A man from Hong Kong, who asked to not be named, writes in to ask: “Pastor John, when do we reach the stage of Esau, as described in Hebrews 12:15–17, where he moved beyond the possibility of repentance? I have been a Christian all my life, but have deeply fallen into sexual sin over a period of many years, including pornography, an adulterous relationship with another man’s wife, and prostitution. I have never stopped fighting these sins, and hate them, and I am glad to say that God recently did a great work to liberate me from the adulterous relationship with the help of my pastor and other fellow Christians, which makes me believe He still cares to save me. However, I still sometimes find myself powerless against these sexual sins, and fear to continue drifting into sexual vice, as described in verse 16, and end up in a place beyond repentance and fallen from grace! How do I overcome this helpless drifting into sin and avoid a hardened heart that can no longer repent?”
Tony, I think I just want to say a very brief prayer before I go here.
Yes, we must.
Father, I am not able to do the liberation here, but you are. You are. You are and your word is able, so I ask you to come now for this man and for, I am sure, a significant number of others and do the miracle that the word was designed to accomplish by the Spirit. In Jesus’s name, Amen.
So let me pick up on that last phrase, “this helpless drifting into sin.” Now I think I should warn this man in Hong Kong in the strongest possible terms that he should pick up his drooping hands, strengthen his weak knees, make his paths straight, and shout at the top of his lungs if necessary with clenched fists and gritted teeth in the face of Satan’s lie: I am not helpless. God did not make me to drift. I am not a jellyfish in the currents of lust. That is not what God created human beings to be. That is not why Christ died for me. That is not why I have the Holy Spirit. That is not why I am a new creature in Christ. I am not helpless. I am not helpless. I have Christ. I have the Holy Spirit. I have the blood of the cross of the Son of God. I have the hope of glory. I have the entire word of God. I have the promises of grace. I am not helpless. I am not helpless. God, get that lie out of my life.
“As long as we play the victim as if lust is an omnipotent enemy and we are helpless, we are done for.”
As long as men and women play the victim as if lust is an omnipotent enemy and they are helpless, they are done for. It is remarkable, wonderful, that this man has focused on the book of Hebrews and, in particular, on the warning that there comes a point of selling ourselves as helpless slaves of lust where God will no longer grant us the ability to repent and find forgiveness in Christ. This is right. This is a good place for him to focus. The book of Hebrews, the entire book, is written to give us the help to persevere to the end in faith and obedience and to get in our face when we play the victim card and pretend that we have no resources against the powers of sin.
So let’s put the text in front of us that he is concerned about. It is Hebrews 12:15–17: “See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no ‘root of bitterness’ springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears.” Wow. That is a good place for a man to go when he is about to sell his soul again to lust.
There came a point where God withdrew from Esau. This meant that Esau was so hardened in his heart that even his weeping in search of repentance was phony at the root. He sought repentance with tears and they were fake. They weren’t penitent tears. He couldn’t cry real tears of repentance anymore. His tears were not true. He wanted the blessing. He wanted the safety. He wanted the gifts. He wanted the inheritance. He wanted heaven. But he did not want God. He loved this world. He traded something infinitely valuable for a single meal.
“Esau was so hardened in his heart that even his weeping in search of repentance was phony at its root.”
So the fundamental battle that must be fought and can be fought and can be won is the battle not to see the world in such a grossly distorted way as Esau saw it. He looked at the inheritance promised by almighty God and he looked at a bowl of oatmeal. Let’s say he looked at a possible pornographic click or a possible prostitute fling and he weighed the two in the balances in his mind. I have got the enjoyment of God forever on one side, and I have got the rush of a pornographic glimpse on the other side. And in his mind, the ultimate outrage of the universe happens. The pornographic glimpse is more weighty in the balance, more precious, more desirable, more beautiful, more satisfying. And poor God and his infinite promises — they go up like dust.
What every man and woman needs to realize is that at any moment when we are committing that outrage, God can walk away from us and never return with perfect warrant, perfect justification, because every time we do that, we are saying to him: Be gone. Be gone. I prefer my single meal to you. The book of Hebrews is perfectly willing to tell us — and it does over and over and over again with the strongest possible warnings — there is a too late. And the too late is when you are no longer able to genuinely repent. If you can repent, my friend in Hong Kong, God will be merciful to you.
“If you continually refuse God, there will come a time when you are no longer able to genuinely repent.”
Oh, how patient he is. Oh, how many hundreds of times he has been willing to return to you and me. None of us deserved any one of those returns — not one. But we do not know when we may have sent him away for the last time. And let it be clear: If he never returns, it is we who sent him away. It is we who chose the single meal of lust. It is we who sent him away. “You go. I am done with you. I don’t want you. I want this. Right now I want this, not you.” We have sent him away. And any talk of blaming God here is just another old victim card being played to justify our desires.
So the answer to our friend’s question in Hong Kong — How do I overcome this helpless drifting into sin? — is to open his eyes, open your eyes, open your eyes as you look at God’s crystal clear word, God’s crystal clear gospel, God’s crystal clear warnings, God’s crystal clear promises that are 10,000 times more precious than any sexual escapade. Open your eyes to see reality for what it is. Stop seeing distortion. Stop seeing the ephemeral euphoria of a moment’s sexual rush as more valuable than inheriting the glory of God. See, see, see reality. And there is almost no book in the Bible like the book of Hebrews to help you do this. This is why the book exists. This is amazing. The book exists to keep professing Christians from becoming Esau’s. That is why it exists. He has got his finger right on the pulse of the book. That is why the book exists.
I have a friend who memorized the whole book and a few months ago he recited it to his church, the entire book, in order that he wouldn’t become an Esau. Dare I suggest to you, friend in Hong Kong, dare I suggest: Memorize Hebrews in your warfare. Your life may depend on it.
Your main problem is that you go in and out of distorted views of the world. The book of Hebrews is an absolutely perfect view of the world, including adultery and pornography and every form of lust. The book is written to be glasses that you put on every time you start seeing the world in a distorted way. Put them on.
“Open your eyes to God’s crystal clear promises that are 10,000 times more precious than any sexual escapade.”
See, your question grew out of chapter 12. Put the glasses of chapter 12 on. There is a whole cloud of witnesses that finished the race. They have lined up along the racecourse of your life and they are shouting to you from chapter 11: “You are not helpless. By faith you can do this. You can walk out of lust and out of pornography. By faith you can do this!” And that great crowd of witnesses did not become Esau’s and that great cloud ends with Jesus in verse 2 of chapter 12.
So let me end there. “[Look] to Jesus,” — friend in Hong Kong — “the founder and perfector of [your] faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated” — not as an Esau — “at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2). He did it for you, and he will do it in you. Look to him. See reality for what it is. Be strengthened by grace. Know that you are not helpless, and put to death the lie when it comes.
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