Like a tea kettle on a stovetop, the pressure continued to build inside me until the question burst: “God, why did you make me like this?” As a new believer, and someone who had experienced lifelong same-sex attractions (SSA), I couldn’t help but feel like I had drawn the short stick. I thought, if God is really good, why doesn’t he just take these desires away?
Then I read Tony Reinke’s book on John Newton, where, in one chapter, Reinke describes Newton’s view on indwelling sin. Newton believed the reason God allows sinful temptations to remain in the lives of believers is that he has assigned purposes for the temptations that work for his glory and, believe it or not, for our good.
Make no mistake: sin is deadly, sin defames God, and killing sin by the Spirit is the Christian’s daily work (Galatians 5:17). Therefore, we must beat our temptations to sin down to nothing (Romans 8:12–13), and relentlessly pray for them to cease, never assuming they’re ours to battle for life. If you are a Christian who struggles with SSA, resolve through daily repentance to drag your SSA out of the weeds and slay it without mercy. Jesus died so you would die to your SSA (1 Peter 2:24).
“I thought, if God is really good, why doesn’t he just take these desires away?”
And if it persists, as you fight daily against your SSA, do so with the hope that, because of Christ, your victory is certain. Newton writes, “Though sin wars, it shall not reign; and though it breaks our peace, it cannot separate us from his love” (Newton on the Christian Life, 115). Your lingering homosexual attractions may tempt you and distress you, but if you make war on them by the Spirit, they cannot separate you from the love of God (Romans 8:39). From this position of Christ-centered certainty, we can see five ways your remaining temptations can actually work for your good.
1. To Sense Sustaining Grace
Same-sex attractions can help us marvel at the sheer strength of God’s sustaining grace. Newton said God’s work in the lives of sinners is like a “spark burning in the water,” and that every morning the flame of faith continues to burn we should marvel (116). God allows Christians to struggle with same-sex attractions, first, because only after we feel the intensity of our temptations can we truly feel the superior strength of his sustaining grace that will keep us till the end (1 Corinthians 1:8).
God is progressively delivering you from your SSA (Philippians 1:6), but he’s doing it in a way that allows you to sense the strength and stubbornness of sin so that you would marvel as sustaining grace proves to be stronger still (Jude 24).
2. To Feel the Cross’s Victory
Another purpose God has for your SSA is to help you feel, in a real and tangible way, the victory of the cross. The Christian who experiences SSA cannot talk of sin in merely spiritual terms. SSA forces us to have a profoundly physical experience with sin’s power, which means for the Christian, a profoundly physical experience with the power of the cross.
The cross of Christ transforms SSA from a dungeon of darkness to a trampoline of triumph. Through Christ’s accomplished work on the cross, your SSA no longer has a binding force (Romans 6:6–7), but a bouncing force — an opportunity to go Godward, clinging to and worshiping Christ.
Every time you feel the low, lingering effects of your SSA, let them bounce you up, singing, “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:56–57). God wants your SSA to create a palpable appreciation of Christ’s victory on the cross.
3. To Be Humbled
Another reason God allows you to experience unwanted same-sex attractions is to be humbled. God intends our SSA to cultivate true humility and reliance upon Christ.
“Same-sex attractions can help us marvel at the sheer strength of God’s sustaining grace.”
Newton notes that if a sailor escapes with his life in a storm on the open sea, he will be grateful but soon forget his deliverance. However, if a sailor escapes “storm after storm, swell after swell, near-death experience after near-death experience,” as Reinke puts it, he will be much more thankful and humbled when he makes it safe to harbor (116).
The Christian who experiences SSA, like every other Christian beset with temptations, “is safe on the journey home, but not arrogantly safe” (116). Rather, he is humbly and thankfully safe. Let each swell of SSA and wave of temptation push you, in humble gratitude, into the harbor that is Jesus Christ.
4. To Taste the Sweetness of Jesus
Newton writes of Christians who are greatly familiar with their indwelling sin, “They would not have known so much of him, if they had not known so much of themselves” (118).
Christians whose sins surround them like swarming bees — who daily experience the remaining deceitfulness of their hearts and the weakness of their flesh — when they learn that now they stand righteous before God through Christ (Romans 3:24), like a cup of cold water to a desert-dry tongue, the Savior tastes sweeter. God has purposed your SSA to help you feel the absolute necessity for a savior, and thus, help you better taste the sweetness of the Savior as he satisfies all your longings and desires (Psalm 107:9).
5. To Set Your Hopes Beyond This World
Reinke summarizes Newton’s final purpose for ongoing temptations by noting that our indwelling sin “sets our hope on this future day, prevents us from storing up treasures on earth, readies us for death, and keeps us in eager anticipation of our ‘glorious liberty’ to come” (119). Because we know all sinful inclinations will one day be forever removed from us (1 John 3:2), SSA helps us ache for the day of its full and final removal.
“We know all sinful inclinations will one day be forever removed from us.”
Until then, God will be working everything in your life — even your lingering temptations — for your good. Newton writes, “If [our indwelling sins] make us more vile in our own eyes, and make Jesus more precious to our hearts, they shall not hurt us, but rather, we may rank them among the all things that shall work for our good” (119).
In the hands of faith, any SSA you still experience should make you explosively eager for and laser-focused on the day when every lie and temptation and obstacle to your joy in Jesus will be forever removed from your heart, and you will see the good that God has been working for you all along. May your SSA help you fixate on the superior satisfaction that awaits (Psalm 16:11).