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.

The Pursuit of Purity

Psalm 119:9: ‘How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping it according to Thy word.‘  Matthew 5:8: ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.’

Pursuing purity is a reality for every believer in Christ. Yes, even those who struggle with sexual addiction and lust. What seems impossible with man is possible with God. God is able to transform us through the renewing of our mind and lives.

I see purity as an attitude of the heart that will result in a lifestyle change. It is an active decision every day to commit yourself to the pursuit of purity. ‘One day at a time’ is the expression used in AA. Each morning you decide for moral purity. Keeping yourself pure according to ‘Thy word’ requires a daily plan. Essential to your plan is another heart attitude, humility.

Humility is best reflected in the example Christ set for us to follow. Paul, in Philippians 2: 3-8, reminds us of the importance of focusing on the needs of others and not exclusively our own, which so characterizes our selfish nature. Humility of mind reminds me daily that, apart from Christ, I can do nothing. I am dependent on Him to be able to live right. Pride is the opposite of humility, an attitude that says I can do this myself without God. Just remember where that attitude (pride) got you.

So the commitment to be morally pure is a daily one, where you build new patterns of thinking and behaving motivated by a change in heart. Peter put it this way in 2 Peter 1:5-8:

Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge; and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness; and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.’

Job made a covenant with his eyes to not look lustfully on a woman. Learning to turn away from lustful thoughts requires the daily discipline of replacing old thoughts and sinful patterns with new and God honoring ones. In your daily plan, be sure to include scripture memorization, mediation, and study of God’s word. Find a bible study group or take a class with others. Learning the scriptures and encouraging one another makes studying enjoyable and enriching. Doing this also helps you build relationships where you can develop accountability and fellowship.

Another part of your daily plan in pursuit of purity is to have a means of confession or honest discussion about your thought life. I know that when we admit any thoughts that bother us to another, the thoughts lose their power. Having another person pray with you can really encourage you. James 5:16 is a reminder of the power of confession, and Hebrews 10:24-25 exhorts us ‘to consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking the assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more, as you see the day drawing near.’ Having another person to share with also helps you overcome the deceitfulness of your own heart (Jeremiah 17:9). Asking someone to mentor you in the spiritual disciplines can really be helpful. Look for people who have walked with the Lord and have a mature walk with God. Ask your Pastor for guidance to find someone to mentor you. Sponsors, like mentors, are very helpful in your specific area of recovery. They guide and coach you in the recovery process. A spiritual mentor may not have specific knowledge about addiction, but would bring the wisdom and knowledge that comes with walking in relationship with God. You need both.

In closing, as you seek God in pursuit of purity, He will enable you to develop the disciplines that have been lacking in your life. Ask Him to give you a heart inclined towards purity. As Jesus said, ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.’

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

Chris Cole

Trick or Treat’Choosing Authenticity

Dante Poole MA, NCC

Ask a kindergartener what they want to be when they grow up and most will give you an answer without hesitation. In the mind of a child the possibilities are endless as they are allowed the freedom to dream big dreams because they are children and well’the possibilities are endless. By middle school most early adolescents begin to exchange their big dreams for someone else’s small fantasy. The greatest heist occurs during these years as the enemy begins to seduce us through the influence of our peers, into believing that we need to be just like them. Using our need to belong and the threat of that need not being met, our dreams latent with the truth about who we were suppose to become, get tabled in exchange for cheap Halloween costumes that we accept as our new identity.

If you have ever worn one of those costumes you know how uncomfortable they can be.

As a child my parents allowed us to celebrate Halloween. Every year we would get a new costume and participate in some party or gathering highlighted by tons of the sugary treasures we hoarded in our pockets, socks, plastic jack-o-lanterns, themed plastic bags or the old faithful brown paper bag. Most outfits were plastic jumpsuits with drawstrings that got tied around your neck. There were two very distinct features about these outfits;

(1) no matter which character you chose to be (or in some cases the only character left on the shelf because your parents waited to the very last moment to buy your costume) there was always a part of your back that remained exposed leaving part of your true identity without concealment;
(2) the rubber band that held that hot plastic mask to your face always irritated your head as you sweated profusely all the while yelling ‘Trick or Treat!’

Oh, the lengths we went to become someone else.

The truth is we enjoyed those outfits because for a moment in time we had the chance to be something or someone we admired. The costumes, whether superhero or super-beast/creature, had characteristics we longed to have in our own lives and we chose them so that we could pretend to be able to leap over buildings in a single bound. We were faster than a speeding bullet and more powerful than a locomotive.

Unfortunately, masses of men are still running around hidden behind hot sweaty masks with their backs exposed hoping no one will notice that it’s just a costume. We have somehow convinced ourselves that as long as we wear the costume and play the part no one will know the truth. Our lives have become adjusted to the darkness of our concealment to the point that we have become crafty as actors, playing our roles so well that we can no longer distinguish between the false persona and the real person. When faced with the truth about ourselves we fortify our masks and push others away so that we can remain in darkness.

The scripture says in Luke 8:17 ‘For everything that is hidden or secret will eventually be brought to light and made plain to all’. (NLT)

Have you ever met a child who wanted the trick instead of the treat? What disappointment a child would experience if they got duped into believing that they had a bag full of treats only to discover later that they had been hoodwinked. Have others experienced this disappointment because they were expecting to encounter the genuine you and what they ended up with is feeling tricked? We cannot hide in darkness forever. We are called to live authentically. That means we not only tell the truth about ourselves, but we live the truth and accept that some people will not be able to engage us with loving kindness when they see us for who we really are. To live authentically can be unnerving for those who are skilled at hiding.

One truth that has helped me in my struggle for genuine transparency is knowing that God loves me despite all of my failures, bad decisions and all the other things about my life that make me want to take cover. He loves me, not the person others say I should be, not the person I wish I could be’.He loves me and that’s the truth. The Father Almighty takes pleasure in bestowing His love, mercy and favor upon all those who would dare to live the truth. His love looks beyond our faults and meets our need for love.

Here are three steps to towards living more authentically:

1. Learn to tell yourself the truth. Jeremiah 17:9-10a says ‘The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is? But I, the Lord, search all hearts and examine secret motives.’ It is part of our human condition to lie to ourselves about our abilities, limitations and the true nature of our condition. Left on our own we will make a mess of our lives. What is it that keeps us from being honest with ourselves? Pride. It is being confident in our own ability to fix things. The trouble in our lives didn’t get there because of someone else but because we refused to accept our own limitations for fear of being seen as weak or failures. If you re-examine every failure in your life you’ll find bread crumb trails that lead you back to moments of pride & self sufficiency. All of us are in need of spiritual heart surgery.

2. Let God show you how to live in any way that seems right to Him. Sometimes we are expecting God to do things according to what we have determined is the right course of action. The problem is that God’s ways are above our ways and His thoughts are above our thoughts (Isaiah 55:8). We are all guilty of trying to tell the Expert how to do His job. The Lord knows what is best and He chooses the course of action that best accomplishes His will for the lives of humanity. Trust the Expert.

3. Look at the man in the mirror. Authenticity requires regular self examination even when things are going well’no especially when they are going well. Surveying our hearts for the little things we let slide because they don’t seem to matter, will make all the difference. What we won’t deal with today, will deal with us tomorrow.

Either we make a choice to come into the light freely or God will allow circumstances to bring us into the light through consequence. Never ever forget that God is with you and longs to reveal the real you to the rest of the world because you are an expression of His love. The earth becomes a better place when men decide to take off their masks and live an unconcealed, unveiled life. Walk in the light and may every person who encounters you discover the treat that God has gift wrapped in the package called you.