How to Really Get Right With God
Counselor Jim Lewis addresses the spiritual doubts of people in sexual sin by giving the essential biblical steps to getting right with God.
Jim, do the men that come to you for counsel about sexual sin tend to assume that they’re already right with God?
Yes, I think you're right. I've seen this as a counselor—that men who come to Pure Life believe the very act of their coming to our ministry to get help means that they're getting right with God. I've even had counselees say to me, "Well, I'm here, aren't I?" As if just being at Pure Life means I'm doing something to get right with God! And in a sense they are, but there is something that has to happen on a much deeper level than just showing up here.
79% of Christian men 30 years old and younger now view porn on a monthly basis. The same is true for 55% of Christian men who are married. So it seems like a majority of Christian men are comfortable going to church and continuing in sinful habits. What's wrong in our thinking that can lead us to this false sense of security?
1 John 1:9 says, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us of our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." And that verse is true. It is one hundred percent true. We do need to confess our sins, and God is faithful and just, and he does forgive. But unfortunately for so many men—myself included—we get into what I refer to as the "sin-confess-sin-confess-sin-confess cycle," and it can go on for years! We sin. And we feel guilty...because we areguilty. So we go to God and say, "God, I did it again. Would you please forgive me?" And then, no sooner have we accepted the grace and the forgiveness of God than we're right back sinning again. And the missing component is that we've never repented of the sin.
Can you explain in more detail why it's dangerous for people to assume that they're right with God?
The danger is that people believe a lie. They believe that they are right with God when, in fact, nothing could be further from the truth. As I said, the essential element that's missing is repentance. And it seems that you just never hear repentance preached in the church anymore. I know that when I came to Christ, basically it was offered to me almost like a sales pitch: "Do you want to go to heaven? Do you want God's plan for your life? Do you want to miss hell?" And of course the answer for any thinking person would be, "Yes!" "Well," the answer goes, "then you need to recognize the fact that you have a sin problem and that Jesus has already taken care of that problem, and then you need to pray and ask Him to forgive you and to accept Him as your Savior." Well, I prayed the prayer. I accepted Jesus as my Savior. I believed with all my heart that I was a Christian now. And no one ever told me that I needed to repent of my sin!
And so we have a lot of Christians who have prayed the prayer, walked the aisle, been dipped in the water, signed on the dotted line, and purchased their afterlife fire insurance policy...and they've never repented of their sins.
So it sounds like you’re urging people to reconsider this question of whether they’re really right with God.
Absolutely. I can tell you that if you are struggling with habitual sin, you are not right with God. The truth that the Bible teaches us is that "fornicators will not receive the kingdom of heaven." If you are struggling with sexual sin that you just will not surrender, then you are not right with God.
I know that this topic of repentance, which you've highlighted as a neglected subject, is something that you've studied and taught about at length. Can you outline what the process of repentance looks like?
Sure. I was preaching on Psalm 51 a while ago. That is David's song of repentance, which he wrote after he was uncovered in his sexual sin with Bathsheba. As a teaching tool, I examined this Psalm and came up with seven steps of getting right with God:
Appeal to God's mercy
Take full responsibility
Demonstrate true godly sorrow
Sincerely repent (and that's the key element)
Give thanks to God for His forgiveness
Repair the damage that you've done
I know you believe that salvation is a free gift, not something you earn. So if that's true, then why do we need to talk about "steps" of repentance or getting right with God?
Well I want to affirm that the salvation we receive from God is a gift of God. It is "by grace that we've been saved...not of works, that anyone should boast." But all of the great preachers of the New Testament—John the Baptist, Jesus Himself, the apostles Peter and Paul—they all at least had a two-step process: we are to "repent and believe;" we are to turn from our sin as well as to believe and accept by faith the salvation that is being offered in Christ. And John would go on to say that we are to "bear fruit that befits repentance"—we are to show by our behavior that we actually have changed in our heart. And so salvation is a process; it is an event followed by a process. We accept Christ as our Savior, we surrender to His lordship, and that's when the process of sanctification begins—working out the sin nature and working in the nature of Christ.
If someone realizes that they aren’t where they thought they were in their relationship with God, how would you encourage that person?
The very fact that we are dealing with sin should give us abundant hope. Because we know what the solution to sin is. If I had some sort of emotional malady or some kind of psychological problem, I don't know who could offer me any help or any hope. But my problem was—and always is—sin, and we know the answer to sin. The answer to sin is the blood of Jesus which covers our sin; the answer to sin is the cross of Christ, which breaks the power of sin in our lives. Grace is not just God's way of covering our sin after we've done it; grace is the power to keep from sinning in the first place. So there is abundant hope for a man in sin—hope that he can come to the end of it, that God will forgive him, and that God will empower him to keep from sinning in his life.
You've described salvation as a "process." And I know that the Pure Life Ministries Residential Program is a 9-month process that helps men through this process of repentance. Can you give us an idea of what this journey looks like for the men that you help?
Pastor Steve Gallagher, our founder and president, has devoted an entire chapter in his flagship book At the Altar of Sexual Idolatry to the subject "Freedom Comes Slowly for a Reason." What we see on a regular basis in our nine-month program is that it really takes about the first three months for a man to see himself as he really is—to come out of the delusion of sin and to actually see himself as a fallen, depraved sinner who is absolutely helpless to save himself. Most people come to us thinking, "I'm really kind of a good person, and I just have this little problem that I need help with." But the truth is that we are totally lost and helpless sinners, and that's why we need a savior. So it takes about three months to clear the wreckage—to bring a man to a place where he comes into brokenness and experiences real repentance. And then there's about a three-month process of what we call "putting off" and "putting on"—putting off the sin nature and putting on new disciplines to help them walk out the Christian life. Then, it takes a few more months to "reverse the flow"—to get someone to stop being a taker and start being a giver. In other words, they start letting the flow of mercy come out of them and actually begin to think of more than just themselves...and actually live the Christian life.
If you are struggling with sexual sin and you want more answers about this topic, we encourage you to check out the following blog articles:
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