Tag Archives: repentance

The one thing needed for real, lasting change

In just a few hours I’m leaving for a 3 day Sexual Integrity Leaders Summit in Atlanta.  I’m looking forward to this conference which boasts the following goal:

The Holy Spirit is moving to take back ground in defining holy sexuality. Join with others passionate about intentionally addressing issues, concerns, and questions related to sexual wholeness, sexual integrity, and finding freedom in Christ. Get equipped with the tools and resources you need.

This conference comes on the heels of me and my wife attending the Pure Life Ministries annual conference which proved to be a powerful encounter with the Lord.   Over this past week I have been reading Steve Gallagher’s book, A Biblical Guide to Counseling the Sexual Addictwhich has helped to reaffirm the reality of my own experience in dealing with habitual sexual sin:  The best medicine is Jesus.

I sometimes get this upside down.   Sometimes I will convince myself that there are other solutions to my problem besides Jesus.  For instance, sometimes I get to thinking that the best medicine is the group of men I meet with weekly in SAA.  Or I get to thinking the best medicine is working the 12 steps, or making more phone calls, or reading more recovery literature or going for a run.

The truth is, all of these are good things, but not the best thing.   In my experience, the only times I have known profound, lasting victory is when I submitted to Jesus and his ways of healing my sinful, broken heart.

Gallagher reminds me that the medicine Jesus prescribes is repentance.   Repentance is the precursor for real, lasting change for anyone caught in habitual sin (sexual or otherwise).   This repentance must come from godly sorrow over our sin as opposed to worldly sorrow over having gotten caught (or having hurt someone we love.  See 2 Cor. 7:10).

I want to close this out by sharing what Gallagher’s lists as the four basic components to receiving this medicine which Jesus offers to each and every one of us who will place their trust in him.    You can find these on pages 40-41 in the book referenced above.

  1. Poverty of spirit:  seeing one’s need to change and coming to the realization that he cannot accomplish this change without the power of God.
  2. Mourning over sin: as the person begins to face the ugliness of his behavior, he becomes broken over it.
  3. Submission to God: as the sin in one’s heart is exposed, true repentance occurs. Self-will is replaced by submission to God’s authority.
  4. Fruits of repentance: as God is allowed to conquer the man’s heart, a change occurs which becomes evident in the way he lives his life.

Gallagher concludes,

It is vital that you, as counselor, lead the man out of habitual sin and into this kind of genuine repentance.  He cannot conjure up this experience for himself.  He must seek God for it.  The counselor’s role in helping the counselee see his need for a radical inward transformation and praying that he receives it.

Praying with and for you.  Pray for me as I am at this conference this weekend!

Grace and peace,
Chad

Four things we lack

In my copy of John Owen’s Mortification of Sin, J.I. Packer writes a stirring introduction.  He suggests four things which today are insufficiently emphasized, causing modern readers to “suffer from the short-comings of much present-day Christian nurture” and therefore missing much of the significance in Owen’s work.   These four things lacking in today’s writings and preaching are the holiness of God, the significance of motivating desire, the need for self-scrutiny, and the life-changing power of God.    I believe Packer is right.   I want to take a look at each of these in turn and relate them to my own experience with recovery.

The Holiness of God 

Packer reminds us that the Puritans believed that holiness is the attribute of all God’s attributes.  It is what distinguishes God from all of creation “making him different from us in our weakness, awesome and adorable to us in his strength, and a visitant to our consciences whose presence exposes and condemns sin within us.”   When we down-play this, Packer reasons, we sentimentalize love and mercy, making God seem more like a kindly uncle than the One whom, when seen, caused Isaiah and John to come undone.

At the tail end of a relapse last year there was a seismic shift in my spirit that occurred while reading a commentary on Acts 5, the story of Ananias and Sapphira.   You’ll recall these are the husband and wife who died after they lied to Peter about their profits from a piece of land they sold.   The commentary was simple enough, stating the obvious from the text:  When we lie to others, we lie to God.   This is an affront to a holy God.   The Holy Spirit used this simple truth to help me see (again) just what sort of God it is I am dealing with.   If a lie to another person provoked such righteous judgment from God upon Ananias and Sapphira, how much more so would my habitual sexual sin?   Who was I to assume that my sins, which were many, were not shutting me out of God’s presence and courting death at every turn?    God is holy and calls his people to be holy.   We will not and cannot see him if we do not agree with him in this.   Our lack of emphasis on this today is to our detriment.

