My sophomore year in high school, I was approached by a number of people who told me that no matter what I wanted, whether it was drugs or pornography, I could have it whenever I wanted. At this time, I was a youth leader not only at church but also at my high school leading a bible study. Even though I became a believer when I was four and started to sense God’s call to pastoral ministry as early as age six, I was still very immature in my faith at this time and not very knowledgeable about Christianity. As time wore on, I became very depressed as I witnessed the painful divorce of my parents, and I caved into pornography. It was a slow slide into pornography for me, but once it began, it was incredibly addictive. While no one knew of my struggle in high school, I hid in shame as I regularly watched pornography and lived a double life. It was not until my freshmen year in college, when I was asked to be on staff at a church, that I confessed my sin of pornography to the pastor. He responded by saying that I should step down immediately from all leadership responsibilities.
While this event transpired over ten years ago, I have often reflected on how God has led me by the Spirit in the process of progressive sanctification and on what He has taught me. This reflection leads me to write this article on what purity looks like in the home, in the church,
in the workplace, and on the internet. As we go through this topic, I want you to understand that I am not just giving you steps on how to move past this on your own, but rather grounding everything I am saying in the Word of God. I believe the only way to overcome an addiction to pornography is to recognize that it is idolatry, and as such, needs to be repented of. Once you have repented of this addiction, you need to recalibrate your heart and mind with the gospel by reading, studying, and meditating on the Word of God both individually and corporately.
As we move through this very frank discussion, understand that I do so not because I have arrived at complete purity in any way, but rather I write on this topic because, I am deeply burdened for the men and women of all generations in and outside the Church. With that as a background, let’s now focus on understanding how the holiness of God relates to purity.
Dr. R.C. Sproul in his classic book The Holiness of God states the importance of purity is because Christians are called saints. He explains, “The saints of Scripture were called saints not because they were already pure but because they were people who were set apart and called to purity. The word holy has the same two meanings when applied to people as it has when it is applied to God. We recall that when the word holy is used to describe God, it not only calls attention to that sense in which he is different or apart from us, but it also calls attention to His absolute purity. But we are not God; we are not transcendent; we are certainly not pure.”[i] Dr. Sproul further elaborates on holiness noting, “True transformation comes by gaining a new understanding of God, ourselves, and the world. What we are after ultimately is to be conformed to the image of Christ.”[ii]
The Bible promotes purity in five ways: (1) it purifies (1 Peter 2:1; John 17:17). (2) It gets to the source of the problem (Hebrews 4:12-13); (3) it is our source of equipping (2 Timothy 3:16-17); (4) it promotes approval (2 Timothy 2:15); (5) it illuminates the way (Psalms 119:105). There are five common myths about pornography: (1) people think, it’s just harmless fun. (“I’m not hurting anyone.”); (2) it only affects me; (3) I can control it; (4) Prayer will rid me of it. (“Breaking free is God’s responsibility, not mine.”); (5) I will never again be clean enough to be used by God.
Undergirding my points about purity in the home, in the church and the workplace are six biblically based points that are grounded in the fact Christians have been set apart by a holy God, and are to reflect the holiness of God in the world (1 Peter 1:13-25).
(1) Whether you are single or married, go public with your desire to grow in the grace of God. For many years, I lived in shame and guilt because rather than coming into the Light and having my sin exposed, I purposefully kept it hidden. Pornography fosters a lifestyle of secrets and deception. The process of restoration begins with full disclosure. If you are struggling with an addiction to pornography, you must see it as a sin and admit your love affair with this idolatrous behavior. To minimize this behavior is to embrace several of the myths about porn, namely that it is harmless, that it only affects you, and that you can control it. The problem as Dr. Bryan Chapell rightly describes it, is a “misunderstanding of how God continues to view us after we have received the grace that justifies us.”[iii]
(2) Going public involves confession to God and family members. The Lord will forgive and cleanse you of all sin and unrighteousness (1 John 1:9-10). Confessing your sin to family members and friends is important for you to have a source of encouragement and accountability. Going public also means telling several other godly Christians such as your pastor who can come alongside of you to serve as an accountability partner.
