Monday, March 31, 2014

Book Review: Sex is Not the Problem (Lust Is)

"But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality..." Ephesians 5:3 (NIV)

Joshua Harris is lead pastor at Covenant Life Church, husband to Shannon and father to three kids, and the author of six books. One of his first books was Not Even a Hint published in 2003, then re-released in 2005 with an updated cover and title, Sex is Not the Problem (Lust Is): Sexual Purity in a Lust-Saturated World.

Sex is Not the Problem (Lust Is) is being highlighted here on The Relentless Fight because it's one of the highest quality books on sexual sin in two regards: It focuses on the gospel (not moralism) and heart change (not behaviorism).

Harris starts the book with a simple definition of lust, "craving sexually what God has forbidden" and challenges us to evaluate our lust in light of God's standard for holiness (not even a hint), God's source of power for change (the gospel), and God's motive for fighting our sin (superior joy in God). This stands in contrast to our typical man-centered approach; we define the standard as "a little better than everyone around us", the power for change is our own willpower and discipline, and the motive is twisted: pride, and self-righteousness fueled by guilt and shame.

Here's a few quick highlights from the book:
  • Sex vs. Lust: As the title suggest, Joshua Harris argues that sex is awesome since it was God's idea, and that's WHY lust is bad. Far too often our culture confuses the two, but we must always start a battle against lust with a rock-solid conviction from God's Word that sex is GOOD and brings Him glory when enjoyed within His boundaries. 
  • The Gospel: The book relentlessly focuses on the gospel, with the paradoxical message of the Cross: you can't save yourself, you need Jesus. So stop fighting, and start RESTING in His finished work. Only with the gospel at your core will you have the strength and reason to fight your forgiven sin. And when we fail, we need to keep coming back to the gospel, with a renewed awareness of our need. 
  • Focus on the Heart: Whereas some books on sexuality spend excessive time describing and delineating behaviors, this book goes deeper with the roots of the sin, focusing not on our behaviors but on our hearts. What are we believing? What other non-sexual sins are thriving that link in to our sexual sins? How are we feeding our lust? For instance, Harris writes, "Masturbation is built on a self-centered view of sex... When our lustful desires are given free rein, sex is pushed into a corner and made a completely self-centered, isolated experience that reinforces a self-centered view of life." (page 103)  Basically: Masturbation is a natural outflow of a selfish heart. It's a symptom of a deeper problem. 
  • Practical Fighting Strategies: This book is chock-full of practical strategies and tactics for fighting our sin. Harris emphasizes the need for accountability, fighting the lies of lust with the truths of Scripture, and gives questions to answer to create a custom-tailored plan for fighting lust. This plan identifies your lust triggers, the time you're tempted, and the common location. Arguing from Romans 13:14, Harris challenges us, "Don't pack a lunch for lust!" (page 65)

In summary, Sex Is Not the Problem (Lust Is) is a top-shelf resource for men and women struggling with temptation or addiction to sexual sin. Well-written, biblical, and Jesus-focused, it's highly recommended as a weapon in the fight. Consider getting it to read yourself at Amazon, or buy a few copies and go through it with some other friends from your church who are struggling in similar ways.

Fighting the real problem,
The Relentless Fight

Monday, March 24, 2014

Temptation Can Be Your Gym

Nobody likes temptation, right? When temptation strikes it feels like everything has gone off the rails, like we're being sucked into our old ways again, and like the plane is going down... and it's discouraging. If we fail it feels like we've never really changed. Temptation stinks. 

But what if we had a different view about temptation? What if we re-framed our experience? Usually we think of temptation as being an experience of weakness. We are tempted to sin, and we give in. Satan mocks us, "WEAK."

But what if temptation was seen as an opportunity to be strengthened? Temptation sometimes can be helpful. Temptation can be used against itself, like judo, using the weight of your attacker against him. God promises that when we are tempted, He will always work to provide a way to overcome it! Paul writes about this hope in 1 Corinthians 10:13, "No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it."

