Students, Sexual Sin, and Identity
We can all relate to the blockbuster action hero Jason Bourne. In his first movie, The Bourne Identity, our hero wakes up plagued with a mean case of amnesia. He then spends all of his subsequent adventures trying to piece together an answer to a simple question: Who is Jason Bourne?
Like Bourne, one of the most basic questions our students are asking is, Who am I? The teenage years of life are, above all, years of questioning and discovering who we are and who we will be for the rest of our lives. And, simply put, our culture, our sin, and the Enemy want us to believe that our identity is determined by our sins and struggles. Thief. Murderer. Adulterer. Sex addict. Identities abound.
From the battle with pornography to sexting and masturbation, our students can be desperately confused. Some love Jesus and want to follow Him, but strong, unrelenting sin tendencies within them cause them to question the very core of who they are.
How do we help students think about sin, particularly sexual sin, in relationship to their identity?
For the believer, perhaps the most confusing of these struggles is that of same-sex attraction. Our culture says, “If you experience same-sex attraction, you’re gay. It’s okay! Accept it. Embrace it. Love it! It’s who you are.” But, on the other hand, the Church has oftentimes said, “You’re not born this way. You can choose differently.”
But the truth is much more complex than a churchy one-liner. In fact, none of us lined up at the cosmic Burger King to “have it our way” and choose our particular struggles. A lot of our students who wrestle with SSA want to change! Many times they are stuck between the two competing messages of the church (“just stop it”) and the world (“just embrace it”), in a grey area where their identities hang in the balance.
Students, like all of us, wonder:
Who am I? Am I defined by my intense, fallen desires? Am I defined by the temptations that keep assaulting me?
Because of the pervasive nature of sexual temptation, students can begin to feel like these struggles define them. Their temptations can feel like an unwelcome, hyper-sexed house-guest that will never leave. Put simply, sexual sin always tempts us to believe in a false identity.
What Does the Bible Say?
Check this out: “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” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10). In other words, those who accept and embrace their sins and struggles as their identity have no stake in the glorious future of the Kingdom. That’s a warning both to our students and to ourselves.
But Paul goes on: “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” (v. 11, emphasis added). For those who have trusted in Jesus, their identity is washed, sanctified, and justified, all in the name of Christ and because of His Spirit’s work.
Homosexuals and adulterers are both on the Paul’s list. All of us fit into one of those two categories, because all of us are sexually broken in some way. We might not imagine ourselves as adulterers, but we all have used our sexuality against our God in ways that completely reject him. Ultimately, Paul writes to us all who claim the name of Jesus. He tells us that our sins and fallen tendencies no longer define us; Jesus does.
The warnings and exhortations are clear: We should not embrace our struggles, our temptations, or our sins as our identity. We’ve got something better in Jesus.
Identity in Student Ministry
Students are desperately searching for their identities. Because we all wrestle with the persistent nature of our sin, we should be diligent to remind each other, “We are not defined by our sins and temptations. We are washed, sanctified, and justified. We are children of the living God in the name of Jesus Christ.” That’s who we are. Now. Forever.
Though we continue to be plagued by that unwelcome, hyper-sexed houseguest, God loves us, defines us, keeps us, and is committed to bringing us into glory with Himself. Our identity in Him is secure: we are beloved, we are children, we are saved.
If students buy into and adopt identities not given to them by their Father in Christ, they cheapen the true identity they actually have in Him, thus depriving themselves of a strong motivation to continue in the fight against sin: if they are trusting in Jesus, they are more secure than their temptations would have them to believe. They are His, and no struggle can change that.
A student and I were recently talking about his sexual issues. As we talked, his face lit up while the tension lifted from his shoulders. I asked him what he was thinking, and he continued to smile as he said, “It’s just good news that God doesn’t define me by my sin.” Amen. We are not what we struggle with or what we feel. We are who God says we are. It’s just that simple, and it’s such good news.