31 October 2014

Who makes the woeful heart to sing

As a teenager, I spent a lot of time feeling sorry for myself.

I didn't have a miserable childhood.  I didn't suffer any overwhelming loss.  I wasn't disliked or unpopular.  I simply chose to devote a gratuitous amount of time and energy to my own bloated insecurities -- to comparing myself to other people and envying them of their confidence.

I remember slipping out of church immediately after services instead of talking with my friends in the foyer, so that they would notice my absence and come looking for me.  I'd sit morosely in corners and scribble melodramatic song lyrics in a duct-taped binder.  I refused and even scoffed at encouragement.

I did a lot of that kind of thing.

In sum, I spent a whole lot of time thinking about myself, which is the very definition of pride.  Even though I didn't feel good about myself, I didn't have a problem thinking only about myself.  Perhaps John Ortberg said it best, that at its deepest level, "pride is the [loveless] choice to exclude both God and other people from their rightful place in our hearts."  Pride is forgetting (or ignoring) the Christian's responsibility to love God and others above self (Mark 12.30-31).  Looking back now, it's painful to recall.  I'm not proud of any of the time I wasted.  I'm not proud of the fact that all of that self-centeredness would ultimately come to a head in miserable dating relationships -- one failure after another, all because I could only think about me.

In Knowing God, J I Packer asserts that when people come to know God truly -- as opposed to simply knowing about Him -- their "losses and 'crosses' cease to matter to them; what they have gained [in Christ] simply banishes these things from their minds."

What I went through certainly wasn't a loss or a cross.  It was my own juvenile selfishness.  However, selfishness is simply the idolatry of self -- the worship of me -- though it will look different for everyone.  For me, it manifested as a "woe is me" type of mentality.  For others, it might be the "I can do no wrong" or "I have all the answers" thought process, or maybe a sense of entitlement.

All of these are symptoms of the same disease -- a disease for which only Christ has the cure.  And although my selfishness wasn't necessarily a loss or a cross, it was still a burden that I carried: the lingering remnant of sin in me that I refused to allow Christ to "banish" from my mind.

One of the things you hear when you're feeling sorry for yourself is the expression of tough love: "Just get over it."  I don't necessarily disagree with the thought, but I'm cautious to express it in that way to people who are struggling through some of the same things I did.  Even if the sentiment is well-intentioned, it can sound immensely callous, and Paul's admonition to believers is that we should always communicate with compassion -- even when it's a hard truth that needs to be told (Eph 4.15).  Packer's purposeful use of the word "banish" is not necessarily that we should just "get over" our weaknesses, but that the surpassing worth of truly knowing Christ should outweigh and eliminate them.  In other words, truly knowing Christ eclipses the value of all the world's trinkets and makes letting go of any degree of hurt possible.

If, instead of hyper-analyzing my faults, I base my understanding of who I am upon who I know Him to be, suddenly I am capable of relinquishing my flaws as weaknesses He can enable me to overcome.  If, instead of being resentful toward God for the struggles in my life, I am overwhelmed with thanksgiving for the fact that He has lifted the debt of sin from my shoulders, it becomes fully possible to drop everything I am holding onto and follow Him immediately.

However, there is a mis-implication in the "just get over it" sentiment.  While the power we access through the Holy Spirit is perfectly capable of wiping the slate clean, we still walk in our flesh and live in a world of loss and heartache.  The "letting go" process will vary for each person in terms of length and intensity.  However, the more closely an individual knows Christ, the easier and more direct that process can be.  Perhaps those pains will never fully subside, but my love for Christ and His love for me will make them manageable and secondary -- mere inconveniences instead of the throbbing, unmitigated injuries they were without Him.

There's a well-known hymn that we frequently sing at Fellowship Bible Church.  It's a composition that particularly highlights Jesus' sovereign authority over nature, His surpassing glory, and His matchless worth to the individual.  It beautifully paints the idea of a big-picture, limitless, omnipotent God who is also intensely personal.

