Restoring the Soul
Dr. Erwin W. Lutzer
Chapter 1 – Innocence Lost and Restored
“O God I pray that this sin might not have happened!”
That’s what Sandra told me she prayed the night she gave into the suggestions and demands of her boyfriend. She was, in her words, “tired of resisting the overtures of Bob, and tired of wondering what sex would be like.” Now she knew what it was like, or at least she knew what it was like outside of marriage with a man she never wanted to marry. Not only did she feel a deep sense of betrayal and regret, but she was overcome with burning shame—the feeling that she would have to live with the anguish of this all-consuming secret. She believed herself to be “damaged goods” and as a result could expect neither happiness nor usefulness in the years that lay ahead. She was amazed at how obsessed she was with what happened. How could one act, done in a few minutes of time have such a profound effect on her self-perception, her relationship with God, and nagging shame?
If the pain of those who voluntarily engage in perverse sexual activity is great—and it is—the pain of those who have been drawn into such relationships through manipulation and abuse is even greater.
These people and thousands like them are going to have to learn that there is life after promiscuity; there is life after abuse and there is life after emptiness and inner pain. Internal lessons about forgiveness, self-worth and the restoration of dignity will take time and personal commitment. Even if the soul cannot be completely healed, there is hope for better days ahead.
A Longing for Eden
In order to understand ourselves better, we have to return to where it all began: we go back to Eden, where Adam and Eve had what we long for: open, continual, two-way fellowship with God. When we discover what was lost, we will better understand what needs to be recovered. The image of God is the key to understanding ourselves and the restoration of our soul to God.
You have read it before, but think about this as if you were hearing it for the first time. “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness and let them rule over the fish of the sea and birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’ So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Gen 1:26, 27).
Notice the following:
First, masculinity and femininity lie at the heart of who we are as human beings. Right here in the original creation, God was signaling that the human race would be divided into male and female, and their relationship to one another would be the source of blessing. The relationship between the sexes will be both the source of great blessing but also, after sin enters, of great pain.
Second, the unity between man and woman is to be a mirror of the unity within the Godhead itself. “Let us, create man in his own image…” Right here in the early verses of the Bible we see a reference to the Trinity: “Let us….” And this plurality in unity will be seen in relationship between men and women in marriage. Thus our sexuality deeply touches us a person and goes to the heart of spirituality.
Later we read, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife and they will become one flesh. The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame” (v.24, 25).
One flesh! God says Adam and Eve were one and then the same word is used later when we read that, “The Lord God is One.” God has unity and plurality, just so, a man and a woman are one though they also have diversity of personality.
Let’s not miss the connection: just as the Trinity has unity and diversity, just so, the male, female relationship has unity and diversity. In fact the fellowship enjoyed by the three members of the Trinity is a model for the fellowship that exists among believers.
In Jewish understanding, sex was so holy and divine that the Holy of Holies of the temple was said to represent the bridal chamber; it was the place where God and man entered into the most glorious, intimate and creative union imaginable. Just so, the marriage bed is the place where man, woman and God enter into a relationship that can be described by the same words.
Just as a Jew would not crash the boundaries of the Holy of Holies and enter without following instructions, we should not enter into sex without reading the rule book. When we cross God’s prescribed boundaries of sexuality, we desecrate ourselves and others. This desecration results in defilement, emptiness and a feeling of violation.
If sexual abuse were just a physical act, our bodies could heal and we could get on with life. But the fact is that our sexuality is bound up with the most intimate and spiritual recesses of the soul. For this reason rape, molestation, betrayal, and immorality are arrows directed against our very personhood.
With the original creation defiled by sin, the human race now encounters a whole new set of challenges, with shame high on the list.
The first sin was not sexual, as some have supposed. It was a simple act of disobedience by which sin entered the human family. Everything holy was polluted; everything was now different. We read, “Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.”
Shame would now enter the human race.
Shame was not a part of the original creation, for we read, “The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame” (Gen.2:25). Imagine being psychologically transparent, with nothing to hide. No insecurities, no greedy aspirations, no lusts, no fear that one’s spouse or God would be displeased if all the thoughts of the heart were revealed. Adam and Eve could be as transparent as glass, with no dread that they would be found defective.
After Adam and Eve sinned, they hid themselves among the trees of the garden; they who had felt no shame, now felt its powerful impact. The trees, which had been given to them as a mirror through which they could see the Creator, now became a wall to hide themselves from Him and from one another. From now on, much psychological energy and ingenuity will be expended to keep hiding.
Shame now means that the human race will be preoccupied with appearance. Clothing will not just be judged by whether it is warm or comfortable, but how it appears to others. Whether your fig leaves are as beautiful as mine will become a preoccupation, especially in rich cultures. What parts of the body should be hidden, and what parts exposed will occupy the minds and hearts of the human race.
Shame makes Adam and Eve fear rejection from God and from each other. This feeling has them bound; they will spend much of their lives seeking for new ways to remain hidden. Justifying their behavior to others will become an obsession. For the most part, they will retreat into denial, simply refusing to admit their personal responsibility, refusing to see themselves as others do, and even resisting what God’s Word says about the human heart.
Adam and Eve now had reason to feel ashamed. And God Himself gives them animal skins so that they could be properly covered (Gen. 3:21). Their instinct is sound; there is no way back to Eden; no way back to innocence.
Jesus did not come to tell us that we should deny our feelings of shame because we are not guilty. It is precisely because we have objective shame and guilt that we need His forgiveness. Lewis B. Smeeds wrote, “A healthy sense of shame is perhaps the surest sign of our divine origin and our human dignity…We are the closest to health when we let ourselves feel the pain of it and be led by the pain to do something about it.”
Children subject to criticism or blame are shamed to the core. I’ve known parents brought up in a shame-based home who had an overwhelming desire to blame their children for the slightest infraction, whether real or imagined. In such an environment, someone has to be held responsible so there is continual finger-pointing. The mother shouts, “Who put that tooth brush on the kitchen shelf? Don’t you know that we don’t put toothbrushes just anywhere in this house! No one in this house is going to get by with that!!” Every incident is huge, there are no small crises.
Shame, then, destroys the soul by cutting it off from the graces that are needed for healing and restoration. Shame will keep a man who is addicted to pornography from seeking help. Shame will keep an abused victim from talking to someone who can listen and help. Shame will keep a homosexual relationship hidden. Shame will cause a voyeur from revealing his dreaded secret. Shame will take otherwise decent people and make them liars. Shame will force us to face our shame alone, and thus increase the shame.
Shame causes us to hide from the grace of God; it causes us to hide from the people of God, both of which are necessary for our healing.
God’s Cure for Shame
What did God do for Adam and Eve? He knew that their fig leaves would not cover them properly. So we read, “The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them” (3: 21). Where did these skins come from? Obviously, these were animal skins, beasts killed for the purpose of hiding Adam and Eve’s shame. Symbolically, they point toward the coming of Christ who would die for us so that our shame can be covered.
The healing of shame begins with the experience of grace. To quote Smeeds again, “The surest cure for the feeling of being an unacceptable person is the discovery that we are accepted by the grace of One whose acceptance matters most.”
In an excellent article titled, “Shame Crucified,” Rodney Clapp discusses how Christ delivers us from shame. He says that the most dreadful thing about the cross was not the physical suffering, but the shame. This form of execution was reserved for those least worthy of respect. The formula for sentencing to crucifixion read: “Executioner, bind his hands, veil his head, and hang him on a tree of shame.” It was always public to emphasize its disgrace. No wonder Paul wrote, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who his hung on a tree’” (Gal.3:13).
Let us ask a series of questions which Clapp would have us answer by looking to the experience of Jesus.
Does shame bind us? Jesus was bound.
Does shame destroy our reputation? “He is despised and rejected of men.”
Does shame reduce us to silence? “He is led as a lamb to the slaughter and as a sheep before his shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.”
Does shame expose our apparent weakness? “He saved others, himself he cannot save.”
Does shame lead to abandonment, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Does shame diminish us? He was crucified naked, exposed for gawkers to see.
What was Jesus’ response to this shame? Again we turn to the book of Hebrews, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him, endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down on the right hand of God” (Heb.12:2). He proved that shame cannot permanently disable; it cannot permanently cripple. Thanks to Jesus, shame has lost its power; like the sting that was removed from death, He also removed the sting of shame. To quote Clapp, “He shamed shame.”
Jesus faced shame and robbed it of its power. No kind of shame, whether objective or subjective can ever “separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” As Clapp writes, “The Cross creates a community of people who are no longer afraid of being defined and destroyed by shame, can admit their failures and allow their neediness.” (16)
Sex abuse victims; sex addicts; alcoholics, and those who struggle with shameful behavior of whatever sort, need to admit their need and “shame their shame.”
Shame, Gone Forever
A few years ago, a student gave me this story:
In that place between wakefulness and dreams, I found myself in The Room, with walls covered with boxes of index files, stretched from floor to ceiling. One box was labeled, “People I have Liked.” I opened it, and to my surprise, each card had the name of a person I knew. Then I realized where I was; this was the catalogue file of my whole life. All the details, big and small were recorded.
Both curiosity and fear stirred within me as I began to randomly open the files. Some brought back wonderful memories, others triggered shame so intense that I glanced over my shoulder make sure no one was watching.
Files included, “Books I have Read” and another, “Television Programs I have Watched.” And there was one, “Lies I Have Told” and “Comfort I Have Given.” Then there was, “Things Done in Anger” and another file, “Times I have Cursed.” Also, there were files titled: “People I have Helped” and “Prayers I have Prayed.” I was overwhelmed with the sheer volume of the cards—there were hundreds of boxes and each contained hundreds of cards. I timidly opened the “People I have Hurt” file, and was amazed at its depth. Yet each card had my name and signature.
I was drawn to the file, “People I Have Shared the Gospel With”…and was embarrassed that the box was almost empty. When I moved on to the file titled: “People I’ve Not Forgiven,” I was surprised that the box was almost full. I did not have to look at each card, because I knew intuitively that these files were accurate; no mistakes here.
