Can God’s Comfort Compare to the Pleasures of Sin?
In this fallen world, we’ve all experienced suffering, distress, and anguish—and we’ve all sought relief in sinful ways (Rom. 3:10). Maybe you’re seeking relief from a stressful job through secret pornography use. Perhaps experimenting with opposite-gender clothing makes you feel secure in a harsh world, or an unholy relationship has become your refuge when you feel forgotten and unknown by your spouse.
Men and women walking away from sinful patterns often lament the loss associated with leaving their sin behind. This makes sense because that choice sin feels vital. What our sin provides often feels like life to us; through it we experience comfort and pleasure. We feel loved, significant, in control.
What happens when we give those things up? Does Jesus provide the comfort and pleasure sin once supplied? Can God’s comfort and deliverance really compare with sin’s attractions?
The Psalmist’s Testimony
Psalm 116 introduces us to someone in agony. We can likely relate to the psalmist’s urgency and need: “I suffered distress and anguish” (v. 3), “O Lord, I pray, deliver my soul!” (v. 4), “I am greatly afflicted!” (v. 10), “All mankind are liars!” (v. 11).
Men and women walking away from sinful patterns often lament the loss associated with leaving their sin behind.
Yet we also see the perspective of one who has been delivered: “For you have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling; I will walk before the Lord in the land of the living” (vv. 8–9). He has received God’s comfort—and it delights his heart.
What God’s Comfort Doesn’t Provide
God doesn’t give his glory to another. He is Lord of all. He’s in control of everything and his ways are perfect. Our hearts long to be “little lords” and control our universe. When a single woman feels the sting of loneliness, she takes control over her feelings by watching things she knows are ungodly. When an older man doesn’t have the sexual intimacy he desires with his wife, he seeks control by chatting with much younger women online. In contrast, the comfort God gives is not something we can turn off and on to modulate our discomfort on demand. Receiving God’s comfort requires a heart willing to submit to his ways rather than grasping for control.
Modern life trains our bodies and minds for immediacy. One hundred years ago, no one would’ve believed that I can now take a small device out of my pocket and, within an hour, a person I’ve never met will deliver donuts to my door. A big draw toward sinful patterns is the immediacy of relief they provide. In the words of a former Harvest USA staff member, “God’s comfort doesn’t always rush with excitement in the same way sexual sin does.” We must endure a painful period of learning to fast from sinful comforts to receive the true comfort of God.
Our sinful patterns operate as a functional “escape valve.” We can simply opt-out of feeling sad, uncomfortable, or angry by soothing our hearts with sexual sin. The way of Christ is a way of self-denial and affliction. Who wants to sign up for that!? But take heart. God does provide a way of escape from temptation (1 Cor. 10:13). He also provides himself as a refuge for our souls. But how do we taste his comfort?
How Does God Comfort Us?
- By His Spirit
“I will not leave you as orphans, I will come to you” (John 14:18). How tender and personal is the comforting ministry of God’s Spirit! The Holy Spirit also gives counsel (John 14:26), promises to be with us forever (John 14:15), and, ultimately, points to Jesus (John 15:26). Are you willing to let go of your own ways of seeking comfort to receive the far-surpassing comfort of God’s Spirit?
- Through His Word
David says, “I rejoice at your word like one who finds great spoil” (Ps. 119:162) Why would David write this? We see the answer in Jesus’s words to the Pharisees: “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life” (John 5:39–40).
The Scriptures are a precious comfort because they bear witness about Jesus, in whom we have eternal life. God’s Word reveals Christ to us! Read his Word and pray, “Lord, show me the beauty of Christ in the Word.” This will bring great comfort to your weary soul.
- Through His People
The Church is designed to be a source of help, comfort, and encouragement to the Christian. God’s people are the hands and feet of Jesus to be used by God to comfort and help weary and afflicted believers. Safe Christians can provide a refuge in your pain and remind you of the truth when you’re struggling and weary with sin.
- By Faith
The life of the Christian is a life of faith (2 Cor. 5:7). Therefore, much of the comfort we receive is by faith. This seems to be one of the most difficult pivot points in getting free from ensnaring sin patterns. How our hearts long for the immediate, physical, and familiar when we’re suffering and need comfort. Take heart, brother or sister in Christ. You will one day see Jesus face to face! You will have the comfort you long for in all its fullness. Your Savior will personally wipe away your tears (Rev. 21:4).
What If I Don’t Feel It?
Practically speaking, this may all sound unrealistic. I can appreciate skepticism if you’ve never had an experience of victory over temptation through the felt comforts of Christ.
Sinful comfort feels immediately satisfying, but it’s an illusion. It will only draw you deeper into loneliness and despair. God’s comfort sustains, protects, and nourishes your soul.
At one point, I deeply struggled to receive Jesus’s comfort—his real comfort—and longed to know what others were speaking of. I clung to Hebrews 12, where we see two benefits of submitting to the Lord’s discipline. It yields the “peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” and, more stunningly, causes us to “share in his holiness” (Heb. 12:10–11). I had to embrace the mindset that I was being trained by the Lord himself. I began looking to a future yield, to this precious “peaceful fruit of righteousness” that my heart increasingly desired. This takes endurance. It means taking individual steps of faith—without the feelings—as you wait for your “spiritual muscles” to grow in your practice of communion with Christ through exercising your faith.
Sinful comfort feels immediately satisfying, but it’s an illusion. It will only draw you deeper into loneliness and despair. God’s comfort sustains, protects, and nourishes your soul. Pray honestly and ask, “Lord, teach me to receive the comfort only you can provide.” The Lord longs to answer when you call out to him.
“Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you.” (Isaiah 30:18)