30 Nov 2023
You broke up with your unbelieving boyfriend. You pressed pause on an unhealthy relationship. You confessed your porn addiction to your boss, and now you’re out of a job. You admitted your emotional affair, and not only is your spouse a tornado of emotions, but you’re in excruciating pain from cutting ties with your “secret person.” You decided to leave your church because they’ve wavered on a commitment to God’s truth regarding same-sex marriage. Now you’re discouraged, lonely, and weary about starting over with building Christ-centered, biblically faithful community.
Brother, sister, your obedience is beautiful in God’s sight. He knows how painful it is to honestly face losses which come through his pruning; he removes things from our lives in the process of sanctification.
The Father cuts things away from our lives so that we may bear more fruit, not less.
Tim Keller’s sermon on John 15:1–2, The Vinedresser, is full of comfort for you. He addresses the ministry God our Father has as the Master Gardener and how his pruning of us is essential for growth. Our Father examines us—the branches—looking for a few things. Are we abiding in Christ, the true vine? Are we drawing love and life from him or from something else? Are we bearing supernatural fruit, testimony that we’re vitally connected to Christ and his fragrant, fruitful life? Are we stagnant in our faith or resting in circumstances which threaten our devotion to Jesus?
Two verses into this beautiful chapter of Scripture, Jesus says something startling: the Father wounds, cuts, and prunes fruitful, abiding branches! Does he prune to punish? Shame? Sideline from the good life? NO! The Father cuts things away from our lives so that we may bear more fruit, not less.
When Loss Equals Gain
Keller says that our Father never cuts or prunes something out of life unless there is a loving purpose behind it. “The skillful eye knows that there are no random strokes of the [Father’s] pruning shears; nothing is cut off that wasn’t a gain to lose because it would be a loss to keep.”
Let those words soak in. The Lord will take his pruning shears and cut things out of our lives, even leafy branches and clusters of tasty grapes we’ve grown fond of. God may take good things, remove not so great things, or outright cut off influences leading us to sin. The purpose in every situation is that we become more like Jesus, bearing more fruit as his life surges, unhindered, through us.
Sometimes good things become ultimate things that distract us from what is best. Friendships, marriages, jobs, ministry opportunities, bank accounts, houses can be good gifts. Good gifts, however, can become more important to us than the Giver. That includes our relationships, use of technology, money, and so much more.
Ever-so-subtly, our focus shifts from Christ to this person, this thing, this feeling. Before we know it, we’re attempting to abide—draw life from, find our meaning in—that gift. We’re in a sinful mess and need rescue! Our Father loves us so much that he will tenderly draw near with his pruning shears to remove things for a time or maybe permanently. He may rearrange our life so that this gift returns to its right place “under the feet” of Jesus (see Eph. 1:22–23).
Turning from sin will mean loss, yet God never initiates the removal of anything in our lives unless he will use it for good—for growth in our lives and glory to his name.
When God’s purposes are mysterious to us, we can find refuge in who he is: a loving, purposeful Father.
No Random Strokes
When I had cancer surgery, I trusted the surgeon to wound me with precision and remove only the diseased tissue. Praise God that the surgery was successful; while my scar reminds me of the pain I endured, I am healthy and cancer free.
Friends, our Father is precise, purposeful, and effective in the surgery he does in our lives. There are no random, haphazard, out-of-his-control acts of pruning. Are you experiencing the Master Gardener’s pruning in:
- A relationship? Perhaps your relational terrain has been plowed and bulldozed, leaving an unfamiliar landscape that seems lonely and barren.
- A “not a big deal” temptation or sin struggle that is now in the light and your life is turned upside down?
- Finances, health, family? These important aspects of life aren’t flourishing anymore but floundering, perhaps failing.
“When You Feel the Steel, Cling to the Vine”
Jesus was cut, wounded, and put to death so that our experiences of pruning are temporary. Our Savior, slain and pierced on the cross for our sins, died and conquered death so that “by his wounds we are healed” (Isa. 53:5). When you feel the Father’s pruning, look away from your painful losses and fix your eyes upon Jesus. Grieve, cry, and pour out your heart to God with raw honesty—yet, in your grief, be careful not to push God away. Turning from sin will mean loss, yet he never initiates the removal of anything in our lives unless he will use it for good—for growth in our lives and glory to his name.
When you feel the cost of your obedience, don’t look back! Look to Jesus and cling to him. Jesus is with you in the changed landscape of your life, and he promises not to leave you. “He wounds,” wrote John Newton, “in order to heal, kills that he may make alive, casts down when he designs to raise, brings a death upon our feelings, wishes, and prospects, when he is about to give us the desires of our hearts.”
Father, for any who are walking out a beautiful and costly obedience to you, please pour out your comfort and strength upon them, that they may cling to Jesus by faith—and not turn back to sin.
 Keller, “The Vinedresser,” Jan. 12, 1992. https://gospelinlife.com/downloads/the-vinedresser-5769/, accessed Nov. 16, 2023
 Ibid., Keller.
 John Newton, Letter VII, November 6, 1777, The Works of the Rev. John Newton. … Published by Direction of His Executors. United Kingdom: n.p., 1821, 201.
A version of this article was originally published here: https://women.pcacdm.org/when-loss-comes-hold-on-to-jesus-wisdom-from-the-sermon-i-quote-most.
19 Oct 2023
Rest. It’s a difficult word, and I’ve failed to place and describe it in my life. There are many days when I turn from rest—in my heart and with my priorities. I’m ashamed, tired, and needy. And so, I cry out in repentance, Abba Father, forgive me, for many were the days I did not rest in you. I am weary, yet I seem to run away from your presence even though your arms are wide open. Please hear my plea and bring me to Christ’s peace, in whom I eagerly long for eternal rest. In his name, amen.