I glanced up and the file I dreaded most, “Lustful Thoughts” was in front of me. A shameful chill ran through my body. I opened the file, but only for a moment, not willing to test its bulk and size. Out of the corner of my eye I saw another file, “Various Sexual Sins;” I pretended not to notice and turned away.
I was obsessed with destroying the cards, but found could not; though they were thin, they were as strong as steel. In fact, I could not even dislodge them from the file cabinets they were in. By now only one thought dominated my mind! No one must ever see these cards; no one must ever enter this room!
Tears came to my eyes. I sobbed so violently that I began to shake. I fell on my knees and cried, humiliated and afraid. I must lock the room and hide the key!
As I wiped my tears away and was about to stand up, I noticed that someone had entered the room. I glanced at his face and… and then…I saw Him! “No, not Him…anyone but Jesus!” I turned away, burning with shame.
Then He began to open the files and read the cards. He went from box to box and when I glanced up, I saw a sorrow on His face that was as deep as my own. Why did He have to look at them? Why Him?
After a few moments, He walked over and put his arm around me. He said nothing, but just cried with me. Then He began to systematically go through the files one by one, from beginning to end, signing His name on each card. “No, I sobbed…you can’t do that!”
I was amazed at how quickly He went through all the boxes, and when He was finished he showed me some cards up close, and I noticed that on each was His signature, signed with His own blood, covering my name.
I turned away, and cried. But now He was standing beside me. He put his hand on my shoulder and said, “It Is Finished.” He waited in silence for me to dry my tears then led me out of the room. Suddenly a verse I memorized in Sunday School flashed into my mind: “There is therefore no condemnation to them who are in Christ Jesus.” Together we walked down the hallway, but the door was left unlocked. My life was not yet over and there were cards that still needed to be written.
A minister friend of mine who committed immorality and had to resign in disgrace told me, “Just think of pealing an onion, and as you do, layer after layer comes off, but there is nothing in the center. There was nothing left, just myself and God. Because of shame I retreated from every friend who ever knew me. I was despised, spoken about—and I deserved whatever was said about me. I wondered how I could get up in the morning and put one foot ahead of another.”
As we drove together in his car, he put a cassette in the stereo.
Calvary covers it all
My past with its sin and stain [read shame]
My guilt and despair
Jesus took on Him there
And Calvary covers it all
The soul filled with shame must come out of hiding; first to Christ, who will forgive and cleanse and second, to others, to the Body of Christ, who becomes a part of the healing process.
You say, “But nothing will ever be the same for him again.” That is true it won’t. In the end his sin destroyed his marriage and impacted his children. But neither was it the same for Adam and Eve. But God gave them garments to wear and He does the same for us. All that we can do is give Him the broken pieces and trust Him to heal our souls.
Remember, the purpose of the cross is to repair the irreparable; it is God’s answer to the fragments of our lives that can never be put back together. That’s why we read that those who put their trust in God will never be put to shame—they can never be finally and wholly destroyed.
Let’s take the advice of the Wonderful Counselor, “I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so that you can cover your shameful nakedness; and slave to put on your eyes so you can see.” (Rev.3:18, italics added). God has made provision for our human condition. There is more grace in his heart than there is shame in our past.
Chapter 2 – Lies We Love, Lies That Hurt
“Tell me the worst thing that can happen.”
The man who was speaking was contemplating divorce in favor of marrying a secretary he had met at work, a woman who had refreshed his spirit and invigorated his latent desires. He was willing to leave his wife and three children, believing he could not say no to this one opportunity for happiness and fulfillment.
Despite all the talk about how we are the kind of people who “think things through” the fact is that you and I are basically driven by our desires. We want to do what we want to do, regardless of whether it is right or rational.
To resolve the tension between what we know is right and what we want to do, we willingly deceive ourselves. We tell ourselves lies that we want to believe, and often we actually end up believing our most cherished deceptions. But lies are lies no matter how beneficial they might be in easing our conscience and helping us live with the decisions we intuitively know are wrong. Nowhere are we more willingly deceived than in matters of sexuality.
The New Testament writer James tells us that we cannot blame God for tempting us, “but each one is tempted when by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed” (1:14). Dragged away by evil desires! What a description of the human heart; what a reminder that evil desires can overtake us, and once we embark on our own path, returning to the starting point becomes well nigh impossible. How easy it is to choose what appears to be the easy path rather than the difficult but right one.
You and I must humbly admit that any one of us could make a single decision that could destroy the rest of our life. So this chapter comes as a warning.
Sexual passions refuse to listen to the demands of rationality; they insist on immediate fulfillment, blotting out thoughts about the consequences. Only the present moment counts. “I wanted to have this relationship and did not care about the cost” a man told me who had ruined his marriage. “I thought it would work out, someway, somehow.” Many who have said they never would must ruefully admit that they have fallen into sexual sin. Passions are more compelling than reason, refusing to heed the warnings along the road.
We are willingly deceived; there are lies we love to believe.
Lie #1: That We Can Control the Consequences of our Disobedience
The first of the three lies are found in the Garden of Eden. God told Adam and Eve, they should not eat of the fruit of the tree for “when you eat of it, you will surely die.” We don’t know what Eve understood by this warning. She apparently could not grasp what death could mean, since she had nothing in her experience to compare with it. Of this much we can be sure: she had no ability to predict the consequences of her actions.
Eve did not know that her sin would trip a series of dominoes that would plunge her offspring into centuries of suffering and endless pain. She did not foresee endless wars, greed and pain, and for millions, an eternal hell. Standing there with her mouth watering for a taste of that luscious fruit, she could have cared less about what tomorrow held. She did not know that she was sacrificing the permanent on the altar of the immediate.
How much better if Eve had decided to obey God’s bare word, without needing further explanations! What if she had submitted her own desires to the commands of the Almighty, convinced that He knew more than she! What if she had trusted that God actually had the best for her in mind! Whether such obedience would have been possible (given the complexities of God’s hidden purposes) is another matter. What is clear is that you and I are wise to obey Scripture whether or not we understand all the whys and the wherefores. We must never forget that there is a vast gap between the creature and the Creator.
What was the nature of Eve’s deception? She depended on her natural perceptions that distorted reality. She took a finite estimate of the situation, not realizing that her ability to assess the consequences of disobedience was limited. Rather than looking outside herself to God’s special revelation, she looked within and chose to follow the lead of her curiosity. She set in motion a series of events that would end with devastating eternal consequences.
Here is the first lesson that Eve’s experience teaches us about deception: just because you can’t foresee any consequences does not mean there won’t be any! God will not be mocked; unforeseen consequences will boomerang, often arising out of “nowhere.” What the Bible defines as a “great sin” is now “a great act of love” an “act of becoming authentic.” Evil is a good and the good evil.
Lie #2: If it is Beautiful, It Must be Right
We visualize Eve standing before the tree, comparing the warning of God with the promise of the serpent. “When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it” (3:6).
The tree looked good, and it was. Obviously, “in and of itself” the fruit was good, for all that God created was good. In one sense she was right when she saw that the tree was “good.” There was nothing intrinsic in this tree that made it different from other trees.
God had, however, attached a penalty for eating it. Human sight cannot perceive the ultimate realities that lie behind our perceptions. God built in consequences for eating it that were imperceptible to the human eye. To Eve, standing in the lush garden looking at a tree that looked similar to the others, it appeared that God was wrong; His instructions were not for her best interests.
God called the tree the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil,” but Eve gave it a different label. She saw it as good for the body (food); it was good for the soul (beautiful in appearance); it was good for the mind (it would make her wise); so she felt free to eat. God called the eating of the tree evil; Eve called it good. She was a better judge of right and wrong than God. She preferred her perceptions to God’s instructions!
This forbidden tree was “desirable.” Her desires were more present to her than rational considerations. The passions of the body were given precedent over the needs of the soul. If she didn’t eat of the tree, she would spend the rest of her life wondering what it would have been like to enter into the realm of “the knowledge of good an evil.” So the serpent, in effect told Eve, “Feel, don’t think!”
Eve’s has many daughters. One young woman said that accepted a man’s invitation to go to bed with him, because if she didn’t she would “always wonder what it would have been like.” Curiosity is often the lure that leads us to set aside our better judgment. Sin never comes to us properly labeled: it always appears wrapped in a different package and presented as something other than what it is. The deadly hook is camouflaged with all kinds of appealing delicacies. If we follow our fallen nature we will call evil good and good evil.
Two lesbians, both from Christian families, argued that their relationship was not only loving, but “beautiful.” In fact, they were more certain that their relationship was honoring to God than they were about anything else. They had not yet learned the second bitter lesson Eve learned at such high cost to herself and to the human race: just because something is beautiful does not mean that it is right.
Let me say it again: Even beautiful fruit, if forbidden by God, incurs judgment. There is no use arguing with an adulterer who has finally found someone who understands him, someone with whom there is communication, love and oneness—there is no use arguing about whether the relationship is as beautiful as he says it is. The issue is not whether it is beautiful, but whether it is right; the question is not whether it is fulfilling, but whether God is pleased. It’s not how we feel, but how we obey.
Lies used to justify various improper sexual conducts are legion. Dancers in strip clubs believe the lies of those who come to see them undress. One dancer said that her act was truly “beautiful” and “spiritual.” They tell themselves that the compliments given by men are real, refusing to admit their crude manipulation. They live in a world of pain and abuse and yet try to portray a world of seduction and sexual fulfillment. They tell themselves that because they are beautiful, they have nothing to hide, when in point of fact, they feel degraded and used. No matter how “beautiful” God has said no.
After Adam and Eve sinned, they hid in the garden. They sewed fig leaves to clothe themselves, for they were ashamed. Here in Eden we have the beginning of defense mechanisms that will be used to control what other people think of us. Fallen man will become guilty of doublethink—that is the ability to believe two contradictory conclusions. He will feel guilty and yet give learned reasons why his actions are justified; though he will not have the motivation to be good, he will give the appearance of being good. He will fight any encroachment of light, and in the process lie to himself, to others and to God.