(3) Become proactive in addressing this issue in your life. Pornography is an insidious disease that spreads when we are quiet about it. Being quiet about your sin will not help you overcome its hold. If you want to be freed from pornography, it will require hard work by the grace of God. Become proactive by intentionally seeking out others and installing software such as Covenant Eyes on your phone, laptop, or other devices you use to access the internet. Realize that such protection is to help you protect your own heart, but in order to deal with the heart issues underlying this issue, you need to see your sin for what it is—cosmic treason against an infinitely holy God. Only by seeing your sin in this way can you look to the Savior and find Him to be utterly sufficient to forgive you for your sin. You may overcome an addiction to pornography, but if you do not see the horror of your sin you will never look to the Savior and find Him to be utterly sufficient to forgive you and wash away your sin. In other words, if you do not look to Jesus for forgiveness, you will look to yourself or other things to fill the void of your addiction to pornography. Covenant Eyes and other software are great tools for filtering out pornographic images on your internet devices; however, the only absolute solution to the heart issue of lust is the gospel. If what I am saying here describes you, than you need to be in the Word of God, in prayer, and in fellowship in a local church. If the addiction is severe, I recommend seeking assistance from a professional Christian counselor for additional help beyond that provided by the local church.
(4) Run to Jesus. The apostle Paul implores the believers in Corinth to “flee immorality” and Timothy to flee youthful desires (1 Cor. 6:18 and 2 Tim 6:18). This advice runs contrary to the common belief that maturity is associated with being able to resist greater sexual temptation in one’s own power. Paul suggests that mature people know when to run. No person subjected to pornography remains unaffected. Run to Jesus!
(5) Get serious about living the Bible. The Apostle Peter asserts that a person who is actively adding goodness (moral excellence), knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love to their life will “never fall” (2 Peter 1:5-11). The person addicted to pornography has quit adding these qualities to their life.
(6) God expects us to be involved in the pursuit of purity. The Apostle Paul stresses this point in 2 Timothy 2:20-21. We have the choice of being a “vessel” for either noble or ignoble purposes. Impurity is only a permanent state and pattern when we choose for it to be so. The process of moving from one state to the other involves obedience to the truth. When we begin obeying the truth, we engage the power of the Holy Spirit to give us success. Over time and with a lot of hard work, prayer, and accountability, those struggling with porn can become pure again. When you discover what pleases God, you will flee from immorality. If you are single, the way you view women will change as you are freed from sexual immorality. If you are married, you will begin to learn to find your spouse as your standard for beauty. Whether you are single or married, as you are freed from sexual immorality, you will begin by the grace of God to conform to the biblical design God has established for your own good so that you can grow in His grace to be an agent of His grace to a watching world. Dr. Bryan Chappell’s comments are helpful in this regard: “God looks at us though we were as holy as his own Son, and treats us lovingly despite our many perfections.”[iv]
The Holiness and Forgiveness of God
What does purity look like in the home, in the Church, in the workplace, and on the internet? It looks like the principles above grounded in the reality that our holiness is not so much a matter of what we achieve as it is the grace our God provides. Grace is God’s willingness to look at us from the perspective that sees His holy Son in our place. God sees our faults and frailties reflected in the mirrors of our lives. Still, He chooses to look at those who trust in His mercy through the lens that features the holiness of His own child rather than our filthy rags. As a consequence He loves and treasures us as much as if we had never sinned.
As we grow in our understanding, of the holiness of God, we will in turn grow in the grace of God by casting aside sexual immorality, along with its filthiness. We will also commit to turning our eyes to Jesus, the One who sees all, knows all, and under whose gaze everyone lives under. It is only through this lens that you will be able to be pure. Whatever we do, say, and set our eyes upon must be that which glorifies God. We must come to understand that the God whose gaze we live under sees all and knows all, and this fundamentally changes the way we approach porn by causing us to see it as a violation of His holiness. In turn, this changes our response towards this sin from one of living in deception to that of a commitment to living in the light of God’s love. Such a shift in direction will result in being honest about our struggles, repenting of our impurity, and committing, by the grace of God, to be men and women of integrity who have like Job made a “covenant with my eyes” (Job 31:1) to not look on anything that would distract us from the face of Christ. It is only when we are truly satisfied in Jesus that we will turn away from sin, instead, focusing our gaze on Jesus. May we be as Joseph was with Potiphar in Genesis 39:6-23 and be men of godly integrity. It is only then that we will see pornography as an abomination to God, whereupon, we will flee from it by committing our lives to the kind of scrutiny that they are already under now as we live under the gaze of our Sovereign God.
This post first appeared as a two part series at the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood here and here.
