Empathetic groans chorused through the group as each person confessed the week’s struggles. “It’s just too difficult,” one complains. “It seems like I get to a point in my lust where I am powerless to resist acting out.” “Yeah,” the man next to him chimes in. “I know exactly how that feels! But the Bible says Jesus does too. He had the same temptations we do!” Everyone knows he is referring to Hebrews 4:15, but a few silently wonder, “Is that what that verse means?”

It is vital that we know Jesus as a sympathetic high priest who “in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” This is surely a source of great comfort and encouragement. But there is also confusion over these words. Does it mean that Jesus experienced every temptation that I experience? We must deal carefully here in order to confidently claim the encouragement this verse promises. Here are some thoughts:

1. There are senses in which Jesus’ temptation experiences differed from yours.

Difference in particulars. First, let us nuance our understanding by pointing out that there is some difference between Jesus’ experience of temptation and ours. He did not experience the exact same specific temptations that you have. It’s easy to think of particular temptations he did not experience. Jesus was not tempted to wipe his phone to hide his porn from his employer. Jesus never struggled with a compulsion to open an incognito browser on his phone to look at pornography. The point is that Jesus did not share your exact circumstances and, in that sense, did not experience the exact same temptations that you do. This is obvious. So this verse is saying something other than that. In the same way, Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 10:13, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man.” He does not mean everyone has shared the exact same temptation events. Have you ever been tempted to melt your jewelry into a golden calf to worship? I didn’t think so.

No, the sympathy that this verse says Jesus has for you does not depend on his sharing your exact circumstances of temptation. You need not imagine him facing your exact temptations—in fact, you ought not do so. This is because of another major difference in his temptations…

Difference in heart inclination. Jesus did not have a sinful nature; we do. We are born with hearts inclined toward sin. And the sinful patterns of thought and feeling generated by our hearts are themselves a major source of temptation for us. Yes, the inclinations and desires of our hearts are both sin and temptation. Do you need a clear example of how something can be both sin and temptation? Consider someone breaking the tenth commandment in his heart, coveting something God has not given. That person is sinning, breaking the tenth commandment. Yet that very sin constitutes the experience of temptation to commit further sin, to steal or commit adultery. Some theologians have found it helpful to describe temptations as being either external to us or internal. The internal temptations are those that are caused by the sinful momentum of our wayward hearts. This momentum meets any temptation coming from outside of us with a willingness by which we both give in to and even pursue sin. Jesus did not have this. His heart was always rightly ordered and steadfast in love of God. He never added his own sinful desires to the temptations that came at him externally, for he had no sinful desires. Remember, he was “yet without sin.”[1]

2. How then do we rightly understand “in every respect tempted as we are?”

In regard to the deepest dynamic. Jesus understands the dynamic of every possible temptation. This is true even though he hasn’t experienced all of the particulars. This is because all sin is an expression of deeper issues of the heart. Every sin, at its deepest level, entails turning from loving, trusting, and worshiping God. This is why Jesus can call loving God the first and greatest commandment. And every sin with reference to other people is a failure to love people as a fitting response to knowing the love of God. Every temptation we experience boils down to these two issues, and every temptation Jesus experienced was the same. He understands the deepest dynamic that characterizes your every temptation.

In regard to the suffering entailed in resisting temptation. But the main point in Jesus’ sympathetic identification with us has reference to the suffering that obedience and resistance to temptation entails. “For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering” (Hebrews 2:10), and, “For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted” (Hebrews 2:18), and, “Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered” (Hebrews 5:8). Temptation is a “test” of our willingness to pay the cost of suffering for obedience. Jesus fully experienced just how painful and difficult obedience in the face of temptation can be.

In this regard, the fact that Jesus’ heart was not inclined toward sin makes his experience of the cost of obedience more complete than any of ours. When temptation comes, our inclination is to give in quickly rather than to fully accept the cost of obedience. Not so with Jesus. He was willing to follow through against sin to the fullest extent. He knows how difficult your temptation is, how much it hurts to obey. You can be sure of this because it hurt him more than it has ever hurt any of us. This is why the author can apply this to the encouragement of his readers, saying, “In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood” (Hebrews 12:4). You have not yet felt the full weight, but Jesus has. Even if you are called to bleed and die in order to resist sin, he has been there and is a sympathetic high priest for you.