Lie #3: I’m Entitled to My Own Happiness
Eve turned away from God’s blessings to disobey him. She committed her great sin in the face of great goodness. There were hundreds of trees that she could eat from; only one was forbidden. We’re not even told that they were prohibited from eating of the tree of life; theoretically, they could have eaten and apparently been immortalized as righteous people. There was but one tree, the tree of the “knowledge of good and evil,” from which they were not to eat, “for when you eat of it you shall surely die” (2:17,b). Surrounded by untold privileges—this was paradise remembe—she turned away to do her own thing, to gain her own sense of independence.
Just so, some people do evil within the context of many blessings. Fine homes, vibrant churches, and praying relatives—all this does not prevent the possibility of a child following his untamed desires. We do not have to be raised in bad surroundings to do bad things; we just have to choose to “gratify the cravings of our sinful nature” as Paul put it (Eph. 2:3). The history of the human race proves this to be so.
Like Adam who was “willingly deceived” we are tempted to do a calculation: will following my passions bring a happiness that will be greater than any distress my actions can bring? Of course, once we have started down that path, our passions will demand immediate gratification, and we will be blind to the consequences. Or we will say, as one person did, “I’ll sin today and deal with the devil tomorrow.” What grieves God is that we are more comfortable with our sin in His presence than we are in the presence of others.
So, Eve did what she thought was best. Perhaps—since she was genuinely deceived—she thought that what was best was also right. If she had doubts, they were brushed aside. God, she thought, had no right to keep her from “fulfillment” but, if He cared He should affirm her every craving. There was a whole new world out there that she wanted to experience.
If you want to make a wise decision, ask: a thousand years from now, what decision will I wish I had made today? No decision can be good in time if it is not good in eternity. This explains why obedience to God is so essential today, because He alone knows tomorrow. We deceive ourselves when we think that only today really matters.
Lie #4: Because God Understands Me, He Overlooks My Indiscretions
We argue that He knows our frame, He remembers that we are dust.
Paul warned against self-deception numerous times, particularly about the temptation to let our passions dictate our beliefs. “Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor make prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy or drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers ill inherit the kingdom of God” (I Cor. 6:9,n10 italics added). Since it is true that the mind can rationalize anything that the desires dictate, we should not be surprised that many people blithely assume that they can rewrite God’s commands to satisfy their every craving. They are deceived.
The reason we are forgiven is not because God understands us; we are forgiven because Jesus died for sinners, and thus we have someone who is a substitute in our behalf.
Lie #5: I Am Locked into My Lifestyle Because My Story is Unique
We think that no one has ever been tempted like we are. Yet we read “There is no temptation, but that is common to man….” No matter what you have gone through, someone else has a similar story and has managed to get through it successfully. If you say that your experience is unique and one that you and God can’t handle, you are calling God’s faithfulness into question.
What do we need to end the deceptions?
First, we must be radically honest, willing to be kept from deception no matter the cost. This means not merely honesty in the presence of God, but also honesty in the presence of others. Listen to these words of instruction and warning, “See to it brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness” (Heb.3:12, 13 italics added).
One man put it this way. He says that he had a compartment in his mind that no one—not even God—was allowed to enter. Here in this part of his being, he had room for lust, envy, fear and insecurity. As long as the latch was closed and the walls sealed, he could enter whenever he wished and no one would know. But his heart could not be healed until he admitted that there was no place to hide. God loves to enter our safe places, to pry open the closets of our lives to assess our motives and delights. “Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place” (Psa.51:6).
Second, if we are sensitive to the Holy Spirit, God will convict us through His Word, which is his voice to us. One woman said that when her husband developed an attraction to another woman, though he was a pastor, he left off Bible reading and prayer. It is difficult to even pretend to come into the light when we have something to hide. God wants the misery of our self-deception to be greater than the misery of self-examination and honest confession. He holds us accountable for not desiring Him above all else.
Not for a moment do I suggest that our battle with our passions will subside. The desires of our sensual nature will always conflict with our desire to please God. But we must grow a passion for Christ that is greater than our passion to sin. In fact our willingness to know the truth lies at the heart of our discovery of it. “If anyone chooses to do God’s will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own” (John 7:17). We often don’t discover the truth for the same reason a thief does not find a policeman. We are not looking for the truth with the same passion as we are looking for reasons to justify ourselves.
There is room for failure in the Christian life; there is no room for accepting failure as a lifestyle. Plenty of time must be given for healing of the soul; but there is no time for taking those small steps in the right direction.
Chapter 3 – Breaking Soul-Ties
Through a chat room on the internet, a woman met a man with whom she was convinced would “meet her needs.” After agreeing to meet in a hotel in a specified city, she decided to leave her husband and three children for this exciting stranger. Her decision was made six hours after that first meeting.
People can have a powerful influence over us; they can either bless us or curse us; they can help us in our quest for good, or they can compel us to do evil. Some are masters of manipulation and have mastered the art of controlling those who would be their friends.
Many of these destructive relationships are formed quite innocently; others come about through crafty design and seduction. If we do not understand the bonding process, we will never be able to comprehend how people can reject proven relationships to plunge into a relationship that is guaranteed to end in disaster.
Whence do control freaks get their power? Why are their victims so easily seduced? Let’s talk about how soul ties are formed and how they can be broken
First, unhealthy bonds can be formed through friendships. Paul warned, “Do not be misled: ‘Bad company corrupts good character.’ Come back to your senses as you ought, and stop sinning; for there are some who are ignorant of God—I say this to your shame” (1 Cor. 15: 33). As wise parents know, they had better be aware of the friends their children choose—they will influence them either for good or ill.
Second, soul-ties are developed through blindly following leaders. Those who are in positions of influence often have powerful and controlling personalities who can bring people under their spell. Paul speaks of false teachers has having “another spirit” (2 Cor. 11: 3,4); I have no doubt that the only way to explain the controlling nature of some false teachers is that there is a transference of “spirits” to their followers. One of the characteristics of the end time church is that people will give heed to “seducing spirits.” False teachers have the ability to neutralize the will, making their followers captive to themselves. One of the most predictable characteristics of demons in the New Testament is an obsession with control, and a desire to possess and own others.
The most powerful soul-ties occur in the sexual relationship. Through this physical/spiritual union we experience either great fulfillment and blessing, or great manipulation and destruction. A young Christian woman with the highest morals worked at a firm where a man determined to seduce her. Whenever he came past her desk (and he found multiple reasons to do so), he appeared helpful and caring, but also available and interested in her beauty. He told her how she brightened his day, and that if it were not for her, he didn’t know how he could go on in life. Though she was flattered by the attention, she was able to resist, but as he persisted, he slowly broke down her defenses with tender words and solemn promises.
Eventually she did what she promised herself she would never do: she became intimate, but after their fling, he turned his attention to the girl who worked on the other side of the hall. Yet, though cruelly betrayed by him, she still could not break free from his power and control. She would succumb to his advances, almost helpless to say no. His control of her (and others), was evil and for all practical purposes, complete. When she came to her senses, she says that though she knew all along what he was doing, he had such power over her that she tossed everything that was dear to her overboard simply to please him.
And that is not the end of the story: when she left the firm the relationship ended, but she began a spiral of immoral relationships. Now that she was introduced to the world of sexuality, she would seek men with whom she could become intimate.
Sexuality and Creation
Think of it. Although Adam had the awesome privilege of walking with God in the Garden of Eden, the Lord said that something important was still missing! “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him” (Gen. 2:18). God unmistakably affirms that man is a social creature and needs companionship that is “suitable” for him.
When God created Adam, He chose to use the dust of the ground for the raw material. “Then the Lord God formed man of the dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being” (Gen. 2:7).
We might expect that God would shape a similar form from dust when He created Eve. But we read, “So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then He took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh at that place. And the Lord God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken out of the man, and brought her to the man” (Gen. 2:21, 22).
When God created Eve out of Adam’s flesh, He made a powerful statement about our sexuality. Apparently, the first Adam contained within himself both maleness and femaleness. God separated the femininity from the masculinity forming two separate people created in the image of God. With this separation came a powerful implanted desire in the male and the female to be reunited in an intimate oneness.
We must therefore accept our sexual desires as from God. The desire for sexual intimacy is a yearning for completeness. There is a magnetic attraction between a man and a woman that is innate, powerful, and unyielding.
God’s entire plan for the human race was dependent on the sex drive inherent within every human being. If Adam had not been sexually attracted to Eve, the human race would have ended with the death of our two parents. But God made the desire for physical intimacy so strong that there was no chance Adam would look at Eve and walk away!
Second, our sexuality must be seen as the highest form of human communication and beauty. We’ve learned that sex is holy; indeed, so holy that the Holy of Holies was considered to be the bridal chamber where God met with Israel.
The Marriage Soul-Tie
What is marriage? In marriage, a man and a woman are joined by two bonds. The first is a covenant, an agreement that they will live together until “death does them part.” The sex act creates the second bond that joins them, body, soul, and spirit.
Sex creates a “soul-tie” between two people forming the most intimate of all human relationships. When the Bible says, “Adam knew his wife” (KJV), the word “know” is not simply a euphemism for the sex act. Sexual intercourse actually consummates the highest form of human inter-personal communication and knowledge. Indeed this exclusive familiarity cannot be easily erased. Once a man and a woman have had sex together, nothing can be the same between them ever again. There simply is no such thing as a brand new beginning.
God intended that the first experience be enjoyed by a man and a woman who are wholly committed to each other within the protection of a covenant. That was to assure the acceptance and unconditional love that guard the most intimate of all human relationships.
Once this bond has been established, it must be nurtured, strengthened, and kept pure. This happens through mutual caring, the development of trust and respect. When the commitment is threatened, the sexual fulfillment (at least on the part of one partner, if not both) is diminished.