Fairest Lord Jesus, Ruler of all nature
O Thou of God and man the Son
Thee will I cherish, Thee will I honor
Thou, my soul’s glory, joy, and crown

Fair are the meadows, fairer still the woodlands
Robed in the blooming garb of spring
Jesus is fairer, Jesus is purer
Who makes the woeful heart to sing

Fair is the sunshine, fairer still the moonlight
And all the twinkling starry host
Jesus shines brighter, Jesus shines purer
Than all the angels heaven can boast

All fairest beauty, heavenly and earthly
Wondrously, Jesus, is found in Thee
None can be nearer, fairer, or dearer
Than Thou, my Savior, art to me

Beautiful Savior! Lord of all the nations!
Son of God and Son of Man!
Glory and honor, praise, adoration
Now and forever more be Thine

I typically draw the congregation's attention to the second verse.  Often when we find ourselves in painful, sorrowful places, it's easy to allow other things to become our solace.  Solitude.  Natural beauty.  Earthly relationships.  Time.  Even the distraction of entertainment.  And yet Jesus, the One who is fairer and purer than all of these things, is the one who is truly capable of causing woeful hearts to sing.  His eternal, faithful character should be our comfort and our consolation above all else this world can offer.

As a teenager, Jesus was never my consolation -- though I might have claimed He was, though I might even have called out in the midst of my frustrations and anxieties for Him to remove them from me.  I found cheap consolation in my friends' sympathy or simply in distraction -- videogames, books, TV, phone conversations.  And yet the person of Jesus -- the man who lived and died sinlessly on my behalf, the God who ordained my finite number of breaths and even allowed my emotional insecurities in order to make me realize my need for Him -- is the consolation I should have taken.

Knowing Him causes all my losses and crosses to decrease.  Letting go of hurt, especially hurt gained through the malice or carelessness of others, is only truly possible through the restorative power of overwhelming grace.  Letting go of false notions about self-worth and relinquishing selfishness are only possible through intimately knowing Christ.  He outweighs whatever I may have gained in this life.  He banishes any lingering sense of earthly loss from my heart, promising and proving that those things no longer have any claim upon me.  Temporary sorrow no longer has the opportunity to preoccupy my thoughts now that I am filled with Christ Himself.

None can be nearer, fairer, or dearer.  He makes the woeful heart to sing.

24 October 2014

Godly Leadership

I was recently revisiting a study I'd done on godly leadership, back when Tara and I were engaged and in the process of premarital counseling, and thought it might be beneficial to share here.

This will be a little different than my typical rambling post that goes on for paragraphs.  I've opted instead to leave my thoughts in bullet-pointed lists, with links to all applicable passages for anyone who is interested in further study.  Hopefully this will be both as humbling and encouraging to you as it was to me.

_ _ _ _ _ _

Godly Leadership

A leader is first a follower
  • a follower is humble and submissive to imperfect human authorities; this means choosing to submit even when one knows the authority is wrong (Luke 2.51John 19.11)
  • a follower practices submission, not stubbornness; meekness, not weakness (Phil 2.5-8; Isaiah 66.2)
  • a follower is continually dependent upon the Spirit – daily surrendering self for the purpose of glorifying God, allowing the Spirit to do the living (Gal 5.16, 25)
  • a follower allows himself to be led by the Spirit -- recognizing that He will lead to places of suffering and trials, and still going willingly (Matt 4.1-11)
  • a follower cannot move toward the death of self without daily learning to deny self (Luke 9.23-26).
A mature disciple lives like Jesus lives, denying personal "rights" and following with a submissive spirit; in so doing, he becomes a leader among men.

