“To be honest, I can’t imagine life without it.” He was referring to porn. His tone expressed exasperation, discouragement, defeat. There were nods of agreement in the room from the group of men—several had said roughly the same thing recently and continued to feel it that way. Giving up porn was their life or death battle.

I had known these men for a few years having led their biblical support group at Harvest USA. They had all showed progress against their sin, with varying levels of “victory.” The one who spoke up had gone a significant time without a fall. Every day he said no to porn, every day he fought to give up porn—but only by harboring the secret concession that he could still go to it tomorrow.

I felt tempted to give in to their discouragement. A slew of biblical scenes came to my mind: Rachel hiding the family gods in her saddlebag (Genesis 31); Achan burying some of the spoil in his tent (Joshua 7); the rich young ruler walking away sad, unwilling to give up his “one thing.” (Mark 10:17-22).

Here is their fatal flaw, I thought—they will not forsake their idol. This will not have a good ending.

My discouragement increased.

But in my mind I settled on the story of the rich young ruler and remembered that sentence, “Jesus loved him.” While the rich young ruler walked away thinking I can’t imagine life without it, Jesus was loving him. We are not told the end of that young man’s story. But I have more than a little hope for him—because Jesus loved him. And that’s why I ultimately couldn’t lose hope for the men that I had come to love, either.

Could it be that moments like this, when confronted by the stark choice Jesus gives us, to follow him or to follow our wayward hearts into idolatry and sin, are when the necessary climatic turn can happen in one’s life?

How dear is an idol. It claims to fill a core place in our life—an emotional need, a desire unmet, a hurt unhealed. Over time we steep ourselves in its desire until it is so familiar that it seems a part of us. We cannot imagine ourselves without it.

They—and all of us—are faced daily with the choice to believe the gospel and follow Jesus. Other biblical phrases echo the scene from the young ruler story: “He that loses his life, for me, will find it. . . ”; “. . . consider yourselves dead to sin, but alive to God. . . ”; “If you are in Christ, you are a new creation; the old is gone; the new has come”; “Behold, I am making all things new.”

You see, these men have reached a point where they are facing the question of their existence at its starkest and darkest: “Am I willing to die to all that I’ve been living? Am I ready to forsake forever my familiar idolatrous refuge? Am I willing to let Jesus re-create me? Do I want to be holy, to be steadily reshaped into the character and image of Christ?”

How dear is an idol. It claims to fill a core place in our life—an emotional need, a desire unmet, a hurt unhealed. Over time we steep ourselves in its desire until it is so familiar that it seems a part of us. We cannot imagine ourselves without it. We had thought repentance was change, only to discover that it really means becoming a completely different person!

How do we help someone who is at this place?

First, cheer them on to the right choice.

Remind them that Jesus’ promise of new life is for crises such as this. He said, “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” There is nothing but death in the “old,” and nothing but life in the “new.” Implore them to run after new life. At the point of crisis, remind them that Jesus loves them. Even in their struggle; even in their doubt; even in their stumbling and falling.

Second, model life-long faith and repentance yourself as you walk with your brothers. 

Your role in encouraging them is not just for this crisis moment; you need to show them by example that this is an ongoing turning. We want to believe we can turn once from an idol that has been a long-time staple of our life, then never have to face the decision again. It is true that there is a decisive turning when we know in our hearts that we belong to Christ and no longer to ourselves, but the full implications of that take a lifetime to work out.

As a new believer, this decisive turning comes with a sense of joy and freedom. But we do not know ourselves very well. God knows us perfectly. We do not see all at once what it will mean to “put off the old self” and “put on the new.” There are other idols we do not immediately see.

As we mature in our life as a Christian, the Spirit progressively brings us from one repentance crisis to another, each time showing us another piece of what is earthly in us and giving us the opportunity—no, the necessity—of saying goodbye to it, of reaffirming, “This is not who I am anymore; I don’t have to do this.”

Third (and this is of course the most important), pray with and for them.

Prayer is how we re-focus on the person who is the power behind our repentance, Jesus himself. It is his work. He is the one to whom we turn. His is the life by which we turn. His is the voice that beckons us to forsake our old life to live his new life.

I have more than a little hope for these friends of mine. I have every reason to believe Jesus loves them, and has brought them to this crisis of eternal identity with his hand outstretched, inviting them to trust him, beckoning them to life, “Come, follow me. . . I am making all things new.”

Total depravity is the doctrine that human nature is thoroughly corrupted and sinful as a result of the fall. This doesn’t sound like good news. But it changed my life.

It was a Sunday morning in 1996 when I heard the sermon. As a single man of 28, I had struggled with same-sex attraction for much of my life. For years, I had been acting out on that attraction.

And, I was a Christian. I knew from an early age that the Lord had chosen me to be his. As I struggled with a confusing and unwanted sexual desire that was nonetheless intoxicating, I gradually learned how to lie to others and to myself, simultaneously justifying and denying the reality of my sin. I lived a double life: I was the good Christian to everyone I wanted to impress, and I was the flirt and tempter to all the men I wanted to draw into my embrace.

With each passing year, the ease with which I justified my sinful behavior grew. Particularly when I felt lonely, unloved, unaffirmed, tired, or ashamed, I ran into the arms of lovers with less and less resistance. I was Pavlov’s dog, mouth watering for satisfaction each time I heard the ringing bell of my emotional emptiness.

