Pick Your Pleasure
- 2002 11 Jun
The May 14, 2002, Crosswalk.com Weekly Email Update referenced a statistic that showed that nearly 40% of pastors have looked at pornography in the past year. The struggle against immorality in its various forms penetrates leadership and rank-and-file Christians alike.
It may be that you are immersed in pornography or some other sexual sin such as private fantasies, sex chats, adulterous relationships, homosexuality, and you want help. Or you may know someone who is struggling with this type of sin. To those who are involved and to those who look on and desperately desire to help, let me say that there is hope. The strong force (James 1:13) and warring nature of sin (Romans 7:23) may seem inescapable, but hope beams out from the pages of Scripture.
Simply stated, there is hope in Christ! In turning from our lies and old self to the power and life of Christ we find victory. We all experience the back-and-forth struggle against sin that Paul describes in Romans 7: "Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on one hand I myself with my sin am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin. Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the Law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death." (Romans 7:25 -8:2).
Let us do what James commands to us in his book of wisdom, which is to look into God's Word to see who we are and, understanding that, to then become an "effectual doer." Scripture reveals a great ugliness about our inside, but when we reckon with our spiritual destitution and pride is done away with in the holiness and righteousness of God, then we can only say, "I cannot do this." And that is the truth. Sin may not have mastery, but it still remains. The recognition of our wickedness and helplessness is what brings us to the mercy of the Gospel; this is where hope begins.
We face a troubling reality that the sexual sins that we deal with are not just actions that we commit and that we can just break the habit with enough effort. More accurately, all our acting out in sexual sins in viewing pornography, having affairs, fantasizing about people we view stems from our heart. Jesus explained, "For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders."
In our mind, we convince ourselves that our hearts are really not that bad or that in our heart we really want to love Jesus. We think we just need to stop doing what we are doing. But the truth of Jesus' words is that we sin because of our sinful hearts. When we reckon with our hearts as they are toward God, then God can change our hearts by His grace. It is by grace that we repent of our sinful hearts and enter into life that honors God.
Facing a Heart Corrupted by Sin
Before any of us can experience change, we must face who we really are. That is difficult, because of what the prophet Jeremiah explains, "The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?" (Jeremiah 17:9). While sin no longer controls a believer as a slave master, the truth is that sin does remain in us (James 1:21).
What is this sinful heart like? Not only is it important to see that our immoral sexual acts bloom forth from the heart, but we must see our heart in its rebellious orientation toward God. We do not simply do wrong things that need forgiveness, but every sin reveals a heart that rebels against God in some aspect.
In a recent article describing the process of repentance as revealed in Psalm 51, David Covington shows that our sin must be seen as not only from the heart, but our sin is from a heart that plainly does not want God in who He is and what He does.
The context of Psalm 51 is this: King David used the resources of Israel to give himself a comfortable place to live, forsook his duty to go with his army to war, lusted after another man's wife, committed adultery with her, tried to deceive the husband to cover his sin, and finally used the army to murder the husband to again try to cover his sin.
Covington explains, "It is hard for us to think of anyone in the nation against whom David did not sin. Yet David was not blind to this ... David had used others for his own glory, and that violation of God's purposes stands so tall that by comparison David's sins against those people can only be considered later."  King David knew the truth of Colossians 1:16 that all things are created by God for Himself. The specific acts of David's sin are but the revelation of his heart toward God and God's creation, and so David writes in the Psalm of repentance, "Against You, You only, I have sinned" (Psalm 51:4).
Facing God in Our Sin
It is not enough to simply address actions; we must address our hearts that do not fully love and submit to God.
So again the question comes up in relation to sexual sins, "What is this sinful heart like?" I believe it is fair to say that most often, a heart that sins in this way has some basic attitudes. When a man forsakes the holiness of his marital bed and goes to another woman; when a man sneaks to find various sorts of pornography and conjures up various imaginations; when a woman immerses herself in the wiles of fantasy novels or lingers in the presence of a man who is not her husband; the heart in them likely says one of two things. First, the heart may grumble saying, "God has cheated me. He hasn't given me good (or good enough) in my wife/husband. I will get more because God will not be faithful to give me the good I deserve!" Second, the heart may arrogantly say, "I am high and exalted; I will make this person (in fantasy or in person) serve me and fawn over my power and loveliness." Whether the heart believes one or both, the heart wants to do away with God to have the provision or worship it wants.
You may read these statements about the heart and shudder with conviction that your heart truly believes this way. This conviction brings sorrow and shame, yet it conducts you to the hope of Jesus Christ's sufficient victory over sin. But you may also say, "But I hate the way I act - I love God and I want to do good!" Edward Welch offers a smart perspective on this outlook. He writes that while there may be a bit of truth in saying that we hate the sinful heart, but because of our self-deceiving heart (Jeremiah 17:9), we mostly lie; to say we hate our greedy, arrogant heart attitudes becomes a way to avoid shame. 
It is not enough to assent to the reality that you do not really hate your sin, but you must recognize that you actually enjoy the sin.
In Proverbs, Solomon tells us that a fool finds pleasure in evil conduct (10:23). In Ecclesiastes, he explains again that the heart of a fool dwells in the house of pleasure (Ecclesiastes 7:4). Paul warns Timothy that in the end days people will be lovers of pleasure instead of lovers of God (2 Timothy 3:4). We see that sinners really do act (sexual sins and otherwise) from a heart that wants his selfish desire for pleasure to be met.
