Most of you will become fathers some day. Not all of you. Not all of you will marry. Most of you will. And those who marry, most of you will have children. Not all of you because there are choices not to have children and then there are reasons you don’t have children that are not your own choice. But whether you’re married or whether you have children, you will all be men for the rest of eternity.
And you’re called upon to assume certain roles, I believe, in the family, and in churches, and in society that are different from women. It’s a very controversial thing to say. I’ve taken more flack for that than anything I’ve said in the last two hours. I’ve written a couple of things on it, and it’s not a popular view in our egalitarian age to say that men have unique and peculiar callings from God that are different from what women have, but I believe that. I think it’ll come out in what I say.
My goal in this time is, in large measure, to help you become fathers. You might say “fathers in Israel”, fathers to Christians — whether you’re married or whether you’re single, whether you’re biological fathers, or adoptive fathers, or fathers of nephews. Every man should be a father. And fathering takes a certain amount of maturity and responsibility, and you’re on your way there. I’d just like to give you a booster. I’d like to put a rocket under your maturity level this morning because I think most of us get forced into growing up. We don’t choose to grow up. We just get forced into it. So whether you finish high school or finish college, I’d like you to embrace growing up and adulthood; I’d like you to choose it.
My son Barnabas is 18 and just got accepted to Wheaton College. That’s probably where he’ll go. I have a son who’s 21, and a son who’s 25, and a son who’s 28. The 28-year-old teaches English at Worthington Minnesota Community College. And the 25-year-old is a student at Moody, having done some military stuff in between and gotten a practical degree in plastic mold making. Abraham is not walking with the Lord and breaking my heart. He’s trying to make it in music. He wants to be a rock star. He’s a good music maker and singer. And I look at these worship leaders and I say, “You can do that, Abraham. You’d be good at it. Do that.” So, pray for Abraham.
He wouldn’t mind me saying this. The church knows he’s not where he’s supposed to be. He loves me to death. He’d die for me. He’s not in rebellion against me. He says, “Daddy, intellectually, I think probably you’ve got the case. It’s just not mine.” Isn’t that frightening? A kid grows up in a house like mine, and looks his dad in the face and says, “I love you, and it’s not mine.” I hope inside he’s saying “yet.” Then, there’s Barnabas. He’s gold. He’s a worship leader at the church and ministers in the city
So it’s painful to be a father — painful. Some of you broke your dad’s hearts. Some of you are breaking them right now probably. And some of you have broken hearts because of your dad, who wasn’t what he was supposed to be. Maybe you don’t even know who he was. So, dads are important. Being dads in church, being dads in a family, being single dads — and by that I don’t mean go out and get a girl pregnant. I mean care for kids like a father whether you’re married or not. And anybody younger than you is a candidate for that role.
All About God
So I’m going to move from general to specific in talking about what the Bible says about families and fathering. Some of these are going to sound so broad you’ll wonder, “Well, how can that be of any immediate relevance to me?” And I hope you don’t think that way exactly. But we’ll get to things that are very nitty gritty before we’re done here in a few minutes.
Let me start with a thesis: family exists, by the creation and design of God, sustained by the providence of God, to be ordered by the word of God, all to display the glory of God. That’s why the family is. It came into being by God’s design. It’s upheld by his daily providence. It is to be ordered, and guided, and structured around his word, not just any old idea that comes into your head on how a husband and wife should relate or how you relate to kids. And it exists to display the glory of God. We’ll see that in detail. That’s my thesis.
And in a sense, I think Campus Outreach should concern itself, and you as individuals should concern yourselves, not primarily with commending particular structures of family or structures of relationship in family, but primarily with commending to the world that the main thing about family is God: the display of God in Christ, the passing on from generation to generation of a vision of God. And bring everything in relation to God. I hope that you pick up between the lines of everything I say in these messages that what I’m really trying to get across is life is all about God. Nothing is not about God. “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). That’s basic. Pizza is about God. Pepsi is about God. Cars are about God. Computers are about God. Girlfriends are about God. Sex is about God. Eyes, hands, and feet are about God.
God made everything. He upholds everything. Everything is designed for his glory. So when you think family, and father, and manhood, think God. So that’s the overall basic thesis.