Jesus is exactly the savior, and the brother, you need in your fight. He does know how difficult this is—and he is able to save because he never sinned.

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[1] You don’t want Jesus to identify so closely with you that he becomes disqualified to be your savior. See John Piper’s expression of this in this article.

You can also watch the video, “How Does a Sinless Savior Help Us Sympathetically?,” which corresponds to this blog.

The book of Hebrews assures us that Jesus is our sympathetic high priest. But how can those who battle with persistent sin struggles make real spiritual use of these assurances? Learn more in this new video from Jim Weidenaar.

To learn more about this topic, consider purchasing one of our resources, such as Hide or Seek: When Men Get Real with God About Sex by John Freeman and How to Say No When Your Body Says Yes by Dan Wilson. When you buy these books from Harvest USA, 100% of your purchase will benefit our ministry.

You can also read the blog, “Jesus Understands Your Temptations,” which corresponds to this video.

In my last post, I talked about what 1 Corinthians 7:4 does not say. I argued that the passage does not, in any way, support sex on demand in marriage. Today, I’d like to consider what it does say. The picture of sex in marriage that these verses present is radically countercultural in our world. In these verses, both the husband and the wife are called to give to the other spouse sexually, with intentional, purposeful deliberateness. The picture is not one of stimulus-response, passion-driven, sex-drive satisfaction.

To use classical categories, sex is described as an expression of agape love, not eros love. Agape is the intentional, deliberate, self-sacrificial love with which God loves us, and with which we are then called to love each other. Eros is the passion of sexual desire. Sex in marriage may obviously entail eros, but it is to be primarily led by agape.

In our culture, eros is revered, even worshiped, as the highest experience, the key to human flourishing, the foundation and requisite of any life-partner relationship, even in marriage. Our culture expects the passion of erotic attraction to be the initiating and sustaining dynamic of any such relationship—so much so that we might say that eros itself is the goal, and relationships only exist or continue inasmuch as they serve eros.

But think of how destructive this eros-led view is to a marriage: A couple plunges into marriage, sure that they have found (or have been found by!) true love. But when the daily, mundane, and unpleasant work of living with another sinful being comes to the fore, the erotic attraction to each other fades or disappears altogether. They’ve lost “that lovin’ feeling.” Sex ends. The relationship requires increasingly harder work, even as their motivation to do that hard work disappears. Of course, this happens because the foundation of the relationship was romantic eros. And the problem is not just the fact that spontaneous romantic erotic arousal fades for the married couple. Equally destructive is the fact that the capacity for arousal does not disappear—it just leaves this relationship. Eros is fickle, elusive, and spontaneous, with a spontaneity that is just as likely to attach itself to someone outside of the marriage. Or, frustrated by its elusiveness, a husband or wife can harness it to their imaginations via pornography or romance novels. Many marriages don’t survive this.

But wait. Perhaps you have heard this often. Christians usually advise that the marriage relationship be based on more than sexual attraction. But 1 Corinthians 7 says something much less common; it extends this principle to sexuality itself. In other words, you may have heard that a marriage relationship should not be led by sexual arousal. In these verses, God tells us that sex should not be led by sexual arousal, at least not primarily! The picture that the apostle Paul paints is not of two people waiting for the rush of romantic attraction to come upon them. Our culture worships moments like this. Such a synchronous alignment of erotic attraction is deemed proof you have found the “real thing.” But, in reality, this is only a firm basis for something as temporary and fleeting as a one-time hookup, nothing more. No, these verses teach us that not only marriage in the broader sense, but also the sexual expression of that marriage, is to be founded in, shaped by, motivated by, and sustained by intentional, deliberate, self-sacrificial agape love.

Perhaps you can imagine some of the implications of this radical perspective on sex and marriage. I will mention a few.

