This book holds outhope in the midst of sexual brokenness: the grace and mercy of Jesus, supplying true, lasting mercy to both the sexually immoral and the sexually victimized.
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About the Author
David Powlison(MDiv, Westminster Theological Seminary) is a teacher, a counselor, and the executive director of the Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation. He is also the senior editor of theJournal of Biblical Counselingand the author ofSeeing with New Eyes,Good &Angry, andSpeaking Truth in Love.
Read an Excerpt
In order to renew anything, we must have a vision for what it is intended to be, for what's gone wrong, and for how to bring about transformation. This chapter will establish that threefold vision for sexuality and then orient you to particular emphases in how I am coming at the issues.
A Threefold Vision
Christian Faith Revels in Sexual Fidelity
The Bible is frank about sexual joy within the circle of faithfulness. Fidelity first orients you as a child of God in relationship to your Father. You come under his care and oversight. Fidelity then orients you as a steward of your own body. We all enter adult life with the gift of singleness; many of us continue with the gift of singleness for many years, even a lifetime; and a majority of us will end life with the gift of singleness. We must be stewards of ourselves. Fidelity then orients you in relationship to your husband or wife, if God subsequently gives the gift of marriage. God made sex, defines sex, evaluates sex — just as he made communication, food, family, work, money, health, and every other good thing. In his design, the man and the woman went unclothed and celebrated a unity that was frankly physical. The blessing "Be fruitful and multiply" (Gen. 1:22, 28) would be realized by knowing one another "in the biblical sense," as sex used to be whimsically described. Passing this vision on, a wise father encourages his son:
Let your fountain be blessed,
The Song of Solomon then sings with rhythms and images of sensual pleasure in the union of husband and wife. The Word of God chooses to spend whole chapters gazing in delight at male and female anatomy. Felicity and fidelity become one flesh.
When husband and wife join in intercourse, the One who sees in the dark sees exactly what they are doing and says, "It is very good." The private intimacy of marriage is public before the God who made male and female, who made their union good. Sexual intimacy is intended to flourish within trustworthy fidelity. It is meant to express love in the generosity and gladness of mutual giving. It bears fruit in children, if God gives that gift. The "one flesh" of marriage is such a good thing that it serves as a central metaphor for the relationship between Jesus Christ and his people. To see sexual immoralities as wrong is not to be nervous about sexuality. Christian faith envisions sexual joy before the eyes of the holy God. Neither immorality nor prudishness understands that.
Christian Faith Is Candid about Sexual Wrongs
The Bible discusses many forms of sexual immorality and sexual victimization. A vision for fidelity does not drive honesty about infidelity and betrayal underground. Prudish? Not Scripture. Squeamish about the sordid details of human life? The biblical authors frequently (though not always) eschew photographic description and details when they speak of sex and sexual organs. They often model a certain delicacy of generic description. Nonetheless, they speak openly, sometimes even graphically, of rape, adultery, voyeurism, seduction, fornication, prostitution, homosexuality, gender bending, bestiality, incest, and the like.
When Tamar experienced betrayal, rape, and humiliation from her half-brother Amnon, we are not given videographic details. But we know what was done to her. When David played the voyeur from the palace walls, we are not given an itemized description of what his eyes took in. But we know what he was doing, and what he and Bathsheba subsequently did together.
To complain about the "sex and violence" in popular culture is to complain about the glorification, mislabeling, and voyeuristic detailing of such evils. It is not the fact that these dark human realities are on the table. The Word of God does not stint in describing sex, violence, and sexual violence. Genesis, Judges, 2 Samuel, and Proverbs capture sordid moments. But God labels sin and suffering accurately. He freely speaks of the sordid — as sordid. He does not titillate us with alluring lies and excessive pictorial detail. And God freely speaks of how alluring the sordid can be.
For example, Proverbs 7 tells a seduction story in vivid detail. But Scripture tells such a story to warn us of the allure. And whether the wrong is one-sided (e.g., rape) or two-sided (e.g., consensual immorality), sexual sin always proves suicidal. Genesis 19, Judges 19–20, and Proverbs 5–7 unpack that not just in principle but also through stories.
Scripture teaches constructive candor — the opposite of euphemism and evasiveness. It teaches accuracy — the opposite of titillation and brazen exhibitionism.
Christian Faith Brings Genuine Transformation
Jesus comes forgiving and changing the immoral. He bridges the chasm between sordid and glorious. He invites us to cross over from death to life. What was perverted can be converted. To disagree with immorality is not simply to condemn the immoral. It is to identify particular forms of lostness that need finding. We worship a seeking and finding God. We have been sought out and found by a Savior. He reproves the unruly in order to invite us to come seek help.
Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord:
This same Jesus comes rescuing and protecting the victimized. He is a refuge for the afflicted. We worship a seeking and finding rescuer, a protector of the innocent. He calls predators, liars, and betrayers to account. He comes to deliver victims from the pain and power of what their oppressors have done.
O Lord, you hear the desire of the afflicted;
This Christ encourages the fainthearted and holds on to the weak.
Be strong, and let your heart take courage,
In sum, the Lord has a highly positive view of sex. He has a highly negative view of immorality. And he has a deep concern both for the consensually immoral and for the victims of the criminally immoral. He has more mercy than we can imagine.
Of course, there are not two gospels, one for sinners and one for sufferers! There is the one gospel of Jesus Christ, who came to make saints of all kinds of sinner-sufferers and sufferer-sinners, whatever our particular configuration of defections and distresses. The proactive sins inflamed by immoral desires are significantly different from the reactive sins energized by fear and self-protection. But unbelief and lovelessness characterize all of us, however vast the differences in how we express them. Similarly, the temptations that come by allure are significantly different from the temptations that come by affliction. But this world misleads and bedevils all of us, however vast the differences in what people face. So all of us head astray and all of us are led astray, but the paths we take and the provocations we face vary.
Jesus comes for each and all. So the dynamic by which the sexually immoral and the sexually victimized are transformed has a core similarity, though his work unfolds by many different ministry routes. Grace is not a panacea, a single message prescribed for whatever ails you. Christ comes bringing a myriad of specific remedies that address specific persons, struggles, and troubles. He always embodies steadfast love — and all that Exodus 34:6–7 promises. But like his Proverbs, he admonishes the sexually unruly, calling for a radical U-turn. Like the psalmists, he comforts the fainthearted, offering refuge and strength. Like a prophet, he brings justice, indicting oppressors and defending victims. Like a shepherd, he guides and protects, holding on to the weak. He is patient with all whom he befriends. In other words, he meets you right where you are. And he's always thinking about what you need to know and the next step you need to take.
Emphases of This Book
You've probably already noticed or sensed something a bit unusual about my approach in writing this book. Some books are written to help people who struggle with their immoral sexual impulses. Other books are written for people who struggle with the impact of sexual betrayal, molestation, and assault. But this book will intentionally look in both directions. Sin and affliction are different in kind. What you do and what happens to you could not be more distinct. But both intertwine in the DNA of the human condition. A double helix of darkness twists through all human experience.
Most books about sexual sanctification address the problem of sin, with little more than a nod to external forces that allure or afflict. And most books about sexual victimization are not about sanctification, giving little more than a nod to our instinctive unbelief and our impulse to react wrongly when we experience grave wrongs. But sanctification is about both transgressions and afflictions, and about the continual interplay between them. This is crucial, because it is true of both Scripture and life.
Another reason this is crucial arises from two key paradoxes in Christian growth. It is a decided mark of wisdom that our sins come to afflict us, not delight us. The experience of our own sin changes, so it becomes more like self-inflicted suffering. We experience what we want and how we behave as living contradictions to who we truly are. And it is a decided mark of wisdom that the sufferings that afflict us become occasions that produce growing faith, hope, and love. The experience of our suffering changes, so it becomes integral to how God frees us from our sins and teaches us wisdom. All Scripture — whether history or prophecy, psalm or proverb, Gospel or epistle — traffics in this interplay between our choices and our circumstances. Jesus untangles both sins and miseries. So I hope you find it helpful that I attempt to keep both in view.
You probably have not noticed something a bit more subtle about this book. The majority of books on the struggle with sexual immorality are written for men. The majority of books on the struggle with sexual victimization are written for women. And there is a partial truth in such emphases. There often is a disparity in the experiences of men and of women. And different pastoral priorities come into play when addressing two different kinds of struggles. But so far in this book, except for references to Scripture, my only use of male pronouns has been to designate my car mechanic; my only use of female pronouns has been to designate the artist who created our quilt. Of course, men and women are different. (That fact does have something to do with the topic of sex, after all!) But it is also true that sin and suffering, like faith and love, are not rigidly sex-typed. Men are not immune to molestation or rape; women are not immune to becoming sexual predators or using pornography. Men and women read the same Psalms and learn faith. Both sexes take Galatians to heart, receiving grace and expressing the fruit of the Spirit. The Great Commission tells us that the fundamental dynamics of human experience in relation to Christ's gospel operate across every nation, tribe, tongue, and people. But we can fail to notice that grace not only crosses cultures; it crosses male-female differences. Mercies touch the wanderings and woes of every human heart.