Accruing Guilt and Shame

With the momentary pleasure of sin, however, came a mounting awareness of guilt and shame. They were the weeds that kept me from truly enjoying the flower of sin. No matter how often I pulled those weeds, new ones sprang up. Though I didn’t see them as such at the time, the guilt and shame I felt (and despised) were the Holy Spirit’s tools to teach me, through pain, that sin is not what I was created for.

Over the years, that guilt and shame compounded in my soul with interest. It was like accumulating credit card debt. I’d made a thousand small impulse purchases—and couldn’t ever pay off the balance. The burden felt increasingly crushing.

My theology was an uninformed and strange mixture of Arminianism and Christian perfectionism. I felt a certain love for God and from God. But the haunting awareness of my love of self—and of the pleasure sin brought me—undermined any assurance I had of God’s love for me. Surely, I felt, I need to somehow accumulate more “good” toward God than “bad.” But I had a sinking feeling, for I knew this was impossible.

Depravity Confronted

Back to the sermon. The preacher was James Boice, the church Tenth Presbyterian in Philadelphia. And the sermon was the first in a series through Romans. The first topic: total depravity.

I’d never heard that concept before. I thought people are essentially good—sin is just an anomaly to be overcome. Even with my guilt and shame, I thought I was essentially good. If only I could put my same-sex issues behind me, I told myself over and over, then I’ll be all right.

I thought homosexuality was my biggest problem. And because I had tried unsuccessfully to change, because I had prayed without answer 10,000 times that God would give me the same lust for women I had for men (or, that he would make me a practical eunuch and remove all sexual desire forever), I was convinced I could never overcome it.

But hearing about total depravity was a game-changer. I was being told that I wasn’t essentially good, that everything about me was broken by sin. Neither homosexual behavior nor the same-sex attraction that drove it was my biggest problem. My heart was.

I was confronted with the reality that I could never repay my sin debt to God. The problem wasn’t I hadn’t tried hard enough; the problem was the debt itself was impossible to pay. And that is precisely why Jesus had to come and die in the flesh, as the propitiation for my sin—because my debt of sin was so overwhelming, so comprehensive, it utterly bankrupted me.

Joy in Total Depravity

The doctrine of total depravity became an encouragement because I began to see for the first time what familiar verses actually meant: “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved.” (Eph. 2:4–5)

I was born spiritually dead—not just spiritually indebted, as I’d thought. God loved me, and through no work of my own, except the faith he himself granted me as a gift, he made me alive together with Christ. Here was grace, only grace. It had to be this way. Because I really am that bad.

The flip side of total depravity is that now, inseparably united to Christ, I share in his righteousness. This isn’t the moral perfectionism I previously tried to cultivate; it’s the unmerited love of God the Father declaring me just before his throne. Christ was “made . . . to be sin so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). And that unmerited declaration of righteousness is meant to empower ongoing repentance. As Paul says in Romans 2:4, “God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance.”

War Goes On

The reality of total depravity is that it is “total.” Even in repentance, the brokenness of everything in me and about me can lead to times of fear and despair. Victory has been secured, but the war wages on. The enemy will fight until the bitter end.

The comfort is in knowing that though I am thoroughly corrupted and hopelessly lost, Christ has chosen to love me and rescue me. He completely paid off all my reckless debt—even the debt I continue to accrue through my faltering love for him. On top of it all, he delights in making me his own forever.

Total depravity changed everything for me. Not because of its message of brokenness, but because for the child of God, it’s a gateway to hope. Only through total depravity do the beauties of unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace, and perseverance of the saints come into their full glory. Only through understanding how indebted we are in Adam do we ever even begin to perceive how deeply loved we are in Christ.

When we think of lust, we think of sexual temptation and desire gone too far. While in one sense that’s true, lust has more to do, not with the person you are looking at, but what you value in your heart. That beautiful person who has captured your eye?  That’s not the object that really matters. Lust has to do with what we covet, and what we covet has to do with what we feel we lack in life. We covet those things that our heart feels like we must have in life. Emptiness is what can cause us to lust. Listen to what Mark has to say, and read his blog, “The Insecurity of Lust.”

 

Every day we are tempted to lust after people. It can be discouraging to feel overwhelmed by attractive people who pull your heart in unhealthy directions. But is there more going on with lust than just what we see with our eyes? Lust always has a hook of some kind. It has to latch onto something in our heart. That hook can sometimes be the insecurities we feel in the recesses of our heart.

Am I good enough? Do I measure up? Will others notice me? Do I really matter? In a world of celebrities, social media, and unrealistic expectations for success and beauty, we all wrestle with deep insecurities about our worth and identity. Our enemy knows that we have profound desires to be cherished, adored, accepted, and significant in the eyes of others; and he knows how to lead us to false means of finding security and fulfillment for these longings.

I believe that sexual lust is one of the most powerful ways that Satan capitalizes on our deep insecurities about our identity and worth. The problem with lust is not that some people are just too attractive or seductive for you to resist. It’s about using other people to build up your own sense of significance and worth.

