By John Piper
Sexual sin is destructive, but the guilt that follows can be just as disastrous. This guilt is causing thousands to waste their lives.
A tragic number of young people who once dreamed of radical obedience to Jesus have lost this desire. They used to be joyfully willing to sacrifice anything to make Jesus known, but then this urgency faded into uselessness. The gnawing sense of unworthiness and spiritual powerlessness that can come from undealt-with sexual guilt is causing many young people to forsake Christ’s mission.
The tragedy is not mainly masturbation, fornication or pornography. The tragedy is that Satan takes your 2 a.m. encounters with your boyfriend, girlfriend or computer and tells you: “See, you’re a loser. No way can your miserable life make a difference for Jesus!” The tragedy is if he can convince you to trade in your radical dreams for a life of superficial pleasures until you die in your lakeside rocking chair, wrinkled and useless.
I want to take the weapon of your guilt out of Satan’s hand. Yes, I want you to have the courage to not sleep around or surf for porn in the first place. But sooner or later, whether it’s those sins or another, you are going to fail. So the question is not “How can I be perfect?” but “How can I fail in a way that doesn’t sweep me into a life of wasted, middle-class mediocrity with no impact for Christ?”
Kill Temptation with Truth
Many people are ruined by sexual temptation, failure and guilt because their souls and minds have shriveled to the size of a sitcom. That kind of small-mindedness is why the prophet Hosea cried out, “Let us acknowledge the Lord; let us press on to acknowledge him,” and “My people are destroyed from lack of knowledge” (6:3, 4:6, TNIV).
Biblical knowledge of God, Christ, faith and the cross will revitalize your soul and mind and protect you from sin. It will give ballast to the boat of your life so that the wind of temptation will not be able to tip you over so easily.
The Apostle Paul summarizes the most important thing to know in the fight against sin: “When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:13-14).
Instead of holding your sins up in front of your face and using them as the warrant to send you to hell, God put them in the palm of His Son’s hand and nailed them to the cross.
In the next verse Paul says, “And having disarmed the powers and authorities, [God] made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross” (Colossians 2:15). This is referring to the devil and his demons. How are they defeated? Don’t they still prowl around like a roaring lion (1 Peter 5:8)?
Yes, they can still do a lot of damage, but we are saved because on the cross God destroyed Satan’s only weapon against us–unforgiven sin. He can still beat you up and tell all kinds of lies. He will accuse you and shame you, but he cannot damn you. That weapon is gone. Only unforgiven sin damns. And that was what God nailed to the cross for everyone who trusts in Jesus.
With this theology–the magnificent doctrines of substitutionary atonement and justification by faith (even if you don’t know the names)–you can conquer the devil. Hold fast to your salvation and you will have a defense against him when he tells you that your sexual failures rule you out of Christ’s mission and condemn you to a life of meaningless, middle-class prosperity.
Trust Christ with Gutsy Guilt
How can we feel guilt without being ruined by it? Guilt is a good reaction to sin, after all. The problem is letting Satan use it to destroy us. How should lovers of Jesus feel guilty when they do wrong?
The prophet Micah offers us a picture of what to say to your enemy as he condemns you: “Do not gloat over me, my enemy! Though I have fallen, I will rise. Though I sit in darkness, the LORD will be my light. Because I have sinned against him, I will bear the LORD’s wrath, until he pleads my case and establishes my right. He will bring me out into the light; I will see his righteousness” (Micah 7:8-9).
I call what Micah describes here “gutsy guilt.” He admits that he has done wrong and that God is dealing roughly with him. But even while he suffers, he knows that God is on his side.
You can use words like these whenever Satan tempts you to throw away your life on trifles as if that’s all you’re good for. The morning after you fail, take your theology and respond with gutsy guilt to anyone who tells you Christ can’t use you.
Here is what you say: Do not gloat over me, my enemy! You enjoy my failure? You think you will draw me into your deception? Think again. Though I have fallen, I will rise. Yes, I have fallen. I hate what I have done. I grieve at the dishonor I have brought on Jesus. But I will rise. Though I sit in darkness, the LORD will be my light. Yes, I feel miserable. I feel guilty. I am guilty. But the same God who makes my darkness is a sustaining light to me. He will not forsake me. Because I have sinned against him, I will bear the LORD’s wrath, until he pleads my case and establishes my right. Yes, I have sinned. God is indignant at me. But the very One who is angry with me is on my side. You say He is against me and that I have no future with Him because of my failure. That is a lie. My God, whose Son is my salvation, will stand up for me. For me! Not against me. He will bring me out into the light; I will see his righteousness. This misery that I feel because of my failure, I will bear as long as God decides. And this I know for sure: He will bring me out to the light, and I will look upon His righteousness.
The Increasing Preciousness of Christ
My brothers and sisters, when you learn to deal with the guilt of sexual failure with this kind of brokenhearted boldness, this strong, joyful trust that you have been justified and atoned for, this kind of gutsy guilt, you will find yourself failing less and less. Christ will become wonderful and precious to you–too wonderful and precious for you to turn to anything else for satisfaction.
And best of all, Satan will not be able to destroy your dream of a life of radical obedience to Christ. If you turn to God in your guilt and trust Jesus as your substitute, no one will ever be able to prevent you from having a profound effect for Jesus in the world.