The Idolatry of Sex and a Lifestyle of Praise

 

A form is there before you and you gaze upon it. Though your knees may not bow your heart does internally. You want it… and you want it to want you. Yet, it may not even be just that you want it, there is something deeper happening… something stronger than just a desire or want. You may have written it off just as, “humans are sexual creatures”, and that modern psychological form of deception is the puppet string causing your eyes to bob up and down upon different bodies throughout the day. Then, you go home, go into your room, close the door, and defile yourself with the unsatisfied fulfillment of selfish intimacy.

The secret place has become defiled and shameful. I know this firsthand…

Jesus says, “But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. Yet, there is no reward for this other kind of secret place. The Father is indeed watching… and weeping. There, your act is worship to an unseen demon… a creature that hates you and wants to murder you despite your awareness of its presence. The place in your mind where you are supposed to “love the Lord Your God with all of” has been tyrannically ruled by lizards of lust for decades– their constant flicking tongues hitting the cerebral with a bombardment of sexualized emotion.

We live in a culture that is perpetually “turned on”–– driven to find release.
But, can we actually be released from it? I wasn’t sure until the last couple years.

You give in again and again and you don’t know why. You feel trapped in your mind. You have bowed before the idol of sex so many times to your own shame and you just want it to stop. You feel defeated, guilty, and ashamed of yourself. You feel a fake because you can’t speak to someone about the Lord while this hides just behind your eyes. But the truth is that you do love the Lord! This is why you feel so ashamed. You want to please Him, but you’re caught in failure. Can we transition to loving the Lord more than this lust and overcome it? Can we live whole-heartedly and self-controlled before Him and resist these horrific temptations?

Can we actually love the Lord God of Israel with all of our mind?

Yes.

Wounding

My first sexual experience was with a woman in her thirties when I was six. I still remember the “funny feeling” in my stomach and being very uncomfortable as she asked me to come into the dark room dressed in an open robe with only lingerie on. To worsen the situation, a pornographic vampire movie was playing on the TV in her dark room…  Then I black out and only come to as I leave the room feeling sick to my stomach. My mind still doesn’t know whether this is one or multiple experiences merged into one. It was during those young years I was also exposed to hardcore pornography for the first time. It was in a large meeting in the auditorium of my elementary school in the second or third grade… the crinkled up piece of magazine paper being secretly passed from small innocent hands to another was engrained upon my mind as the unforgettable snapshot. I didn’t want to see it, but I wanted to see it. When I was nine or ten my cousins introduced me to their father’s Playboy and Hustler collection that led to an insatiable addiction even though we didn’t know what we were doing. We were so young we only said that we got “that funny feeling in our stomachs.” Around that same time a male teacher at my elementary school began putting his hands on my body after school hours. My brother had the same teacher and experienced the same things and we would only come to know this many years later… Within those same years my cousin forced me to watch him masturbate, making it the only condition by which he would allow me to play video games in his room. I still remember hating it, and yet him saying over and over “LOOK! WATCH!” I was instructed in evil that day, and I followed suit soon thereafter. All these things led me to have an addiction to pornography in my young teens that provided the context to be molested by a male neighbor in exchange for pornography as a teenager, to have my first consensual sexual encounter with a woman when I was sixteen, and to fully lose my virginity by age 19. It was all downhill from there – an unquenchable slide towards immorality and disregard of my own purity as well as others’.

Many can empathize with this story. It is a very sad and grieving empathy we share…

Many, if not darn near all of us, were taught sex outside the covenant of marriage. Those illicit encounters, that I am so sorry we have experienced, undoubtedly created our “worldview” and perspective of sex. Such small minds and innocent bodies should never have had to endure the torture of others’ negligent promiscuity; and yet those very others most likely endured the same abuses themselves by their own perpetrators in a perpetuation of this gross cycle. Who is to be blamed with so many variables in play and with the detrimental effects of sin snowballing upon the children of this age? The Lord will surely judge on the day of His appearing. I know that the Father has wept many tears for the children that have fallen victim to such events – and this means He has wept over what happened to you.

Can the cycle be broken?

Yes.

Our wounds are very real, and I was recently awakened to the reality of just how deep these things can affect a person especially later in their adult life. As the childhood mind forms, the pathways it is taught to think in become highways by which information travels into the mind and is interpreted. Many of these paths were defiled for many of us as children which taught us to think sexually therefore – even about the things that are innocent and pure. But friends, there is hope! I will address victory, but we first must handle the other side of the coin.

