Help! I've Truly Repented, But I Stumbled Again into Sin (Part 1)
When a husband repents, both he and his wife are hoping that he will never stumble again. So, what should he do if he does? And how should his wife respond to his failure? In Part 1 of a discussion with Steve & Kathy Gallagher, we show husbands and wives how to respond to failure in the right way so that they keep moving forward in their battle against sexual sin. (from Purity for Life Episode #511 - How to Handle Failure | Key Lessons on the Road to Freedom)
Nate: Pastor Steve and Kathy, this series is called Key Lessons on the Road to Freedom, and what we're really trying to do is give people who are in the early stages of repentance some real help for what they're going to face in the future, because it's just an uncertain time. It's a difficult process to go through and we don't want people to be discouraged. We want people to make the right choices at the right time. And so one thing that we've already talked about was the need to live by faith instead of feelings. We talked about the need to never quit and how we need to be in this for the long haul.
What we want to talk about in this episode is learning to deal with failure. And so obviously, we've kind of given ourselves away even by having a title like this, but we’re just saying that even if someone has genuinely repented, it doesn't guarantee that they're going to be instantaneously delivered from all temptations and it doesn't mean that they'll never stumble or even fall. Could you give people a realistic sense of what their lives will look like if they've genuinely repented—in terms of victory over sexual sin?
Steve: That's a very good way to lead into that question. I'm glad you asked it like you did because their lives should look quite a bit different than before and I'm not just talking about in regard to sexual sin. I'm referring to the whole general flow of how they live their lives, because it's been my experience that 99% of the time, a person who is in bondage to sin has a home life that is usually not that great from the Lord's perspective. There's been a lot of compromise. Maybe in terms of worldliness and carnality. Or maybe in terms of selfishness and pride. Or maybe even on both sides of the aisle so to speak.
So, what is needed is a whole new lifestyle that is pleasing to the Lord. Of course, this is especially true for the husband who has been in sin and really needs to change, but the wife as well is going to have areas in her life that she will need to change so that they can both be moving in a direction that is closer to what the Lord desires. As part of that, the man is going to be doing better and better in regard to sexual temptation. And if he's got a good devotional life established, he's going to find that those temptations just don't have the power they had.
Kathy: Yes. So, for a wife, it kind of is the same thing. Even if she hasn’t been in habitual sin, from my own experience, she has developed negative habits. There are things that get set in motion in a wife’s heart and life that God needs to deal with and she needs to cooperate with the Lord about dealing with those things. When I'm counseling a woman, one of the things I try to get her to do with her husband is pray. There's probably nothing more solid and stable that they can do together as a couple because you're being vulnerable and you're opening your heart up.
Hopefully it won't turn into a big argument when you're praying, but that's a good starting place for a wife to get into the place of supporting him as he's journeying his way through this because you can't just stand outside of it and look in. You have to actually come into this trial with him and help him walk through this and get on his team. If there has been genuine repentance you will know it. You won't have to question, “Is he just pulling the wool over my eyes? Is he messing with my head?” Don't even go there. Just assume the best and get on his team and pray with him.
But also, in your own life, as far as the lifestyle changes that have to take place, I'm just going to be pretty blunt here. If you've got carnality going on in your own life, you need to deal with it regardless of what your husband is doing. As a Christian, you need to deal with things in your own heart and life and you need to rid yourself of whatever worldly junk that's going on that is pulling you away from Jesus. Those things have to be dealt with, because you're not an island either and you have to come out of the world in certain ways as well to be in unity with your husband. This battle is both of yours. It's not just his.
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Nate: Yeah, I'm really grateful for how you guys handled that question, because it does broaden the vision—which we always need because we want to focus on the one thing. Let's just get this one area taken care of so that our lives can be better. The Lord is not thinking that way and we need to understand things from His perspective. My next question is, how hopeful should a person be about what their new life could look like? Should they hope and believe for a life where they are impervious to temptation and they will never fall again?
