Along with the sense of guilt, long-term sinful habits and hidden desires create a deep sense of shame. Shame is what happens when we begin to identify directly with our sin—when we view our sin as what we are, rather than something we do. In the face of mounting guilt and an inability to change, our sinful behaviors or desires become a source of personal identity.

One brother recounted the shame of being called a “jerk off” as a teen because masturbation had been a central part of his life since early childhood. Since he was secretly enslaved to this behavior and lived with profound guilt for years, he believed he was a “jerk off” in a very deep sense

The power of shame lies in the “hiddenness” of our behavior or desires. Shame grows and overwhelms us when we keep things hidden in the dark. We were created by God for intimacy, to be known by others. But in our shame, we are too scared to let others see who we really are, to know the worst things about us. As a result, we live with the nagging sense that if others truly knew us, they would reject us. We become committed to hiding behind a mask and living a life that is a lie. We begin to project an illusion for others to see, but this just intensifies the problem. As our hypocrisy increases, so does our shame. As shame deepens, we become more committed to the façade. We enter a relational cycle as destructive and ensnaring as our struggle with sexual sin.

Why is shame so destructive? It always results in estrangement from others. Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean you are a social outcast. Many people wrestling with deep shame are the “life of the party.” Everybody knows and loves them, but inwardly they are living a life of hiding, desperately afraid of others finding out. They live with a constant fear of exposure. Although they know they are well-liked, shame makes them think, “Would people really like me if they knew____?” It may appear that they have many rich friendships, but inwardly they are deeply alone because no one truly knows them. The pressure of living a lie is a crushing burden that often leads to depression, seemingly unrelated anxieties, other destructive behaviors like self harm or substance abuse, etc.

For others, their sense of shame leads to both inward and outward isolation. Instead of living a public life that is a sham, they increasingly withdraw from relationships, both because of their fear of being “found out” and the increasing pain of living with others without being truly “known” by them. There is a cost to our souls when we live an illusion before others, never known for who we truly are.

The only way to find freedom from this cycle is to risk exposure. Listen to the promise of 1 John 1:7: “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (ESV). Did you hear the double promise? If we humble ourselves and risk exposure by “walking in the light,” instead of hiding in the dark in our shame, God promises we will have fellowship—genuine intimacy—with each other, and we’ll get what we’ve been longing for: cleansing from our sin. The only way out of the cycle of sinful behavior and relational estrangement is to be truly known. Only honesty and vulnerability with others in the body can deliver us from both shame and slavery to sin.

How is shame manifested in your life? Are you outgoing but hiding, withdrawn, or in between? In which relationships are you most “hidden?”

This excerpt is taken from Harvest USA’s workbook for men, Sexual Sanity for Men, Recreating Your Mind in a Crazy Culture, published by New Growth Press. This workbook is excellent for small groups and one-on-one mentoring. You can check out this workbook and other resources in the Harvest USA bookstore at www.harvest-usa-store.com.

Updated 5.8.2017

Do you know the experience of guilt? Sometimes it is acute, a stabbing pain in your gut. At other times, it is a dull, gnawing in your soul—a vague feeling of “wrongness” about life, and when you stop to focus on why, the memory of your sin floods back. You long to be free from guilt, but as your failure persists, the pain continues. As a Christian, the guilt you experience over your sin is unavoidable.

You know the truth. You know how God calls you to live. You know the things you should be doing and the things you shouldn’t.

Worse, our experience of guilt is compounded because sexual sin is always clustered together with other sins. Lies and deceit are the constant companions of sexual sin. We squander time and resources, neglecting our calling as husbands, fathers, sons, employees, church members, etc. Sometimes we steal to support our behaviors. All these things deepen the reality of our guilt.

