On the way to the airport after church on Sunday, Mary Ann and I were reflecting on the service and on what we’d learned from Romans 6.
And as is often the case after a service is over, Mary Ann had a great observation about the message.
“So what exactly does it look like to present your members to God as instruments of righteousness? How does someone do that in real life?”
It’s a good thing when your wife reminds you that a key component of effective Bible teaching involves moving past the theological pillars in a passage to the practical and pastoral implications of that passage.
So what does it look like to reckon yourself as dead to sin and alive to God?
I’ll let Tammy Perlmutter explain. She’s had to regularly, persistently reckon herself as dead to sin and alive to righteousness. She wrote about it in a blog post I read this week. She titled her post “My Mixed-Orientation Marriage.” It will take you a few extra minutes to read this, but trust me, it’s worth it.
Here’s what she wrote:
I never heard the term “mixed-orientation” marriage until a few years ago. I didn’t have a name for what we had. It was just marriage. There wasn’t any special treatment of our relationship. Maybe things would have been easier if there was. I wasn’t aware of any couples’ support groups, retreats, or conferences focusing on this unique covenant.
When Mike pursued me, he already knew about my past and it didn’t matter to him. He would joke that we have the same struggle: a weakness for women. He wasn’t intimidated by my attraction to women, and he wasn’t threatened by it either. He just loved me. He didn’t want us to have a strong relationship in spite of my attractions; he believed we could have one that transcended my attractions. A mixed-orientation marriage didn’t scare him at all.
Our story isn’t one you will read about in the media because it doesn’t attract the same attention as others, namely the ones featuring adultery and divorce due to a spouse’s same-sex attraction. News like this feeds the false belief that any sexual desires thwarted or denied will only cause heartbreak and betrayal. “Follow your heart” becomes the new Golden Rule, and “being true to yourself” is now seen as heroic, regardless of who gets hurt.
But Mike didn’t expect me to be miraculously delivered from my struggle as soon as he put the ring on my finger. He knew it would be a journey, but he had hope. Mike trusted my relationship with Jesus would be the foundation of my love for him.
Ultimately, I wasn’t choosing between Mike and women, I was choosing between God and women. I committed my heart, body, and spirit to Jesus, and that included my sexuality.
The most powerful temptation for me is to find my worth in my friendships with women. I would pursue and invest with abandon, often leaving my husband feeling abandoned. He would point out that I listen more and better to the women in my life than I do to him. I would immediately get defensive. But it turned out to be true. I would put more stock in my friends’ opinions and advice, and seeking Mike’s was an afterthought.
The cure for that isn’t giving Mike more attention or time, it’s responding to Jesus’s conviction about where my heart is. If I’m not present to my husband, that most likely means I’m not present to God. I can’t improve my marriage solely by focusing on my husband’s needs. The only victory over flesh we will find is when we are both seeking the kingdom first.
Ultimately, I wasn’t choosing between Mike and women, I was choosing between God and women. I committed my heart, body, and spirit to Jesus, and that included my sexuality. I tried the white-knuckling for years. I tried to be vigilant about what I saw, listened to, and read. I prayed for awareness of the vibes (bait) I was putting out and being honest about vibes from others I was picking up. I was scrupulous in my confession. I wore shame like a shroud and defeat like a mantle.
I was focusing on behavior modification when what I needed was heart transformation. God doesn’t want me driven to distraction by fleeting feelings or momentary twinges of desire, he wants me so transfixed by him that what I want changes dramatically. I’m no longer aiming for fewer temptations as I am longing for more of God — more of his Word, more of his presence, and more of his healing power. That is when I want more of Mike — more of his heart, more of his attention, more of his affection.
God doesn’t want me driven to distraction by fleeting feelings or momentary twinges of desire, he wants me so transfixed by him that what I want changes dramatically.