Resting Away from Christ
Beloved, can you relate to the following three major issues I’ve noticed each time I sought rest away from Christ?
- A self-seeking stubbornness, keeping myself crushed and forsaken despite the work of Christ’s cross and leading me to conclude, from a bottomless pit, “I am but dust, and, therefore, I shall rest when I return to dust.”
- A self-perceived, Christless worthlessness, where my past defines my present and the pressures I face convince me with the lie that “I do not deserve rest.”
- A self-inflicted condemnation, deeming myself sentenced to lashes, expecting falsely that such punishment will ultimately fulfill a works-righteousness requirement because of the lie that “this is my penance, my cross.”
Oh, how arrogant and foolish I am—and, like you, I hurt too.
How do we rest in God’s rest in a burnout culture that demands every inch of our lives, 24/7? We have every opportunity to hear Christ first thing in the morning, but we deliberately turn away from him. Our phones, calendars, and sinful pursuits claim a higher priority, leaving only scraps for God.
How do we rest in God’s rest in a burnout culture that demands every inch of our lives, 24/7?
Brothers and sisters, this is not what God has created us for! We aren’t meant to live on the throne of our lives, demanding everything and clenching our fists against his love for us. We do not need to live as blind beggars, exhausting ourselves with work, sexual sins, or even seemingly innocent pleasures that won’t deliver what we need: rest and comfort in and through our God.
Without Christ, we walk toward a discouraging destination where we can only arrive tired and hopeless. And you know very well that sexual sins are waiting right around the corner to make that final kill as you sigh, exhausted, after your 14-hour shift.
But Our Days Don’t Have to End This Way . . .
Because we know who our Savior is, and he knows us too (John 15:15). He is Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd who laid down his life for the sheep (John 10:11).
In him, we find rest (Matt. 11:28–30), though we were once unrighteous (1 Cor. 6:11).
In him, we put off the old and put on the new self (Eph. 4:22–24), knowing that one day, mourning shall be no more (Rev. 21:4).
In him, we “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Ps. 34:8), for God is not far but near to the brokenhearted, saving the crushed spirit (Ps. 34:18).
He has counted our misery and placed our tears in his bottle (Psalm 56:8). He gives “a new heart, and a new spirit” (Ez. 36:26).
And so, we can pray, “For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him” (Ps. 62:5).
Resting in Christ
Oh, beloved, as the gospel roots and grounds you in the love of Christ (Eph. 3:17), remember that rest means valuing each day as its own portion. Our time with the Lord today matters; it has an eternal bearing. What we do in the here and now should be a response to a grace-paced life, a life that ultimately trusts our Father in heaven and cultivates a daily resting in him and not in the worries of this world. “For tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Matt. 6:34b). That means you sometimes need to leave an unfinished task for tomorrow—that you will guard your hours with family and sleep—that you will say “no” to entertainment when you’ve set your priority to spend that moment with your Savior.
When long days deprive you of rest, when the tragedy of sexual sins leaves you undone, look to Christ.
Yes, we are dust, but our identity in this life remains ever secure in Christ. Let that inform and guide you particularly when resting seems impossible. Never lose sight of the reality that “as a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.” Though our “days are like grass” and we are soon gone, “the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children, to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments” (Ps. 103:13–18). Remember, “you are not your own, for you were bought with a price” (1 Cor. 6:19–20).
When long days deprive you of rest, when the tragedy of sexual sins leaves you undone, look to Christ. Bear your cross (Luke 14:27). Repent. Like Job, who asked a valuable question to his wife amid her mockery and his suffering, ask yourself: “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” (Job 2:10) Turn away from sin, beloved, and turn to Christ. Let the assurance of his rest lead you through the darkest of times. Remember, as Job did, that with life, “the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away.”
But don’t stop there. Even when grief tears your robes and shaves your head, persevere in worship with a heart that says, “Blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). Our Savior persevered—sweating drops of blood, enduring lashings, and breathing his last breath on the cross. Because he finished the race and kept the faith, his children will, too (2 Tim. 4:7). In him alone, we find rest—the faithful rest of our souls.
03 Aug 2023
Beloved, I wonder if you can relate. I remember praying, “Father, my transgressions are ever before me. I do the very thing I hate. Why do you call me ‘son’ despite this wretched body?” I felt hopeless, cursed, and unloved. I heard the gospel’s truth, but, as sexual sins poisoned me, my sinful heart persisted in lying about my identity.
Remember Truth: Our Identity in Christ
For me and for you, believer, the foremost remedy is remembering who we are in Christ. Please turn with me to Romans 8:12–17. I pray you may see the truth today.
12 So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. 13 For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.
The Apostle Paul begins verse 12 by drawing a conclusion (“so then”) from verses 9–11, which talk about union with Christ. In union with Christ, life is enabled by the Spirit even though our mortal bodies are bound to die in sin. This is why Paul says believers are “debtors” in verse 12—without Christ, death is the only thing at work in us. But with Christ, we are given the gift of eternal life because he paid the ultimate price on our behalf. Thus, in a deep sense, we have a tremendous debt before the Lord in light of our deserved death, the due penalty of the law of sin.
We are set free from sin and able to persevere in this broken world because the Lord is with us. Through him, we can look at our brokenness and have hope.
Remembering the truth of who we are in Christ—because of his perfect life, atoning death, and victorious resurrection—changes how we live every day and leads us in perseverance against sin.
Remember Faith: Our Adoption in Christ
Death means complete separation from God (v. 13). The only way to avoid death is to abandon the flesh. “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” But how can any of us accomplish this? Truly, we cannot! That is why Paul grounds our actions in this foundation: “by the Spirit.” In faith, we need to remember two things from this verse.
