A couple days ago I shared a question that haunts men, young and old. Today, I want to tell you today about how gentle Jesus has been with me.
At a very early age I developed an unhealthy view of human sexuality. A whole combination of factors caused me to view sex as something that gave someone value and identity. Combine this with easily accessible pornography and the curiosity of young boys and I didn’t stand a chance.
At the age of 15 I committed what felt like the unpardonable sin. And I did it knowingly and willingly. I was not a victim of my circumstances. I knew that I was doing something wrong—but I didn’t care. What I desired more than the pleasure of God was the pleasure of creation. For me it had less to do with sex and more to do with identity and value. I had finally proven to myself, the world, and all my buddies that I wasn’t a loser.
I continued in this downward spiral for a couple of years. Then I was saved by Jesus.
On Being Chocolate Cake
A flood of guilt washed over me. I sat through youth group lessons where we passed around a piece of chocolate cake where everybody would take a bite. At the end the leader would point to the disgusting looking, crumbled, and barely recognizable piece of cake and say—“who wants a bite now?” Nobody likes a chocolate cake once it has been passed around. In the same way nobody truly wants someone that has been “passed around”.
I was that chocolate cake.
As the gospel began taking root I learned that God starts over and rebuilds cakes. He makes me desirable again. What a relief. I was being built up into something beautiful; something desirable. I was a new creation. My past no longer had to haunt me. I wasn’t that half-eaten chocolate cake anymore. I was a new piece.
Then I fell again.
What now? Would Jesus rebuild that cake? Could I be made whole again? I struggled with all of these questions. And I struggled with them as I was going to school to prepare for ministry. I had a nagging sense of guilt and shame and worthlessness.
During this time I met my future wife. For the past year God had really been shaping me and changing my views of sexuality. I had grown leaps and bounds. But I still had the nagging guilt and the nagging questions. The goal in our relationship was purity. For the first time in my life I was in a relationship dedicated to godliness and purity in this area. I hoped to marry her.
One day in class all of my fears were confirmed. In an ethics class we were discussing sexuality. In that class the professor made this statement: “If you have engaged in sex outside of marriage you have forfeited every chance for a godly marriage!”
There it was. He had given voice to every fear that I had in my heart. I must have turned white as a ghost sitting in my chair, trying to hold back my sobbing. After what felt like an eternity in the purgatory of that Ethics class, we were finally dismissed. I ran back to my dorm room, feeling dirty, ashamed, and hopeless.
My only refuge felt like taking a shower. And there in the depths of that pain, Jesus welcomed me. The Spirit brought to my mind verses that I had memorized. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those that are in Christ Jesus…” “If any man is in Christ he is a new creation, behold the old has gone the new has come”… “If we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness…”
I hadn’t forfeited any chance for a godly marriage. This was one of the most painful days of my life, but it was necessary. This was the day that I began actually believing that I was accepted. Had that professor not voiced that hellish view I doubt I would have been brave enough to confront those feelings below.
For the next several months I grew in understanding who I really am in Christ Jesus. The past seemed to lose its grip on me. During this time I married the girl that I supposedly had forfeited. In my case, true love didn’t wait—I blew it time and time again—but the Lord still provided for me the helpmate that he had created for me years before.
I’d be lying if I said that things from the past didn’t still occasionally haunt me, and those feelings of guilt and shame creep up from time to time. Like when I felt certain that the Lord would have my son be born with some sort of disease, just to teach me a lesson that sin has consequences. Jesus rescued me from those dumb thoughts as well.
It took years (maybe I should say it is taking years) for me to really feel and believe that I am deeply accepted and loved by Jesus. But I am and that truth is pretty firmly established in my heart.
End of story…right?
If you have stuck around—and I hope you have—this is actually where I show the gentleness of Jesus. It took about ten years for the Lord to uproot those feelings of guilt and shame from my past sin.
He began His gospel work by firmly planting my identity in Himself. By helping me see that I am forgiven…no matter what. That I am accepted by Him…no matter what. It took times of pain for him to accomplish this, but He has done it well. At times I’ve been brought to what felt like the pit only to be met with His loving acceptance.
Once he firmly established in my heart His love for me, THEN he began some deep gospel work. For almost ten years he didn’t really confront the idolatry in my heart. He very gently assured me of His love and care…
And then he started ripping me to shreds.
He started killing me. Rocking my worldview. Exposing my faulty identity. Taking it all away until I had nothing left. I had developed a view that I was sexually pure because I didn’t do the bad stuff. Through the Lord’s help I had conquered sexual immorality, pornography, and all of that. That is to be celebrated, but not rested upon. He kicked down this self-righteousness as well.
Purity isn’t simply not doing the bad stuff—it’s so much more. And here I began seeing that for ten years the Lord convinced me that He wants that tattered and broken and detestable chocolate cake. Once I became convinced of this the Lord gently began his work of throwing away that old cake and rebuilding something whole and new in its place.
The throwing away hurts. So does the rebuilding. But He has done it and is doing it. With the delicacy of a surgeon, the love of a Father, the gentleness of a Mother, the tenderness of a doting Husband, and the power of a resurrected Messiah, the Lord is making me whole.