Recently, the blogosphere has been abuzz with denunciations of the pervasive purity culture hailing from the 1990s and early 2000s, and with good reason. While helpful in some—albeit very few—ways, the oversimplified purity culture, which advanced delayed sexual gratification until a far-off wedding day, was never very biblical and, in the long term, not particularly helpful in facilitating faithful disciples of Jesus. At best, this purity culture pointed out the sheer cliffs and dangers associated with sexual brokenness without providing a helpful path to navigate them.

And if I’m honest, I’ve endorsed this very culture in many conversations with students. But youth are savvy, and with the sobering realities of divorce and family brokenness splattered all over our culture and the church, they have seen through my smoke and mirrors. It might be helpful, then, to ask, ”What should I give students in lieu of a purity culture steeped in delayed sexual gratification and marinated in the false promise of an all-satisfying marriage?”

True love waits? Nope.

While it is certainly true that true love waits for good timing, espousing marriage as a satisfying alternative to sexual promiscuity simply leaves students to pop their wrists with rubber bands, hoping to drive away lustful thoughts through a culturally-appropriated medieval practice.

True love waits? Ok. But more than that, true love serves (1 John 4:10-11; Luke 10:27). Sexual sin uses others. So instead of asking students to delay gratification until a far-off wedding day, which may or may not be in the cosmic cards, why don’t we help them discover how to counteract the inward, self-exalting nature of sexual sin and actually use their gifts to love and serve both their friends and their significant others?

What would dating look like if, instead of asking “How far is too far?”, we asked, “How can I love my brother or sister in Christ to better point them to Jesus?” What if we really helped students steward and use their gifts, whether by serving on a leadership team, cleaning up lunch trays at school, playing in the worship band, or serving as a small-group leader to younger students? An emphasis on serving others will help to counteract the sexual sin that urges them towards isolation and self-exaltation. It might seem strange, but perhaps one of the greatest ways to fight sexual sin is to roll up our sleeves and do good for someone else (Matthew 23:23).

Your needs will be met? Nope.

I love the emphasis on God fulfilling our needs, but oftentimes we confuse human wants with godly needs. Sex isn’t a need. Feeling a certain way about myself, whether being accepted by a spouse or feeling fulfilled in a good marriage, isn’t a need. But being in God’s family is a need. Worshipping the Lord is a need for human flourishing. So while I’ve sat with many students and simply told them that either their needs will be met in a future spouse or that their needs will be met in Jesus, I’ve actually failed to help them distinguish between true and false needs, repent of false needs, and turn outwardly in love and service towards others and the Lord.

The “need” to be sexually fulfilled—which says, “Life would be fulfilling if I could just have sex”—simply isn’t going to be fulfilled this side of eternity or the next. Our sexual “needs” are tainted and distorted by our own sinful nature, and since none of us are going to marry in the New Earth (Matthew 22:30), I need to awaken students to the self-denying and others-serving reality of being in the Kingdom of God (Matthew 16:24; 19:30). Ultimately, I need to teach them the humbling, hard, but necessary, tasks of repentance, suffering, and service.

Marriage might be an answer? Ultimately, nope.

Certainly, marriage is a wonderful thing and a gift that God has given us. It does alleviate a measure of isolation. It does makes us more like Jesus as we learn to live with another person who is just as much of a sinner as we are. And it also tells the wonderful story of Christ’s relationship to the Church.

Marriage does help in staying sexually pure. But it only helps our brokenness; it doesn’t cure it. Even the wonderful intimacy that marriage provides remains tainted by sin and selfishness. Marriage is not a “Get Out of Jail Free” card. It does not take away our brokenness or selfish expectations. In fact, it really only highlights them.

For all its glory and aid in fighting sexual brokenness and in providing a safe context for true intimacy, marriage is only a signpost, a shadow of a deeper reality that will outlast all vows and covenants and one which will cure and re-create all that’s broken and distorted. This deeper reality is, of course, the Person and Work of Christ (Ephesians 5:25-33; Revelation 19:6-8). Our sole hope is His person as Savior, Lord, Prophet, Priest, and King and His work of salvation for us, including His work of the Spirit in us.

Let’s ask ourselves today: am I promoting a purity culture that is devoid of the self-sacrificing, others-serving, Jesus-following nature of being in the Kingdom of God, or am I giving students Kingdom realities that will truly carry them through self-denying death and into others-serving life?

It was another phone call from a pastor asking what to do. A woman in his church, married, is beginning to look like a man. Over several months it has increasingly become clear that something significant is happening. But neither the woman nor her husband has come forward asking for advice or help. No one has said anything. But the silence obviously cannot remain. People are talking… transgenderism? What should this pastor do?