- First, believers can’t be only passive about their faith in Jesus. A movement needs to take place. Because of the cross, believers are enabled—or, perhaps, conditioned—to mortify sin. If you belong to Jesus, there will always be something in your heart telling you to fight against fleshly evil. You are simply no longer driven by sin but life in Christ. Coming to faith in Jesus is necessarily connected with actively fighting sin: “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry” (Col. 3:5).
- Second, we don’t have the strength to fight the good fight on our own. We come short of being able to do anything about these deeds of the flesh—pornography, abusive traumas, torn families, and never-ending, painful days of suffering. We are utterly incapable of fixing it—it’s too much. This is why Paul exhorts us to put to death the deeds of the body “by the Spirit of God” (v. 14, my emphasis). We are set free from sin and able to persevere in this broken world because the Lord is with us. Through him, we can look at our brokenness and have hope. Though our sins are red like scarlet, we can proclaim “they shall be as white as snow” (Isa. 1:18). If you ever needed evidence about God, beloved, here it is. Your fight against sin is the very evidence of the Spirit of God moving in and through your life. He claims you as his possession, giving you belonging and status. God’s Word calls you his sons and daughters, a people led by his Spirit (Rom. 8:14). The world and the flesh have no claim over you, only the Spirit.
Verse 15 expands on this new identity in Christ. “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’” Paul writes from the context of the Roman Empire, where the adoptee is removed from their previous state and placed within a new family. Old debts are transferred, a new life begins, and the head of the household owns the adoptee, with all accompanying liability. This child is born again into a new hope, receiving a unique name that grants privileges, responsibilities, and a belonging. Thus, adoption perfectly explains what it means to have newness and fullness of life through the relationship a believer is brought into with Jesus Christ.
This is how God embraced his people throughout history, like a father who takes an illegitimate child into his family.
Yes, it’s out of adoption that we call God “Abba, Father.” This expression of warmth and confidence that God is our heavenly Father carries a filial tenderness and reverence made possible by the Spirit, without whom such a declaration would be pretentious and false.
And this is how God embraced his people throughout history, like a father who takes an illegitimate child into his family. That’s the reality and beauty of adoption. Children of God now have full access to and relationship with him.
Remember Hope: Our Longing in Christ
But the Christian life is hard as we wait for Jesus to return. You’ve probably felt the weight of suffering prolonged, maybe for many seasons—your prayers feeling empty and silent. We are in pain while longing for the final day when our faith will be made sight.
Nevertheless, this longing is one critical way in which we experience redemption being applied in our lives. We are already the adopted children of God. However, there is a deep-seated ‘not yet-ness’ about this reality. We rejoice as God’s people. And yet, having received the Spirit of adoption, we groan inwardly, waiting eagerly for the resurrection of our bodies upon Christ’s return (Rom. 8:18–25).
The promise is that when he appears, we shall be like him, and he will transform these bodies of humiliation into glory. “But our citizenship is in heaven,” Paul says, “and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself (Phil. 3:20–21).”
This expresses the heart of our present and future condition and is an essential element for understanding the Christian life. The law alone is not enough. If we only had the law, it’d be challenging to understand the agony of the Christian life because those with the Spirit experience profound incompleteness. And it is within that context that we cry, “Abba Father.” Paul is not talking about an upbeat cry. The language for “cry” in Greek is typically used in times of immense pressure and opposition, portraying a violent atmosphere rather than a peaceful one. This cry springs from an anguish that leaves us fragmented, where the fullness of God-given privileges comes face to face with our brokenness and prompts us to cry, out of all unsettling weaknesses and earthly difficulties, ‘Abba, Father.’
Be comforted, hurting believer: the fact that you’re calling out to the Lord in your desperate longing reveals that you belong to him.
And we are not alone, for the Spirit is with us in our cry. “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (v. 16). Our spirit and God’s Spirit express their mutual witness in crying, “Abba, Father.” It’s impossible to express this unless the Spirit is working in our lives. Be comforted, hurting believer: the fact that you’re calling out to the Lord in your desperate longing reveals that you belong to him. Beloved, I hope you see “what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God” (1 John 3:1).
Remember Love: Our Sanctification in Christ
Verse 17 defines the destination of God’s adopted children. Glory awaits us in the guarantee of eternal life! The adoptee is an heir of God and co-heir with Christ through the inheritance given by the Lord—this inheritance is our union and communion with Christ as his portion (in suffering and glory) is shared with us (John 17:5, 24). It’s not as if we contribute to redemption. No. Christ alone bore the cross and rose from the dead to reconcile the world to himself. But it’s about the call to obediently “walk as children of light” (Eph. 5:8b) because “the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience” (Eph. 5:6b). This looks like partaking in the sufferings of Christ, filling up what is lacking in his afflictions (Col. 1:24), and yearning for future glory.
Oh, beloved, I pray you may see the Father’s love in all this. What else is there? Yes, “faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor. 13:13). Because “God so loved the world,” millennia can pass but the gospel shall remain (John 3:16a).
And when breathless, suffocated by the lies of sexual brokenness, come as you are, oh, child of God, and cry “Abba! Father!”
Therefore, remember the call of Christ: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34b). And when breathless, suffocated by the lies of sexual brokenness, come as you are, oh, child of God, and cry “Abba! Father!” Fix your gaze upon Christ who promised, “So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you” (John 16:22, my emphasis). Isn’t it worth waiting for such joy, my friend? Eternal life with Christ. Join me for one more day, just one more day at a time.
20 Jul 2023
“She’s hot; she’s not.”
“I hate his shoes.”
“She has a pretty face, but she’s too tall.”
“I don’t like his hobbies.”
Have you ever looked through a dating app and had these kinds of conversations with a friend? Have you had these thoughts as the glow of your phone illuminates your face late at night? Have you begun to feel like dating apps are controlling you?