Ten Theses on the Family
I’ve got ten propositions or statements about God and family. I’m just going to tick them off. Some I’m going to linger over a little longer because I think they might be of more immediate relevance to you.
1. Family is not God.
And all the satisfaction that we feel in it is potential idolatry and a threat to worship, as are all legitimate pleasures in this world. Family is not God, and all of the joys of sex in it, or parenting in it, or friendship in it, or common vision and ministry in it, are potential idols threatening a true, wholehearted worship of God. I’ll try to give you a verse for each one of these. Luke 8:14: “And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature.” So I can preach the word here, and the word can be choked by the pleasures of life. And it doesn’t say “sinful pleasures.” Legitimate pleasures can kill the word of God. It isn’t mainly adultery and fornication and pornography that kill Christians. Most Christians are not killed by that. Most Christians are killed by the other TV programs that are called okay, just food, just working out at the gym.
Something totally innocent becomes dominant, powerful, keeps you away from God and becomes wicked in its innocence, in strangling the word. Most Christians are not strangled by sinful pleasures but by good pleasures. So beware of the danger of the family because there’s some wonderfully good pleasures in the family.
2. We see the effects of sin most clearly in the family.
The family is the first place, the last place, the greatest place of pain and futility in human life. And thus, the family is the first and primary place for learning the price of forsaking and neglecting God. Adam and Eve, a family, not quite yet with children. They sin. They forsake God. They neglect God. Where does the pain show up first? Answer: in the marriage, in the relationship. That’s true historically. It’s true experientially in your life.
David says, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Psalm 51:5). Pain begins at home. The first place you will experience pain is in your home. The first place you will experience tragedy’s in your home. Your parents will never be what you thought they should be. Even good parents are imperfect parents. You’ll break their heart. They’ll break your heart. Home is designed to be a place where we experience pain first and learn, if God is there, to know what to do with it.
It’s also the place of great pain. Nobody can hurt you like those who love you. Nobody can hurt you like those who love you. And you can hate more those you have loved most than anybody else. Remember, Amnon who wanted to have sex with his sister? Do you remember that story in the Old Testament? And his brother set it up. So he got alone with her, brought in the food, grabs her, crawls in bed with her. She says, “Don’t. Don’t. Don’t. Even the sinners in Israel don’t do this,” and he rapes her. As soon as it’s over, he says, “Get out of here.” She says, “I’m not leaving here. You’re not going to just send me away.” He made her go, and she went crying and tearing her clothes. And it says, “Then Amnon hated her with very great hatred, so that the hatred with which he hated her was greater than the love with which he had loved her” (2 Samuel 13:15).
Home is a place where love is so strong and bonds are so deep that hatred can be huge. So beware of how volatile the things are that can happen in a family.
3. Children need loving discipline.
In a fallen world, God ordains the pain of loving discipline from parents to rescue children from the folly of life and reveal the holiness of God. I want to talk a minute about discipline. You’ve got to get this right now. Because when you start dating, and you fall in love, and you start talking marriage with a girl, one of the things you ought to talk about is: How do you handle kids? Do you believe in spanking or do you not believe in spanking? Do you believe in telling a kid to go stand in the corner, and take time out, and never touching him, never lay a hand on him? Or do you believe that behinds are made for wallops? What do you believe? And if you don’t get together on that, you’re going to have big trouble.
My point is God has ordained pain, loving discipline from parents, to rescue children from folly. He compares the discipline of a father with the discipline of God.
It is for discipline that you have to endure. . . . For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:7, 11)
Parenting is meant to be a safe and loving place for children to explore pain, the pain of folly, and learn the peace of righteousness so that they know God is judge and they know God as Father and loving, kind friend.
Therefore, don’t fail to discipline your children lovingly. Many of you grew up in homes where you had no good model of this at all. You just got slapped around, and you may have resolved, “I’ll never slap my kid. I’ll never slap my kid around.” And you go to the other extreme. There’s a big billboard in the Twin Cities that says, “Never, never, never, never harm a child. And yeah, I agree: don’t harm. But I think what the people who read that think is: Never spank a child. Never make a child cry because you have hurt their thigh or their behind, or squeezed this little nice, juicy, meaty part of their shoulder here.