The Significance of Motivating Desire

Packer, and the Puritans before him, and Jesus before them, would remind us that it is not the outside of the cup that makes us clean but what is inside.   Jesus cares about the desires we nurture within us, not just our actions.   “Too often today,” Packer writes, “the moral life is reduced to role-play, in which prescribed and expected performance is everything and no attention is paid to the cravings, ragings, and hostilities of the heart so long as people do what is thought they should.”   Owen takes us deeper than this externalism, insisting that it’s not just the bad habits that must be broken, but the sinful desires driving them.

I liken this to to the difference between sobriety and recovery.  We have all heard the expressions “dry drunk,” meaning a person who is sober from drinking alcohol but still exhibits all the character defects that come with alcoholism.   It is so easy to get caught up in doing the right thing – putting on a performance – that we overlook the most important part: the heart.    Jesus promises to make us born again.   As I’ve said elsewhere on this site, Jesus didn’t die to make us better; he died to make us new.    This is good news!  Our lack of emphasis on this today is to our detriment.

The Need for Self-Scrutiny

In both Scripture and Owen, much is said about the deceitfulness of one’s own heart.   And yet, Christians today are slow to suspect themselves or each other of self-deception.  Our self-ignorance leads us to “think well of one’s heart and life when God, the searcher of hearts, is displeased with both.”    Owen would remind us to remain vigilant, always examining ourselves in light of what Scripture has to say in order that we might know which desires of ours need to be mortified.

Steps 4 and 10 are helpful guides in addressing this need (taking a moral inventory and continuing to take a daily, personal inventory).   As such, people in recovery may have a leg up in this endeavor, as we are generally more aware than most of the deceitfulness of our own hearts and the lure of disordered loves within us.    This flies in the face of the culture around us, though, even within much of the church.   We are more likely to be encouraged to go after whatever our heart desires rather than be encouraged to search the Scriptures to see how that desire aligns with God’s word.   Whether you have been walking with Christ for decades or are just getting started, we need to always remember that the enemy of our souls uses our desires to tempt us (James 1:4).   Our lack of emphasis on this today is to our detriment.

The Life-Changing Power of God

Both Scripture and Owen taught that at the heart of salvation is a change of heart.  There is a moral change that occurs by which the Holy Spirit induces Christlike attitudes and actions in us.  There is an “expectation that Christians through prayer to Jesus would know deliverances from sinful passions in the heart,” and it is sad, Packer writes, “that today so little is heard about this.”

I’m am writing this just following Resurrection Sunday.   As with every Easter, there are scores of articles written de-emphasizing (if not denying) the literal bodily resurrection of Jesus.   With even this fundamental truth – the one of which without there would be no Christianity! – being cast aside as non-essential, is it any wonder that we fail to believe in a power able to overturn the kingdoms of our heart and make us new creations with new desires?    The scriptures proclaim that the same power that raised Christ from the dead is at work within us.   And yet, far too often in recovery we give more power to our addiction than we do the power of the blood.   Our lack of emphasis on this today is to our detriment.

To conclude, my experience has been that where one or more of these elements are lacking in my life I am more susceptible to my hurts, habits, and hang-ups.   But when I begin each day in awe of God’s holiness, aware of my motivating desires, become willing to scrutinize myself, and rely on the power of God to transform me inside-out, than I am far less likely to fall into sin and far more likely to grow in my desire to be like Christ.

 

Jesus had to die to save a wretch like me

I wrote these words a few years ago.   They are as true today as they ever were.   God is good!

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You won’t be free until you see the cross of Jesus Christ for what it truly is.   This is why St. Paul said that he desired to know and preach nothing else besides Jesus Christ and him crucified (1 Cor. 2:2).  The words of that wonderful hymn are true:

Would you be free from your burden of sin?
There’s power in the blood, power in the blood
Would you o’er evil the victory win?
There’s wonderful power in the blood

The writer of Hebrews says this about Jesus, our sacrifice:  “He entered once for all in the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption…how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscious from dead works to serve the living God” (Heb. 9:12-14).

Would you be free?  Would you be purified in your mind and heart and enabled to serve the living God with a clean heart?   You must know the power of the blood shed on the tree of Calvary.

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One of the biggest obstacles to our freedom is our tendency to minimize our sin, thereby minimizing the cross.   After many years of theological education which taught me all the many theories about why Jesus died on the cross none of it had any power to change my life like the simple truth:

Jesus had to die to save a wretch like me.   