Because we keep our sin hidden, guilt surfaces in other ways and impacts our relationships with others. We are irritable and impatient. We become withdrawn and sullen. Sometimes we rage, even scaring ourselves. Even if you manage to hide your behavior for decades, you need to realize that there is always fallout from sin. Sin always infects our relationships with God and others. Because of the reality of your guilt, spending the evening looking at porn online will impact who you are at work the next day—how well you are able to function, interact with others, and so on. When you stop at the adult bookstore on the way home from work, it affects who you are at the dinner table with your family. When you spent time at work having a sexual chat online, you will be a different man at the home Bible study that night. If you are having suggestive conversations with a co-worker, it will determine how you interact with your wife once the kids are in bed. You may be able to hide your behavior, but there will always be relational consequences.

The hope for you today is that the gospel is true! Listen to the promise from Colossians 2:13-14: “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross” (ESV). He does not treat us as our sins deserve, but rather, because ”the Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love,” he removes our transgressions from us “as far as the east is from the west” (see Psalm 103, especially v. 8-14). In Christ, God has forever dealt with the problem of our guilt!

How do you tend to respond to others when you feel guilty? Are you angry, impatient, or withdrawn? Who tends to be on the receiving end of these behaviors?

This excerpt is taken from Harvest USA’s workbook for men, Sexual Sanity for Men, Recreating Your Mind in a Crazy Culture, published by New Growth Press. This workbook is excellent for small groups and one-on-one mentoring. Visit the Harvest USA bookstore to check out this resource and others at harvest-usa-store.com.

Updated 5.19.2017
Do you know the experience of slavery? Do you want to stop masturbating, looking at porn, having anonymous sex, etc., yet find that you can’t? You’ve probably made hundreds of promises to God and others, but your words increasingly ring hollow—even to yourself.

Even worse, have you suffered with uncontrollable thoughts? You try to restrain where your mind wanders, but it keeps straying back against your will to certain memories, individuals, or fantasies. Thoughts break in constantly, causing distraction. You’ve prayed, fasted, memorized Scripture—but nothing seems to work for very long. The thoughts, desires, and attractions come back, leaving you feeling defeated and hopeless. You lose hope that victory over your thoughts is even possible.

Since you’ve been trying to change for years without success, you just expect you’ll be at it again eventually.

How has your struggle with sexual sin—in your desires and behavior—impacted your life? It appears so innocuous at first: Masturbation may be a “guilty pleasure,” but it seems relatively harmless. Using porn or fantasy to fuel your behavior then becomes an obvious necessity. But there is always a steady progression. What starts with provocative ads or romance novels turns into soft porn and explicit stories. Then you want to experience more and more. Eventually, still pictures aren’t enough, and the Internet has made video downloads so easy. What began as a pleasant escape from the humdrum routine or pressures of life becomes an obsession. Some people begin spending hours every day surfing the Internet for new porn. Others pursue connection through chat rooms or phone sex. Many end up doing what they previously thought impossible—seeking out sexual encounters.

This increasing escalation has a price tag. We all have a very finite life. The time, energy, and money invested in pursuing sexual sin is stealing from your family, future security, career aspirations, ability to serve God and others, etc. Every day men and women are sacrificing things of infinite value to pursue their sexual desires. Even our health becomes a casualty. HIV and other STDs abound. The strain of living a secret, “double life” results in depression, ulcers, and anxiety.

In Psalm 32:3-4, David describes the cost of hidden sin: “For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer” (ESV). We willingly sacrifice everything most dear to us—spouse, children, career, financial success, even faith (described as “more precious than gold” in 1 Peter 1:7)—on the altar of our sexual desires. It is crucial to reckon with this reality.

What has your sin cost you?

Even if your struggle hasn’t escalated as just described, have you noticed that the desires are taking up more space in your head and heart? Maybe you are able to manage your behavior on a day-to-day basis, but do you invest time carefully planning your next opportunity? Or savoring the memories of your last exploit? How do you respond to others when your carefully orchestrated plan is thwarted? Maybe your behavior looks okay on the outside, but inwardly you’re enslaved.

