I hope this letter finds you well.
I met your pastor last week, and he was very upset. He told me you mentioned giving up faith in Christ and leaving the church because, even five years after your conversion, you continue to experience same-sex attraction. He also told me that Rita, your wife, has suffered a lot, though you’ve been honest with her and haven’t been unfaithful.
As you know, your pastor was my student in seminary. He asked me to write you since I helped you in the first days after your conversion. I hope this letter will be used by God to encourage you amid your struggle and to remind you of your unshakeable status in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Remember when I warned you that trusting in Christ doesn’t mean immediate liberty from all spiritual, psychological, and mental consequences? Sin—homosexual or otherwise—leaves deep scars in our lives, branding our consciousness with images, impressions, experiences, tastes, and desires that often take many years to overcome.
Your pastor told me you’ve been reading books that claim homosexuals, once converted, are radically free not only from same-sex relationships but also from same-sex attraction. I don’t doubt in some cases this can happen; in fact, I know a few specific cases where it has. But this is not always the case. Please understand, Joe, that continuing homosexual desire post-conversion neither renders your conversion illegitimate nor suggests the Lord has failed you.
I fear you’re forgetting something basic about the Christian life, my friend: the distinction between sin and temptation. Same-sex attraction isn’t the same thing as same-sex relations. The first is temptation; the second is sin. Every believer this side of heaven has a heart corrupted by sin, a sinful nature at war with the presence of the Spirit of God. Our hearts daily stir up carnal and corrupt desires, leading us to dwell on godless thoughts and intentions. These temptations happen within ourselves, not to mention those brought about by the world, by others, and by Satan himself.
Every day, married Christian men are tempted to look a second time at women who aren’t their wife. But being tempted isn’t the same as fantasizing about these relationships or having them in reality. Joe, true Christians repress these desires, saying “no” over and over and over again. They think about their wife, their kids, and especially their God who hates adultery and their Savior who died for sin. Every resistance in the face of temptation, then, is a momentous occasion of victory and liberation.
The same applies to every sinful desire in the heart of a Christian. Joe, conversion to Jesus doesn’t mean perfection, and it doesn’t mean the absence of temptation. This you must understand.
Let’s go back to one of those Bible studies I shared with you at the beginning of your Christian life. The process God established to free people from sin is accomplished in three distinct stages. Remember the picture I drew for you?
|Guilt of sin||Justification||Past||One act of God|
|Power of sin||Sanctification||Present||Imperfect and incomplete process|
|Presence of sin||Glorification||Future||One act of God|
The first step, justification, is an act of God whereby he considers us righteous on the merits of his Son. It’s a legal declaration made once for all, and it is the basis for all that follows.
The second step, sanctification, is our deliverance from sin’s power. This process begins after justification and continues our entire life. Sanctification does not entail complete eradication of our fallen nature, but it does help to subdue and slay it. This is the stage of salvation in which all Christians presently live.
The Lord provides us means of grace like biblical meditation, prayer, and fellowship with other believers to harness the Spirit’s sanctifying power. It’s also vital to pray specifically for the spiritual fruit of self-control.
Joe, this fight is a fierce and seemingly endless struggle, but the fight itself is not sin. Temptation only becomes sin when we yield to it. Victory, however, comes when we say “no,” hour after hour, by the Spirit’s power.
The final step, glorification, is our ultimate freedom from sin’s indwelling presence. It will occur when we die or when our King returns. There will be a resurrection of the dead and a transformation of believers still alive. All God’s children will become like God’s Son in immaculate, immortal, imperishable, glorified bodies. Only then, Joe, will you and I be finally freed from the fleshly desires that reside within our hearts.
I think you’re unnecessarily discouraged because you were led to think turning to Christ would bring full deliverance from prior desires. To that end, I hope this brief letter brings true liberation.
So stay strong and continue practicing the spiritual disciplines, talking with Rita, and enjoying the fellowship of your church. We’re all sinners-in-progress. And above all, Joe, don’t give up. Never stop trusting Christ’s work as full and complete. Though God never promised freedom from all temptation and sin the moment you embraced Christ, he has promised forgiveness. Indeed, your justification was only the beginning of your deliverance, the tiny spark at the genesis of a devouring flame.
“For sin will not have dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace” (Rom. 6:14).
Your brother and friend,