Practical Repentance

Joe Dallas

Did sin ever yield real pleasure? If so, go back to your old drudgery, and wear the chain again, if it delights you. But inasmuch as sin did never give you what it promised to bestow, but deluded you with lies, be free. ‘Charles Spurgeon

When you’re angry enough, scared enough, or frustrated enough, you take action. So it is with sexual sin. If you’re ready to repent of it, you’re probably angry (‘I’ve had it!’), scared (‘God be merciful to me a sinner!’), or feeling the futility of it all (‘There’s no future in this for me!’). All three roads lead to repentance.

To repent is to turn. That’s what distinguishes repentance from confession, which is a simple acknowledgment of sin as opposed to actively turning from it. It is through confession, according to John 1:9, that we are forgiven of sin: ‘If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.’ I John 1:9 But confession doesn’t necessarily change us, important as it is.

God not only calls us to acknowledge our sin; He also commands us to put it away. Now ‘repent’ is a word we associate with dour men in sackcloth warning us about the coming doom. That’s too bad, because repentance is a valuable concept. It means ‘to think differently, reconsider, turn around.’ No real changes are made without it.

Repentance is the willful act of discontinuing a thing which is destructive, followed by an earnest effort to do what is constructive and right. In short, without confession nothing is forgiven, but without repentance nothing is changed. To repent, or turn, you need to first identify what you’re repenting of, then determine the most effective way to do it. Exactly what do you need to repent of? Of course, you can’t repent of having sexual impulses. You can’t rip them out and abandon them, and you can’t just will them away. Repentance applies to acts of the conscious will, whether they are outward actions or inward indulgences. So you are not trying to repent of sexuality per se but of conscious sexual sins. These would of course include sexual contact apart from marriage, and the use of pornography. These are direct forms of immoral behavior, easy to detect and obviously immoral.

‘We can’t keep the birds from flying over our heads, but we can keep them from building a nest in our hair.’ -Martin Luther

Sexual fantasies are similar. They, like sexual lust, are conscious acts of the imagination. And they too need to be distinguished from fleeting sexual thoughts. Martin Luther, speaking of impure thoughts, said that we can’t keep the birds from flying over our heads, but we can keep them from building a nest in our hair. That’s pretty well put. Wayward sexual thoughts come to everyone, I suppose, but when we indulge those thoughts by orchestrating sexual fantasies, then we’re not just having fleeting thoughts; we’re creating mental pornographic home movies.

But repentance shouldn’t stop there. You should also consider any activities that contribute to them or encourage them. Here you need to be very honest with yourself. Are there parts of your lifestyle’habits, places you like to go, forms of recreation’that encourage sexual immorality? That’s a question every Christian has to ask himself; it’s a question that’s doubly pertinent to you. So often, men can go on kidding themselves, then wonder why they’re not making any progress. They claim to want freedom, and seem willing to give up overt sexual sin, but show an unwillingness to give up the very things that lead them back into that activity. In all matters, the question should never be ‘Is going to such and such a place an overt sin?’ but rather ‘Do I have the liberty to go to this place without setting myself up to stumble? Will it encourage me toward my goals, or will it encourage me toward a setback?’

If you’re serious about repentance, bring every part of your life under scrutiny. Remember, you’re trying to emerge from the mindset of a child to that of an athlete, putting aside anything that interferes with your ultimate goal. That, in the truest sense, is repentance.

For more help see Every Man’s Battle.

Your True Nature

“To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou can not then be false to any man.”
– Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’

“I can’t help being who I am!”, my client screamed. We were in the middle of our third counseling session together, and he was contemplating his decision to stop using pornography and prostitutes. His sexual behavior had become such a primary part of his life, though, that leaving it behind felt impossibly unnatural. “It’s my nature as a guy to want this,” he argued. “If I stop, aren’t I just trying to be somebody I’m not?”

As a Christian man struggling with sexual temptations, you may be asking the same question. You may, in fact, be considering a complete abandonment of the faith instead of abandoning your behavior.

The immediate payoff for such a decision is gratification. You will no longer be denying yourself the “right” to do what seems natural to you. And that may really seem more important to you than Christianity itself.