According to a 2018 survey, among a sample of 500 Christian singles, 44% were actively using two to five different dating apps simultaneously. Pew Research Center found that three in ten Americans have tried online dating. Among Christian singles, that number soars to 80%!
Consider Your Heart
In Galatians 6:6–10, Paul introduces the concept of reaping and sowing. In agricultural terms, sowing is the planting and careful cultivation of seeds, whereas reaping is the harvesting of the produce from those seeds. In human terms, this can be understood as those things that are borne out of our manner of life. It’s the sense that, over time, our small, daily choices, behaviors, and thoughts grow into a harvest. Paul also mentions the idea that there are ways to sow into the flesh, reaping corruption, and ways to sow into the Spirit, reaping eternal life.
Dating apps can be a means for bringing about Christ-centered marriages. But what are you sowing in your heart with your use of dating apps? All things are God’s servants (Eph. 1:22). How should faithful Christian singles consider this popular means of meeting and intentionally dating?
Six Heart Diagnostics
- Stewardship or Distraction?
How has your engagement with dating apps impacted your time? With many single Christians engaging across multiple platforms, the time it takes to engage should be considered. To be sure, for singles seeking to marry, it may be wise to give your time to pursue dating as an intentional investment. But it’s worth asking—how much time are you investing? Is this something you’ve prayerfully considered, or have you been slinking into a three-hour nightly routine of browsing apps alone?
- Consuming or Serving?
In The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less, psychologist Barry Schwartz argues that the explosion of choice in our modern world has created more anxiety and paralysis, not greater wellbeing. The growth of online dating has ushered in seemingly endless eligible men or women for you to consider. This can quickly be problematic. Has your engagement on dating apps caused you to become a consumer of others rather than a servant of others? Are you becoming so choosy that you can’t see the hidden beauty and character of the men or women with whom you interact? Have the abundant options on dating apps given you a sense of ever reaching for perfection in a mate, yet never quite finding it? Are you training your mind to make snap judgements based on appearance alone?
- Contentment or Insecurity?
How has engaging dating apps impacted your heart’s contentment in your current state? Is the number of matches, likes, and messages causing you to steep in insecurity? Do you feel grateful for how God made you, or are you increasingly insecure as you seek to get to know people on dating apps? Do you leave apps feeling angry, frustrated, alone, anxious?
- Isolation or Community?
Is anyone journeying with you as you are looking to date, or are you going it alone? Proverbs 18:1 says, “Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out from all sound judgment.” Don’t engage with dating apps alone! You need the benefit of wisdom from others who know you and who will help guide you. Dating is an emotional and potentially tumultuous process; you need trusted friends and mentors. Your local church is meant to be a wealth of support and encouragement as you seek to be faithful in all things—even dating apps.
- Pride or Humility?
Man judges by outward appearance, but the Lord judges the heart (1 Sam. 16:7). While outward appearance is indeed a factor in romantic love, how heavily are you weighing it in your dating journey? Are you prizing the things the Lord prizes, such as the hidden character of a gentle and quiet spirit, or are you driven mostly by outward appearance?
- Integrity or Self-Centeredness?
One of the biggest challenges in the dating app world is having to speak honestly about your interest or lack of interest in someone you’ve met. Ghosting (never responding again to someone you no longer wish to get to know) is a common practice, but it communicates great disrespect for other image-bearers. Have you adopted a worldly mindset about how to treat others when you’re dating? Have you regarded anyone according to the flesh? (2 Cor. 5:16.) Can you say you’ve treated others with kindness and regarded them as more important than yourself? (Phil 2:5–7).
If these diagnostic questions have you feeling like your heart is off track, I want to encourage you. St. Augustine of Hippo famously said, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” Dating and romance have a way of uncovering the deep longings of our hearts. If you’ve misplaced those longings and sought to secure them in dating, relationships, and people, it’s God’s tender mercy that turns you away from that empty path.
If you’ve been isolated, consider how you might invite one or two others into your dating journey. Pray that the Lord would use dating to help you draw near to him and walk by faith. Consider a break from dating apps altogether if they’ve led you to pursue unholy relationships or unwise choices. Bring your deepest desires before your loving Lord. He knows what you need. He is the answer to your heart’s deepest longings. He is your ever-present, compassionate Savior, and he wants to walk with you today and forever.
18 May 2023
How can I believe that my heavenly Father truly loves me when he won’t take away my insomnia or chronic pain? How can I trust God with my future when my whole world has exploded at the revelation of my spouse’s infidelity? How can I possibly believe that God knows what’s best for me when he calls me to turn from desires that feel completely natural? How can I entrust my child to the Lord when they’re about to inflict irreversible damage on their body?
Living by faith is difficult. We all struggle every day to remember, believe, and make choices based on God’s Word and his promises to us in Christ. Words on a page can feel meaningless when painful circumstances don’t change. What helps us nurture belief in these hard moments, days, and years?
Unbelief Is a Matter of the Heart
Our flesh looks at these situations and says that God hasn’t given us sufficient evidence that he’s worthy of our trust. But faith is not a matter of evidence. Scripture gives us testimony after testimony of people who had abundant evidence to trust God but still chose unbelief. The Israelites saw God perform over a dozen miracles rescuing them from Egypt, culminating in the parting of the Red Sea. And yet, in a matter of days, they doubted God’s ability or desire to keep them alive in the wilderness. Jesus fed over 5,000 men with nothing more than five loaves and two fish. But later, the crowd refused to believe his explanation of the miracle. His followers drastically decreased after this incredible display of his power and sustaining kindness.
Faith is a matter of the heart, not the eyes. Apart from God’s grace, all of us are born with dead hearts that cannot believe what is evident in all creation (Rom. 1:19–20). But in the new birth, God makes our hearts alive, and we believe. This is saving faith. And yet, this heart transplant does not guarantee an easy road of faith. We still struggle, and so much of our struggle with sexual sin comes down to unbelief.