What about all the relationships that exist without the benefit of a marriage covenant? What about all those who are promiscuous? What about fornication, adultery, homosexual relationships?
Perhaps one of the most surprising passages in the New Testament regarding the nature of sexuality is found in Paul’s words to the church in Corinth, “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take away the members of Christ and make them members of a harlot? May it never be! Or do you not know that the one who joins himself to a harlot is one body with her? For he says, ‘THE TWO WILL BECOME ONE FLESH.’” (1Cor. 6:15, 16).
We would all agree that sex with a prostitute is sex without a commitment, sex without any hint of mutual respect or caring. Prostitution is based on raw lust—sex for mutual exploitation. Yet, incredibly, Paul says that God joins the prostitute to her partner and the “two become one flesh.” To prove it he quotes from Genesis 2:24 where in Eden God joined Adam and Eve into one. Sex of any kind always bonds people together body, soul, and spirit.
Now here is an instance where one polluted soul will now pollute another soul; you have sex with someone who has been defiled with causal sex and your soul is defiled. There is a communication of soul to soul and spirit to spirit.
Thus, while in marriage the soul-tie is pure and blessed; outside of marriage it is polluted and cursed. Such bonds are outside the boundaries and nurture of a marriage covenant. These bonds intrude, violating what God intended. Two persons have come together in an intimate union without the security of a covenant based on respect and trust.
The Consequences of Impure Soul-Ties
What are the consequences of these polluted bonds?
The Power of the First Bond
When an evil man wants to take a young woman and make her a prostitute, he will rape her; then he will isolate her and she will become his slave. In such instances not only is there a powerful bonding of control, but also there can be a transference of spirits—a powerful demonic influence. When you have sex with someone, you are opening your soul up to them; you are opening your soul to their soul, with all of the good or evil that that implies.
Young people should take note: One reason to guard their virginity is that after they have been sexually bonded, nothing can ever be the same again. That special sexual experience is best enjoyed within the bounds of the security and trust of a covenant.
The first sexual experience or experiences are so powerful that they can even determine the direction of a person’s sexual orientation. A boy recruited by an older male homosexual may initially hate the experience, but because sex bonds two people together, he may begin to feel a sense of security and fulfillment within this relationship. Soon he seeks out other partners, not because he was born a homosexual but because his initial experiences were so stamped upon his soul that he follows the lead of his newly awakened desires.
The Road to Promiscuity
Second, alien bonds often lead to promiscuity. Once a sexual bond has been formed, there will be a desire to maintain that bond or seek other ones to replace it. Therefore one sexual experience outside of marriage can begin a spiral of illicit relationships. Once a person has crossed a forbidden sexual barrier, he or she might have a powerful desire to do so again and again.
The first bond created a “soul-tie” that could not be easily dismissed. After the initial experience, nothing could ever quite be the same. Now that this woman’s soul was plundered, she could no longer maintain the bond with the first mate, she sought others to find the fulfillment she craved. A search for intimacy had developed that she tried to satisfy. Since she felt defiled, there seemed to be no reason not to begin a sexual quest.
Guilt, Anger, Shame
Finally, there is guilt—the restless conscience that leads to anger and depression. Now many involved in an alien bond might not feel guilty at first. Because they have been starving for a meaningful relationship, their initial experience of intimacy can be so euphoric that they feel no remorse, no guilt, no regrets. But just like poison might initially quench one’s thirst, eventually the guilt and shame will be on its way.
Finally, alien bonds often make it difficult to create an exclusive bond. In fact, some who have been promiscuous will fear an exclusive bond, unsure whether they can be true to such a commitment. Others who try to focus on one relationship find that their marriage partner cannot fill the emptiness that past relationships generated in their lives. Memories can be so powerful that no present relationship can compare with the titillation of past illicit affairs.
Thankfully God is able to enter into the picture and bring both cleansing and sexual wholeness. He is the only one qualified to give us the rules by which we are to live, and He is also qualified to pick us up out of the moral quagmire.
How is one restored? First, by cleansing the conscience through the forgiveness of Christ.
Second, we have to recognize the soul-tie for what it is: a demonic ploy to keep us bound, to keep us paying our dues to past relationships and past sins. We should know that we do not have to do that; we do not have to be held hostage to the past.
Third, we have to break off those relationships that keep us bound; those relationships that keep us going back to the people and things that have us bound. For some, the thought of being free from a controlling personality, who may also be taking care of us, is more than we can handle.
Fourth, you cannot do this alone. Why? Because the only way to break polluted soul-ties is to develop healthy ties through friendship with people and with God. We are to love the Lord our God with all our hearts, with all our soul…this means that we will have to break the power of seductive spirits; we will have to fight for our right to freedom from the influence of those who would destroy and defile our souls.
How can these bonds be broken? And what can be done in the lives of those who are even now plagued with past memories? These issues will be explored in the next message.
Chapter 4 – Jesus, Forgiveness and You
Marilyn Monroe said, “In Hollywood, they give you a thousand dollars for a kiss and fifty cents for your soul.”
To illustrate Christ’s power to break destructive relationships, I shall tell the story of a woman who was guilty of numerous illicit bonds but was brought to emotional and spiritual wholeness. Women are sensitive and often feel the pain of immorality more deeply than men. The fact that she was given a new identity and inner peace should be an encouragement to all who are haunted by a sexual past.
Jesus does two things. First, He forgives her, but second, He also restores her. He gives her dignity back to her. He knows that without dignity a person will return to his former lifestlye; as long as we condemn ourselves and see ourselves as worthless, we will act worthless. Like one woman said, “I acted like the scum I believed myself to be…”
Her story is recorded in Luke 7:36-50.
Simon was a Pharisee who threw a feast for Christ because he wanted to check out this miracle worker for himself. In those days, uninvited guests were welcome to attend as long as they sat along the wall of the room and did not expect to be seated at the table. Evidently, this feast was well-publicized and perhaps a number of uninvited guests stopped by. Among these was a woman who is described as “a sinner.”
Since all people are sinners, it is clear that Luke wants us to understand that this woman was a sinner of a special sort, namely, an immoral woman. Almost certainly she was a prostitute, a woman who was known to have many alien bonds.
In the presence of Christ this woman, awash with shame, experienced God’s cleansing. She heard Christ say, “Your faith has saved you, go in peace” (v. 50). She did in a few moments what it takes some people months to do. She was ready to put her past behind her.
Notice her attitude.
First, she was honest. She had no desire for hypocrisy or pretense. She had the reputation of being a sinner and evidently deserved it. She didn’t have to say anything; she knew that coming to the house of a self-righteous Pharisee would elicit derision and scorn. To her, this did not matter because she overcame her natural inclination to hide in her shame. Her desire to meet Christ was more powerful than her desire to avoid public scorn. The insults that she experienced on the streets were nothing in comparison to the moral derision she would get from this arrogant bigot and his friends. Yet there she was.
The grace of God does not enter closed doors but works only when deception gives way to honest exposure and humble admission of sin. Most people caught in sexual sin deny it, only admitting to what has been uncovered. This desire to hide allows the root of sin to remain intact.
We are only as sick as our darkest secrets.
She Faced Her Pain
We must commend her for willingly confronting her feelings. She wept, she wept profusely. Her tears ran down her cheeks and fell onto Christ’s feet. The present tense of the verbs indicates that she kept on weeping, kept on anointing His feet, kept on wiping His feet with her hair. Her tears proved that she was willing to face her pain; she faced the hurts buried in her sordid past.
Why did she weep? We cannot know, but we can surmise the reasons. First, think of the men who betrayed her! The broken promises, the assurances of protection and love. Then after they used her, she was tossed aside like the peelings of an orange. She was stripped of her sense of value and self-worth.
She could have taken all of these feelings and stuffed them deep within her soul, unwilling to face the pain of the past. Then she would have become a tough woman, defiant and angry. She could have told herself “I will handle my pain, and manage my life quite well on my own. I will not let my feelings get to me, no matter the cost!”
Or she could have simply pursued continuous compulsive relationships to deaden the pain of an empty life. She could have continued to flit from one relationship to another, unwilling to admit the fruitlessness of her search for meaning.
If she had been a modern woman, she could have turned to alcohol and drugs; she could have numbed her emptiness and pain so that she could have defiantly managed her life.
I do not mean to imply that we cannot be forgiven unless we weep; nor do I want to imply that her tears paid for her misdeeds. But sexual sin almost always involves deep pain that is pushed into the bottom of the soul. God has given us tear ducts as a release for our hurt. Through a willingness to confront our pain we are slowly healed.
Tears are often a barometer of the soul.
She Accepted Christ’s Forgiveness
Third, she accepted Christ’s affirmation of forgiveness. Christ used the occasion to give Simeon a lesson in forgiveness. Christ taught that the degree of our love depends on the degree of our forgiveness. Obviously, this woman did not need forgiveness more than Simon! She saw her sin and this Pharisee saw her sin, but he could not see his own! His self-righteousness stood in the way of his forgiveness. As a result he was also unable to love.
Right in the presence of this self-righteous, judgmental bigot, Christ declares this woman forgiven! Perhaps for the first time in years someone actually spoke to her in kindness; someone gave her the dignity of letting those around her know that she was special to God. What blessed words, “You are forgiven!”
Must you live with remorse? No, for remorse is simply repentance made out of sight of Christ. Standing before Him, the conscience is cleaned and the guilt is transferred to the crucified Christ.
Praise God for His forgiveness regardless of your past! Accept a clear conscience and the cleansing that is your right as a child of God. Rather than repeatedly confessing your sin, affirm the fact that you have been forgiven (Psalm 32:1,2).
Fourth, she had faith. Christ said of her, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace” (7:50). Her tears did not save her, nor the loving act of pouring expensive perfume on Christ’s feet. Her good deeds did not bring the salvation of God to her soul. Faith, and faith alone in Christ’s forgiveness and salvation wiped her sins away.