If you are married:

  • Your sex life is not captive to the whims of erotic attraction. If husband and wife are motivated to move toward the other sexually on the basis of an intentional commitment to give to the other sacrificially, sex will not be limited to those rare moments when the erotic stars align. Isn’t it obvious that a couple applying Paul’s instruction will have sex more often? The irony is that this will result in much more eros in a marriage, not less; however, it will not be the driving force, but a fruit of agape.
  • There is hope for your marriage, despite your personal history of eros. Many married people have lengthy, personal histories of being led by eros. Not only have they learned to be slaves of spontaneous erotic attraction, but that attraction has habitually been attached to something other than their spouse, like other individuals (i.e., old flames) or pornographic images. The memory and power of these habits of eros have no respect for your marriage vows. If you continue to be led by eros, these old habits will constantly intrude and compete quite effectively against your spouse for your loyalty. But if you make even your sexuality subject to your agape love for your spouse, the two of you will build new habits of eros on a foundation that your old memories can’t touch. Having renounced their power to control you, these old, erotic masters will increasingly lose their ability to draw you away from your spouse.

If you are single:

  • Your sex life is not captive to the whims of erotic attraction. The world and your own flesh are trying to seduce you into patterns of slavery to erotic attraction that will leave you empty, broken, discarded, and hopeless. Now is the time to learn to receive God’s agape love and give it to others. This love is your eternal inheritance; it, not eros, is the key to human flourishing. Practice treating it as such. And if, in the future, God brings you into marriage, the eros you enjoy will depend upon the agape love in that marriage. Be wary of how pornography, the media, and peers seek to train you otherwise.

Take heart that Christ came to redeem all aspects of sexuality, including your beliefs about sexual attraction and love.

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You can also watch the video, “What About the Sexless Marriage?,” which corresponds to this blog.

Let’s suppose…the husband is truly repentant and growing, but he also feels like his wife’s coldness to him is making it more difficult. Is 1 Corinthians 7:1–5 relevant for him?

To learn more about this topic, consider purchasing one of our resources, such as What’s Wrong with a Little Porn When You’re Married? by R. Nicholas Black and God, You, and Sex: A Profound Mystery by David White. When you buy these books from Harvest USA, 100% of your purchase will benefit our ministry.

You can also read the blog, “The Whims of Erotic Attraction and 1 Corinthians 7,” which corresponds to this video.

Let’s meet this issue head on: Sexual abuse is possible within marriage. Wherever physically or emotionally coercive behavior infects a married couple’s sexual relationship, it is abusive. Any such behavior needs to be confronted with a call to repentance.

Some will contend, “But doesn’t the Bible say that a husband has authority over his wife’s body? Doesn’t that give him the right to sex on demand and in the way he prescribes?” 1 Corinthians 7:4 does say, “For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does.” Husbands sometimes invoke this passage to defend themselves or to complain against their wives. Do they have a legitimate point? Most of us instinctively say “no,” but how do we defend that? Here are three ways to explain that this passage does not justify sex on demand, even in marriage.

The issue in this passage is not “sex on demand” but “forced celibacy.”

It is important to note the question that this passage answers. Paul begins, “Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: ‘It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.’” Whether this is a Corinthian statement or his own, Paul begins this discussion by acknowledging that there is some moral value to voluntary celibacy. But Paul then proceeds to argue not only for marriage as a check against immorality but also to warn against “depriving one another” in marriage. Apparently, the matter to which Paul is responding involved valuing celibacy to such an extent that not only were men being encouraged to refrain from marrying, but even those who were married were encouraged to eschew sex altogether. In other words, the presenting issue is husbands thinking swearing off sex with their wives would be a spiritual virtue. They thought they would win religious points by giving up sex in their marriages.

So this is not a question of “sex on demand” but a question of “forced celibacy.” This is about a husband unilaterally deciding that there will be no sex in “his” marriage—and thinking that in doing so he increases his righteousness. Paul corrects this by pointing out that this is a violation of the wife’s rights. Consigning a woman to a sexless marriage was a serious sin, with implications much bigger than deprivation of pleasure; it would condemn her to barrenness (see the story of Onan and Tamar in Genesis 38:6–10 for an example of what God thinks about this). 1 Corinthians 7:11 provides evidence that some likely carried this celibacy virtue to the next logical extent: Divorcing one’s wife would be best—perhaps with the “kind” motive of freeing her to have children with some less righteous bloke. But that is not Paul’s solution. Rather, he explains that sex in marriage is a duty and a right; forced celibacy is wrong.

However, saying, “You should not force celibacy on your spouse,” is not the same as, “You must give sex to your spouse on demand.” Many times, circumstances or differences in mood or desire result in one spouse saying, “Not now, dear.” Such circumstances are not what this passage is talking about; they do not even come close to approaching the forced celibacy suggested here. It is incorrect to use this passage to deny someone the right to say, “No.”