Idolatry

Our minds being given to sex is not purely because of wounding. Although it started there, we must also admit the truth––we have surrendered to our wounds and allowed our minds to wave that white flag instead of fighting the good fight. We have allowed our wounding to become the scapegoat for sex being our idol.

The sin of idolatry is rarely equated to sex today. We look on every corner of our western worlds and there is sex, and yet somehow we are removed from the idea that it might be an idol. Instead we call it a “struggle.” To put all of the blame on wounds is to not admit the truth of our love of sex. This is a reality that must be addressed by believers.

We love sex. But can we love the Lord our God above it?

If on the corners of western streets there were enormous golden idols with many arms covered in snakes and a Christian were seen on that corner bowing down before the golden creature, and later say in his accountability group, “I was struggling with idolatry today,” who would scoff? That man would be rebuked! Yet, we passively distinguish. This is the clever reality of billboards, magazines, tv, and movies––although it is that same type of foul false-god receiving attention and worship, it has learned to disguise itself well and mask its agenda. This idol has learned to charade itself as another thing altogether…

 

Idolatry is so easy to label in nations like Nepal and India because of its blatancy. It still happens there in the flagrant fashion of bowing down before golden statues. This form of idolatry manifests mainly in external form. Not so in the west. On the contrary, idolatry has become a predominantly internal practice. Indeed, with both forms the heart is what is engaging in the idolatry, but I am primarily speaking of the practice. With Nepal, there is a daily practice of going to the temple and touching, kissing, and bowing down before physical idols. With the West, there is a daily practice of opening up magazines, watching movies, checking out people as we check our social media, and then touching ourselves. Within all of those spheres there is a driving relentless agenda of sexualized content which in turn turns the heart, and moreover keeps the heart constantly swamped with erotic material even if you’re not looking for it.

Does the mind bow to the image? 

Yes.

Is this idolatry?

Yes.

This is not loving the Lord with all of our mind. But can it be overcome?

Yes! But we must be sober minded!

Think about ancient cultures. Sex is often a part of the rituals contained within the programs of idolatry. The false gods have always had sex within their scheme of worship because they themselves are un-pure, and defiled––apostate from what is holy. Behind the false gods however are very real creatures, demons, who hate humanity and exist for the purpose of deceiving us. They long for the worship that belongs to Jesus…

Have you ever considered the pagan god statues of greco-roman culture? They are typified as naked and sexualized, and yet powerful and secure. Surely that has some odd effect on the psychology of humans. Sex and power is embodied in the pagan gentile gods because they are actually unholy and powerless demons. This is the paradox.

Temple prostitutes are a character we’re familiar with from the Bible. Sex and idolatry went together throughout the bible, likewise in this modern era. The forces of darkness understood long ago that sex was an integral part of idolatry and it has been incorporated into their worship for millennia.

We must open our eyes to the truth of what’s happening!

The same idolatry is in fact still happening today. When sex has been equated and related to idolatry of all sorts for history past, then it should inform us of something deeper than a struggle taking place today. We must have this foundational understanding of the roots of idolatry and its application to sex if we are to ever see it for what it is and overcome the temptation to bow down to its idol. We must see it as turning away from the Lord God of Israel and worshiping another god.

It is idolatry.

In stark contrast to the pagan gods of the nations, YHWH––the God of Israel––has always maintained a standard of beautiful and undefiled purity. God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all (1 Jn. 1:5). He commanded that no form of Him ever be made because he knew what was in men’s hearts. I think He foreknew that men would inevitably portray Him the way the Greeks and Romans did their gods. The Greeks and Romans are case and point of what man believed the “gods” were doing––partaking in drunken orgies! The God of Israel wanted no such gross portrayal of Himself. He has kept Himself and His form more pure than the god-concoction man could have thought of. Even today, His main expression is seen not in a powerful deity seated on a throne with naked women surrounding Him and lightning bolts being thrown from His hand–– but in the glory of a weak man hanging upon a Cross!

Oh the depths of the wisdom of the knowledge of God!