There is something incredibly important you need to know: You are not alone in this battle against sin. Too many in the church either aren’t being honest or are blind to this reality, but every Christian who wants to grow in holiness needs to face the fact that there are places in life where he or she is still enslaved by sin. So Paul writes,

“For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin” (Romans 7:15-25).

Paul poignantly describes the experience of every Christian battling against sin. There is a profound sense of slavery and frustration in our inability to overcome particular struggles. You can almost see Paul beating his head against the wall in utter exasperation. And the battle is on two fronts: We both continue in sin we hate, and at the same time we woefully neglect God’s calling to love him and others in specific ways. Your situation is not unique. It was experienced by the most prolific writer of the NT, the eminent apostle who fearlessly took the message of Christ to Rome, the place of ultimate power and opposition to Jesus in the 1st century. And it has been the experience of every other leader in the church since and every man in the pew. All of us continue to struggle significantly with sin as Christians and sexual sin in particular reduces us to slavery. But in the midst of his seeming despair, Paul clings to the hope of our Deliverer. The goal of this book is for you to see the heart of the gospel. Jesus came to deliver you from the kingdom of darkness now!

Regardless of where you are in your struggle with sexual sin, prayerfully consider the following questions, and know that despite where you’ve been, Jesus is offering you a transformed life!

What have you sacrificed on the altar of sexual sin: money, time, relationships, etc.? Are you honestly assessing what it is costing you in your life, your relationships, your walk with God?

What encouragement can you gain from Paul’s struggle with sin in Romans 7?

Updated 5.9.2017

In a NY Times opinion piece, “In Search of the True Self,” Joshua Knobe, an associate professor of Cognitive Science and Philosophy at Yale University, discusses his study on humanity’s quest to find our deepest identity. Citing everything from Greek philosophy to pop culture, he rightly sees that this yearning is a “distinctive ideal of modern life.”

Knobe is wrestling with the questions: Who am I? What drives my search to discover my deepest—and hence, real—identity? And how can we find the answer?

According to Knobe, philosophy has traditionally maintained that our ability for self-reflection makes us truly human. (Remember Descartes’ “I think, therefore I am” from your Western Civilization class?) Accordingly, philosophy posits that our reflections on our deepest-held beliefs is the greatest indicator of our true selves. These beliefs trump feelings and desires. (For interesting reading along these lines, see the NY Times magazine article, “Living the Good Lie,” that discusses “sexual identity therapy” and Nicholas’ blog response).

But Knobe goes on to say that outside philosophical circles, people recoil at this idea. The broader public believes the exact opposite: It is our suppressed feelings and desires that reveal our deepest identities. These desires must be obeyed for our lives to be authentic to our true selves. Hence anyone with same-sex attraction, Knobe’s opening illustration to his op-ed column, is urged to forsake religious beliefs, marriage vows, etc., in order to “come out” and express his or her true self.

So, do deep-seated, moral values, feelings, or desires determine our true selves? Rather than a strict either/or, Knobe concludes that both views are too simplistic. His initial investigation suggests that we find our true selves through a complicated process that combines both aspects—we develop a value judgment based on what we believe makes life worth living and what will create the most satisfying experience of existence.

He’s right to reject the either/or fallacy but fails to see that our true selves are only found in a radically different “third way.” Any search for our true selves that focuses on desires, personal beliefs, or a combination is still limited to the self. It elevates individual perception, with all its biases and distortions, to ultimate reality.

Fortunately, our true selves are revealed by a source outside of us. Objective truth exists, reality exists, beyond personal perception. Scripture offers our ultimate identity as those made in the image of God, created to live in a relationship of love for all eternity. In love, Jesus redeemed us while we were his enemies. The Father invites us to live within his perspective—one that sees us “in Christ,” outside of time, in our totality. Not defined by desires, behaviors, or failures, but as those who on the last day will be purified. The beautiful Bride, seated at the Wedding Feast with the Son in a marriage he arranged from before the foundation of the world.