Consider this scenario. You’re walking down a city street, and every five seconds you feel bombarded with temptation to lust after the people you pass by.  Ask yourself this question, “Who are the people I’m tempted by? By what criteria do I judge the significance of those people?”

For many, I would expect they are tempted by people who are confident in their identity and their appearance. They might flaunt their body because they know people like what they see. They could be wearing expensive clothing, designer sunglasses, and have accessories that cost more than your used car. The details of what people find attractive will vary from person to person. What’s important to note here is this: what attracts you is what you value most.

Lust is seen as the product of visual stimuli that enters our eyes and then immediately is translated into sexual desire. But that analysis completely ignores the role of our heart.

Now ask yourself another question: When I encounter attractive people, how am I experiencing my own sense of worth and significance? Do you start to entertain thoughts of what it’d be like if that person were attracted to you? Do you wonder whether they noticed you and are even thinking about you?  Perhaps you feel intimidated by attractive people, but with that intimidation comes a desperate desire to belong and be accepted by them.

Lust in the Bible is deeply connected to the sin of covetousness. In the tenth commandment, we are forbidden to covet our neighbor’s wife. The Greek word translated there and elsewhere in the New Testament can be translated as “desire, lust, or coveting.” Depending on the context, this word can even have positive meanings, like when Jesus earnestly desired to eat the Passover with his disciples in Luke 22:15.

But in many contexts, this is a sinful desire for something that God has forbidden. Jesus uses this word in Matthew 5:28 when he says, “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

It’s important to talk about covetousness because lust is often talked about in a way that is disconnected from our hearts. Lust is seen as the product of visual stimuli that enters our eyes and then immediately is translated into sexual desire. But that analysis completely ignores the role of our heart. Coveting, on the other hand, is connected to deeper desires. We covet what we don’t have. And while we can covet things because we want the pleasure they give us, I believe the deeper reason we covet things is that we believe those things will provide us with a sense of security and worth that we feel is lacking.

This can be a powerful factor in who you find attractive and who you are tempted to lust after.  You desire to have that person because they will build up your own sense of value and worth. If that person were to affirm you sexually, even if it’s only fantasy, it is meeting a felt need to be admired, adored, wanted, or needed. In this sense, lust’s main focus isn’t on the object of your lust—the larger focus is on yourself and the insecurity you experience in your identity.

Lust that seeks to find validation and worth in possessing another is looking to the wrong person. Jesus has invited us to be united to him, and by his Spirit he is pleased to dwell in us! 

So if this explanation is true (and this is only one way to understand lust), that your struggle with lust lies with your own insecurities, how can you begin to fight against lust by addressing where you find your identity, worth, and value?

Insecurities about our worth and value come from a variety of places. They may be connected to a lack of affirmation in your upbringing. You might have been bullied by peers at school, or even demeaned and abused by your family. Much of our insecurities come from living in a culture that prizes success and making a name for yourself. But whatever our circumstances have been, all human beings share one powerful, foundational struggle.

We aren’t good enough. We don’t measure up. We all have fallen short of the glory of God. It is only in reconciliation with our Maker that any true security is found. We are reconciled to God through the person and work of Jesus Christ. He took our punishment and has given us his perfect record of righteousness. By faith, we are united to Christ, and all of his benefits now become ours. So presently we are seated with Christ in the heavenly places (Eph.2:6); we are co-heirs of the Kingdom with him as God’s adopted children (Romans 8:17); we are ambassadors of the King of the Universe (2 Corinthians 5:20); we are God’s royal priests and his special possession (1 Peter 2:9); and we are loved with the same love that God the Father has for God the Son (John 17:23).

Lust that seeks to find validation and worth in possessing another is looking to the wrong person. Jesus has invited us to be united to him, and by his Spirit he is pleased to dwell in us!  The next time you are out and about, and tempted to find your validation in the attractive people around you, pray that God would help you to believe Galatians 2:20 at that moment, “I have been crucified with Christ.  It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”

There is no greater validation of who you are than to be united to the King. Christ is not ashamed to call you his brother. He is pleased to show himself to the world through you! He wants to make his love manifest to others through your love. He delights in allowing you to represent Him. What greater dignity can we possibly ask for?


Mark shares more thoughts on this topic in the accompanying video: How Is Lust a Form of Coveting? These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.

In my last post, I left Tom, my Christian brother who struggles with same-sex attraction, with the encouragement that if we are united to the crucified and risen Christ, the struggles and sins we continually battle do not define us anymore. And I said that living out of our identity in Christ was, in fact, the only way to make true progress against sin. Because fighting sin needs to happen at the level of the heart.

What does this mean? What does it look like in real life?

First, we must recognize that this is the way the New Testament presents the Christian life. This is especially true in the writings of the apostle Paul. As many have noticed, his letters are consistently structured in what theologians call an indicative-imperative order. He reminds his readers of what is true for them in Jesus, the indicative of gospel truth. In other words, “This is the new you!”

Then Paul tells them to strive to live out of that truth, the imperative that leads to life change. In other words, “Now, work in God’s strength to live out the truth of the new you!”

