Every Monday we’ll post something to do with personal purity. Hope it helps.
“I Know I’ve Got a Problem. Now What?”
Then said Evangelist, “If this be thy condition, why standest thou still?” He answered, “Because I know not where to go.” — Pilgrims Progress
I’ve yet to have a Christian man walk into my office and ask, “Is porn wrong? Is an adulterous affair OK? Can I sleep with my girlfriend?” My clients haven’t wondered what’s right or wrong. They come in knowing they have a problem, but wondering, as did Pilgrim, where to go and what to do about it.
Having been in that position I can appreciate it. Getting from one point to another can be like your first trip to a new shopping mall, where you’re likely to check the main directory. It’s centrally displayed on each floor, giving an overview of the complex, with each business location named and categorized. Visual creatures that we are, we like overviews because they simplify things, framing them with boundaries and definitions, so you appreciate the directory. It makes the mall less intimidating, more accessible.
And if you’re a Christian struggling with ongoing sexual temptations, you could probably use a bit of that. Chances are, you’ve been applying Herculean effort to the struggle, reaping a mixture of success and setbacks.
It’s a battle waged against a unique combination of desires in conflict: the desire to love God obediently versus the desire to be love self in a way that God prohibits, the desire for healthy intimacy versus the desire to gratify lust, the desire to be honest about your feelings versus the desire to be safe from embarrassment. It’s not just a sexual sin you’re fighting, but a deeply ingrained way of responding which can seem immune to good intentions. In fact, you may be finding the more effort you apply to the fight, the harder it is to believe you’ll ever win. “The good that I will to do I do not do,” laments the apostle Paul, “but the evil I will not to do, that I practice” (Romans 7:19). Sound familiar?
Some guys, in fact, are so tired of the battle they’re caving. Having tried to stop indulging their pet sin, then failing, then trying again, they get sick of the cycle and try to get comfortable with compromise, rather than seek to overcome it. But I’m reminded of Elijah’s famous challenge, “How long will you falter between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow Him; but if Baal, then follow him” (1 Kings 18:21). The prophet was appealing not only to people’s spiritual commitment, but to their common sense. He logically assumed that before deciding whether to serve God or Baal, they’d consider the merits of both. So counting the cost and weighing the options is, in cases like this, a pretty good idea.
One option is to maintain the status quo. If you’re sexually active apart from marriage, then your struggle is not just between you and God. One or several other people are directly involved, and by allowing the situation to continue you are maintaining a deadly status quo with far-reaching, possibly irreversible consequences. Your decision at this point—whether or not to take action—could well shape the direction and definition of your life. You may have comforted yourself so far with the notion you’re “getting away with it.” But count on it—as long as anything in your life continues to be uncontrollable, you’re in bondage to it. For now, the bondage itself is its own consequence. And so to maintain the status quo means not only to remain sexually active, but also to remain under the control of secretive behavior that you neither condone nor believe in. Remember, God gives a certain space for repentance before He allows a catastrophe to come as an intervention. But if need be, He eventually lifts His protective hand to allow tragedy, if it’s necessary for a person’s restoration. Now may be your “space for repentance,” a time for changing the status quo, not maintaining it. Don’t delude yourself into assuming that this grace period will go on indefinitely. It didn’t go on indefinitely for the world in Noah’s time, nor will it for you. God is still no respecter of persons.
Another option – a drastic one, for sure – is a complete departure from Christianity. Having tried, perhaps for years, to overcome sexual sin, you may feel the struggle is ferocious and the payoffs minimal. Backsliding looks like the only option, because it seems you ultimately have to choose between being sexual and being a Christian.
But that sort of reasoning would logically lead everyone in the church to backslide, as well, because all Christians deal with sin, all Christians have stubborn areas of weakness, and all Christians, I dare say, have at one time felt overwhelmed by their personal issues. Yet all Christians don’t feel as though they have to completely overcome their weaknesses or else abandon the faith.
Still, you may think your only hope of fulfillment lies in leaving Christ because, God knows, you’ve tried to change but you just can’t.
But be fair. Did God promise you would ever, in this life,be finished with personal struggles? Was there anything in Christ’s teaching implying total fulfillment? Is Christianity a religious form of therapy designed to ensure the happiness of its followers? Francis Schaeffer referred to this when he wrote:
“Here, in the midst of life, there is to be a strong negative, by choice, and by the grace of God. It is not a matter of waiting until we no longer have strong sexual desires, but rather that in the midst of the moving of life, surrounded by a world that grabs everything, we are to understand what Jesus means when He talks about denying ourselves that which is not rightfully ours.”
We shouldn’t leave it at that. There is more to Christianity than “the negatives.” Infinitely more, beginning with the eternal life we enter into at the moment of salvation and the honor of knowing and loving God, an honor that must cause us real shame when we consider our preoccupation with our temporary struggles. Inherent in our relationship with God is the privilege of addressing our needs to a loving Father (Matthew 6:7,8), who gives us either the things we request or the grace to deal with our lack. (2 Corinthians 12:8-9) So of course a morbid preoccupation with self-denial is not desirable. In fact, it can become as idolatrous as an obsession with self-fulfillment.
But Schaeffer’s point is worth our attention. True fulfillment for the Christian can come only after a surrender of ourselves to God’s larger purposes and a commitment to holy living, whether or not it comes “naturally” to us. That is Christian living, and abandoning the faith in a quest for personal happiness may well be the way to sabotage that very quest. Remember, if you are a believer, you have experienced the rebirth described in John 3:16, which is not easily shrugged off. You were given the seed of God Himself:
“Having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God (1 Peter 1:23).”
This generates a new nature:
“If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
This in turn cannot be fulfilled when violating God’s own standards:
“How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?” (Romans 6:2).
That being the case, it is questionable whether could ever be happy in a backslidden state, because the dissatisfaction we’d feel apart from fellowship with Christ will outweigh whatever dissatisfaction we’re experiencing now as struggling Christians.
You could argue, “But I am who I am; I want what I want. That’s my nature.”
I would argue the same point. You are indeed who you are—a Christian. That’s your nature. And you can’t be at peace unless you’re true to it.