Book Club Channel
Discovering Sexual Wholeness: An Interview with T.C. Ryan
I think a healthy ethic of sexual wholeness is using our sexuality in self-respecting, God-respecting, and others-respecting ways; that is, thinking and behaving sexually in ways that honor and are fully integrated with our best and healthiest core values. And, I believe, healthy core values reflect the truths that it is God who has given us life; life lived with God at the center of it is the best way to live; and God always leads us to loving, honest, and integrated living.
To the degree we guide our sexual thinking and acting to reflect these core values—and let's be clear that no one does this perfectly or evenly, that all of us have struggles of some sort in these areas—but to the degree we make progress in these areas we give credence to the gospel of Jesus who told us we are to be perfect as our Father in Heaven is perfect. You can imagine that someone like me involuntarily shudders at those words, but we have to hear them and we have to understand, too, that Jesus is not telling us that perfect performance is the requirement of the gospel; rather he is telling us the design, intent, and effect of the gospel is to spiritually transform its recipients so that they become children who in increasing measure think and feel and act like their Father in Heaven.
An intriguing element of the gospel is that the incarnation means that the Divine Being participates with us in our humanness, and that includes our sexuality. Jesus of Nazareth, the God-man, is the one who has earned the right to say "I know" about all the realities of what it means to be human, including confronting sexual struggle and living in sexual wholeness. So in Christ we have the architect of reclaimed sexual health in humanity and the one with the power to bring that about.
What would you say to someone who feels helpless in the face of compulsive sexual behavior? What would you say to someone who wants to help that person?
To the person who feels overwhelmed by their compulsive sexual behavior and is feeling helpless to effect change, I want them to hear that they are not alone, they are not damaged goods, and God has not forgotten them nor turned his back on them. They are loved by a Father in Heaven who is never surprised nor put off by their failings. I also want them to hear that they were never meant to bear this burden alone and, indeed, they cannot overcome it alone. They need to find safe, trustworthy, and competent companions to help them. They will probably need professional help at some point along the way. Don't be afraid of that or put off by that and do not use that or limited finances as an excuse to do nothing.
They will need to practice rigorous honesty, do hard work, really want it, keep at it. But they were never meant to die in the wilderness of compulsive sexual behavior and Jesus will help them if they will work with him. It's not easy. And . . . it gets better. It won't always seem the way it seems now. They are worth recovering.
To the one who wants to help the sexually compulsive person, study addiction. Learn everything you can about it. If you're not compulsive yourself, then know you will not be able actually to understand the thinking patterns of the addict. Be grateful your mind doesn't work like that! But you can learn a lot about how it works.
Don't judge; Jesus warns us explicitly about judging others. Realize that sexual brokenness isn't any worse than other areas of human struggle and failing. Pray for them. Be supportive and accepting.
Tim Keel is the Senior Pastor and primary teaching pastor at Jacob's Well and a member of its leadership team. After spending eleven years as the founding pastor of Jacob's Well, Tim and his family moved to Auckland, New Zealand, where he was the Senior Fellow for Congregational Studies at Laidlaw College. He has recently returned to Jacob's Well and is excited to once more be a part of the Jacob's Well community.
Keel is the author of Intuitive Leadership: Embracing a Paradigm of Metaphor, Narrative, and Chaos (Baker, 2007) and a forthcoming volume on Ecclesiastes in the Resonate Bible Commentary series from Intervarsity Press.