Sin is a serious thing to God and the cross is proof of this.  Sin is not just inconvenient, or messy, or harmful, or depressing, or selfish.  Sin is deadly.  Sin destroys.  Sin is of such seriousness that it required God’s own Son to die in order to deal with it.   If you have any doubts about how serious God takes our sexual immorality or other habitual sins just look at the cross and see his bloody Son.   

I remember the day I first saw Jesus on the cross as though for the first time after nearly 36 years of being a Christian.   I had just completed a strongly recommended assignment while at Pure Life where I locked myself away in a chapel for about 6 hours and wrote out everything that came to mind in Charles Finney’s Breaking Up the Fallow Ground exercise.   When done, I gazed at the 20-some pages of offenses I’ve committed against this God I claimed to love and my heart was crushed like never before.    As I wept over the utter wretchedness of my life I looked up at the cross on the chapel wall and cried out,

HOW???  HOW COULD YOU DIE FOR SUCH A MESS LIKE ME???  HOW COULD YOU DO IT!!?? WHAT SORT OF LOVE IS THIS??!!

In that moment there was no longer  a question of WHY Jesus died for me.  I knew in my heart of hearts that there was no other way.  The WHY was morphed by HOW.    How could God do this for me?  I remember shouting,  I am so unlike You!  I became mesmerized by this holy, awesome, wholly-other God who would put on flesh and bones and shed His righteous blood for a wretch like myself.   Give me this Jesus!   I no longer wished to argue about nor doubt why he died for me but desired nothing more than to live for a God who showed such love for me!   There was no doubt in my mind and heart that from that moment on I would make Jesus the Lord of my life forever, and that I would one day be with Him in glory.    I knew the price with which I had been bought, and it was now a joy to honor God with all my heart, mind, and strength, including my body (1 Cor. 6:20).

My hope and prayer for you who are reading this blog is that you would see the cross this Easter season for what it truly is.    The why is simple:  He had to die to save a wretch like you and I.   The how is marvelous:  What sort of God is this who would do such a thing for you and I?   When you see the cross for what it is you will know that you know that you know that you are Christ’s and He is yours.

If you are serious about putting to death your habitual sin then I challenge you do print out the Breaking Up the Fallow Ground and read it, pray over it, and do it.   Take as many hours or days as it requires of you, and ask God to show His Son to you as though for the very first time.   He will do it!

A pastor friend of mine who came to me for help after decades of bondage took this exercise seriously and sent me the following text:

I am free! The surrender is as complete as I can do for the moment.  I have the assurance that I am Christ’s and He is mine.  There is NO more condemnation!  I am walking out of this sanctuary as a new resurrected person in Christ and filled with the Holy Spirit, desiring to walk in holiness and to do things not my way, but His.   Praise God! Thank you Jesus. I have the assurance of my personal salvation for the first time in my life!  Praise God for His mercy, His patience, and His faithfulness!

He has been free for over 2 months now, praise be to God.    Will today be the beginning of your freedom?     Run to the cross.   There is power in the blood!

Tell Her Everything, Then Tell Her Nothing

This post is a follow-up to the last one which asked “Are you REALLY “struggling” against Habitual Sin?”    Recent events have convinced me that it’s time to be real about the sins that are killing us and hurting others, and my wife and I pray these posts will encourage you, challenge you, and give you hope for a future in Christ, and therefore in freedom.   

When you are ready to confess your sins to your spouse there are two things you need to know and do.

1.  Tell her everything 

Before we get to the specifics let me address a common question asked:   Do I have to tell her?   Yes.   You have been using your body in ways that suggest it is your own, and it is not.   If you are a Christian, your body belongs to God (1 Cor. 6:19-20) and if you are married, it additionally belongs to your spouse (1 Cor. 7:4).   When you are involved in sexual sin, whether online or otherwise, you are both desecrating the temple in which God dwells (your body) and depriving your spouse of a right that belongs solely to him or her.    So yes, you must tell your spouse, and you must tell her everything.

Everything inside of you will want to minimize.   Don’t do this.   You will be tempted to scale back what you have actually done.   And you will do this under the delusion that you are being noble and kind, sparing your fragile wife from pain she can not handle.  

Don’t do that.  It’s not for you to decide what your wife can handle.  You forfeited that right when you started looking at things you shouldn’t be looking at, and touching things you shouldn’t be touching.

