The standard by which we define ourselves reveals who we believe we are; our sense of self-worth.
It is also the rudder that directs the course of our life.
When I was in bondage to sexual sin, much of what defined me had to do with whether I acted out that day. If I abstained, I was “a good Christian”; if I blew it, I was slime. My identity and sense of self-worth were wrapped up in my actions, which, all too often, involved failure. I was a royal mess in so many ways it was hard to tread water; if it wasn’t lust, selfishness, a critical spirit, fear, or pride were constantly surfacing and dragging me down.
The other driving force I defined myself by was the harmful things people did to me. I was molested as a teenager, and for years the fear, shame, and bitterness that wraps itself around the soul drove me. Those who have been abused see themselves as soiled and despised; unworthy of love. I compensated with this madness by keeping others at a distance; I’d been victimized once, and was determined not to let anyone cross my boundaries again.
After combining my failures with the traumatic events involving others, I saw myself as a waste of humanity; one who had little to offer himself, others, or God. I saw nothing of value. A person of low self-worth will have a hard time lifting their heart up to God and others for help; even if they do, they doubt if they can find healing. Once hopelessness takes hold there is a constant battle with discouragement and depression.
If we allow our failures, sin, and how others have wronged us to define us, our lives will be marked with despair, anger, frustration, discouragement, and unrealistic expectations of others. We will struggle with our relationships with God and others, and will miss out on many ways we could have been used for Him. Staying in this place for too long is dangerous; once bitterness and a hard heart take over, we can spiral downward even faster.
So what should define us?
I suggest it is a combination of two things.
The easy Sunday school answer is “what God says in the Bible.” This is 100% true, and is the first of two parts I will suggest. The danger comes when well-meaning Christians make shallow, “just have faith and believe God” statements without taking the time to get to know the other person and what they’re going through. Trite answers come easy for those who haven’t been through trauma, or spent years floundering in besetting sin. When a person who’s defined themselves by their failures and/or how others have hurt them hears that God values and loves them, they can struggle with doubt, unbelief, or outright rejection of the message. Time must be taken to hear them out and what they’ve been through instead of quickly handing out our culture’s typical “take my five step program and you’re healed” prescription.
Life is messy, and the timing and methods aren’t the same for everyone.
Having said this, we start with the truth. No matter what other have done to us, how much we’ve failed, or how much “it can’t be true!” screams within, what God says must be that which we strive to define ourselves by.
For the sake of simplicity (there’s far than what I’m giving you here in His Word), I’ve narrowed it down to five ways how God defines and sees us.
Desperately wicked (Jeremiah 17:9).
This isn’t the seeker friendly, positive way to start, I know, but we have to begin here to understand the vastness of the love of God. We are corrupt with selfishness, pride, lust, greed, murder in the heart, fear, bitterness, and judging. Absent the realization of this, we’re liable to stay in pride and self-sufficient mode, which is a recipe for disaster. The down side is that those who define themselves solely by their sin and wounds can live in judgment, condemnation, and fear; the truth is there’s an abundance of healing and life waiting in the wings for them.
We are beloved (Ephesians 2:4, 2 Thessalonians 2:13, 1 Peter 4:12, 1 John 4:1, 4:7, 4:11, and many others).
In spite of our inner ugliness and shame, God loves us with an overwhelming love that’s so powerful, deep, and wide that it’s hard to grasp it all. God’s love doesn’t deny our sin; otherwise Jesus wouldn’t have needed to die on the cross. But, He isn’t like anyone we will encounter on earth—our failures and wickedness do not define how He loves or values people. This is contrary to our relationships with others, where we are often valued by what we do, not who we are. This is what makes it so hard to receive and believe His love for us. If we believed the lie for years that we’re worthless, receiving unseen love from an unseen God will seem too hard, or far away.
I’m going to switch gears and address the wives for a moment.
Do you define yourself and your sense of self-worth by how your husband has hurt you with porn or affairs? Having watched how I hurt Michelle, I’ll never minimize the pain and trauma a husband’s sexual sin inflicts. My sin had a profound impact on Michelle’s self-esteem, and other wives have shared that their husband’s betrayal affected them the same way. Nevertheless, what your husband did to you does not define your worth as a woman. It does not make you less of a person. It will not rob you of your dignity as God’s daughter. It does not change the fact that you are beloved of the Lord. Let me add another piece here, because I get emails from wives who say their husbands are blaming them for their porn problem. Your husband’s pride and justification of his sin will never change the fact that God knows the truth, and He cares for you. Your husband’s sin does not mean you are less of a woman.
Next in line of that which defines us:
We are forgiven of all our sins (Colossians 2:13).
Those who hang on to their sins as evidence of their worthlessness no longer need to do so. They can release them. There’s no more need to beat yourself up for past failures; doing so will only keep you from all that God wants you to be and what He wants to do through you.
We are cleansed from sin (Psalms 32, Psalms 51, 1 John 1:9).
That shame we’ve been carrying around because we think we deserve it and this is who we are? We are cleansed from shame in God’s eyes just by the simple act of confession. That’s all it takes; you’re not the dirty leper you think you are. That’s the power of the love of God.
