When it comes to the pain brought about by sexual sin, Jesus has come to renew both the wayward and the wounded, the sexually immoral and the sexually victimized. The message of the gospel of Jesus Christ is that his grace extends healing to those suffering in sin, and to those who have suffered because of sin. In order to rightly renew sexuality, David Powlison writes that first “we must have a vision for what it is intended to be, for what’s gone wrong, and for how to bring about transformation.” In Making All Things New: Restoring Joy to the Sexually Broken, Powlison presents that better way—a way where victims of betrayal or assault can live a better life than just “Survivor”, and those currently trapped in dark and hidden sins can walk towards the Light and be free from shame.
To get an understanding of just how multifaceted this issue is, in chapter three Powlison introduces five knots we must distentangle as we work towards the holistic renewal of sexuality. In summary, these are Unholy Desires (sins of overt immorality—in person or in your imagination—with the wrong object of desire), Unholy Pain (when you’ve been treated like an object, the very thought of sex becomes stained by sufferings at the hand of others), An Unredeemed Sense of Guilt (for those trapped in sin, guilt turns them inward. Grace reminds us just how vast forgiveness is), Not Just a Male Problem (sexual immorality is no respecter of gender. Thankfully, Jesus’ mercy extends to all sinners with the same gender-blindness), and Sexual Struggles within Marriage (marriage is not a garden of uncomplicated sexual delight. Your sexuality will be remade in part by dealing with every other sin, as husband and wife walk with Christ).
A Christ-redefined life offers no quick fixes or instant removal of all the pain and baggage brought about by sexual sin. In chapters 4 – 9 Powlison shows how repentance of sin commences a sexual repatterning in us1.
Renewal is an ongoing journey, and Powlison encourages us to “have a vision for a long process (lifelong), with a glorious end (the last day), that is actually going somewhere (today).” Getting uncomfortably practical, Making All Things New unpacks the reality that while an immoral act or fantasy is a sin in itself, such behaviour always arises from desires and beliefs that dethrone God; loving something more than him. Whether it’s pornography or promiscuity, adultery or abuse, the battle for renewal is wider and deeper than simply struggling with the behaviour. Sexual sin is symptomatic, and is merely the manifestation of the deeper war for the heart’s loyalty.
We are people in process. Having discussed the direction we’re headed, the hard road to restoration, and the destination of rightly-oriented loving relationships, Making All Things New concludes with the greatest encouragement for the sin-sufferer and the suffering sinner. It is God’s will that we abstain from sexual immorality (1 Thessalonians 4:3); it is God who works in us (Jude 24), God who strengthens us (Galatians 5:16), and God who has promised to never leave us (Psalm 23:4, Hebrews 13:5). At every decision point, before every fork in the road, we recall that the living God walks the road beside us. While we are not yet what we shall be, we are growing towards it with the one who truly forgives, and truly renews.
1. I loved the idea of repentance commencing a holy, Christ-oriented ‘sexual repatterning’ in us, from the book endorsement written by Rosaria Butterfield (former professor of English at Syracuse University).