Here's another significant thing about this book. It does not derive from theory. It arises from experience, my own and others'." Christ has touched the wanderings and woes of my heart. And my personal experience has been enriched and extended by thousands of candid conversations over more than forty years. I have listened carefully when people have spoken openly about their stories, their struggles, and their convictions. Most of these conversations have been with men and women seeking help. Many of these people have been shadowed by intrusive evils they've experienced. The reverberations of those betrayals have made life hard. And many people are greatly troubled by their erotic impulses. Their sexual desires and behavior distress them, rather than delighting and defining them. The truth is that they have a deeper core to their identity. The object of their sexual impulses is dissonant to who they are, contradicting core values and convictions. I have listened, understood what they are saying and why, and sought to help.
I have also been enriched by many significant conversations with people I love who are not seeking help. They are convinced that their sexuality is fine the way it is. They view their erotic desires and behavior as consistent with and even central to their core identity, values, and convictions. I listen, understand what they are saying and why, disagree, and still love them.
I've learned a great deal from firsthand life experience and from both kinds of conversations. I hope that the fruits of that experience bless you.
Finally, this book aims for explicit, unexpurgated righteousness. Fidelity and felicity make very good companions. I hope that these chapters deliver a clear vision and much grace, comforting the disturbed and disturbing the comfortable. The gospel of Jesus Christ renews us. He engages us in his work of renewing the immoral, the predatory, and the self-indulgent. And he engages us in the work of renewing the fearful, the withdrawn, and the overwhelmed. He is making faithful men and women.
A theme runs throughout the book: "I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ" (Phil. 1:6). Notice that this sentence is not first about finding personal assurance. It communicates Paul's confidence regarding God's renewing work in other people, our brothers and sisters. Our Father has begun a process in you and in me that he will finish when we see Jesus Christ face-to-face. What will this lifelong process look like? How do we get from here to there? How does degradation transform into beauty? What's the battle like? We're somewhere in the middle, but the Spirit of life has begun a good work. And God always finishes what he begins.
MAKING RENEWAL PERSONAL
Where do you struggle with sex? As with anger, self-righteousness, and anxiety, we are all deviants in some form or other. Some forms of sexual drift and distortion seem just a short step from normal. Wandering eyes? Romantic attraction and infatuation? A cautious chill in the presence of a flirtatious, aggressive, or mildly exhibitionistic person? And the more serious forms of deviancy and danger are never far away. You can hardly bear to put a name on what some people do or on what happens to some people. Has your sexuality become somehow unhinged, distorted, misdirected, darkened, or threatened?
The Wayward and the Wounded
Have you gone actively astray? Sexual sins are among the dark things that pour forth from within our hearts. When Jesus bluntly indicts a roster of wrongs (Mark 7:21–23), he calls out a wide range of sexual wrongdoings: sexual immoralities, adulteries, licentious behavior. And he names other general categories that can include sexual matters: evil thoughts, coveting, deceit, moral foolishness. This same Jesus offers costly mercy to the repentant. When you wash your dirty linen in the blood of the Lamb, you come out spotless.
Or has your sexuality been betrayed by someone else? Predatory people violate others in ways that cause lifelong pain. Jesus fiercely condemns the victimizers of innocence: seducers, users, deceivers, misusers, abusers, tempters (Matt. 18:6–7). The influential wrongs can be subtle as well as severe: provocative dress, suggestive speech or mannerisms. Being transgressed can bring fear, distaste, and shame about all matters sexual. Jesus offers the afflicted a merciful touch and safe refuge. God will wipe away every tear from your eyes. All fear, anxiety, and shame will one day be no more.
Or has your sexuality been doubly marred, both by your own transgressive desires and by the afflictions and temptations brought upon you by others? As with most human struggles, there is often an intricate dance between what arises from inside us and what assaults or beguiles us from the outside. Yes, a pornography user willingly chooses sexual immorality. But the everyday deluge of suggestive stimuli and the ready availability of erotic images make temptation a form of atmospheric pollution. And a girl or boy who was abused is an innocent victim of someone else's treacherous and malicious sexuality. But if that same child later becomes a promiscuous adult, he or she is culpable for that behavior. Life is complicated. We are enmeshed in unsettling realities. So Christ's grace sets out to do something more multifaceted than simply charging the unambiguously guilty and rescuing the unambiguously innocent. He enters sympathetically into the totality of human experience. He touches all our sins and all our afflictions.
Excerpted from "Making All Things New"
Copyright © 2017 David Powlison.