My big point to Tom was this: The truth of God’s promises to you in Christ comes first in how you view and understand your life. One particularly clear instance of this is in Colossians 3. The beginning of chapter 3 marks the transition in Colossians from indicative to imperative. It is one of the clearest statements of the truth that understanding your identity as being in Christ is the key to how you live your life from now on:

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.  For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Remember, the indicative (Colossians 3:1-5) establishes the foundation of all and any progress in your Christian life. It provides confidence, motivation, and direction: confidence, because you know you are considered righteous because of Christ and your eternal future is sure and glorious; motivation, because you have been given eyes to perceive the beauty and glory of Jesus, into whose image you are being transformed, and you want to bring as much as possible of that promised future glory into your present life; direction, because Jesus himself is the pattern to which you are being formed, so his love and obedience is the mark toward which you eagerly aim.

The imperative (Colossians 3:6-17) builds upon this foundation. This involves a continual “put to death” and “put on” flow to one’s Christian life.

So, how does this help you in your struggle with growing in Christ, and how does it help my friend, Tom? Three things here.

There is no kind of struggle or sin that this gospel truth does not apply to

This may seem obvious but needs to be stated. There is not any class of sins that are dealt with differently, nor Christians that experience Christ and the Christian life differently than described here in this chapter. The dynamic of gospel identity and change is the same for all of us. Tom and others who live with same-sex attraction and struggle with all the issues it brings—temptation to sin, discouragement with feeling different than others, loneliness, misunderstanding by others in the church, etc.—need to grasp this truth and be encouraged by it.

Repentance links outward actions and inward thoughts

By outward actions I mean the sins we commit by conscious decision—an angry insult spoken, a lie told, a harmful bit of gossip shared, immoral sexual desires indulged. By inner workings I mean the things you think and feel. Recognize that these inward thoughts and feelings can occur without conscious thought or deliberation. All throughout the day thoughts and feelings automatically pop up.

But I am not suggesting that outward actions are sin and what is inner is not. We sin both at the level of conscious decision and at the constant background level of the inner workings of the heart. Jesus established the principle that the inner working of the heart connects—in ways we may not fully understand—to outward behavior (see Matthew 12:34; 15:19).

The inner workings of your heart, however, are oblique, complicated, less accessible. Why are you so easily angered, for example? What are the deep beliefs that lodge in your heart about yourself, life, and God that feed your compulsion to be anxious, depressed, or lie or gossip or feel pulled by sexual desires?

These questions of inner motives, affections, fears, assumptions, etc., are especially difficult in the area of sexuality. Sexuality has the power to bring into focus many of our deepest desires and fears. Proverbs 20:5 says, “The purpose in a man’s heart is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out.”

But how does this understanding help us in our progress against sin and our striving to grow in Christ?

It helps us to be patient and gracious with the process of repentance. In your life, and the life of my friend, Tom. It is essential to recognize that repentance in Christ includes both outward actions and the inner workings of the heart. The list in Colossians 3 includes both. If you have fought a sin, like anger perhaps, at the level of your heart, you know how slight the progress often seems; you come to expect a lifetime of the Holy Spirit pushing the “front lines” of the battle deeper into your heart. We must expect no different for Tom. So we do not burden Tom with the expectation that he “just stop” his feelings; we help him see, increasingly over time, how the inner workings of his heart can lead either to faithful living or continued falling into sin.

But to do this, those like Tom—and you and me—need one more thing.

Worship is at the core of all gospel change

At all points in the fight against sin, we must focus on Christ, loving him, learning him, hoping in him. We do not make progress against any sin by simply focusing on the sin; we make progress by focusing on Christ, “who is our life.” That is why the list of new-self things to “put on” culminates in “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, …singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”

For Tom, this means his Christian life is much bigger than his struggle with sexual attractions.  He needs to increase in the joy of worshipping and pursuing Jesus. But let’s be honest. There is a big challenge here for the church. Too often worship is painful for Tom, because he feels different and unwelcome, even like an enemy, because of the feelings that persist in him.

The church needs to pursue authentic fellowship with Tom and those among us who feel weak and despised. That means we must be open and transparent about our struggles to grow in Christ. United to me and you and the rest of “God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved,” we need to help Tom grow with us as we all grow in mutual compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, and forgiveness as we rejoice together in how Jesus is all of that perfectly.  This is what we all need.

For men and women coming out of sexual addiction, they must pass through the post-sexual addiction wilderness (for a fuller explanation of what this wilderness is like, see my previous blog).

The post-sexual addiction wilderness is a particularly treacherous and painful section of the larger wilderness of the Christian life. The author of Hebrews sees the entire Christian life as a trek through the wilderness. In Christ, we have been delivered from slavery to sin, but until Jesus returns, we are called to strive to enter into His rest. The Promised Land is coming for all who endure to the end.

The greatest danger you will face in the post-sexual addiction wilderness is the temptation to give up your journey toward freedom and wholeness. The wilderness can be long.

You could be suffering with the consequences of your sin. You might have lost everything in your pursuit of pleasure. Your wilderness might be a litany of sufferings that you sought to escape through sex. But without that numbing agent, the pain is back, and it could feel unbearable.

Or you might be in the wilderness of idolatry. Sex was a means for you to experience the satisfaction of your deepest longings: to be loved, comforted, affirmed, safe, connected.  Without sex, the idolatrous desires you have lived for are still crying out for satisfaction, and you don’t have any quick solutions to silence them. In this wilderness, you feel disappointed, scared, and frustrated.

