The fact is that many Christians are in the midst of some kind of personal sexual struggle or dysfunction. They know theologically that Jesus died for their sins and that embedded in his death are the promises of forgiveness and freedom, but they simply do not know how to get from where they are to where they need to be. They know that the hope of defeating sin is the reason Jesus came, but sexual immorality isn’t just sin—you know, like lying or cheating. It’s different. It’s private. It’s shame-inducing. It’s just not something you talk about. In reality they stare at the empty cross of Jesus, and for them it seems that’s exactly what it is—empty. It’s empty of hope and help for them, so they live in silence. They minimize the depth of their struggle, and they determine that tomorrow they’ll do better. Or they’ve already given up and given in, and they hope that in the end Jesus will forgive them.
In a world that has gone sexually insane, we have to do better. We have to quit being silent. We have to help one another connect the transforming power of the gospel of Jesus Christ to sex and to sexual sin and struggle. The silence must be broken. Biblical hope must be given. People need to be called out of hiding. People need to believe and act as if change really is possible. More of us need to experience the forgiveness, freedom, hope, and courage of the gospel.
So let’s look at sex and sexual struggle through the hope-stimulating lens of the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.
1. YOU DON'T HAVE TO BE ASHAMED THAT YOU'RE A SEXUAL BEING
We have to start here. The cross teaches us that sex is not a problem; it is a gift. Jesus didn’t suffer and die to free you from sex but to free you from sexual sin. You must never give way to cursing your sexuality, because the same One who wisely created your sexuality came to be your Savior. He didn’t come to fill you with guilt because you are sexual but to free you from your bondage to and guilt from sexual sin. Your sexuality points to his glory as Creator and to the amazing creature you are. It is something that the cross allows you to celebrate, because it is the grace of the cross that gives you the power to keep sex in its proper place in your heart and in your life.
Your problem and mine is not primarily that we are sexual beings; it’s primarily that we tend to love the creation more than the Creator so that we use God’s good gifts in ways they were not created to be used. Sexual sin and struggle are not first a matter of what we do with our body but a matter of what we do with our heart. The struggle for sexual purity is not so much a struggle with sex but with the proneness of our hearts to wander, that is, with the tendency of every sinner to look for fulfillment of heart where it cannot be found. As long as you are looking for life in the creation, you won’t be seeking it in the Creator. Sex is a good and beautiful thing, but desire for this good thing becomes a bad and dangerous thing when it becomes a heart-controlling thing. The idolatry of the sinful heart is the problem. So when you ask sex to satisfy you, you have to go back again and again because the satisfaction of sex is powerful but frighteningly short-lived. Remember that asking the creation to be your savior always ends in addiction of some kind.
You don’t have to be ashamed of your sexuality, but you must guard your heart as you live out your sexuality.
2. YOU DON'T HAVE TO DENY THAT YOU'RE A SINNER
So much of what propels personal and cultural sexual insanity is active, regular, long-term self-denial. Self-righteousness is simply insane itself, but it’s there in all of us. The grace of the cross of Jesus Christ means we don’t have to deny reality anymore. We don’t have to work to make ourselves and others think we are righteous. Grace means we do not have to be afraid of what will be uncovered or exposed about us, because whatever is revealed has already been fully covered by the blood of Jesus.
Facing the depth of your sexual struggle is possible because you do not face that struggle alone; your Savior is ever with you. You and I must remember that self-denial is never a doorway to personal change. The grace of Jesus Christ welcomes you to live in the courage of honesty, knowing that there is grace for every dark and dangerous thing that will be exposed. The way you deal with your struggle for sexual purity changes when you embrace the fact that grace means you don’t have to deny your struggle anymore. But there is one more point to be made here. The Bible never presents sexual sin as being of a different nature than other sins. Sexual sin may have different social and interpersonal consequences, but it is sin, no more no less. In Romans 1 sexual sin is listed along with envy, gossip, and deceit, even with something as mundane as disobedience to parents. That is why this is important. If you begin to think that sexual sin is sin of a different kind or nature, it is logical then to wonder if the same biblical promises, hopes, and provisions apply to it.