[i] R.C. Sproul, The Holiness of God (Illinois, Tyndale, 1998), 191-192.
[iii] Bryan Chapell, Holiness by Grace Delighting in the Joy That Is Our Strength (Wheaton, Crossway, 2001), 9.
Pornography is an insidious cancer that is spread quickly throughout the world devastating men, women, children and destroying marriages, cities, nations and civilization. Pornography is a problem, I know all too well since I struggled with it throughout my teenagers years into my early twenties. Pornography is a problem that is crippling not only men but also women. Since I’ve struggled with pornography what I’m writing about is not just the theories of someone who hasn’t struggled, but rather as one who has struggled and continues to fight against this sin. The Gospel is good news for those who are struggling with sexual sin because it provides the power to put sin to death by the grace of God through the Spirit of God to the glory of God.
Overcoming Sexual Sin
The first way to put sexual sin to death is by understanding at the heart of sexual sin is idolatry. Idolatry is worshipping anything other than God. The best way to deal with idolatry is to understand what the Gospel is and what it demands. The Gospel demands our complete allegiance and devotion. The Gospel is not a call to embrace our sin but rather a call to embrace the sinless Savior who died for sinners. The Savior calls for His disciples to take up the Cross and follow Him in all of life. Finally, to overcome sexual sin men and women need to be accountable to other godly believers. It is important to qualify that last sentence by saying that a man should never be accountable to another woman and a woman should never be accountable to another man. A man should be accountable to another man, and a woman should be accountable to another woman.
The first step is the most important step, but the second step is equally important because often times a man or a woman may be serious about overcoming sexual sin, but end up falling back into sin because they don’t have the support of others. In order for men or women to live in the Light, they need others to walk alongside of them by living in community in the context of the local Church. Christians are called to walk alongside of each other and to bear each other’s burdens in community with each other. I also strongly encourage those who are dealing with sexual sin of any kind to discuss this issue with your Pastor, an elder or a deacon in your local church, and also to find a godly mature Christian counselor.
I understand that sexual sin is a difficult and sensitive issue, which is why I’m writing on it. Sexual sin in the Church is robbing the Church of many good men and women. Sexual sin grieves the Holy Spirit who gives men and women gifts to serve and strengthen the Church in its mission to make disciples. Sexual sin robs God of glory because Jesus is the Savior of sinners and He longs to save those who are broken by sin, and make them whole with His Gospel. Sexual sin hurts evangelism and missions because it robs the effectiveness of those who are called to such ministries. Sexual sin affects Pastors, ministry leaders, Bible College and seminary students many of whom struggle silently for years in sexual sin and never overcome sexual sin.
Sexual sin is not what God wants from His people. Sexual sin hurts the Church, and affects its mission of making disciples. God saves broken people and then uses them for His glory. Perhaps you have been broken by sexual sin. You may think today that the story of your life is sexual sin or some other kind of sin, but I writing today to tell you that this is exactly what the devil wants you to believe. Sexual sin is not your story; there is a greater story, the Gospel. Jesus truly saves sinners from all kinds of sin. Jesus redeems people from all kinds of sin, and delivers them by His grace, for His glory in order to spread the fame of His Gospel to the nations.
Three Ways to Fight Against Temptation
God provides three ways for us to endure temptation: prayer, trust and focusing on Jesus Christ. “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Mark 14:38). If we do not pray, we can be sure a test will turn into temptation. Our first defense in a test or a trial is to pray, to turn to our heavenly Father and put the matter in His hands.
Second, we must trust. When we pray, we must pray, believing that the Lord will answer and help us. We must also trust that, whatever the origin of the trial, God has allowed it to come for our good. God has a purpose for everything that comes to His children, and when we are tested or tempted, we should gladly endure it in His power, for the sake of His glory and our spiritual growth.
Third, we should focus on our Lord Jesus Christ. Hebrews 12:3-4, “Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.” Christ endured more than we could ever be called on to endure. He understands our trials and He is able to take us through them.
The Gospel is not a call to be comfortable or even to cuddle up to your favorite pet sin, but rather a call to abandon your sin, count the cost, put on the Lord Jesus, and take up your Cross and follow Him in all of life. Embracing sexual sin is not the Gospel and neither is abusing grace by living however you want to live. God is holy and calls His people to be holy (1Peter 1:15-16). Holiness is not fun but God has supplied the means through His Spirit for you to hate your sin, to put it to death and to put on the Lord Jesus through His bloody death, burial, resurrection. Overcoming sexual sin is only possible because of Jesus who as our sinless, victorious, triumphant and exalted Savior overcame death, and the grave to serve now as our Intercessor, Mediator and High Priest.