There are specific challenges we face in our relationship. Mike has felt lonely over the years. He often prays that my longing for him would match the intensity of my desire for women. Anne Lamott once said that the mind is a dangerous place, you shouldn’t go in there alone. I have women I confess to, who hold me accountable, and ask hard questions. My husband checks in with me regularly and helps me stay present.
When I’m in a vulnerable place struggling with my thoughts and desires, I don’t stay there. I’m learning how to invite Jesus, right then and there, into whatever fantasy is playing in my head. I imagine myself talking to him about what is happening, why l want it, or who I want, and how I think it will fill the hole inside me. Then I look at him and beg him to be enough for me, to give me the power to say no to myself, to surrender my desires to him, and ask him to fill the emptiness inside me with his Spirit.
My struggle can be a constant source of hurt for Mike. He senses a low-grade rejection of him as a man. He hasn’t had anyone to talk to about this; nobody he knows has experienced it. He doesn’t have a safe place to express his pain and confusion. He doesn’t have someone to walk alongside him in this. It’s taken him years to acknowledge it and share how he feels.
I don’t believe that my same-sex attraction is the biggest obstacle in our marriage. It’s not the hinge that all other arguments or issues swing on. When we have conflict it’s not because I have a crush on a woman, entered into enmeshment with a friend, or gave in to using porn. More likely than not, it’s about Mike’s anger, my impatience, my detachment, his negativity. Those are the real enemies of our marriage.
We know that God brought us together and keeps us committed. Our marriage is a testimony of how God’s healing power and love can draw people to one another and keep them devoted, faithful, and fruitful, even in the face of adversity and disappointment. Our faults and failings threaten to separate us, but when we are vulnerable and honest, those same things pull us closer to each other and to God. We have an enemy who wants to destroy our marriage, and us, but we have a God who will defeat death and destruction in any form, and he has hope and a future for our marriage.
I’m grateful for Tammy’s courage to be honest, transparent and vulnerable about her ongoing battle with a persistent sinful desire. One of my prayers for all of us at Redeemer is that we can be people who are equally honest, transparent and vulnerable with one another about our ongoing battles with sinful patterns in our lives.
I don’t know what the thorn in your flesh is. Anger. Fear of man issues. Struggles with your self image. Control issues. You can add your own battle here: _____________________________.
Whatever the issue, the path to transformation is the same as the path Tammy is following. It’s a path we’ll explore in more detail when we arrive at Romans 12:1-2:
“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
Can you name the primary spiritual battle you’re facing right now? What is it that is tripping you up?
Once you have it identified, try doing this every morning for the next two weeks, and see what happens.
1. Spend time thinking, reading, singing and praying about God’s grace and mercy in your life.
2. Remind yourself that you are a living sacrifice. You are dead to sin and alive to God. Ask God in prayer to help you to be unresponsive to the sin of ________________ and instead, to joyfully seek and embrace God’s will for your life in this area of your life.
3. Make a list and add to it each day. On one side of a piece of paper, start making a list of the rationalizations or excuses people use for engaging in the specific behavior you’re addressing. Then on the other side of the page, start listing any passages of scripture that address the issue. If you don’t know any scriptures to list, just Google “what the Bible says about X” and see what comes up.
4. Pick a verse each day and find at least five times when you can read it out loud. Meditate on that verse. Maybe even see if you can memorize it.
This is not a fool proof, four step plan for defeating a sinful pattern in your life. But it is one of the ways we can engage in spiritual warfare as we fight the good fight of faith.
It’s one of the ways we can practically apply what we read last Sunday:
“Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace” (Romans 6:12-14).
Not a lot of announcements this week. But get ready. Small groups are about to start up again for the fall. So it our women’s Bible Study. And we’ll have some things to share with you soon about some new opportunities for men at Redeemer. We also have some all church activities happening this fall.
We’ll be letting you know about all of this very soon. Stay tuned!
I don’t know if Bob Dylan was reading the second half of Romans 6 or not when he started writing songs for his Slow Train Coming album back in 1979. But as well see this week, he very well could have been…
See you in church!
Soli Deo Gloria!