3. YOU DON'T HAVE TO HIDE IN GUILT AND FEAR
Hiding from someone whom you say you love is never a good sign. Hiding because of guilt and fear is a red flag that something has gone very wrong. Hiding a problem seldom leads to a solution for the problem. The cross of Jesus Christ welcomes you out of hiding, because on the cross Jesus endured your punishment, he carried your guilt, he bore your shame, and he endured your rejection. He did all this so that you wouldn’t have to hide from God. He did all this so that in your sin, weakness, and failure you could run toward a holy God and not away from him. He did all this so that you could live in the light and not lurk around in the darkness. He did all this so that you would find mercy and grace in your time of need. So step out of hiding and reach out for help. Your Savior endured the rejection you and I should have received so that even in our failure, we will never see God turn and walk away from us. Now, that’s grace!
4. YOU DON'T HAVE TO FIGHT YOUR BATTLE ALONE
The dark secrecy of sexual sin can make you feel alienated, misunderstood, rejected, and alone. You can fall into thinking that no one will ever understand, that no one will ever want to be near you or help you. If you are God’s child, it is impossible for you to be alone. Let me make this distinction: it’s not impossible for you to feel alone, but it is impossible for you to be alone. You and I must distinguish between the power of what we feel and the realities that should shape the way we act and respond.
Here’s where the message of Scripture is so incredibly encouraging. God’s greatest gift to us is the gift of himself. What changes the whole ball game is his presence. The wisdom principles of Scripture wouldn’t be worth the paper they are printed on if it weren’t for the powerful rescuing and transforming presence of the Redeemer. Without him with us, for us, and in us, we wouldn’t understand the principles, we wouldn’t desire to live inside them, and we wouldn’t have the power to do so if we wanted to. Our hope for change is a person, the Lord Almighty.
God has also placed us in his church because he knows that our journey to sexual purity is a community project. We were not designed to know ourselves clearly, to identify the places where change is needed, and to fight for that change by ourselves. If you want to be sexually pure, you need people to help you see yourself in ways that sin blinds you to. If you want to gain ground, you need people who will confront you when you are rebelling and encourage you when you are weak. And most of all, you need people who will remind you again and again of the powerful presence of your Redeemer and the lavish provisions of his grace.
5. YOU DON'T HAVE TO QUESTION GOD'S PATIENT LOVE
Could there be any greater encouragement for us as we are confronted with the fickleness of our hearts, our weakness in the face of temptations, the rebellion that causes us to do what is wrong even when we know it is wrong, and the arrogance of thinking we know better than God, than the gospel declaration that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus? God’s love is yours forever, not because you will be faithful but because he is. God’s love is constant, not because you earned it in your righteousness but because God knew it was the only hope for you in your unrighteousness. God’s love never wanes even when your allegiance to him does, because it is not based on your performance but on his character.
If you think that God’s love is at stake, that he will withdraw it when you mess up, then in your moment of failure you will run from him and not to him. But if you really believe in your deepest moment of sexual foolishness, weakness, failure, or rebellion that when you run to him, he will greet you with arms of redemptive love, then it makes no sense to hide from him or to separate yourself from his care. Ultimately, in your struggle with sex, your love for God is never your hope. Hope is to be found only ever in his love for you. Since he loves you, he wants what’s best for you and will work to defeat the enemies of your soul until the last enemy has been defeated and your struggle is no more.
You see, only the gospel of Jesus has the power to bring sanity to sexuality in a world gone crazy and, within this power, the potential for real, lasting, personal transformation. Yes, you can live a God-honoring sexual life in a world gone crazy. Yes, you really can.
Content taken from Sex in a Broken World: How Christ Redeems What Sin Distorts by Paul David Tripp, ©2018. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, Il 60187, www.crossway.org.
Paul David Tripp is the president of Paul Tripp Ministries, a nonprofit organization. He has been married for many years to Luella and they have four grown children. For more information and resources visit paultrippministries.org.