“How do I know whether I’ve crossed the line in my mind between temptation and sin?”

This is a frequent question I get asked at our Harvest USA groups. While there could be mixed motivations for asking such a question, I believe the most common reason Christians ask this stems from a very legitimate desire to please their heavenly Father. At the core of our identity as adopted sons and daughters of God in Christ, we have been given hearts that long to hear our Father say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

We know that sin displeases our Father. So how does God look upon us, when we wrestle daily, and frequently throughout the day, with desires, thoughts, and temptations that we know are not pure, good, or pleasing to God? Is God, at all times, frustrated and dishonored by our lives?

This is an extremely important question for the believer who wants to repent well of ongoing patterns of sin. Believing that God is pleased with our repentance is a powerful motivation to continue repenting.

Believing that God is pleased with our repentance is a powerful motivation to continue repenting.

But if we think that all of our sincere efforts are only met with perpetual disappointment from our Father, then it will only be a matter of time before despair sets in. And eventually, we give up.

This is an especially significant question for men and women wrestling with same-sex attraction. They can struggle with great discouragement if every experience of same-sex attraction is classified as sin. But no matter what form temptation presents itself, these deep questions concern everyone.

We all know the pain of never measuring up to someone’s standards. It may be a child whose parents aren’t pleased with any grade below an A+, or an employee whose boss never gives them a compliment, or someone who never experiences their spouse’s delight in them. This hurts, and over time, it can be a crushing experience. So too, brothers and sisters wrestling with ongoing temptation want to know that God is pleased by their sincere efforts.

In light of these good desires to please God, how should we understand the nature of temptation and sin? This is the topic of much current discussion. My purpose here is not to throw my two cents into the conversation, since I believe a historic, reformed anthropology adequately reflects the biblical teaching on sin and temptation. My concern is more with the pastoral implications of this anthropology.

So, I will briefly summarize my understanding of sin and temptation, and then explain how this does not lead to despair in the Christian’s life, but hope!

It’s helpful to consider three categories when conceptualizing sin and temptation. This is our starting point to get to the place in answering the question I raised.

Temptation from without

This is temptation to sin that comes at you that has no genesis in sinful desires. Adam and Eve were tempted from without by the serpent. Jesus was tempted from without by the devil. When someone entices you to engage in sinful activity, this is temptation from without. It does not come from your heart but is seeking to tempt your heart to sin.

Temptation from within (indwelling sin)

This is temptation that arises from corrupt desires in your heart. James says that “each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire” (James 1:14). How are we to understand the moral quality of these desires? Are they neutral?

I don’t believe the Bible allows that interpretation. These desires are sinful desires, arising from the fallen, corrupted, sinful nature that we have all inherited from Adam. Another term for temptation from within is “indwelling sin.” A very important feature of indwelling sin is that it is not something consciously chosen or something that we willfully summon. And yet, it is still sin.

Voluntary (willful) sin

If temptation from within is not something we consciously choose, then voluntary sin is what we willingly engage in. This is what most people think of when they think of sin. They think of something that is willfully chosen. And indeed, much sin is of this variety.

We are presented an opportunity to sin that our hearts desire. Now we are left with a choice. Will we turn to Christ, or give in to our sinful desires? This is what James means when he says, “Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin” (James 1:15). James is not saying the desire itself was not sin, but that sinful desires, often unbidden, give birth to willful sin.

At first, this might sound crushing to someone wrestling with sinful desires on a daily basis. Indeed, it should sober us to think of the overwhelming weight and pervasiveness of our sin. That sin is not just something we occasionally do, but sin impacts every willing act in our lives. Consider the call of Christ to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37). I don’t believe there is a single moment of my life where I can say this was perfectly true of me. Pride and selfishness always infect even the purest motivations of my heart.

Sin is not just something we occasionally do, but sin impacts every willing act in our lives.

This must mean God is constantly disappointed in you, right? Wrong! It is for these very reasons that Christ came not only to die in my place for the sins that I continue to commit, but also to live the perfect life that I never could. We can never merit favor with God by our own righteousness—our own good intentions or efforts. This is why Christ’s active and passive obedience are required to earn our full salvation. Because no one will be accepted into God’s presence unless they have a record of proven, perfect righteousness. Christ alone has accomplished this, and by Spirit-wrought faith we are united to Christ in all of his benefits, including his justification becoming our own.

So, instead of crushing the believer’s heart, it should first of all greatly deepen our appreciation of the gospel—the good news of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection for us! The more we come to grips with how bad the bad news really is, the more we come to worship, delight in, and love our Savior.

