Reason for Hope

Jim Phillis

“I have prayed for God to deliver me so many times and He hasn’t done it. He must not be listening to my prayers any more because I keep sinning.’

Whether you’ve said this or only thought it, you know the tone of voice that expresses these words, sad, halting words that trail off at the end. The unspoken thought that accompanies this: ‘If I feel condemned, I must be condemned.’

Thankfully, the Gospel is an enduring message of hope for all sinners, which includes those struggling with sexual sin. The Bible provides three God-focused reasons for hope: God’s character, His promises to His people, and His work in His people’s lives.

God’s character

God’s character is clearly revealed in the Bible. We read that He is eternal, self-existing, all-powerful, all-knowing, present everywhere, holy, just, faithful, and merciful, among other things. As we read through this list, we can wonder how He can be all these things at the same time and not be internally conflicted. Whereas I struggle to be consistent in my character, He is holy and forgiving at the same time without compromising either quality in any degree. Yes, God is holy and punishes sin, but His is also merciful and desires to forgive the sinner. God resolved this seeming conflict by sending the Lord Jesus to fulfill the Law. Because of His perfect obedience, the Lord Jesus could then go to the Cross as the sacrifice for sins, paying the penalty required for sin and providing a way for God to express His mercy to sinners. Knowing His character provides hope for the sinner, because He really is merciful.

God’s promises

Which promises should we focus on in seeking renewed hope after falling into sexual sin?

Our greatest fear usually arises from our doubts that God can forgive the sin that we have entered into OR that the number of times we have returned to our sin will overtax His grace and He will have to punish us. So the first promises to claim are those relating to His mercy in forgiving sinners. Romans 5:8 declares: ‘But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.’ Then we can read: ‘If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and will purify us from all unrighteousness.'(1 Jn. 1:9) Thankfully, the Bible is full of such promises: Gal. 3:13, Eph. 2:8-9, Titus 3:4-7, and Rom. 7:21-8:2 Beyond this, He promises that He won’t abandon us or the work of faith that He has begun in us, but He will finish the work, Php. 1:6 and Rom. 8:38-39.

God also promises to give those caught in sin new futures. My personal favorite is found in Joel 2:25. After Joel tells God’s people that four waves of locusts are coming as a work of God’s judgment against sin, he speaks God’s promises to them, ‘I will repay you for the years that the locusts have eaten’.’ No only will He forgive, but He will restore to the people those things that they have lost as a consequence of their sin. God promises to do the same thing in many other places, such as Jeremiah 29:11-14. His grace and mercy are great; He is worthy of praise!

We can also seek and find strength in a third kind of promise, that God will supply grace for strength in resisting temptation and living by faith. Peter writes: ‘His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.'(2 Pt. 1:3-4) Paul expresses another promise of God’s power unleashed in us by faith in Ephesians 3:20. By our own admission, we have failed to experience this in the past, but our experience doesn’t mean that the promise isn’t true. Rather, we have simply not experienced the fulfillment of the promise in our lives yet!

God’s work

The Bible is remarkably explicit in detailing the sins of God’s people. In reading of God’s work in the lives of other sinners we can find the greatest hope. God has healed and restored many sinners so that He is able to use them to accomplish His work. I remember the initial shock when a preacher pointed to the fact that 5 of those that Matthew lists in Jesus’ genealogy are sexual sinners: Judah, Tamar, Rahab, David, and Solomon. Their sin didn’t prevent them from being in the line nor did their sin keep them from being listed.

God uses the church to restore redeemed sinners. He provides instructions for this kind of work in Galatians 6:1 and in 1 Corinthians 5. The church should exercise discipline for the purpose of bringing the sinner back into fellowship. This is the work that we need to be doing in relationship with each other, asking the difficult accountability questions and urging that sexual boundaries are maintained while praying for each other and speaking the words of forgiveness that restore. James urges us: ‘Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed’ (5:16). In his book, Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer echoes this: ‘A man who confesses his sins in the presence of a brother knows that he is no longer alone with himself; he experiences the presence of God in the reality of the other person.’ The brother not only hears the confession but speaks the truth of the Gospel in response, ‘You no longer need to remain dead in your sins; Jesus died to make you alive. Go and live in Him.”

‘When we return to our sin, we often find it difficult to read the Bible. We quickly forget God’s character, that He loves us and has acted in order to forgive us. We also forget His promises,that He is not done working in us and still has plans for our lives to give us hope. We neglect the evidence of His finished work in the lives of His people, both those recorded in the Bible and in history.

In the book, The Heart of a Servant Leader, Jack Miller recounts the story of Brownlow North, an evangelist in Great Britain whose ministry began about 1858. North lived a life of known before entering ministry. Attempts were made to prevent him from entering the ministry and later to keep him from preaching. On one occasion North took a letter detailing his sins into the pulpit and read it for all to hear. He acknowledged the truth of the letter, but used the letter to proclaim the wonders of the Gospel. Miller writes: ‘The very thing that Satan hoped to use to destroy North became a powerful evangelistic tool in his daring hands.’

