10 Sep 2020
Do non-Christians care about sexual sin, particularly behaviors like masturbation that our culture views as benign? Believe it or not, many do! There are even online support groups for unbelievers who are particularly focused on stopping behaviors like masturbation and pornography. Groups such as Sexaholics Anonymous have very stringent standards for sobriety, and yet many of the people who regularly attend would not claim to follow Christ.
Through the biblical category of “common grace,” we can acknowledge that someone can overcome addictive sexual behaviors and still be dead in their sins. What this means is that a biblical approach to repentance must have a deeper aim beyond mere behavioral change.
At the root of all true Christian ministry stands not a technique, but the person and work of Jesus Christ. Whatever good people may attain through techniques, they are of zero lasting benefit if those techniques do not lead them to Christ. Jesus said as much in John 5:39–40:“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” (ESV).
At some point or another in our lives, aren’t we all guilty of reading Scripture merely to check it off our lists? It is a sobering thought that even reading the Bible can itself become a technique devoid of Christ and therefore have no power to give life to the reader. If you are seeking to offer hope to someone stuck in slavery to sexual sin, or if you yourself need hope, you must keep their—and your—eyes fixed on the only person who can give eternal life in whatever techniques you offer.
Your goal in helping a brother or sister should be the same goal of the apostle John in writing his gospel. John said, “These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31).
At first glance, you might hear John’s words only in an evangelistic context. You might say, “My brother or sister already believes in Jesus, but they still struggle with sin.” Certainly, if you only see belief in Jesus as an entrance into life and not the way of life, then you will forfeit any power to fight sin.
Faith in Christ unites us to him and all of his saving benefits. Through Spirit-wrought faith, a believer has passed from death to life. Their old nature died with Christ, and their new nature was raised to walk in newness of life. The believer’s new life is fundamentally sustained by the one who said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).
This life that Christ gives is not limited to the moment of regeneration but is instead a constant wellspring that sustains you through your eternal union with Christ. Every second of eternal life that you enjoy both now and forever will be inextricably linked to your union with Christ.
John uniquely highlights Christ’s life-giving power in almost every chapter of his gospel. Jesus frequently speaks of eternal life that he alone can give. But this gift is not something outside of him; Jesus offers himself. Here is a sample of these statements:
- “In him was life, and the life was the light of men” (John 1:4).
- “For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will” (John 5:21).
- “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst”
- “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly”
- “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live” (John 11:25).
Without specifically using the word “life” in John 15, Jesus speaks of the utmost necessity of abiding in him for bearing any good fruit. He says, “Apart from me, you can do nothing.” Jesus uses the metaphor of a vine and branches to clearly illustrate that a branch cut off from the vine has no life.
What this means practically is that your primary aim as a helper for those struggling with sin is pointing them to the way, the truth, and the life. Are other things needed to overcome sexual sin? Yes. People need community. People need to cut off access to temptation. People need to confess their sins and learn how to love others instead of consuming them. But all of those efforts and means of repenting have no eternal power if they are cut off from Christ.
In response to Walter Marshall’s classic work, The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification, Bruce McRae writes in a footnote about the spiritual disciplines, or means of grace, “These ‘means of grace’ are not what you do to attain holiness; they are what bring you into a deeper fellowship with Christ who makes you more holy.”¹
Your life, Christian, is only found in Christ. More than any other activity or responsibility you have today, may your first and primary goal be to abide in Christ. Your life is so united to the life of Christ that you can say with the apostle Paul, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).
¹ In his book, Walter Marshall outlines nine different means of grace: reading Scripture; examining one’s life by the Scriptures; meditating on Scripture; baptism; the Lord’s Supper; prayer; singing; fasting; and fellowship and relationships with other Christians in the Church.
You can also watch the video, “Serving Self or Serving Christ,” which corresponds to this blog.