This understanding of Jesus-for-us is the answer to our concern that we can never please God even though we are saved, because indwelling sin stains everything we do. But the Bible gives us so many declarations that God delights in his people and is pleased by their obedience (Romans 12:1-2, Galatians 1:10, 1 Thessalonians 2:4). Is it perfect, sinless obedience, worthy of salvation? No. But every Christian can and does obey in ways that delight our heavenly Father.

The Westminster Confession of Faith explains this possibility of pleasing God so well in section 16.6:

Notwithstanding, the persons of believers being accepted through Christ, their good works also are accepted in Him; not as though they were in this life wholly unblameable and unreprovable in God’s sight; but that He, looking upon them in His Son, is pleased to accept and reward that which is sincere, although accompanied with many weaknesses and imperfections.

This is so crucial to understand! How are our sincere efforts to please God acceptable in his sight if they are not perfect? They are accepted by God “through Christ,” as God looks upon our imperfect works “in His Son.”

Here’s the answer, then, to the question: How do I know if I’ve crossed the line between temptation and sin? We are always crossing over the line between temptation and sin because we are fallen. We don’t just need the gospel to save us from God’s wrath, we need the gospel in order to do anything that pleases the Father.

This means, when you are wrestling with indwelling sin, temptations from within, you have the opportunity to please God! When you turn from corrupt desires that rise up from within your own heart, and you make war with your flesh, and submit to the Spirit leading you into the throne room of grace, you are met there by your high priest with sympathy and with delight!

Every Christian will battle with indwelling sin until they see Jesus face to face. This will be a daily, moment by moment battle. God’s not disappointed in you because you are fighting against indwelling sin. The very opposite: He calls you to never give up fighting sin. The ones who meet God and hear the words “well done, good and faithful servant,” are those who endured to the end. Who didn’t make peace with their sin, but continued to take up their weapons of warfare that we see so beautifully outlined in Ephesians 6.

God’s not disappointed in you because you are fighting against indwelling sin. The very opposite: He calls you to never give up fighting sin.

Brothers and sisters, you aren’t laboring in vain. Not only are your sincere, Spirit-dependent efforts accepted and rewarded in Christ, but they are also sowing seeds into greater and greater righteousness. You don’t “box as one beating the air” (1 Corinthians 9:26), but instead, you are being transformed into the image of Jesus Christ, from one degree of glory to another (2 Corinthians 3:18).


To learn more, watch Mark Sanders’ accompanying video, Can I Please God When I’m Not Perfect? 

We don’t just need Jesus to justify us, we need Jesus in order to do anything that is pleasing to the Father.

To learn more, read Mark Sanders’ accompanying blog, Is It Temptation or Sin?

When you are with Jesus in glory, you will not look back on any pleasure in this world and think you’ve missed out.

The content of this video is based on David White’s new book, God, You, & Sex: A Profound Mystery, which is available now. When you buy God, You, & Sex from Harvest USA, 100% of your purchase will benefit our ministry.

One of the loneliest seasons of my life was when I was a college student living in a little apartment in Philadelphia. In the midst of a near-constant crowd, I was deeply hurting but no one knew or would’ve had the capacity to help. Being surrounded by people all the time while feeling “unknown” made everything worse.

Now, despite the ever-present opportunity to connect through social media, loneliness seems to be a growing epidemic. Loneliness is an excruciating experience because, as image-bearers, we are designed for relationship with one another, reflecting our relational, triune God.

This is underscored in the creation account in Genesis 2. After the repeated refrain throughout Genesis 1, in which we hear that “God saw that it was good,” the Creator now looks at his handiwork and makes a jarring assessment, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him” (v. 18, emphasis added). God’s solution to Adam’s aloneness was Eve.

This may be encouraging if you’re married, but where does this leave singles? Not to mention those languishing in difficult marriages. Some say there is no lonelier place than a bad marriage!

Although marriage and child-rearing are the Old Testament norm for humanity, a dramatic shift occurs in the New Testament. When Jesus is questioned about the practice of divorce, he brings his listeners back to God’s original intent at creation. But he concludes his teaching about the permanence of marriage with a profound declaration: “Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it” (Matthew 19:11–12).

Instead of insisting on the importance of marriage and children to fulfill the creation mandate, Jesus proclaims that some will choose singleness for the sake of God’s kingdom. This is the first time in the Bible that singleness is depicted as a desirable and even exalted state!