God makes ugly things beautiful. He did it with a crucifixion. There is good reason to hope that He will do it with you.

For more help on this subject, please see Every Man’s Battle and our Resources for Men.

How Far is Too Far: Sexual Integrity for Singles

Bob Parkins

Not many Christians debate God’s instructions against premarital sex. However, there is still not a consensus or a shared understanding regarding what constitutes acceptable physical affection and what is sinful. The Bible uses words like adultery, fornication, lust, and purity, all words that have very clear meanings. Yet many Christian singles, teens, and even parents remain confused. Many Christian singles and teens struggle to maintain sexual purity while abstaining from sexual intercourse, yet many are engaging in sexual acts. They deceive themselves by legalistically reasoning they haven’t violated God’s boundaries because they haven’t technically had sex.

While the Bible does not appear to clarify exactly what other acts for singles are and are not acceptable in God’s eyes, it is very clear about the guidelines we are meant to judge these acts by.

When asked by young couples, ‘how far is too far?’ I generally ask them to search their hearts and examine what their intention and motivation in asking is. Usually a couple who asks ‘how far,’ is also struggling to maintain sexual purity. Those struggling with sexual purity or addictions are in the habit of pushing limits and boundaries. They want to know what is the maximum they can get away with. They look for loopholes in attempts to satisfy the desire for immediate self gratification.

The Bible warns us about being deceived and worshiping idols (Deut 11:16; Exo 20:14), and sex can be an idol to those who struggle to maintain purity. Scripture also tells us that God sees what truly is in our hearts and we will sow what we reap (Gal 6:7). If you have ever asked ‘how far,’ and have patterns of pushing limits, it is likely you are not truly interested in purity and really want to get away with as much physical affection as possible. When you put it that way it seems silly to consider the technicality of sin. If you discover your motive is to selfishly seek your own physical gratification, instead refocus on what is pure (Phi 4:8).

When you flirt with sin, you put yourself in a position to sin. To answer the question more directly, anything that causes you to sin is ‘too far.’ This is probably the best litmus test for determining limits since the Bible doesn’t tell couples specifically how they can show physical affection, at least not in the manner many look for. There are several scriptural examples of expressing affection through treasuring chastity and virtue and abstaining from sexual immorality (Isa 62:5; 2Col 11:2), a counter-cultural perspective in most increasingly permissive/promiscuous societies. Jesus models surrendering personal desires to the Father (Luk 22:42), and encourages us to ask for God’s intervention in maintaining victory over sin in The Lord’s Prayer (Luk 11:4). If you are willfully sustaining a desire that cannot be righteously met, you are deceiving yourself (1Thess 4:3-8).

Determining limits may be a little different for different couples, but be cautioned against any propensity to justify pushing limits. If you get excited to the point that you struggle with lustful thoughts or fantasies from kissing, or if you have difficulty respecting boundaries (yours or hers), you may not be able to handle more. Consider then abstaining from kissing or other applicable acts. Some may not struggle with kissing and will need to set limits accordingly. I suggest also abstaining from any physical activity or show of affection that you are not comfortable doing in front of her father. There are several genuine and appropriate displays of affection that pass this test.

It is important that couples talk about setting physical limits early in their relationship. We live in a backwards culture where single men often push women to/beyond their sexual limit. This is not what God intends or requires of us in marriage, so it certainly cannot be condoned in dating. Men are to cherish and protect their wives, not take advantage of them for their own pleasure (Eph 5:25-28; Col 3:19). Just as a father is to protect the innocence of his daughter, so are we to protect and respect any woman we are dating. Sexual desire for her is not bad, but respecting her virtue means protecting her from these desires (yours or her).

Men, it is up to you to initiate this conversation and establish boundaries. This may be the very first act you exhibit of spiritual leadership in a budding relationship. Any potential spouse who is worth spending your life with will respect your integrity because they will feel safe and cherished. Two scripture verses that are helpful in maintaining focus on purity are:

– (2Ti 2:22) Flee also youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart.

– (Phi 4:8) Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.

Be encouraged by the peace God promises those that live pure and virtuous lives

For more help in the battle for purity, see Every Man’s Battle.

Hot Under the Collar: A Godly Response to Anger

Jeff McVay

We have all been there at one point in our lives or another. Our spouse, kids, boss, neighbor, or friend does or says something that upsets us and all of a sudden we feel the pressure begin to build. Your shirt starts to feel tight around the collar, like the dry cleaner put too much starch on it. Heat builds up around the ears and you feel your face begin to flush. As you continue to think about the action or what was said it increases. Your heart pounds and life begins to go in slow motion. You can almost hear NASA control…T minus 10, 9, 8.

