Question from a Site Viewer
For some time, I have been in a state of rebellion to God. It happened on a night when I was feeling very good about my relationship with God, but then fell to the temptation to masturbate with sexual thoughts. Doing this immediately hardened my heart, and opened the floodgates to lust that I could not, and would not, control. I sinned deliberately and intentionally. It was sin that was a mockery to God; I arrogantly thought that I would just commit then sin then ask for forgiveness and everything would be cool. The really pathetic part is that I thought I had already learned my painful lesson about doing this, but I guess the lesson was lost on me. Recently I read a work by John Bunyan called The Strait Gate, or Great Difficulty of Going to Heaven. There was a section that talked about how there is a false form of faith and a false form of repentance, that is often indistinguishable to even mature and discerning Christians, that leads the majority of people who profess Christ into hell. It seems that the only real difference is that only genuine repentance causes the person to hate sin because it is sin, not because it causes us pain or difficulty (I guess godly sorrow vs. worldly sorrow). The idea that the majority of people professing to be Christians, who may sincerely think they’re following Christ and show many evidences of salvation, yet be self-deluded and lost, is very disturbing to me. Yet Jesus Himself said that we are to strive to enter in and that only a few will be saved. I want to love God with all my heart, live a life of sincere holiness with Jesus, and repent, turning away from everything bad, not grievously sinning against the Lord like I have in the past week, but I now seem stuck where I’m at. I feel like my faith has evaporated and I cannot find it again. Has God abandoned me?
Thank you for taking the time to describe your thoughts. First, in answer to your question, even though you say, “I sinned deliberately,” I can confidently say that God has not abandoned you. Jesus taught us that God is the shepherd who goes searching for lost sheep and rejoices more over one sinner who repents than over 99 who need no repentance (Luke 15). When we were enemies, Jesus died for us (Romans 5:10). His great desire is for people to repent and turn to Him (Ezekiel 18:32; 33:11). The long history of God with Israel is given to us so that we might learn about God. And what we see is that with Israel’s departure from God, God sent prophets early and often for hundreds of years before He finally turned them out of the land of Israel (2 Chronicles 36:15-16), and even then He promised to go with them into captivity (Ezekiel 11:16). God still has His arms open to welcome each of us back. His heart is mercy and He extends His mercy freely to those who turn to Him.
What you describe, thus, is not God abandoning you. Rather, what you describe is you abandoning God. Your feelings are common among those who turn away from the true living water and seek satisfaction in the recesses of sin. We tend to blame everyone but ourselves, including God. But our sin is not God’s fault, and our rebellion is not because He has failed to give us a heart of regeneration. He has given us all things that pertain to life and godliness through the knowledge of Jesus Christ (2 Peter 1:3). But it is our responsibility to add to faith virtue, and to virtue knowledge, and to knowledge self-control, and to self-control patience, and to patience godliness, and to godliness brother kindness, and to brother kindness love (2 Peter 1:5-7). If we do this, we will grow in Christ, be fruitful, and have a banner entrance into heaven itself (2 Peter 5:8-11). This is Christianity 101.
Paul aptly describes what you have experienced in Romans 6. Sin begets sin. Sin darkens the heart and turns us away from the Savior. Sin entices and entraps and enslaves us. And sexual sins can be particularly powerful. I believe it was the sexual aspect of Baal that so often led Israel away from God. The book of Proverbs describes the one who goes to a harlot’s house as one who is foolish and who is descending the steps to hell (Proverbs 7:6-27). I have longed thought that this is an apt portrayal of those who entertain pornography and other sexual sins. Those who partake are like oxes going to the slaughter, or a foolish person going to be shackled (Proverbs 7:22). There is an attraction in sex that is natural and healthy, and God-given. But the attraction can be highjacked easily by undisciplined minds to become enslavement and death. If we do not exercise control of our minds, we will find that we are thinking constantly about sexual perversions and spending no time worshiping God, loving God, and loving others.
Therefore, my urge to people is not to go there. Reserve sex for marriage. Take sexual desires to God and talk to Him about them, asking for His help to remain or regain purity. Engage the battle of the mind to control the thought-life. Actively replace impure thoughts that may invade the mind with thoughts of Christ, His Word, or His work. I have found one of the most effective ways to overcome such temptations that come into the mind is to use them as triggers to praise God or pray for others. They become reminders, like alarm clocks in the mind. When the thought comes in, it reminds me that I should praise God or pray for another person. Thus, I find that these evil temptations can be redeemed into something good.
Such practice also does something else in my thinking. If Satan is behind the thoughts, he will learn that the temptations he is sending is working for the furtherance of the kingdom. And if it is simply my mind behind the thoughts, using such flood of thoughts as a trigger to pray and praise begins the process of transforming the mind. The more we praise, pray, memorize Scripture, and think about our great Savior, the more those pathways in the brain get strengthened and the pathways of destructive thoughts get weakened. I do not know if we ever totally escape bad thoughts coming in, but when we recognize such as temptations to destructive thinking and we deliberately choose to praise and pray instead, we give no room for those thoughts to fester and lead us astray.
Sinful acts come from sinful thoughts. The battle must be won in the mind. Our God has given us the ability to be strong and win this battle. But it is always our choice.
My encouragement to you is to cease being angry with God. He is on your side! He is for you! Rather, draw near to Him and He will draw near to you (James 4:8). Understand what has happened. You have done the same thing Israel did. You have allowed sexual thoughts to become perverted and to lead you away from your God. As God said to Israel, return to your God and He will forgive (Hosea 14:1-4). He will be the father of the prodigal son who will meet you while you are still a long way down the driveway.
I know that it may take some time before you feel again the closeness that you first felt when you were with Him. But if you persevere with God, you will find that what you first experienced with Him will be only a shadow of the ever-increasing joy and peace you will have in abundance as the Spirit is poured into your heart. The walk with Christ is the most incredible experience on this earth. Pursue Him with your will, your heart, your life; with everything that you have. If you do so, you will find life itself.
And, if I may add, there are times in the future when you may fall again. Learn to keep short accounts with God. When you fall into sin, do not stay there for a moment longer. Do not fall into the thought pattern that God does not want you back. He came to save sinners. And He Himself was tempted like us so He understands and knows our weaknesses (Hebrews 2:17-18; 4:14-16). This is why Jesus intercedes on our behalf all of the time (Romans 3:34; Hebrews 7:25). So, learn the truth that when we fall, we can immediately return to Christ, ask for forgiveness, and start from that moment onward to seek to live for Him. James tells us that we all stumble in many ways (James 3:2). Sin is not the end of life. But it will lead to the end of life if we do not repent. Thus, keep short accounts. Let sin not rule a second longer than it does. Return and seek God always, immediately. And then, strengthen one’s heart towards God and avoid occasions that lead to sin. Paul tells Timothy to flee from them (2 Timothy 2:22).
May you find the God of mercy and grace to be rich in pardoning and may you find His embrace warm and awe inspiring as you practice the humility of repentance and worship.
one who has experienced His great forgiveness,