Now the Bible has some pretty clear things to say about disciplining, but I want to be careful here because I know I can send you into child abuse here if I’m not careful. Or I can send you into lackadaisical, do-nothing fathering that hopes the kid’ll turn out okay, and keep himself out of the street, and keep himself off drugs, and keep himself out of the bed and so on. But you never force him to do anything.
Rooted in Affection
Between those is what’s called loving, caring discipline. You can taste it when you’re around it because the dads hug their kids a lot. They kiss their kids. My 18-year-old, every now and then, kisses me goodnight still. I love it. I’m sitting there at my computer. He doesn’t do this every night, just when things are going well, I suppose. He knocks on the door, says, “I’m going to bed.” And I wonder, “He doesn’t usually tell me he’s going to bed. He doesn’t always tell me he going to bed.” He walks over. He’s 6’2”, and he played football for South High. And he leans over, and I kiss him on the cheek. There’s nothing small about that, guys.
Probably the reason that happens is because my dad was an evangelist and preached all over the country, and left home every few weeks and came home every few weeks. He was gone three quarters of my life. But I said goodbye and hello to my dad hundreds of times and kissed him every time. He kissed me every time. So it’s my family. Some of you never been kissed by your dad I bet.
What I’m saying is you’ve got to show some real tangible physical affection. Get out on the floor and play, and build it into the lives of your family that you’re going to play with your kids. Not if you have time. You do other things if you have time. So I’m a pastor, busy. I could stay busy around the clock doing stuff, meeting people’s needs. We eat at 5:30. From there until 7:00 is sacred, and I play with my kids. That’s called playtime. Doesn’t happen with the 25- and the 18-year-old anymore the way it used to, but now I’ve got a five-year-old girl we adopted five years ago.
So I’m starting all over again. Talitha gets her playtime all to herself. I did this four times with guys. I know guys. Now I’m doing it with a girl. This doesn’t make any sense to me. I’m turning these little kids into bombers, these little teeny dolls. I’m saying, “Let’s do this: let’s build the blocks up here, and then we’ll fly her over, and she’ll drop a block on it, and blow it up!” She says, “Let’s play people.” “Well, okay. What do you mean?” And she goes over and gets her house out, puts out all the people. I say, “Well, what are they going to do? What’s going to happen?” “Well, they’re going to have supper.” “That’s all?” “Well, yeah.” “Okay. We’ll put two on this side and two on that side.” “No.” The whole playtime is just rearranging people. I said, “Come on. We’ve got to have a bomber. We’ve got to have a helicopter. Something’s got to blow up.” I mean, I knew how to play with guys. They just ate it up. We would just knock the blocks down. And so I’m learning.
I’m trying to figure this out because I’m going to be there for her for these next years because I’m going to be 65 when she’s 15. Will she care about me? Will she want me around when she’s got to face guys, and deal with sexual things, and guys are going to want her, and will she come to me? Will she listen? My investment right now is the answer to that question. Right now, do I give myself to her? Do I get my hands on her purely, purely, so that she knows what it’s like to be touched purely — hugged, held in my lap, kissed, felt, so that she feel a man’s body and it’s okay. You don’t have to sell yourself to a man’s body. You know what a pure thing is like. You can wait for it. Dads are so important in girls’ lives and boys’ lives. They grow up healthy because Dad touched them in the right way, hugged them, and played with them.
Now I’m saying all that to justify spanking. I’m saying that if you love them like that, spanking will be experienced as redemptive. You’ve got to spank your kids. I believe the Bible says to spank kids. My wife and I have never slapped a kid out of anger. I’ve been angry when I’ve spanked them. I don’t think you have to get over that. You need to give yourself some time and space, but you don’t just whack if they’ve done something wrong. That’s evil.
But you say, “Did you hear what your mother just said?” “Yes.” “And you did just the opposite?” “Yes.” “Go to your room. I’ll be there in a minute.” Now if they’re little, they start crying on the way to the room. And you go up and they’re standing there. I say, “You know what has to happen.” “Yes.” “Why’d you do that?” “I don’t know.” I say, “Well, you’re not going to do it again. Because every time you do it, I’m going to spank you. Defiance of your mother’s word is evil. It’s wrong. And you get spanked. So bend over my leg.” Crack — one, two, whatever. And then they cry. My kids always hug me when they’re crying. Isn’t that wonderful? They hug me. That’s the way we should relate to God in the midst of discipline. The safest place from God’s discipline is around the neck of God.
