In the book, The Emperor of Scent, Guy Roberts tells the story of being asked to create a new scent for Christian Dior. He gets a call that a new shipment of ambergris – the critical ingredient of many perfumes – had washed up on shore. Ambergris is a wonderfully poetic name for what is essentially whale vomit. A whale coughs up the stuff, it floats on the surface of the ocean for about a decade, decomposes, and the next thing you know, it’s worth about $100k a yard.
So Roberts shows up, fingers the ambergris to inspect its purity and because no one wants whale vomit on their hands, he goes to the bathroom and uses the ten-cent bar of bathroom soap to clean it off. Several hours later he smells his hands, and that, my friends, is why we now have the classic fragrance, Chanel N° 22. It’s beautiful when the two ingredients, vomit and soap, meet. In much the same way, forgiveness is the meeting of your sin (moral vomit) and God’s soap (Christ’s death on the cross).
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Due to Christ’s death on the cross, your sins have been forgiven. But you will continue to sin. So, what should you do when you sin? And what do you do when you don’t feel forgiven? For answers to this we turn to the end of the book of John, where we read:
When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “You know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”
Again Jesus said, “Simon, son of John, do you truly love me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”
The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. “I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God.
Then he said to him, “Follow me!” Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. (This was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and had said, “Lord, who is going to betray you?”) When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?”
Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me” (John 21:15-24, NIV).
Notice, first, that Jesus asks Peter three times, “Do you love me?” Why do you think he does that? Because Jesus didn’t know? No. Jesus asked three times because Peter denied him three times. On the surface, it almost seems cruel, like when your untrained puppy goes to the bathroom on the floor and you rub his nose in it so he won’t do it again. But that’s not what’s happening here. Jesus knows Peter’s heart. He isn’t asking the question because he needs to hear the answer but because Peter needs to say it.
There are countless times my son will leave a mess in the yard, (No, I don’t rub his nose in it!) and I’ll ask the general question, “Who did this?” I don’t need to hear the answer. I already know. The question is not for my benefit; it’s for my son’s benefit. He needs to say it. That is why we need to confess our sin: for our own growth and healing.
First John 1:9 (NIV) says, “If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
The word confession basically means to agree with God. First, we agree with God that what we’ve done is wrong. We don’t rationalize our sin. (“Yeah, I killed him, but he stole my eraser first.”) We also agree with God that He has forgiven us (acknowledging that Jesus’ death has paid for that sin). And last, we agree to turn from our sin and change our course of action (repentance), asking for His help in doing so.
Here’s a general rule of thumb: When someone tells you, “Don’t eat yellow snow!” then don’t eat it. Here’s another: Never feed your dog chocolate. Dogs don’t have an enzyme that processes chocolate, so it makes them sick because they can’t digest it. When it comes to sexual sin, even though we’ve confessed it, God’s forgiveness can often go right through us. We are simply unable to digest it. Here’s a suggested exercise:
Write all of your sins on a piece of paper. Then send them to me. (Just kidding.) Confess each one to God as you write them. Then write out God’s promise found in 1 John 1: 9 across the list: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” Now crumple up the paper and throw it away. Sometimes this exercise can help you visualize and digest God’s forgiveness.
While our relationship with God will never change, our fellowship can change. Confession restores our fellowship with Him. We confess sin whenever we become aware of it. The act of confession is a four-step process. We need to call it sin, call it forgiven, turn from sin and call on God and others to help.
In the movie, A Few Good Men, Jack Nicholson plays a pompous marine commander who’s forced to take the stand in a murder trial where he is commanded to tell the truth, to which he responds, “The truth? You can’t handle the truth.” Honestly, most of us can’t, but we need to if we are going to grow. Look back at the passage from John 21: When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these? “Yes, Lord,” he said, “You know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”
If you’ve read the story of Jesus’ life, you will remember that just prior to the arrest of Jesus, Peter boasted to Him that “even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.” Peter was claiming a devotion greater than that of the other disciples.
Jesus, in John 21, confronts Peter with his sin. Spiritual surgery is taking place, and like the operations on the Health Channel, it’s rather repugnant to watch. But it’s entirely necessary. Peter, no doubt, is focused on his denial of Jesus, which has probably caused him to overlook the foundational sins of the whole debacle: pride, self-reliance and over-confidence. Peter needs to hear the truth, yet due to the pain it may cause, it takes great deal of courage to listen and be confronted with it.