But then, what is your concept of Christianity? Did God promise you that, having been converted, you would be finished with personal struggles? Was there anything in Christ’s teaching implying total fulfillment in this life? Is Christianity a religious form of therapy designed to ensure the happiness of its followers?

Does it make you angry to even ask these questions? If so, you may have forgotten that the core of our faith is the Person Jesus Christ, and the expression of our faith is a life of service to Him, not ourselves. Jesus made this clear: “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.” (Matthew 16:24).

The core of our faith is Jesus Christ. The expression of our faith is a life of service to Him. Regarding our attitude toward this primary but overlooked aspect of Christianity, Francis Schaeffer, in his book True Spirituality, comments: “It is not a matter of waiting until we no longer have strong sexual desires, but rather, when we are surrounded by a world that grabs everything, we are to understand what Jesus means when He talks about denying ourselves that which is not rightfully ours.”

Ironically, then, abandoning the faith in a quest for personal happiness may well be the way to sabotage that very quest. Remember, if you are a believer, you have experienced the rebirth described in John 3:16, which is not easily shrugged off. You were given the seed of God Himself: ‘Having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God.’  (1 Peter 1:23).

That being the case, it is questionable whether you will ever be happy in a back-slidden state. The dissatisfaction you will feel apart from fellowship with Christ may well outweigh whatever dissatisfaction you’re experiencing now as a struggling Christian. I am who I am, I can’t be at peace unless I’m true to myself.

You might argue, ‘But I am who I am. That’s my nature, and I can’t be at peace unless I’m true to myself.’ I would argue the same point, changing the noun. You are indeed who you are, a Christian. That’s your nature, and you can’t be at peace unless you’re true to yourself.

 

How’s Your Plan Working?

For some of you reading this, Every Man’s Battle is still a fresh experience; you’re still on the mountain top, and your recovery is exciting. For others who may be a year or two removed from an EMB workshop, things have drifted back to the routine, and some of the ‘warm fuzzies’ of the workshop have faded. Whichever group you find yourself in, one thing is for sure: for your recovery to be successful and meaningful, it will be extremely important to stick to the action plan that you developed at EMB.

One of the hardest parts about sticking to the action plan, is that sometimes it gets a little mundane, a little routine. I can still picture Joe, in sweatshirt and jeans, flexing his muscles while reminding us that as guys, we’re more ‘hero’ oriented than ‘routine’ oriented. ‘Give me a burning house and a baby, and I’ll show you what a hero I can be,’ he’d say. ‘But ask me to take out the trash or get up 15 minutes earlier to put on coffee for my wife? C’mon, that’s a little boring.’ Yet that’s what recovery is all about, doing the mundane, doing the routine, and doing it consistently.

What’s the action plan that I am talking about? Well, by way of a little refresher, let’s go over the things that Joe and the EMB staff want us to do after we leave EMB. I am not going to go into the detail that Joe does, but I’ll hit the highlights. One of the things is to make sure to get an accountability partner and an accountability group. Find someone who isn’t afraid to ask you the tough questions, and who will see through if you’re trying to manipulate. This person does not have to be in recovery from sexual addiction themselves, although that is helpful, but they do need to be available, and willing to meet with you on a weekly basis; and they do need to be honest with you and demand honesty from you. If you’re married, it’s important that this person have full access to your wife, and can call her about anything that is going on in your life that is inappropriate.

Another part of the plan is for you to be seeing your pastor, or someone in leadership at your church. This will help you stay spiritually focused. And speaking of staying spiritually focused, starting off your day with some prayer and Bible reading is the best way to let your Heavenly Father know you’re grateful for all of the gifts He has given you.

Recovery is all about: doing the mundane, doing the routine, doing it consistently!

In all of the follow up calls I’ve done with EMB alumni, I have never once had a guy who was struggling or who had relapsed tell me that he was closely following his action plan. On the flip side, most of the guys who are doing well are doing most or all of their action plan. How are you doing with your follow up plan? If you don’t have a church home, call New Life–we may have a referral for a church in your area. And if you’re not spending any time with the Lord during the day, carve out 15 minutes today to do that. They may not sound like the most exciting things in the world, but it’s the ordinary things in life that we do consistently that keep us in recovery.