideas in the most public way by letting him open doors in people’s minds, many of whom are vulnerable to dangerous ideas. True, the magazine also presents the biblical evangelical position alongside Chalke’s ideas but in effect, that is to leave two doors open and invite people to decide for themselves.
The defence the editor of the magazine makes is, first, that Steve Chalke has written for the magazine for a number of years
(so it’s the least they could do to give his ideas such a prominent place in this month’s edition?) and secondly
opening up the issues is what this magazine does. We’re evangelical in conviction, but our approach has never been to suppress what others think, whether within or outside of evangelicalism.
I hope you notice the emotive choice of words. If it is an act of ‘suppression’ to silence false teaching then the same charge applies to Jesus and the apostles who spend considerable time not only refusing to promote dangerous ideas but actively speaking out against them.
Christianity magazine has decided to leave open the door that Chalke has walked through, and their rationale is that they have opened another door in an alternative and more traditional point of view presented by Greg Downes. What this all amounts to is opening two doors and inviting people to decide for themselves which they will walk through. One door leads to life and the other, death. One must be closed and locked, but that will only happen if you are prepared to preach the negatives.
In a powerful and moving post Julia Huisman (Director of Communications at Bethel Church in Crown Point, Indiana) and Tammy Johnston (Director of Women’s Ministries at Bethel Church) offer their testimony as a comfort and hope for all those dealing with past sexual sin and the guilt that lives on.
Interesting report in the Telegraph today of how corporate sponsors are promising to withdraw all financial support for Stonewall, the Gay-rights organisation, if it continues to promote ”intolerance and intimidation” by the inclusion of a ‘Bigot of the Year’ award in its annual awards ceremony.
Mark McLane, Managing Director and Head of Global Diversity and Inclusion at Barclays, said: “I have recently been made aware of the inclusion of a ‘Bigot of the Year’ category in the awards.
“Let me be absolutely clear that Barclays does not support that award category either financially, or in principle and have informed Stonewall that should they decide to continue with this category we will not support this event in the future.
“To label any individual so subjectively and pejoratively runs contrary to our view on fair treatment, and detracts from what should be a wholly positively focused event.”
Honouring Christ – the Christian and same-sex attraction: some very personal thoughts from Vaughan Roberts
In this honest and compelling interview in Evangelicals Now Vaughan Roberts, Rector of St.Ebbe’s Church, Oxford discusses his own struggles with same-sex attraction.
How many Christians struggle in silence with this same issue? Vaughan’s words will offer comfort that they are not alone and renewed confidence that with God’s enabling power Christians can live for Christ.
I hope too that his example will lead to a greater degree of openness in our churches as we support and encourage one another in the daily fight against sin. In the interview he comments: There does need to be more openness in this area among evangelical Christians, given the rapidly changing culture we live in — and the resulting increased pressure on believers who face this battle.
What is God’s purpose in when we want to be married but have to live contented lives as single people? Justin Taylor has pulled together a bunch of resources (books,audio & video) for anyone wanting to think through issues of singleness and the Christian life.
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