I’m not talking about the fleeting, seemingly benign thought of sin that holds initial allure but is easily dismissed. (Though we should be on guard against these kinds of thoughts, too).
No, I’m talking about that moment when you’ve savored the juicy morsel and relish the taste. You clamp down your jaws and suddenly feel the sharp, piercing desire for more, and a forceful tug towards deliberate, willful sin. You know that you’ve swallowed a hook. The angler is reeling you in. Your better judgment, and God’s Word, and the Holy Spirit are whispering “No!” but your appetites and emotions are screaming “Yes!”
You are like Peter in the courtyard, your heart frenzied by fear, about to commit an act of cowardice and treachery. Or David on the rooftop, seized by lust’s hot desire, teetering on the brink of adultery. Or Moses at the rock, boiling in anger, poised to open a valve that will erupt into a rebellious torrent of volcanic rage.
Can you still escape temptation when you’re in that deep?
One of the longest patterns of recurring intercessory prayer in my life has been directed at a single goal: that my teenage son might be able to speak. If I could heal just one aspect of his condition, if I could give just one gift to address his many ailments, it would be the gift of speech. Most of his frustration, and much of our collective family frustration, comes from Jake’s inability to communicate effectively on a regular basis.
Sometimes we don’t know Jake is sick until he is very sick. We don’t know how badly he is injured until bones show up broken on an X-ray. We don’t know he is sad until he begins to cry uncontrollably. We don’t know he is angry until the remote control, or his eyeglasses, or a soft drink flies across the room and crashes against the wall.
At home, these forms of miscommunication are burdensome and exhausting. Out in public they can be downright dreadful and even dangerous. So, for years, I have prayed that God would give my son a voice.
I long for my son to have peace in his frustrated heart. I also wish for tranquility in my sometimes discouraged household. But one of my greatest yearnings on earth is to have a deep conversation with Jake. This is just one of the things that, for me, will make heaven especially sweet. I have so many things I want to tell him and, more importantly, so many things I want to hear from his heart.
I have waited and waited for God to answer this prayer. At times it seems like heaven is brass to my plea. But the longer I live the more I realize that in God’s merciful ways and grace-filled applications he has sent me many answers, even as I wait for the ultimate answer.
I asked God specifically to give Jake words. God graciously granted five.
Jake’s entire spoken vocabulary consists of “Dah-dah” for Daddy, “Momma” for Mommy, “Maw-maw” for his grandmother, “Dad-dad” for his grandfather, and “Ho-ho-ho” for, you guessed it, Santa Claus. And yes, we hear about Santa Claus all year round, and we encourage and cherish this because it is an answer to my prayer.[tweet “I asked God specifically to give Jake words. God graciously granted five. @greglucas58”]
Beyond those five vocal expressions there are no other words in Jake’s audible vocabulary. But there are some necessary signs. Jake can sign words like Jesus, Bible, shoes, play, please, sorry, candy, drink, and eat.
There is also some very beautiful singing. Jake loves to stand in church with an open hymnal—or anywhere, for that matter—and sing. His singing consists of one long baritone note that he can hold for a surprisingly long time. Over and over and over. It sounds a lot like Gregorian chant.
He also loves to carry a Bible and pretend he is reading, using the same long baritone sound that he sings with. Because he is standing and holding a Bible instead of a hymnal, perhaps he is preaching. God knows what’s going on there, even if I do not.
Then there are the precious ways Jake communicates affection physically. When he is happy and wants to show his love, he hugs. As our 4-year-old daughter would say, “He squeezes the choke out of me.”
For our daughter, being embraced by her much larger brother is more like a headlock than a hug. This can be confusing for a little girl who loves her disabled brother very much, but doesn’t completely understand why discomfort has to come along with his expression of affection. Actually, Jake intends for his hugs to be a sort of headlock, because his goal in wrapping his arms around your neck is to lower your head and finish the hug by placing his mouth directly on your hair in the form of a big, wet kiss. Jake has always had oral-sensitivity-stimulation issues with hair.
So while Jake’s hugs can be a little messy, somewhat confusing, often very loud, and even a little painful, when you leave our house with a sore neck and a big wet spot on the top of your head, you know you are loved.
Finally, there is God’s gift of electronic communication devices. Jake uses a handheld computer with a picture touch-screen that can communicate all kinds of phrases. When talking on the phone with him you might hear a mechanical voice saying: “I love you,” “I miss you,” “I want to go to Maw-maw’s house,” or “Is it almost time for Santa Claus to come?”