(For the first two blog posts on transgenderism, click here for Part 1 and here for Part 2.)

For a church to help someone with gender dysphoria is first to see the person in distress. When we get down to the level of the individual, this becomes not a cultural battleground, but a person who is struggling. Yes, our culture has made transgenderism the issue du jour by its insistence that gender is not connected to one’s sexual anatomy at birth, but rather what someone feels they are. Gender identity politics has become the latest cultural battleground. In an increasingly secular culture, sexual freedom is sacred ground.

But if someone in your church is silently struggling with what gender they feel they are, we need more than promoting adherence to Genesis 1 and 2 to set him or her straight. Yes, good biblical teaching is necessary. We must not abandon the anchor position of Scripture, that God created humanity in two genders, male and female, and those genders are, in fact, who we are, and living out our given maleness and femaleness is an essential part of what it means to be human.

Nevertheless, we also live in a Genesis 3 world.

A world that is broken at its core, resembling God’s original design, but increasingly showing deep cracks and fissures in how God’s image bearers live and reflect his image. Men and women have struggled with their sexuality and gender for countless ages, so this isn’t anything new. What’s new is the forceful demandingness of an anything-goes sexuality-and-gender culture, with its message that there is no inherent order or design in who we are and how we should live. The only order and design is the one I create.

But while the culture insists that how one lives is entirely up to the individual, there will be those in your church who are not trying to be rebellious here. Rather, they are confused, lonely, and despairing strugglers trying to make sense of their pain. The distress they feel is real. And for many, the message the world gives seems more hopeful, and so they embrace the post-Christian (really, post-Fall) message of radical individuality.

For this pastor and his church, continued silence is not a godly option. There is no compassion to say or do nothing when someone in the church is living in ways that contradict God’s design for being a congruent-gendered person.

But speaking a biblical message on sexuality and gender to a man or a woman who has come to despise their biological sexual identity is a difficult matter. We must combine wise words with our loving presence. Good teaching is rarely, if ever, the sole factor that moves someone in the right direction. Our words and our loving presence with them are what they need.

So what is our advice to what this pastor could say to this woman? How does he speak a message into her life that might give her hope? Maybe enough hope for a future that would allow her more time to choose to slow down and hopefully reverse the transition process she seems to be pursuing. More time to begin to understand, perhaps for the first time, the biblical categories of male and female that God has chosen for us to live within.

What “alternative script” of biblical truth, in stark contrast to the world’s message, can we give to her? Here are four basic principles:

Affirm and recognize the struggle

Affirm the likelihood that this struggle has been going on for some time. Recognize that this is not a superficial struggle and that the person is trying to make sense of what they experience. Ask good questions so that you can begin to grasp what this struggle is like, and why this person feels so strongly that she needs to transition to the opposite gender.

Seek to be involved as much as possible

Communicate the reality that deep, persistent struggles grow stronger when we deal with them in isolation. As a professing believer (or better yet, a member of the church), ask if they would allow you to keep speaking into their life about this. To hear further about their struggle, but also to allow you to speak about a biblical position on gender and sexuality. An appeal to Scripture’s call to be one body, Christ’s, where brothers and sisters assist one another in the daily struggles of life, should be a constant refrain.

Help them to grasp that our lives, and even our bodies, first belong to God

Believers in Christ have a much deeper foundation for their identity/personhood than those who do not follow him. Whom we belong to is a deeper, more foundational question than the one the world asks: How do I be myself, or how do I find freedom (from my distress or situation in life)?

Some life-situations are chronic, persistent, and some will not end in this life (like many chronic disability circumstances). Finding healing or freedom from struggles is not a wrong thing to do, unless it violates God’s design and purpose expressed in Scripture. Then, a Christian is called to persevere faithfully in the struggle, to discover that God’s grace gives meaning and purpose, along with daily strength, to live and grow in and through it (2 Corinthians 12:8-10).

Call them to bring God into the heart of the situation

Too often, obeying Scripture is made to feel like obeying a set of rules. But following Christ is a life-affirming direction, even when we must turn from those things that promise a fix or a solution (Mark 10:27-31). One important thing to stress is that all our decisions, even the smallest ones, will either strengthen our resolve to follow Christ or weaken it. Lovingly communicate the importance of pursuing obedience in Christ, with whatever means are available (counseling, listening to stories from others, teaching them good theology, prayer, etc.). In doing so, you will help them learn to accept and grow into the gender God gave them. And if they are willing, walk with them for as long as it takes, through all the successes and failures that will most likely be a part of their journey.

