By Chris Bolinger, Crosswalk.com
His life had fallen apart.
Christopher Yuan had been expelled from dental school, three months before graduation. He had been arrested, tried, and convicted for selling drugs. And he had received the diagnosis that he was HIV positive.
But God was calling to Yuan. And Yuan, who previously had despised God, was beginning to listen. That listening started with some reading. A single Bible verse – Jeremiah 29:11 – scrawled on the bed frame above Yuan’s. Portions of a Gideon’s New Testament that Yuan had found in a trash can.
His transformation was gradual. “God began convicting me of my idols,” Yuan recalls. “And let me tell you, I had a lot of idols.”
The most obvious idol was drugs. “I was very much addicted,” says Yuan. “My drug of choice was crystal meth, specifically the purest form of that, which is ice. With ice, I would be up for ten days straight. It was an enormous vice for me.”
God delivered him from his drug addiction in a few months. Overcoming Yuan’s main idol, however, would take longer.
“There was one thing that I felt like I couldn't let go of,” says Yuan. “It was my sexuality.”
Yuan identified as gay. Are same-sex relationships sinful? He went to the prison chaplain for answers.
Identity vs. Behavior
“The chaplain told me that the Bible does not condemn homosexuality,” Yuan says. “He even gave me a book explaining that view.”
Yuan had “every reason in the world” to accept what the book claimed. Those arguments would justify Yuan’s past actions – seeking intimacy and happiness in sexual relationships with other men – and would allow him to pursue a monogamous same-sex relationship in the future.
Rather than taking someone else’s word for it, Yuan decided to examine the Bible himself. He went through the entire Bible looking for any evidence in support of homosexual practices, and he came up empty. “I know now that it was God's indwelling Holy Spirit that convicted me that those assertions from that book were a clear distortion of God and His Word,” he says. He gave the book back to the chaplain.
So, if homosexuality was not an option, then was heterosexuality the goal? To become a Christian, did Yuan have to “become straight”? If being straight was good, then being attracted to lots and lots of women would be even better. “I realized that, even if I had opposite-sex attractions, I would still need to flee temptation to sexual sin,” says Yuan. Heterosexuality may be the right direction, but it was not the right biblical goal.
He realized that his sexual attractions were dictating not only his behavior but also his identity. His sexuality was the core of who he was – or, at least, who he thought he was. “My identity should not be grounded in my desires,” he says. “My identity as a child of the living God must be in Jesus Christ alone.”
To live as a follower of Jesus, he continues, you need to free yourself from the influence of any desires, including your sexual desires. But how?
The Pursuit of Holiness
“The opposite of homosexuality is not heterosexuality,” says Yuan. “That’s not the goal. God doesn't command us to be heterosexual. God says, ‘Be holy, for I am holy.’ The opposite of homosexuality is holiness. As a matter of fact, the opposite of every sin struggle is holiness.” Holy sexuality is chastity in singleness or faithfulness in marriage.
To pursue holiness, according to Yuan, you need to stay focused on the goal and remain hopeful that God will help you achieve it. You will be tempted to sin. After all, Jesus was tempted in every way. Jesus was without sin because he was holy, and you, too, can resist sin by the power of the Holy Spirit. This process is called sanctification.
Pursuing holiness may not make you happy. Yuan notes that all of us, especially young people, are inundated with stories where people say that they found happiness when they “embraced themselves.” But that’s not a biblical approach.
“God actually isn't that concerned about us being happy,” Yuan notes. “He wants us to be holy. The Bible tells you not to embrace yourself but to embrace Christ. We need to provide stories of pursuing holiness. These are redemptive stories that make Christ the center of all.”
Another reason that Jesus needs to be at the center is that people cannot become holy on their own. Yuan comments that, from a young age, boys are told that men are strong and that, if you are weak then you are not a man. As a result, men view weakness and dependency in extremely negative terms. The Bible, however, instructs us that men, and women, truly are weak and are completely dependent on God for everything.
“Most Christians recognize that we can’t save ourselves,” says Yuan. “But we can’t sanctify ourselves, either. We seem to suffer from amnesia on this second point and try to sanctify ourselves on our own. Of course, we need to work at it; we can’t just sit back and do nothing. But we have to depend and rely on the only One who can save us, because He’s the only one who can sanctify us.”
Yuan cites 2 Corinthians 12, where Paul discusses a thorn in the flesh with which he struggled. Paul, who had incredible faith, prayed three times that Jesus would take away the thorn, but Jesus did not. Instead, Jesus responded that his grace was sufficient and that his power is made perfect in weakness. Paul finishes the section with this: “For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
God’s Grand Story and Our Sexuality
Yuan – who after prison earned bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees and taught Bible at Moody Bible Institute for 12 years – captures his thoughts on pursuing holiness in his book Holy Sexuality and the Gospel: Sex, Desire, and Relationships Shaped by God’s Grand Story, which was named the 2020 book of the year for social issues by Outreach Magazine. What is God’s grand story, and how does it shape our sexuality?
God’s grand story, says Yuan, has four key markers: (1) creation, (2) the fall, (3) redemption in Christ and (4) consummation, where those who are saved experience full glory in the presence of God. To understand sexuality, including sexual desires, we need to put sexuality in the context of God’s story.
Sex existed before the fall, so an examination of sex and sexuality should begin with creation, Yuan explains. God created the first two people, Adam and Eve, as sexed – male or female – and also designed the act of sex to be the union of two people, a man and a woman, becoming one flesh, as explained in Genesis 2.
“From the beginning, sex was a good thing to be reserved for a husband and wife in marriage,” says Yuan. “But then the fall happened. We rebelled against God, and with that rebellion our desires became distorted. Not only are our actions sinful, but our thoughts and our desires are sinful.”
Sexual sins, like all other sins, point to our need for salvation through Christ, who redeems us, continues Yuan. Just as Jesus was tempted, we will be tempted. Because our minds are in the process of being renewed and sin still dwells within us, as Paul explains in Romans 7, we continue to struggle with sin. We await the final stage of God’s story, consummation, when there will be no more sin. Or death. Or tears.
What should our role be in this grand story, when we encounter someone who has a view of sexuality that we don’t share? Yuan recommends that you earn the right for that person to listen to you . . . by first listening to him or her.
“Listening is not the same thing as condoning,” he says. “You're asking for someone’s story. You don’t have to affirm a relationship or a behavior. Just affirm that you heard the person and his or her experience and you want to get to know that person better. That person has value to you.”
Photo Credit: Thinkstock/Everste
Chris Bolinger is the author of three men’s devotionals – 52 Weeks of Strength for Men, Daily Strength for Men, and Fuerzas para Cada Día para el Hombre – and the co-host of the Empowered Manhood podcast. He splits his time between northeast Ohio and southwest Florida. Against the advice of medical professionals, he remains a die-hard fan of Cleveland pro sports teams. Find him at mensdevotionals.com.