This means instead of telling her you simply look at porn “every now and then” you tell her the truth, which is more like, “I look at it every chance I get, and when I’m not, I am thinking about when I can.”   Instead of telling her that you have been with one woman but only briefly and it meant nothing, you tell her the truth, which is more like, “I’ve been with 9, and I had feelings for one.”

My wife puts it this way:

When you first reveal your sin, it’s like cutting her heart with a knife.  It’s incredibly painful.   During this time you (the betrayed spouse) wonder if you can ever trust again.   When later, it is discovered that there is more involved, that you only got part of the story, it’s like taking that wound and pouring salt into it, and the question of whether or not I can ever trust again is magnified 100 fold.

And be sure of this, the whole truth will come out.   Jesus promised this…

Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known.  Therefore whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed on the housetops (Luke 12:2-3)

I have proven this to be true countless times!  So tell your spouse everything.  To stop short here only defrauds the entire process, making a sham of repentance and thus closing off the power of God to restore what your sin has broken.

2. Tell her nothing

After you have confessed everything, offer no excuse.   Do not attempt to rationalize what you have done, minimize it, or justify it.   You have basically three responses from now on:

I’m so very sorry, and, You’re right, and, I love you.

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Whether or not you are truly broken over your sin will be evident by how willing you are to bear the pain, the shock, the hurt-filled and angry words that your spouse is about to unload on you, not just after the initial confession but for days, weeks, months and perhaps years to come.   Yes, it gets better, but how better it gets and how quickly it gets there is determined in large part by whether you are experiencing godly sorrow over your sin or just worldly sorrow (see 2 Cor. 7:10).  Godly sorrow reckons with the fact that your sin has been against both your wife AND God, and you are desperate to make amends because you desire nothing more than to be in fellowship with Christ.   As such, you will look like Christ who bore your sins without uttering a word, without defending himself, but became a meek and lowly lamb.    This is the posture of the truly repentant.   If you are merely worldly sorrowful, then you are really only sorry that you have been found out and that which you truly love (your sin) cannot be indulged in any longer (at least not for now). You can be assured that you will be back in the pig sty before long.

How do you know if you have godly sorrow vs. worldly sorrow?   It’s easy:  You won’t care what becomes of your life from here on out, so long as you have Jesus.   You won’t care if the entire world crumbles around you, that you have to give up your plans for the future, or that you have to even die for your sins, so long as you can be made righteous.  You will want so badly to bear your wife’s pain and suffering that you will take any abuse that might come your way, no matter how she might respond (yes, even if she responds in kind in order to “get even”), because you own the fact that your sins have brought this upon your house, and now you must make restitution.

So you tell her nothing, apart from I’m sorry, I love you, you are right, and so on.

Do these 2 things.  And may the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.

Stay tuned for how to win back his/her trust.

Is Jesus the End?

Some love Jesus because he can give them what they need.   Some love Jesus because he is all they need.

Roy Hession, in his book, We Would See Jesuswrites,

We do not have to go beyond Him to something else to satisfy our needs.  He is the end of all that we need, and the simple, easily accessible way to that end…We have been availing ourselves of Jesus and His blood as the way, but to ends other than Himself.

Even if our motives are quite free from self-interest, those things are still not to be ends or reasons for which we get right with the Lord.  Our end is to be the Lord Jesus Himself.  The reason for getting right should not be that we might have revival, or power, or be used by God, or have this or that blessing, but that we might have Him.  Our sin has caused us to let go of His hand; a cloud has come between His lovely face and ourselves, and at all costs we want to find Him and His fellowship again.  That, and that only, is to be the reason why we should be willing to go the way of repentance – not for any other motive than that we want Him.  He is to be the end; but alas, other ends, idols all of them, so easily take His place in our hearts.

Is Jesus your end?  Or something else?

The Two (Different) Types of God’s Love (and why it matters)

I am reading the great revivalist, Charles Finney’s, lectures about revival.   Finney lived and preached and prayed until his death in 1875, before which he led the Second Great Awakening, a revival that swept through America and saw hundreds of thousands come to know Christ.   It has been said of Finney that just the sight of him would cause people to fall to their knees and repent to God for having been in the presence of such a holy man.    His work continues to point people to Jesus today, including myself, as evidenced by the page dedicated on this blog to showcasing the pre-revival work he would require to be done, which changed my life when I did it myself.