The most deadly temptations come from our own feelings of unworthiness, or discouragement because of sin and the accusations of Satan. When we sin and the devil tells us, “How can you call yourself a Christian? Isn’t it true that you have no part of Christ? Why don’t you give up the façade?” Do you hear that voice? Do you feel the sting of that accusation? Then consider Jesus.
Let Jesus Christ be your banner, the source of all your confidence. Fix your thoughts on Jesus, contemplate the sufficiency of His work for you, and reflect upon the love that bore your sins. And when Satan levels his accusing finger at you saying you are the great sinner you then can say, “Yes I am a great sinner, but Jesus Christ is a greater Savior.”
Jesus is the great apostle sent by God to bring us salvation, and He will not fail. He is the great high priest who reconciles us to God, which means nothing shall separate us from God. He is the master architect and builder, constructing God’s house for His own glory and dwelling, and we His adopted sons and daughters are that house. He will not be thwarted; He will not be overcome. The house He builds on the rock of His gospel will not be dashed by any storm. All of this means that we can draw our courage, our confidence and our hope from Him. Therefore, we are safe to the praise of His name.
Whether you’re struggling today or you’re overcoming in your battle against sexual sin, I encourage you to be honest about your struggle with sexual sin. Don’t hide behind a facade of knowledge or pretension but come out into the Light of Jesus and discover the joy and the freedom that come from being who you really are by the grace of God. Don’t settle for the lie of pornography but rather hate sin, fight against sin, and put sin to death by delighting in Jesus. Only then will you find true joy and satisfaction in Jesus and be able to make much of Him for His glory.
This post first appeared at Vicki Tiede’s blog.
As I was scanning the airwaves on the drive home from work this afternoon, I was once again taken aback by the incessant message of sexual deviancy that is promoted on seemingly every available channel, except the few Christian music stations, if of course you can find them on the radio dial. As the message of “sexual freedom” and license poured through every option on the radio, I was struck by how our society has become so accepting of this approach to life. Think about the last 50 years of television for example. On television, we have gone from Leave it to Beaver and The Waltons to Two and a Half Men and The Family Guy. In Hollywood, we have gone from A Roman Holiday to Brokeback Mountain. In the music industry we have gone from Elvis, who at the time was considered outrageously sexual by some to Miley Cyrus gyrating on stage with giant stuffed bears while licking a hammer. What in the world has this world come to? While we can certainly point with disdain to any number of sexually related issues in our society, the bigger question, at least for me and my family is what to do about it? What are alternatives to the din of digression found on television, movies, and the radio, not to mention the printed page?
Having a 12 year old daughter certainly brings this issue to the forefront as a parent. My wife and I are constantly bombarded with questions from our daughter such as “What is wrong with Usher” or “What is the big deal….why I can’t listen to rap music….it has a cool beat.” For those of you who have no clue who Usher is, he is what you would label as a pop music artist. If you don’t know what that means you will just have to Google it. So with those types of questions being asked, we could easily say to our daughter, “You can’t listen to that music because we said so” and leave it at that. After all, we are the parents and what we say goes. While that is certainly a valid approach, does it really help her understand the ramifications of listening to sexually explicit music or even music with clear sexual overtones? In my humble opinion, it does not. As I began to ponder this issue a bit more today, I felt the need to share some viable alternatives to the pornified entertainment culture of our day.
1. Turn off the radio, television, or entertainment device. Seems rather obvious right? It is the quickest way to circumvent trash coming into your home, car, or brains. That little thing known as the power button is a powerful tool and should be used far more often than it is in most households.
2. Have a conversation. As a parent, it is increasingly clear my wife and I cannot house our child in a protective bubble where nothing of ill repute will interact with her. While we would love that, it quite simply is unrealistic and ultimately it will not prepare her for adulthood and how to act in a mature biblical manner. She will go to school where other kids who are also inundated with the trash our society has embraced and most likely discussions of that trash will ensue. When these topics come up, be prepared to have that needed conversation with your child about why your family does not watch or listen to that garbage. Break out that book that may have some dust on it called the Bible. Read as a family what God says about seeking after what is good, holy, and just.