Responding to a one-sided question from the man’s argument, Paul’s answer is pointedly mutual.

I find it ironic that the presenting issue in this passage involves men supposing it virtuous to deprive their wives of sex, while it is more common nowadays to hear men invoking this passage to complain of being deprived by their wives. Yet in either of these scenarios, part of the man’s problem is that he thinks it’s all about him. Paul corrects this by taking a statement speaking one-sidedly from the man’s perspective and answering it in a pointedly mutual way. Unlike other passages in which Paul gives differing instructions, different roles, or different authority to the husband and the wife, here, in the context of sex, he takes pains to emphasize perfect equality and mutuality. Beginning in the second half of verse 2, Paul gives a series of parallel statements, alternating speaking the exact same words to husbands and to wives. In fact, he carefully makes sure that even the order of address does not favor one over the other: In verse 3, the husband is addressed first, and then in verse 4, the wife is addressed first. In verse 5, they are addressed as a couple: “Do not deprive each other….”

This mutuality makes clear that Paul is commanding not an attitude insisting on rights, but rather of giving rights. He is calling on married couples to give of themselves for the good of the other, instead of seeking to get their “needs” met. As Dave White summarizes, “God gave us 1 Corinthians 7:1–5 because spouses need to be taught that selflessness must govern the marriage bed, and serving each other is the path to deep joy and fulfillment.”¹ This mutuality also creates a logical problem for the would-be abusive husband: If he would demand sex from her, claiming his authority over her body, won’t he need to use his own body to do it? But according to the passage, he doesn’t have authority over his own body; rather, she does. The mutuality of the authority makes all coercion and demand logically impossible.

This passage is best understood in the light of other commands of Scripture.

This passage’s call to mutual, selfless service is consistent with the rule of love expressed throughout the Bible, so it is right to group these verses with passages such as Philippians 2:4: “Let each of you look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others”—and Ephesians 5:25—“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” A husband who knows and submits to his Bible will never use 1 Corinthians 7 to control or manipulate his wife.

¹God, You, and Sex: A Profound Mystery (Greensboro: New Growth Press, 2019) 97.

I used to joke when I was in retail, “This job would be great, if only there were no people!” Well, now we’re all finding out what it’s like to live, work, and minister away from all people. It isn’t so great after all. Here at Harvest USA, we are trying to keep up our direct ministry to individuals as much as possible using technology. But there is no denying that the realities of social distancing are profoundly affecting us and those to whom we are ministering. There are peculiar challenges during this time for those struggling with sexual sins. But there are also unique opportunities. Perhaps this is true for all of us.

Let’s consider the challenge of loneliness. Many people feel lonely whether or not they are physically distanced from others. For a lot of us, the challenge of this time is not so much being away from many people but being forced to relate more intensely to just a few people in our own households! Nevertheless, many are aware of a deep and enduring loneliness, a dull heartache arising from a sense of isolation, of not being affirmed, not being valued, not being desired, or not being known by anyone. Sexual sin offers a temporary taste of being loved, being desired, being valued. It is a powerful counterfeit—but a counterfeit it surely is. Sexual sin satisfies the hunger of loneliness the same way cotton candy satisfies an empty stomach: a blast of pleasure and energy that dissolves quickly and ends in a sugar crash.

This season has the potential to amplify this ache of loneliness. We may have always been lonely, but the constant warnings to stay away from others only causes our minds to dwell on it more. But more than that, the practice of social distancing is frighteningly similar to the process by which we descend into slavery to sin. It is a process of retreating into isolation. In a cruel irony, sin as a counterfeit cure for loneliness is sought at the price of further isolation. We lie. We sneak. We develop a dark double life. Increasingly, all our thoughts and plans are serving our inner world of escape. It is a lonely place. At Harvest USA, we are continually coaxing people out of their isolation into communion with God and God’s people. But now we have to stay away from each other. If feels wrong. It grieves us. And in the grief, the counterfeit looks good again.