She Accepted The Gift of Peace
Yes, this woman left “with peace…” She left with her dignity in tact. Often we are confused at this point. Did this mean she was now more valuable as a person? No, it is just that her self-perception changed. We often confuse value and performance.
Let us suppose I were to take a fifty dollar bill, drop it on the floor and stomp on it. Let us suppose that I were to throw it in the mud and trample on it: would you accept it from me? Yes, you would. The dirt does not lessen its value. We like clean bills rather than dirty ones but their value is the same.
If you could talk to the dirty fifty dollar bill, it would say, “Please don’t use me; please don’t put me in your pocket; please don’t pull me out in a restaurant, or above all, don’t put me in an offering plate with all of those clean bills brought by good Christians.” It would want to live alone, though it has as much value as the other bills.
We bring ourselves to Jesus, he cleans the grime so that we no longer want to run and hide; we have “shamed shame…” yes, He cleans us and puts us back into circulation with other bills and we never think of ourselves quite the same again.
Third, accept the power of the Holy Spirit who is given to believers. Through faith receive His strength, which is given to bring emotional wholeness to any needy heart. The destructive memories of the past must be replaced by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22,23).
Charles Wesley understood that many people whose sin has been cancelled by God still come under its power. But he assures us:
He breaks the power of cancelled sin
He sets the prisoner free
His blood can make the foulest clean
His blood availed for me
Thousands of people, plagued by a sexual past are walking in freedom today, thanks to the power of Christ’s blood. The fact of what happened in the past can never be changed, but the power of that past can be diminished.
Chapter 5 – Forgiveness, Now It’s Your Turn
“One of God’s better jokes, on us,” writes Lewis B. Smeeds, “was to give us the power to remember the past and leave us no power to undo it.”
We all wish that we had a magic cloth to wipe away the past. But there it is–as close to us as our present memories. We deeply believe that it happened like we remember it, and the hurt is buried within the soul like an open wound. And for some, the memories are not just of yesterday, but of today.
How does a wife deal with the lingering pain of coming home unexpectedly only to find her husband unclothed in bed with their daughter?
How does a child deal with the betrayal of a priest who lures him into a sexual relationship?
How does a grown child cope with the abuse of a father whose rejection feels like a sharp knife left to dangle in the heart of the soul?
How does a sibling deal with the anger toward a relative who has chiseled him out of a legitimate inheritance?
How does a mother cope with the ongoing pain of an evil and deceptive husband, whose cunning ways are destroying the children?
If we allow bitterness to find a home in our souls, it always brings its relatives with it. Depression, despair and resentment cling to anger like Velcro. The soul becomes protected by a shell of suspicion, bitterness and self-absorption. There is a “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door of the heart. And yet, because we are social beings, such wounded souls will seek out friendships, but then will make demands that ensure that the relationship will come to an inglorious end. Thus they will accumulate stories of how they have been hurt, are presently being betrayed and why they have little hope for the future.
The purpose of this chapter is to understand the basis of forgiveness and show that it is possible to forgive even if we do not see justice meted out in our lifetime. God uses our willingness to forgive to restore and to heal. We can be comforted with the promise, He heals the brokenhearted, And binds up their wounds (Psalm 147:4). Unfortunately, many do not know that they are fighting a battle that can be won.
Let me give you six misunderstandings of forgiveness that I hope will cut through the layers of denial and rationalization that we have built up; let us tear down the bitterness that has been so carefully nursed.
Let me be clear: my express intention is to go beneath the defense mechanisms of the soul; I want to penetrate the shield of denial that has been built up over a period of years; I want to demolish the rationalizations that have served us well whenever the idea of forgiveness has crossed our minds.
Forgiveness is a great idea for others, but we think it is inappropriate for us.
Here are the misunderstandings.
1. That We Should Forgive Only When Asked.
When Jennifer was told she should forgive her alcoholic father for abusing her, she asked, “Why should I give him forgiveness, when he has not asked for it?” Down deep in her heart she knew that she might not even forgive him if he asked for it, but that was beside the point. Mind you she was not sure what she would say if he did ask for forgiveness, but that was quite irrelevant; she was quite sure that her alcoholic father would never ask for forgiveness for the whippings, the torture and humiliation.
Why should she grant what as not even requested?
If we say that Jennifer should not forgive unless her father asks her, then we are saying that her father (an abuser) is the one who will determine whether or not Jennifer will get healed. His daughter’s heart was held in his hands; he, then, has the power to keep Jennifer in a prison, for which he alone holds the key. Let me say it with clarity: your own peace of mind should not be held hostage to someone who has wounded you. Your inner healing should not be dependent on whether someone who has hurt you, asks forgiveness. That is a lot of power to surrender to an abuser.
Certainly it is better when we are asked for forgiveness. However, I believe we must forgive anyone, even those who do not seek it; there is such a thing as one-sided forgiveness, a kind of forgiveness that makes us willing to release our feelings of bitterness to God even if there is no reconciliation with the other person(s). In such instances, forgiveness means that we surrender our resentments to God, choosing to let Him deal with the offender.
There is a difference between forgiveness given and forgiveness received.
Only the choice to forgive makes healing a possibility.
2. That Forgiveness Means Reconciliation
Linda came home unexpectedly and found her husband in bed with their daughter. Caught without clothes and without an alibi, there was little to do but to admit to what had happened.
Her husband, Matt, admitted to the relationship that had been going on for the past six months. Linda confronted him with other suspicions she had about his relationship with a woman at work. Caught in a vulnerable moment, he confessed to numerous other relationships. She immediately recalled in her mind, other instances when her husband had been spending too much time in the office with a woman for whom he had a great deal of affection. Now, in a vulnerable moment, he confessed that he had been having an affair at work for over a year…in addition to his incestuous relationship with his daughter. Matt begged for forgiveness for these offenses and others like them.
Linda felt numb; her whole world had crashed and she was unable to function. There were times when she actually thought that this was a bad dream… Should Laura grant it… should she give it to him, and be reconciled, acting as if it never happened?
Linda was told by a friend that as a Christian she should “forgive and forget” and move on from there. Linda says she could not do that. She could not forgive the lies, incest the betrayal and the sexual deceptions.
Reconciliation even under the best of circumstances is not easy. Asking for forgiveness and receiving it is one thing, but reconciliation is another. My point is that sometimes reconciliation is not achieved, for various reasons: sometimes it is because the offender does not hear you; that is, he does not acknowledge his guilt. But there may be another reason: he acknowledges his guilt, but trust must be rebuilt; or possibly the breach of conduct had such consequences that reconciliation might not be wise.
Or he might acknowledge the guilt, but minimize the offense. “It is no big deal; let’s just get over it.” Reconciliation is impossible because there is no common ground; there is no shared understanding of the nature of the offense. Seldom does the offender and the offended view the act the same; they weigh the transgression on entirely different scales. This often happens in marriages: the man might say, “OK I messed up; what is the big deal…let’s forgive and move on..” But for the woman, it might be a much bigger deal. She might be ready for forgiveness, but not for reconciliation. Reconciliation is a three legged stool: forgiveness, respect and trust.
3. That Forgiveness Minimizes the Offense
“So, do I just say the words and then pretend that everything is OK?” Susan asked me. The impression is that forgiveness cheapens the offense; but not so. Neither for us nor for God does forgiveness cheapen the offense.
She was to forgive a man who date raped her…he destroyed her virginity, her dignity and her to some extent her future. And gave her a sexually transmitted disease in the process. Forgive and forget? Get a life.
Forgiveness does not minimize the offense; it does not mean that the act was minor; indeed, when we forgive we learn how great the offense really was. In fact, the greater the offense, the greater the cost of forgiveness. Forgiveness does not mean that the offense is easily dismissed.
To better explain why He could expect so much from His followers, Christ told a parable which in principle had happened many times. “For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a certain king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves.”
You probably know the story. It is the end of the fiscal year and the king has to take account of his assets. As his servants are giving an account of their year’s work, he spies one who is woefully in debt, having made foolish investments with the king’s money. Incredibly, he owed “ten thousand talents.”
But in the presence of the king he was forgiven.
Was this forgiveness free? Think carefully before you answer. To the forgiven servant it was free, but it was very costly. That year as the king balanced his books, he had to absorb the debt; he was short ten million dollars. He had to make a huge bad-debt entry, and take other assets to balance the ledger. A major chunk of his fortune was gone. Forgiveness cost him plenty.
Of course we should see ourselves in this story. Christ’s point is that we owe God more than we will ever know. We have offended his justice and spurned his loving overtures. We might not realize that we are that guilty, but from his standpoint our debt is infinite, for we have nothing with which to pay.
In fact, we are in a worse position than this servant. At least theoretically he might have been able to pay his debt. Perhaps a rich uncle might have died; perhaps he might have won the Roman lottery, if it existed! It was a long shot, but it is conceivable that he might have been able to pull it off.
In our case there is no possibility that we could pay what we owe God. What He demands we have none of; all of our good deeds added from here to eternity would not pay for a single sin. He alone can supply what we need, namely, the gift of His righteousness.
But the good news is that God personally makes the payment. For Him, like the king in the parable, forgiveness is very costly. He loved us so much that He sent His only begotten Son to suffer, bearing our sins so that we might be acquitted. We were not redeemed with silver or gold, “but with the precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ” (1 Peter 1:19). The blood of Christ is of more value than all the riches of the world combined. Though it was precious and we were unworthy, God underwrote the price tag for redemption.
Death and the curse were in our cup
O Christ ’twas full for thee
But thou hast paid the last dark drop
‘Tis empty now, for me…
You say “Forgiveness is unfair.” Of course it is unfair; that is the whole nature of it. In fact, if it were fair, it would not be forgiveness. Someone hurts me, and I let them go without demanding retaliation. The only reason why we are saved is because Jesus did what was not fair; He took our punishment, and although God deemed it just, it most assuredly was not fair.
We do not minimize the offense when we forgive it; we only are acting like our Father in heaven who paid our debt so that we could go free.