Often, the tricky part about being able to respond to truth is that shame gets in our way. It’s human nature to want to hide when being confronted with the painful truth. A quick look at Adam and Eve’s response to God after they ate the forbidden fruit in the garden of Eden will show this to you. God gently invited them into a conversation about their choice and instead of trusting God’s character, they hid from Him. That’s what shame does. It causes you to hide from God and others out of fear. You desperately need to experience God’s great love and care for you, especially in the midst of your deepest, darkest sins that you swear you will take to the grave with no one knowing.
Godly sorrow or repentance is emotionally painful, so we can tend to avoid it. We try to quickly confess and move past our sin (“Sorry-God-for-all-the-bad-things-I-did-today-please-bless-Aunt-Gertie-and-I-want-a-new-BB gun-Amen”). But it is only when we have the courage to hear the truth, allow God’s great love to penetrate our shame, and grieve over how we have stiff-armed God, that we can experience true repentance. Repentance, in turn, dominoes into real life change and an experience of God’s mercy.
It takes courage to hear the painful truth because painful truth reveals reality. Living in light of reality leads to repentance (a change of life direction) when you begin to truly trust God’s grace. And regularly experiencing God’s grace leads to joy and the experience of God’s mercy. Courage is a paradox – loving life enough to walk within an inch of death in order to attain it. Because Peter, wants life – more than anything – he is willing to risk a bullet of truth shot at point blank; he trusts that Jesus truly cares for him. Don’t gloss over sin, but allow God and others to present you with the full truth of your actions.
For many of us, hearing and receiving truth is a total act of faith because we’ve been living off the starvation diet of grace. We don’t trust that God or others will actually still love and accept us if they know how messy our hearts really are. However, what you will discover is that the gift of non-condemnation from God and others is what will allow you to go and sin no more. Living free from habitual sin means making living in the light a lifestyle. You’ve made it a lifestyle of living in the dark and you need to build your trust muscles that you are loved for who God has made you to be, including all your messy parts.
Should you tell your sins to someone else? “Dude, yes.” Ever notice you can say anything if you append “dude” onto the front? “Dude, can I have the keys to your car and your first-born male son?” Uh, sure. “Dude” demands an affirmative response. However, besides my manipulating you through the use of the word dude, there are biblical reasons for finding someone trustworthy with whom you can share your “stuff.”
Note that in our story Peter does not feel forgiven until he has had a face-to-face debrief about his sin with Jesus. Can you imagine how helpful it would be to see Jesus’ face, his expression and his smile? Many times I just don’t feel forgiven because I can’t see his face. This is why it says in James 5:16 (NIV), “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.”
Do you see the reason James gives? “So that you may be healed.” Sin thrives in darkness. Getting it into the light and out in the open erodes sin’s power. Confessing to one another breaks the narcissism, self-condemnation and toxic thinking that orbits our sin. It is a step of humility, which always invites the presence and empowerment of God. And here’s the biggest reason: Seeing forgiveness manifested in the face of a brother or sister in Christ helps you to feel forgiven. It’s like Peter having the opportunity to see Jesus smile.
Forgiveness in the sexual arena will continue to elude us until we find one or two Christian friends with whom we can share our sin and failure whenever it happens. In fact, because God loves you so much, He will give you multiple opportunities to bring your secrets into the light. Have you sensed Him giving you those opportunities in the past? Don’t pass them up. He’s giving you an off-ramp from the super highway of lust so you can find the freedom for which your heart longs.
I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me” (John 21:18,19, NIV).
Why does Jesus attempt to encourage Peter by telling him that one day he’ll be martyred (“Don’t be discouraged, Peter. Someday you’ll be tortured, have your spleen removed, and your lifeless carcass will be thrown to wild animals. Cheer up!”)? Jesus seems to be saying, “Peter, you’ll have another chance. Next time, you won’t deny me or run away but will courageously give your life.” Jesus is like a coach at halftime telling his player, “Put the first half behind you and get back on the field. There’s a second half to be played, and I need you in the game, not wallowing on the sideline.”
