There can be seemingly insurmountable challenges in our pursuit of sexual purity. We may hit a wall of frustration, boredom, temptation, even relapse. Continue reading
Is confession all that matters in recovery? If we continue to admit our faults and failures, is that enough to live a life of ongoing purity, or is there more to the equation of freedom than simply admitting time and again that we are broken and imperfect? I propose that confession is only half of the equation when it comes to living each day in sexual purity.
Repentance is the ‘other half’ of this coin of recovery.
Confession is certainly necessary for recovery to begin, and even to move forward. To confess is to agree with truth. We confess that we are not perfect (true). We confess that we have a problem with lust – or whatever the particular struggle may be (true). We confess that we need help and cannot overcome our faults and failures alone (true). We confess each time our thoughts or actions do not match up with what God has said is good or right, and in so doing we agree with truth. Confession is an honest assessment and expression of reality. But confession alone does not change behavior. No, confession invites the forgiveness and cleansing of God on to our broken lives, but it is repentance that ultimately changes the course of our recovery over the long haul.
I used to think that if I just got really good at confessing my faults and failures as quickly as possible to when they occurred that I would become a different man. Unfortunately, all I learned from such a venture was how desperately wicked my sinful nature was and how often I must confess. Nothing seemed to change, at least not in significant, lasting ways. I just confessed and confessed and confessed. Mostly, I just confessed the same failures over and over again. This didn’t seem like progress (I’m not the brightest kid in the class, but I can deduce that repeating the same failures does not equal positive growth). Each confession did bring about a cleansing, a sort of “start-over-point” as promised by God (1 John 1:9), but this didn’t seem to do much for gaining traction in overcoming these vice-like sins. There always seemed to be an ‘ingredient’ missing in acquiring the long-term victory my heart craved.
Then I discovered the key to gaining ground against the ever-chasing pull of lust: applying the practice of repentance.
Repentance is the process of turning away from anything opposed to truth. Repentance provides the balance to confession. We confess to agree with truth, and then we repent to turn away from the opposing thought, belief, or action that prompted the confession. Through repentance we train our minds and hearts to focus on that which leads to life and freedom: truth (John 8:32). And as we continually turn toward truth we experience the power of God unleashed on the false thoughts, beliefs, and actions that seek to pull us again into darkness, shame, and despair.
One of the biggest challenges to repentance is pride. We truly believe we know what is best for our lives, even if it may be killing us. We think we can reason our way out of the lustful trap we are caught in, rather than surrendering ourselves, through repentance, to the truth of God’s Word and His ways. Pride is an ugly beast, but so often goes unrecognized as we wiggle and squirm out of the loving invitation of repentance and new way of life. But to become a new person, a free, pure child of God, we must die to our pride and invite, even embrace, the path of repentance.
Another harmful opponent to repentance is minimizing our sin. We deceive ourselves into believing that our problems aren’t as big as they really are and that we can successfully manage our sexuality without anybody’s help (minimizing and pride often travel together). We say we have a ‘little’ problem with porn or that we ‘aren’t hurting anyone.’ The longer we play with the fires of pride and minimizing the further we drift from repentance and the more we will suffer the consequences (Can a man scoop fire into his lap without his clothes being burned? Prov. 6:27).
Does confession matter in recovery? Absolutely! But without repentance, confession only serves to perpetually wash over the same stain again and again without ever effectively seeking to remove it. Repentance, therefore, compliments confession by guiding us toward the proper focus and perspective once we receive the refreshing cleansing brought about by humble, honest confession. May you allow your times of confession to remind you to take the additional step toward long-term freedom by also repenting. This is the path to true and lasting freedom…
For help on this subject please see Every Man’s Battle.
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.