Being and Becoming

Being and Becoming
February 14, 2023

By Sam Wan. Sam is a ministry worker in the space of sexuality and gender and a board member for several disability ministries. He loves researching in practical theology, reading poetry, looking at art, and podcasting at Conversations with Earl Grey and Espresso and Earl Grey.


You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
- Mary Oliver, “Wild Geese”


This Mary Oliver poem, described as “a poem that has saved lives,” [1] has struck me ever since I came across it many years ago. Every time I read it, the darkness seems lighter and the blows that I feel softer. As a Christian, though I might not agree with every aspect, there are ideas in it that parallel conversations I’ve had as a pastor. 


Christians who experience attraction to the same sex or gender incongruence often have difficulty believing that they do not have to be good. They sometimes feel that they must scrape by on their knees in endless shame, or that they cannot be beloved because of their experience.

   Buy Now!

Embodied: The Latest from Preston Sprinkle



When we read Mary Oliver’s poem in light of the gospel, it can remind us that we are beloved apart from our ability to be “good enough” for God.



You do not have to be good… 


The gospel of grace begins with grace, endures with grace, and is ultimately fulfilled through grace. It is grace through and through: In grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, through scripture alone, to the glory of God alone. People who experience attraction to the same sex or gender incongruence enter the gates of God’s Kingdom through the very same grace as every other Christian. You do not have to be good, because no one is (Rom 3:10). 


I had this conversation last week with a Christian young man:


HIM: “I want to be a child of God.” 
ME: “What does being a child of God look like for you?” 
HIM: “I want to be fleeing from sin, acting in godly ways, and honour God.” 
ME: “Those are great things to desire. But do those things make you a child of God, or do those things prove that you are a child of God?”  


It is in this space where often Christians mistake a key doctrine. Many of us mistakenly identify our status as a child of God by our becoming more like a child of God. [2]


To use an illustration, I am my parents’ biological son, regardless of whether I act like my parents’ biological son. I can be an honouring child, a neglecting child, an estranged child – but I am still their child. Our being a child of God is a God-given reality; we are chosen before creation, predestined to be adopted through Jesus. Our being a child is “freely given us in the One he loves” (Eph 1:4-6). Our status as children of God is bestowed, not earned; it is a reality that every one of us needs to remind ourselves of. J. I. Packer calls us all to pray this truth every morning and evening: “I am a child of God. God is my Father; heaven is my home; every day is one day nearer. My Saviour is my brother; every Christian is my [sibling] too.” [3]



You do not need to walk a hundred miles… 


One of my dearest friends in seminary had two words and one symbol written with a sharpie on a plain piece of paper stuck to the back of his dorm room: 


“Being > Doing” [“Being is greater than Doing”] 


When I asked him about it, he said he needed to be reminded every day that living as a Christian wasn’t what made him a Christian; instead, his doing life as a Christian flowed deeply from his being a Christian. 


Christians who experience attraction to the same sex or gender incongruence may wrestle with an internal narrative telling us that faithfulness is all about “doing better.” Sometimes, this internal narrative is reinforced by an environment of: 

  • Unequal expectations for sexual and gender minorities (because of your sexuality, you may be guilty before proven innocent).
  • Unequal access to the community of God (you have to look more normal to be a part of us).  
  • Unequal shaming and othering (a thin description of LGBTQ+ people as worse sinners, an unbiblical vision of heterosexuality as not being affected by total depravity and concupiscence, an us-vs-them mentality).
  • Unbiblical teaching (where teaching is fuelled more by homophobia, fear, and our current culture rather than led by the word of God). 


You may not be aligned to my Reformed view of salvation and election, but within the spaces that I minister, I see that when the security of being a child of God is unmoored from its theological roots of divine choice, predestination, and adoption and placed instead on ethical change, then the rock-solid foundation of a Christian’s unconditional election begins to be chipped away, replaced by conditional election. The Christian life for SSA/LGBTQ+ (and any) believers becomes dragging their feet through a thousand miles, because they may never be good enough. 



Let yourself love what God loves… 


But friends, you are beloved. 


If you are a child of God, you are beloved.


You are beloved because you were created by God and exist in his world (John 3:16). You are beloved in Christ because you are chosen by God and adopted by God (Eph 1:4-6). You are beloved in the midst of temptations and sin because God is the one who holds onto you (2 Tim 2:13, Heb 13:4-6). You are forgiven by the blood of Jesus, you have access to draw close to God through his sanctifying work (Heb 10:23), and through the Spirit you CAN live for Jesus, worship God (Rom 12:1), and be a part of the body of Christ (1 Cor 12:13). 


In Jesus, you are a child of God and becoming a child of God. 


Becoming more like a child of God is a gradual journey of “a long obedience in the same direction” (to use Eugene Peterson’s book title). Becoming more like a child of God “is not just a redoubled effort to follow moral rules. Rather, all change comes from deepening your understanding of the salvation of Christ…. Faith in the gospel restructures our motivations, our self-understanding, our identity, and our view of the world.” [4]


And for the young man I was chatting with, who had been part of a church since he was born, who has professed his faith, who loves Jesus – his very desire to want to grow in fleeing from sin, acting in godly ways, and honouring God is an indication that he is being a child of God (1 John 3:10). 


As Henri Nouwen reflects, “Becoming the Beloved means letting the truth of our Belovedness become enfleshed in everything we think, say or do… [it] is pulling the truth revealed to me from above down into the ordinariness of what I am, in fact, thinking of, talking about and doing from hour to hour.” [5]


So, friends, to use the words of Mary Oliver:


Let the soft grace of your belovedness
Love what God loves– 

[2]  In theological terms, we identify our positional sanctification, adoption, sonship, union with Christ by our progressive sanctification and Christian maturity. 

[3]  J. I. Packer, Knowing God (London, Great Britain: Hodder & Stoughton, 2004), 258-259. 

[4]  Timothy Keller, The Prodigal God: Recover the Heart of the Christian Faith (London, Great Britain: Hodder & Stoughton, 2009), 118-119.  

[5]  Henri J. M. Nouwen, Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World (Hodder and Stoughton: Great Britain, 1992), 39. Italics original.