Are you struggling with feelings and/or attractions that the world says should define who you are? Look to the objective truth of God’s Word, and in him, you will find your true self as you align yourself with his design.

Updated 5.9.2017

How would you feel if someone stole your identity? Stunned? Shocked? Think about it: Someone is acting recklessly and irresponsibly in your name! In your heart, you are saying, “Wait a minute, that’s not me! That’s not who I am!”

You wouldn’t hand your identity over to someone who would act so shamelessly in your name, would you?

But that’s what we do when we cave in to temptation and commit the same sexual sin again and again. We give our true identity—our identity in Christ—over to the one who steals it from us. The devil delights in that transaction!

One of our mantras here at Harvest USA is, “Don’t let your temptations tell you who you are!” One of the biggest faith battles men face in their struggle with sexual sin is this: What is your identity in Christ? What does God see when he looks at you? The answer to these questions is critical if you want to experience freedom from sexual sin!

The Bible teaches that Christ endured the cross for the “joy set before him” (Hebrews 12:2, ESV). Do you want to know what that joy was? It was you! Paul called the people in the churches to whom he ministered his “joy and crown” (Philippians 4:1). Do you think he would think of them like that if God thought of them otherwise? (1 Thessalonians 2:19-20). Has it sunk in that Jesus himself calls us his brothers (Hebrews 2:11), those of us who desperately cling to him and trust in his saving mercy and grace?

You are new creatures in Christ! You have the Holy Spirit living inside of you. Your sins are forgiven, and you have a living hope that when Christ comes you will appear with him in glory (Colossians 3:4)! You have a new nature, a new heart, and a new start. You’ve been born again! This is your new identity! Start believing it!

One way to begin getting this to sink in deeply is to find others who will see you as you are in Christ. God makes himself real through his people. When someone treats you like he really believes God loves you, you begin to start thinking, “Maybe God does really love me.” And that’s powerful!

What do you see when you look at other Christians? Do you see sin in their lives? That’s easy to see. But do you also see God’s grace working in them? Now that takes faith. But it’s there, even in their struggles and failures. That’s true for you too. That’s part of our identity in Christ. We are people who God has started a good work in and will continue to the end (Philippians 1:6).

I know it’s hard to believe you are a new creature in Christ if you keep on sinning, but let me let you in on a little secret: Every single Christian out there does keep on sinning! I know it’s hard to go to church and feel like you are the only sinner in the room, but, believe me, that is just not true. One reason I love working at Harvest USA is because no one walks through the doors here thinking they have it all together. I wish going to church was that way.

What helps you hold on to your identity in Christ when you are in the midst of sexual temptations and sin?

Updated 5.19.2017

In Numbers 21, we’re told that many of God’s people were bitten by snakes and died on their wilderness journey. As they cried out to God, Moses prayed, and God directed him to fashion a bronze snake on a long pole. He was instructed that anyone who had been bitten should look at the bronze snake—and they would be healed. They were not to focus on their wounds, although it really was a life-threatening situation.

It’s interesting that Moses didn’t say, “Oh, it’s all your imagination. Don’t worry about it. It will go away.” No, he knew people were literally dying. Those who focused on their wounds died. But those who looked upon the bronze snake, high and lifted up, were healed and lived.

Like the Israelites in the desert, we must set our gaze directly on Christ. Admittedly, persistent struggles with sexual temptation and sin can continuously derail us. We can too easily lose hope and give up. This is where the evil one wants us.

But we must believe that Jesus doesn’t sit idly by in heaven; he is with us! He is the conqueror of sin and death—even in the battles for holiness that rage in our own hearts. When your conscience plagues you the most, or when you are in the most dire distress, you must grasp Christ in faith. It is in that moment that faith sees Jesus, the one who obeyed, suffered, died, and rose again—and he did that for our sake! Hebrews 12:1-2 is one of the most astonishing verses in all of Scripture: “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, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (ESV).