But if this season poses a challenge, it also poses an opportunity. Change is always an opportunity. For many, the cycle of temptation and sin becomes habitual and almost ritualized. But now, perhaps, your entire schedule has been upended. This is an opportunity to break from those habitual patterns and establish new ones. Physical social distancing does not have to mean isolation. Now that you must create new daily patterns, let them be patterns of reaching out in mercy and honesty, even if it must be via technology. Let this be a time to establish new patterns of prayer—God is with us. Perhaps that is one reason he is allowing this; perhaps our lives had become too full of routine distractions, superficial relationships, and secret sin. None of these relieved our loneliness, so he is stripping them away. Let us get to know him, because today is the day of opportunity.

This is an opportunity not only to know God, but to know ourselves. Your circumstances have changed—radically—but you have not. This can help you see yourself more clearly. What do I mean by this? We at Harvest USA often stress that our circumstances, while having powerful influence upon us, do not determine what we do. It is our hearts that determine our behavior. By “heart,” we don’t mean our emotions or the mysterious seat of romantic whim so celebrated in our culture. We mean the biblical concept of the heart as our inner person, what we value, desire, and think at our deepest.

This is the place from which Jesus said all evil deeds come, and so God targets the heart in his gospel work in us. This great change in your circumstances and life patterns, this upheaval and removal of your routine distractions, can serve to display areas of your own heart that were previously hidden from you behind the curtain of routine. What you feel as loneliness is connected not only to your circumstances; it arises from deep and powerful desires and thoughts in your heart.

This is a time for you to see those desires more clearly and to strive to let the light of God’s love and the gospel to shine on them. God knows you more than any person—better than you know yourself. This can be a time of significant growth in your fellowship with him, which is the beginning of the end of loneliness. Take the opportunity.

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You can also watch the video, The Crucible Is for Silver, which corresponds to this blog.

It is an incredible gift that the Lord would use difficult circumstances like the coronavirus pandemic to graciously give you significant insight into yourself and to change you into the image of Jesus.

You can also read the blog, Loneliness in a Time of Social Distancing, which corresponds to this video.

For additional reading, you might consider God, You, and Sex: A Profound Mystery by David White or Hide or Seek: When Men Get Real with God About Sex by John Freeman. When you buy these books from Harvest USA, 100% of your purchase will benefit our ministry.

The book of Proverbs is given to us in the form of parents having conversations with their children. Some of the repeated topics in these conversations are sex and sexual immorality. In this video, Jim Weidenaar examines four characteristics of the parents’ talks in Proverbs that we can apply to conversations with our kids about porn: Be proactive. Be repetitive. Be positive. Be realistic.

To learn more about this topic, consider purchasing Raising Sexually Healthy Kids by David White or Explaining LGBTQ+ Identity to Your Child by Tim Geiger. When you buy these minibooks from Harvest USA, 100% of your purchase will benefit our ministry.

You can also read the blog, Six Dangers of Porn to Teach Your Kids, which corresponds to this video.

A middle-aged man languishes in self-conscious shame and isolation as he sits in church week after week. For over 20 years, he has struggled with sexual sin. Never has he asked for help or confessed to another person. He is convinced, not only by his own shame but also by the heated rhetoric in his church against his type of sin, that this is the worst sin to which he could confess. He must never let anyone know.

Are some sins worse than others? No, and yes. A famous instance of this qualified answer is found in the Westminster Shorter Catechism. On the no side, “every sin deserves God’s wrath and curse;” on the yes side, “some sins in themselves, and by reason of several aggravations, are more heinous in the sight of God than others” (Q.s 83, 84).

The Larger Catechism expands on this to give a list of examples of these “aggravations” (Q. 151). Many people automatically place sexual sins in a “worse than other sins” category. Is this a proper and helpful application of this idea of aggravations of sins?

My goal here is only to give some preliminary considerations.  I start with the observation that there is a sense that “not all sins are equally heinous” is common sense and obvious. Sampling a grape from the produce aisle is not as heinous as stealing a Mercedes from the parking lot. It is common sense that some sins are worse than others, but we need to be very careful how we use this idea. Here are four perspectives that bear on how we should approach this issue.

Our Natural Spiritual Blindness 

When Jesus says in Luke 6:41, “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” he is calling attention to a tendency that is common to us in our fallen condition, our tendency to think less of our own sin and more of others’.

This tendency flows from our basic sinful instinct towards self-justification. Placing attention on another’s sin distracts attention from our own. Also, we find it easier to recognize and condemn any sin that we see in someone else of which we consider ourselves innocent. This extends to the question of discerning “worseness” of sins. We tend to think the worst sins are the ones with which we don’t struggle.