Steve: I think to say that they can be impervious to temptation would be an unrealistic and over the top expectation. We still live in a very fallen world and we have a fallen nature, and those two things are always looking to connect. So, I don't want to take it that far. What I would say is that it would be right, and the Lord would want and expect a man to be living a lifestyle where victory is the norm. Where winning those battles would take place on a regular basis. Maybe there would be an occasional fall or maybe not. A lot of guys when they make that turnaround, they go on and they just never really struggle again. I don't know exactly why some do and some don't, but that's the way it goes for a lot guys.
All I would say though, is that the wonderful thing about the Lord is that it's not all resting on us. We have our side to it, but this is where grace kicks in. When a man is sincerely trying, the Lord is going to be sincerely working with him. And I can just tell you from my own experience over the past 37 years that the Lord has covered me many times, especially during the earlier years when I was still pretty raw and I had only recently come out of sexual sin. There were times that situations would arise and the Lord would arrange circumstances where it was easier to do the right thing than the wrong thing. And I knew it was the Lord and I went along with the Lord, and I didn't have a problem. So, I would say that we can count on His grace to be there to help us win those battles when we are sincerely trying.
Kathy: I want to just throw out kind of a different perspective on the question of people wanting to know, “Will I ever fall again? “Or “Is it all over, because I blew it again?” The point here is not human perfection. The goal is that we are continually becoming more Christlike. Of course, we all want to be done with sin. We don't want to keep falling and the Lord doesn't want us to either, but those failures, as hard as they can be, are part of the transformation process. We have to journey out of sin. The Lord is using the struggle and He's using the battle. And that is so much a part of the transformation process.
I remember when Steve would fall and it felt like the bottom was dropping out, but actually what was happening was we were getting closer and closer to the end of the matter. We were coming out of the thing. It was like he was having to get freed of or purged from that old life. It was still clinging to him in some ways, but he was fighting and I was fighting. We weren't fighting each other, though, we were fighting together to get through this thing. So, we were throwing off all that weight and all the sins that were so easily entangling us because we were going in a direction. So, I wouldn't be overly discouraged when someone has failed. I'm not saying get excited about it either, but I'm just saying that it's not the end of the road just because someone blows it.
Nate: Yeah. And that's good because that's one of the things I did want to talk about was how to handle failure—because it is very hard. There's the discouragement and the overwhelming fear for the wife that nothing's changed and this is going to go on forever. She may think that she can never trust him again. Then there are also the feelings that can occur in the man. When he falls it can stir up all those old desires and it brings about a darkness and a feeling of being disconnected from the Lord. So, I'm sure that there's a wrong way to handle failure. I want to talk about the right way. What are some right ways to handle failure and how does a couple move forward during those times?
Steve: Well, the first thing I would say is, what kind of failure are we talking about? Are we talking about a lapse into pornography or are we talking about hooking up with another person? Because those are two hugely different things. So, let's just say that it's a lapse into pornography. I tell guys all the time, if you have a fall, you pick yourself back up again, repent and get right back on track doing the things you've been doing. The important thing is to keep going forward and don't just stop and die on the spot. You have to keep doing the things that you've been doing because if are headed in the right direction that’s where you want to keep going. A failure is a setback, but what's the alternative? To stop? To not fight anymore? No. That's not an option.
So, what I always say is that failure is not a fall, failure is quitting. And that is the one thing we do not want to do, cannot do, and must not do is quit. So, you pick yourself up again and you get going again. When you do that, the devil is going to try to take you in one of two extremes. The one would be what I just said, to quit. To just get so despondent and discouraged that you just give up inside. Telling yourself things like, “What's the use? I'm never going to change. I'm not changing. I still want this stuff like I always did.” Which if you've been going in the right direction, that is not true, but it feels that way at that moment.
So that's one way the enemy can get someone. But there are certain types of personalities that can easily go into a Pollyanna delusional state where they're not really dealing with things. They're not really having a deep repentance over what they just did. They are just sloughing it off—too much so. They're sloughing it off like it didn't even phase them. And so, we don't want that either because that means there's nothing of any depth happening inside of them through this process. So, the right thing to do is to repent to the Lord. There should be some sincere grief about it. You should feel badly and repent to the Lord sincerely and genuinely. And then you just got to get back on track and keep going. You can't just drag baggage of previous sins behind you.