The wisdom of man is there confounded and the glory of YHWH is magnified. This is the God that we worship. This is the God we long to be faithful to! There on that crossbeam is

“…Christ, in whom is hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” Col. 2

YHWH’s biblical worldview presents the context of sex as a life giving act that affirms and validates the covenant between a man and a woman every time that it takes place. In that holy act, the man and the woman are one flesh, testifying of their vow and the day that they left their father and mother, joined themselves to each other and forsook any chance in the future of doing that act with another person. In this light, the act of sex within covenantal marriage is worship unto the Creator who thought of this and created it for the purpose of purity. It is in fact the only act that humans partake in which is directly creational–– a life is made by the act and a person is born. It is remarkable that something that is so exploited today as filth in the industry of pornography, is actually so filled with light and truth within the marriage bed!

I see your point, but why is the struggle so deep?

Recently it all just seemed so simple to me. Wounds and idolatry––

We are broken, and sex is worshiped…

Adultery is the anti-climactic end of the idolatry of sex. After having worshiped this filthy idol for so many years it is the fatal outcome and the very reason why so many succumb to its trap.

Upon the first act of adultery the biggest deception of having believed that it would be fulfilling becomes plain. I doubt that any man thinks to himself just moments after the first act of infidelity, “This was worth it!” At that very moment the woman who has carried his seed in her womb for nine months enduring the pain of childbirth multiple times out of love for him–– the very woman who has endured the in-laws and attempted to overcome the hurdles out of love them for years, the same woman that has spent endless hours of working through problems and coming to resolution with him, the only woman who has fallen asleep next to him in bed for many years is not there in the bed with him––she is at home alone with their children! The adultress, with whom he just defiled himself, has endured nothing for him except her own driving lust and brokenness that produced this horrible outcome. His true lover, His own flesh, the one who bears the vows of their wedding day in her heart and on her ring finger lies helplessly alone at home with their kids wondering why he had to work late again. She will almost certainly, very soon hear the crushing words of, “There’s someone else.” What a tearful, grievous outcome, and yet is one that is now commonplace.

The weighty implications and perspective of such a scenario when viewed outside the “hot perspective” of those within the deception of adultery is staggering. Adultery is the most paradoxical conclusion a person in the covenant of marriage can make. What great betrayal it is that takes place in total contradiction to the covenant between the husband and the wife!

In reality, separated from the gross fantasy the adulterer has now lived out, he is simply worshipping the idol of self-indulgent sex. He is actually worshipping himself even though he might not ever be conscious of it. It is controlling him and driving him. It is possessing him and usurping worship that belongs to Jesus, and praise that belongs to his wife, his flesh, his covenant. Oh what a great devastating lie this one has believed. It is no wonder the God if Israel has such strong regard toward this sin.

All of the men reading this now will secretly attest to this truth: our hearts are incredibly adulterous. It is only by the grace of the Holy Spirit, and an unrelenting cry before the throne of God to keep us pure that we do not commit adultery. I know this because I am a man, and I’ve walked in total transparency with a lot of men. I’ve also grown up in a church where a fair percentage of the men therein committed adultery in some way or another. I praise God that I have an earthly father who has remained faithful to my mother for these 41 years and never given in to this horrific sin––keep up the good fight dad!

The bombardment will soon find its end!

The Lifestyle of Praise

By the time I reached my thirties, the abusive events of my childhood had taken a detrimental toll on my mind. I did not feel that I could love the Lord with all of my mind many days, because my mind interpreted simple everyday events and interactions as sexual. A mere compliment from a woman could filter through the sexualized pathway created in my six year old mind and turn into something it was not. A simple smile or introduction could lead my mind to immediate improper thoughts. It seemed adultery was creeping closer and closer to me and I feared being the man that would let his wife and family and most of all, the Lord Jesus, down.

This is about as raw and transparent as it gets.

I would hear about other people’s struggles and it never seemed to be at nearly the same level of intensity as mine. I wasn’t intending to peg myself as unique, but the battle that I experienced was very different from others’ I knew. There were times when I would have demonic dreams, intensely pornographic and defiling, for weeks on end––waking up gasping for air and wondering how to escape the trial. I would fight the desire of lust, and keep my eyes on the Cross as much as I knew how. I would cry out to the Lord, I would remain in prayer and the Scriptures, and yet about every six months I would finally come to a place of feeling overwhelmed and give in to pornography. Even though I had previously been free of pornography for a 5 year period, this took place for the last 3-4 years. With this as the reality, loving brothers encouraged me to step down from leadership for a while and seek healing. This is when this blog was put on hold.