Every time we give way to temptation, we’re believing those deceitful arguments and choosing to live in a world that’s fundamentally untrue.
Lies about God, ourselves, and others become powerful arguments for giving in to sin. After all, our heart says, God doesn’t care, God won’t deliver me, God can’t meet me in this moment—but sex can. Sex always delivers, sex has never let me down, and unlike God, sex doesn’t ask me to believe, just feel. Every time we give way to temptation, we’re believing those deceitful arguments and choosing to live in a world that’s fundamentally untrue.
Where Does Unbelief Grow?
I’m convinced there’s one primary behavior that keeps us stuck in patterns of unbelief: isolation. A man in one of our biblical support groups worked in the mold remediation business, and he compared sexual sin with mold. It grows in the dark, in hidden places, where nobody sees it, and before you know it, it’s infected the entire house.
Why does sin love darkness? Because in the darkness, no one can challenge your unbelief. Over time, that unbelief has a compounding effect. You don’t only believe all the lies that keep you going back to your sin, you also believe the lies that keep you from confessing your sin to others: My sin is too heinous, too dirty to tell others. I won’t survive the consequences of my actions. I can live a double life without anyone ever knowing.
Where Does Faith Grow?
At Harvest USA, I’ve asked dozens of men what the most helpful thing about their experience with us was. They almost always say the same thing: “Having other brothers to walk with me in this battle.” The most helpful thing wasn’t our staff’s expertise or our profound materials, but other group members, week-in and week-out, hearing their struggles and reminding them of the truths of the gospel.
I just finished a 20-month group with 12 men. At the end, I gave them one specific warning: Don’t go back to hiding. Don’t isolate yourself after this group finishes. That is the fastest way to guarantee going right back to old patterns of unbelief and sin. Hebrews 3:12–13 says,
Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.
Notice the two words accompanying “evil” and “sin”: “unbelieving” and “deceitfulness.” Sin deceives us, leading to unbelief, which causes us to turn away from God—his precepts and his promises.
Isolation is the soil in which unbelief grows. But the body of Christ is the good soil through which our Father causes our faith to go from strength to strength.
One of the most powerful weapons to guard against unbelief is genuine fellowship with the body of Christ. This is where we’re known, exhorted, comforted, and pointed back to the truth over and over again. This passage assumes that even going one day without other Christians reminding us of the truth leaves us vulnerable to sin’s hardening effects on our hearts. Do we give other Christians that level of importance in our lives? You will if you remember that this life is a spiritual battle, and lone rangers are the first to get picked off.
Ultimately, Jesus is your closest friend. He’s the one who never stops praying for you that your faith may not fail (Luke 22:32). He sympathizes with how excruciatingly difficult it is to trust in our heavenly Father (Luke 22:44, Heb. 12:4). And he uses his people as his mouthpiece to remind you of his love, care, goodness, and power over your life. Isolation is the soil in which unbelief grows. But the body of Christ is not only an effective spiritual weed killer, it’s also the good soil through which our Father causes our faith to go from strength to strength (Ps. 84:5–7).
04 May 2023
This post was written by Harvest USA Men’s Ministry intern Ben Pearce.
“Just one more drink,” the drunkard says.
“I’ll just look for a little while,” the porn-addict explains.
“It’s just a little sin,” Satan whispers in our ear.
The road to life-shattering sin is paved by little sins. Small, daily decisions shape our desires and habits. The apostle James notes, “each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (James 1:14–15). James is not arguing that wrongful desire is not sin—it is. But he is stating that the lusts of our hearts do not remain in our hearts. These desires give birth to sinful acts. Christians who dwell upon sexual fantasy in their minds cannot excuse themselves by saying it’s only in their heads. Our thoughts ultimately lead to action. Each moment we dwell upon our wrongful desires, we train ourselves to see them as acceptable.
The road to life-shattering sin is paved by little sins. Small, daily decisions shape our desires and habits.
The first “little” sexual sin many of us indulge in is fantasy. This is hard to battle. As we reject one pernicious thought, another is right around the corner ready to entice our heart. Suddenly, the lies of the enemy become too sweet to reject. He who said, “You will not surely die” was a liar from the beginning (Gen. 3:3, John 8:44) and is still a liar now. Yet, although we’ve been warned, Satan’s whispering influence stirs our hearts. With full moral culpability, we all too often feast upon the banquet set before us.
As with all sin, fantasies gradually cease to satisfy, giving birth to larger sins (James 1:15). A man frequently begins by letting his gaze linger on women in public or on images in magazines and social media. His heart hardens and desire increases. Those lingering glances last just a little bit longer than they did at first. Before he knows it, he’s not satisfied with what he sees in these brief moments and seeks something more explicit. Though he may be married, he engages other women in inappropriate conversation or begins viewing explicit pornography. Conversations become flirtatious; pornography ceases to satisfy. Suddenly, a man realizes he’s committed adultery. Broken, he may cry “I never thought I would do this!” as loudly as he’d like, but he himself paved the way for his great sins.
So, what should we consider when we’re struggling with “little” sins?
- Christ Died for Small and Large Sins
John teaches us that Jesus Christ “is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2). When we’re told that Christ died for our sins, we’re not told that he died for our greater sins only. God’s wrath burns hot against all sin, even the most minor. Even for just a bite of forbidden fruit (Gen. 2:17) or a mouthful of forbidden honey (1 Sam. 14:43), God has warned that “the soul who sins shall die” (Ez. 18:20). While God does differentiate between small and great sins, his Son died for all sin without differentiation. Thus, as Christians, we must remember the weighty truth that every sin we commit, however small, is a sin for which our Lord Jesus Christ died.