What was the joy that Jesus looked forward to, so much so that he endured unbelievable suffering? It was you; it was his people whom he lived and died for, men and women being renewed by his grace and who one day will be fully restored, perfect in every way.

No matter what the distress and pain you are suffering through at this moment, that is something to look toward!

Where are the snakes in your life right now—those things that seem to threaten to rob you of life, of hope, of joy? What are the situations, circumstances, and struggles that keep you defeated? How are you dealing with them? Where are your eyes turned to in those moments?

Updated 5.10.2017

Life in this world is often brutally painful. Our bodies break down as we contend with disease, injury, and death. Our relationships can be a source of great blessing, but also crushingly painful. Even the physical world lashes out with hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, etc. And, to top it all off, we are often our own worst enemies—making repeated foolish decisions that lead to guilt, shame, and damaging ripple effects in our relationships, workplaces, etc.

When you look at our world—and your own heart—do you believe chaos is reigning? Do you believe that God is present in the midst of you most painful trials? Consider the encouragement found in Hebrews 12:1-3:

“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, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted” (ESV).

The final thing I want to consider in this passage is the declaration that Jesus is seated at the right hand of the Father. This means he is exalted, in the place of highest honor. And it is significant that he is “seated.” This is the posture of a victorious king—seated on his throne, ruling over all, his enemies vanquished, his task complete. Earlier, Hebrews urges us to see that Jesus is ruling over the universe. He upholds everything by the word of his power (1:3). Everything has been made subject to him. Nothing is outside of his control. This is the truth, even though we do not yet see it (2:8).

The last point is crucial. Living the Christian life requires faith because there is still so much brokenness in the world and in our lives. The kingdom of Christ is advancing, but there is a long way to go and much that will not be set right until the new heavens and earth. But in the face of all the existing ills, Scripture urges us to believe that nothing in this broken world is random. Chaos is not reigning—Jesus is, and, having reconciled us to the Father through his sacrifice, he will accomplish his ultimate purpose of preparing us to be with him forever. He is committed to seeing us through to the end of this race. Remember: He is the perfecter of our faith.

Sadly, this race is grueling and filled with snares. We are called to perseverance because the race is hard. But Jesus is lifted up to encourage us. This passage teaches us that as we fix our gaze on him, considering what he endured out of love for us, we are strengthened in our weariness, emboldened rather than disheartened. Verse 4 challenges that we haven’t suffered to the point of shedding blood. The contrast, of course, is that Jesus was slaughtered for us.

So where do we find the power to live differently? How do we cast aside the weight that slows us down and the sin that trips up our feet? By faith, clinging to the hope that Jesus finished the race and is now committed to seeing us through. He is not still running ahead;he has finished. He is now seated, his smiling face, filled with an expression of love, is turned toward us, urging us on at every step.

Hebrews 12 goes on to talk about the painful reality that God disciplines his children. Our trials and temptations don’t reveal his absence, but point, albeit painfully, to his presence with us, the proof that we are his adopted children.

Why do we need to cast these things aside? They are robbing us of joy and slowing us down on our journey home. They make our already arduous path all the more difficult. We are pointed to Jesus’ suffering so that we will know that our suffering matters too. Just as Jesus is lifted up and exalted, ruling over the universe, so there is glory and honor awaiting us as we suffer through the brokenness of this fallen world. We are called to “count it all joy” in the face of trials because God is using them to produce steadfastness and to ultimately “perfect” us (James 1:2-4). Trials turn up the heat in our lives, purifying our faith, of greater worth than gold (1 Peter 1:3-9).

Do you believe that God’s purposes are being accomplished in the midst of your most painful trials? What does it mean to you that Jesus has suffered first and is now victoriously seated, and awaiting your arrival? May God give us the grace to cling to his promises in the midst of the pain of life and to see with eyes of faith the great cloud of witnesses who have survived the race and cheer us on. Above all, may we look to Jesus sitting on the throne, exalted, reigning, and overflowing with love and joy and delight in us.