The narrative today about this issue is that the struggle is biological and/or psychological. Putting aside legitimate intersex complications for some, what is noticeably missing is a discussion of how spiritual issues are also at the heart of a person’s struggle.

Bringing God into the heart of the situation can do two things: it legitimizes the person’s real distress with their inability to align their physical and psychological selves, and also injects another not-to-be-ignored dynamic: that the person’s distress has an additional element of struggle to it, that to go against God’s design and purpose does bring about increasing confusion and pain. Following God’s design may not be the easiest path to walk (particularly when the world shouts another message), but in the long run it draws us to him, to the One who says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”

There’s a whole lot more to say and do here with this person. But starting out this way might better open doors to effectively help a struggler seek God’s help and grow into being who God has called them to be.

For additional resources go to our Transgenderism: Resources page.

In the first post in this blog series, “Transgenderism: A  Truth and Mercy Response:  Part 1“, we looked at what is meant by gender, specifically how the post-Christian culture views it.  Gender is now seen as being divorced from one’s biological sex; that how one views oneself as either male or female (or neither or both!) is based on one’s feelings and self-perceptions. Therefore gender is fluid, changeable, and virtually limitless.

What Does Scripture Say About Gender?

With that said, what does Scripture say about gender? In short, it says lots. Perhaps more than you might think. In this post we’ll examine two key points:

  1. Scripture identifies two (and only two) genders in creation.
  2. Scripture describes the brokenness of creation in the Fall, and gender confusion results from that.

Scripture identifies two (and only two) genders in creation.

We see this plainly when God establishes two genders—male and female—by decree in Genesis 1:27:

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

Male and female in God’s creation are created for a particular kind of relationship with one another: a covenant relationship of marriage where a major reason for sexual expression is the creation of children, leading to the development of both family and society. Sexual activity is connected to humanity’s purpose in life—a purpose that God mentions in 1:28: to manage the earth and make it a place of bounty and beauty. Creating life is an essential part of this.

But the Genesis story, in being the anchor for our understanding of sexuality and gender, doesn’t limit gender differences at reproduction. Male and female reflect God’s image to the world, and particularly so when a husband and wife join together in marriage. The narrative in Genesis gives profound hints of how gender differences contribute to a deeper shaping of humanity. Adam’s exclamation when he first sees Eve speaks of both similarity and difference, and between them there grows a relationship where intimacy, transparency, mutual love and unity grow in a way unlike any other human relationship (Gen 2: 21-25). And Eve’s designation as “helper” to Adam speaks of a relationship of unity and shared purpose (and not, as some erroneously think, that woman is inferior to man).

Gender differences are not relegated to marriage, either. Living out one’s life as either male or female, as a single person, will also display God’s unique design (more on the complexity of gender roles will follow in another blog post).

In stark contrast to our culture’s mantra that gender is fluid and determined by the will and wishes of the individual, God declares that who we are individually grows out of the biological sex given to us at birth.

So, God has established two genders—male and female—generally, in creation. But, we must note that he has also established these genders particularly in the lives of particular individuals. That is to say, God has assigned one of the two genders to each at his or her birth. Biological sex should be the anchor of gender identity for any individual, not the modern psychological concept of gender. Scripture declares that God has planned out who we are, and that includes the biological sex we were born with.

The Psalmist in Psalm 139 says clearly that God established the form and personality of each person before that individual existed:

“For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.” (Psalm 139:13)

“My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.” (Psalm 139:15)

“Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there were none of them.” (Psalm 139:16)

God both declares and foreknows the gender he has given to us. Examples of this are found throughout Scripture: Hagar is told she will bear a son and is to name him Ishmael (Genesis 16:11); Abraham and Sarah are told that Sarah will bear a son, and they are to name him Isaac (Genesis 17:19); the angel of the Lord tells Manoah that his barren wife will soon bear a son (Judges 13:3); and Mary receives the startling news, as an unmarried woman, that she would bear a son, Jesus, who would be the Messiah (Luke 1:31).

These key redemptive-historical acts, while they only mention the birth of sons, nevertheless establish the fact that God ordains who we are as both male and female, as both sons or daughters.

Scripture describes the brokenness of creation in the Fall, and gender confusion results from that.

Christians do not live in a make-believe world; they share in the brokenness of all of creation. That brokenness is extensive. In the area of human sexuality, the numerous prohibitions in the Old Testament regarding particular sexual activity is telling. The reason why God had to spell out one sexual prohibition after another was not that he declares sex as intrinsically evil (as some think Christian doctrine teaches), but because our fallen, sinful hearts are capable of doing evil with the good things God has created.