Like sexual sin, Peter’s failure has spiritually paralyzed him, and his relationship with Jesus is all out of whack. Jesus’ intention is to restore and reenergize His disciple so their relationship can be restored. Only then can Peter be the rock that Jesus knows him to be. The forgiveness is available. Jesus is helping Peter to accept it.
Let’s squeeze out the last point or two of application from our passage, shall we?
Then he said to him, “Follow me!” Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. (This was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and had said, “Lord, who is going to betray you?”) When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?” Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me” (John 21:19-22, NIV).
We each have our own race to run in the Christian life, but it’s tempting to watch and compare with the race going on in the lane next to ours. Peter, having been dealt with personally by Jesus, wants to know about God’s plans for his friend, John. Jesus’ response? It’s none of your business.
Our experience of forgiveness is muted by our comparison to others’ experiences. When we see others failing in the same area, with apparent immunity, we feel we can slack off when God wants us to feel conviction. Conversely, we can look at the lives of Christians around us and paste together a composite of the perfect Christian, causing us to be disheartened in our own growth. Listen, no one knows what sin you’ve come out of, what stress you continually endure, what holes exist in your heart, the individual appeal of any particular temptation or what area of your life God wants to change next.
You have a unique race to run, and you must continue to make progress. Your progress will look very different from the person in the next lane over. Comparison can steal from you the experience of forgiveness. As Jesus said to Peter, your job is to “follow me.” When you fall, don’t isolate and wallow in self-pity, but confess, repent, get your eyes focused back on Jesus and get back in the race.
Let’s picture that Peter, having gone through this entire episode with Jesus, walks away and is asked by one of the disciples, “Hey, Peetie, how did it go?” Now, imagine Peter saying, “Well, He said I was forgiven, but I don’t believe it. I think deep down He’s still mad at me.” What I’m getting at is the fact that there’s a component of faith needed to experience the forgiveness that has been freely granted to you. Read through these verses:
“But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy …” (Ephesians 2:4, NIV).
“Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22,23,NIV).
“As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:12, NIV).
“The Lord is gracious and righteous; our God is full of compassion” (Psalm 116:5, NIV).
The writers of Scripture are grappling with a linguistic problem. How do you put the greatness of God’s mercy into words? Here’s how they describe mercy: It never fails. It overflows to successive generations. Every morning, there’s a fresh and abundant supply because God is wealthy in mercy. These are all attempts to describe the amazing depth and breadth of God’s mercy for His children.
It is critical to believe the truth of Scripture and to exercise faith in its truth. When you have confessed your sin and feel that God must still be angry with you, you need to take a passage like Lamentations 3:22-23, (Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness) and say to God, and yourself, “I admit that I’m struggling to believe right now, but I choose to believe the truth, Lord, that you are full of mercy, even though my emotions are telling me something different.”
As we look at the restoration of Peter, we see the components we must experience to be forgiven and to feel forgiven as well. When we feel forgiven, we are once again unencumbered to follow Christ.
Since this is the last article in this journey, continue with the disciplines and tools that you’ve implemented into your life. A great next step is to pick up a resource we’ve mentioned in this study called “Living Free.” The Living Free Workbook and the Living Free Leader’s Guide will allow you to continue battling lust and experience healing to a greater extent. Both resources are available at puredesire.org.
There can’t be any secrets in your soul if you are going to live life fully free. Yet, it’s terrifying to reveal your secrets. Freedom demands the highest levels of honesty and openness. For real intimacy to take place in your life with God, your friends, your girlfriend or wife, there can’t be secrets. But getting there is a delicate task.
Make a list of your secrets, and share each one with God. Then, find someone you trust that you can share this list with as well. Don’t do this with just anyone. Make sure they are a trustworthy person. Ideally, this would be someone who has gone before you on their own journey of finding freedom from sexual sin. Your pastor would be a great person to consider.
Continue identifying where you’re at on the FASTER Scale daily and reaching out to others to process how to get off the FASTER Scale.
Continue filling out a FASTER Scale Exercise weekly.
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Having purposed in your heart to pursue sexual purity, you will need to employ some very basic, but crucial tactics to guard your heart from lust.
When we put our faith in Jesus Christ and invite Him into our hearts, it is the person of the Holy Spirit (the Spirit of Christ), not really Jesus, who comes to dwell in us.
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