Making myself idiotically vulnerable did not come without a cost. I made it my devastating goal to tell all the details to other brothers of every sin I would commit. This transparent sharing of struggle with other brothers seems to often be the first step that is neglected by other Christians I know who have fallen into adultery.

Whether deeply wounded, or giving into the worship of sex, we, brothers, cannot afford to hide our sin!

I am convinced that the Lord Jesus carried me through the hardest of trials because of His great mercy, and because I was willing to embarrass myself over and over before other brothers with the truth of my darkest sins. If you are in that place of hiding in your sin, HUMBLE YOURSELF AND COME INTO THE LIGHT. Boldly I would like to ask you to come out and tell someone what’s happening before it’s too late and you really mess up. This pre-strike mentality does something in the Spirit that certainly thwarts the enemy. If you keep hiding he will prevail over you and it is only a matter of time. This isn’t pessimism, this is honesty based on 35 years of personal experience and observation.

When it all peaked for me, our family was still overseas as missionaries in Nepal. There was a lot of deliberation with my leadership over what was happening. The demonic dreams got to a place where I was overwhelmed, very discouraged, and tired of enduring such horrible nights. I would fast and pray, and remain in the Scriptures, but it would not cease. By the grace of God, our mission in Nepal was in a place where it was time to turn things over to the indigenous leaders we had discipled. It was their turn to run with the torch. Even the guys we discipled knew my weakness and walked with me through it. How could I hide it from them? This also led the way in vulnerability being part of the gospel witness in showing our need for the Cross.

In November of 2016 I officially posted the message that has been on my blog static page since. I wanted this open confession to be the help others might need to break free. I wanted my tiny candle of light to pierce the great darkness of this world wide web with a brutal confession of weakness that I might boast in Christ alone. I also wanted to be completely transparent with those who have read this blog and received encouragement from it, or help in the Scriptures. It needed to be known that the man writing these things was broken, and that He wanted to give himself to this time of consecration so that with purity he could be a faithful witness for the future. I didn’t want to be a fake.

Although I do believe that I will be partially broken until the resurrection of Christ, and that my mind will not be fully sanctified until it is completely changed on the day of His appearing, I can tell you that this time has taught me many things and matured me in the faith in many ways. Having undergone 12 weeks of counseling sessions, prayer, and deliverance the first couple months of this year, there were many things that were “gotten to the bottom of.” I steadily emerged to a new place in my mind where I felt space to “love the Lord.” A new strength arose in my spirit that loved the Lord deeper and more fiercely than the lust of the flesh and its temptations. For the first time in many years I felt strength to overcome the sin of lust.

It has now been over two years since I have given into pornography! I have resolved to never return to its vomit.

The Lord’s work is not finished, and yet I am finding new strength to love with Him with all of my heart. The despair and embarrassment that I and my family underwent as we submitted to the consequences of my sin has born fruit that I would never take back. Submitting to the discipline of the last two years was well worth it.

Christ

This is likely where many will stop reading. Oh how sad and detached we are from this beautiful Man! This is the only place to find freedom and hope so please keep reading!

Yes, there is a living Man who has never worshiped the idol of sex! Oh, how often we forget this! Jesus walked this earth for 30 odd years and never bowed his knee, mind, or heart to lust! The great Conqueror of wounds, sex and idolatry we worship! We often do not remember that this Man was killed because of our idolatry though He was infinitely pure, and then He rose from the dead, passed through the heavens and is seated at the right hand of God as our Great High Priest living to make intercession for us! If this reality were not true then the climax of this post would have been set upon that horrible hopelessness of us “just doing better in our own strength.” Yet, because of the sureness of this reality we can lift our eyes to the hope of glory and find the reason for choosing willful sanctification and worship no matter the cost.

He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Cor. 5:21). 

This biblical reality is stunning. The Man Christ Jesus never bowed his knee or his heart to idolatry of any sort, and yet He became those nasty things on our behalf, so that we are no longer in ourselves, but we are IN HIM––trapped in the glorious bosom of His righteousness, pure children of God destined to inherit glory and a kingdom with Him forever. The Father looks at us and sees His Son’s blood and righteousness, and He smiles with acceptance at our union to His Son.