Fear of the Lord
Here’s an illustration of that. What does it mean about the fear of God? Dads should so relate to their kids that intimacy and fear are combined so that their kids know God. You are God to your kids for a long time. Then they know God because they know you. My little boy, Karsten, when he was about eight. We went to see someone who had a German Shepard that was eyeball to eyeball with Karsten. The door opened, and Karsten was looking straight into the eyeballs of this dog. And he likes dogs, but he’d never seen a dog that big. The dog was friendly. No problem. But the tail could knock you over as a little kid. So he petted him. Then I said, “Oh, we forgot something out in the car. Karsten, would you go get the film,” or whatever it was out in the car. He said, “Sure.” And he started running, and this dog gallops up behind him with a low growl. He stops, and the owner says, “Oh, I meant to tell you: she doesn’t like when people run away from her, so just walk beside her.”
That’s a beautiful picture of the fear of God. God doesn’t like it when people run away from him. He growls. And you know what the safest place? Not to run faster. You can’t outrun God. Turn and hug him. That’s the fear of God. Fear doesn’t drive you away from hugging; it drives you toward hugging. So I got my little kid. I just spanked her, and she’s hugging me. I say, “Okay, have a good cry. It’s all right.” I don’t let my kid cry because they don’t want to eat. I say, “Stop crying. You do not cry except for real pain or real emotional hurt, but you don’t cry out of rebellion. Don’t cry.”
So here she’s got a reason to cry: I just spanked her. I said, “Good. Cry. Cry on till you’re done.” And we blow the nose. And I sit her there, and I say, “I love you. And I don’t want you to grow up to be disobedient. God says, ‘Children, obey your parents.’ So every time you disobey blatantly, there are going to be consequences.” And that’s it. And hse goes off happy. But if you don’t discipline at that point, and day after day goes by, she won’t be happy. The most frustrating, bully kinds of kids are the kids that never get any firm discipline.
I had a woman tell me one time when we lived in Germany, “I would never spank my kid.” Everybody in the room that heard that whispered under their breath, “That’s obvious,” because this kid was the terror of the apartment house. Then, she said, “I don’t want teach my kid violence.” Now, listen, you don’t have to teach a kid violence. He knows violence. He’ll whoop his sister upside the head anytime she gets his block. You don’t teach kids violence. You discipline violence out of them with loving discipline.
4. Parents, especially fathers, bear responsibility for instilling truth in their children.
God commands parents, especially fathers, to take primary responsibility for building biblical truth into the lives of children with a view to preserving confidence in God for all generations. God commands parents, especially father, to take primary responsibility for building biblical truth in the lives of children — not primarily pastors and not primarily moms. Moms for sure have a role in this, a big role. Dads bear the main responsibility, however you handle that responsibility. Here’s the text I’m thinking about. Ephesians 6:1–4:
Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.”
So both parents should get equal honor. This is addressed to parents. But then it says,
Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.
Why didn’t Paul continue with both parents and say “Fathers and mothers, do not provoke your children to anger. Fathers and mothers, bring your children up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord”? It’s not because moms shouldn’t be involved, especially single moms. They got to do it all. The reason is, dads, you bear a special responsibility.
Burden to Bear
So, men, think this way now. Right now, as you cultivate relationships with women, you should be thinking about certain dynamics of how they’re involved, you’re involved, but there’s a unique responsibility as relationships form, where men have a certain special burden to bear. And I like the word burden to bear rather than right to claim. I’m going to talk about husbands being leaders and wives being submissive. But if you think of that as a right to claim — put her down and you take the place — you got it wrong. It’s a burden to bear. It’s a responsibility to carry. It’s a painful thing to be a leader in a relationship and have to take the initiative with kids.