Paul takes Jesus’s exhortation further, encouraging believers at Corinth to seriously consider lifelong singleness. What’s the reason? Because spouses are divided in their loyalties, wanting to serve the kingdom but also wanting to bless their spouse (1 Corinthians 7:6–9, 25–40). Do you see what he’s saying? In view of the radical reorienting call to serve in Jesus’s kingdom, Scripture understands that mission is so worthy, it ought to be prioritized over the creational calling to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (Genesis 1:28). Paul’s concern is for believers to maintain “undivided devotion to the Lord” (1 Corinthians 7:35). To this end, he encourages lifelong celibacy, although he freely acknowledges that it is not sinful to marry.

How can Jesus and Paul pull off this switcheroo against the previously prescribed remedy for humanity’s loneliness? What has changed? The Church.

Singleness is a viable, perhaps even preferable, option because now there is a new-creation antidote for humanity’s loneliness. Or to put it another way, we now have access to the true community God intended for his people.

In 1 Corinthians 12:12–31, Paul describes the church as a body with all the parts inextricably linked together. Note the “one-flesh” language of Genesis as Paul explains our interconnectedness as Christians! The social and communal reality of the church’s common life in Christ is the reason Paul encourages singleness for the sake of Christ’s kingdom. God’s people do not have to marry because there should be no lonely Christian in the Body of Christ. The church is called to be salt and light, reflecting genuine community in our increasingly fractured society.

There should be no lonely Christian in the Body of Christ.

And this includes married people. The fact they are “one flesh” should not be understood to mean that any couple is self-sufficient apart from the church. As one flesh, married people are corporately a single body part and still need the rest of Christ’s body. Marriage is an exclusive, covenantal relationship, but it can’t be your only relationship. As it is not good for any individual to be alone, it is also not healthy for any specific relationship to be alone, in isolation from the wider network of relationships God has designed to shape our lives in the body of Christ.

So, what steps need to be taken to enfold singles into their rightful place in the body? Ephesians 4:15–16 tells us that the body only reaches maturity as “each part is working properly.” This means if singles are not fully engaged and exercising their gifts in the church, the maturity of the entire body is significantly hindered.

If singles are not fully engaged and exercising their gifts in the church, the maturity of the entire body is significantly hindered.

Where does your own church need to grow in this area? There are two equally important aspects to consider: first, making sure there are no lonely people in the body. Second, don’t see singles as only lonely, needy people. They are gifted, equipped, and necessary for the health of your church! Married people need singles as much as singles need married people.

If you are lonely, whether single or struggling in a hard marriage, even if the church is loving well, know there are places where only Jesus can meet you. Know that the ultimate Bridegroom does not leave you alone; he gives you his name. He wants to possess you as his very own. That’s why Jesus came—to win his bride. The Spirit within you means Jesus is as close as he could possibly be—far closer than a spouse. He shares every thought and experiences every emotion. This is partly why the Spirit’s intercession for us is referred to as “groanings too deep for words” (Romans 8:26). Especially as a single, it is crucial to embrace the truth of his presence with you and find ways to open yourself to this reality.

Editor’s Note: This blog is adapted from David White’s new book, God, You, & Sex: A Profound Mystery, which is available now. When you buy God, You, & Sex from Harvest USA, 100% of your purchase will benefit our ministry

As a teen, I had a major porn problem. And that was magazines and VHS tapes (does anyone remember the VCR?). But that’s nothing compared to what kids face today.

Teens are confronted with a staggering level of temptation. I would have failed middle school if I had access to the pornographic material now available to kids.

Here’s the sad, hard truth: it will be nearly impossible to completely shield your child. Porn infiltrated my Christian elementary school in 1979, and now the ubiquity of digital devices (forty years later) means porn is always at our fingertips. It is more realistic to plan how you will respond when exposure to porn occurs than to try to prevent porn from slipping through the inevitable cracks in whatever protection system you devise.

It is more realistic to plan how you will respond when exposure to porn occurs than to try to prevent porn from slipping through the inevitable cracks in whatever protection system you devise.

Here are four ways to do that:

  1. Respond in faith: don’t freak out!

Don’t give way to fear and begin extrapolating the worst case sexual scenarios awaiting your child. And don’t make it about you and your disappointment, as if your child failed you in some way. Depending on your temperament, avoid the two typical default extremes for most parents: bringing down the hammer or burying your head in the sand.

Instead, before talking with your child about their porn usage, thank God for exposing your child’s sin! Because God disciplines the children he loves (see Hebrews 12:5-11), this is evidence of his favor on your child. Trust God’s purposes here, believing he is wooing your child more closely to himself. Ask God for grace to enter into the situation and to give you his words of life to speak to your child. Abide in him as you love your child through this (see John 15:5). Don’t try to handle this alone!

