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.

Studying God’s Word

Stephen Arterburn

When we receive an email or letter from a good friend, we usually find ourselves doing two things: first, we read the letter with eager anticipation, hanging on every word; and second, we read the letter over and over again, hoping each time to gain insight into, and intimacy with, it’s author. The same should be true with regard to God’s Word, for in it we find a message directed to us by One who loves us. And by reading that message intently and repeatedly, we can know the One we delight in truly and more accurately.

In Psalm 119:105, David likens Scripture to a lamp for our feet and a light for our path. Men, the Bible is our map or instruction manual to godliness, and we need to keep it close by and read it often. Otherwise, we’ll find ourselves walking in darkness. And if that happens, we’re sure to stumble and fall.

Furthermore, how badly we stumble and how hard we fall will likely be proportionate to how long it’s been since we’ve feasted on God’s Word. King David knew this truth, so in Psalm 119:103 he exclaims to his beloved Lord, ‘How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!’

Like David before us, we need to feast lovingly, enthusiastically, and consistently upon God’s Word. Just as you need physical food in order to sustain your body, you also need spiritual food to sustain your soul.

Getting Confession Right The First Time

Edward J. Grant

It had been years since Sally felt the gut-wrenching, searing pain of betrayal that left her world shattered in countless broken pieces. ‘This can’t be happening all over again,’ she thought, ‘not after all we’ve been through.’ What should she do? Where should she go with the holidays around the corner? Was her marriage over and should she demand her husband leave the home immediately? How could she be so stupid to ever have trusted him again? She was in shock, not unlike the shock that accompanies the death of a loved one. Her feelings would surely intensify in the coming days and weeks as the reality of her husband’s treachery settled in.

It began with the discovery of a pornographic web site on the computer. She knew that none of her three children had visited it and prayed that they hadn’t found the graphic pictures. That discovery, painful enough in its own right, was just the beginning. He confessed that hadn’t been honest with her when he first confessed seven years ago, admitting to using only four or five prostitutes during their marriage. There had been many, many more, ‘countless’ in his words. Then she was willing to attempt to salvage their marriage. Since that time they had both worked hard to rebuild, spending thousands of dollars in the process. They attended weekly support group meetings, marriage counseling, cried tears by the bucketful, and endured the interminable tug-of-war between hope and hopelessness. She began to see relational change over the years as both took the first fearful, faltering steps towards genuine intimacy, eventually renewing their wedding vows when she came to trust him once more. Now she learned that he had never been sober; he had lied to everyone. He had indulged in a number of affairs and never ceased frequenting prostitutes.

Having recounted some of the moral and spiritual failures of Israel to the troubled congregation at Corinth St. Paul wrote, ’11These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come. 12So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! 13No 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.’

As we reflect on one woman’s devastating experience caused by her husband’s sin let us consider several fatal flaws that contributed to his failure.

1. Confession needs to be complete. Whenever we try to do damage control by holding back important facts about our behaviors – often under the guise of ‘sparing her further pain’ – we are left with the relentless question: ‘If I had told her everything would she have stayed with me?’ Shame attends our incomplete confession and becomes the favorite target at which Satan hurls his accusations. King David was no stranger to the attempt to cover his sins instead of confessing them. He writes in Psalm 32, ‘3When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. 4For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer.’ Confession brought relief and healing in his heart and in his relationship with God: ‘5Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD”– and you forgave the guilt of my sin.

2. Shame causes the intense pain that propels the addict into the predictable cycle of addiction. When some painful event in life accesses the well of shame hidden in the wounded heart the addict resorts to the familiar cycle of pre-occupation, ritual, and acting out, culminating with despair. The goal of acting out is a journey to the land of numb: no feeling is better than emotional pain. Loved ones are all too familiar with the emotional distance acting out causes between them and the addict.

3. Forgiveness comes from confessing our sins to God, but healing comes from confessing our sins to one another. James writes, ’16Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.’ The healing God intends comes from caring relationships with fellow pilgrims wherein the lies we believe about ourselves can be dispelled. The four core beliefs of the addict are:
1. I am a bad and worthless person.
2. If you really knew me, you wouldn’t love me
(ergo no one gets to know the real me).
3. Sex is my greatest need.
4. Only I can meet my needs.
As fellow strugglers share their failures, pain and encouragements with each other the truth of divine, unconditional love begins to sink in.

4. Radical commitment to honesty. Unless a person is willing to commit to honesty regardless of the consequences, true change and healing is not possible. Jesus said, ‘You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.’ Walking in and living by God’s truth frees us from the weight of guilt, the arrows of shame and the accusations of Satan. Living by the truth is scary when you are accustomed to living a lie, but it is the only path on which we can find fellowship with God and the freedom He has promised.

Men struggling with sexual integrity, please see Every Man’s Battle.
If you are married to a man struggling with sexual integrity, please join us for our Every Heart Restored program at our next New Life Weekend.