I mean, it’s so much easier to just sit on the coach and let the kid say no five times to his mom rather than get up, and leave the TV show, and walk him up to his bedroom, and have that little talk, and that little spank, and that little hug. Now you’ve missed ten minutes of the show, and you’ve done it twice already, and it’s just hard work. It’s just plain hard work. Why doesn’t she do it? Well, she does it plenty when you’re not around. And when Mom and Dad are both there, something very crucial is being communicated to this kid as to who takes the initiative: if Mom’s always taking the initiative, Dad’s a wimp.
Now, listen, you know this better than I. I don’t have a television. I haven’t had a television for 32 years. My boys grew up in a home without a television, and they are smart, savvy kids. I live in reality in the poorest neighborhood in Minneapolis. I don’t watch reality. I live in reality. I chose to live in Phillips neighborhood so that my kids would see this reality and learn to relate to it. Our church is right downtown. And they don’t need to learn it from television. They know television way better than I do because they see it in all their friends’ houses, and I don’t have any hard and fast rules about that; it’s just not going to be their governing our house.
Every TV advertisement, every TV program, the guy is a jerk, right? I mean, where do you go where you see a big, noble vision of manhood, over against a smart, intelligent, articulate woman but the two are equal in worth, and the man is a strong, noble, smart, savvy, wise, caring, loving leader instead of an absolute bloke who doesn’t know his right hand from his left? I mean, the assault on manhood in America today is incredible. That’s why you had this whole manhood thing in the last fifteen years or so, and they don’t get it right either. The secular manhood movement, they don’t get it right because they don’t know anything about Christlikeness in relationship to women. So you got a big task in front of you when Paul says, “Especially fathers, Especially fathers, engage with your children.”
5. Christ is bigger than immediate family.
In a fallen and perishing world, the harmony and cohesiveness of human families is subordinate to the redemptive purposes of God in Christ. Now, that’s just a big sentence. Let me see if I can simplify what I’m saying. Don’t make family harmony the ultimate value when it comes to redemptive decisions — meaning, if God calls you to follow Christ and your mother and father say, “If you follow Christ, you’re not coming home again.” That’s happened a couple of times recently in my experience among Muslims in Minneapolis, Jewish people, or overseas in a Hindu or a Muslim setting, or in some secular settings. “You do that Jesus thing, and you’re out of here.”
What do you do? You say, “God created the family. The family should be unified. I’m not going to disobey my parents, and so keep the family together, and leave Jesus aside.” No, you don’t. You know you don’t because Jesus said this:
Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me. (Matthew 10:34–37)
Now family is precious. And here’s Jesus taking this precious thing and saying, “I’m more precious. You hold to me. If it splits the family, you hold to me. You don’t try to split the family. You do anything you can to keep from splitting the family. But if it’s between the family and me, you choose me.”
6. God calls some to singleness.
While it is not good for man to be alone (Genesis 2:18), it is worse to be married when called and gifted to be single for the Lord’s sake. The ideal aim of marriage in the created order is subordinate to the demands of devotion to Christ. So should you marry? Should you marry? It’s a big question for almost everybody in this room. Should you marry? The answer is maybe, maybe not. Paul in verse 1 Corinthians 7 wrote,
Now as a concession, not a command, I say this. I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another. (1 Corinthians 7:6–7)
I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord. (1 Corinthians 7:35)
This is not easy. I don’t have any pat answers for this. I just know that not everybody in this room is called to be married and not everybody’s called to be single, but some are to be single, and some are to be married. Don’t think that singleness is not a legitimate option in our day. It does put you in a precarious and difficult position sexually and relationally. It’s awkward to be a 45-year-old single man or a 50-year-old single man — like Jesus was and Paul was and John Is.
So weigh seriously and don’t sell yourself to any woman who wants you who isn’t spiritual. Now usually, I’m dealing with women who would love to be married and can’t find a man worthy of her — that is, there are so few spiritual men in the world. I’m on a recruitment crusade in this room right now to help you become better candidates to being married to the best kind of women. Don’t settle for any woman who just likes you. I’ll tell you, I didn’t date in high school, and was kind of scared of women, and I had such a bad case of acne I didn’t think any would want to look at me anyway. I was nervous. The fact that I’m married is a colossal miracle, which God will do for you if he thinks it’s best for you.
