Rescuing Identity from Sexuality

Rescuing Identity from Sexuality

From his prison cell, Christopher Yuan had time to think. He was in prison for buying and selling drugs, but he wasn’t thinking about drugs; he was thinking about identity. Christopher had spent his youth and young adulthood identifying as a homosexual:
For the longest time, I really believed that God had created me this way – gay. I had told myself over and over, I am gay. I was born this way. This is who I am. I never chose to have these feelings.[1]
Many who identify as homosexual have told themselves the same thing. But now Christopher was reading the Bible… a lot. He recounts combing through Scripture “looking for justification for homosexuality.” At the end of his search he concluded, “I couldn’t find any.”
At gay-pride parades he had encountered protesters holding up hateful signs insisting that God hated the same-sex attracted, but when Christopher actually read the verses these protestors typically referenced he discovered something different:
I came across Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 – passages normally used to condemn gays and lesbians to a fiery fate… But I realized that God didn’t call lesbians and gay men abominations. He called it an abomination.  What God condemned was the act, not the person. For so long, I had gotten the message from the Christian protestors at gay-pride parades that the God of the Bible hated people like me, because we were abominations. But after reading these passages, I saw that God didn’t hate me; nor was he condemning me to an inescapable destiny of torment. But rather, it was the sex he condemned, and yet he still wanted an intimate relationship with me…
This left Christopher at a crossroads:
Either abandon God to live as a homosexual – by allowing my feelings and sexual passions to dictate who I was. Or abandon homosexuality – by liberating myself from my feelings – and live as a follower of Jesus Christ. My decision was obvious. I chose God.
Christopher’s words are incredibly insightful and truly get to the heart of identity. In our core, who are we? Are we defined by our sexual desires (or any desires, for that matter!) or by something else? Christopher offers,
As I searched the Scriptures for the way I should live, I began to ask myself a different question: Who am I apart from my sexuality? I didn’t have an answer.
Christopher, like so many in our culture today, had grown up in a culture marinating in the belief that sexuality and identity were inseparable, that to be our authentic and true selves we need to act on our sexual desires and to embrace our internal sense. This belief is baked into the LGBTQ cake. These letters don’t just stand for behaviors, to our culture they are banners of identity. For those who claim these letters as their identity, asking them who they are apart from their sexualized letter would leave them just as speechless as Christopher.
So Christopher again turned to the Scriptures in earnest. If homosexual wasn’t his identity, what was it? Who was he apart from his sexuality? It took a while – fortunately, as Christopher reflected, God had placed him in prison with time to read and think – but slowly the lie of sexual identity was exposed:
I realized that my identity shouldn’t be defined by my sexuality. Paul said in Acts 17:28, ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’  Christ should be everything – my all in all.  My sexual orientation didn’t have to be defined by my feelings or sexual attractions. My identity was not ‘gay’ or ‘homosexual,’ or even ‘heterosexual,’ for that matter. But my identity as a child of the living God must be in Jesus Christ alone. 
Christopher had discovered what Scripture has always affirmed: we are not defined by our desires or by our internal sense; we are defined by our relationship to God. We are not sexual beings; we are religious beings. Yes, sex is a part of our experience, but sex is not the core of our identity. Christopher wrestled deeply with this:
I always figured that just as I needed food and water, I needed sex. God wouldn’t anymore ask me to give up sex than he would ask me to give up eating or sleeping – or so I thought… As I read through the Bible, I realized there were people who lived their whole lives without sex, like Jesus – yet he was complete and whole. Paul was also single and spoke positively about singleness, sexual purity, and abstinence. Maybe I had made sex an idol…
That was a hard admission to make, but a mature and wise one. Sexuality does not define our identity; God does. And He does not define it in sexualized terms. He first, in creation, defines it simply as male and female. From there, from our identity as male or female, God calls us to lives of holiness. Christopher offers,
God says, ‘Be holy, for I am holy.’ I had always thought that the opposite of homosexuality was heterosexuality. But actually the opposite of homosexuality is holiness. God never said, ‘Be heterosexual, for I am heterosexual.’ He said, ‘Be holy, for I am holy.’
In other words, sexuality is the wrong focus. Holiness as males and females is the right focus. The message to anyone struggling with the LGBTQ identity alphabet is not, “Be heterosexual.” That keeps identity anchored to sexuality and perpetuates the lie being pedaled by our culture. Is it possible for a person’s desires to change? Yes. Many people have borne witness to such changes, but desire change isn’t the goal because the goal isn’t to get someone to experience a sexualized desire.
Breaking away from Christopher’s story for a moment, we can appreciate this point as it is made by Rosoria Butterfield, a woman who identified as a lesbian for 10 years before discovering the same thing Christopher discovered about God and identity. She writes in her book The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert:
I started to see how my pride (which manifested itself in my lesbianism) separated me from the holy God who made me and promised to take care of me. I didn’t stop feeling like a lesbian, not at first. Rather, I started to feed on the promises in the Bible and spend more time embracing the means of grace than the means of the world. God slowly and powerfully changed me. I don’t mean here that God changed me from gay to straight. The blood of Christ is too powerful to merely reflect status-shifts in identity or sexuality. God made me to see myself in the context of his love, his design, his authority, his sovereignty, his salvation, and his holiness. I saw that in my pride, I was persecuting Jesus himself, the one and only source of atoning love.
Like Christopher, Rosoria saw her relationship with God as being bigger than a status-shift in her identity. The goal, as she and Christopher discovered, is holiness. Christopher reflects,
For the longest time, I could never see myself becoming straight. It was a burden, because I felt I had to somehow become straight to please God. So when I realized that heterosexuality should not be my goal, it was so freeing… I knew I shouldn’t focus on homosexuality or even heterosexuality, but on the one thing that God calls everyone to: holy sexuality. Holy sexuality is not focused on orientation change – becoming straight – but on obedience. And I realized that obedience means, no matter what my situation, no matter what my feelings – gay or straight – I must obey and be faithful to God.
Does this mean Christopher must now practice abstinence? Yes. But, as he observes, “Abstinence is not something unfair or unreasonable for God to ask of his people.” The fact of the matter is the call to follow Christ requires abstaining from many things. Please appreciate this point. If we are to follow Christ, we must abstain from many things that our flesh desires. Consider but a few exhortations from Scripture: 
For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God (1 Thessalonians 4:3-5).
Abstain from every form of evil (1 Thessalonians 5:22).
Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul (1 Peter 2:11-12).
So the question that Christopher realized he must answer was this: What do I think I can’t live without? That is a question every Christ follower must answer. Could you live without sex? Could you live without certain music (i.e. profane music)? Could you live without a portion of your income (in order to support Christ’s mission)? Could you live without certain words (i.e. profane words)? Could you live without porn? Could you live without a few hours a week so that you could gather with the church in worship and study?
This was the question Christopher was asking: Could I live without sex? Could I live without a homosexual identity? And he realized that he could:
I was realizing that there were a lot of things I could live without – and it was freeing. I was not controlled by my past addictions, my old idols, my sexual attraction, or my sexuality.
Separating these things from his identity was freeing and it allowed him to discover the one thing he couldn’t live without:
What do I think I can’t live without? Well, there was one thing, or more specifically one person, I knew I couldn’t live without – Jesus.
When Christopher understood this, he understood what it meant for his identity to be rescued from his sexuality. May we all experience such rescue. – Pastor Conner


[1] Christopher, along with his mother Angela, recount his journey from the pits of drug and sex addition to freedom in Jesus in the book Out of A Far Country.

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