Characteristics of a leader
Offices of a leader (the roles of Christ):
  • Prophet: effectively communicates truth in encouragement, rebuke, and instruction
  • Priest: prayerfully intercedes on the behalf of others, and inspires/encourages daily worship
  • King: leading versus lording: provides direction and exhibits authority with kindness, grace, and humility
A leader's ultimate goal is to be like Christ, delighting in becoming holy as He is holy.  His ultimate desire is to not just see the grace of God revealed to him personally, but also to share the power of that grace with others.

A leader recognizes that sin begins in the heart
  • a leader recognizes that protection against sin begins with mental preparedness (1 Pet 1.13; 2 Cor 10.5)
  • a leader flees from places/areas of temptation, recognizing that half the battle is removing areas of weakness (1 Cor 10.13; 1 Peter 2.11; Jas 4.7; Matt 6.13)
  • a leader understands that we have a tendency to fool ourselves into thinking we are living well (Jer 17.9); therefore, a leader checks his confidence with genuine self-evaluation, seeing himself through God's eyes as opposed to the lens his own thinking (1 Cor 10.13; Heb 4.12)
  • a leader is not shackled by past failures; a leader remembers God's faithfulness (Isa 43.18)
  • a leader specifically addresses issues of temptation and removes them at the root to prevent falling into sin (Matt 18.9)
  • a leader practices regular confession and repentance, keeping a short account of sin (Jas 5.161 Cor 13.7)
  • a leader recognizes his responsibility to protect himself and those under his leadership from things that could potentially lead to temptation (1 John 2.16)
A leader understands that it is not enough to treat just the presenting symptoms by changing behavior, but that the source of the problem must also be addressed.

A leader recognizes the priorities of God
  • a leader takes joy in loving others (causing joy in them through his expression of joy) (John 15.11)
  • a leader practices a lifestyle which reflects the requirements of the Lord and exhibits the fruits of holiness (Gal 5.22-23)
  • through love and truth, a leader edifies both peers and followers (Eph 4.15-16)
  • a leader glorifies God, not himself (John 7.18)
  • a leader passionately follows the commandments of the Lord (John 14.21)
  • a leader is motivated both by future reward (Rom 8.23Phil 3.21), but also by the immediate benefit of glorifying God through loving others (John 13.34)
  • a leader recognizes the temporal nature of things of this world, valuing instead the steadfast love of the Lord (Psa 63.31 John 2.17Heb 10.34)
A leader is more concerned with the pursuit of righteousness and wisdom than pleasing self or others.

A leader recognizes his responsibilities to others
  • a leader is a cheerful giver and practices the love of God which gladly meets the needs of others (2 Cor 9.7Phil 2.4Micah 6.8)
  • a leader takes joy in others' joys, and sorrows in others' sorrows (Rom 12.15)
  • a leader recognizes that true blessing comes not from self-motivated morality, but as a result of worshiping the Father through love for others and joy in Christ (Acts 20.35)
  • a leader practices whole-hearted ministry and service (1 Pet 5.2)
  • a leader is committed to growth through interaction and accountability (Prov 27.17), and practices the type of conduct which inspires others to godly action (Heb 10.24)
  • in the marriage relationship, a leader fulfills his role as provider: as Adam was created from the dust, and Eve taken from his side, man is inexorably linked to his role as provider and the woman to her relational role as nurturer (1 Cor 7.41 Tim 5.8)
  • a leader is prepared for proactive and defensive Christian living through careful study of the Word (2 Tim 3.16-17; Eph 6.10-20)
  • a leader recognizes that the underlying joy in sacrificial lifestyle lies in doing what is truly pleasing to God (Micah 6.8Psa 51.172 Cor 9.7Deut. 10.12)
A leader is willing to give up what he wants for the benefit of others: love always requires some kind of self-denial, and often demands suffering.


leader is a type of Christ, a man or woman who values the things of God more than the things of this world, and loves other believers in the following ways: by encouraging growth, by actively serving, by placing others' needs ahead of his or her own, and by valuing other believers the way the Father values them.  In mirroring Christ, a leader should “rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep” (Rom 12.15), an empathy that can only be developed through careful and considerate attention to the other's needs. Therefore, a leader should practice the discipline of "gracious listening" -- in the same way that God hears our prayers and bears our concerns on His heart. A leader will seek to portray the Father in every way, being ultimately devoted to the command to be holy as God Himself is holy.