The order in which the world was created still remains, though it exists in fractured form. Regarding gender confusion or fluidity, in Deuteronomy 22:5, the Lord tells his people that to live as if you are someone of the opposite gender is sin. For many years, Deuteronomy 22:5 was used as a proof text against transvestitism, but its meaning goes far beyond simply wearing the clothes of the other gender. The verb-object clause used in the verse means to “put on the mantle” of the opposite gender—in other words, to live as though you were of the other gender.

This law principle is the same as the other laws God has given to us. That is, to live outside of his design and purpose is to engage in rebellion against him, even if that rebellion is the result of confusion and personal pain.

The “facts” of non-binary gender states, which some proclaim as evidence of a “third” gender or sex, is merely evidence that God’s original design is broken. In these rare cases of sexual development disorders, difficult medical and personal decisions need to be made. There should always be compassion given in these situations. But these disorders do not constitute evidence that there is more than male and female to humanity.

The confusion about gender that is sweeping through our culture is the result of numerous personal and societal issues, and the help these people need is not encouragement to undergo gender change but to learn to live within God’s design. Following his design is always a path toward growth and health. Not doing so leads to further brokenness.

For additional information and resources go to Harvest USA’s Transgenderism: Resources Page.

Here we are…again. A student looks at you hopelessly and says, “I just can’t stop masturbating. I don’t know what’s wrong with me!” Despite the temptation to throw up our hands and respond in frustration or exasperation, in our first post we offered an introduction in helping this student: draw near both in commonality and in advocacy. If you missed part one, check it out HERE.

Now, what are some possible next steps we can consider to help a student who is habitually enslaved by masturbation?

Make sure their access to porn has been cut off.

Masturbation is often tied to pornography. If you’ve already addressed the issue of pornography with your student, come back around to it. Students, like all of us, are desperate to find solutions for life’s sufferings, so they will many times find ways around their internet blockers and accountability structures and simply not tell you about it. Why? Because, despite a student’s honesty in the past, pornography, by its very nature, perpetuates shameful silence and isolation.

A student’s ongoing issue with masturbation may be clueing you into their ongoing struggle with pornography. Remind them of your love for them, remind them of Jesus, and then ask, What kind of role is pornography playing in your life right now? Is there a possible link there? This might reveal further actions they need to take regarding filtering or accountability software. It might bring up other feelings such as loneliness, longing for control, or a desperate desire for pleasure. As these situations and feelings rise to the surface, they provide new discipleship content for you to explore together.

Most likely, however, there is more going on than meets the proverbial eye, so…

Ask whether enemies are digging underneath another wall.

Imagine that sin and temptation are like an army trying to overrun the castle of our “New Man”. If students are in Christ, they are New Creations (1 Corinthians 5:17) assaulted by old desires (Galatians 5:16). We can easily spend our time fortifying sections of the wall where we know a specific enemy will attack. If a student finds a link between masturbation and pornography, we can diligently help him or her with internet blockers and accountability software. If the student struggles with intense feelings of loneliness, we might suggest making it a habit to call a friend in the midst of temptation.

Focusing on a section of the wall to fortify it is not a terrible plan! But there’s a subtle problem: we can be so concerned with a single section of the wall that we might not realize another enemy digging quietly underneath another part of it.

Every bit of the wall needs to be fortified. While we certainly need to address it, masturbation isn’t the only issue in students’ lives. But for anyone who struggles with sexual sin, this can seem like THE issue to focus on. Students feel shameful and dirty, so it might appear to them that the issue of masturbation needs to be front and center, every day, in the fight against sin.

And while we want to affirm the necessity of addressing and dealing with masturbation, we also don’t want this student to forget that they are protecting the entire New Man castle, not simply a single section of the wall.

In other words, we are all prone to focus on those sins which we feel are the most “horrible” while, at the same time, neglecting or even excusing those sins we feel are minor. Here is the main point of learning to see the entire wall: we must see that sin feeds into sin, all of which works to harden our hearts towards our God.

A student’s unsubmissive relationship with a parent can work to harden her heart over time, making her more susceptible to the temptation to masturbate–and visa versa! What we want to do is to help students gain a proper understanding of their entire lives as ones to be submitted under Jesus.

First, for discouraged students, we want to help them begin to see that masturbation, while damaging to both their relationships with God and others, is not the “be-all-to-end-all” sin.

Second, a hyper-focus on any sin is always a hyper-focus to the exclusion of others. We want to broaden students’ knowledge of and need for repentance in all areas of their lives, rather than obsessing over a single area. We might address this by asking…

What are some other areas of struggle for you?
How are your relationships with your family and friends?
Are there other areas, other beliefs, other fears in your life right now that are difficult for you?
In general, how are you doing with your walk with the Lord?