The apostle Paul said that not everybody should pursue marriage. So I spent a long time thinking, “Well, maybe I’m not supposed to be.” And I knew how vulnerable I was. When I went off to college, I said, “Okay, if it’s going to happen, it’ll probably happen here. From ages 18 to 22, this is probably where you’re going to find her.” And I was so wired to love any woman who would love me because I thought that nobody ever would. And if one were to appear and show some interest in me, I would just fall, which is, in fact, what happened. And that God chose the woman he did for me was spectacular grace because I was in no real spiritual condition to be wise. And I want you guys to be wise. Don’t just go for the first woman who’s interested in you. She’s got to be a Christian. And if you are any kind of Christian, she’s got to be some kind of Christian and not just say, “Oh sure, I’m a Christian. Oh sure, I want you.”
And if I were talking to women, I’d say exactly the same thing. Only for them it’s harder. Because in the way I think it should be, men should take the initiative in forming those relationships. I don’t think women should be going around calling up men and taking the initiative to form relationships. I think you guys should do that. And not enough of you have the gumption to do that. I didn’t have the gumption. Now I feel ashamed about it when I was 18 to 22, that I didn’t take the gumption to pull together wholesome relationships where those kinds of things could take place because I was so timid. I didn’t trust Christ enough. Don’t leap at a relationship without Christ. Put a sieve up there and don’t touch a woman. Don’t form any kind of ongoing romantic relationship with a person who’s not a Christian.
7. Sexual union is only for marriage.
Marriage is the one and only sacred haven for sexual union. And this union is God’s ministry of protection from Satan’s temptation for husbands and wives.
But because of the temptation to sexual immorality [fornication], each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. (1 Corinthians 7:2)
In other words, sexual relations outside marriage are wrong. Period. That’s why that sentence makes sense. Because of fornication, let everybody have his own wife and every woman have her own husband. Why? Because it’s wrong to have those relations outside marriage. It’s the way God has designed it.
The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. (1 Corinthians 7:3–5)
“Come together again, lest Satan tempt you.” Isn’t that amazing? Sexual relations is spiritual warfare. Come together again, lest Satan tempt you. Have enough sex. That’s what he’s saying: “Have enough sex in marriage so that Satan is kept at bay.” But that’s not an easy thing to say to single guys because you don’t have any woman to go sleep with tonight — you shouldn’t. You shouldn’t.
And yet, this culture is titillating you every day, stirring up those things that are designed to be fulfilled in marriage. What are you going to do with them? Well, most of you masturbate, and you take initiative to get yourself all stirred up to do it. I don’t think that’s a good idea. I did it. I was in bondage like most of you are for about five years, I would say. And it was not a healthy thing. It wasn’t a wholesome thing. I think there are ways out of it. I want to encourage you that God’s patient. I wouldn’t be here if he weren’t patient. He’s forgiving. He will forgive seventy times seven. But to settle in with it, to plan it, that’s bad.
So let me take a minute and just give you a word about strategy. I’ve fought sexual temptation inside and outside marriage now for over forty years, and I’ve learned a few things. I live in some measure of triumph now. Part of that is because I have a wife, and therefore, I can have sex anytime I want it. I have a very compliant wife who is not begrudging of what I desire. I try not to take advantage of her. I think when it says that her body is your body and your body is her body, that’s a very interesting paradox. Because if your body is her body, and she is feeling “I don’t want your body on my body,” then she has the right to tell you that. But if her body is your body and you want to be against her body, you have the right to tell her that. Well, who’s going to win? The one who is most sacrificial and loving at the moment will give.
That’s a wonderful competition: to compete to be the most loving, to be the most sacrificial, to meet the other person’s needs, to make the other person happy. Now those can be taken advantage of. A guy can rape his own wife almost, and a woman can withhold sex so long and so bad that she drives him away. But you’re single, and you don’t have anybody to go home to, and you got years in front of you with this rage in your loins, as they called it in the Bible, your groin. What are you going to do with that? Your brain is engaged. Your body’s engaged. Your heart’s engaged. Your palms are engaged. Your legs are engaged. Your hips are engaged. Everything about you wants this, and you can’t have it according to the Bible.