Updated 5.10.2017

When are you discouraged in your struggle against sin? When our focus is only on what is immediately in front of us—all of today’s temptations and failures—we lose perspective on the big picture and the ways in which God is at work, even in the midst of our sin.

Take a look at Hebrews 12:1-3:

“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, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted” (ESV).

In my last post, we looked to Jesus as the founder and perfecter of our faith. Now I want to consider in wonder that he went to the cross “for the joy that was set before him.” First, the passage tells us something important: Going to the cross meant Jesus experienced shame. Not only does Jesus identify with us in our temptation, but he even identifies with us in our guilt and shame, though he was personally sinless. He experienced them for us on the cross. 2 Corinthians 5:21 describes it like this: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” He became sin for us. He took all our guilt and shame on his shoulders as he faced the curse of dying on a tree (Galatians 3:10-14). He is able to understand and have compassion for everything you experience—even the pain of your guilt over repeated failures. He knows the reality of your sin and invites you to see him lifted up, bearing it for you so that you are able to walk in newness of life.

What was his motivation? The joy set before him. That joy includes you and me. In my last post, I also quoted Titus 2:14, in which Jesus “gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” The point of this passage is to consider him as our perfecter, committed to purifying his people. But the whole point in our purification was to make us a people fitted for his own possession. Jesus went to the cross, for the joy of liberating us from our slavery to sin so that we could be his beloved Bride. He has betrothed himself to us, and, as we both await that great Wedding Feast of the Lamb, he is joyfully purifying us in glorious anticipation—even though on our end, the purification process is anything but joyful and glorious!

This truth radically impacts the call to “lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely” (Hebrews 12:1). How? There is a goal towards which we are running. This isn’t mindlessly circling a track until you’ve suffered enough in abstinence from sexual sin. God is not a killjoy who dangles pleasures, only to see us drool. There is a glorious destination in view. One awaits us with a smile brighter than we can imagine (like the sun!), whose arms are outstretched, whose heart is overflowing with love, who delights in us and even sings over us.

We need to cast aside everything slowing us down because Jesus is eager for us to arrive, to offer us pleasures at his right hand forevermore—pleasures that right now, in this existence, with these bodies, we can’t even begin to fathom. He promises that joy, pleasure, peace, and contentment beyond our ability to comprehend await us at the end of this race. He promises we will be satisfied for eternity. Contentment in this life is often fleeting at best. In his presence is “fullness of joy” and “pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11). The pleasures offered to us in this life are good gifts from a loving God that enable us to glimpse in a mirror dimly the infinitely greater glories awaiting us.

How would your battle against sin change if your eyes were focused on the end of the race? Do you believe that Jesus isn’t holding out on you, but reserving pleasure and delight that will infinitely satisfy your soul at the race’s end?

Updated 5.10.2017

How do you feel about New Year’s resolutions? Do you get excited about ways you can grow and mature in the coming year? Or are you bombarded with memories of all your past failures, all your grand hopes for change that were dashed before the end of January? This passage is in favor of New Year’s resolutions because it challenges us to take stock of where we are in life—and then get moving!

Read the following passage from Hebrews 12:1-3:

“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, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted” (ESV).

It’s the first day back after the holidays, so we’ll keep it simple. The passage describes the Christian life as running a race. What does this mean? The Christian life isn’t easy. Spiritual growth is grueling, strenuous labor. We are encumbered by “weights” and entangling sin that thwart our progress.

Many men have said to me, “I know what I have to do—I need to put Jesus where porn is in my life.” Theologically this is true. Idol worship needs to be replaced with worship of the true and living God. But here’s the rub: Jesus will never become like porn for you. If it was that simple, none of us would sin. The Christian life is always living by faith, and, as my colleague Bob says, sometimes living by faith doesn’t seem like much. We aren’t tortured for our faith in this country. Faith doesn’t usually produce a runner’s high. Let me tell you: Having spent many years abusing drugs, running the race of faith is not my definition of being “high.” But it is better in the long run.