For me, all of this illustrates the difference between an answer to prayer and the answer to prayer.
Our sovereign Lord has the ability to grant anything we ask at any time. He is generous and kind and loving and cares for us beyond our wildest imaginations. We can be assured that when we are genuinely hungry and ask for food, he will give us bread and fish, not stones and snakes. But sometimes, if we ask for steak and shrimp, bread and fish may not seem like the answer we were looking for.[tweet “Grace satisfies our heart with answers to prayer while we wait for the ultimate answer.”]
I think the appetizer is meant to increase our desire for the main course. Such has been the case in my own prayer life. My heavenly Father, in his infinite wisdom, has answered all my prayers for Jake—with glimpses of the greatness to come. He has granted a foretaste of his glory by revealing the shadow of his coming blessings.
We still live in a fallen, sin-stained world. Even the best things here are mere silhouettes of what God has in store for us on that day when sin is no more. But we can be assured of this—he has more in store for us than we could ever think to ask for.
The full answers to our prayers and the full glory of God’s blessings will only come in eternity—and then they will last for eternity. But for now, informed by Scripture, and full of godward faith and biblical hope, our anticipation of what’s to come protects us from trusting in the temporal things by keeping us longing for the eternal things. In this life it is vital and necessary that, to one degree or another, we remain dissatisfied. The tension is that, here, all our prayers are answered, but all our prayers also await ultimate answers.
Today I communicate with my son through a few important words, some necessary signs, a sophisticated electronic device, and some rather charismatic body language. God has given me an answer to my prayer.
But I dream of a day when Jake and I sit quietly and stare into each other’s eyes for a long, precious moment. Broad smiles flash across our faces in silent communication of overwhelming joy. It’s a smile shared only by the close bond and affection of fathers and sons.
Then the silence is broken by Jake’s voice, “Dad, there are so many things I have wanted to tell you.”
“I know, son. I know.”
This is the answer to my prayer. And it will be worth the wait.
The social sciences confirm what is fairly obvious to begin with: gratitude doesn’t come naturally. Children must be trained to show it. Gratitude to others is part of being polite or having good manners. But you can be a model of etiquette and never get anywhere near the biblical idea of gratitude. In her book, The Gift of Thanks, Margaret Visser observes that “polite people” may say “thank you” up to 100 times per day and yet experience “little or no grateful emotion.”[i] That is, they go through the motions of politeness but without heartfelt gratitude. In fact, outward expressions of politeness can easily emerge from mixed motives. Consider the teenage girl who thanks her father sweetly for the loan of his car—mostly in the hope that he will let her borrow it again.
Biblical gratitude, however, is so much more than social conventions. Paul’s exhortations to be thankful do not proceed from a concern for etiquette and politeness—however sincere or well-intentioned—but from a passion to glorify God. This is because true thanksgiving is not an external formality, a matter of words or gestures or tone of voice. It is a natural outpouring of an awareness of three things:
what we rightly deserve before God’s holiness, and
the gracious redemption God has given to us through his Son.
Creaturehood. God created me. If he hadn’t, I wouldn’t exist. As Paul put it, “The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth…gives to all mankind life and breath and everything” (Acts 17:24–25). Everything I am and possess is God’s gift.
This means that all the essential elements that make us who we are were given to us by God. Our talents, intelligence, height, appearance, parents, country of birth, the generation we were born into—we decided none of it, yet these are the kind of factors that determine so much of our life’s outcome. All of these, and infinitely more, are God’s gifts. They were given to us creatures by a gracious Creator. For this reason, the object of true gratitude is always ultimately God.
What we deserve. Our natural tendency is to take credit for our gifts. The blustering business tycoon, the self-glorifying athlete, and the preening pop star are just exaggerated versions of the rest of us in this regard. We all want to boast and brag and be seen as special. [tweet “Boasting implies a claim to deity, as if we created ourselves and chose our own talents.”]
But as creatures, boasting is the speech of naked arrogance. It actually implies a claim to deity, as if we created ourselves and decided what gifts and talents we would possess. It is the opposite of gratitude, and just one of countless manifestations of the sin nature we have all inherited from Adam. In his infinite holiness, God finds this sin nature, and each one of our specific acts of sin, infinitely repulsive. As a result, all we truly deserve from God is judgment for our rebellious, ungrateful hearts.
The gift of redemption. Despite the judgment we deserve, in his grace God has redeemed us and given us eternal life. This gift has a value beyond all measure, and was purchased at infinite cost. It is a gift that deserves constant gratitude.