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In my reading last night I came upon a couple phrases I was unfamiliar with in large part because Finney is writing in the 19th century and the meanings of words often change.    He was talking about the “love of complacency” and “disinterested benevolence” and in the context they both sounded like good things, though different.    After Googling it I found a great article that explains all of it in great detail (and it’s worth reading!).    At the risk of messing it up, Finney distinguishes between 2  types of love God has for us.  One is a selfless love of “benevolence” which seeks to see the whole world saved.   It’s the sort of love which compelled God to send His Son into the world.   The other, however is a love God has reserved for those who walk in righteousness, who strive to walk holy, as He is holy.    This is the love of “complacency” or, in 21st century language, “approval” and “friendship.”    Jesus said, “You are my friends if you obey my commands” (John 15:14).

This distinction – between the general benevolence of God to all and the particular love of God towards some – rocked my world a few years ago and was the thing I fought against most in my transformation.    My sin blinded me to God’s holiness for so many years that it became necessary, and easy, to believe the love of God was uniform and universal, in spite of my sin.   I remember saying in an interview once, “If God has loved and saved me, and knowing the mess I am, then surely everyone must be loved and saved!”   How I presumed upon God’s love!  I was guilty of the charge Paul lays out in Romans 2:4ff…

Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.

He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality.

I was silenced, shut-up, by God’s word.   The only way out was for me to confess that I did not truly love God with the love of “complacency” but merely one of “benevolence.”  I was not truly known by God as a friend, but only in a general sense, in the same way God loves all the world.    When I confessed this  – when the truth became clear to me – my heart’s cry then and still today is that I would be known and loved by God as a friend!   And what a joy it is to know God as friend!

When you come to know this particular love of God reserved for His friends you know what it means to walk in the Spirit rather than the flesh.   You begin to see the difference between a walk that was enabled by God’s kindness, which was for the purpose of leading you to true repentance, and a walk that is empowered by God’s Holy Spirit, which is reserved for the “children of God.”   And this is not a spirit of fear, but one of adoption, by whom we are able to cry out “Daddy!  Father!” (see Rom. 8:9, 13-17), and through Whom we are able to crucify the flesh, live free from the sin that has enslaved us, and be used by God as instruments of righteousness (see Rom. 6:5-14).

Below are the concluding remarks from the article I referenced above about Finney.    I recommend reading it in it’s entirety, but here is a snippet:

It is the grand truth in the study of God, that “God is love”(1John 4:8). And, anyone who professes to know God, while walking disobediently, exhibits neither disinterested benevolence nor the love of complacency toward God or man. “For this is the love of God, that we keep His Commandments: and His Commandments are not grievous” (5:3). The essential or fundamental difference between disinterested benevolence and the love of complacency, is that disinterested benevolence is owed to all without regard to character, i.e., “For God so loved the world, that He gave His Only Begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have Everlasting Life”(John 3:16), while the love of complacency is due only those who are holy or lovingly obedient, i.e., “He that hath My Commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth Me: and he that loveth Me shall be loved of My Father, and I will love him, and will manifest Myself to him”(14:21).

The danger of confusing these terms that Charles G. Finney labored his life to teach the Philadelphian Church of the 1800’s, is that:

(1) The Ungodly will claim that, if the God who is love died for the world, then all men will be universally saved, e.g., Universalism. But, that would be to neglect the paramount truth that only those who “believe on the LORD Jesus Christ” shall “be saved”(Acts 16:31), because that only is the “faith which worketh by love”(Galatians 5:6).

(2) The Backslidden will maintain that obedience to the Moral Law is not only unnecessary for salvation, and that, outright disobedience to the same Moral Law does not separate us from the love of God. “But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid His face from you, that He will not hear”(Isaiah 59:2). It would be the same as if they advocated that it is unnecessary to love God with all your heart– as demanded by the Moral Law (Matthew 22:36-40)– in order to be saved, i.e., “But if any man love God, the same is known of Him”(1Corinthians 8:3). Further, they would be purposely obscuring the fact that “whosoever abideth in Him sinneth not”(1John 3:6), and that “if we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the Truth”(1:6). And,

(3) The Honest But Ignorant Saints will become so confused by an improper understanding of the love of God, that they will often find themselves falling back into sin, making little headway in their Christian walk, while finding their pace to be much like the Laodicean Church around them. “For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the Oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat”(Hebrews 5:12).