4. That Forgiveness Surrenders Justice
For years I wondered how to answer a young mother who said, “Why should I forgive…I’m the one who was wronged…he ran off and got married and does not send me child support and left me with the kids…why should he go free…where is justice?”
Where is justice?
There is an answer for this dear lady and others like her, who wonder why they should let someone off the hook who does not deserve such mercy. Thankfully it is possible to forgive without surrendering our desire for wrongs to be made right and justice to triumph.
Christ taught us the path to follow. “… and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously” (1 Peter 2:2). Christ was willing to be mistreated without setting the record straight. The angels in heaven were at the ready, waiting for a word from His lips so that they could punish His tormentors and deliver Him from their devises. But Christ was willing to let the Father take care of it. He chose to entrust His case to the Supreme Court, believing that justice would be meted out with precision.
Two thousand years have passed and those who mocked Christ have not yet been brought to trial. But in the Day of Judgment, they will give account for their deeds and get exactly what they deserved; not one mite less and not one mite more.
That’s why Christ did not feel the need to “even the score” on earth, though He had the power to do so. He was willing to wait because He had confidence in the Judge of all the earth. In the courtroom of the King every case tried on earth will be retried; every secret crime will be revealed and every action of human beings will come under scrutiny.
Having accepted God’s forgiveness, we are forever obligated to forgive.
This is why only a Christian can forgive; he believes in another world. If you don’t believe in God, or if you do not have a god who judges, then this life is the only place where the wrongs will be made right.
5. That We Must Wait Until We Feel Like Forgiving
A Christian counselor told a client, “you do not have to forgive until you are ready to…” What if the person is never ready? Fact is, we are never ready to forgive.
Now of course, forgiveness takes time, in this sense: if a girl is date raped, we do not expect her to wake up in the morning saying, “I forgive you.” She will feel rage, revenge, anger and the betrayal of being violated. It might take some time for her to forgive, but if she does not eventually do so, then, the bitterness and anger will fester, affecting all of her relationships. But be assured she will never feel like forgiving, but forgive she must.
Forgiveness runs against every ounce of our feelings. What we want is to see the person suffer; we want revenge. We want that person to feel as much pain as we felt, and a whole lot more. Nothing, we think, could be fairer; nothing could be sweeter. Homer, the Greek Poet says that revenge tastes so sweet that we swirl it around on our tongues and let it drip like honey down to our chins (Smeed, 7). “Hell would just be perfect” said a woman to me, regarding her husband. Just the fantasy of seeing him burn, gave her a buzz.
Forgiveness is not an emotion. It is a choice to make; we can forgive even if we don’t feel like it. If you wait until you feel like forgiving, you will not forgive. We must choose against those feelings of bitterness that would like to control our attitude and behavior. God chose to forgive and so should we.
Through forgiving, we ourselves are made free.
6. That Forgiveness Is Easy
You say, “I won’t forgive because it is so difficult.”
Forgiveness is so difficult that we all seek for an alternative. There is a second alternative to forgiveness: it is to live in denial; it is to pretend that we have forgiven, and go on from there. Just as it is possible to say, “I love you” and not mean it, so it is possible to say, “I forgive you” and not mean it. You can say the words and yet think to yourself, “I forgive you but I regard you as nothing but scum…and I think you are much lower on the totem pole than I am…”
If God paid our debt at high personal cost, what makes us think we can pay the debt of someone else without accepting some loss? Of course as we shall see we have much more to gain by forgiveness than we have to lose, but to forgive is to be willing to do what is difficult. It is to set someone free who does not deserve it. C. S. Lewis put it so well, “Forgiveness is a beautiful word, until you have something to forgive.”
“Forgiveness,” said Mark Twain, “is the fragrance that the flower leaves on the heel that crushed it.” Someone said that bitterness is like drinking poison and then waiting for the other person to die.
What I am asking you to do is, to take one last long look at revenge; and then to pour it like a bucket of water unto the sand. I am asking you to believe God who says, “Vengeance is mine…I will repay.” I am asking that you give up your bitterness and begin the process of wholeness.
Chapter 6 – Breaking The Cycle
Many people suffer from compulsive, obsessive behavior. Addictions can take many forms. For some people it is an obsession with cleanliness. For others, there is pornography.
The snare of pornography is different from most other addictions. Although we’re all born greedy, we’re not necessarily born with a love for gambling. We are not born with a love for alcohol, but must acquire it by beginning to drink. But because we grow up with persistent sexual appetites, sexual fantasies are never far from our minds. Our sexuality is so much a part of who we are that it is almost impossible (especially for men) to live without battling impure thoughts.
Charles Swindoll is right when he says that lust is no respecter of persons. “…It never gives up; it never runs out of ideas. Bolt your front door, and it will rattle at the bedroom window, crawl into the living room through the TV screen, or wink at you out of a magazine in the den.” Those of us who have never been lured by gambling, alcoholism or drugs can understand the lure of these addictions because we have found sexual temptation to be powerful and unrelenting. Some of us who have had the good fortune of escaping the snare of pornography have done so only because of external restrains and the inner grace granted by God. It is not difficult for me to see why pornography would hold such a powerful attraction to the average American male, and yes, females too. But if we want to “see God,” purity of heart is necessary (Matt.5:8).
Keep in mind the basic principle given by Jesus: “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:34-36). Slaves do not make decisions; they carry out the wishes of someone else. Slaves wake up in the morning and receive their orders for the day, obeying the commands of their master. Just so, when we are slaves to sin, our lives are out of our control. Any one of us could commit any form of sexual perversion if we just submitted ourselves to it on the internet, videos or cable television. The images of pornography enslave their worshippers.
Not everyone is like the man I met in Washington DC who spends $400 a month on pornography. Not everyone is like the missionary who returned home and bought a thousand dollars worth of porno videos. There are many “casual” users who might not spend any money on pornography, as such, but take advantage of what can be seen in drug stores, the internet and television.
Of course, there are many other kinds of addictive, sexual behaviors. There are serial adulterers, fornicators, homosexual relationships, and the like.
Touring an Addict’s World
The long journey begins with satisfying a bit of curiosity. “I’ll just do this once, or else I will wonder what it is like…” One drink, one gambling trip, or one sexual experience. Just like a person who happens to kick over a bucket in the dark, so the person trips a series of dominoes and soon discovers that what was going to be done once, is now done twice, then three times, etc.
The life of a sex addict is usually traceable to one or more sexual experiences that began the long spiraling journey into the world of sexual oblivion. Usually it was that first act where the consequences seemed manageable. “I’ll just do this once to satisfy my curiosity” or “I know what I’m doing and will accept the consequences.” Whatever, the “alien bond” awakens desires that plunge the participant into a fierce battle of sexual temptation. A battle that is so intense that the victim sees little reason to fight since it appears to be a lost cause.
What can we say about the addict?
First, he lives in constant fear of discovery; one of the strongest bonds is that of secrecy. Added to this is constant pain and alienation. “Addicts withhold a major portion of themselves—a pain deeply felt, but never expressed or witnessed.” Because they think that no one else is struggling as they do, they tend to internalize their addiction, condemning themselves yet unable to find a way out. They have an inner war that they think cannot be talked about.
Second, there is withdrawal; they retreat into their shells, only to emerge in the most superficial ways. Understandably, abandonment and shame are at the core of addiction.
Third, the sex addict is constantly preoccupied with his particular habit. If he commits adultery, he enjoys the act, but he does not want a relationship. But, fear of hurting his partners, might make it difficult for him to break the relationship, so he hopes that these entanglement will just “go away” in and of themselves. But that doesn’t happen, of course. He says “I love you” to a woman, knowing full well that he said the same words to a different woman the night before.
Fourth, the addict often fanaticizes about more risqué behavior. He might imagine meeting a strange woman at a bus stop, or wonder what it would be like to “rape” a woman in her own bedroom. Once a person has given himself over to fulfill his sexual desires, there is no telling where it all will end. His X-rated thought life becomes more and more detached from reality. His secret life becomes more real than his public life.
Needless to say, addicts live with a deep level of denial, telling themselves that what they are doing is not ultimately harmful. After all, many others are doing the same—and worse. Or they will do a lot of good deeds, taking care of their family, or volunteering in church, trying to convince themselves that their addiction is only a small part of who they really are. At the core, they tell themselves they are really good and loving and kind. What others don’t know won’t hurt them. A great deal of their energy is spent trying to give an outward veneer of normalcy and dependability. Some become masters at managing two separate lives. Sometimes only a crisis will jolt him back into the real world.
A man struggling with sexual addiction said to me, “I have struggled with sexual addiction for years and this is such a strong satanic stronghold…I could not hear what my church or God was trying to tell me. Believe me when I say that most addicted men and women will listen to your words, but they will rationalize their behavior, just like I did for years.” When the addict returns from his last experience, he will return home, armed with a pack of carefully rehearsed lies, so the slightest suspicion is thwarted. If his wife does not believe him, he will angrily blame her for being jealous or “suspicious.” Her feelings are her fault, not his.
Our churches must foster an attitude of acceptance and a humble spirit that encourages those who are locked in their secret world to come out from the shadows into the light. If secrecy and shame keep the addict bound, confession to those who can help is the path to true freedom.
What Jesus Has To Say
If we think Jesus is going to let must make excuses for our lusts, we are sorely mistaken. Perhaps no passage in the entire Bible speaks so directly to the issue of lust and pornography than the words from the lips of the Master Himself, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt. 5:27).
Jesus then added, “If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell” (Matt. 5:28-30).
That phrase, “causes you to sin” refers to a stumbling block. According to Barclay it means, “bait stuck in a trap.” The picture is that of a pit dug in the ground and deceptively covered with a thin layer of branches so the unwary animal would “fall into the pit.” Christ is saying that if your eye or hand causes you to trip up—if you find yourself submitting to the power of lust, take drastic action!