3. Have family devotions. The Puritans called this “Family Worship.” Gather together on a regular basis as a family and read and study God’s word and pray. This is powerful stuff folks. It is also the best alternative available to combat that garbage we have been talking about. You know the old saying “Garbage In/Garbage Out.” The opposite is true as well and that is “Biblical Truth In/Biblical Truth Out.” The only thing that can shine through the darkness that is our current societal mess is the light of God’s Word. How does that light shine? It shines by God’s people devouring His Word to the extent that it shines through every fiber of our being. With God’s Word occupying every aspect of our life, there will be no available room for trash to be a part of who we are or what we do.
4. Look for positive alternative activities. Rather than plopping down in front of the television at night or on the weekends, a device we all know is nothing more than a propaganda tool for perversion, do something together as a family. As a culture, we have forgotten about the great outdoors. Go play catch, take a jog with your child, put a puzzle together, dust off those board games, or read a book.
5. Listen to positive music and watch positive movies. If you must turn on the radio, locate that long lost Christian music or Christian talk station in your local town. Find that local Christian bookstore or explore Amazon.com for Christian music options. There are plenty of styles to choose from anything from Christian rap to Christian country to Christian rock. As with anything, be observant and attentive to your musical choices because not everything labeled as Christian is exactly music that glorifies God. There are also many great classic movies from the days of yesteryear available that are wonderful family oriented alternatives to the heaps of garbage paraded from Hollywood these days.
6. Become more involved in your local church. There are hopefully many positive activities to involve yourself and family in at your local church. If not, see what other churches are up to in your community. Have your kids become involved in children’s activities or youth group. Get them around other bible believing kids their age so they can develop lasting positive friendships.
I am sure there are many other suggestions that could be made and things we can do to deal with the pornification of our society but hopefully these are enough to get you started. One thing is certain and that is this sexualization of our culture is not going to cease. Sadly, it is only to get worse. Instead of being like the proverbial ostrich with our head in the sand hoping it all goes away, let’s get out in front of the issue in our respective families and put in place positive godly alternatives to what the world is offering. In doing so, we will be following the biblical mandate to “Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” (Deut. 6:7) (By the way, that passage is from the front of the book, a place far too few people explore these days.) Parents, we are commanded by God to promote a godly atmosphere in our homes. We are commanded to speak of God and His word at all times in our homes. It should be something we desire to do because God is the only solution to the depravity we face today.
One will never get anywhere in life without discipline be it in the arts, business, athletics or academics. This is doubly so in spiritual matters. In other areas we may be able to claim some innate advantage. An athlete may be born with a strong body, a musician with a perfect pitch, or an artist with an eye for perspective. But none of us can claim an innate spiritual advantage. In reality, we are all equally disadvantaged. None of us naturally seeks after God, none is inherently righteous, none instinctively does good (Romans 3:9-18). Therefore, as children of grace our spiritual discipline is everything—everything!
Paul on Discipline
This being so, the statement from Paul to Timothy regarding spiritual discipline in 1 Timothy 4:7 “train yourself to be godly” – takes on not only transcending importance but also personal urgency. There are no other passages which teach discipline but this is the classic text of Scripture. The word “train” comes from the word gumnos which means “naked” and is the word from which we derive our English word gymnasium. In traditional Greek athletic contests, the participants competed without clothing, so as not to be encumbered. Therefore, the word ‘train” originally carried the literal meaning, “to exercise naked.” By New Testament times it referred to exercise and training in general. But even then it was, and is, a word with the smell of the gym in it—the sweat of a good workout. “Gymnasticize (exercise, work out, train) yourself for the purpose of godliness” conveys the feel of what Paul is saying.
In a word, he is calling for some spiritual sweat! Just as the athletes discarded everything and competed in gumnos—free from everything that could possibly burden them—so we must get rid of every encumbrance, every association, habit, and tendency which impedes godliness. If we are to excel, we must strip ourselves to a lean, spiritual nakedness. The writer of Hebrews explains it like this: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,” (Hebrews 12:1). Men, we will never get anywhere spiritually without a conscious divestment of the things that are holding us back. What things are weight you down? The call to discipline demands that you throw it off. Are you man enough?