Is It Well With Your Soul?

I am reading a book on John Wesley’s theology for today titled, The New Creation, by Theodore Runyon.   A passage about assurance, and Wesley’s quest of it, spoke to me because it named what I think was once a cancer in my own heart not very long ago. 

In the years leading up to Wesley’s conversion experience, where his “heart was strangely warmed” and he knew that Christ had died for him, for even him, he was convinced that there must be some inner witness of the Spirit with his spirit that he was a child of God.  Yet he didn’t posses it.  

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August Spangenberg, a Moravian leader, posed questions to Wesley which unsettled him.   Questions like, “Have you the witness within yourself?  Does the Spirit of God bear witness with your spirit that you are a child of God?”   Wesley reports,

I was surprised, and knew not what to answer. He observed it, and asked, “Do you know Jesus Christ?”  I paused, and said, “I know he is the Savior of the world.”  “True,” he replied, “but do you know he has saved you?”  I answered, “I hope he has died to save me.”  He only added, “Do you know yourself?”  I said, “I do.”  But I fear they were vain words.  

I identify with the father of Methodism in these words above.   I recall preaching and speaking of Jesus being the Savior of the world, and believing it to be true, yet not truly laying hold of this for myself.   The cross was good news for my listeners but I did not know it’s power in my own spirit.  

How difficult it is to lead anyone where you yourself have not been.  

It is so easy to get swept up into the tidal wave of causes, of programs, of things that in the end are nothing but works and in the doing of all this stuff we gain a false sense of assurance that we are children of God.   As Jesus said, we should have the one but not neglect the other.  We ought to be concerned with our neighbor but this ought to arise out of a deep love of God.   Holiness, what Wesley defined as a “recovery of the image of God, a renewal of soul after his likeness,” must become the heart’s cry of us all, particularly those of us who bear the name “pastor.”  

I have great respect for Wesley because he saw the deficiency in his own heart and was honest enough to confess it, and repent.   On May 24, 1738, he found that assurance he so desperately desired and as a result the world was turned upside down through the preaching of a man who laid hold of God, convinced that God had laid hold of him.  

So I ask you, as I ask myself:

Do you know Jesus Christ died for you?  Do you know that Jesus shed his blood for the forgiveness of your sins?   Does the Spirit of God, the same Spirit that rose Christ from the dead, bear witness with your spirit that you are a child of God? 

Lord, may Your grace and mercy give us no rest until we can say with assurance, Yes!  It is well with my soul! 

Son, Come to your Senses

Yesterday my wife and I were talking about the radical lengths required for real reconciliation to transpire.     We both agreed that as a couple we both had to abandon our right to have rights and humbly confess that we were both in need.   She for different reasons than I, obviously, and perhaps she will speak to that from her perspective in a later post.

As the outright offender in our marriage, it might seem obvious that the very least I or anyone in my position can do is take a posture of complete and utter servitude and humility, willing to surrender any and all rights for the one betrayed.    Yet you would be surprised to know how many people refuse to come to this place (and how long it took for me to get there myself!).   They are sorry (at least they think they are) for what they have done, and they desire to reconcile with their family but they want to do so on their own terms, or at best, expect some compromise in the negotiations.    The following sentiments are expressed far too often by people who want reconciliation:

She expects me to leave my job!  Is she crazy?  I want to get back together but she’s totally unreasonable! 

She’ll take me back but only if I drop all my friends.   It’s she or them, she says.    I want our marriage to work but her ultimatums are ruining our chances!

She says that for us to work out I need to give up the internet.    I don’t mind cutting back some, but I have to have it for my job.  She doesn’t get it. 

Such negotiations are the exact opposite of the truly penitent.   As Amy and I thought about the sacrifices necessary to reconcile we were reminded of the story Jesus tells of the prodigal son in Luke 15.    When this son “comes to his senses” after living unfaithfully as a son to his father, he determines to return home and say,

“Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you.   I am no longer worthy to be called your son.   Treat me as one of your hired servants” (Luke 15:18-19).

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Absent from this confession and plea are any grasping for rights.     The son returns with head bowed and heart torn, willing to be treated as a slave rather than a son.   Can anyone imagine this prodigal returning home to say that he is sorry for squandering everything and betraying the love and trust of his father, but dad, I want my old room back?    Dad, don’t ask me to clean the pigsty cause I’ve been living in it long enough.   Dad, you need to show me some consideration, as I’ve been through a lot.  