This reality empowers us to abstain from sin as worship of Him.

What a testimony He has, and what authority Jesus’ prayers have before His Father to guard us, protect us, and deliver us from the temptations of the evil one. His vascular arms, pumping the very blood that was poured out on Calvary will carry us through to the day of His appearing!

We have very clear evidence of the strength of Jesus prayers in Luke 22:31-32. “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat; but I have prayed for you, that your faith may not fail; and you, when once you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.”

Oh the power of the prayers of God the Son! As satan prepares the wheat sifter, Jesus is there before the father crying out that Peter would stand firm. On the hem of those prayers Jesus knows the outcome because Jesus prayers get answered! There is no one with more authority to pray for you then our High Priest, For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin (Hb. 4:15).

It must’ve affected Peter deeply to hear the cock crow and know that the Son of Man had been on His knees for him. But the power of Jesus prayer is revealed not in Peter succumbing to the pressure of denial, but in the restoration that takes place as Jesus restores him. The power of Jesus prayers led the traitor to become the leader who was crucified upside down. We also, upon the failure of our sin, must remember that His prayers have prayed beyond the sin that just consumed us and will carry us through to the end. Take heart!

Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

This passage is immensely powerful. We fix our eyes upon Jesus so that we do not grow weary in striving against this idol of sex that so easily entangles us in our culture. He is the author of our faith because He walked it out perfectly, and will complete it in us!

In this cultural inundation of idolatry we do not lose heart because Jesus didn’t. Even in failures amounting seventy times seven, and in the grief and shame and remorse of our sexual deviances, we continue to try to lay aside every encumbrance. We do this by His Holy Spirit which He has given us to forsake the idols of our lives, the lust of the flesh, to turn away from her sexualized corners and fix our eyes upon Jesus! We must keep trying to cast down that idol of sex by the power of His Holy Spirit, and walk in His Spirit for you will not carry out the desire of the flesh (Gal. 5:16). We must be willing to crucify those desires because those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires knowing that the Bible is clear that the sexually immoral will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:10).

Our desire to enter the kingdom of God must be stronger than our other desires so that we might overcome the lust of the flesh.

Beloved friends, let us take up that Cross together, giving Jesus a fragrant life of praise instead! Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship (Rom. 12:1). Let us worship Him by continuing to sacrifice those evil inclinations to His Cross and letting praise ascend in their place. That Jesus may receive in our life the reward of His suffering, let us press on towards the day that His and our joy are fulfilled together in the consummation of the ages when His kingdom comes and every idol is abolished and our heart is renewed in the New Covenant of His Holy Spirit dwelling in us in fullness. That is the end-game, let us not forget!

We will be fully delivered! Our mind will be fully pure! Our heart will once again be fully innocent!

We can make it with our eyes fixed upon Him! So, let us un-fix our eyes from anything that would hinder the glory He deserves.

Can we do it?

Yes.

He is worth it.

Even so, Maranatha! Come Lord Jesus!

 

The Making of a Faceless Person

Leaders on Vacation

“But whatever things were a gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish (lit. crap) so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own, derived from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.” Philippians 3:7-11

Truly this is a passage that we should linger on until it moves us deeply to action.

This incredible passage of Scripture is a sort of magnum opus from our Father Paul, a member of the great cloud of witnesses before the Father in heaven. In these rich verses Paul describes the process of losing his face. Paul describes the face he once had, and then declares that this fleshly face known to many has become unknown and forgotten, intentionally drowned under by the tidal face of Christ. Paul’s life had completely vanished into Christ Jesus where he had purposely lost everything to gain nothing but Christ alone. What an immensely beautiful thing! Certainly we all long for this same reality. Paul’s face, the face that had been chiseled so delicately into Pharisee, circumcision, and zealous law-perfection had been swallowed whole into the endless bright and shining abyss of the face of Christ. We must also fall facefirst into this grand chasm in order that we might gain Christ and attain to the resurrection from the dead!

Many years ago this became a paramount passage in my life, although I am still seeking to see it realized as truth within me. This hurts my heart, and this post is a plea to ask you to allow it to hurt yours also.

I grew up in a Christian home, with Christian parents, and went to a church that actually represented authentic Christianity to me. The people were broken. The people were sinners, saved by grace! There was transparency and truth represented from the pulpit and even public confession of sins on multiple occasions. I grew up knowing that this was the way of the Cross––totally opposed to the idea that we could deliver ourselves through our own righteousness!