The greatest danger you will face in the post-sexual addiction wilderness is the temptation to give up your journey toward freedom and wholeness. The wilderness can be long.

Here is a hard truth: There is no turning back! You either enter into God’s rest, or you die in the wilderness. Those are your only options.

But here’s the good news! The wilderness is not endless. There is a destination you’re moving towards. That destination is perfect Shalom with God and His people in a perfected world. But that perfect existence often doesn’t seem worth it, because, at this moment, you feel like you’re about to die in this wilderness.

God is with you and for you in the wilderness. The wilderness is not merely something to endure; it is your testing and training ground. As the author of Hebrews writes, “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11).

Let me offer three encouragements for those who are struggling in the post-sexual addiction wilderness.

Learn to Wait in the Wilderness

Like any addiction, sexual sin’s biggest enticement is the instant gratification it offers. The biggest lie sexual temptation tells you is that if you don’t give in now, it’s only a matter of time before you do, so why continue to suffer when you can feel better now? But God wants to use the wilderness to train you to think differently. He wants you to give control of your life back to him, and wait for his hand to feed you.

God’s delay in your relief always has good purposes. He wants to train you to trust Him, to abide in His presence in the midst of your suffering. He wants to conform you to the pattern of 1 Peter 5:6, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you.”

This is the pattern of our Savior Jesus Christ. Jesus humbled himself, even to the point of death, until the proper time when the Father exalted him in his resurrection and ascension. Waiting on the Lord requires a humble acknowledgment of his good purposes in your suffering. We worship and follow a Savior who trusted his Father even when he became the object of his Father’s wrath.  Christ was alone on the cross, but we are never alone in the wilderness.

Let the Wilderness Shape Your Priorities

When life is easy, we give little concern to the basic necessities. I don’t wake up concerned about food, water, or shelter. My attention goes to many things that are not necessities in sustaining my life. But if you’re stranded on a desert island, every day you are consumed with survival. Your priorities are all connected to avoiding death.

God is with you and for you in the wilderness. The wilderness is not merely something to endure; it is your testing and training ground.

The post-sexual addiction wilderness is an opportunity to reprioritize your life. I have been amazed to see the lengths men will go to save their marriages from the destruction of their sexual betrayal. Time, money, and energy are poured into their marriage in ways that for most people would seem excessive. But that’s what you do when your marriage is collapsing. You don’t count the cost, because anything is worth saving it. Just imagine how healthy our marriages would be if we invested in them in times of stability, and not only in moments of crisis.

The same is true for your relationship with God. We don’t prioritize prayer and his Word because we don’t feel our need of him. But in the wilderness you can taste your desperation. You know you can’t go one day without Jesus. I’ve seen men who are on the brink of losing everything, they’ve been kicked out of their house, and they turn to God.  That lonely, dreary hotel room is transformed into holy ground. Their suffering brought them to their knees, but this is where God meets them, on their knees.  And over time, it’s His love and presence that keeps them on their knees.

Lastly, the wilderness should reshape your priorities for fellowship. We so often live isolated lives because we believe we can do the Christian life on our own. We don’t feel our need for accountability or true discipleship. But in the post-sexual addiction wilderness, you know you’re in a battle for your life, and you must prioritize finding others who will fight alongside you.  You’ve seen the dangers of isolation; you see how predators love to pick off ones who have strayed from the pack. So now you’re not just looking for a few friends to hang out with, you’re looking for comrades in war who will fight for you!

Jesus Went Through the Wilderness for You¹

Hebrews 6:19-20 tells us that Jesus is our forerunner, who has gone on ahead of us into the Holy of Holies as our high priest. Jesus intercedes for us now in the wilderness because he first made it through the wilderness himself. Jesus was on the brink of physical starvation, and Satan tempted him to abandon trust in his heavenly Father by turning a stone into bread. Then in a greater way, this same temptation to abandon the Father’s mission came on the cross, when he was given the opportunity to come down and save himself. Jesus survived the wilderness without a single misstep. He received the victor’s crown and has entered into His Father’s rest.

This is important for your wilderness wanderings for two reasons. First, Jesus succeeded where we all have failed. None of us make it through the wilderness perfectly.  We all have moments of turning stones into bread. The only reason we have any hope of making it through the wilderness is because we are united to the only One who did.  Our acceptance and standing with God is solely based on what Jesus accomplished in the wilderness on our behalf.

Secondly, because we are united to our forerunner, we can have every confidence that he will lead us safely home. We must make it through the wilderness, but we are also given amazing promises that we will make it because he will bring us through it. He has already blazed the trail for us.  And by his indwelling Spirit, we can walk in step with him (Gal. 5:25), day by day, until we finally enter into our eternal Sabbath rest.

 

¹This section, and the application that Jesus went through the wilderness on our behalf, and succeeded where Adam, Israel, and we have failed, is taught by Dr. Lane Tipton in his lecture, “Covenant History and the Tale of Three Sons.” Listen to this lecture here: https://reformedforum.org/rf14_03/

Relationships: We want so much from them, and when they fail to satisfy, they can crush us. We can spin off into deep disappointment and despair, and that can lead us down dark roads of self-destructive behavior. Listen to Ellen share three ways of rethinking disappointments that will encourage your heart and help you respond in new, redemptive ways when your relationships are tough.