Some of you have said, “I don’t care what the Bible says. I’m getting it because to be human is to be sexual, and I want to be fully human, and so I don’t care.” So, I don’t know what percentage, but dozens and dozens and dozens in this room have already had sexual relations. You should be ashamed of yourself, and you should repent, and God will forgive. God will forgive and make a pure life possible for you.
So right now, I want to encourage you. You come into this room dirty, defiled, either having masturbated every day for the last three weeks or whatever. Or finally you gave in last week and slept with her. You come into this room just feeling so wrought. And you wonder, “Is there any future for me in that kind of life you just described this morning in missions or in holiness, all that holiness? Any hope for me?” Well, the answer’s yes. That’s what the cross is all about: cleanliness, pure. Everybody can start over. So I hope you will. I hope you just start over right now with a new kind of warfare.
Do Battle Today
So here’s a word about warfare, just right off my front burner of how I do battle today. I think when a sexual desire or temptation comes, something flashes up on your email, and with just one hit of the mouse and you can have a naked woman, or a show where you know there’s nudity, or a video that’s lying around, or a magazine, or just fantasy. You just saw something, and it triggers a setting. And it would just be fun to create that setting the way it just occurred to you it might’ve happened. And she takes it off this way. So now what are you going to do when that first touches you, the first thought touches you? You’ve got about five seconds. You’ve got about five seconds here — not much longer. If you don’t do the right thing in the first five seconds, you’re probably a goner for that time. What do you do?
Here’s what I do. Now you’ve got to bring to this experience some measure of biblical longing, like we’ve been talking about, and commitment to a higher pleasure and desire. You’ve got to have some measure of biblical commitment, which is what I hope’s being built into you in Campus Outreach and times like this. I’ll give you an illustration. I’m out cutting the grass last summer. We live in the city. She told me she saw a couple having oral sex behind our garage. You could see it from our kitchen. She was so glad I wasn’t there. But she shouldn’t have told me that. Because I’m out cutting the grass, and I walk by the spot, this little nook. There’s a bush, and there’s a little gap, and then there’s this little fenced-in place. It sort of shields you from everything but our kitchen window.
And as I walk by, the thought entered my mind: I wonder what they were really doing. I have about five seconds that I can either run with that thought and create it for me or them, me doing it or me watching it. I can do that thing in my head or I can do something right now. So what I do is I say, “No.” I speak to the thought. I speak to the imagination. I speak to the situation. I say, “No. In the name of Jesus, no to you. This is my mind. It belongs to Jesus. To you I say no.” Now I used to do that and fail. Because if you just keep saying no, no, no, it’s like saying, “I’m not going to think about sex. I’m not going to think about sex. I’m not going to think about sex.” And every time you say the word sex, you’re thinking about sex. It’s hopeless. So, the no is only step one. It won’t work if all you say is no. Then, you cry out, “O God, join me. You’ve already helped me say no. Join me in this no and help me triumph over the pursuit of this action or this thought. That’s step two. “No in the name of Jesus. And God help me.”
But now comes the thing that took me years and years to learn. The Bible assumes, and it is right, that your brain is a muscle that can be used according to what you direct it to do. And at that moment, you must direct it to another vision. You must put something positive or horribly negative in your mind as an alternative to this luscious thought or course of action. Let me give you an illustration what I mean by positive or horrible.
The positive would be something like this. I can remember in those masturbation days feeling so not just that I’ve sinned, and I’ve let my parents down, I’ve let God down, and I keep doing this. What’s wrong with me? But also I felt like I couldn’t look at the sunset and enjoy it purely. I couldn’t look at the stars at night and feel a noble-hearted joy in the stars. I couldn’t look into a girl’s face and feel like she’s a person not an object of stripping in my mind. All of life just seemed to get dirty because of these mental preoccupations, and I didn’t want to lose the sunset. I didn’t want to lose the stars. I didn’t want to lose poetry. I didn’t want to lose friendships with girls in a wholesome way. And I was throwing it all away for these brief, momentary ejaculations that. I mean, the pleasure was so short. And when it was over, “Oh, let’s go eat.” I’m always hungry after I’m done.