I worked in the youth group after High School serving as a sort of associate youth pastor in this church as well as a worship equipper for a few years. I loved leading youth because self-righteousness was rarely an issue. However, during that time I began to emphasize before others a sort of spiritual face. I distinctly remember boasting that my quite-time in the morning was two hours, when most peoples was one. I took pride in this, and noticed that it surprised people in the way I wanted it to. I received their surprise and praise gladly. My face began to be recognized as intense. 

This same boasting was evident in my life when I left the Lord for a few years and went headfirst into as much sin as I could handle. I boasted of the amount I could drink. I boasted in the women I manipulated. I boasted in musical talent. I boasted that God had called my name, and although I was in sin now, I would one day turn back to Him. This was yet another face of boasting and receiving praise from men.

When I did return to the Lord I went headfirst into one of the most intense large-scale ministries in America. Again, I began to slowly let me face be articulated by works. I was known as the “guy who fasts,” and even a “well of wisdom” to which I gladly bowed in thanks on my stage of glory. My spiritual intensity was now at the zenith of its sacrilege. The vanity in my heart was so hidden under the disguise of false humility that no one noticed. But even my humility was a sham–– a facade of what was truly inside. Even I was deceived, unaware of my own disgusting sin.

At times I would sit in the front of the room where we all gathered together to pray with my eyes closed. In my mind, I would dream of the day when God would finally confirm my spiritual purity and zeal by having me levitate off the ground in front of everyone, stamping His approval of my spiritual life in the eyes of everyone. It’s ok, I know you’ve never thought such things. But I, you see, was the chief of sinners without any knowledge of it. Oddly, the deception grew to new levels.

During this time I tried to climb the ladder within the ministry, trying to make my face slowly become more recognized, while maintaining it’s appearance of humility. I did well. I am a decently good looking guy, with an overly extroverted personality and natural leadership gifting. I have a likable charisma. With these things in place, it’s fairly easy to climb the ladder in a ministry. Have you ever seen an ugly person without charisma leading large-scale ministries? I didn’t think so. This is wickedness and opposed to the truth of the Cross. I was so locked in the deception of the love of self that I just kept trying to climb higher and higher… the spiritual rungs becoming the praise of men I continually sought.

Every time however that the door would seem ready to open for my big promotion God would do crazy things that would shut the door in my face and force me to go lower and lower. At one time, when there was opportunity for promotion the Lord actually made me leave the ministry for a season only to return with no status whatsoever. During that season God began to break me down and reveal my depravity. He began to reveal my need for the Cross. I cried at the realization and repented for my self-righteousness. As soon as the season was over though, I returned to the ministry and got right back on the ladder. The mystery of my depravity runs deep.

After five years of this spiritual zeal resulting in burn-out and spiritual fatigue in season after season, I began to wonder what was off. No matter what I did, how much I gave, how many fasting’s I accomplished––I didn’t feel pleasing to God! I also didn’t feel pleased with myself because I always lived under the accusation “you could have given more.” This is what was championed from the pulpit, and it was what I believed. I came to a desperate point. I was internally frustrated. I didn’t understand. I was finally broken.

And there… the most amazing thing happened… even now it brings tears to my eyes!

I

saw

the

Cross.

I “Beheld the Man.”

Although the Lord had continually interrupted my seasons trying to drive me to the Cross, I always “returned the favor” by trying to give Him more spiritual zeal. Whenever He showed me a little bit of His face I wanted to show Him that mine was just as beautiful as His through my works. I tried to go harder for God. I failed. Finally! When I beheld Jesus face on the Cross and the liberating understanding that He was the only means by which the Father accepted me JUST AS I AM, I slowly began to be set free. I slowly began to lose that face I had tried so hard to make.

Spiritual zeal and self-righteousness is like religious plastic surgery. You have the power to make your face look however you want it to. You can look a certain way, and it costs a lot for that to happen, but in the end your face is stiff instead of soft and a false representation of what you actually look like. You smile, but your cheeks don’t really move. You wonder why others don’t think you’re smiling when you’re trying so darn hard to look happy.