  1. Be direct

Confront the situation— honestly and with love. Don’t dance around the topic or use veiled accusations like “Have you done anything I should know about?” Let your child know what you’ve discovered and express your concern. But remember: tremendous shame surrounds sexual sin. Your child already feels this, so be sure your approach points them to Jesus.

First, assure your child of your love and that there is nothing he can do to negate that. Second, remind him of God’s love and encourage him with the hope of the gospel. The essence of the Christian faith is God’s pursuit and redemption of us, not based on our worthiness, but the wonder of his matchless love and grace. Your child needs to be reminded of this confidence now more than ever!

Further, explain that these behaviors come from the heart. Help your teens begin considering how they turn to false comforts to cope with the challenges of life in a fallen world. It is helpful for you to model repentance here. What false comforts tug at your own heart when you are stressed and struggling? Acknowledge your own weakness and propensity to turn to the things of the world instead of God. Your self-disclosure demonstrates your own ongoing need for Christ’s mercy and the empowerment of his Spirit. Your child needs to see that her parent(s) also struggle with sin and weakness, so when she comes to you for help, she knows you understand.

Gently ask your child to open up about the history of his or her sexual struggles. Your own humility and openness about your struggles in this area may invite a responding honesty.

  1. Establish better safeguards

Hopefully you’ve taken steps to guard the technology in your home. If not, now is the time to start! Monitoring technology has vastly improved over the years. Some combination of parental filters and accountability software is necessary. For the home, the best software or devices are those linked directly to your Wi-Fi router. Usually there is the ability to place varying levels of restriction on different devices, so that a family PC or tablet can be set at a very high level of filtering to protect young children, while an older teen’s smart phone might have fewer restrictions while on the home network.

But the main thing is the capability of viewing the browser history on all devices. Some of these products also have an “on the go” feature that maintains filtering and tracks data usage of phones, iPads, etc., even monitoring the devices on other networks. I am intentionally not promoting specific products because new ones emerge regularly, but do some research and determine what will work best for your family. This is going to cost you something, but the money spent is worth it to protect your child’s mind and heart.

Good discipline is not punitive because Jesus was punished for us. Discipline, though painful at times, is intended to steer us in the right direction (see Hebrews 12:5–13). Discipline includes establishing wise and protective boundaries, proportionate to the age and maturity of your child.

Do not take lightly the effects of pornography. Take proactive steps, but avoid bringing down the hammer and exasperating them (as we are warned in Scripture: see Ephesians 6:4; Colossians 3:21). A total internet lockdown or relegating to flip phones might produce short-term compliance, but it is unlikely to form mature disciples of Christ. Only repentance and a deepening relationship with Jesus, modeled through your walk with Christ, will do that. Parent to those ends!

  1. Keep walking with them

It is important to realize that this will be an ongoing temptation. Again, porn is everywhere, and access is easy. Many parents are gung-ho when the problem first rears its ugly head, but don’t persevere in addressing these challenges. Be faithful in prayer and ask God to reveal sin, but don’t stop there! Stay on top of technology and be willing to ask the awkward questions about how your child is doing sexually. This includes ongoing monitoring of his relationships. Through it all, continue pointing them to Jesus and his love. Remind your child of the mercy that covers their sin and the power given to obey through his outpoured Spirit.

Editor’s Note: This blog is adapted from David White’s new book, God, You, & Sex: A Profound Mystery, which is available now. When you buy God, You, & Sex from Harvest USA, 100% of your purchase will benefit our ministry.

Most books on sexuality miss a critical piece: a biblical perspective on the goodness of created and redeemed sexuality and how Scripture invites us to know Jesus as the ultimate Bridegroom, whether married or single. Unless we understand sexuality is ultimately about God and our relationship with him, we will not have a complete picture of the God we worship.

The content of this video is based on David White’s new book, God, You, & Sex: A Profound Mystery, which is available now. When you buy God, You, & Sex from Harvest USA, 100% of your purchase will benefit our ministry.

One of the lies that culture tells singles is that a life without sexual expression is a tragedy. Single Christian, your life is not a tragedy without sexual expression. You testify that there is something greater to live for than the fleeting bodily pleasures of life in this world.

The content of this video is based on David White’s new book, God, You, & Sex: A Profound Mystery, which is available now. When you buy God, You, & Sex from Harvest USA, 100% of your purchase will benefit our ministry.

We live in a culture of the immediate and find waiting for anything insufferable. The advertising industry exacerbates the situation, ironically stoking perpetual dissatisfaction by promising each new product will really satisfy you. Add to this the cultural obsession with sexual fulfillment, coupled with the prominent lie that a life without sex is meaningless, and there is tremendous pressure to live for sexual satisfaction.