The call to train ourselves for godliness also suggests directing all of our energy toward godliness. Paul pictures this elsewhere in 1st Corinthians 9:25-27, “Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” Intense, energetic sweat! We should singularly note that a sentence later in the context of Paul’s command to “train yourself to be godly,” he comments on the command and the intervening words, saying “for this we labor and strive.” “Labor” means “strenuous toil,” and “strive” is the Greek word from which we get “agonize.” Toil and agony are called for if one is to be godly.
When one seriously trains, he willingly undergoes hours of discipline and even pain so as to win the prize—running 10,00 miles to run 100 yards at one’s best. The successful Christian life is a sweaty affair.
No mainliness no maturity! No discipline no discipline! No sweat no sainthood!
Why the Disciplines
First, in today’s world and the church, disciplined Christian lives are the exception not the rule. This goes for men, women, and the professional clergy. We cannot excuse ourselves by saying this has always been the case. It has not! As to why this is so, several common-sense reasons could be tendered, such as poor teaching or individual sloth. But underlying much of the conscious rejection of spiritual discipline is the fear of legalism. For many, spiritual discipline means putting oneself back under the Law with a series of Draconian rules which no one can live up to—and which spawn frustration and spiritual death.
But nothing could be farther from the truth if you understand what discipline and legalism are. The difference is one of motivation: legalism is self-centered; discipline is God-centered. The legalistic heart says, “I will do this thing to gain merit with God.” The disciplined heart says, “I will do this thing because I love God and want to please Him.” There is an infinite difference between the motivation of legalism and discipline! Paul knew this implicitly and fought the legalistic bare-knuckled all the way across Asia Minor, never giving an inch. And now he shouts to us, “Train [discipline] yourself to be godly”! If we confuse legalism and discipline, we do so to our soul’s peril.
Men are so much less spiritually inclined and spiritually disciplined than women. Women are concerned about the spiritual welfare of their mates than vice versa. All this is sustained by hard statistics. A Gallup Poll conducted in June 1990 revealed that 71 percent of the women surveyed believed religion can answer today’s problems, while only 55 percent of the men agreed.[i] The typical church service has 59 percent female verses 41 percent male attenders.[ii] Furthermore, married women who attend church without their husbands outnumber by four to one the men attending without their wives.[iii]
Why certainly the pervasive American male credo of self-sufficiency and individualism contributes. Some of this may also be due to the male avoidance of anything relational (which, of course, Christianity is!) But we do not concede that women are simply more spiritual by nature. The parade of great saints (male and female) down through the centuries, as well as spiritually exemplary men in some of our churches today, clearly refutes this idea. But the fact remains that men today need far more help in building spiritual discipline than women.
We cannot overemphasize the importance of this call to spiritual discipline. Listen to Paul again from 1st Timothy 4:7-8, “Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.”
Whether or not we have disciplined ourselves will make a huge difference in this life. We are all members of one another, and we are each either elevated or depressed by the inner lives of one another. Some of us affect others like a joyous tied, lifting them upward, but some of us are like undertows to the body of Christ. If you are married, the presence or lack of spiritual discipline can serve to sanctify or harm your children and grandchildren. Spiritual discipline, therefore, holds huge promise.
As for “the life to come,” spiritual discipline builds the enduring architecture of one’s soul on the foundation of Christ—gold, silver, and precious stones which will survive the fires of judgment and remain a monument to Christ for eternity (1 Corinthians 3:10-15)
Some may minimize the importance of spiritual discipline now, but no one will then! Godliness has value for all things. The disciplined Christian gives and gets the best of both worlds—the world now and the world to come.
The word discipline may raise the feeling of stultifying constraint in some minds—suggesting a claustrophobic, restricted life. Nothing could be farther from the truth! The obsessive, almost manic discipline of Mike Singletary liberated him to play like a wild man on the football field. Hemingway’s angst over the right word freed him to leave a mark on the English language second only to Shakespeare. The billion sketches of the Renaissance greats set Michelangelo free to create the skies of the Sistine Chapel. Churchill’s painstaking preparation freed him to give great ‘impromptu” speeches and brilliant ripostes. The disciplined drudgery of the musical great released their genius. And brothers in Christ, spiritual discipline frees us from the gravity of this present age and allows us to soar with the saints and angels.
Do we have the sweat in us? Will we enter the gymnasium of divine discipline? Will we strip away the things that hold us back? Will we discipline ourselves through the power of the Holy Spirit? God is looking for a few good men!