We tend to think the worst sins are the ones with which we don’t struggle.

What does Jesus give us as a corrective to this tendency? We should assume the opposite is true. Our own sin is worse. My brother’s sin is a speck; mine is a log. If we are alert to our own spiritual tendency to self-justify, and to the grave danger that poses, we will be wise to magnify our own sin. Indeed, “the saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost” (1 Timothy 1:15).

The Nature of Our Concern 

If our concern is to pass judgment, rather than to love and shepherd, we are immediately on the wrong track. This is not unrelated to the first point above, for it is our desire to confirm the relative sinfulness of others while minimizing our own that also motivates us to act as if we are a judge over them. A few verses earlier in Luke Jesus says, “Judge not, and you will not be judged.” James warns, “There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?” (James 4:12).

Of course—as is usually pointed out in any discussion of judging—this isn’t to say there is no place for discerning the sinfulness of actions or even considering the relative gravity of sins. But it does speak to our purpose in doing so. For what purpose is it helpful to discern the relative gravity of a sin?

I have already stated it above; to love and shepherd. Pastors and elders, especially, are called to give guidance and discipline to help those under their care to progress in their faith and Christian life. In doing this, they cannot treat all sins exactly alike; they must wisely discern the course of interaction with each person and situation. This includes carefully discerning, among other things, the relative gravity of any sin involved.

Let me illustrate the difference between a judgmental concern and a shepherding concern.  Imagine two different scenarios. In the first, a roomful of people conducting a campaign rally for one of the presidential candidates sees a man enter the room wearing paraphernalia of the opposite party. In the second scenario, a roomful of doctors at an oncology conference sees a man enter with a prominent cancerous mole on his face. In both of these scenarios, the situation is perceived with special gravity, and the reaction is strong.  But the nature of the concern is completely different.

The Complexity of the Factors 

Often, when this topic is discussed, sin is compared in general categories, in the abstract. But in real life, sin doesn’t exist in the abstract. We deal with unique individuals with complicated histories and contexts. This is what the long list of possible “aggravations” in the Larger Catechism is encouraging shepherds to consider.

The context of a particular sin can be considered in multiple categories. If we isolate one category from all others, the issue may seem fairly simple. For example, if the category is “how fully acted out is the sin,” we would say it is worse to actually steal a grape than to fantasize about stealing one; or, if the category is “extent of harm,” we would say it is worse to steal a car than to steal a grape. But what if we ask if it is worse to fantasize about stealing a car or to actually steal a grape? Suddenly it is not so clear. In real life, each instance of sin is even much more complicated. Broad, generalized judgments are often not helpful.

The Common Root of All Sin

In the end, any one of the sins humanity produces is more like every other sin than it is different. This is because every sin grows from a common root. “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it. For he who said, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ also said, ‘Do not murder’” (James 2:10, 11). In other words, our rebellion against God is our root sin, and every other way we sin is another expression of that treason.

In the end, any one of the sins humanity produces is more like every other sin than it is different.

This helps us understand the other half of the Catechism’s answer: “Every sin deserves God’s wrath and curse.” It is this perspective that encourages us, rather than dwelling on the sins we think are “worse,” to give more attention to the sins we think are small and inconsequential.  For behind their respectability and unremarkableness, these sins conceal a heart committed to the darkest evil.

These four points do not answer all the questions about this issue. But they give necessary perspective on the whole discussion.

What makes someone act out sexually in a sinful way? What compels a believer, who wants to follow Christ, to embrace specific actions or a life that he knows to be wrong?

When I am trying to help a man discern why sexual sin has a grip on his life, I ask a lot of questions: “What were you thinking and feeling in the events and interactions leading up to your season of acting out?” There is always something that is a trigger for behavior.

Here is what I hear quite often, a common category of responses: “I was exhausted,” “I felt empty,” “I’d been working so hard; I figured I deserved this pleasure,” “I felt worn out, numb,” and “I felt like there are so many demands on me—I feel no joy.”

More often than not, these experiences do not immediately lead to sexual sin. This feeling of exhaustion, however, marks the beginning of a process. Initially, these men respond “innocently,” going to any number of “recreational” activities—watching TV, surfing the internet, checking Facebook, app surfing on the phone, and playing video games. Seems innocent enough.

