It’s easy for people to misunderstand why I left a life of romantic and sexual relationships with women. They string the list of renunciations together like a necklace — no to former love, no to former sexual patterns, no to fulfilling unasked-for attractions, no to a way of life — and to some this looks like a type of adornment. To many more, a chafing collar.
My life, however, is sustained by a resounding yes, a yes that is only found in Jesus Christ. Like a diamond that weighs down your hand, that makes you avert your eyes for its rainbow brilliance, coming to know Jesus has continually revealed just how dingy, superficial, and man-made the things were I used to consider a treasure.
But God has saved me and shown me that saying yes to Jesus is far better.
A Better Authenticity
Perhaps nothing carries more cultural cache today than the longing for the authentic, especially in the self. But how can we tell what our authentic self is? The answer from the culture around us is to look deep within, mining our desires. Because these spring from within us, they must be the keys to who we are. We have only one life. The greatest tragedy is to waste it by forcing ourselves into someone else’s mold.
This finds force especially in the realm of sexuality, where boundaries are cast as repressions that strangle the true self. Because I still experience but don’t pursue same-sex attractions, the world calls me foolish, like someone trying to dam the Mississippi with popsicle sticks. They see a no to those attractions as too feeble to hold back their desires.
And they’re right. That no is too weak to resist what naturally wells up within me. But the better authenticity that Jesus Christ has revealed to me is strong enough to withstand, and overcome, because it woos me away.
If giving free rein to my desires was the key to life, why had it only sometimes brought me happiness? Just as often, I reaped mediocrity or pain. Contrary to what I believed, pursuing my natural desires did not create fulfillment, nor were my desires fully trustworthy just because they were, and are, “real.” An itch can be very real, yelling out to be scratched. But for some ailments, scratching just deepens the wound. A different cure must be found.
A Better Truth
Jesus taught me the truth about myself: that I was born a broken image-bearer. Created in God’s image, I was still able to reflect certain things about him. My desires themselves were often expressing real needs that God had built into me; sex was his idea first. But I wasn’t able to understand them rightly.
I was born into rebellion, a spiritual stillbirth. My image-bearing was warped, a rotted house frame that would collapse under any life tacked to it. My desires needed interpretation, not blind obedience. Even in innocence, they were only meant to be signals, not masters. Now fallen, they require extra scrutiny because they arise in my flesh, which is naturally hostile to God (Romans 8:7).
Jesus taught me that my authentic self was not this fallen creation. My authentic self is the one covered by his righteousness, forgiven by his atoning death, washed by his Spirit, welcomed into his family, wielding the sword of his word. Jesus had purchased me out of slavery to my desires and given me his power to understand and redirect them. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and self-control is a fruit of the Spirit.
A Better Freedom
In fact, I am more than a conqueror in Christ. He has equipped me not merely to say no, but to grow in understanding the goodness of his design in the first place. I have nothing to fear in naming my temptations because there is no condemnation for me in Christ and I have the Spirit’s power to escape them (1 Corinthians 10:13). Denying and repressing them does not give me power; it tends only to deceive or delay. Calling them by name and submitting them to Christ alone robs them of the power of darkness and secrecy. In the light, they are exposed in their tatters.
In the light, I can begin to see that, at their best, sexuality and marriage are electrifying because they reveal God’s powerful longing to be with his bride and our anticipation of oneness with him. When my temptations are strong, I can remember that each and every one of us is born sexually broken, but not so broken that we are beyond re-creation in Jesus. His gift of sexuality can be reclaimed and experienced as originally designed, whether in celibacy or opposite-sex marriage, as we grow in the knowledge of him and knowledge of self.
The Best Yes
This is not limited to sexuality. Our flesh tries numerous tactics to deceive us, promising us that if we use God’s gifts in our own ways, we’ll create a better life. It’s as old as the garden. But money, power, family, health, rest — every good thing God dreamed up for us — crumbles and rots when we snatch it out of his hand. A yes to temptation is a yes to disappointment, pain, and ephemerality. Resisting it without Christ only kicks the can down the road or plunges us into a different deadly trap.
But a yes to Jesus clothes us in righteousness, stands us up in dignity, and blesses us with purpose. A yes to Jesus frees us to discover the gifts he’s given us, and even more shockingly, to discover that right where we are weak, he is strong. A yes to Jesus pulses us with a life so vibrant that we realize this indeed is the authenticity we have always craved, because we are connected to life itself, and all God’s promises to us are yes in Christ (2 Corinthians 1:20).
Friends, this is a beautiful yes, a yes that excludes all lesser things. It is not a yes to be pitied, but one to be desired.
Rachel Gilson is director of theological development at Cru Northeast. She holds a BA in history from Yale College and is completing her MDiv at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. She writes at her website.
A version of this article previously appeared on Desiring God website under the headline, “I Left Same-Sex Romance for Love.”
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