13 Aug 2020
The story of the Israelites wandering in the wilderness is an oft-used example for illustrating unbelief. Even after God rescued them from the Egyptians, the Israelites complained, rebelled, lacked faith, and committed some serious idolatry. If you’re like me, you can easily shake your head in disapproval over their glaring sins. But why do we so easily judge them? Is it just because we’re so proud and arrogant and think we could do better? On some level, yes. But in a positive sense, I believe, as observers, we rightly and readily see the folly of their unbelief. The reason we perceive their sin so clearly is because we see the bigger picture. On the front end, we see how miraculously God saved them from Egypt. But even more powerfully, we already know how their wilderness journey ends. We know that God will bring them safely into the Promised Land, and that he will deliver their enemies into their hands. This is why it’s so distressing to read the account of the spies returning from Canaan. We agonize over the passage, wishing the people of Israel could hear us when we cry out, “Listen to Joshua and Caleb! The land is yours; God will fight for you!”
This kind of strong confidence in God’s ability to accomplish his purposes for his people is a desired result of reading God’s Word. We should read the story of the Old Testament and come away from it lamenting the people’s sin and praising God for his grace and faithfulness.
But the problem we run into is that we don’t understand how similar Israel’s story is to our own. This is why Hebrews is such a necessary book for every Christian, especially Christians who are struggling. Hebrews tells us that the Church in this age is marked by a people traveling through the wilderness. Just like the Israelites, we’ve experienced a miraculous salvation out of slavery. We are now a free people in Christ, and God dwells in our midst through the Holy Spirit. But we are also a people who haven’t yet made it home. Hebrews is written to warn the Church to not give up in the wilderness. As the author of Hebrews describes our situation, “There remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God” (Hebrews 4:9).
What does the wilderness mean for God’s people? It involves suffering, groaning, longing, danger, discouragement. What does the wilderness require for God’s people? It requires faith, hope, endurance, patience, remembering what God has done, and calling to mind what God has promised.
Giving into sexual sin is essentially telling God, “I’m tired of the wilderness. I’m tired of this manna. I’m tired of waiting for you to bring me home. Look, right over there is a great plot of land, with ample water, and a home custom-built for me. I’m not following you anymore; I’m going to settle right here.”
Brothers and sisters, just like we want to shout at the spies in Numbers 13, Hebrews 12 tells us that there is a great cloud of witnesses, made up of all of God’s people who have finished their wilderness wanderings, who have made it home. They are pleading with us, “Don’t settle there; don’t give up! Keep going, keep trusting, keep your eyes fixed on Christ. He will bring you safely home!”
As you know, love, and care for people who are struggling with sexual sin in the wilderness, here are a few ways you can pray for them, based on the book of Hebrews. You could also pray these prayers for yourself:
“Father, protect my brother from an evil unbelieving heart. Help me to speak the truth in love. Take my exhortations and use them to guard his heart against the deceitfulness of sin.” (Hebrews 3:12–13)
“Jesus, usher my friend gently into your throne room of grace. Bring to her mind all of the ways you have suffered through temptation, yet have not sinned, so that she finds grace in her time of need from you, her sympathetic high priest.” (Hebrews 4:14–16)
“Lord, I see how easily he loses heart in the midst of suffering. He struggles to trust in your promises when sin offers tangible relief right now. Point him to Jesus, our forerunner, who has already entered into the highest heaven, becoming a high priest forever interceding for him, so that he might no longer be tossed to and fro but have a steadfast anchor for his soul.” (Hebrews 6:19–20)
“Merciful Father, when she is tempted, help her to believe that in this very moment, Jesus is praying for her.” (Hebrews 7:25)
“Gracious Lord Jesus, help me to know how to stir him up to love and good works. Give me strength and wisdom to encourage him, because the day of your coming is drawing near, and we want to be found doing our Father’s will.” (Hebrews 10:24-25)
“O Lord, my sister sees what so many other people have in this world, and she struggles to understand why you would keep that from her. Guard her heart from despair and selfishness. Instead, may a deepening anticipation and knowledge of her better and abiding possession in the heavenly places move her towards compassion and love for those in need.” (Hebrews 10:34)
“Heavenly Father, my brother has trained his mind for years to live only for what he can see with his eyes. He struggles to see any reward by drawing near to you in faith. Protect him from throwing away his eternal inheritance for a single meal.” (Hebrews 11:6, 12:16)
“Our great shepherd and forerunner, give me spiritual sight to see a better country from afar. Give me the grace to embrace my pilgrim identity. Grant me a holy longing for a heavenly homeland, and remind me that you are preparing a city for me to dwell in forever.” (Hebrews 11:13–16)
You can also watch the video, “Doubting God’s Help in Our Time of Need,” which corresponds to this blog.