And what had to happen was that I began to want those things so bad that, at that moment, after I said, “No, help me,” I would begin to think about the stars, and I would begin to think about the sunsets, and I’d begin to think about wholesome relationships. So that was a positive alternative. And you fight. And you don’t let it go. A lot of guys try this. They try it for maybe three minutes. Then the other thing rushes back. How do you know it didn’t work? You didn’t fight for thirty minutes. When I was pushing that lawnmower, it took me ten minutes — ten minutes of fighting, every second of those ten minutes. That’s how much I used this muscle. Every time the scene came back, I said no and began to direct another direction. I would start to think about the other direction, then, suddenly, it would be back again. I would say no.
How long are you willing to do that, guys? That depends on how much you want to be pure, how much you want to glorify Jesus. If you let this muscle in your head not keep making the effort to push the other out and to bring the other in, then you give it up, and you don’t have to give it up.
And this is more common for me: the horrible thing. I’ll give you two illustrations. And find your own, but these are the ones that work for me.
I was riding my bicycle to Fuller Seminary down Orange Grove Boulevard one morning. I’m 23 years old and in my first year of marriage. And here comes this woman. In those days, the early seventies, skirts were short — I mean, embarrassingly short. When women sat down, they didn’t know what to do with them. I’m so glad longer skirts are in still. Not everybody wears them, but I love them. And here she comes. She’s got one of these really short skirts on, and she’s quite pretty. My mind immediately is wow.
And you know the thought the Lord gave me? She was crossing Allen Avenue, I believe. The thought came into my mind that she gets hit by a car right in front of me. Isn’t this awful? Plastered. And she’s thrown sixty feet. I put down my bike. I run over. Now, here’s this body that I was lusting for a minute ago, and it’s horrible. There are just lacerations everywhere. She’s dying. And she looks up into my eyes. What am I going to say? “I lusted for you just before you died”? No way. I want to have a word for that woman. There’s a soul there. There’s a person that’s going to live forever in hell or forever in heaven.
So ever since then, I’ve used that scene. I’ve brought it intentionally back to my mind. I’ve pictured a woman who could be, at a moment, a very voluptuous person taking off her clothes in my head, or she could be suffering horribly because of some disease or some accident. And I have the last word with her. And I tell you, at those moments, God has emotionally pulled me back from treating her the as an object by using that one situation of dying.
Now, here’s the last one. More often than anything, and I think this is of the Lord. I think this is biblical. Those others are kind of my imaginative ways of handling it. This one is biblical. Jesus Christ died in order to purify you. That’s what it says in Titus 2:14: Christ “gave himself for us to . . . purify for himself a people.” So Christ died. So here comes that thought. This is the one I used the morning I was pushing the lawnmower. And this sight of oral sex is coming in my mind. I said, “No, help me.” Then, I start thinking about Jesus. And I get really graphic here. I get really graphic. I try to imagine how thick the nails were. Did they go in the palms? I doubt it. They probably went into the wrists. When they went in, how loud did he scream? Nobody can not scream when a nail, when a big train spike, is driven through so that it pulls against the metatarsals here instead of ripping out between your fingers, and you’re hanged on them. And how long did he scream? How raw did his voice become? And his back, which had already been lacerated by the scourging with 39 lashes is going up and down on the thing, and he goes, “Ah!” This was not a pretty scene. There is nothing romantic about the cross.
I think Jesus died in absolute agony. And I picture him there, and I try to think of his back. I try to think of his head. Then I think of the mocking around him. I think that he’s probably naked, totally shamed. Nothing beautiful about this. He’s naked. And the women are there.
And why is he doing all that? So that I won’t commit fornication. So that I will not pursue this fantasy but will be with him. Then I think about that soldier who walked up and has to break their legs. Can you imagine? They must’ve used something like a baseball bat. Whack! Against these shins. Oh, just think of it. Only Jesus, when they got to him, and he was already dead because the prophet said no broke would be broken (John 19:36). So he takes a spear right here, up through his ribcage, into his heart, pulls it out again, and out comes blood and water. He’s just a carcass. He was dead. Why’d you do that?
And that scene has rescued me from lust a thousand times. Because if I go ahead and lust, I’m the soldier with the spear. Come on, guys. You can do this. With the help of Almighty God, the Holy Spirit, you can get victory. If you’ve messed up your life till now, you can start right now, and in a year offer a woman a pure heart.