The Greek word eucharisteo encapsulates the essential connection between gratitude and grace. We usually translate it into our English word, “thanks” or “thanksgiving.” But notice that the word charis—Greek for “gift” or “grace”—is right there in the middle of the word. This grace is unmerited favor, favor given to those who deserve only punishment. Gratitude for the grace of God is therefore literally central to biblical thanksgiving.[tweet “Until we see what we truly deserve from God, grace has no meaning.”]
This is the perspective of my friend, Curtis. Whenever I ask how he is doing, he responds, “Better than I deserve.” His speech expresses a heart constantly aware of the cross. Here is what he is thinking. “I deserve crucifixion, and I am not getting it. In fact, I will never get it, and the reason is God’s amazing grace and love. I will never get the judgment I deserve. Christ went to the cross and took the judgment that I deserve in my place. That is why, for eternity, I will never cease to ‘abound with thanksgiving.’ Jesus took the judgment I deserve so that I could receive the reward he deserves.”
Until we understand what we truly deserve from God, grace has no meaning, and we will have little real motivation for gratitude. The well-spring of all Christian thanksgiving is a clear understanding of the redemption given to us through the cross.
To summarize, biblical gratitude is rooted in the recognition that I have been given undeserved gifts, both natural and spiritual. Thankfulness expresses my creatureliness and God’s sovereignty. It reflects awareness of and gladness in the fact that God is God, and I am not. Biblical gratitude is always anchored in this sense of dependence on God. It is the language of those who know they are creatures, and it is the proper response to redemption.[tweet “People with grateful hearts live with an awareness of how much God has done for them.”]
This is why thanksgiving is the language of humility—because true gratitude arises from a realization of our weakness and need. People with grateful hearts live with an awareness of just how much God has done for them.
[i] Margaret Visser, The Gift of Thanks, (New York: Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt, 2008) pg 8.
Last week on this blog we wished ourselves a happy 5th birthday and recalled how the first book we published was Sexual Detox, by Tim Challies. It’s still one of our top sellers. As it turned out, Cruciform’s beginning coincided almost exactly with Tim’s ordination as a full-time associate pastor in his local church. Then, just this past Friday, he announced that he has resigned from that position. He’s doing this so he can be a full-time writer, 21st-century style (i.e., less time with quill pens in musty garrets and more time online).
So we thought we would mark this transition in Tim’s life by featuring Sexual Detox in our second 20Twosdays drawing, which takes place tomorrow. This is a brand-new weekly giveaway where we offer a $20 store coupon and two selected books (in any format) to the winners. Normally we choose only one winner, but this time we will choose up to five. This week, the other book in the drawing will be from pastor and author Brian Hedges. It’s called Hit List: Taking Aim at the Seven Deadly Sins. The final chapter of that book is on lust.
As promised, here is a lightly edited excerpt from Sexual Detox that answers the questions “Is masturbation always sinful?” and “Can the Bible condemn something without ever naming it?”
Condemned Without Being Named (when the Bible is silent)
by Tim Challies
Some Christians—authors, pastors, and radio personalities among them—say that masturbation is a normal part of adolescence. Normal is an interesting word, isn’t it? In this context it’s comforting, almost wholesome. But normal is not a synonym for morally acceptable. If all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, then sin is both absolutely normal and horribly wrong. None of us get off the hook because “everybody does it” and therefore (big sigh of relief) we’re just normal.
To be honest, such a view is very nearly humanistic. We all know that masturbation is extremely common. We all know that the natural response to it is guilt and shame. How can we conclude that the guilt and shame must be unfounded?
Teachers who take this position don’t seem to make much of an effort to look carefully at what Scripture says about this topic. They do have a conclusion, though. They say that masturbation is amoral, neither good nor bad in itself. Why? Because no Bible passage specifically allows or condemns it by name. On a website that takes this general view I recently read, “If masturbation is a sin, then it’s a little odd that Scripture would leave the believer guessing about its moral status.”
But the Bible is not silent on this subject. It does not leave us guessing. It’s true that Scripture never mentions masturbation specifically. However, because the Bible does speak thoroughly and explicitly about sexuality and sinful lust, it doesn’t have to speak explicitly about something so closely related as masturbation.
Let’s look at two ways we can know that the Bible condemns masturbation without ever naming it.
First, consider that if masturbation is extremely common (as are most sins), and nearly always associated with sinful lust, we can safely assume the same was true in the ancient world. So think of Jesus delivering the Sermon on the Mount. When he essentially said “to imagine having sex with a woman is a kind of adultery” (Matthew 5:28), do you think that maybe—just maybe—the men in the audience understood that masturbation was part of his point?