Let me be blunt.  If you have been unfaithful to your spouse and are bargaining in these ways or others you are not truly repentant.  You haven’t yet come to your senses like the prodigal son and are deluding yourself into thinking you still have rights.    The tension and angst your feel and the reason reconciliation seems so impossible is because you won’t die to yourself completely but still hold out hope that you can keep some of the old man around, though perhaps dressed up in new clothes.

If there is any hope for restoration you are going to have to be the first to die.     A necessary part of that death is a dying to self – to your rights, your dreams, your ideas of what the marriage ought to look like, your former life altogether.    This is the path so few are willing to walk.   But I can assure you that you do not walk it alone.    You can know that as a forgiven sinner, as you walk a path of humility before your spouse and others whom you’ve hurt, that you are walking the path of Jesus, who took your sin upon his sinless shoulders like a lamb being led to the slaughter (Isa. 53).    “Consider him,” the author of Hebrews writes, “who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted” (Heb. 12:3).

If the Son of God, who did not deserve it, could endure with patient humility such hostility from us, surely you, who does deserve it, can endure the evacuation of your rights for the sake of true repentance and reconciliation.

If not, then son, may you soon come to your senses.

 

 

The Sin of Self-Gratification: Taking on the “M” Word (Part I)

A man will never have a pure heart as long as he equivocates about the sinfulness of lust and/or masturbation.  He must decide once and for all that both are wrong in God’s eyes.  If he is indecisive on this point, he will never have the courage to win the battle that lies before him.  His constant waffling will weaken any resolve to do the hard thing.

Likewise, the one who is looking for the path of least resistance in life will also lack the determination to fight for a pure life.  Purity and godliness do not mean enough to him to warrant the effort.  When convicted over his sinful thoughts and actions, he will find ways to excuse, blame-shift or otherwise justify continuing to live in his sin.

~ Steve Gallagher, “At The Altar of Sexual Idolatry” pg. 37

It was April 21, 1989 when I first discovered masturbation and the pleasure I could bring myself.     I was 14.   I recall the date because I went with family that night to watch the opening release of Field of Dreams, a movie that remains one of my favorites to this day, but not the memories accompanying it.   Throughout the film I had this sense of guilt.   I was a Christian, and my spirit was telling me that I had likely taken a bite from a forbidden tree.

But I liked it too much to listen to what the Spirit was saying.   Rather than heed that voice, I went in search of justifications.  I scoured book stores for anything written on the topic (not an easy task in 1989) and found a few that relieved my guilt.   Masturbation, they argued, was normal and natural and part of being a sexual being created by God.   Some counseled that one should be wise in their use of it, because it could, if indulged in, lead to other problems.

At 14 I didn’t know that it was possible to justify anything and everything under the sun.   At 38 I’m just beginning to understand.

Few people in our highly sexualized culture, let alone our churches, will say what Steve Gallagher said in the quote above.   While a number of people will speak out against the sins of pornography or adultery I have noticed that many fail to address masturbation.  It’s the elephant in the room.  But it’s the root which feeds everything else.

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Self-Gratification

Self-gratification is what I prefer to call masturbation because it names it for what it truly is:  a selfish act.   For over 20 years I locked myself in isolation to indulge my flesh, telling myself again and again that I deserved this, that I needed this, that everyone else is doing it, that I’m not hurting anyone.    I had turned my back on the light that I initially had, telling me that this was an offense against God, and over time my conscious became seared (1 Tim. 4:2).   Paul diagnoses what happened over time to me and to anyone else who indulges in self-gratification (of any sort):

For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened  (Rom. 1:21).

Over time, self-gratification deprives us of God-glorification, which is our created purpose.   The light we once had grows more and more dim, and soon we find we are in a “far away land” living among pigs (Luke 15:13ff).   Meeting our own needs and desires becomes the aim of our lives and it seems fine because, quite frankly, it appears everyone else is on the same path.

It wasn’t long before I discovered that pornography served as a useful tool in aiding my self-gratification.    I had already justified in my mind that pleasing myself was OK so it wasn’t hard to convince myself that adding means (like pornography and then online chatting) to enhance that experience only made good sense.   I mean, it would be silly to deny myself that sort of pleasure, right?