As students begin to see their need for Jesus in every area of their lives, they will begin to long for, pray to, and rely on Him in deeper and more meaningful ways. Christ paid for every sin with which a Christian might struggle: masturbation is certainly not outside of the cleansing power of His blood. And as students explore more and more of where they fall short in holiness, they will begin to see that masturbation is not an isolated experience from the rest of their lives but is an integrated part of the whole of their Christian life. Ultimately, they will come to understand that, while sin feeds into other sin, Jesus is Faithful Physician over all.

A recent article entitled “Sexual Freelancing in the Gig Economy”  appeared in the New York Times. Its premise is this: economics influences dating. The fact that we prefer a Netflix binge nowadays to the Leave-It-To-Beaver date night means that our economic situation has, yet again, shaped us.

And here’s where things get interesting: the article argues that dating simply “applies the logic of capitalism to courtship. On the dating market, everyone competes for him or herself.” Hold on. Is this really the way we view dating? Honestly, I think we have to own it: We do, in fact, tend to treat people as objects instead of people. But is this the way it should be?

What’s more, the article goes on to state,

The generation of Americans that came of age around the time of the 2008 financial crisis has been told constantly that we must be ‘flexible’ and ‘adaptable.’ Is it so surprising that we have turned into sexual freelancers? Many of us treat relationships like unpaid internships: We cannot expect them to lead to anything long-term, so we use them to get experience. If we look sharp, we might get a free lunch.

If the article is right, in spite of the fact that humanity has always thought of people as objects to be used, students might be growing up in a world that intensifies this attitude. But we shouldn’t be surprised. Think about the porn epidemic. Think about the hookup culture. Our own use of Instagram might even reflect this mindset of consumeristic relationships!

But this isn’t simply an issue with dating. We tend to treat everyone in this manner. So, as ministers of God’s children, we need to confront a worldly attitude that promotes using other people, and that includes taking each other seriously.

Take Each Other Seriously

We must help ourselves and our students to take each other seriously. People are not commodities to be used or bought for our pleasure. They are not to be invested in for the simple return they may yield to us. As always, C.S. Lewis says it well at the end of his sermon, The Weight of Glory:

There are no ordinary people . . . it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit — immortal horrors or everlasting splendours. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously — no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption. And our charity must be a real and costly love. . .

Do you see what he’s getting at? We Snapchat with immortals. Every friend on Facebook will one day be everlastingly transformed into glorious or horrendous beings. And this means that, even in the dating realm, we are to take each other seriously. And part of what it means to take each other seriously is to actually love one another instead of using and exploiting each other for our own profit.

Jesus’ words are hard to hear: “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:25); “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13); and “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet” (John 13:14).

In the topsy-turvy ethic of the Kingdom, true life on this planet looks more like losing an investment than gaining a profit. Love looks more like the cross than the crown. Meaningful relationships look more like the servant who washes feet rather than the master whose feet get washed.

In other words . . .

Meaningful Relationships Are Costly

We need to teach our students that meaningful relationships cost time. In an age of instant gratification and constant stimulation, simply finding the time to talk meaningfully about life is rare; it’s commonplace to see couples at restaurants perusing their Facebook and Twitter feeds. But a meaningful relationship will cost an hour here and there, or thirty minutes when you feel you need to be doing something else. And it must cost a social media-less dinner.

Meaningful relationships also cost the facade. The thing about the freelance mentality of relationships in our culture is that this constant shopping around helps us avoid the true vulnerability that comes with meaningful relationships where we are both known and loved, not simply for our accomplishments but for our failures as well. In fact, social media plays to the maintenance of our facades, but meaningful relationships will cost them.

Meaningful relationships demand the vulnerability and honesty that come from living out of the security of our identity in Christ. In Christ, we are free to demolish our facades. We don’t have to pretend to be someone we’re not. The safety that Christ brings allows us to say “I’m not okay” to our neighbor. This vulnerability is crucial for human flourishing, because vulnerability pushes us toward the Kingdom. It helps us to lean into Jesus and into the identity we have been provided in Him. It also causes us to link arms with our neighbor and say, “Me too. Let’s walk this road together”.

Of course, then, meaningful relationships cost ourselves. I’m not saying that we should give ourselves away to every Jack and Jill on the street, but maybe sooner, rather than later, we ought to be thinking, How can I intentionally sacrifice for and serve this other person? How can I serve others in the lunchroom, on the football field, in the school hallway, on social media?

Let’s reorient ourselves and our students around the ethic of the Kingdom. We seek the good of others because He gave Himself away for us (1 John 4:10-11). We give ourselves away in love and service because we get Christ (Philippians 3:8-11) — because we ultimately already have Christ.