This weighty truth cuts both ways. For the repentant Christian, his great hope and security is the reality that his sinful thoughts and desires are covered by the forgiving blood of Jesus Christ.
This hard and glorious truth should be a deterrent for us. The marred body of our Lord was wounded for even our most seemingly minor thoughts, words, and actions. The fantasies we indulged for even a fleeting moment had to be paid for by the suffering of our Lord. No sin comes without suffering.
- Take a Long View
The ongoing, unrepentant pursuit of small sins will ultimately consume us. Neither Satan nor our own flesh are satisfied with little sins; “negligible” sins are just the top of an increasingly steep slope. The Preacher of Ecclesiastes characterizes the foolish sinner in this way: “The beginning of the words of his mouth is foolishness, and the end of his talk is evil madness” (Eccles. 10:13). Unresisted sin gains a gradual foothold upon the soul. These advances are not easy to discern—we give in, just a little here and a little there. Before we realize it, we’ve habituated our soul to sin. Every advance weakens the will to fight until, finally, we eagerly fall to what was before unimaginable. Christian: Be alert! “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:12).
For the repentant Christian, his great hope and security is the reality that his sinful thoughts and desires are covered by the forgiving blood of Jesus Christ.
Sin is never isolated. Our Lord says, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander” (Matt. 15:19). Every thought and action we do not surrender to Christ today trains us for disobedience tomorrow. Every small sin we commit takes us further down the slope to the cliff of larger sins. We must prepare ourselves to resist the temptations of Satan and our flesh—to recognize when our desires deceive us, making us compromise “just a little.” Are we willing to cut sin off at its root?
- You Are Secure in Christ
If you’re trusting Jesus, sin will not win. A repentant sinner is secure, despite all his struggles with sin, because his obedience is rooted in Jesus’s obedience. Paul, who cried, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” also declared “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 7:24, 8:1). Christian, let your eternal security in Christ compel your fight against sin. Resist the slippery slope of small sins by looking to Jesus—he is our solid ground.
13 Apr 2023
This post was written by Harvest USA Men’s Ministry intern Nate Fowler.
My blood pressure seriously drops at the sight of blood. My four-year-old son once tripped and split his forehead on the corner of the table. Thankfully, I remained clear-headed enough to pull him into the bathroom and evaluate the matter until my wife brought our first aid supplies and took over.
Then, feeling the shock set in, I went to the kitchen for a splash of cold water in the face and an electrolyte-heavy drink. Within a minute or two, I was able to return with my wits about me and assist my wife. My son was safe; the fall just broke his skin. But I’m certain that if I’d remained in that bathroom any longer, the shock would’ve sent me to the ground, doubling my wife’s tasks.
Sexual Temptation Is Like Shock
Sexual temptation can be just as surprising as a medical emergency. Whether it’s a pop-up ad, a phishing email, a graphic movie scene, a visit to the beach—one minute we feel impervious, and the next we’re in a spiritual ambulance grasping for anything useful. What can we do in the moment of temptation? How can we address the shock before falling to sin? Which Scriptures or tools can help us respond effectively?
This is why I formulated a “first aid kit” for sexual temptation. This practical tool is meant to give direct assistance in the hour of need. I pray you’ll find it useful.
What’s in the Kit?
My kit is an envelope filled with extracted pages of journaled prayers, 3×5 cards with Scripture verses, letters from loved ones, and photographs. I place this envelope in my work bag and, when tempted, pause all obligations to open the envelope and prayerfully survey its contents. After a sufficient period of time, I’m reoriented and ready to fight the day’s temptations with vigilance.
Here are some principles to help you develop your own first aid kit for sexual temptation.
A first aid kit must be prepared to address several possible scenarios. Preparation and variety are vital for effectively addressing temptation (see 1 Pet. 5:8–9; Eph. 6:10–15; Phil. 4:8).
Here are some items I recommend:
- Psalms and Scripture verses. I have a single notebook page labeled “When Tempted, Pray…” followed by Psalms and personal prayers. I also have a list of Scriptural truths like, “My body belongs to God (Rom. 12:1–2; 1 Cor. 6:19–20)” or “My sanctification is more important to God than my ease (1 Thes. 4:3–8; Rom. 5:1–5; James 1:2–4).”
- A list of goals. For example: “To love God with all my heart, mind, soul, and strength,” “to love my wife as Christ loves his Bride,” and “to be a role model for my kids in this area.”
- A list of spiritual consequences for falling—things God’s Word tells us we can expect as a result of sin. For example, “quenching the Spirit and feeling God’s heavy hand (1 Thes. 5:19; Ps. 32)” or “unable to bear my brothers’ burdens (Gal. 6:2).”
- A list of spiritual rewards for fighting. For example, “joy and peace in the Lord,” “more time to focus on relationships, tasks, and hobbies,” or “feeling clean, pure, and free from shame.”
- Self-written prayers. Call on the Lord to fulfill his promises in Scripture (Acts 4:23–31). Feed your future self words you know you’ll need to hear.
- Letters written by loved ones. My wife has written verses and encouraging notes to remind me she’s in the trenches with me. I also keep general letters from family and friends.
- Photos of loved ones you’re fighting for.
- Poems or song lyrics that speak to the issue in a unique, compelling way.
- A list of people to contact in the moment of trial (ideally your accountability partners or one of the loved ones you’re fighting for).
- Voice or video recordings of loved ones if you can’t call.
You must be equipped with proper training. How do Navy SEALs learn to execute strategies effectively, or ice skaters learn to seamlessly perform daring stunts? How do EMTs know which tools and operations to use in a crisis? Muscle memory. They practice over and over until the motions are ingrained into their minds and bodies.
Deuteronomy 6:6–9 tells us that God’s commands become ingrained into our hearts as we teach them, talk about them (when sitting, walking, lying down, and rising), and as we bind them as signs on our hands, doors, gates, and even our eyelids.