God says that there is another option when we are being tempted: to endure it. Endurance requires strength. And if every time we're tempted, we end up becoming even stronger, then temptation can be transformed into being our gym. It's our training room, every rep of thwarted temptation is one more step to becoming spiritually ripped. And as we succeed in fighting temptation, there are three ways temptation can paradoxically be USEFUL:

  1. Temptation can be useful as a wake-up callIt's like getting slapped when you're sleeping, and it suddenly wakes you up. Temptation can provide a similar effect, as if it screams to us, "HELLO!? YOU'RE IN A BATTLE. WAKE UP AND FIGHT!" Temptation can remind you to sober up and wage war. Temptation can remind you to pray, to pursue the lord, and to depend on Him to rescue you. 
  2. Temptation can be useful as a strengthener: In order to win, we must flex the muscle of our faith. We must CHOOSE to believe the promises of God are BETTER than the promises of this temptation in this moment. As we believe God in the moment of weakness, this sharpens our mind and grows our character. It strengthens the muscles of faith. And we'll be able to face the temptation even better next time, because we're trained and ready. 
  3. Temptation can be useful as a reminder to help others:  When you're being tempted, why not use it as an opportunity to reach out to OTHER brothers and sisters who might be tempted, maybe even in the same way? Check in with others to see how their own temptation is going. For instance: If it's midnight and you're tempted to look at porn, text or call a brother who probably also is going through the same temptation. Strength in numbers!! Fight shoulder to shoulder, and encourage one another that Jesus is BETTER
Growing stronger,
The Relentless Fight

Monday, March 17, 2014

Law, Gospel, Wisdom

Have you ever been sitting in a sermon, and the more you listened the worse you felt? Have you ever felt like you're a pretty good person and only need the gospel on your bad days? Have you ever rushed out of a church service with fresh applications in mind, only to feel even more discouraged when they didn't seem to work?

It's vitally important to discern the difference between what is law, gospel, and wisdom. When these three categories are confused or missing, we careen out of control to dangerous thinking and unhealthy strategies.

First let's define the terms:
  • Law: What God says is right and wrong, based on His character. It merely identifies sin and assigns guilt. It identifies the problem and condemns it. Example: Don't commit adultery. If you do, you'll die (Leviticus 20:10). 
  • Gospel: What God has done for us based on His grace. This is the good news! God has sent Christ to obey the Law FOR us, and to pay the penalty for our disobedience to the Law. Example: Christ dies the death of an adulterer, so that the adulterer can be forgiven and reconciled (2 Cor 5:21).
  • Wisdom: What God has instructed us so that we can live holy lives, based on His knowledge of how the world works. This encompasses ways to fight our sin: strategies, tactics, methods, equipping, making no provision. This is largely the world of accountability, sermons, books, articles, counseling, and memorizing Scripture. Example: Do not go near the door of the adulterer's house (Proverbs 5:8). 

Notice that there is a necessary progression to these three categories. First we have the Law which identifies what we should or should not be doing. This reveals our wrongdoing, which is a prerequisite for seeing our need for grace and forgiveness. Then the Gospel reconciles us to God and transforms our hearts to WANT to obey, which finally leads us to the need for Wisdom to know how to walk in this new way of life.

You need all three. There's a danger of minimizing OR exalting only one of them:
  • Without the Law: Nothing done wrong! Meh, NBD. There's no standard for wrongdoing, so there's no need for a gospel, no need for the cross, and no need for any wisdom to fight, because what would you fight? The Law is necessary. But if the Law existed by itself, it would be devastating. 
  • Without the Gospel: No power for change, no transformation, no new heart, no new creation, no new identity in Christ, no freedom from sin. You're a sitting duck for any sin that comes by, and you're standing condemned by God's holy Law. The Gospel is necessary. But if the Gospel existed by itself, it would be powerless. 
  • Without Wisdom: No practical fighting or growth. No strategies. Sure you may have been set free from sin, but how do you start WALKING in that freedom? You've been given the Sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:17) but how do you use it? Wisdom is necessary. But if Wisdom existed by itself, it would be useless. 

When you hear a sermon, or a friend counseling you, or are reading a chapter in a book, take the time to figure out what you're hearing. Is it Law, Gospel, or Wisdom? Categorization is vitally necessary. If you hear wisdom and interpret it as law (and forget the gospel) this makes you beat yourself up over how you're NOT applying this wisdom. You'll just sit there condemning yourself as a failure. Don't do it! Hear the wisdom AS it is, as wisdom that comes AFTER the Gospel. You can't do it, but Jesus has done it. So now that you're transformed, hear the wisdom as a call: "HERE'S the way to live wisely".

Fighting sin with all three,
The Relentless Fight