Jesus began with the eye, since that is how lust, particularly for men, begins. Then, Jesus speaks of the hand, which represents a further stage in sexual arousal, particularly for women. Tender words, coupled with tender caresses often lead to sexual stimulation and involvement. He now says that if the eye must be cut out or the hand cut off, so be it. For, “it is better to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.”
Needless to say Christ is speaking figuratively. To submit to some form of mutilation to deaden the passions of lust is hardly what He had in mind. Even if a man cut out his right eye, he could still lust with his left one! And to get rid of the hand would hardly curb the sexual desires of the body. No, this is not literal.
But in this sense, Christ’s words are quite literally true: it would be better to lose an eye in this life than to enter hell with two! And it would be better to have one arm in heaven rather than enter hell with two! What Christ is saying in the strongest possible way is this: Be willing to do whatever is necessary to keep from falling into the “pit.”
Jesus knew that our hands and eyes are highly prized; we’d do anything to spare them. We wouldn’t part with them unless absolutely necessary. Lust is as difficult to part with as a hand or an eye. Anyone who knows the exhilaration of sexual attraction knows that. And yet He says we must make that choice, even at great personal cost.
Amputation is Painful
Sitting here in my study, I’m trying to visualize what amputation would be like! Imagine having one’s eyes gouged out or a hand cut off. In ancient times there was no anesthetic, no way to alleviate the throbbing torment that would accompany such an experience. No needles, drugs, or delicate surgical instruments—just crude cutting tools. Grotesque scars would remain as reminders of the ordeal.
How do we take drastic action?
First, we must flee from the temptation. Paul’s advice is “Flee immorality” (1 Cor. 6:18). And again, “Flee from youthful lusts” (2 Tim.2:22). Run from temptation without leaving a forwarding address. When we find ourselves looking for stimuli, we are already on the path to defeat.
Second, we must break all relationships that lead us into sin.
Yes, it is painful. A young man told me that just throwing his pornographic pictures away that he had kept stashed in his garage was difficult. His habit had become so much a part of his life. But again Christ would say, “No matter how painful…do it.!
Amputation is Thorough
Suppose you go to the doctor with a cancerous growth and he says, “I plan to do this in stages; I’ll cut out most of it this time and take more later. We won’t decide now whether we will take it all.”
Absurd? Of course. You want him to cut a trifle beyond the growth to make sure that he “got it all.” And once the knife has cut the growth, there is no turning back. We can’t rethink it, and say, “I wonder if I should have done this.”
Somewhere I read that when you are going to jump across a chasm, it is much better to do it in one long jump than in two short ones! Just so, when we deal with sin in our lives, it is best that it be done thoroughly, completely and without making it easy to retrace our steps. Again, Jesus would say, “Do it.”
Amputation is Worthwhile
Is the pain worth it? Just ask the cancer patient who has been told by the doctor, “We got it all.” The soul is worth more than the hand or the eye; just so, the joy of freedom is better than the slavery of impurity. Christian Bovee said, “The body of a sensualist is the coffin of the dead soul.”
Better to live with a disability than to live in defiance of God; better to face life with an unfulfilled marriage as a friend of God than to incur God’s displeasure. God is a friend to the lonely, to those with unfulfilled dreams or desires, but He will judge those who commit immorality. “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral” (Heb.13:4). If the choice is between losing an eye or losing our soul, let us have your eye cut out; if the choice is between losing a hand or losing our soul, let us have our hand cut off.
I agree with those counselors who tell us that it is not possible for an addict to come clean until he has come into the light; that is, until his secret is shared. Satan works undercover; his kingdom is one of darkness and shame. When the lid is lifted and the light of truth shines into the soul, there is hope and cleansing. Men who cannot share their struggle with their wives, must confide in a friend, a counselor or pastor with whom they can pray and be accountable. If Jesus, the perfect Son of God, asked that three of His disciples pray with Him in the dark battle of Gethsemane, it should not be difficult for us to confess that we need the help of others in our own battle against sin.
Second, along with this sharing, there must be accountability. Like other addictions, those who are caught in the web of pornography will always have a tendency to revert back to their addiction of choice. Only after death will temptation no longer stalk us. God uses our struggles to humble us, to show us the great need we have for one another. You may have fallen into the pit on your own, but you will need others to help you out.
Third, God’s forgiveness must be accepted. The cleansing of the conscience is very important in our battle for purity. Guilt and unresolved issues that lie within the soul will always agitate for expression and resolution. If we do not find our peace in the presence of Jesus, we will seek to find pleasure to divert the pain. When Jesus was confronted with a woman taken in adultery, He said to her accusers, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” Those who heard his words walked out, one at a time. When no one remained to condemn her, He replied, “Neither do I condemn you…Go now and leave your life of sin” (John 8:11).
One day a young man came to ask how he could stop browsing porno magazines at a newsstand. He loved God; he was in Christian service and effective. I asked him to make a promise that before he picked up one of those magazines, he had to recite five verses of Scripture and to go through them about three or four times before making up his mind as to what he would do.
Here are sample verses:
- “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God” (Matt.5:8).
- “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of the mind. Then you will be able to approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Rom.12:2).
- “But we have the mind of Christ” (1 Cor.2:16b).
- “But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people….For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a man is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God” (Eph.5:3, 5).
- “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Phil.4:8).
Soon after he had readied his “battle plan,” God sent a trial his way. A misplaced pornographic magazine arrived in his apartment mailbox. As he held it in his hands, he remembered the promise he had made: he would have to recite all the verses at least three times before he opened the pages. We can imagine him there in the apartment saying, “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God….” When he was finished quoting the Scripture, he was able to throw the magazine away without opening it. That was the first in a series of victories.
At all costs we cannot give up the fight. No matter how often we lose, the battle must be enjoined. We fight with this assurance, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33b).
In Homer’s Odyssey, we read of the mythical hero known named Odysseus, also known as Ulysses, and his adventurers as they returned home after fighting for Greece against the city of Troy in the Trojan war. The time has come for Ulysses to return home to his wife Penelope. A goddess named Circe with whom he has had an affair, warns him about The Sirens, sea nymphs who use their beautiful singing to lure sailors to death on a magical island. Indeed, the song of the sirens carried by the wind lured many a captain to change course, powerless to resist the siren’s song. They were unaware that jagged rocks waited beneath the sparkling water. The men were so blinded by lust that they didn’t even wait for the shipwreck, but flung themselves into the water and swam to shore, only to be devoured by the siren’s ravenous appetite.
As his ship neared the island, Ulysses ordered his sailors to fill their ears with wax to prevent them from being seduced by the sirens. He knew that even that was not sufficient for himself, having experienced the power of an illicit sexual liaison. He instructed the crew to lash him to the mast of the ship and warned that, no matter how fervently he begged, they were not to unite him until they were far away from the shores of the siren’s island.
How right Circe was, how wise Ulysses to listen. The song of the sirens was so seductive, his death was certain if he could have freed himself from the straps that bound him. Many of us simply overestimate our ability to withstand temptation; we underestimate the power of the siren’s song. Many a man or woman would have been spared incredible grief if only they had had their friends keep them from a relationship that was doomed to failure and destruction.
Chapter 7 – Down, But Not Out
David is the last man you might expect to find in such a mess. But there he was, luring a woman to bed and then lying to cover his sin. And when that didn’t work, he murdered a man to make sure that he would get by with his “secret.”
We are sexual creatures who sometimes find it difficult to celebrate our sexuality. If the truth were known, we might be surprised to find how much of our time and energy is invested in sexual fantasies and struggles with lust and temptation. And in a world obsessed with sensuality, it is increasingly easy to fall into Satan’s trap.
God gives us powerful passions and expects us to control these as a test of our loyalty. He also wants to display his power in keeping us free from overt sexual sin. Every day the media bombards us with the lie that limiting sex to marriage is too confining, too “unrealistic.” But just as David learned, sexual purity isn’t easy but it is right. To succumb to an affair has bitter consequences.
Fighting Goliath was much easier for David than fighting lustful desires. David dodged many a spear thrown by Saul, but this one, ignited by his own sexual desires, went right to his heart. He was about 47 years old when he invited Bathsheba into the palace. In retrospect it might have been better if he had died at 46.
Thankfully this is a story of hope and restoration.
The Steps That Led Down
You know the story: The king was taking a late afternoon nap on the flat roof of his palace. When he awoke, he walked around and “from the top of the roof saw a woman bathing; and the woman was very beautiful in appearance” (2 Samuel 11:2).
The first step? David saw a woman. The more he gazed at her the more his sexual desires were awakened. His blood ran hot as his eyes were riveted on her shapely body. He watched her in the glow of the setting sun.
Every moment he spent gazing at her his desires increased. The likelihood of his walking away became less probable. When he took that long look at Bathsheba, he was cutting the anchor and setting out on a river whose speed and size was rapidly increasing. Returning to shore was becoming increasingly more difficult. He enjoyed the sensation of being swept away by the euphoria in his body. Unfortunately, he could not see the dangerous rapids that lay ahead.
Dietrich Bonhoffer, who died a victim of a Nazi concentration camp, penned a booklet entitled, Temptation, in which he so vividly writes:
In our members there is a slumbering inclination towards desire which is both sudden and fierce. With irresistible power desire seizes mastery over the flesh. All at once a secret smoldering fire is kindled. The flesh burns and is in flames…Joy in God is extinguished in us and we seek all of our joy in the creature. At this moment God is quite unreal to us. He loses all reality and only desire for the creature is real….Satan does not now fill us with a hatred of God but with a forgetfulness of God.
At the moment David stared at Bathsheba, he did not hate God, he just forgot he was there. Consumed by his passion for the creature, God was blotted out of his mind.
Second, David sent messengers to invite her into the palace. I wonder what he said to his servants! What excuse did he use to lure Bathsheba to his bed without their knowing his real intentions? It made little difference, for once a man has decided to commit adultery, telling a lie (whether big or small) is done easily. If we choose to commit a big sin, the lesser ones follow easily behind.