[i] Gallup Poll, Emerging trends, a publication of Princeton Religion Research Center.
[ii] Leadership, Winter 1991, Vol. 12, No. 1, p. 17.
Over the past year or so I’ve written a lot on pornography. One of the reasons for this should be obvious as I believe the Bible teaches that God created sex to be within the confines of the marriage relationship. Whether it is pre-marital sex, homosexuality, pornography or any other sexual perversion, I believe anything short of sex within the confines of marriage between one man and one woman is wrong and dishonors God. It dishonors God because He created marriage. Some people feel in our culture that we are just “prudes” and “bigots” but really it goes much further than this. When people accuse Christians of being bigots and prudes what they are really saying is they disagree with what the Bible teaches. Sadly, most of these people then come to the Bible to justify their behavior. The truth though is there is no justification for homosexuality or any other deviant sexual behavior. The Bible roundly and repeatedly condemns sexual sin because it dishonors God who created and sustains the world we inhabit.
Here’s the rub and I think it’s an important point: Those who advocate for sex outside of marriage are more than dishonoring God. What they are doing is seeking to establish their own rules and justification for their sin. Maybe you think I am being too harsh, but I am speaking from personal experience. As a Christian of over twenty years I’ve struggled with sexual sin. While I no longer struggle with sexual sin by the grace of God, the love of a godly wife, and the protection of good pornography software, I know well that I could struggle very easily. It is easy to lust after things I want and to look at unrighteous images. That is just a fact. The only deterrent to looking at images and other things that pull at my heart is the Gospel. When those images from my past come back (and they do), I have to preach the Gospel to myself. I have to put on the armor of God every day. While I’ve been forgiven and washed in the blood of Jesus, I earnestly believe I will still have to deal with the consequences of my sin violating my conscience over and over again. That is not a message that is popular in Christianity today. The reason that is the case is because we have an extremely low view of sin and a very low view of God. This has occurred because we are spoon fed self-help and self-esteem messages that run counter to the Gospel. The fact is as Martin Luther once said, “We are both saints and sinners”.
As saints we are forgiven totally and completely by our Savior. This includes our justification, adoption, and all that entails. Yet, we are still sinners. We are forgiven and yet we need to daily repent of sin. Martin Luther again is helpful when he noted in the beginning of his 95 thesis that the Christian life is a life of ongoing repentance. By ongoing repentance what Luther meant was the Christian needs to constantly turn away from sin due to the fact we are still sinners. We still battle against the flesh, the world and the devil. If you don’t think that you still struggle with sin, you are deceived by Satan. The truth of the matter is our flesh wants to be gratified. We are too quick to blame Satan when we should blame our flesh. Our flesh is strong and wants to be satisfied by indulging in worldly pleasures which is why we must daily submit ourselves to the Word and to the work of the Son. To do so is to humble ourselves before God and ask Him to continue to cleanse and purify us. This is at the heart of what it means to grow and progressively becoming like Jesus Christ, the process of sanctification. This is the old paths the Puritans described time and time again: repent of sin and grow to be like Jesus. To become more like Jesus necessarily involves growing in holiness. To not grow in holiness is to disregard and use the grace of God as a license to sin. We desperately need a high view of God, a high view of sin and a low view of ourselves if we are ever to see the radicalness of the grace of God that Paul described. It is precisely because of such a lack of understanding God and sin that many Christians are struggling with sexual sin. Rather than reveling and basking in wonder at God’s grace, they abuse the grace of God thinking they can do whatever they want and live however they like. Yet there is no justification for this behavior as a Christian. You’ve been saved for a purpose and that purpose is to grow in the grace of God.
I know well what it means to abuse the grace of God. When I went through a particular hard time in my life, I started drinking and doing things I should not have done. While this was many years ago, the reason I behaved that way is I justified my behavior. I said, “It is okay” but it wasn’t, and as a seasoned Christian I knew better. I got convicted in short order and God changed my heart immediately. It was painful and I lost a lot of friends from high school during this time because I just couldn’t do the things they were doing. While I tried to explain my change of lifestyle, I probably did so in a way that was offensive and unloving. Thankfully, some of my friends understood but overtime we slowly drifted away as I got married and became more focused on my marriage and ministry. Yet, as I’ve thought recently about this period of justifying my sin, I’ve also come to realize that I am not the only one who attempts to justify their sin.
