Four years ago, I made a very public mess of my faith. In a season of obstinate resistance to God’s grace and faithless disobedience to his gospel, I was “outed” for having a profile on a gay social networking app. Within days of receiving an email that contained a screenshot of my profile and a word of warning about how I was “about to go down” from the person who discovered my profile, the Huffington Post and numerous other media outlets were publishing articles about me.
These are just a few of the headlines that can be found in the heap of Google search results about my sinful indiscretion. The media craze lasted for about a month, and, honestly, I wasn’t initially all that affected by it. It exploded so quickly and was so overwhelming that I was incapable of processing what had actually happened. I read the dozens of articles and hundreds upon hundreds of comments (this probably wasn’t the best idea). But it didn’t feel real—it didn’t feel like it was really me all these people were criticizing, ridiculing, and, in many cases, lying about. Numerous writers claimed I was a proponent of conversion therapy or the “pray the gay away” mess. They published articles saying I was an “ex-gay” (I never used that label) who blogged about how God had zapped away my same-sex attraction and made me “straight.” This was blatantly untrue; I never wrote such things. However, I signed up to have my words twisted and distorted the moment I decided to publicly disobey Christ. This entire situation, including all the misinformation published, was entirely my fault.
My initial shock dissipated after the media hype simmered down, and the weight of my shameful actions settled painfully upon my conscience. My disobedience brought enormous dishonor upon the name of Jesus Christ and wrecked (at least temporarily) my witness to his powerful and satisfying grace. All Christians commit sin; I understand this. Many commit the same sin I did. But when you step into the public eye and regularly write about the transforming power of the gospel, you sign up for an “above reproach” kind of life. Your visibility to the unbelieving world makes it all the more vital that you forsake everything that would bring dishonor to Christ’s name and distance yourself from everything that would bring your profession of faith into question. In this particular season, I made no efforts to do such forsaking and distancing. I persisted in the passions of my flesh and failed God miserably. And through my failure, I became a stumbling block to many believers and gave the unbelieving world more material to mock the gospel.
Though I could try, it would be impossible for me to express in this blog the intensity of the shame I still feel over this inexcusable and unjustifiable act of faithlessness. I will forever mourn the reproach I brought upon Jesus, the ways in which I adversely affected those who love Jesus, and the part I played in hindering lost people from coming to Jesus.
However, though I will always mourn my failure, I am not sure where I would be today had it not happened. I know it was not, in some sense, God’s will for me to drag his Son’s name through the mud as I fell on my face in front of the world. But it was through falling on my face that he brought me to my knees. It was through being exposed and disgraced for my sin that I became sober enough to see my desperate need for truer and deeper repentance.
I know I was genuinely converted in late 2010, but, for the first two years of my walk with the Lord, my repentance was weak and inconsistent. Lustful impulses still dominated me and selfish ambition drove much of the “ministry” in which I was partaking. The Holy Spirit constantly convicted me concerning these idolatrous activities and attitudes of the heart. He gave me ample time to repent. But I stubbornly persisted in them, forcing God’s hand to more severe disciplinary action.
The only appropriate response following my failure was to step away from the public eye and learn afresh what it meant to truly follow Christ in faith and repentance. For nearly two years, my hope of becoming a well-known Christian writer had been the fuel on which my Christian life ran. But this hope went up in smoke after my sin was exposed. And I praise God for this, because the removal of this idol reminded me that all I had—and all I needed—was Christ.
In a state of tremendous weakness, emptiness, and brokenness, I plunged headfirst into a pursuit of Christ and the life to which he called me. I began feasting on his Word, seeking him in prayer, and taking active steps to mortify my sin (as opposed to waiting for God to mystically zap away my temptations). I committed more fully to the ministry and mission of my church and entered into a discipleship relationship with a fellow member. As I seriously pursued Christ through these means of grace, my vision of him brightened, my love for him deepened, and my burden for others to worship and enjoy him intensified. Rather than wanting to reach millions of people on the Internet for self-centered reasons, I began wanting to reach the lost people around me for Christ-centered reasons.
This private, quiet season of deepened repentance is one I will always cherish in my heart. It was in this time that my life finally began to feel and look like a life that had been transformed by the gospel.
After a year or so removed from the public eye, and after experiencing what it really meant for Christ to be the passion, treasure, and sustenance of my life, a desire to write publicly again began to burn within me. This time, though, it wasn’t fanned into flame by selfish ambition or desires for fame. I didn’t want to use “my story” to get attention and pats on the back, like I once did. I didn’t want to write about controversial topics to attract traffic to my website, like I once did. I wanted to nudge others toward the God-centered, Christ-consumed, gospel-empowered life that I was now enjoying.
So, I began to write toward this end. Because of my public failure and the less sensational shape my writing was going to take, I had no expectations to ever again be widely read. However, as I simply let my “boring,” day-to-day life in Christ spill over onto blank Word documents, more people than ever began reading and sharing my content. It’s been about three years since I returned to the blogging world, and, as I have done nothing but allow my “offline” pursuit of Christ fuel my “online” ministry endeavors, my audience has grown exponentially. Today, I am enjoying an opportunity I never thought God would give me after how horrifically I failed him: I am vocationally writing about Christ and his glorious gospel.
It is painfully embarrassing for me to talk about my 2013 failure, but I have shared it with you guys because I know that many of you have also failed God in a substantial way. Though there is no justification for your failure and though you are surely suffering terrible consequences in its wake, if you will repent, God is faithful to strengthen, restore, and use you (however he sees fit) for his glory. Christianity has a long history of men and women who have failed God miserably only then to be used by God mightily. Look at Peter! He denied having any connection or allegiance to Jesus in Jesus’ most miserable and lonesome hour. Yet, because Peter repented, God restored him and used him in earth-shattering ways for the rest of his life.
Now, had Peter continued to deny Christ before men, things would have gone differently for him. Had I continued to deny Christ before men by creating profiles on gay social media apps, things would have gone differently for me. God is faithful to work our failures for his glory and our good only if we are willing to embrace genuine repentance. Does he require perfect repentance? No. Peter still struggled with his sinful tendencies (Galatians 2:11-13). I still struggle with mine. What God requires is a heart that will fight to love and obey Christ. You and I cannot be perfect in this life, but we can strive to live a life worthy of the gospel—and God is faithful to restore, strengthen, and use us if we will.