13 October 2014

Sexuality, Pt. 5: Overcoming Temptation

Part I // Part II // Part III // Part IV

With this post, I'm going to wrap up the series on biblical sexuality that I started at the beginning of September.  If the conversation to this point has been more philosophical than practical, I hope this last chapter will provide some simple yet powerful steps to overcoming temptation, specifically in the area of sexuality.  I went through a number of drafts and settled ultimately on what I hope will be a useful and encouraging conclusion.  If you're reading this and struggling for purity as I have, it is my prayer that you will know victory through the power that Christ alone supplies.

By way of encouragement, keep in mind that experiencing temptation is, in itself, not sin.  Christ Himself, fully God and fully human, was tempted in all the same ways we are, but endured the allure without sinning (Heb 4.15).  Therefore, the fact that I feel tempted to sin in a particular way -- though I might be disgusted by my own propensity -- is not the sin itself.

Alasdair Groves, one of the instructors at the CCEF foundation, stated this principle so profoundly: “God is glorified in the struggle.”  Here's what that means.  That means I am aware of my weaknesses.  That means I confess when I fall -- to God, to anyone against whom I've sinned by my choices, and to anyone who will commit to praying for me and keeping me accountable.  That means that I am actively fighting against that sin and taking precautions not to succumb to it -- in other words, not just rolling over when the temptation comes upon me.  By employing all of the defenses at my disposal, I express to Christ His surpassing worth -- that I am not content with the unsatisfactory lusts of the flesh and desire to glorify Him above all else.

If you've read any or all of the posts in this five-part series, hopefully they've provided some motivation to you to continue struggling.  Sexual failures in particular can feel like quicksand, and Satan wants us to think that we're too entrapped to get out of the mire -- so that we won't even try.  Yet the Scriptures teach us that God's grace covers our sinfulness when we repent (so we don’t need to feel guilty anymore), and that His Spirit empowers us to overcome in the future (so we don’t need to feel hopeless anymore).  He is a merciful God who forgives shortcomings, and a powerful God who provides the necessary strength to overcome temptation.

For the believer, giving up is not an option.  It doesn't matter how long and sordid your history of sexual failure is.  God's grace is not conditional.  It doesn't have a deductible.

He completely saves, and He purposefully empowers.

Identify where you are weak

Everybody struggles in a different way.  For some, their weakness might be pornography.  For others, it might be same-sex attraction.  For others still, it might be infidelity.  Often those temptations crisscross and become complexly interwoven.  Regardless of specifics, the Apostle James cuts to the heart of the matter when he defines temptation as the misguided leading of our own carnal desires -- whatever they may be (Jas 1.14).  Therefore, acknowledging our specific weaknesses is an all-important first step to overcoming our areas of temptation.  We can't begin to combat our sin problem if we don't know where it begins or what triggers it -- or if we continue to pretend that it isn't a problem and we can "handle" it.  Maybe we deceive ourselves into thinking that our struggle is no big deal, that we can keep it quiet and limit the damage.  We can try to bury our failures, but they're always there beneath the surface, ready to pop up again whenever we trip over the shallow grave.  Ultimately, no matter how good a job of hiding them we manage to do, there is One to whom we will inevitably give an account of all our deeds -- One from whom nothing is hidden (Heb 4.13).  In order to overcome, we need to choose instead to bring our weaknesses out into the light.

A wise counselor, under whom I had the privilege of learning, used to make a right angle with his arms and say, "You never fall into sin from here."  Changing the L into a severely acute angle, he'd conclude, a fortiori, "You fall from here."