What you do or say at this moment may affect the next few minutes, hours, days or even years. What usually happens for you? Do you go into “silent treatment” mode? Do you escape onto the highways and freeways in pursuit of your NASCAR fantasies? Or do you explode with a tirade of intimidating words or actions in a vain attempt to control the situation? Regardless of the action the result is distance, danger and damage none of which bring back the closeness or safety that we all hope for in our relationships.

Have you ever wondered what God thinks about anger and how we should respond to it? Maybe you are wondering what God expects of you when it comes to your angry feelings towards others. You may have searched the Bible for answers and have finished with more questions than you started with. Be assured that you are in good company and your questions are valid and understandable. The Bible makes a few things clear when it comes to talking about anger. It lets us know that anger, is a feeling is God created and is not a sin, but anger is a slippery slope that can lead us to sinful action.

As Christians we believe that God created all things even human emotion of which anger is one. Believe it or not, anger does serve a purpose for each individual. It is not a pleasant emotion but it is one that can be useful. I like to compare it to pain. Pain is not very fun to feel but if we did not have it we would not know to move our hand off the hot burner or our bodies out of harmful situations. Anger is an emotion that comes up as a reaction to someone interfering or placing limits upon our will. If the limit is an unjust one such as slavery, racism or sexism then that anger gives us the motivation to make a positive change. Dr. Richard P. Walters defines this positive use of anger as indignation. Indignation as a response to our natural anger at injustice is a good, non sinful, God created, emotion that can be used for bettering things here on earth. Once the injustice is corrected the emotion drops off much like pain once the healing from the hurt has occurred.

However, the Bible also recognizes that anger can be held onto and even fostered within us to the point that it leads us into sin very quickly. Therefore it gives us a great guideline for how to deal with anger so that it leads us through the feelings and back into relationship with those whom we are angry. Ephesians 4:25-27 tells us:

‘So then, putting away falsehood let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. Be angry, but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger and do not make room for the adversary.’

This scripture gives us a great strategy for dealing with our anger in a Godly manner.

In it we are told that there are appropriate times to be angry. In the original language, this word for anger is in the imperative meaning that it is a command. This means that in those appropriate times we are commanded to be angry. But it holds in tension that the anger must be expressed in a way that is not sinful or destructive to the person who is angry or to the group or individual with whom we are angry.

How do we do this?

The first and last verses give us great examples. The prior verse says that we must put away falsehood and speak the truth. This gives two guidelines. First, it reminds us that we must not say false things about the one with whom we are angry. Often when we are angry with someone we say things about him or her that are not true. In our explosiveness we may degrade, insult or attack who they are. This often leads to further anger and hostility on their part and most of the time we wind up regretting what we have said about them.

Secondly, it tells us that we must speak the truth. This means that we must speak truthfully to the one we are angry with about how we are feeling and how the action they have taken has wounded us. We are allowed and even expected to say to the one who is offending that their action has a consequence in our lives and because we are ‘members of one another’ it has a consequence for them as well. Only then can we come to a resolution.

The last verse then prompts us to come to a resolution quickly. Hopefully it can be resolved within the day and we are urged to try to make it so. Otherwise we give our anger a foothold that can be used to break down our relationships instead of building them up.

This does not mean that we cannot take a ‘time out’ to gain control of our anger and frustration so that we can put away falsehood, speak the truth and do so in a timely manner. In fact sometimes we must have this space in order to allow ourselves to calm down and process what we must say. If this is the case for you, a great strategy is to tell the other that you must have some time to think and give them a set time that you will be back to talk about what has happened. Then you must follow through with what you have said.

One of the great ways to speak the truth about your feelings and stay away from falsehoods is to use the following formula when speaking to the one with whom you are angry. The formula is as follows:

‘I feel (state your feeling) when you said or did (state the action or words that were spoken that brought up the feeling) because (state the message that you received from the action or words) and what I need or want from you is (state what it is that you think will fix things in the relationship).’

This simple statement can help you formulate what you want to say in order to make things right in a timely manner. It causes us to be responsible for our feelings instead of the other’s behavior (which we cannot control anyway). Then we state why it hurt us and what we think will help mend the relationship. It is not easy to do but with practice this simple formula can help us follow scripture’s advice concerning anger.

For some of us, anger has been around for so long that we may need to enlist the help of others (pastor or therapist) to help us learn this method. Yet if we commit ourselves to working out our anger in a Godly manner we will find that we are blessed with relationships that enrich and nourish our lives with the goodness that God has for us.

For some help with anger call 1-800-NEW-LIFE. A ministry service representative can help you set an appointment with a Christian counselor or connect you with a Christian coach.
Also, please prayerfully consider joining us at our next New Life Weekend.