The third step was that he took her and lay with her (v. 4). Did Bathsheba give in because of the prestige of being in bed with the king? Did she have genuine affection for David? Did she still love her husband Uriah? We’ll never know.
What if Bathsheba had not become pregnant? Perhaps the affair would not have been discovered, Uriah would not have been killed, and David’s family and kingdom would have remained intact. David might have “gotten by” with his sin. Yes, if only!
But can we be sure? No, because sin has unpredictable consequences. When we deliberately sin, we just may begin a series of dominoes triggering events that are wildly out of control. No one can confidently suppose that he/she can bridle the effects of sinful actions, for God controls the outcome.
Perhaps Bathsheba, overwhelmed with guilt, would have told her husband; perhaps she would have used the secret to bribe the king; perhaps the servants would have discovered the real reason why Bathsheba was brought into the palace in the first place. Perhaps, perhaps.
What we do know is that Bathsheba became pregnant and told David the news.
This casual affair was not as casual as originally imagined. A relationship that began with two “consenting adults” ended up involving a third person; a baby was on the way.
David decided he had to get Uriah to believe that the child was his. The king was in a predicament, but though he had lost a game, he was not about to lose the tournament.
Plan A. David asked that Uriah be brought to Jerusalem under the pretext that he was to inform the king about the state of the battle in Rabbah. Were they winning or losing? (vv. 6, 7).
This would give David an excuse to send Uriah home so that he would make love to his beautiful wife. David would see to it that a gift accompanied the warrior in the hope that this would foster a romantic spirit that would lead the couple to the bedroom.
But Uriah didn’t play David’s game. We don’t know what suspicions (if any) he had. Did he wonder why he was receiving this sudden burst of attention and these privileges? He told David he would not go home because he’d feel guilty if he enjoyed his wife when his comrades were fighting under difficult conditions. “But Uriah slept at the door of the king’s house with all the servants of his lord, and did not go down to his house” (v. 9). The king’s generous offer was politely refused.
David was desperate. He must get Uriah to go to his house to make sure that his wife’s pregnancy could be explained. After all, this was best for the royal family and for the kingdom.
Plan B. The king asked Uriah to stay another day so that the two men could eat together. David made him drunk, hoping that in the evening Uriah would go home. But even then this loyal servant stayed with David’s servants and simply would not go home to Bathsheba (vv. 12,13). Uriah, it has been said, was a better man drunk than David was sober.
Plan C. This was his trump card. He decided to have Uriah killed in battle so that Bathsheba could become his wife. He gave Uriah a letter to take to Joab, his military commander. It read in part, “Place Uriah in the front line of the fiercest battle and withdraw from him, so that he may be struck down and die” (v. 15).
David, how could you?
Why would a good man become a murderer? Why would a good man kill a loyal friend, so loyal that he could be trusted to take his own death warrant to his commander without opening it? Uriah, after all, was one of David’s mighty men who had been with him since the days when he was running from Saul. Why David, we ask, why? Shame causes us to manipulate the consequences of sin. By nature we will pay any price to make ourselves look good.
David would have been better served if he had admitted his sin to Uriah despite the humiliation; then they could have talked about what to do next. The more he covered his sin, the more his sins multiplied. And the greater God’s judgment became.
Joab obeyed the king’s orders and a messenger returned to tell David that Uriah had been killed. David matter-of-factly replied, “Thus you shall say to Joab, ‘Do not let this thing displease you, for the sword devours one as well as the other’” (v. 25). In effect he says, “That’s just the way life is; you win some and you lose some.” And with that bit of messy business out of the way, Bathsheba is invited to the palace and she becomes one of David’s many wives.
How well has his cover-up worked? Bathsheba knew the truth; Joab surely knew the truth; David knew the truth and soon the servants would know, if they didn’t already. Most importantly, God knew the truth! We read tersely, “But the thing that David had done was evil in the sight of the Lord” (v. 27). The Almighty would see to it that David’s cover-ups would soon be uncovered!
His close friend, Nathan the prophet with whom he had discussed the building of the temple, came to him with a story: A rich man had a traveler stay with him and instead of killing one of his many sheep, he stole the one little lamb that was owned by a poor man. What should be done to the man who would have the audacity to steal a lone sheep, though he had flocks and herds of his own?
David reacted with anger and revenge, “As the Lord lives, surely the man who has done this deserves to die” (12:5). Then his temper cooled and he modified his judgment, “And he must make restitution fourfold because he did this thing and had no compassion” (v. 6).
Nathan, responded, “You are the man!”
David had more compassion for this poor man and his lamb than he did for Uriah whom he murdered. Another proof how our passions distort our perspectives!
What follows is a moving message from God Himself. The Almighty reminded David how many blessings He had given him – protection from Saul, wives, and the kingdom – why would David despise the word of the Lord and do evil? David had sinned in the face of incredible grace and numerous blessings.
For his sin (1) the sword would never depart from his family (he would pay fourfold). And (2) though he committed this sin in secret, his wives would be publicly violated, and (3) as an immediate judgment the baby born to Bathsheba would die. All this simply because he acted in a moment of passion and committed murder to cover it up!
Let’s pause to catch our breath and try to understand how one small sin had resulted in such severe punishment.
What powerful lessons can we learn from the experience so far? And what sense shall we make of this harsh judgment?
First, anyone can commit sexual sin – the committed Christian just as well as the casual Christian. Ministers, doctors, missionaries – all are susceptible. How the mighty have fallen!
If David, who loved God so passionately, could commit sexual sin, it could happen to us all. Many who self-righteously said, “I never would!” must now shamefacedly confess, “I did.”
Second, when we commit sexual sin, God is the loser. Nathan told David, “However, because by this deed you have given occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme, the child that is born to you shall surely die” (v. 14). The enemies of the Lord apparently already knew David’s “secret” and were saying that he was really no better than they themselves were! Just as in our day when a minister commits adultery the reputation of God is tarnished, so David had dishonored the Lord’s good name. But God would live with the fallout.
God could have cooperated in the cover-up; He could have chastened David privately so that His choice servant would not have experienced public humiliation. By nature we do everything we can to hide our sin, but God cannot be counted on to help us. We make plans to cover it; He makes plans to expose it.
David went to great lengths to cover his sin, yet was so unsuccessful that even today people who know little about David know that he committed adultery. The sin he tried to hide is the one for which he is best known. God simply would not be an accomplice to keeping it hidden.
We will probably not be serious about dealing with sexual sin until we realize how much it grieves God. Nathan, you will recall, asked David why he had despised the word of the Lord in the face of all of God’s goodness to him. How could David, who was promised the blessing of a house and lineage, – how could he take God’s commandments about adultery and murder so lightly? In sexual sin we lose, but so does God.
Was David’s punishment too severe? Was one act of passionate sin and murder deserving of the humiliation of domestic rebellion and the public rape of his wives and concubines? Was it really necessary that four of David’s sons eventually die so that Uriah’s murder is avenged “fourfold”?
One reason for this strict discipline is that God was judging David by the very words that had come out of his own mouth. He had said that the man who stole the lamb should repay “four fold.” The other reason is because the eyes of the kingdom were on David. A lenient punishment might be interpreted to mean that God makes allowances for His favorites.
Let’s also remember that we always reap more than we sow. A single kernel of grain can reproduce itself a hundred fold. But because we reap in a different season than we sow, the effects of our sins are not immediately evident. David’s harvest was yet to come.
Faced with Nathan’s rebuke, David turned to God and experienced the freedom of forgiveness. Though his repentance would not change the judgment God meted out to him, he was freed from a polluted conscience. He and God could be in fellowship no matter how angry those around him became.
All the tears in the world could never restore the purity of Bathsheba; all the regret he could endure would not bring Uriah back to life. Yet, for all that, he would again sing the songs of Zion. His forgiveness would be granted in full view of the terrible repercussions that still lay ahead.
Who could forgive David?
So David wisely turns to God.
Psalm 51 records David’s prayer of confession, showing how he cast himself upon the mercy of God. He no longer saw his sin as only affecting other people, but as profoundly grieving God. “Against Thee, Thee only have I sinned and done what is evil in Thy sight” (v. 4). The dead could not forgive him, and as for his wives, they might not forgive him, yet God could, for all sin was really against Him. If the Supreme Lawgiver of the universe had spoken him clean, he could sing again despite the fact that people in the world pronounced him guilty.
He also accepted cleansing as well as forgiveness. “Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity and cleanse me from my sin” (v. 2). Forgiveness is what God does outside of us; cleansing is the subjective work done within our hearts. Our polluted conscience can be made clean; the memories of what we have done no longer have authority over us.
How clean did God make David? Nothing can compare to the brilliant whiteness of freshly driven snow. Yet David knew that God would do even better, “Wash me,” he pleads, “and I shall be whiter than snow!” (v. 7).
Psalm 32 expresses the relief and blessings David received after his forgiveness. “How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered! How blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute iniquity and in whose spirit there is no deceit” (v. 1). The emotional burden is gone! Like being freed from a fifty pound weight, the forgiven sinner can walk with a light step. The sun can shine again.
How did David make this transition from guilt to blessing? He gave up his deceit (v. 2). He realized, as all of us must, that we have an endless capacity for self-deception. And nowhere do we deceive ourselves more easily than with the sins of the flesh. David gave up the illusion that his sin was hidden; he faced it in the presence of God and those around him.
Time did not obliterate his guilt. Nor does drugs or alcohol. No self-inflicted wounds of punishment can pay for our rottenness.
Yet in the midst of the discipline, there was grace. We see this in Solomon born to David by Bathsheba the wife of Uriah! Solomon, the product of a marriage consummated in adultery and sealed by murder! Solomon who, strictly speaking, should not have been born! Yet, by God’s mysterious grace, Solomon would be the one who would inherit the marvelous promises given to his famous father!
Out of the ashes of David’s sin, God erected a monument to His incredible faithfulness. He would take the mess and make a mosaic that would give hope to millions who have committed similar sins. Even in punishment there would be blessing.
What a message of hope David offers our fallen world.
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