This is not Pastor Joe Schenke, but he seemed like a willing volunteer.

The idea is this: when we fail to identify our weaknesses, we give a little ground.  The angle becomes a few degrees steeper.  We're like a frog in a pot of water, comfortable even as the temperature continues to climb -- so long as it's only one degree at a time.  Each moment we don't take action, we get a little closer to the boiling point.  By the time we actually commit the sin, it's because we've ignored all the warning signs.  Ultimately, the danger comes upon us before we even realize how close we are.

If instead we choose to be honest with ourselves, to search our hearts for our weak points and bolster our spiritual defenses -- acknowledging the warning signs as the temptation nears -- then we effectively sensitize ourselves to our own weaknesses.  Instead of giving our sin the luxury of a stealthy approach under the cover of darkness, we install motion sensing floodlights.

Practice "radical amputation"

Frankly, the concept of amputation seems radical enough to me.  Adding that specific adjective makes it even more extreme.

The concept behind medical amputation is simple.  Damage has been done to an extremity, damage that will spread to the rest of the body and cause further harm if it isn't stopped.  Though the practice of amputation originated in more primitive eras of medicine, there are still injuries and illnesses today that cannot be stopped with medication or alternative treatments, and so the only option is to remove the limb.  Crush syndrome and gangrene are two examples.  For that matter, cancer fits the description also: we have to remove tumors before we can treat the damage.

Applied to our spiritual battle, radical amputation means leaving no room for tolerance.  The disease of sin is so serious and so damaging that it must be violently cut out of our lives in order that we can live.  "Radical" amputation means that I don't wait until gangrene sets in to lop off the limb: I cut it off as soon as I have a papercut.  Sin is truly that damaging if left to fester.  It's worth losing a few fingers or a hand if it means I get to keep my heart.

This is what is meant by Jesus' metaphoric encouragement to His disciples that they should amputate limbs or eyes that offend them (Matt 5.30).  Of course that's not a literal command: what Christ was teaching was that it is far better to deprive ourselves of something that seems innocent or useful than to create a gateway that could potentially lead to sin.  It is better to enter heaven "maimed" than to tolerate sin that could utterly destroy our spiritual health.

Here's what that looks like.  If I'm dating a girl and I'm more likely to be tempted when we go to a certain place -- probably somewhere with few people, somewhere dark and romantic -- then I need to choose another location for the date.  If I'm more likely to be "handsy" after I've had a beer, then I need to not have a drink while on a date, or possibly consider giving up alcohol altogether if it has a tendency to alter my behavior.  If certain conversational topics bring me to the point where I begin to lust after my date, then I need to avoid those points of discussion.  If I struggle with pornography, then I need to install reliable filters, give someone I trust the password to Google Chrome, only use the internet in public locations, or maybe even forgo owning a computer altogether.  It is better to inconvenience myself by sacrificing my right to own a computer than to buy one and constantly battle the temptation to look at pornography.

If I don't take steps to protect myself from sin's allure, I could eventually find myself so enslaved to my desires that the redeeming Word of Christ is choked out of my heart by the weeds and thorns of lust growing up around it.  Through the gateway of tolerance, the disease which began in our limbs will spread all the way to our core.

Find accountability

Typically, we're ashamed of our sexual sins.  Though Hollywood might glorify the libido and promote cultural notions of sexual freedom, the reality is that sex is emotionally scarring when it is misused.  There's enough guilt packaged into sexual sins that makes it incredibly difficult to open up about the ways in which we've violated our own chastity.  We tend instead to bury the truth and keep our heads down -- lest somebody become wise to our failures.