Model it for Students

How do we, then, teach and model the concept of taking each other seriously for our students? A couple of things come to mind. . .

Ask students tough questions. Ask them how life really is. Ask them about their doubts and worries. Ask them about their functional view of God, themselves, and others. Ask them to explain further when they talk about life’s hardships or how happy they are. Ultimately, ask them questions to let them know that you take both them and God seriously.

Put away the phone. When meeting up with students, let’s ditch our phones. Turn them on vibrate and don’t answer them unless it’s our spouse. Let’s not ever check social media when we are engaging with students. Let’s be present. Let’s be with them.

Be vulnerable. When talking about how things really are, while still being wise about how much we share, let’s open up about our own doubts, fears, and failures. Let’s let them know that we are no more a super-Christian than they are.

Taking each other seriously means that we really listen to, learn from, sacrifice for, ask the hard questions of, and pray for the students that come into our paths. It is to truly and thoughtfully help each other towards Jesus.

What is the prevalent view of people we are passing on to students? Does it look more like the gig-relationship mindset that pervades our culture? Or does it look more like Jesus, who takes us and our lives seriously from the outset, who served us that we might be washed, and who sacrificed Himself that we might have life in Him?

Should we DTR? Are we friends or are we more? Should I date someone who struggles with porn?

Questions abound in the realm of dating, and let’s face it: we all long for better relationships.We asked a number of young men and women about their dating experiences, and all the stories had pronounced, common threads. Stated intentions, good boundaries, and thinking through sexual brokenness are all significant issues when it comes to dating. But instead of simply waiting for others to up their game, it’s time to begin cultivating better relationships ourselves, starting with the basics.

We need to take personal responsibility for clarifying our own intentions [and motivations].

One woman shared that in college she’d spent a lot of time with guy friends, but she could tell they were being very careful not to push conversations to deeper, more intimate levels. Their efforts to keep conversations casual were so valuable to her, and their carefulness meant she could have good guy friends without relational ambiguity.

A lot of times it can be easy to push or simply allow friendships to meander into romantic places, leaving both parties absolutely confused. One of the ways to have better relationships is to carefully establish clear boundaries in your mind regarding your relationships. A good question to ask yourself if you are not (or not yet) wanting to pursue a romantic relationship is…

Would saying or doing this be okay if I were married to another person?

Even if we want to move things down the romantic road, it’s always good to ask ourselves about our own intentions and to remember this truth: we are here to love and serve other people, as Jesus has loved and served us. Will pushing romantic boundaries, without expressing clear intentions, truly love and serve this other person?

We need to take personal responsibility for stating our intentions.

Following on the heels of the first suggestion is this one: when we want more than a simple friendship, a good litmus test of whether we are loving and serving this other person well is is to ask ourselves…

Have I verbalized my intentions?

One of the ways to lovingly pursue another individual is to clarify and communicate those boundaries we’ve set in our minds. This doesn’t mean we need to have the marriage conversation right up front, but it does mean that we are letting others know our trajectory. Whether we are pursuing another for marriage or just want to see if a romantic relationship could be possible, DTR-ing (Defining the Relationship) is always helpful. Again, stating our intentions clearly puts the other person’s sanity over the dreaded relational ambiguity.

We need to take personal responsibility for setting, clarifying, and sticking to boundaries.

Whether they are emotional boundaries (saying “I love you”, talking about and planning the future, or sharing intimate aspects of our hearts) or physical boundaries (everything from watching movies alone in dimlit dorm rooms or basements to sexually intimate behavior), we need to verbally set those boundaries at the beginning of a romantic relationship. Playing catch-up with relational boundaries rarely, if ever, works.

A good way to begin thinking through boundaries is to ask yourself…

What honors the Lord most in our relationship? What honors my significant other most in this relationship? How can I guard both myself and my girlfriend/boyfriend from sexual sin? How can we avoid avenues that might end up in sexual sin?

Once you start moving towards intentionally dating someone, you will need discernment in developing and sticking to wise boundaries as well, which means it’s always a good idea to bring a couple of wiser, older Christians into these conversations.

Talking about intentions and boundaries might sound archaic, but let’s keep this foundation in front of our eyes: love for neighbor flows from God’s love for us in Jesus (1 John 4:10-11). The ultimate question regarding dating is the question of love and service. We believe that incorporating these aspects into our dating relationships facilitates that love for our brother or sister in Christ, which points them ultimately to God’s sacrificial love for them in Jesus.

We need to realize all men and women are more susceptible to temptation and sexual sin than we know.