Ellen also writes about disappointment in relationships in her blog, “The Danger Lurking in Disappointing Relationships.”

For further study, consider the following minibooks: Your Husband is Addicted to Porn: Healing after Betrayal by Vicki Tiede (also available in eBook and Kindle formats) and Sex and the Single Girl: Smart Ways to Care for Your Heart by Ellen Dykas (also available in eBook and Kindle formats).

Disappointment in key relationships can hijack our hearts if we’re not careful. Experiences of being snubbed, misunderstood, disregarded, or flat out rejected have the power to send us reeling. And when that happens, it can pull us to seek out pleasures and comforts that are harmful and destructive. Many women and men who become ensnared in the false intimacy of pornography, sexual hookups, and affairs took steps in those destructive directions when they were disappointed by the street level reality of real relationships.

Have you felt disappointed in someone lately? Has someone recently had the courage to tell you that they are disappointed in you? Relationships are such a sweet gift of God. But they can also be so challenging when the required work of healthy connections with people is just too much to handle. Sadly, many people today settle for superficial, online connections because they believe that investing in real relationships with real people requires too much time, energy, and vulnerability.

Why is it that relationships can lead to such deep disappointment? Disappointment that can tempt us to not only to seek comfort in self-damaging ways, but to avoid, disregard, or reject people in order to keep safe?

Jesus promised something that is difficult to accept: that in this life we’ll have trials, disappointments, and pain (John 16:33). Relational trials and disappointments are the most painful for me. Health trials scare me, and financial stress can lead to anxiety. But stress in key relationships? Deep disappointment by someone? Those can really break my heart.

Sadly, many people today settle for superficial, online connections because they believe that investing in real relationships with real people requires too much time, energy, and vulnerability.

Disappointment is a common human experience because of sin. The ravages of the fall have left sin’s mark on everything and everyone. Our desires don’t align with God’s will perfectly. Our expectations usually aren’t purely anchored in God. Our relationships aren’t satisfying, and if we’re honest, we often don’t wake up singing Psalm 90:14 joyfully, “Satisfy me with yourself O God…I’ll sing and be glad all day and every day!”

It helps me, when facing disappointment in a relationship, to consider where the pain is coming from. In other words, what leads me to experience someone not loving me, not being there, listening, caring, knowing, pursuing me, etc., in the ways I want?

Consider these three things for yourself.

1. Are your desires and expectations off-track from the gospel (remember Jesus’ words about living in a world of tribulation)? Are you living out of a me-centered focus that has pushed Jesus out of his rightful place in your life? Some people live in consistent hurt and anger because people aren’t responding to them the way they want. They want a person to consistently give what only God can truly provide: true heart satisfaction and unfailing love. God says “The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe” (Proverbs 29:25).

2. Is it possible that this person is oblivious or unable to love you as you desire? Sometimes people just have no clue what our desires are, because we’ve not communicated clearly. Perhaps your fear of being vulnerable, or pride has kept you from honestly expressing a need.

I have many relationships which have become technology-mediated. We send texts, voice recordings, and videos back and forth rather than having an actual conversation. It is wonderful in one way because this quick style of communication has allowed me to stay in touch with people in ways I couldn’t before.

Here’s some good news for all of us when faced with relational disappointments: God wants to meet us in and through our unmet desires.

Sometimes though, I feel sad and unpursued when all I’m getting from someone is a text rather than a phone call. One friend had no idea that her flood of texts did not communicate love to me, but rather distance. I needed to have an honest conversation with her about my desire to actually talk, voice to voice! Thankfully she responded gently and lovingly. But the reality was that her current season of life made it difficult for her to have frequent phone or Skype talks with me. I needed to accept this and not manipulate or demand.

But it’s not just busy schedules that can hinder our relationships. People can be unable to love us the way we want, due to their own brokenness. They just don’t have it in them to reciprocate or relate to us deeply. Accepting this has transformed a few relationships in my life and I’ve experienced peace and thankfulness replacing frustration and disappointment. It’s so much better to cultivate gratefulness rather than allowing unmet desires to churn frustration and anger over and over in our hearts.

3. Finally, is God stepping in-between you and this person? This can be hard to swallow, but it has brought peace to my troubled, craving heart to accept that God does cause space to exist between certain people and me. A man I wanted to marry. A friend from whom I wanted more attention. A ministry leader I longed to know and spend time with. A group of friends whose circle I wanted to break into. Disappointment was God’s purpose for me in these hoped-for relationships for reasons I may never know. Trusting God and resting in Him helps me in the not-knowing.

Here’s some good news for all of us when faced with relational disappointments: God wants to meet us in and through our unmet desires. He will use the way people disappoint us to draw us closer to himself. And we need to believe that when that happens, God is enabling us to love people even more selflessly.

Don’t give up! God has appointed something good for you through this disappointment.


Ellen has more thoughts on this topic and shares them in the accompanying video: How Should I Handle Disappointments in My Relationships? These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc

There probably isn’t a more controversial passage in the New Testament than Romans 1. Pro-gay advocates refer to this passage, and five other passages in the Bible, as “Clobber Passages.” Those who advocate for gay marriage in the Church explain away Paul’s argument condemning homosexual behavior, while traditionalists lean in on it with a glaring spotlight.