Living with unfulfilled sexual desires is seen as the height of folly.  Not just folly; some even argue it’s actually harmful. As a result, many Christians wrestle with the Bible’s sexual mores in the face of discontented sexual experience.

The first thing that needs to be said is living with unsatisfied desires is hard! Christians are mocked because the world is shocked that we don’t “join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign” us (1 Peter 4:4). Because the profound mystery of sexuality points to Christ’s love for us as his bride (Ephesians 5:32), there is an experience of transcendence even in its sinful expression. This means the absence of sexual fulfillment is a real and painful loss.

The absence of sexual fulfillment is a real and painful loss.

I know something of this challenge. After 12 years of marriage, I lost my first wife suddenly after complications from her breast cancer treatment. Diagnosis to death in five weeks. Although we were acclimating to a dire prognosis, her sudden death was like the shock of a car accident. As you can imagine, there was an intense experience followed by an eruption of emotions. When the dust settled, what remained was the challenge of being single again—including living with unsatisfied sexual desires.

The hard truth is Jesus described self-denial as a hallmark of following him (Matthew 16:24; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23). There are two aspects of sexual self-denial I want you to consider: 1) unsatisfied desires are a place where God meets his people; 2) unsatisfied desires whet our appetite for the world to come.

Unsatisfied Desires Are a Place Where God Meets His People

Paul describes God as “the God of all comfort” (2 Corinthians 1:3), but here’s the rub: you only learn this through suffering. Paul discovered this after being “so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself” (v. 8).  God wants to meet you in your places of pain and unsatisfied desire. “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18). When we are pushed beyond our ability to endure, God shows up to strengthen and restore. That’s why Paul later recounts that Jesus wanted him to learn, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (12:9).

Know this: Jesus gets your experience. His grace is sufficient because he suffered through temptation and unsatisfied desires victoriously. Are you drawing near to the Lover of your soul in your pain and disappointment? Does sexual discontent drive you into the arms of Jesus, or other lovers? According to Ephesians 5:32, sex and marriage are signposts pointing to our relationship with Jesus. This means even our unsatisfied longings are an invitation to know his burning desire for us, his deep longing for the coming wedding supper that launches God’s new creation in fullness (see Revelation 19:6-9).

Unsatisfied Desires Whet Our Appetite for the World to Come

Further, unsatisfied desires are such a critical aspect of Christian discipleship because, in some way, God asks all of us, “Will you wait on me? Will you trust me?” We can live with unsatisfied desires now because the Day is coming when we’ll know pleasure forevermore at his right hand. The blessings of this life should lead to the worship of the Giver of all good gifts. In this transitory world, where all joys and pleasures are fleeting, they should lead us to long for the solidity and permanence of the world to come. The kingdom that cannot be shaken. The momentary delights of this life point forward to the eternal world to come.

Unsatisfied desires are such a critical aspect of Christian discipleship because, in some way, God asks all of us, “Will you wait on me? Will you trust me?”

Whatever your sexual experience, all of us need to see Jesus more clearly at the signpost of sex. Are the blessings you experience deepening your love for the Giver of all good gifts? Does your pleasure in marriage lead to praise and worship of God? Can you give thanks in your singleness and allow your longings and sexual desires to direct you to his heart for you? Can you hold fast to his promises to make your life fruitful for his kingdom even in the absence of marriage or biological children? The call of the Christian is to go deeper with him through the pilgrimage of life in preparation for the world—and relationship!—to come. Learning even now the truth we’ll know fully when we see him face to face, that his “steadfast love is better than life” (Psalm 63:3).

Editor’s Note: This blog is adapted from David White’s new book, God, You, & Sex: A Profound Mystery, which is available now. When you buy God, You, & Sex from Harvest USA, 100% of your purchase will benefit our ministry.

God created sex and wants us to know pleasure in it that leads to thanksgiving and worship of him as the Giver of good gifts. That’s the ultimate goal of sex in marriage.

The content of this video is based on David White’s new book, God, You, & Sex: A Profound Mystery, which is available now. When you buy God, You, & Sex from Harvest USA, 100% of your purchase will benefit our ministry.

David White shares five essentials for talking to your kids about sex: work out any unresolved sexual issues in your own life, proactively engage your kids in multiple conversations, start positive, explain that the motivation for chastity is love for Christ, and finally, remember that your marriage is the most important sex education you can give your children.

The content of this video is based on David White’s new book, God, You, & Sex: A Profound Mystery, which is available now. When you buy God, You, & Sex from Harvest USA, 100% of your purchase will benefit our ministry.


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