What comes to mind when you hear the phrase grace filled sexuality? I know I have Jesus’s grace, so if I live sexually in a way that is different than God’s design/commands, I’m okay and I’ll be forgiven.
The Christian whose sexual desires differ from God’s design for sex often find themselves in quite a quandary. God says sex is meant for a lifetime covenant of marriage between a man and a woman (Genesis 2:24, 1 Corinthians 6:12-20). He goes on to say that fantasizing about sex outside of his design for marriage is as much a sin as the act itself (Matthew 5:27-28). This is an extremely high standard to live up to, contrasting pretty much the entire gamut of sexual desire. Whether we’re talking about those who look at pornography, are having premarital sex, are cheating on their spouse, are in homosexual relationships (including transgender transitions), are divorced and remarried, or those who lust, there are very few who live up to God’s holy standard for sexuality.
But we know that grace is offered to all who will receive it.
So then, how will we live?
There’s a lot of valid talk nowadays about nature vs. nurture and about how a person is wired sexually. Many have wrestled with the question, “Why did God make me this way?” I’m heterosexual and married and I often ask God the same question! While I don’t like to admit it, I am definitely wired to be attracted to multiple women. It is the way I am wired. I’ve battled it for many years, cried out to God for healing in it, and nothing has taken it away. I promise I am not speaking facetiously here. There’s nothing worse than wanting to be faithful to the wife you love and being constantly drawn like a magnet toward other women. Random women. Women you know. Women you’ve never met. It’s never ending and at times, is downright torture.
Many can relate.
In talking about such wirings, I know many also want to keep score. Some will read what I just wrote and say they never want to hear a complaint from a married heterosexual again. I understand where this person is coming from, but I also would caution anyone (including myself) from acting like they know what it’s like to be in someone else’s shoes. Over my years of ministry, I have counseled hundreds of people through sexual and marital issues. Let me ask you a trick question:
Which is worse / more unfair: to be heterosexual and married to a spouse who ignores you and won’t have sex with you, or to be homosexual and told by the Evangelical church that being single and celibate is your way of living within God’s design for sex?
Pause before you answer. Pause if you’re tempted to lash out. Read through the question again.
There’s no correct answer to that question. They are both very difficult. They are both unique. Neither needs to be compared to the other. There isn’t a winner and loser in a “I got a worse hand from God” competition.
That’s usually how we treat these things though. God dealt me the worst hand, therefore I’m entitled to live how I want sexually.
And plus there’s grace, so why wouldn’t I?
I’ve counseled both, and surprisingly, the solution is the same.
And now back to grace…
Oftentimes, we think of grace as nothing more than a license to sin. I’ll be forgiven no matter what, so I can pretty much do whatever I want. This dilemma is much larger than our sexuality and has been debated in theological circles ever since the message of the grace of Jesus was first preached 2000 years ago. Romans 6:1 sums this question up well,
What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?
Of course, Paul follows this up in verse 2 with a very emphatic, “By no means!” Also saying in Galatians 5:13, “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh.”
The New Testament is emphatically stating here (and many other places) that grace is not a license to sin. In fact, if that’s someone’s take on grace, it’s unlikely they’ve tasted true grace.
We find this true grace in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10. The same Apostle Paul who wrote Romans 6 and Galatians 5 wrote this about his own struggle to follow Jesus:
I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
One is left to wonder what Paul’s thorn was. How was Paul wired that differed from God’s design in such a way that it tormented him? We know Paul was single. Maybe he was gay? Maybe he was transgender? Maybe he was just lonely and felt something was missing from his life since he didn’t have a “soul mate”? Maybe his singleness really caused him struggle with lust? Maybe it was something else altogether. The ailment is not the point, because all ailments have the same cure: grace.
The grace of Jesus is sufficient for anything, any thorn that torments us. Does sufficiency mean the thorn (and torment) go away? Obviously not! Paul pleaded with God three times to no avail! If the man who wrote half the New Testament couldn’t get God to remove his thorn, what chances do you or I have? While definitely not impossible, God is very unlikely to just remove your “wiring”, your desire, or how you feel.
But he will give you an even better substitute for what you long for. He will give you himself!
Do not roll your eyes here. God is giving you himself! That’s pretty freaking awesome.
He didn’t remove Paul’s thorn, yet we know that Paul still lived (to his best ability) according to God’s standards for sexuality–that sex is meant to be had within the marriage of a man and woman alone. For the record, if Paul’s thorn was homosexuality, transgenderism, or longing to lust, none of these longings are sins. They are simply longings. Wirings. We cannot and do not control them. It’s what we do with them that equates to sin or not. (Read my article about that here)
What we are longing for in any sexual relationship is intimacy. We are all cups with holes in the bottom, hoping that this next sexual pouring will be the one that fills us up and keeps us that way. The intimacy we long for from sex can only truly be found in Jesus. The completeness we think sex will give us can only be found in Jesus. If my spouse isn’t giving me what I feel entitled to, I run to Jesus’s grace, being reminded of how much I already have in Him that I don’t deserve, filling me with incredible peace.
Jesus’s grace doesn’t tell me I can sin, it gives me something that is better than sin (even if it doesn’t feel that way to my flesh).
When I feel empty, I go to grace. Grace sustains me. It is sufficient for me. It tells me I am loved by God. The holy God of the universe loves me, has adopted me as his son, and gives me the identity of holy and righteous because of what Jesus did on the cross for me. I’m new, renewed and made perfect through him.
Grace doesn’t make bad people good, it makes dead people alive.
Grace is sufficient because we know it’s the only place where true, eternal, sufficient life is found. Sin is the free sample cart, but grace is the buffet.
Grace is what allows martyrs to say, “You can take everything from me, but give me Jesus.”
It’s what allowed Paul to say in Philippians 1:21, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.”
Paul called it our thorn, Jesus called it our cross…
Luke 9:23-25 Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?
Grace is worth giving up everything for, including acting on how we are wired.
How is this possibly worth it? It’s worth it because I’ve drank from grace. Grace has resurrected me.
I can live with the torment of the thorn, that constant desire to live against God’s design for sex, because I’m fueled by a truer life-source than anything my sexuality can deliver.
Truth is not based on how I feel, it’s based on what’s real. Grace to sustain me is real.
The more we taste this true grace of Jesus, the more we will surrender our lives of sin over to him: trading in our own attempts to salve our wounds for the sweetness and sufficiency of his grace. Grace we don’t deserve, but have been given freely.