Whatever the activity, what seems common is that it is, for the most part, not an actual activity; it’s passive—physically, mentally, and emotionally passive. These things represent the opposite of whatever has the men exhausted. They are tired from doing, doing, doing, and this is their way to stop, to rest. Unfortunately, these “restful” activities almost always morph into sexual sin.

There seems to be an unbroken line from seemingly harmless pastimes to the sinful habit that is destroying these men. Why? Could it be that these things are a counterfeit Sabbath?

I don’t want to focus here on arguments about what one may or may not do on Sunday; my concern is about what the heart of Sabbath means. Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27).  It was given to give us rest, but not just rest, rest in God. Sabbath is a ceasing from our efforts, striving, and anxiety at meeting our needs and desires; it is a refreshment in and celebration of our dependence on God and his faithful provision for us.

In other words, when we are exhausted, God wants us to be refreshed in him. When we are anxious, God wants us to find peace in him. When we are weary, God wants us to find rest in him.

When we are weary, God wants us to find rest in him.

Why is this so hard for us to do? I think it is because we have given ourselves for so long to counterfeit Sabbaths—passive entertainment and easy, self-focused pleasures. Our patterns of recreation are predictable and reliable; we are in control. However, receiving refreshment from God when we are weary requires something we can’t do—God must show up.

This means Sabbath is an act of faith. It is a basic exercise of trust—trust first that God himself is faithful to forgive us and give us eternal life in Christ, but also trust that he will sustain us and meet our needs in the here and now.

In the first biblical story of Sabbath observance, in Exodus 16, God sets up a test of trust around his giving of the Manna. On each of the first five days, the Israelites were to limit their gathering to one day’s provision—any more than that spoiled. But on the sixth day, they were to gather two days’ worth, then rest completely on the seventh day, trusting that what had already been given would not spoil. This was not easy for them to learn.

If for six days the Israelites were striving in their own strength, meeting their needs on their own, dependent on their own ability to gather enough bread to sustain themselves, then resting on the seventh day was completely foreign to them.  And that is, in fact, the way it went. On day seven, many just continued as if they had to meet their own needs without God’s help or direction.

“But,” you may be thinking, “what does one day of the week have to do with a sin I struggle with 24/7?”  In other words, “Isn’t Sabbath a Sunday concern? How does that help me on Friday night?”

Well, Sabbath is not really about one day out of seven. Consider again the Sabbath experience God designed for the Israelites in Exodus 16.  Didn’t the faith exercise on day seven change the way they experienced days 1-6? Of course, the point was not just one day, but regular, daily life.

So much of our sin is the fruit of seeking refuge in false gods—activities or people—that give us an immediate payback of what feels like rest.  At Harvest USA, we call that “autonomy,” the most basic sinful orientation of the heart, where you determine what you need to meet the problems you face in life, apart from God and his instruction.

So much of our sin is the fruit of seeking refuge in false gods—activities or people—that give us an immediate payback of what feels like rest. 

Of course, that is a delusion. In the end, the false gods we turn to for relief eventually lead us into dark places that trap us and hold us in bondage. Before we know it, the relief we find in sexual sin brings despair and hopelessness.

But Jesus still says to us, “Come to me, all you who are weary…” (Matthew 11:28). He gives us a better way.

How do we make Jesus our refuge from our weariness?  Start by making some choices to rest in specific ways on Sunday that require you to trust in him rather than in your own efforts.

The example of the Israelites is ours, too. If we don’t have this posture on Sunday, this understanding about the heart of Sabbath rest, then we won’t have it any other day. You will continue to “rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil” (Psalm 127:2), and in your weariness you will continue to go to your own resources, to the sin that speaks its own promise of rest.

If the Israelites rested in God on the Sabbath, it would be an act of faith in the idea that God was truly with them and committed to meeting their every need. This would change even the way they gathered bread on every other day. They would, in the words of Deuteronomy 8:3, “not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”

At a heart level, where they received their rest determined how they worked.

This principle applies to the men I talk to who habitually end up using porn as they “rest” after hard labor. The goal is not adherence to a set of religious rules about one day of the week. It is a comprehensive change in posture toward both work and rest, from a posture of independent self-rule to one of grateful dependence on God.


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