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.

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.

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.

“You’re not having sex!? How come? You’re really missing out!”

Imagine you’re off at college, and another student asks you those questions. What would you say? Is that student right?

In other words, are you missing out if you’re not sexually active? Well, it depends what you’re looking for. You can go in one of two directions. The first is the one you’re probably thinking of: sex without total commitment. The second is sex as total commitment.

Sex Without Commitment?

There’s something attractive about the first way. Sex can be fun, so why attach to it commitment, responsibilities, and the rest?

But there’s something wrong with this path. For one thing, serial dating, especially when sex is involved, sets us up to break our hearts and others’ again and again. Sex is like glue; after forming a connection with someone it’s hard to break that connection, and when we do, it hurts.

Next, sex becomes meaningless. We keep our most treasured possessions in a safe and only show them to a few other people. Like those possessions, the significance of showing our bodies to others and joining them in sex loses all significance if it’s something we are willing to do with a lot of people.

After years of joining and breaking the union that forms through sex, we won’t be able to settle down and be satisfied with one person for the long haul. Marriage is giving yourself to another person, but sex without commitment means seeking sex for your own sake, not for someone else’s. By living a life of sex without total commitment, we cease to be able to make any commitment at all.

Are we missing out if we’re not sexually active in this way? Hardly. This lifestyle is advertised by celebrities on TV and in movies throughout our culture. But at the end of the day, running from one person to another just isn’t the way to find sexual fulfillment.

What about that alternative I mentioned?

Sex As Total Commitment?

The alternative to sex without commitment is sex as total commitment. Sex can be the way to seal a relationship of total commitment, one person to another. In giving our bodies to each other, we give our hearts as well. We commit to each other for the long haul, on every level, facing the future together for whatever life may bring.

Sex as total commitment is what sex is in the relationship of marriage. In marriage, sex joins a man and a woman, not once, not temporarily, but for life, “as long as they both shall live.” Sex doesn’t merely join bodies; it joins two whole lives together in total love and commitment.

Within the covenant of marriage, sex accomplishes something eminently good, rather than wreaking the havoc we saw above. Marriage is the only safe place to engage in sex, because only in marriage is sex a reflection of the promise to be together forever, no matter what.

Different Gifts

So, are we missing out if we aren’t sexually active? Not if we’re just missing out on the heartbreak and damage of sex without commitment. But what if you’re not married, and you would really like to be? Are you missing out if you don’t have that relationship of total commitment?

There is no denying that apart from marriage, you won’t experience the unique relationship that marriage offers, including the intimacy of sex. However, we can’t think that without marriage and sex, we’re missing out on life.

The apostle Paul (who was single) put it this way: “I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another” (1 Cor. 7:7).

Maybe you’re thinking that marriage sure seems like a better gift than singleness. But Paul would disagree. He says, “Yet those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you that.” He continues, “The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided” (1 Cor. 7:28, 32-33).

While the married person is trying to please a spouse, not to mention providing and caring for children, the single person is free to focus his or her energies on one relationship chiefly, a relationship with Christ (not to mention relationships with others). Just as in marriage, where a man and woman give themselves completely to each other in total commitment, Christ has given all of Himself to you in total commitment, and He asks the same from you in return.

Yes, it’s true: while we are single, we are not to be sexually active. But our singleness frees us to invest in an even deeper relationship with Jesus of spiritual love and utter commitment.

It might seem daunting to ask someone to be your accountability partner. It’s scary to open up our lives to someone else and be completely honest. But so much of our pain and suffering comes from not sharing with others.

When my brother broke his wrist mountain biking, he didn’t tell anyone because he didn’t want to miss his basketball season. He endured the pain for months, and it got worse and worse. He eventually had to tell someone to get the proper care he needed, and once he did say something and went to the doctor, it was able to heal properly. We need this healing that comes from opening up about our struggles!

So who can we ask to hold us accountable?

There are many factors to consider when thinking about your accountability partner, but most importantly, look for someone who is committed to holiness and repentance in his or her own life. Also, find someone who cares about you and your holiness. In addition, here are some other principles to remember as you look for someone to hold you accountable.

Someone of the Same Gender

The most basic part of finding an accountability partner is to find someone of the same gender. Opening up in this area of your life is deeply personal and can create unhealthy ties with someone of the opposite gender.

This especially means your accountability partner cannot be your boyfriend or girlfriend, even if it’s easier to be honest with him or her. Treating your boyfriend or girlfriend in this manner puts extra burdens on your relationship that it’s not meant to carry.

Instead, speaking to someone of the same gender can also give you insight into your own struggles, since sexual struggles can look similar between those of the same gender. An older woman will be able to counsel a younger woman more effectively since she knows the same kind of temptations and struggles women often face.