The beauty of the Cross is that we all stand there crushed beneath the beautiful force of relinquishing any and all forms of self-deliverance! We “behold the Man” God, there––naked, despised, dirty, and rejected. We realize that this is the true state of every mans heart and that Jesus became our horrid reality for all to see. Thus, we come out of the darkness and confess the depraved state of our own hearts entering into the glorious light of His freedom beaming from the Cross.

This is the foundation for the exhortation hereafter. When we come to a passage like Philippians 3, we need to first confront the face that we each have sculpted from our own works of self-righteousness. If we first do this, then the Bible can do its work.

We should first understand that what Paul is saying in Phil. 3 does not objectively apply to each one of us simply because we identify ourselves as “Christians.” Indeed, what Paul is saying here is overtly subjective in its context pertaining to the truth about himself. This verse is true about Paul, and for it to be true about us there is a lot of dying to be done. If I am honest, as this passage confronts me time and time again, the reality of its truth is still in very small seed-form in my life.

Let us seek to crystallize what losing one’s face is in Scripture. In Philippians 2 Paul begins his thesis of reputation and what becoming faceless was in his own mind. To paraphrase and add a little helpful context, he says: If you are a Christian, become like Jesus. He had the reputation of Creator of the Heavens and the Earth and yet He lived on the earth without His creation recognizing Him by this reputation. Most of His life was lived in the quiet city of Nazareth where He grew up as a child obeying His parents. He walked down Nazareth’s streets and stood in its public square and no one ever fell down to worship Him. There was not a whisper from Him of His NAME or the truth of His power. Jesus did not fight to be seen by His true identity, or to be given the worship and credit He deserved, but instead He let those accolades lay neglected and silent in the throne room of His Father where the angels still were day and night proclaiming them aloud. He became known as Servant on the earth He created, and even His title of Healer and Prophet were refuted by the onlookers at Calvary–”Physician heal yourself!” and “You who are going to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself!” Instead of feeling the need to reprove their contemptuous voices He laid down His life to death on the Cross, silent before His accusers. The sign above Him would speak loud enough of the validity of His true identity although He never declared it with His own mouth: The King of the Jews. This was what Paul saw in Jesus’ face.

There is helpful perspective in understanding the loss of ones face by defining what keeping one’s face is. In the first several verses of Philippians 3 we see Paul announce the golden medals that once hung from his neck, the honors that he thought would deliver him into eternal life by means of his own righteousness. He gives his qualifications: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless. Paul is giving what was beheld in the eyes of the world as achievements. He carefully explains the details of his face and how it was recognized. He believed that who he had made himself to be had accredited him righteousness. In hindsight he calls this confidence in the flesh. 

“Thus says the LORD, “Cursed is the man who trusts in mankind and makes flesh his strength, and whose heart turns away from the LORD,” (Jer. 17:5).

So, we see that losing one’s face is tied to two things. The first is losing your reputation and praise in the eyes of man for the sake of gaining Christ’s reputation. The second is refuting the idea that any reputation you now have (within your own eyes or the eyes of others) contributes in any way shape or form to you inheriting eternal life––your self-deliverance must be laid wholesale upon the delivering shoulders of the Savior.

You are probably thinking, as I once did, “Glad that’s not me!” Paul once thought that also… and then a Man standing in blinding light knocked him off of his high horse. The blindness that came upon his eyes would allow him the three days needed to see into himself and mine those horrible caves of self-righteousness in his heart. When his eyes opened again I suppose he might have looked into the mirror and wept desperately at the horrid image of his own face. It would be vividly apparent to him that he looked nothing like the man he saw on the Damascus Road. He would come away from the experience Paul, as Saul was executed daily.

“I die Daily.” ––Paul 1 Corinthains 15:

Proverbs 16:2 is one of those verses we don’t allow to stick vibrantly at the front of our minds, but we should: All the ways of a man are clean in his own sight, but the Lord weighs the motives. That stingsEverything Paul thought he was doing for God was clean and righteous in his own sight, but he was actually only doing everything for himself and for the praise of men. He would not have inherited eternal life based on the biblical formula because Paul’s strength was from, for and of himself. However, it is in that blinding incident that Paul is made to see––just as the blind man in John 9. Jesus’ words to the Pharisees there (and by relation to Paul) ring out – “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but since you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.” (v. 41).