Recently, we heard that a mentor advised a girl never to date a guy who struggles or has struggled in the past with pornography. So…

Should we date sexually broken people?

Well, all of us are sexually broken! Whether it’s porn, masturbation, lust, same-sex attraction, or even idolized day-dreaming about the future, all of us are broken because of the Fall. If you choose to date, you will date a sexually broken person.

The real question is . . .

What is my significant other doing about his or her sexual brokenness?

If he is enjoying sin and reveling in it like a lazy river at Six Flags, that’s a problem. If she is daily pursuing faith and repentance with godly accountability, that’s a good thing. Just because your potential significant other struggles with sexual sin does not mean that he or she is not godly, and it certainly shouldn’t mark him or her as un-datable.

This brings up another point. No one in a dating relationship should be forced into talking about their dirty laundry. No one wants these questions posed on the first date: So, do you look at porn? Have you ever had feelings for someone of the same-sex? How sexually broken are you? These details should come out eventually as you build trust with each other and, perhaps, move towards engagement and marriage. But forcing your significant other’s hand when dating is just a bad idea, unless you want him or her to feel cornered, frustrated, guilty, shameful, and fearful.

Better dating begins with godly intentions, boundaries, and understanding that honors and reflects Jesus who loved, served, and sacrificed Himself for us. Our best dating relationships will mirror this fundamental and life-directing truth.

I didn’t struggle with porn at first; I enjoyed porn. Porn promised satisfaction, uncovered secrets, and pretended intimacy. Then at a moment of spiritual crisis, I realized that porn wouldn’t ultimately satisfy me.

But though I saw the truth, living it out in my life was a much harder and longer process, one that took years.

What got me through that struggle? As “Sunday school answer” as it sounds, a Bible verse did. At the time, though I imagined a life free from pornography, it didn’t seem like I could ever get there.

Then I read Philippians 1:6: “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Christ Jesus” (ESV). This verse transformed my mindset.

Before reading Philippians 1:6, I thought that I had little chance of me shifting from the way I was living to the way I should have been living, because whether I succeeded was up to me. But what could I do? I was someone who regularly gave into the temptation to view porn, so the chances of success were slim. Then Philippians 1:6 taught me this: Whether I succeeded in escaping from porn’s grip was not up to me, but up to God. And God always finishes what He begins.

Has God Begun to Work in You?

That was the question I had to ask myself. If God had begun to work in me, then He would finish it. If not, maybe I would never be free.

In my life, God gave me a sign. When I repented of my porn struggle and confessed it, God gave me half a year without porn. I had a decisive (though temporary) break with this sin. Looking back at that time, I knew that God had started something.

But once I fell back into repeatedly viewing porn, I started to doubt. Is God really at work in me? Maybe that’s where you are as you read this. But this is what I realized: The very fact that I was concerned about the question was a sign that God was already at work in my heart.

Completing the Work

That meant something huge. Since God had started His work in me, I knew He would finish it.

Maybe as you read that, you’re thinking, “Well, if God is going to do it, I don’t have to try so hard, right?” But that’s not the attitude that makes sense.

Imagine you’re running a half marathon. You know that you can only win if you run the race faster than you’ve ever run, which seems impossible.

Now imagine that somehow, you know that you’re going to win the race as long as you keep running. What are you going to do? Give up? No! You’ll run even faster because you know you will win!

When you have Philippians 1:6 in hand, you have hope and encouragement to fight pornography and any other sexual sin. If you can see the value of the prize, the promise of success provides more motivation to overcome the power of pornography.

Winning the Prize

What is the prize? On one level, it’s freedom from the shackles of pornography . It’s also freedom from guilt. But most important, the prize you get from quitting porn is intimacy with God.

Right around the time I realized that porn really wasn’t worth it, I remember thinking, in a moment of inspiration, If I don’t get porn out of my life, I can’t draw near to God. I’ve never again felt the force of that thought quite in the same way (inspiration just never seems to last!), but neither have I forgotten it. How could I draw near to God when there was a huge part of my life that I wanted to hide from Him? How could I love God when my heart was wrapped up in pornography?

What about you? In your most sane moments, when sex isn’t anywhere in your mind, wouldn’t you prefer a life of sexual integrity and knowing God closely, to a life of sexual sin and distance from God and others?

Perhaps you don’t feel any desire for God. What then? Well, think about what you’re reading here: Even if you don’t feel a desire for God, maybe you at least wish that you had a desire for God. Maybe you just hope that some day you could wish for a desire for God. That smallest hint of desire might be the first flicker of God’s work in you. Add to that the promise of Philippians 1:6: “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Christ Jesus.”