But I would argue that both sides are not seeing clearly here.

I want to sound a note of caution about how we use Romans 1.  Romans 1, particularly verses 26 and 27, is rightly recognized as an important text in the church’s discussion of homosexuality. So what’s the problem?

It’s this: it is dangerously easy for the effect toward which orthodox or traditionalists use this passage to be the opposite of what God intends. Even we can use the passage wrongly.

When we read Romans, we hear it in solidarity with the original audience. It is a letter to Christians about the gospel.  After his greetings and other introductory matters, the Apostle Paul sets the trajectory and agenda for the remainder of the letter in verses 16 and 17—the apparently foolish gospel which is the power of God to salvation, salvation offered to both the Jews and the Greeks the same way: by faith. This is ultimately what he is arguing in the whole letter. It forms the broadest context.

To begin his argument, Paul broadens his view. He starts in verse 18 by talking about “all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.” He’s talking about the world here. Paul’s scope here is much wider than the church—wide enough to include Fox News, CNN, Ellen, Jimmy Fallon, China, the E.U., North Korea, New York, Venezuela, Planet Fitness, Lady Gaga, Snapchat, Walmart, and on and on. This is our culture, the world’s culture, the diverse mass of humanity descended from Adam.

That’s the point—fallen views make sense in a world with no divine reference.

What does Paul have to say about this broadest category of people and culture? He says that the judgment of God upon them is visible; he uses the word “revealed” (1:18).  In other words, it’s on display. How so? In three ways.

First, God’s existence and humanity’s accountability to him is obvious to everyone who can perceive anything (1:19-20).  Second, everyone—the great mass of humanity and culture—has decided to deny God’s existence and make created things ultimate (1:21-23). Third, God lets fallen humanity develop and live out the worldview that flows logically and inevitably from that fundamentally flawed starting point—(1:24ff).

This is where Paul brings in homosexuality. Why? The reason is in the answer to this question, “What sort of conclusions flow logically and inevitably from a worldview in which all of nature is disassociated from God?” The answer: ironically, all sorts of “unnatural” conclusions.

Ironically, but inevitably, when humans make nature merely “Mother Nature” and not any kind of creation, they redefine and manipulate “nature” according to their desires, resulting in conclusions that are patently un-natural. Remember, Paul is speaking about, but not to, the broader world here. He is not speaking to that broader world where these unnatural conclusions are held forth as truth; of course, they would not agree that their views are patently unnatural.

That’s the point—fallen views make sense in a world with no divine reference. But to those who have been called out of atheistic or agnostic darkness into light the unnaturalness is clear. And to those to whom it is clear, Paul’s point is this: isn’t all this exactly what one would expect in a world opposed to God? God lets denial of his existence play out to its obvious consequences. Of course! No wonder Paul shines a spotlight on the “unnaturalness” of homosexuality. (Cue the traditionalists at this point saying “Amen!”)

Oh, but wait.

Paul continues his list of the consequences of a God-less worldview. As his list continues, we begin to hear some things that are a little less obviously “unnatural.”  We still hear “Amens” now and then, but they are more subdued, less confident. We still see some easy consequences to condemn: “evil,” “murder,” “haters of God,” “heartless,” “ruthless.” But mixed in are, “covetousness,” “strife,” “deceit,” “gossips,” “boasters,” “disobedient to parents.”

Yikes! The thought that ought to be whispering in the minds of Paul’s Christian audience—in our minds—is, “Uh… if these are the outworkings of a God-denying worldview, and their existence is a sign of God’s judgment, then how do I account for these things in my life in spite of my claim to know God?”

That is exactly what Paul intends you to think.  It should be troubling. It should be jarring.

If we, as Christians, are smug as we approach the end of Romans 1, we are missing the point.  And if we are really committed to missing the point, we stop at the end of chapter 1.

But Paul didn’t put any chapter break here.  In fact, the first word in what we call “chapter 2” is, “Therefore….”  Here is the conclusion of his argument: “…you, oh man, have no excuse.”

If we, as Christians, are smug as we approach the end of Romans 1, we are missing the point. 

No excuse. Bam! We are brought full circle back to verse 20 of chapter 1, where it was said of the God-denying world, “they are without excuse.” At least when they do these things it is a logical consequence of their worldview. But if we do them—and we do—it proves something that should stop us in our tracks and terrify us. It proves that what is wrong with us is so bad that we too continue to rebel against God while claiming to acknowledge him.

What, we should ask ourselves, is worse—to live in godless ways consistent with an atheistic worldview, or to live in godless ways in betrayal of a professed acknowledgement of God?

What is the application here?  How should this affect us?  It should bring a deep humility that precludes judgmentalism.

I am not saying that Romans 1:26-27 means anything different than we’ve always thought. My caution is this: if reading Romans 1 leaves you feeling anything but uncomfortable, humbled, and convicted—in short, in desperate need of mercy—you are not reading it correctly.

And if all of us do not hear Paul’s message correctly, we are ill-prepared to understand the gospel and to help others do so as well.