These are some ways I practically apply this step:
- Place your kit with another frequently-used item. I keep my envelope in a folder in my backpack so, when I open that folder, I see it and have an opportunity to review the contents.
- Use your kit on days of minimal temptation. Even when my temptation level is around 15%, I try to pull out the kit for a couple of minutes and review my goals for fighting.
- Make it a part of your repentance plan. If I fall into sin, I follow this process of repentance: 1) Confess to God contritely. 2) Confess to my wife and accountability partners. 3) Spend as much time fighting sin as I spent succumbing to it. I use step three to bolster my first aid kit with Scriptures, prayers, and other resources that soften my heart.
Ease of Access
Lastly, A first aid kit must be accessible. Hikers don’t hope for a shack to miraculously appear in the middle of the woods; they carry the essentials on their backs. Neither can you embark on your daily spiritual journey without the proper supplies on hand. As a matter of preference, a hiker may decide to use GoogleMaps over a compass. Similarly, you might choose to:
- Develop your collection in an envelope, like me.
- File a digital collection on your smart device or in an online folder (if it’s not more tempting).
- Pack your kit into a collection of 3×5 cards.
Your decision should be based on what’s most useful and accessible to you. Either way, the most successful hikers are those who keep the essentials close at hand.
Bonus Expansion Pack
This tool is versatile. While my first aid kit for sexual temptation is fully developed, I’m working on a first aid kit for anger and have thought about creating one for gluttony. Whatever your area of sin, a collection of prepared materials, a plan for regular review, and easy access to the kit will strengthen your fight and help you look to Christ.
May the Lord bless you and keep you as you fight for him.
06 Apr 2023
Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures. (James 1:16–18)
Our heavenly Father uses all things for his children’s good (Rom. 8:28). Even hard things from God are better than anything we might wish for. But he’s generous with his feel-good gifts, too. Loving relationships, delicious food, even the glimmer of gifts as simple as birdsong and budding trees point to the unchanging goodness of our “Father of lights.”
I’ve noticed a common attribute in some of my most spiritually mature friends: they pursue joy. One dear friend has been watching her only sister, a mother of two young children, fight recurring stage-four cancer. My friend’s gutsy determination to enjoy the good things that still exist even while her heart aches with sorrow is strikingly beautiful. It’s a resistance against evil, an active rebellion against the forces of darkness that feel so mighty here and now. It’s gratitude, armed and fighting.
This sturdy gratitude—the dogged decision to enjoy what’s good in life—is itself a gift of God’s grace. And it’s a key weapon in the fight against sin, including sexual sins. Behaviors like viewing pornography, sex outside marriage, or fantasizing about someone are all fed by discontentment.
Gratitude and Joy
Gratitude, on the other hand, nurtures joy. “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2–4).
James doesn’t say “snap out of it, guys—feel happy!” but “count it all joy.” It’s a reasoned response grounded in God’s power. Trials test faith and, for one who is united to Christ, tested faith gets stronger. We can count trials as joy because God’s Spirit is refining us through them (vv. 3–4).
Believer, God is at work in your life. Gratitude involves mining for the jewels of his work.
Believer, God is at work in your life. Gratitude involves mining for the jewels of his work. Did God’s promises comfort you today? Did you respond to sorrow or stress by crying out to the Lord instead of turning to pornography? Did you repent immediately instead of waiting to confess sin? May the Lord give us eyes to see his work in us and grateful hearts to celebrate it.
Gratitude and Temptation
Our Father’s gifts compared to sin are like a blazing campfire next to a weak flashlight. God’s gifts bring us warmth, joy, and light where sin leads us into a dark forest—cold, lost, tripping over roots, stumbling off cliffs. Yet temptation would have us grip the flashlight instead of resting in the campfire’s comforting glow.
It’s striking to me that when James talks about trials, he includes temptation (1:12–15). Temptation is tied to deception and feeds on discontent. “Do not be deceived,” James says (v. 16). Our wandering hearts believe the lie that we don’t have what we need in Christ. But sin is a dim imitation of joy and ultimately leads to death. Remaining steadfast under trial has to do with remembering God’s character: “the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (v. 17). He is essentially, eternally good; he is goodness.
However we feel in the moment of temptation, if we have him, we have everything. Noticing his good gifts reminds us of God’s character. It feeds gratitude and exposes sin’s emptiness. Only God lavishes goodness upon us; he alone satisfies.
This is true at every level. Consider the wholesome, mundane gifts God gives: biting into a perfect apple. Late afternoon light slanting through a window. Hugging a loved one, laughing with a friend, watching daffodils opening like concentrated sunshine. These are merely common grace good things! Believers get special grace, too—the honey of God’s Word, fellowship with believers in the bond of the Spirit, prayer. We get communion with our Savior. In union with Christ, we get God himself.
Gratitude and Jesus
When fighting temptation, we can make too much of the thing we’re fighting. It looms over everything, casting the shadow of condemnation. Our struggle with sin can appear bigger than our Savior’s victory.
Noticing his good gifts reminds us of God’s character. It feeds gratitude and exposes sin’s emptiness.
It’s right to grieve sin; godly sorrow leads to repentance (2 Cor. 7:8–11). But repentance means looking away from ourselves to Jesus, trusting that his death is enough. In Christ, there is no condemnation (Rom. 8:1). He is the pure sacrifice who atones for our sin—the obedient son who clothes us in his righteousness. He gives us his Spirit to empower our fight and helps us in our need (Heb. 4:14–16). It’s particularly in our sin that we have cause for gratitude!
Still, I forget God’s mercy and miss many opportunities to rejoice over the things that punctuate life with beauty, warmth, or humor. You, too? But our hope is in Christ, who always delights in his Father.