I recently wrote an article about pornography for a popular Christian website that I highly respect (http://cbmw.org/men/manhood/overcoming-an-addiction-to-pornography-and-embracing-purity-part-1/ and http://cbmw.org/men/manhood/overcoming-an-addiction-to-pornography-and-embracing-purity-part-2/ ). Thankfully that article was well-received but it got me thinking also about how we hide from our sin rather than placing it under the scope of God’s presence. I think one of the biggest struggles for Christians like me who’ve grown up in the Church is justifying and becoming apathetic towards sin. Rather than using our maturity and freedom in Christ to disciple newer Christians, we instead recuse ourselves to the sidelines. To be perfectly frank with you, this saddens me and is why I am writing this article with tears in my eyes.
The time for justifying ourselves, for being apathetic and sitting on the sidelines needs to cease. The Kingdom of God is both now and future. It is now that we are given the time to proclaim the Good news of the Gospel. In the future, it will be our joy to sit before the throne of Jesus and enjoy an eternity sitting at His feet worshiping the Lamb who is worthy of all glory and honor. Yet now we have a charge to sit at the feet of His under-shepherds and hear His perfect Word preached from finite man and to worship with other sinners who have yet to be glorified. All of this is truly good news. God wants us to grow in His grace, to sit ultimately at His feet, and to share His Word in His power, under His authority to the praise of the Triune God. Don’t make excuses for why you are struggling with your discipleship anymore but rather step out in faith, daily repent of your sin, and engage the work God has given you to do for His glory. There will come a day when all our work will cease but for now there is much work to be done. It should be our prayer that we be found faithfully working for the Master.
Rather than sitting on the sidelines, seasoned Christians should find ways they can serve in their respective churches and communities. There are always hurting people to pray for. If you can write reasonably well then get a blog. If you can speak well consider prayerfully seeking the Lord about opportunities He may give you to minister to others. There is always street ministry, homeless shelters, pregnancy centers and many other opportunities to minister to the lost and hurting. Pray and seek the Lord about where and what He would have you do. There is much work to be done for the Kingdom in these days, but there are still very few laborers. Don’t sit on the sidelines and be apathetic and complain, but rather get up off your seat, get out into the ripened fields and by His grace get busy for the Kingdom of God spreading the fame of Jesus to all people that they might be saved and grow in His grace for His glory.
In 1 Samuel 8, Israel demands that God and Samuel give them a king. We’ve already talked about why, and about the provisions in the Law for kingship. Today, we’ll look at God and Samuel’s response.
Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah and said to him, “Behold, you are old and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations.” (1Sa 8:4-5)
Samuel takes their demands personally, as a rejection – possibly even an indictment – of the job that Samuel has done in his years as judge over Israel. On some level, it probably was. Samuel’s sons were not godly men (1 Samuel 8:1-3). In fact, Samuel seems to have this in common with his old mentor, Eli. Samuel’s sons are known to wicked, greedy men, taking bribes and perverting the justice of God. Angry and hurt, Samuel takes his pain before the Lord:
But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to judge us.” And Samuel prayed to the LORD. (1Sa 8:6)
God does not respond by reaffirming Samuel’s calling or the job he’s done as judge, nor does he reprimand Samuel for the sons he has raised. Instead, helps Samuel out by giving him a bit of perspective:
And the LORD said to Samuel, “Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. According to all the deeds that they have done, from the day I brought them up out of Egypt even to this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are also doing to you. Now then, obey their voice; only you shall solemnly warn them and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.” (1Sa 8:7-9)
“They haven’t rejected you,” God says. “They’ve rejected me.” And really, he points out, if there’s anybody who understands rejection, it’s God. God’s dealings with His people – with all of mankind – are one long story of His reaching out to them and them rejecting him for false gods, temporary pleasures, and hollow realities.
This, like all of Israel’s other rejections, is remarkably short-sighted. Can God deliver Israel from their enemies without using a king? Of course He can. Does trading the leadership of Samuel’s corrupt sons for a hereditary monarchy really ensure more fairness and less oppression? Of course not.
But like all of our other calloused rejections of our Creator, God has anticipated this. He has provided for it in His law and he has made it a part of his divine redemptive plan. “Obey their voice,” God says. “Only you shall solemnly warn them and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.” Yes, God has forseen this. Yes, God is working with this. But that in no way negates the consequences of rejecting God – consequences which, as we will see in our next post, will have a destructive impact on generations to come.