By the same token, however, once we get past that initial hill and open our hearts to another believer, there is incredible encouragement to be found in the sharpening quality of iron on iron (Prov 27.17).  Contrary to popular belief, Christian fellowship isn't centered on potluck dinners after Sunday services.  Christian fellowship is more in line with James' encouragement that believers should pray for one another and confess their sins openly (Jas 5.16).  The writer of Hebrews took that assertion even further, stating that we should engage in this type of mutual exhortation on a daily basis in order to escape sin's tendency to harden our hearts (Heb 3.13).  This is a visceral and uncomfortable practice, but it engages us in a real, practical, and genuinely encouraging way.  We are all wounded soldiers helping each other limp to safety -- requesting aid where we are weak, lending strength where we are strong.  Though Christ has made us whole, there is still a long ways to go before we are completely rid the curse of sin and death.  Accountability is one of the most powerful tools we can utilize to overcome sexual temptation, simply because there is strength in numbers, and we are capable of pointing out flaws in our brother or sister that we might miss in ourselves.

Accountability is a powerful catalyst for change.

I love this song that a friend of mine wrote.  It captures the sentiment that I think many who struggle with sexual sin carry: I'm not worth saving.  I'm too far gone.  Don't waste your time on me.

If that's where you are, remember that God's grace is not conditional.  It doesn't matter how much wrong you've done.  Christ's death was once and for all, and the redemption He offers is enough to cover each and every failure.

So stop lying to yourself.

You aren't too far gone.

This isn't just who you are.

Your sin is a big deal and you do need to stop.

It isn't too late to repent.

God does love you.  He also hates your sin.  That's why He gave His Son -- so you could have something better.

People won't reject you or look at you differently if you open up to them.  In fact, they've most likely struggled in some of the same ways.

You need other believers to help carry you through.

Prayer and honest confession are instrumental in turning a losing battle with sexual temptation into a victory.

Practice godly disciplines

Paul frequently wrote in his epistles about "putting on" and "putting off" different behaviors.  The overarching idea is simply that it isn't enough to stop sinning: we must replace a bad behavior with a good behavior in order to truly implement change.  To overcome a tendency to lie, it's not enough to resolve to stop telling lies -- I must also begin to tell the truth.  To overcome the tendency to sin sexually with a woman, it's not enough to simply stop the act of sex -- I must also begin to seek help, to change my thinking about sex and my own desires, and to seek purity instead.

It's not enough to simply stop.  We must replace the bad behavior with a good one.

Don't misunderstand: we cannot atone for our sinfulness.  Heaping up all of our good deeds still won't stack up to the level of perfection, and that's what God requires.  However, once we have come to a saving, life-changing knowledge of Christ, suddenly we have the ability to stop sinning.  Through God's power, we have a newfound capacity to walk in obedience, whereas before our best attempt to get clean was to take a bath in the mire.  We no longer need to be perfect, because Christ was perfect on our behalf.  Yet we still strive for holiness, because wholehearted spiritual obedience is the natural result of genuine salvation.  That's why Paul talks about replacing poor behavior with good behavior -- not because we can somehow be good enough to earn heaven, but because we can now begin to train ourselves to practice obedience.

Interestingly, when we apply the practice of spiritual disciplines to areas where we aren't weak, it makes it easier to practice obedience in the areas where we are.  When Paul told the Thessalonian believers to "abstain from every kind of evil," he preceded that command with a list of other spiritual "to-dos" -- prayer, service, and the practice of such things as thankfulness, humility, and accepting instruction (1 Thess 5.14-22).  So, if I'm struggling with lust and choose to devote myself to prayer (honest confession, humble thanksgiving, and earnest supplication) and ministering to others (the moral opposite of lusting after them -- giving instead of taking), that sin will have fewer handholds in my heart to grasp.

Here's why this approach works: sin is pervasive.  It isn't neatly confined to one "area" of our hearts.  Sin has the quality of a liquid: conforming to the shape of its container, filling each part of our spirituality.  To do battle in one area is to do battle in them all, which is why we need to use all of the biblical resources available to us -- not just prayer, not just the Word of God, not just the wisdom of our spiritual elders.  To do battle through prayer is to hack at one tendril of sin -- the one that says God isn't enough and that sex should be my right to use how I see fit.  To do battle through service is to uproot the creeping vine that insists relationships exist for my benefit.  All of these areas converge on the same sin.