One caution if you are struggling with same-sex attraction: it is not wise to have your accountability partner be another person you are attracted to who might add to your temptation. You will become close to your accountability partner, and this closeness can lead to the wrong kind of intimacy.

Someone Close to You

You can look at someone’s Facebook wall and think her life looks just fine, not knowing all the battles and hardships she is facing in her personal life. It is easy to give a false picture of ourselves to people we don’t see every day, which is why it is best if your accountability partner is someone you can see often and in person.

It is much easier to hide things and not be honest about your struggles over the phone or email. Confessing your sins to one another face to face brings healing because it allows for more openness and honesty. James says to confess our sins to each other and pray for one another “that you may be healed” (James 5:16). Through accountability relationships, each of us can mutually bring the light of Christ to the dark areas of our hearts where we are still holding onto sin.

Someone Older

Another factor in finding a good accountability partner is to look for a mature Christian, preferably someone who is older and more mature than you. There are many who have been in your position and walked this road before. They can give you guidance and help you haven’t thought of before.

Maybe you’re surrounded by people your own age and can’t think of anyone you could ask. Start by getting involved in a local church. A good church will be filled with older, more mature Christians who are just waiting to get involved in younger Christians’ lives. If there aren’t many older Christians at your church, start by asking your student minister or pastor if they know someone you can ask to fill this role.

Someone Who’s a Peer

While there’s value to having an accountability partner who is older, you also need one who’s your friend and is in a similar stage of life. This friend can be there for you for the long haul, through thick and thin.

Think of asking people to hold you accountable as building a team. These people are going to fight with and alongside of you. Often your friends will be in the same battles as you, and you can encourage each other through them. These friendships can last a lifetime, providing deep encouragement and long-lasting bonds in your Christian life.

While you face the daunting task of finding someone to meet with, remember the healing that can come from confessing your sins. Going through life without sharing about our brokenness is as difficult as going months with a broken bone and not telling anyone. Sure, my brother could endure the pain, but things got worse and worse. He was able to heal only when he told someone about it. Pray that God will show you people in your life that can help you through your struggles and find healing in Christ.

In Luke 9:23, Jesus said: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”

In the movie Groundhog Day, a news reporter finds himself waking up every day to relive his least favorite day of the year. No matter what he does, even if he drives a truck off a cliff or jumps from a building and dies, he wakes up the next morning well-rested in his bed.

That is what Jesus says the Christian life is like. You resolve one day to take up your cross and die with Jesus, and then you wake up the next morning, and — it’s Groundhog Day! You have to do it all over again.

In our last post, we talked about the first two steps of the battle against pornography while in college: 1. Jesus is the way out and 2. Find help and accountability. In this post we’ll hit three more steps for dying daily to pornography.

Step 3: Block

The fight against pornography frequently feels like you’re the quarterback of a football team without any offensive linemen. Hike! Thwwommp!! And you’re sacked.

When competing against porn, your offensive line is made up of internet filters and accountability software. Internet filters can be installed on your computers, phones, and any other devices that access the internet. These will directly block access to pornography and other harmful websites. Accountability software doesn’t block websites, but it does send a report of your internet use to an accountability partner.

While filters and accountability software can help protect your eyes, they can’t directly reshape your heart; only seeking after Jesus can do that. But that doesn’t mean these tools aren’t useful. After all, what football team ever got rid of its linebackers because they were scoring so few touchdowns?

For these tools to work properly, you’ll need an accountability partner. This means that you can’t move to this step until you’ve already followed step two from the last post and enlisted some accountability partners and opened up to someone about your struggle. For more details about accountability software and filters, see our post “Technology Lockdown.”

Step 4: Talk

In the Bible, the psalm writer says: “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long.” Then he says, “I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,’ and you forgave the iniquity of my sin” (Psalm 32:3, 5).

The surest way to fail in the fight against porn is to keep silent. Plants grow best when they are in the sun, but sin grows best when it’s hidden in darkness. When other people know about your sin, it becomes many times more difficult to continue in it.

Nevertheless, confessing sin is the one of the most difficult parts of the Christian life. Confessing sin hurts; you might even say it kills. It feels humiliating, guilty, and life-sucking.

But confession also heals. Just as a surgeon can’t heal unless he cuts, we can’t feel the joy of forgiveness unless we confess, unless we die to our pride every day.

To do this, you’ll need a regular time to meet with a college ministry leader or other spiritual leader for accountability. Some weeks you’ll just read Scripture, pray together, and find encouragement, and some weeks you’ll have (and need) the opportunity to confess your sins and find healing with the help of your accountability partner.

Step 5: Walk

The final daily step to fighting porn in college is walk: Change the shape of your daily life to make time for Christ and to exclude time for pornography.

