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

Lessons from the Desert

Ed Grant

Recently I escaped with a number of other pastors to the Cafa Franciscan Spiritual Retreat Center in Scottsdale, Arizona. We were there to learn how to be quiet with God. You might think this an easy task for those committed and trained to care for God’s people. Truth be told, those who speak for God need to better learn how to listen to Him. I came away from the experience with a greater determination to make time to hear from God through more relaxed times of prayer and by taking smaller bites of His Word, allowing time to meditate instead of rushing through it.

One of our assignments was to take a walk in solitude around the arid property, wonderfully landscaped with many varieties of cactus. These thrive in arid environments that receive minimal amounts of rainfall and survive by storing it in their thick branches. I took some time to contemplate the cacti, some looking like green pancakes connected at the edge, some looking as though they were victims of a stick-up as they held their hands up, and others resembling elongated bulbs protruding from the ground. I noticed that each was naturally protected with prickly needles or spikes protruding from the branches. These intimidating spikes threatened harm to any creature that dared to take a bite.

Mixed in with the desert flora were lovely palms and other varieties of trees.

There was also a “Healing Garden” on the border of the property where winding paths were shaded by leafy citrus trees: grapefruit, orange, lemon, tangelo, and tangerine. Obviously these trees didn’t belong here. They flourished only because an intricate irrigation system had been built throughout the garden. It was here that the Holy Spirit began to open my eyes to some important truths.

The unbelieving world is like the prickly cactus plants that have adapted to arid conditions, living on the minimal amounts of water. Their limited resources have to be protected from those who would steal them. They have no spiritual resources to share with others. As people perennially thirst they try to find something that will truly satisfy their longing. St. Augustine said it well: ‘O God, You have created us for Yourself and our souls are restless and searching until they find their rest in You.’

Those who have received the Savior into their lives are like the citrus trees and palms planted in the healing garden. They are not native to the desert climate and cannot long survive without regular care and watering. St. Peter refers to us as “aliens and sojourners.” As the author of Hebrews describes the difficult experiences of members of his “Hall of Faith” he calls them ‘aliens and strangers.’ He writes, ‘People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own’ (Hebrews 11:14). We also long for the place Jesus prepared for us when He went to the cross! But for now, the life we have must be sustained through regular times spent with Jesus, the One Who comes to us as Living Water. Faithful, unhurried prayer and a patient meditation on God’s Word are the means through which our love relationship with Him is sustained.

Unlike the desert flora that diligently guard their meager resources and have nothing but their beauty to share with others, God’s Spirit intends something more than beauty and survival for us. He delights to produce a variety of fruit through us for others to enjoy. The fruit miraculously grown in the arid world gives ample evidence to a source the thirsty world longs to experience.

As the high priest led the procession into the temple carrying a golden pitcher of water, he halted, looked to heaven and was about to pour its contents onto the ground. His action would be accompanied by a prayer for the rains to water the earth anew the following year. Suddenly Jesus’ voice pierced the reverent silence of the gathered congregation like a trumpet blast. He shouted in a loud voice, ‘If a man is thirsty, let Him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him’ (John 7:37b-38). Those streams, a clear reference to the Holy Spirit, are the source of the life giving fruit Paul has in mind in his letter the congregation in Galatia, called ‘the fruit of the Spirit’ (Galatians 5:22ff.).

May we be like the psalmist who recognized his thirst and went to the One he knew could satisfy it: ‘O God, You are my God, earnestly I seek You; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for You in a dry and weary land where there is no water.’ (Psalm 63:1)

Need a taste of God’s living water, a mini-retreat?  Please join us for a New Life Weekend.