Yet Scripture is full of commands for us to live in ways that make a Self-Gratifying Christian an oxymoron.    You nor I can continue to walk in darkness and claim we know God, or that God knows us.   Consider just a few words:

“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23)

“Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.”  (1 Peter 2:11)

“Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.”  (Col. 3:5)

Jesus said that if we have even the intent of lust towards another woman we have already committed adultery in God’s eyes (Matt. 5:28).  The longer I went justifying my addiction to myself the further along the road I was that leads to destruction, of which Jesus said many are on.    Peter said of men like me,

They have eyes full of adultery, insatiable for sin. They entice unsteady souls. They have hearts trained in greed. Accursed children!  (2 Peter 2:14).

Over 20 years of locking the bedroom or bathroom door to bow to the altar of self led me to do some ugly, dark things.    It was not uncommon to lock myself away in a hotel room for days to please myself.   Not even the real risk of losing my wife, my kids, or my job as a pastor would wake me up to how self-obsessed I really was.

I am choosing to be vulnerable about where I was in my sin because by doing so, I believe, the power of God is made more evident.   I am writing this so that you can know that there is freedom from the bondage of self-gratification.   John writes,

The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.  No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God (1 John 3:8-9).

It’s true!  It has been nearly 2 years since I last succumbed to the sin of self-gratification.   I say this not to boast in myself but in God who has delivered me from something I thought could never happen.   I also share it because as a man who struggled for so long in that area I longed to hear other men testify about what “freedom” really meant for them.    The world needs to know that there are men living who don’t masturbate or entertain lustful thoughts.   It’s a lie of this world that says you deserve it, you need it or that it’s normal and acceptable by God.    Not until we desire to please God more than ourselves will we ever be truly free and live in the victory God desires for His children.

In the follow-up post I will address some practical ways you can be set free from the sin of self-gratification.    But before we get there, if you are someone who has long lived behind the belief that this is a “struggle” you have, I urge you to take a moment and consider whether you are truly struggling or simply giving over.   The man or woman who is consistently walking in righteousness who “slips” can say of him or herself they are “struggling,” but not the person who is habitually failing in this or any other area or sin.   Paul writes,

No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it (1 Cor. 10:13)

If you truly desire freedom, God can and will set you free.   The first step towards that freedom is admitting that this is sin, it is selfish, it drives a wedge between you and God and others, and will only lead to destruction.

How beautiful though is the freedom that comes through Christ!

Go to Part II HERE.

When God Doesn’t Listen

I couldn’t possibly count the number of times I cried out to God to change me.  To take away the desire to look at pornography, to lust, to cheat, to lie.     The number of bruised palms from slamming the steering wheel after driving away from yet another indulgence I vowed just the day before I wouldn’t do.

The tortured yearnings of an addict.

We cry to God.   No one seems to be home.

There is a reason for this.    And the reason is not because I wasn’t working the steps hard enough or making my daily phone calls to my sponsor.   It’s not because my counselor just doesn’t understand addiction.   It’s not because I suffer from some childhood father or mother wound.    It’s not because I don’t know how to pray.

No.   The reason God seemed distant despite my emotional pleas for help is a simple yet hard truth:

I loved myself, and my sin, more than God.  

There is a passage in Psalm 66 which cuts through all the excuses and charades we as addicts are encouraged to play in our culture today.    It reads,

If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened (Psalm 66:18)

God knows the heart.  He sees our innermost thoughts and motives.   God sees what and who we love and knows when our cries for deliverance stem from a selfish desire – such as restoration of a marriage or career or reputation – rather than a desire to serve and honor a holy, jealous God who demands our sole allegiance.

And so it is that God will turn a deaf ear towards us in our darkest hours until our worldly sorrow is replaced with godly sorrow (2 Cor. 7:10).     Worldly sorrow, the sort of sorrow that regrets the consequences of our addiction, leads us deeper and deeper into the pit.    Godly sorrow, the sort of sorrow that reckons our addiction as sin and despises it for how it offends God, leads to true repentance, and therefore, life.

Be honest with God.   Confess the love affair you have with your sin and ask God to help you see your sin the way God sees it.     This is a prayer God is sure to hear and desires to answer.

Psalm 66 is not without hope.    Hear this great promise found within it, and may it be your testimony as well:

For you, O God, have tested us;
You have tried us as silver is tried.

You brought us into the net;

You laid a crushing burden on our backs;

You let men ride over our heads;
We went through fire and through water;

Yet you have brought us out to a place of abundance.