Furthermore, this approach takes the focus off the sin itself and places it on God instead.  Like Peter, we need to take our eyes off of the waves and put our focus back onto Jesus.  The battle is really His anyway -- we can't fight it alone.  That means that, instead of beating our heads against the struggle with a particular sin, we throw ourselves into desperate, prayerful dependence upon God's strength.   Instead of depending upon spiritual self-help books (and blogs), we can begin to replace the tendency to sin with steps of obedience, taken in God's uplifting grace.

That doesn't mean, of course, that I can tolerate my sinful behavior while trying to be spiritual.  That's often what we try, and it doesn't work.  Going to church, giving an extra-large tithe, and helping a fellow congregant move don't collectively substantiate for the glaring sin problems we are keeping hidden behind the doors of our hearts -- justified because we're "praying about them" and waiting for God to miraculously remove the temptation.  That "approach" isn't an approach.  It's spiritual laziness.  That reveals nothing but a desire to avoid hard tasks, and a heart that values sin over righteousness.

We have to address and tackle our specific struggles -- not just ignore them, and certainly not revel in them.  No amount of good behavior can compensate for any amount of bad, and no amount of blissful ignorance can remove the mountain of temptations that we face.  However, if I am truly developing other ares of my life, practicing spiritual disciplines, and actively attempting to replace my sinful acts with God-honoring behaviors, then the habits I'm forming and the choices I'm making will invariably impact my area of weakness.

Faith can move mountains, after all (Matt 17.20).

Learn to hate the sin

This may be the hardest step to implement.

Let's be honest.  Sin is fun -- especially sexual sin.  It's a forbidden delight.  It's thrilling.  It's addictive.

That's why we not only need to change our behavior, but also our perspective.

I'm convinced that until we learn to despise our wickedness, until we are truly brokenhearted over the state of our hearts, we will continue to wrestle with our sinfulness.  God extends mercy and comfort to those who mourn for their own sinful condition (Matt 5.4).  That doesn't just mean that I feel bad and wish I hadn't failed.  Truly mourning over my sin means being overcome with the type of grief that compels me to confess my wrongdoings -- both to God and to the ones whom I've offended -- as wicked, selfish, idolatrous violations of His perfect order, and inspires heart-changing repentance.

The most difficult command in the Bible to keep is to be holy the way God is.  That's because holiness isn't measured in degrees.  I'm not a mere 85% holy if I have sexual sin in my life.  Holiness is all-encompassing: either I'm made holy through Christ's redeeming blood, or I'm utterly wicked, stained scarlet by the sin I refuse to relinquish.  That type of black-and-white dichotomy doesn't jive with moral relativism, but it is absolutely biblical.  Either I'm for Christ or I'm against Him (Luke 11.23).  Therefore, if I'm truly a child of God, then I will desire to be like Him -- holy as He is holy -- and should no more crave the type of defiling wickedness that categorizes life without Him.

Am I going to be tempted?  Certainly.

Will there ever be a point at which I'll be immune to temptation's allure?  Probably not.

Remember, Christ Himself was tempted in all ways, even through His final moments on the cross.  If the Son endured temptation throughout His human life, then it only follows that we will also.

Am I going to fall?  Probably.  But a mistake is different than a characteristic behavior.

To have a lustful thought and confess it immediately is to hate sin and to pursue righteousness before God.  To allow lust to marinate, however -- to allow it room to grow from thought into action, and to avoid confessing that sin or to do anything about it -- is to make that sin characteristic.  At this point, it is no longer a mistake; it is a lifestyle.  Paul warned professing believers against thinking that they were truly saved if this was how they conducted themselves.  Those who make a practice of sexual immorality -- in other words, those whose lives are characterized by sin instead of righteousness -- cannot expect to enter into heaven (1 Cor 6.10).

