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.

Challenging the Lies of the Heart

Bob Damrau

In Every Man’s Battle the enemy has his crosshairs set on our minds. What we do comes out of what we believe about ourselves, and in order to have a new life, not just a change of destructive behavior, we must examine our current belief system.

Since our thoughts have sustained a barrage of evil deception, the process of renewing our minds requires us to challenge the lies of the heart.

Webster defines the term belief as: ‘to have trust in or confidence in what is true.’ When we have confidence and place our trust in something we thought was true but was actually a lie, we have a false belief system. When we have confidence and place our trust in something that bears witness to the truth, we have a true belief system. So, how can we know a true belief from a false one?

True beliefs are based on the Word of God; Truth. False beliefs are based on fear. True beliefs support the value and growth of an individual. False beliefs diminish the value and growth of an individual. True beliefs are proven true through life experiences. False beliefs are proven false by destructive, self preserving behaviors. True beliefs create peace and confidence. False beliefs create anxiety and exhaustion.

Our belief systems developed long before we became conscious of them. We believe our false beliefs to be true especially if we were told they were true by someone we trusted. These are called projected lies. For example, your mom told you: ‘You’re no good. You’re just like your drunken father. You’ll never amount to anything.’ Projected lies are when others take their own hurts and project them on to someone else.

Another source of the lies we believe comes from within. These are the lies we tell ourselves in order to survive’survival lies. If you grew up in a family that was abusive or neglectful, your needs were unsatisfied. The very act of having a need made you vulnerable. Being vulnerable put you in a position of being hurt. In time, as the hurts multiplied, you came up with a way to stop being vulnerable. You may have told yourself, ‘I don’t need anybody.’ So developed a survival lie that you don’t have any needs.

Those kinds of lies evolve into false belief systems that tend to control our lives even as adults. So, if we’ve bought into the thought that fierce independence is a good thing, our lives will be marked by isolation and feelings of loneliness. That emotional pain is an example of what we’ve tried to medicate through our acting out behaviors. By the way, most compulsions are ways to dull pain and anesthetize loneliness caused by isolating survival lies.

Challenging the lies of the heart requires identifying our false beliefs and how they are being manifested in our current behaviors, then replace them with truth.

Here’s a practical suggestion: Fold a sheet of paper in half from top to bottom. On the left side write out the lies you tend to believe. This may include thoughts on performance, approval, blame and shame. Then on the right side of the page write down God’s truths that contradict those lies. Check out Romans 5:1, 1 John 4:9-10, 2 Corinthians 5:17 and Colossians 1:21-22 for some examples. Reflect on your responses every day for one month.

Satan’s plan is to deceive our minds in the hope we will lose heart. But the Lord Jesus reminds us to ‘take courage; I have overcome the world’ and ‘the ruler of this world shall be cast out.’

When Doubt Invades The Heart

Bob Damrau

There are two universal qualities that are foundational to this week’s topic. First, every man having been made in God’s image and likeness is a person of dignity.  Then God spoke to Adam and said, ‘Every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat(Genesis 2:16-17). Adam then made a character choice. Today, it is our’s.

Second, every man since Adam (except one) is a person of depravity, i.e., we sometimes make wrong choices. The third chapter of Genesis informs us that ‘he ate.’ When Adam saw his wife being deceived and that she broke God’s law he had no confidence that the goodness of God would resolve the mess Eve had created. After all, forgiveness was never required up to that point in time. So, Adam attempted to solve this new problem by joining his wife in sin. Eve doubted that God was good. Adam doubted that God was good enough. That active disposition to abuse freedom in a self-centered manner has been passed along to you and me.

VERTICAL DOUBT

A client once said to me, ‘God seems far away.’ This man had lost his job and his house. His wife’s physical health was deteriorating and his own emotional health was marked by depression. Antidepressant medication didn’t seem to help. He doubted God and was angry at Him because of what he perceived as His mistreatment of him. All this, in his eyes, deprived his life of meaning.

When we perceive God as malevolent and unpredictable’despite everything His revelation in the Lord Jesus tells us’we can become sick in mind, emotions and body. When the trials of life seem to strengthen our doubts, we tend to take control in an effort to make up for what is thought to be God’s lack of goodness or greatness. We shift our trust from Him to someone or something less.

HORIZONTAL DOUBT

When doubt invades the heart it affects each of us at the relational level. The fall brought about a reversal of man’s rule over the earth to the point that it fights back with thorns. Man’s task went from trimming and dressing the garden, to toiling against the soil in order to eke out an existence. Whenever we give up on this task, the impact of the reversal becomes evident. Instead of subduing the earth, we allow the environment to dictate our behaviors.

A core desire in every man is to pursue and deeply impact a woman. Coexisting with this desire is the core reality that our drive to initiate leaves us at great risk of exposing our inability to fully understand a woman. We doubt ourselves. We tend to feel inadequate. Our thoughts reflect a shameful self-image as we think, ‘I don’t have what it takes to love a woman.’ In his book, Inside Out, Dr. Larry Crabb says, ‘The problem (men face) is threatened sexuality, an inevitable consequence of moving away from God. The symptom of the problem is sinful sexual expression. The function of the symptom is to provide a counterfeit, momentary sense of maleness . . . (but) that, too, is sinful.’ It appears easier to pursue a fantasy and maintain a false intimacy, while the genuine article seems to evade us.

OVERCOMING DOUBT

There are two more universal qualities that are germane to this discussion.
First, every man is a dependent person. Our first, ever, problem is recorded in Genesis 2:18, when God, Himself, said, ‘It is not good that man should be alone.’ We need one another in order to survive in a place that can not fulfill our deepest needs. You don’t have to, nor are you required to go it alone. Get healthy and stay connected.

Second, every man is a person of duty. ‘God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to tend and keep it(Genesis 2:15).

We are designed to serve Someone greater than ourselves. When we do not come to grips with this characteristic, our behaviors often reflect our depravity. Some call this a worship disorder.

Until we are adequately connected to God and others, we will try to preserve our fragile self-image, but when the focus of our love is only inward, we can not adequately build the relationships our hearts long for. Love God with your whole heart and others from your heart, and doubt will diminish.