Do you know why I keep running? Because of how I feel when it’s over. The process is torture, but the end is glorious. Sexual sin lures, promising immediate pleasure, but it withholds the truth of the guilt, shame, wrecked relationships, etc., that always follow. The Christian life is hard, probably much harder than you realized it would be when you signed on. But it’s worth it.

What do I mean? The Christian life is kind of like a runner’s high. After my wife’s passing in 2010, I started taking exercise seriously and began running regularly. I hate to run. But at long last, I experienced the runner’s high.

So, let’s look at three quick things the passage tells us about this race:

1)      The race has an audience. Following the list of Old Testament saints in chapter 11, this passage begins telling us that they are witnesses to the race we are running. They are cheering us on! And, more importantly, they stand as a witness to us that the end is in sight. This race will be over before we know it. They encourage us to persevere, standing as proof that God’s grace is sufficient for us.

2)      The race has been set for us. Your life is not an accident. This includes all the painful trials, temptations, unwanted attractions, etc. You are running a path set for you by a loving God who promises that he is working everything together for your good to conform you to the image of Jesus so that he will be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters (see Romans 8:28-29).

3)      The race has already been run by your Champion. We’ll spend more time in later posts considering this crucial reality. Jesus has already run this road, faced every trial and temptation you face, but never stumbled. He ran the race ahead of us, blazing the trail, and offers us the exact grace we need to face all the specific challenges because he has already endured them for us victoriously.

Are you weary at the start of the New Year? Where do you need to be encouraged? What “weights” are slowing you down? What sins are entangling you? May God give us the grace to look to Jesus and get up and run!

Updated 5.10.2017

Happy Friday!

Did you fast last weekend? How did it go? I fasted from checking and writing email. Why?

When I’m feeling lonely or disconnected from people, going online to check my email or checking my phone for text messages is what I do to have my heart soothed and comforted (that is, if I hear from anyone!). But when I reflect on why I do this so frequently, I realize that I am not going to the Lord for my comfort.

When I turn from the Lord to something else in order to pursue life, comfort, security, value, feeling loved etc., this is when I have fed the temptation rather than starved it. I’ve found that a common thread in the hearts of women who become ensnared in sexual sin of any type is the emotional pain they feel. That pain must be soothed, denied, or escaped from at any cost, and it is through sexual encounters, a fantasy life, or emotionally entangled friendships that the pain is soothed and calmed—for a time.

But when we move in that direction, it comes at a cost. What we feed on grows. What is growing in our lives becomes the focus of our lives. Will that focus lead to Christ-likeness or to a deeper enslavement to my sin patterns?

One initial step for you to grow in Christ-likeness, rather than in patterns of sin, is to think about the following:

1)     Can you name the desires in your heart that seem to rule over you? Desires can be holy or evil, depending on the motive of our heart.

2)     Can you identify the paths you walk in order to soothe those desires? This connects with the ‘fasting’ exercise I mentioned in my last blog post. What we can’t give up for a week, a day, or an hour may be something we are using as a way to feed and nurture sinful desires.

3)     Take one passage of Scripture and reflect daily on the passage that you have chosen, meditating on the qualities listed that you want to see growing in your life. Let me suggest one of three: 2 Peter 1:1-11, Galatians 5: 22-26, or Colossians 3:1-12, as these are passages that describe qualities of Christ-likeness. Focus on Christ first, not your sin that must be done away with.

4)     Find a ‘safe’ person to pray for you and help you think through how you can develop ongoing habits that will nurture your soul in Jesus and starve out your flesh. A safe person is someone who consistently lives a life of following Christ, is honest about their own struggles, is self-controlled with her mouth, can listen with wisdom, and can speak words of grace and truth back to you.

These are just some initial steps to take. Are there other things you’ve found in your spiritual journey that have been helpful as you’ve sought to turn from temptation?

Updated 5.10.2017

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