We can run freely to Christ in daily repentance because he never needed to repent. And through him, the Father lavishes his unfailing love upon us in small and large ways, every day. What better motivation to thankfulness can there be than the unmerited mercy that’s ours in Christ?
The greatest of earthly good gifts, though, are only little tastes of our Father’s goodness. Even our experience of spiritual blessings is limited by our sin—we see in a glass dimly (1 Cor. 13:12). The greatest gifts now are small bites, just big enough to whet our appetite for the coming feast. Praise God—in Christ, we have an eternity of sinless, satisfying joy to anticipate.
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)
12 Jan 2023
Brother in Christ, do you ever feel there’s a switch in your brain that gets turned on, and once that happens, it’s only a matter of time before you find yourself back in the gutter of pornography? Does porn feel inevitable? Sister in Christ, do you experience triggers, such as suggestive posts on social media, that lead you onto a highway to porn with only one exit: “Give In to Temptation”?
Many people fall into the belief that once desire has been awakened, the only way to silence that nagging voice is to give it what it wants. They believe the porn interstate has one way off, and that’s to give in.
But before you reach “Giving In,” you’ve flown past earlier exits that don’t involve sinning. The sooner you get off this highway, the stronger you’ll become next time you make a wrong turn back onto it.
Use Strategic Speed Bumps to Slow Down
While many people feel they “fall into” porn, there were dozens of decision points along the way that led to that destination. Slowing down is critical to seeing those earlier exit ramps. To do this, we need to place speed bumps on the highway to porn.
Speed bumps include anything that makes pornography difficult to access. If porn is right in your pocket on your phone, you’re flying down the highway at 150 mph. No wonder you missed all the other exits! Speed bumps force you to slow down. These may include filters and accountability software on all internet-enabled devices, removing all social media, or perhaps getting rid of a smart phone altogether. It sounds painful to limit your access to many good things, but I hear testimony after testimony of the peace and freedom many people experience when they couldn’t look at porn due to lack of access.
Before you reach “Giving In,” you’ve flown past earlier exits that don’t involve sinning. The sooner you get off this highway, the stronger you’ll become next time you make a wrong turn back onto it.
The reason these measures are speed bumps and not brick walls is because there’s ultimately no guaranteed way to restrict access to someone who truly wants to find pornography. People will go to great lengths and spend incredible amounts of time and money just to get their next fix. Where there is a will, there typically is a way.
But the fatal flaw I hear from so many is that because speed bumps don’t guarantee success, they don’t even try them. This is a lie from the depths of hell. Any distance you can create between yourself and access to sin is to your advantage. It gives time for the Holy Spirit to work in your heart and turn you from sin. Putting speed bumps up also shows you’re sober minded about what’s at stake in the battle against sin. Scripture explicitly commands us not to make any provision for the flesh (Rom. 13:14). Your willingness to limit your access to porn shows you take sin seriously.
Earlier Exits Off the Highway to Porn
Believe it or not, this highway is chock-full of exits that don’t involve sinning. Once you slow down, you’ll see they’re everywhere! What are some of these earlier exits?
- Switch locations. Pornography prefers privacy. An obvious exit is to leave your private room and find a place with other people. If you’re the only person at home, go for a walk or study at the library. For those who work remotely, take your work to a café, remove all curtains and blinds from your home office, and maybe take the door off.
- Reach out for help. Don’t expect one person to be everything you need when it comes to reinforcements. As soon as tempting thoughts enter your mind, out yourself. Text six friends and then systematically call each one until one of them picks up. Fight the lie that says you’re annoying them. The sooner you bring those tempting thoughts into the light, the less power they have over you. James wasn’t lying when he promised, “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).
- Access truth. The most obvious decision here is to open your Bible and flood your mind with truth (Phil. 4:8). But there’s a plethora of creative ways to do this if you’re hesitant to pick up your Bible in those moments. Always have an audio Bible on-hand and fill your airwaves with God’s precious promises. Turn on Christian music or listen to a sermon or Christian podcast. Perhaps you have “Fighter Verses” in your wallet or posted on your wall—these are specific verses you’ve found particularly strategic when you’re tempted to sin.
- Reach up to God. According to Hebrews 4:16, we’re called to enter God’s throne room of grace in time of need to receive mercy and find grace to help. You know temptation to look at porn is not just any old “time of need,” this is DEFCON 1—imminent nuclear war! You also know your resources to fight this temptation are limited and ineffective on their own. You need divine help. Grace is not only God’s gift of forgiveness, it’s also his power that he freely gives you in Christ to battle temptation. But you need to come to him for it. You need to get on your knees and pray for his help. Pray to God for eyes to see him in his glory, so the “things of earth grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace.” Ask God to make you sober-minded to the devastating consequences of pornography. Ask him to meet you in your trials that so often underlie the temptation to escape them.
Brother, sister, you can always get off the highway to porn, even when you feel you’ve gone too far.
- Find someone to serve. Pornography is the epitome of selfishness. It’s exploiting someone else for your own pleasure. A powerful weapon against selfishness is to proactively find ways to serve. Serving others is much more fulfilling and doesn’t leave you with guilt and shame. Looking at pornography in the morning can ruin your whole day, sometimes your whole week. But serving someone else in the morning can brighten your day and become the highlight of your week. This doesn’t have to be extravagant. It can be as simple and powerful as praying for people in need, calling a friend who struggles with loneliness, or doing the leftover dishes in the sink.
Brother, sister, you can always get off the highway to porn, even when you feel you’ve gone too far. Remember, “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Cor. 10:13). As you grow in sanctification, you may still find yourself back on that highway—but the early exit signs will become much clearer. The more you take those early exits, you’ll find yourself less frequently on the highway at all, instead opting for the scenic route of God’s glory, beauty, and grace.