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Q&A: How should I help my child struggling with same-sex attraction?

My child is struggling with same-sex attraction. What should I do?

Treat same-sex attraction as a sin, not as THE sin. One of the devil’s tricks is to convince us that one sin is greater than others in God’s eyes because we may not be tempted by it. This attitude further ostracizes the person struggling with this particular sin.

Be careful not to treat this sin differently

Make no mistake. God is clear that same-sex attraction is a sin. “Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9,10).

But notice the other sins listed alongside homosexuality. Do you struggle with any of those at times? The struggle is the key. The apostle Paul is speaking about characteristic sin, that is, identifying with the sin rather than struggling against it. This sin, along with every other sin, is damning.

Remember that Jesus died for all sins of all people, including those struggling with same-sex attraction. “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2).

Another trick of the devil is to convince people that they are alone, broken, and beyond redemption. The gospel is the power of God for salvation (see Romans 1:16). We all need the gospel to show us that we are not alone, we are made whole in Christ, and we are redeemed by the same blood that cleanses us from every sin.

Whatever the sin, we need to remember that believers are always struggling children of God on this side of eternity. The apostle Paul describes that struggle: “For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. . . . For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing” (Romans 7:15-19). It will go a long way to acknowledge to your child that you are in the same boat, struggling against sins and temptations in your life. No matter the sin, we use the same tools to address it: law and gospel.

Meet them where they are

It is the believer’s responsibility to confront sin out of love for souls. “If one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins” (James 5:19,20). To know how to address your child, my first piece of advice is vitally important. Listen to your child. Do not make assumptions. Listen to your child’s story and the struggle that is taking place, and then meet your child where he or she is.

Martin Luther famously said that the one who can properly distinguish the law and the gospel deserves a doctor’s cap. He wasn’t talking about knowing which passages are law and which are gospel. He was talking about knowing when to apply law and when to apply gospel. Since we cannot read hearts, we need to listen to discover what is in someone’s heart. “For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of” (Matthew 12:34).

Sometimes your child may need more law and other times more gospel:

  • If your child says, “I know it’s wrong, but I’m going to embrace this lifestyle anyway,” your child needs more law to expose sin and point out that if Jesus is your Savior, he is also the Lord of your life.
  • If your child says, “I’m afraid that I’m going to hell,” your child needs more gospel to show that Jesus died for that sin too!
  • If your child says, “I’m really struggling with this; I don’t want to feel this way,” your child needs both law and gospel. Remind your child of Paul’s struggle in Romans chapter 7. Although sin lives in us, it’s never okay. God still tells us to fight it. “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry” (Colossians 3:5). But then remind your child of Paul’s conclusion to Romans chapter 7: “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24,25). In some sense, the Christian loses every battle because of the sinful nature but still wins the war. Point to Jesus, who has won the war for us.

Most important, keep the conversation going. Let your child know that you are a safe place for honest conversations about spiritual struggles. As you help your child, remember Paul’s encouragement to be gentle: “If someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently” (Galatians 6:1). Remember that the people who struggle with same-sex attraction are not the enemy; they are struggling against THE enemy.

Remind them of their identity

Another trick of Satan is convincing people struggling with same-sex attraction that this is their identity. You often will hear someone say, “I was born this way.” That could be true in a sense. It seems that some are born with a greater propensity to certain sins like alcoholism, anger, etc. However, that does not excuse the sin nor the necessity to fight against that sin. Christians have a far greater and more powerful identity: children of God.

Remind your child that he or she is God’s child! God does not love us because we are beautiful, rather we are beautiful because God loves us. Just consider how Scripture does not qualify our status by how we behave or how successful we are in our lives of sanctification. “You were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11). “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1). Even as the apostle Paul describes his struggle against sins and temptations in Romans, notice that the true identity of Christians is the new man of faith, not the sin we struggle against.

Finally, God’s love is our motivation to turn from sin. When we see how much God loves us, especially in the words and works of Jesus, we want to thank him with our life.

God bless you as you speak the truth in love and lead your child to the Savior’s hands, marked with his great love for the world . . . and for your child.

Have a question, ask it here!

Author: David Scharf
Volume 110, Number 8
Issue: August 2023

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