So run the race! Because of Jesus, we know that we will succeed. Fan that flicker of love for God into flames, and one day, you will be free from pornography. Then, on the day of Jesus’ return, we will all be free from sin forever, and we will know God, the deepest desire of our hearts, perfectly and eternally.

What Bible verses have impacted you in your battle for Christ-honoring sexual purity? Do you have verses that remind you of the truths about right and wrong? What verses remind you of why Christ is worth fighting sin? Are there verses that give you hope in the midst of your struggle?

“Judge not, lest ye be judged!”

Matthew 7:1 is the Bible verse most commonly used to peg contemporary Christians as hypocrites. Those who claim to follow Jesus pass judgment on others as “sinners,” while Jesus stands by chiding anyone who judges.

When we hear this argument made by other students on our campus, how can we respond?

What Does It Mean?

Look at Matthew 7:1-5:

Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.

Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

Jesus’ words are somewhat difficult to understand. But perhaps we can make sense of them through an example.

Imagine if the Christian student group on your campus were to condemn homosexual behavior publicly, but then the group made excuses when two students were having premarital sex. Something would be seriously wrong. The group would be condemned by their own standard if they were judged the way they judge others.

In the same way, one of the biggest mistakes we can make as Christians is spending our time thinking about the sins of people “out there,” while we turn a blind eye to the sin “in here,” in our hearts. This is Jesus’ first point: Remember that you will be judged by the same standard by which you judge others.

But does Jesus mean to say that we shouldn’t judge others at all? Take a look at the story of the log and the speck. What is Jesus’ point? If Jesus’ point were that we shouldn’t judge at all, He would say that you shouldn’t take the speck out of your brother’s eye, ever. But that’s not His point, and it wouldn’t make sense if it were. Taking the speck out of your friend’s eye is a kindness to him.

Jesus’ point, as before, is that we will only be able to see clearly to judge our brother (in a good way) if we first examine ourselves to make sure we aren’t hypocrites.

Judging Actions, Not Condemning People

There’s another careful distinction to make when it comes to judging. While we judge people’s actions, we do not condemn people.

The easiest way to understand this is to think about how Jesus treats us. Jesus clearly condemns all sin, all the actions we do that show that we love ourselves more than Him. But Jesus doesn’t condemn us – that’s the point of the gospel! Instead of condemning us for our sins, Jesus forgives our sins.

But forgiveness doesn’t mean that Jesus stops judging that our actions are wrong. They are! That’s why our forgiveness cost His life! But forgiveness does let us escape from condemnation for our sins. Jesus still judges our sins as wrong, but He doesn’t condemn us for them.

The same is true for other people, even if they aren’t Christians. Jesus offers forgiveness to all, just as we should tell all people about the gospel. When we bear witness to the truth that certain actions are sinful, we are judging people’s actions, but we aren’t condemning them. In fact, judging people’s actions is the basis for offering them the gospel, the way they can escape condemnation! If we don’t judge others’ sin, how can we tell them they need forgiveness of sin?

What Does It Mean For Us?

What does this mean for Christians?

  1. Even if someone’s behavior is wrong, we cannot condemn the person because we’re in the same boat! We’ve done what is wrong, but Christ forgave us. That person can be forgiven too by trusting in Jesus! He or she can’t be written off as a “reprobate” simply because of a particular sin.
  2. When we talk to people about their actions or others’ being wrong, we should always keep in mind, and probably mention, that the gospel offers forgiveness for their sin. We are often afraid to share the gospel with people, because many people don’t respect religious views. But if we don’t share the gospel, the only thing others will know about Christians is what we’re against.
  3. The sins we should be most concerned about are our own, not others’. If we don’t take care of our own sins, not only will people ignore us when we talk about others’ sins, we may actually find ourselves in the place of the Pharisees, outside of the Kingdom of repentance and faith in Jesus.
  4. We must show love to others as we bear witness about the truth. It can be easy to think that sharing truth is in conflict with loving people. Most of us are tempted to do only one or the other. But in fact, speaking the truth is an act of love, and love requires speaking the truth. When we come to others with Christ-like love, we don’t bash people over the head with truth, but neither do we paper over people’s sin.

Our sin is dangerous, and God does judge it as evil. But we must remember in our own lives, and in the lives of those to whom we speak, that God does not condemn a sinner who trusts in Jesus. Though our sin is worthy of judgment, and even condemnation, God offers forgiveness to us, and to all who will believe.

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?

Identity Crises

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.

This week, we want to highlight an article from our friends over at Rooted: “How Do I Talk to My Kids About Homosexuality”. Check it out! Rooted exists to transform student ministry by fostering grace-driven and cross-centered leaders through rich theological and contextual engagement.