Second, consider that the Bible never refers directly to abortion. Yet, because Scripture speaks clearly about the value of human life and the sin of murder, we are right to conclude that abortion is sin. In almost precisely the same way, because Scripture speaks clearly about the power of sexuality and the sin of lust, we can conclude that masturbation is nearly always sinful. In each case the specific action is so closely linked to the larger category of sin that the connection and shared moral status are simply obvious.[tweet “The Bible doesn’t have to name a specific sin in order to condemn it. Here’s how that works.”]
Technically, it is accurate to say that masturbation is amoral: You can’t say it is always bad or always good. This is because on very rare occasions masturbation may not be sinful. But the same is true of abortion. In rare, extreme cases, taking the life of an unborn child may be the best course of action: if a fetus is allowed to continue developing within a woman’s fallopian tube, for example, both the baby and mother will die. But the rare exception does not and should not stop us from confidently asserting the general rule that the Bible teaches abortion is sinful. So let’s not hesitate to say this, either: The Bible teaches that masturbation is sinful. †
Don’t miss tomorrow’s 20Twosdays!
We will be offering five happy winners a $20 store coupon and one copy each (any format) of Sexual Detox and Hit List.
Prideful sin is no small matter. The biblical warnings against it are bone-chilling. And none is more frightening than this: “God is opposed to the proud” (James 1:6).
We’ve been told over and over: Pride is the root of all sin. Kill pride and your other sins will topple, too. Sounds easy but it isn’t. Pride is slippery. As soon as you think you’ve got a grip on it, it pops up somewhere else nearby—usually closer to your heart than it was in the first place.
Frontal attacks against pride usually fizzle out. Have you noticed that, too? If so, try the indirect approach I learned while working on a recent book on spiritual warfare.
Roots Grow in Soil
There are two sins that actually run deeper than pride. Picture them as the soil from which the root of pride draws its nourishment and support.
Thankfully, these are two sins you can easily battle head-on. In fact, you can “condition” these two soils (that is, poison them) every day. Do this long enough and consistently enough and you will find the root of your sinful pride withering, thus weakening the whole malignant ecosystem of sin in your life.[Tweet “Two ways to weaken the malignant ecosystem of sin in your life.”]
The Soil Called Ungodliness
Jerry Bridges is my friend, mentor, and sometimes co-author. In The Bookends of the Christian Life we wrote, “the opposite of godliness is ungodliness, the disregarding of God. All expressions of pride are rooted in ungodliness, because you must first disregard God before you can be prideful.”
Sinful pride requires disregarding God—that is, behaving as if he does not matter. When you realize this, it becomes much simpler to battle ungodliness. How? By remembering that God does matter, infinitely above and beyond everything else. In practical terms, you can do this by deliberately recognizing God, for who he truly is, in all things, and doing so until this kind of God-honoring becomes habitual. Try it, and I think you’ll soon discover this is a powerful, if indirect, way to poison a root of pride.
This approach amounts to an intentional, content-specific version of what some have called “practicing the presence of God.” The best way to do this is to study, memorize, and regularly recall Scriptures about who God is and what he has done for us in his Son.
The Soil Called Unbelief
Deeper still, below pride and below the disregarding of God, is unbelief, the deepest sin of all. If ungodliness behaves as if God does not matter, unbelief behaves as if God does not exist.
The opposite of this unbelief is biblical faith. Genuine faith in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit necessarily results in humility. Battling unbelief, therefore, is our second indirect yet powerful means of battling pride.
An excellent way to engage in this battle is simply to ask Jesus, “I believe, help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24). Jerry and I have made it a habit to pray this nearly every day. [Tweet “The simple prayer that @JerryGBridges prays nearly every day.”]
Next, remember that when sin was about to strike, Jesus told Peter, “I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail” (Luke 22:31-32). Then, remember that Jesus prays for you, too (Romans 8:34).
Jesus is concerned about your faith in him. Ask him to pray for you the way he prayed for Peter—that your faith may not fail!
My life is far from a picture of humility. In fact, I’ve been aware of pride mustering its forces within me even as I write this. But I will not approach this battle head-on (except to take my sin to the cross and repent from it). Instead, I will deliberately regard God, by remembering where every good thing comes from (James 1:16-18). And I will pray, asking ask him to help my unbelief, so that I might see his unseen hand at work in me.
I’ll pray the same for you, too. By the time you read this, know that I already have.