(Over the past three weeks I have had several phone conversations with Andrew. I have not posted them because of their very personal nature and because of the very explicit things we talked about. But there were a couple of talks we had this week that I do want to post, and I have done it with Andrew’s approval. Here is an edited and condensed version of those talks for anyone interested. It’s a bit longer than usual because it covers two days in one post, but it reads fast.)
Andrew: I know I’ve called a lot lately, but I really need to talk right now. Is that OK?
Me: Of course! Why would you even ask?
Andrew: I don’t want to be a pest. But I’ve been thinking a lot about stuff lately and just need to talk about it.
Me: OK. What’s on your mind?
Andrew: It’s hard to put into words, and I usually mess things up trying to express myself. But it’s about the Christian life — or how I feel about things now compared to when I first became a Christian.
Andrew: Well, when I was first converted I remember how happy and joyful I was. It was like I came into this new world where everything was almost magical. I went from being terrified of God’s wrath because of my sins to loving God and wanting to please him more than anything. And it felt like anything was possible. And life was so good and one great thing after another happened and I just was amazed at it all. And when I was in church it was like I could feel God was there.
Me: Yes, I can remember all that. You were a happy person for sure.
Andrew: But it’s not like that anymore. People were so glad that I had come out of my gay life and told me I would be a changed person now, and I really believed it all. I just wanted to do what was right and be right. And for a while it seemed like I was. But it wasn’t long before I began to realize that what I was being told and what was really happening was not the same thing. The truth was that I soon found I was still very consciously attracted to guys and had to fight looking at them and thinking about sex with them. So I thought marriage would be the thing I needed and when a girl showed interest in me I rushed into it, but it wasn’t long before I knew that wasn’t helping and was in some ways making things worse.
Me: Slow down, man. You’re firing words like a machine gun. So where are you going with this? What’s the thing that’s really troubling you?
Andrew: OK, it’s that I expected all this change people were telling me about, but it didn’t happen. So now I wonder if I’m really a Christian. And because of it I don’t feel very happy anymore and have this darkness in my soul. Sometimes I feel like giving it all up as futile.
Me: Well, what kind of change were you expecting?
Andrew: That I would stop being gay.
Me: Well, in a big way you did, didn’t you? I mean, look at how you were living before your conversion. Life was all about gay sex, and lots of it. Weekends were for prowling around looking for tricks. Life was sex-saturated. It’s what controlled you. I lived the same way for years, so I know where you were. But after we became Christians, that kind of life stopped. We started living for the true God and not for the sex god. There was a visible and obvious change in how we lived. And that is real change.
Andrew: Well, that’s true. But my attraction to guys didn’t go away. And I didn’t develop any attraction for women. People told me that would all change, but it didn’t. I still feel gay inside. It doesn’t stop.
Me: Andrew, we could go into all the stuff about sanctification that we’ve talked about before and about what kind and degree of change we can realistically expect. But I don’t think it will help much right now. So let me take a different route and see if it will help you. Let’s go back to when you first became a believer. What does a sinner have to do to be saved?
Andrew: He has to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.
Me: And what happens when he does that?
Andrew: God forgives all his sins because Christ suffered the penalty for them on the cross and treats him as though he never did anything wrong because of the life Christ lived for him.
Me: Exactly. Very good. And did he have to do anything, undergo any changes, before God would accept him?
Andrew: No, God justifies the ungodly. We come as we are and believe the gospel and he accepts us because of what Christ did.
Me: And now that we are Christians, do we live perfect lives so that God now accepts us because of what we’ve done?
Andrew: None of us are perfect. We still sin and need to be forgiven every day.
Me: So even as Christians God accepts us because of what Jesus is instead of what we are?
Andrew: Yes. Otherwise there is no hope for anyone.
Me: Of course. But here’s what tends to happen as we get into living the Christian life. We start by believing that we have been justified freely because of Christ’s shed blood and that God has forgiven our sins, adopted us as sons, reconciled us to Himself, given us the Holy Spirit, and so on. Scripture promises these things. Because of the initial euphoria this often brings, we feel like living the Christian life is easy now that we are equipped for holy living. But it’s not long before we realize that sin continues to be a part of our life and stubbornly won’t let us eliminate it the way we expected. And we start thinking that continuing sin seems to be just evidence that we’re not really believers at all. If we were, this thing would go away. But it doesn’t.
Andrew: Boy, that sounds like me for sure.
Me: But what’s wrong with that thinking?
Andrew: Well…maybe I’m forgetting why God accepts me in the first place.
Me: Bingo! Exactly! Your acceptance by God is still on the same basis it was when you first believed. The gospel is still your only hope. Put another way, it’s not what is or isn’t going on inside you that is now the reason you are a child of God. It’s still and always will be because of what Christ did for us. We get into trouble when we start looking at our remaining sin and how little change we often see. There’s a sense in which that’s all irrelevant. What matters is keeping up a strong faith in the gospel. It’s from that vantage point that we pursue holiness.
Andrew: So it’s not so much that I do things so God will accept me, but I do them because God has accepted me. I need to get back to Christianity 101.
Me: For sure. And the same goes for all the change you want to see in yourself but find so little change really happening. It’s a gradual process, not an event that happens in a moment. But it’s a process that God is taking you through because you are his child by faith in Christ. You’re a long way from being perfect, just like any believer, and in yourself you cannot satisfy God’s requirements. What’s going on inside you — or what’s not going on — is not the ground of your hope. Christ alone is.
Andrew: But if I’m a true believer, isn’t God going to make me more holy and more like Christ?
Me: Yes, of course. But change is a process and will be incomplete as long as we are in this world. And change will be individual and tailored for every one of us as God sees fit. We will never be satisfied with what we are or what we’ve attained, because there will always be remaining sin to deal with. But our status as children of God through faith in Christ will always be the same. It doesn’t change. We are secure, even if we’re still so sinful and fall so short of the glory of God.
Andrew: So maybe I’m expecting too much and letting myself get discouraged when I don’t see the change I want to see? Maybe I’m dictating to God how I want things to be rather than letting him deal with me like he wants? And when I don’t get what I want, then I get discouraged and give it all up?
Andrew: I think it’s more than ‘maybe.’ I think it’s more like exactly my problem.
Me: So if you know the problem, then you should also know the solution. And the solution isn’t focusing on how ‘gay’ you feel.
Andrew: But that has been my focus. But now I see it’s time to change that and focus on Christ again and let God do what only he can do.
Me: Something like that. Keep your gaze on him and not on how gay you are or aren’t. The Holy Spirit will deal with all that.
Andrew: I’m seeing some light at the end of this dark tunnel. Thanks, friend.
Me: Pressing on, my friend.