If instead we recognize all of our desires can be fulfilled in Christ alone and train our hearts to earnestly desire heaven -- instead of becoming distracted by the deceitful allures of a broken world -- we can begin to hate sin with the same fervency God does.  To tolerate sin is to allow lust to linger; to eradicate sin and pursue Christ instead is to practice the righteous type of hatred for wickedness that characterizes God Himself.  "I will not set before my eyes anything that is worthless," David wrote in the Psalms, "I hate the work of those who fall away; it shall not cling to me" (Psa 101.3).  Hating the sin means allowing it no room for dominion in my heart.


Joseph flees Potiphar's wife, leaving his coat in her grasp.
The bottom line when it comes to overcoming temptation, is that -- above all else -- it is to be fled, not tolerated.  We do well to quote 1 Corinthians 10.3 when it comes to a personal struggle: "No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability."  But we always leave out the quintessential second half!  Paul continues, "But with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it."

Don't miss this.  According to this favorite passage of struggling Christians, endurance is predicated upon the way of escape.  Overcoming temptation isn't about me defeating it by sheer willpower.  That means that I should do everything in my power to be conscious of my temptation, taking all of the aforementioned measures to avoid it before I ever choose to face it.

99 times out of 100, when I try to endure without fleeing, I will fail.  99 times out of 100, I'll find myself immediately thereafter moping, feeling sorry for myself, and wondering why I even bothered trying.  Instead, like Joseph, we need to flee the scene of the crime -- before the crime is ever committed.  It is absolutely futile to screw up my face and insist, "No!  I'm better than this!" but do nothing to get away from the temptation.  At that point, I'm a heroin addict going through withdrawal, left alone with a loaded needle.

Temptation is always to be fled -- often literally.  When we fail, it's not because God tested us beyond our ability or failed to give us the strength He promised: it's that we ignored the prime opportunity to escape that He provided.  We need to use the lifelines He extends in order to overcome the battle with our own weaknesses.

Fleeing sin is not retreating.  It is not conceding the battlefield.  Certainly we take a stand against sin in the world -- against the errors of heretical teachings and against sin creeping into the body of Christ.  When it comes to our personal struggle with sin, however, doing battle means taking precautionary measures to stem the influence of our old way of living, because Christ already overcame sin.  The war is already won, the enemy already defeated.  Our job, therefore, is much less maintaining a self-defeating offensive than avoiding the lingering fallout -- keeping ourselves unstained by the world until the Savior returns in glory, to bring us home for all of eternity.


All that being said, you can practice all of these steps and still fall into sin.  These are not foolproof methods, and our hearts often deceive us.

Furthermore, we can pray with all our might for God to remove temptation from us, but He doesn't always take us out of harm's way.  Why?  Not because He enjoys watching us stumble, but because He will test our loyalty to Him.  How we respond to temptation is an indicator of how much we love Him.

We will never become perfect.  We've already irreparably tarnished our record.  However, we are made holy by the blood of the lamb, and the charges against us have been placed upon the Messiah -- the Redeemer.  Recompense for the debt of sin had to be made, and so Jesus placed His own perfection on the altar and paid the bill in full.  Through the freedom provided us via His sacrificial act, we have the potential to never choose sin again.  Most likely we'll still fail.  But if we take precautionary steps to approach temptation biblically and repent as soon as we stumble, we can wrap ourselves in the Holy Spirit and never again fall into a pattern of debilitating sinful behavior.

God's grace covers our sinfulness when we repent, so we don’t need to feel guilty anymore.

His Spirit empowers us to overcome in the future, so we don’t need to feel hopeless anymore.

He is a merciful God who forgives shortcomings.  He is a powerful God who provides the necessary strength to overcome temptation.

To Him be the glory, forever and ever.  Amen.