Excerpted by permission of Good News Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
1 Getting Oriented 15
2 Making Renewal Personal 25
3 Renewing All That Darkens Sex 33
4 Renewal Is Lifelong 59
5 Renewal Is a Wider Battle 69
6 Renewal Is a Deeper Battle 79
7 Renewal Brings an Increasingly Subtle Struggle 91
8 Remembering the Goal of Renewal 107
9 Getting Down to Today's Skirmish in the Great War 113
General Index 121
Scripture Index 125
What People are Saying About This
“In Making All Things New, David Powlison offers us a gem, a helping hand, and a sure bet. True to the Bible, he is a realist. He shows us how a Christ-redefined life changes what sex means. This book is not pie in the sky. It is feet on the floor. Where do you or people you love struggle? Take David’s hand and walk this road with the Lord. He shows us all how besetting sexual sin is symptomatic of something yet hidden. Repentance of sin commences sexual repatterning, and this accessible book will take you into that dark place with the light of Christ. As the world clamors about sexual rights and privileges, the people of God must show up with something beyond moral platitudes or behavioral modification programs. We already have a Savior who knows how to rescue his people. And now we have an accessible guidebook, one that helps the sexual sinner recognize the deeper battle, and one that helps parents and allies apply faith to the dire facts of being held captive.”
Rosaria Butterfield,Former Professor of English, Syracuse University; author, The Gospel Comes with a House Key
“Sexual sin can seem like a trap from which one can never escape. David Powlison brings good news to those caught in sexual sin, and to those who have been sinned against. This book addresses sexual sin not with shame and moralizing but with the gospel of Jesus Christ. We all need to hear the message of this book.”
Russell D. Moore, President, The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention
“David Powlison’s ministry to all fallen humanity is evident in this book. He calls those impacted by the pain and sorrow of sexual struggle and sin to repentance while finding refuge in the arms of our faithful Savior. Likewise, he presents to all who bear God’s image a picture of what God is doing to restore the beauty of sexual intimacy in the lives of his people.”
Timothy Geiger,President, Harvest USA; author, What to Do When Your Child Says, “I’m Gay”
“Finally, a gospel-centered book for both genders that beautifully brings the hope of Christ to bear upon broken sexuality. Women, like men, have been sinned against sexually and have pursued their own expressions of sinful sexual behavior. Making All Things New masterfully achieves the author’s vision to be candid and hopeful regarding the real possibility of life transformation and to restored joy to women and men bound up in the shame and pain of sexual brokenness.”
Ellen Mary Dykas, Women’s Ministry Coordinator, Harvest USA; editor, Sexual Sanity for Women
“I love David Powlison. Few living authors have shaped my approach to gospel growth, and even preaching, more than he has. Gifted Christian counselors like Powlison read the Bible in a unique way, laying open both the truth of Scripture and the foundations of the human heart, showing where one intersects the other. I have to think that if you heard Jesus preach in the first century, you would have assumed you were listening to a very gifted counselor. In this remarkably insightful book, Powlison offers gospel hope to those who have sinned through sex and those who have suffered through it. I am excited to provide this resource to people dealing with an area in which many first experience their need of the gospel.”
J. D. Greear, author, Not God Enough; President, Southern Baptist Convention; Pastor, The Summit Church, Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina
“Making All Things New is a helpful perspective for understanding a common theme in life. David Powlison will help you to see sexual transgression and sexual affliction under the unique lens of the gospel, and will guide you to find hope in the purity and the cleanness of Christ. Jesus makes all things new, even our sexual experience.”
Alexandre Chiaradia Mendes,Pastor, Maranatha Baptist Church, São José dos Campos, Brazil; Director of Vision and Expansion, Brazilian Association of Biblical Counselors; coauthor, Dating and Engagement That God Desires
“Nothing hinders joy more than sexual misuse and abuse, and nothing troubles more people more profoundly today than sexual deception, corruption, and brokenness. This easy-to-read book is compassionate yet uncompromising, practical yet principled. It shines light into darkness for those seeking a way out, and extends hope to those needing it most desperately.”
Daniel R. Heimbach,Fellow, L. Russ Bush Center for Faith and Culture; Senior Professor of Christian Ethics, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I received a digital copy from the publisher (Crossway) in exchange for an honest review. We live in an age of sexually broken people, so I thought this would be an interesting read that I could recommend to friends with emotional scars and trauma. I was a little let down, because this focused mostly on same-sex attraction, porn and masturbation. I was hoping this book would help me be able to reach out to those who have been or are currently being sexually abused. Fight the New Drug (fightthenewdrug.org) is a secular website about the porn industry, but it’s really great and packed full of resources and info. If you or someone you love is suffering from a porn addiction, please check it out.
David Powlison's "Making All Things New: Restoring Joy to the Sexually Broken" is a very unique book for people dealing with sexual sin. It's not the typical book that goes over all the statistics on pornography or sexual abuse. He doesn't even slant the content toward the perspective of the person that abused someone, or from the perspective of the victim that was abused. Nor does he go from the perspective of the person struggling with sin. Instead, he creatively covers it from all of these perspectives covering the repentance, gaining a correct understanding of sex and the process of sanctification. Powlison does an excellent job unpacking renewal when it comes to how our lives relate to sex. Very easy yet practical and helpful read for everyone. Highly recommended. I received an electronic copy of this book in exchange for this review from Crossway and all opinions are my own.