The message of bloody, sinless Jesus on the cross is clear: we are deeply messed up people with a real sin problem, for which there is only one solution.
Somehow, we have taken that message and turned it into a belief that only sharing the sins of our past is honoring to God. Without even realizing it, what we are actually doing is confessing a past need for Jesus. We have denied the power of our miraculous justification and imputation in the now. Truth is, the gospel is big enough for your present tense messy, the place in which you are falling short right now. The place where you run when you can’t handle the pressure of life or that skeleton pet sin you don’t want anyone knowing about? That was paid for at Calvary. There is no fear in life when you are hidden in Christ. Therefore, there should be no fear in sharing our present tense messy.
But we are afraid. Too many of us have been told by the church that we “shouldn’t be too transparent” because “people need us to be stable”. We’ve been told that “the world needs our good example to have faith in Jesus”. We have been trained to trust in our own goodness and the goodness we perceive in others and now we’re terrified that if we were to share the real sides of ourselves that people will run away. I fear that you’ll either stone me from any ministry capacity or you’ll slap a “Scarlet Letter” on my chest and abandon me.
But what if Christians ALL threw their skeletons out in the street? Who would be able to pick up the first stone or hand out the first letter? I think if we all saw one another’s brokenness, we would hold hands and run back to the cross together because we’d see it’s all we’ve ever had. The truth is that many of us have been handed a lie by the severely misinformed, well meaning church. God was dead serious when he said “Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.” (James 5:16) He didn’t mean only share the things that God has delivered you from. He didn’t mean share your victories in overcoming sin. While encouraging to hear, and God-honoring, that isn’t the thing that will bring us delivery from our chains.
Jesus didn’t die a bloody, gruesome death to set us free to share our “Pinterest addictions”. The gospel frees us to share our “darkest of soul moments” with one another. In that there’s freedom.
Of course it’s easier to share the sins of our past. For example, I can sit here and share with you how I used to struggle with pornography as a woman, in my younger years. I can tell you how enslaved I was and just how deep into bondage and despair it drove me. How in moments of desperation I cried out to God and He absolutely pulled me right out of that addiction. It is God-honoring for me to share that truth, but that’s not the whole story. There is more, and while it’s more difficult for me to share, it also brings God glory. It’s the part of the battle that is ongoing, my present tense messy. The importance of sharing our present tense messy is the present tense truth of the gospel.
The lust that I battle on a regular basis is a real addiction. It’s the place where I run for comfort. It’s where I escape from boredom, frustration with life, difficulty in relationships, or just because I want one more fix. There are times that I don’t battle with it at all. Then there are days that I can’t walk away, I can’t put it down, and frankly – I don’t want to. Then, when in the midst of the ecstasy, I hear all of the guilt trip motivations to “just stop sinning” that I’ve heard throughout my life, and it drives me deeper in. It causes me to stay as long as possible and drink the moment down to the very last drop because I’m already here. I’m already guilty. Every single time, I’m always left crushed, unsatisfied, and somehow, still thirsty for more.
My experience within the church really has not helped in my struggle. If nothing else, it’s been compounded. Heavy preaching of law mixed with putting lust in a gender-specific category has left me with a double condemnation as a woman. From nearly every pulpit I have ever sat in front of, lust has been coined as a “man’s issue”. Apparently, as a woman, I’m just supposed to struggle with “gossip”. For years I would even say, “I guess I just struggle more like a man.” The one time I got the courage to tell a woman that I struggled in this present tense way, she acted like I was an alien. Her response just confirmed the condemnation that I had been feeling already. I vowed to never talk about it again and went back into hiding.
Lust is NOT a gender-specific sin. It’s a sinner-specific sin.
Furthermore, when the church forbids friendships between men and women and then adds legalistic law in regard to how we are to engage one another, it creates a breeding ground for lust. The “don’t touch, don’t taste, don’t handle” rules that we impose on one another in the church never ever keep us from sin.
“These rules may seem wise because they require strong devotion, pious self-denial, and severe bodily discipline. But they provide no help in conquering a person’s evil desires.”- (Col 2:23)
When we make laws to keep self and others from sin, what we end up doing is enticing the forbidden. It’s exactly what happened to Eve in the garden right before the fall of mankind “..neither shall you touch it, lest you die.” (Gen 3:3) When we tell men and women that they can’t interact or that they can’t be in the same room with one another unless a spouse is present, or that “laughing and joking too much could be interpreted as flirting that will cause your brother to stumble”, or that hugging or any physical contact is inappropriate which leads to lust, we turn every single encounter with one another into a brush with the forbidden.
By our rules, we actually entice the lust because we stop looking at one another as brothers and sisters in Christ who are image bearers, and instead unintentionally train ourselves to view one another as sex objects who can’t possibly keep it in our pants long enough to have a God -honoring friendship that would be edifying. Until recently, I haven’t had any men within the body of Christ that I could consider real friends, equal to my female friends. As the gospel has been setting me free from all of the lies that I believed for years, I have found the freedom to interact apart from fear with some amazing Christian men. Without knowing it, they came and kicked the door in on some very legalistic views that I held that were fueling my battle with lust. To my astonishment, the more that these men have “leaned in” with gospel encouragement, fruitful discussion, free laughter, and Christ-like-love, the more I have been freed from the things that enticed me before. The chains are loosening.
I know that I cannot be the only woman who battles lust. As I am watching the entertainment industry target women with sensual movies and books, I am aware of just how much I’ve been lied to over the years. It’s been a huge cover-up in the church, but Hollywood knows our dirty little secret. “Men are visual. Women are emotional” is not entirely the truth, is it? I don’t think we can deny it anymore. I can’t deny it anymore. I’m tired of being in hiding, battling alone. I believe other women are tired of it too. I have read so many articles and books on battling lust, out of desperation, each of them were directed to men alone. It’s helpful, sure but also lacking.
There is really good news, specifically for women who battle this issue, found in the passages of scripture. While the church wants to pretend like the issue does not exist, Jesus never flinched at women caught in adultery. He didn’t treat them with a double condemnation, even though the culture around them did, especially the religious elite. Friends, Jesus doesn’t flinch at us who are caught in adultery of heart, either. Instead, He went to the cross, kicking in the door on our sin and shame, and He leans in and embraces us with His grace.
As I have sat at Jesus’ feet reading his interactions with women just like me, I have wept uncontrollably. I have seen Christ love women who spent their lives in hiding and shame and I have watched him set them free. While we are desperate, dehydrated of soul by trying to drink from broken cisterns that can’t satisfy us, Jesus is offering us living water. He knows why we return to those same old cisterns. To the woman at the well, before he ever even confronted her for having “many husbands”, “Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.” (John 4:10)
If she only knew.
If we only knew.
Jesus radically loves you even in the thick of enjoying the intoxication of lust.
That kind of grace is hard to believe. It’s so insane. It’s the absolute, gospel truth though. It’s the only truth that is going to set us free. It’s that beautiful truth that I want to spend time just basking in, in the next post!!
*I would like to take a time out and just thank my friend and husband, Dallas. You’ve been the one person over the years that I could run to with this struggle and receive grace and understanding, apart from fear of judgment. You are my safe place, my favorite, and the cheese to my macaroni. I love you, “Sweetman”.
*I’d also like to thank my gospel posse (you know who you are!!) for your support, prayers, and encouragement to say this out loud. Thank you all for embracing me with grace and for leaning in. This grace thing is for REAL- and each of you have proven that to me. I love you all and am thankful for all of the gospel partying we get to do together. It’s the best. Come on February!!
*Photograph: Trinity Mirror / Mirrorpix / Ala/Alamy