So be honest. Reckon with your heart that you enjoy the sin that you engage in. Edward Welch offers two reasons why this is important: it is an honest response to what God's Word tells us about ourselves, and more importantly, the second reason "is that it stirs us to battle with out-of-control desires. If we think that we no longer like a certain addiction, there is not reason to be vigilant about it." 
Contrast this heart for our own pleasure with Paul's admonition to the Philippian believers. He tells them to work out their salvation, "for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure." Be careful here to notice that we are to work out not work for our salvation. Paul calls us to rely on God in making our salvation real in our life and God enables us to do that for His pleasure.
Pick Your Pleasure
So then, you must pick your pleasure. Will you pursue pleasing God or pleasing yourself? Depending on your decision, you will experience abundant life or decay in this world. If you are realizing now the truth that your heart is against God and you are acting out in sexual ways for your own pleasure, ask for God's grace to not only see your sinful heart, but also to change.
If you are a believer, the process of repentance stands before you as the doorway to freedom. Jesus has taken every sexual sin, every sinful attitude in your heart and taken them into His body -- He has set you free from the control of sin. We make that real in our lives through repentance.
So much can be said about repentance, but let's take a compact look at change from the book of Titus. Let's take a look at Titus 2:11-14:
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds.
As we can see from the text, God's grace makes change possible. Pray for God's grace to abound to you and make you able to do the good work of turning from sin and living for God's honor (2 Corinthians 9:8). Depending utterly on God's grace, we can follow this pattern that grace leads us in. There is great hope! In the passage we see that redemption from the power of sin encompasses the denying and then right living - verse 11 speaks of salvation that grace brings and verse 14 speaks of Jesus redeeming us from sin.
Putting Off the Old Self
The first thing that we deny is ungodliness. The original word indicates that we are to deny wrong worship. Hopefully, if you are involved in some sort of sexual sin at this time and read this far, you recognize that your heart believes untruths about God -- that His provision is not enough, that He is not to receive worship if you don't want to do so.
Second, we must deny the cravings of our flesh. Denying cravings means that you give up your self-proclaimed right to all that you think God has unfairly kept you from. It means that you stop the God-obscuring devotion and adoration of another person and wanting that same worship back in the form of sexual activities.
But how do you deny these things? In prayer before God, identify your sinful actions and the underlying heart attitudes you have toward God along with confessing your enjoyment of them. Ask forgiveness on the basis of Jesus' work of redemption (v 14) and in believing prayer, tell God that you choose to kill these sins, these attitudes.
Putting On the New Self
Your prayer must not stop there, though. In the New Testament, we always see a process of putting off first and then putting on the right. Let us look at how to live now.
Next you are to live sensibly. This means to live with wisdom. The book of Proverbs tells us something that may be applicable here. "Like a city that is broken into and without walls is a man who has no control over his spirit" (Proverbs 25:28). In what ways do you need to erect some walls? What concrete steps do you need to take to separate yourself from your specific sin? Do you need to throw away/burn your stash of pornographic magazines? Get a friend or your spouse to put a password on the control that prevents access to specific Internet sites? Use Covenant Eyes or some similar access-limiting program? Say goodbye to the person you are having an affair with and do away with all things related to the affair? Or even move?
A word of caution here: these wise actions may aid you in not acting on sin, but unless you proceed first in denying ungodliness and worldly desires, then all you will do is just not overtly sin. Unless you address your heart with God, you will not obey Him from the heart. Living sensibly/wisely only comes after putting off the old man.
Living righteously means setting out the right path of obedience. How do you need to now act toward your spouse? If you are not married, commit yourself to chastity until the time that God provides a spouse to you.
The godly part of living means turning to the new attitudes of your heart. How will you see God now? Spend time reading and meditating on passages that reveal the faithfulness and goodness of God. Also spend time with the passages of admonition regarding fleeing lusts, loving your wife or husband.
Remember I said the prayer didn't end with confessing, receiving forgiveness, and putting off the old man? Now continue in prayer and in humble need of God's grace, put on the new man that lives sensibly, righteously, and godly.
This is not something that takes place once or twice. Each time that you sin or recognize your heart's orientation in a particular situation, ask for God's grace and pray to turn from old ways and turn to living for God's pleasure.
Strength for the Road Ahead
Is this a tough road? Yes! But let us thank God that this passage reveals more than a putting off and putting on. The message of verse 13 is incredibly important for living joyfully and victoriously for God. In this process of change, we are to be "looking for the blessed hope and appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus." We have all experienced times when we have endured and done without because we knew that something greater was coming.
All believers have something to look forward to. Jesus will come back one day. You need not become mired in the snares of this world looking for something to carry you on. Jesus will set all things right -- that is our hope. We serve the one and only God and He will show His glory. You may delight in the coming day of your "great God and Savior." Let the hope and glory of our God sustain you in battle.
Dan Hamilton resides with his wife Gabriella and their daughter in Bellevue, Nebraska.
1. Psalm 51: Repenter's Guide. David Covington. Journal of Biblical Counseling, Vol 20, No. 1: Glenside, Pennsylvania
2. Self-Control: The Battle Against "One More". Edward Welch. Journal of Biblical Counseling, Vol. 19, No. 2: Glenside, Pennsylvania
3. Self-Control: The Battle Against "One More". Edward Welch. Journal of Biblical Counseling, Vol. 19, No. 2: Glenside, Pennsylvania
All Scripture quotations taken from the New American Standard Bible-Updated Edition.