Often, when we fight pornography, we wait for temptation to arise, try to resist, give in, repent, and hope that we’ll do better next time. But rather than trying to avoid porn use in the moment, we should avoid porn use by kicking it out of our schedules.

If you have a lot of free time that could be a time of temptation, fill it in ahead of time. Set up a time to hang out or study with a friend at a coffee shop every Saturday instead of studying in the dorm room. Add an extra-curricular activity to your schedule. Go to bed earlier.

Besides getting rid of time for pornography, make time specifically for your relationship with Christ. If you don’t have a time of prayer and Bible reading in your day, plan out a time in the morning, the evening, or sometime in between. Maybe you can join a church small group. Porn tempts us to trust in itself for life and salvation, but making time specifically for Christ will help reorient your faith and trust around the Saviour.

In order to walk away from pornography, we have to make sacrifices. But if we can learn anything from Jesus, it is that a life of sacrifice is well worth the cost – because in return we gain Christ now and life with God forever.

The fight against pornography is a fight to love and trust Christ more than we love and trust ourselves. Each day is a new day to die to ourselves and to live unto Christ. Every moment we have is an opportunity to come back to Christ by faith and to cherish and love Him more than the fleeting pleasures of porn.

Accountability relationships are great when they work. But have you had any failed accountability relationships and wondered why they didn’t work? Are you in one right now that doesn’t seem helpful? Try asking some of these questions.

Have we been honest?

The idea of confessing sexual sin floods us with fear and shame, making us want to hide in darkness. But part of the beauty of an accountability relationship is the freedom to bring sin into the light with another Christian. Because we have been saved by Christ, we don’t need to hide our struggles. We are safe in Him, no matter what.

Think through reasons why you may not have been honest. Have you been too concerned about what your friend will think of you? Have you been unwilling to make the sacrifices needed to change? Talk with your friend or group about your struggle to be honest and suggest some changes to get the discussion going.

Have we been meeting too sporadically?

If you don’t know when you’re going to talk to your accountability partner or group, it is easy to lose sight of your goals. Meeting regularly ensures that you will help each other look to Christ in your struggles and be honest with God. Think of meeting regularly like charging your phone. If you don’t charge it regularly, you’ll miss calls and text messages and be annoyed that you can’t use it. Similarly, we need to recharge regularly by gaining encouragement from each other. Ask what might be getting in the way of meeting more regularly. How can you keep in better contact with your accountability partner?

Do we have a specific plan for our accountability relationship?

Maybe your meetings have become sporadic because you haven’t made specific requests for your relationship. Times over coffee can quickly become purposeless. Instead, be clear about your plan.

What are your hopes for the relationship? Some could be, “I want you to keep me accountable for my sexual sin,” or “I’m tempted most on Saturday nights. Could you call me then so we could pray together?” If you were friends with your dentist, you wouldn’t want to go for a check-up and just chat away the time without having your teeth checked. Similarly, when you are meeting for accountability, make sure to have some sort of plan. Pray, read a passage of Scripture, share failures and victories, probe and ask questions, share goals, then pray again.

Have we prayed and read the Bible together?

It is easy to skip reading Scripture and praying when you’re pressed for time. Maybe you began by praying and reading faithfully, but it has just fallen by the wayside. If so, ask yourself why prayer and Scripture haven’t been central to your relationship. If you feel pressed for time in your meetings, schedule longer sessions. Or if you just forget to pray and read, make it a priority to do these first.

If we meet with our accountability partners and do not pray or read Scripture, we are not taking advantage of the power of the Holy Spirit in our relationship. We gain great strength in joining others in prayer and hearing someone else lift up our burdens to God. We are helpless without God working in us, and we must call on Him in times of need.

Have we gone deeper?

You’ve been honest with each other about what you’ve done. But have you explored the reasons behind your sin? Are you too focused on what happened without asking why?

Behind every sin is a whole host of desires for things like relief, comfort, love, and acceptance. These desires come from beliefs about God and ourselves like, “God doesn’t give me what I really need, but porn can.” Noticing these desires and beliefs will help you move beyond just the outward behavior to the inner motives.

Have we talked about Christ?

Not only is it important to go beyond the surface level of our behavior, but we must also point each other to Christ. Do you remind each other of Christ’s work on the cross and His forgiveness? Do you encourage each other to cultivate a desire to honor and love Christ? Often our motivation to get rid of sin can be more about relieving our discomfort and shame rather than loving and obeying God. We serve a God who cares about our hearts and about our love for Him. We must actively cultivate a desire to honor and love Christ in all that we do.

Even if you’ve experienced difficulty and failure in your accountability relationships, keep pursuing them. While it takes a lot of time and effort, your relationships will produce the fruit of walking in the light. Through your friendship, you will be able to help each other look to Christ and walk in obedience.