The Body of Christ is a spiritual family. We all need spiritual brothers and sisters, spiritual fathers and mothers, to help us follow Christ faithfully. In other words, we need a bigger, wider family than just the traditional nuclear family in which we were born or into which we now live.

But for those who struggle sexually, they especially need this spiritual family to come alongside them in the journey towards sexual redemption and integrity. For a variety of reasons, many of these individuals cannot look to their family for encouragement, accountability, and street-level discipleship regarding how to live as a Christian, much less how to live sexually-faithful lives!

The apostle Paul begins Colossians 3 teaching God’s people that their new identity in Christ compels them to live set-apart lives, not as isolated individuals but together as brothers and sisters in the household of faith: “If then you [Plural!] have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God” (Colossians 3:1).

When I lived in Romania, immersed in culture and language learning, God opened my eyes to the beauty of spiritual family. The Romanian language has many ways of saying our simple English word “you”, depending on the circumstance. What struck my individualistic, American heart was that You (Plural) was used many times in bible passages which address the Christian life. When I began studying my Romanian Bible, passages that I had interpreted for years as You (Singular), (or just to me) burst within me into a new understanding of life together as God’s family.

Biological and nuclear families are indeed significant and a gift designed by God. However, Christians also believe that God establishes an eternal family only between those who are born spiritually through faith in Jesus Christ. He identifies these people as his children, guiding us through his Word regarding life together as siblings in the household of faith.

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born not of blood nor the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. John 1:12-13 (ESV)

Jesus responded this way when his “family of origin” requested his attention:

“Who is my mother and who are my brothers?” And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers!  For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” Matthew 12:48-50 (ESV)

Desmond, one of our Men’s Ministry staff, is a single man whose father died when he was a child. Experiences of sexual abuse introduced him to homosexual activity that confused, yet also intrigued his hurting heart. Though broken and disordered, these sex acts made him feel wanted. By the time he reached his teens, he was prostituting himself to men and spiraling into despair and darkness.

In the midst of deep pain and loneliness, Desmond sensed God calling him back, to turn again to his true life found only in Christ. He responded and began to walk forward slowly in faith and repentance. However, his past didn’t just fade away. He needed help, and God provided men who loved and encouraged him as spiritual fathers by leading, exhorting, and admonishing him to walk in a manner worthy of God (1 Thessalonians 2:10-11). They spoke truth into his life, while living honestly before him. Desmond told me, “The authenticity of these men drove me to realize that no matter where we come from, God will use us; they became brothers in Christ who loved and respected me rather than rejected and shamed me. The healing power of those relationships is hard to express. ”

What struck my individualistic, American heart was that You (Plural) was used many times in bible passages which address the Christian life.

The brotherhood that Desmond experienced produced a redemptive trickle-down effect in his life. He didn’t want to hoard this spiritual blessing but wanted to share it with others who were hurting, alone and scared to reach out for help. Desmond has since invested his life ministering to others, including men who are ensnared in patterns of sexual sin. Many single and married men have benefited tremendously through Desmond being a spiritual brother and father.

You (Plural) is what the gospel is all about!

Leia is in her thirties and has been married for over 10 years. Her kids are under six years old and her biological family lives thousands of miles away. When her husband’s infidelity of many years came into the open, she was devastated, afraid, and wrestled with who to tell. Her parents wouldn’t understand; her guess was that they’d simply say “get out of the marriage”. Her husband demanded that she not go to the church leaders. She felt ashamed to open up to any women, as she had rarely ever heard sexual sin talked about by them.

Leia dug down deep into the Word and cried out to God for help. Eventually she found out about Harvest USA’s support group for wives and welcomed being in a circle of spiritual sisters in Christ who not only shared her pain but also helped her to see Jesus at work in her own heart. Then, when her husband was caught in adultery again, Leia’s group leader urged her to bring their broken marriage situation into the light with a trusted pastor. She took this bold step of faith, even though it went against her husband’s wishes.

What was the result of Leia reaching out to a spiritual father? The Body of Christ got involved in this family’s life; the church lovingly confronted her husband and exhorted him to get serious about repentance. It’s been a long road, but Leia and her family are beginning to heal and move forward in part because the family of God entered in with care.

You (Plural), life in community, is where repentance and freedom from sexual sin begins.

Sister, brother, what about you? You might not have a family of your own, or maybe you do! Regardless, there are boys and girls struggling sexually, men and women all around us who need the family of God to be the family of God. We must grow in a mindset of what Rosaria Butterfield teaches in her recent book, The Gospel Comes with a House Key. Her exhortation is that we open up our homes and lives as pathways to love God and our neighbors with all our hearts.

God’s people, knit together through the deep and wide love of Jesus, will share eternity together. His love gives us confidence to reach out and enfold struggling brothers and sisters into the fellowship of the eternal, wide, beautiful family of believers in Jesus Christ.

This blog post also appears in our Fall 2018 harvestusa magazine, along with other articles for parents and families.


Ellen shares more thoughts on this topic in the accompanying video: How Does Jesus Call Us to Live as a Spiritual Family? These short videos can be used as discussion starters in small group settings, mentoring relationships, men’s and women’s groups, etc.

1 2 3 4 13

Stay up to date

Copyright 2017, All Rights Reserved. Developed for HarvestUSA by Polymath Innovations.