The confrontational nature of Scripture is that it confronts. You and me, the most wicked of sinners, are therein confronted–– standing face-to-face with perfect truth and its piercing gaze into our hearts––forced to either look away or respond. Those who respond inherit eternal life. Those who do not might believe they will inherit eternal life, but the Scripture cannot bear witness for them as for the former. As we read above in Jeremiah 17–– trusting in your own strength is actually a heart that is turned away from the Lord. This is the end-game of a deceitful heart that never allows the light of Scripture to pierce too deeply. In those deep dark chambers lie the most wicked of monsterous ambitions which glory in everything other than the Cross. Unless we allow those chambers to be exposed by the light of Christ the teeth of that beast will gnaws away at our soul. As Christians we must therefore allow the Scripture, moreover welcome it, to trouble, torment and distress us that we might be converted to living its words instead of merely reading them so as to enter the kingdom of light on that day. James reminds us that this is the goal:

But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. James 1:22-25

Maybe there is a helpful picture here emphasizing our discussion. In Paul’s case, there is a purposed erasing of one’s face and reputation post the horse knock-off experience. On that day, rest assured that righteousness as he had never seen in himself or any other Pharisee questioned him from the divine radiance. From then on Paul held everything up to the reflection of purity he beheld looking up from the ground that day so that it truly shone light on how disgusting his fleshly ambition towards righteousness was. He was confronted by Jesus’ illuminating glory to believe the Scripture and to turn away from that mirror remembering his ugly face must be lost in the beauty he saw within the blinding light of Christ. For us, Christ’s face is shown in vivid beauty in the pages of Scripture, so we become those pages in daily practical life to glorify His work on the Cross. This wonderful albeit slow progression will not fail to consume your fleshly ambition if you allow it. It did so with Paul. On the contrary, another man looks into the mirror of Scripture and thinks his face is pretty good looking. He then turns away and believes that what he saw needed no improvement and lives on as he likes never conforming himself to Scripture because he believes he is already what he reads. I fear that this is the dreadful state of many of us and confess that I too am often found turning around forgetful of my heinous appearance.

Now let’s drive the point home.

“I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” Galatians 2:20

Here, yet again, Paul makes a decisive statement about himself that does not simply translate to every believer. You might perceive this as odd, but let me explain. Often times this verse is used as a general statement about Christians. However, do we not see many people bear the name “Christian” whose lives are very clearly not crucified with Christ? There is no need to name names here, we should instead insert our own. Paul’s radical statement “I no longer live,” is actually true about him because this is the Bible without flaw or error. I cannot say the same for myself. Here I am once again confronted with the question: Have I yet been crucified with Christ? In the agonizing of my own heart I often see the truth. No, no I haven’t been. Too much of Stephen is still alive. But God I want to be! … Please help me Father to further lay down this life of mine to find Christ!

In the wake of Jesus’ Cross, forsaking all human ambition, zeal and self righteousness as the means to deliver us into eternal life is the goal of Christianity. In doing so we also despise the praise of man for we know what men see in us is held up to the infallible light of Christ. It is He that presents us faultless before the Father, it is we that hang our heads low as Mephibosheth and cry “What did you ever want with a dead dog like me?!” There was no confusion in the son of Jonathan’s mind––he couldn’t even carry himself into the presence of King David! As he would have laid on that floor and thought the King would surely kill him, the king’s merciful reception of him to his table would have erased Mephibosheth’s face of shame forever. From then on he would be known as son of David’s household, and member of the King’s table. His once identity of cripple was forever removed in the palace of King David when Mephibosheth had not even taken a step in his own strength to get there nor his lame reputation done anything to gain him entrance (couldn’t resist the pun).

The strength of the flesh is seen in the preservation of a face. Man’s ambition to do things for God instead of die to himself and be found in God are starkly opposed to each other in Scripture. Paul’s hatred for such gross sin is where such an intense symphony of pure words pour off the page of Philippians 3. Let us not only listen, but become one of the instrumentalists playing this magnum opus with our friend Paul the chief apostle to many and the chief of sinners to himself.

May Philippians 3 plague you as deeply as it has plagued me. Let it torment and distress you. Take a month and meditate on this chapter to see if there is any of your face remaining in your confidence before God. What are you recognized and known for? Take that and hold it up to the light of Christ and let it be consumed there in shimmering glory. Everything that remains that is you, take the hammer and nails and drive it into the wood of His Cross. You may find that you come away blind, whereas before, you were one who could see.