Although we’re cleansed from our sin, there will always be an ongoing battle with the flesh this side of eternity. The good news is that we can grow in grace and shrivel up the power of the flesh through obedience, humility, love, and keeping short accounts with sin.
We are choice and precious (1 Peter 2:4).
I have to admit that most days I have a hard time seeing myself as choice and precious. “Messed up” often feels like a better fit. But when I do this I’m focusing on and defining myself by the wickedness within and the mistakes I’ve made, instead of what the Lord says. God’s love is bigger than my “Messed up-edness.” “Choice and precious” speaks of Him assigning incredible worth to us, even though He sees all of what’s inside.
The second way we should define ourselves is one that gives weight to the first: how God has met us personally. This moves beyond mere theology and into how He’s showed up in our lives and revealed Himself to us. There have been many times when I was at a low point; struggling with unbelief, doubt, fear, or anger, and God kept showing up and speaking, leading, convicting, and teaching. When He kept coming after me He was providing the hard evidence I needed to prove His defining love and care. I would have had to call Him a liar to deny it. It is when we know God is there for us and cares for us when our doubt and false perceptions dissolve…and faith takes off.
Although some of this is Christianity 101, we don’t always live like we believe what God says. Russ Willingham, a professional counselor who works with sex addicts, says he has never counseled a person who truly understood the grace of God. If we really got a hold of how God sees and defines us in the deepest recesses of our heart (not just our minds), it would revolutionize our lives far beyond “being a good Christian,”—we’d be passionate about our relationship with Him, and would be more apt to trust Him.
You are beloved, forgiven, choice, and precious, in spite of the darkness within.
Do you believe this is what defines you?
We’ve been having problems with malware attacking the site and shutting down the forums in the past three weeks; it’s been a constant battle on the tech side. Your prayers that this would be resolved and ended are appreciated so the ministry isn’t hampered and we can spend our time on other things.
Blazing Grace Retreat in September?
For those who love the Lord, spending extended time alone to seek Him is one of the most wonderful experiences in life. There’s nothing like the joy that comes from hearing from and drawing close to Him over one or two days in a secluded place away from the rat race. I try to go to a Christian retreat alone for an overnight stay once every 4-6 months; every time I do I come away with a deep sense of peace and joy from my encounter with Him. My batteries are recharged and there is much needed clarity on what’s important.
I’m looking at holding a “Seeking God” retreat in September, from Friday morning the 13th through Sunday morning the 15th. You would need to arrive by Thursday night the 12th so we can all start Friday morning. This would be held at a Christian retreat center in Beulah, Colorado. There are no TVs in the rooms and no cell phone service (there is a land line). You would be expected to leave all the electronic gadgets home, or at least packed in your luggage; otherwise your time there would be wasted and you might be a distraction to others. The retreat is an eight bedroom building with a meeting room and kitchen, nestled in the majestic beauty of the Colorado Mountains. Attendance will be limited to eight persons or couples.
I won’t be teaching on sex addiction or anything like that; I will be there to facilitate and support your search for God. There will be scheduled times for the group to get together, share, and pray for each other. Otherwise, you will spend your time apart from the others, going after God.
For some, the idea of spending that much time alone with the Lord sounds difficult; even a waste of time. Once the mind settles down and all the insanity of the rat race fades away, the spirit begins to soften and we put ourselves in a place where we can hear from the Lord. Once He begins to speak, teach, lead, or even convict, there’s nothing like it. I often have to drag myself out of there to go home.
They have a cook who provides 3 meals a day for $20.00 per person. Lodging is $50.00 a room per night for the first night for singles; $40.00 a night for the second and third nights. Add $20.00 per night to these rates for couples. There wouldn’t be any other cost to you other than your travel expenses to get there; Blazing Grace isn’t charging for this.
I can’t guarantee what God will do when you’re there; He doesn’t work the same way with everyone. I will share that He changed my life and set me free from the bondage to sexual sin after an intense time of seeking Him. If you do a word search in Scripture for “seeking God” you’ll see there are many blessings promised to those who seek Him with all their heart; see Jeremiah 29:13, Psalms 119:2-3, Deuteronomy 4:29, Hosea 10:12, Matthew 6:33, and the verse quoted in Final Words at the end of this newsletter.
I need to see a show of hands for anyone that might be interested so I know whether to reserve the facility for that weekend. The sooner the better; they are already booked for the previous weekend, and that time of the year is busy for them. No deposits are needed.
Please respond to this newsletter and email me if you might be interested in participating.
More Reading & Newsletter Archives
Healing a Broken Marriage
It’s Just a Little Porn; I’m no Sex Addict
Sexual Sobriety isn’t Enough
The Destructive Force of Adultery
Winning the War in the Mind
April 2013: 15 Principles for Freedom
March 2013: I Believe; Help My Unbelief!
February 2013: Adultery
January 2013: Speak, Lord, Your Servant is Listening
December 2012: Healing the Wounds of Rejection
November 2012: A Look at Grace
October 2012: When Someone Shares their Sin
September 2012: Willpower Doesn’t Work
August 2012: Look Who’s One of the Porn Industry’s Biggest Customers
July 2012: For Those Who are Control Freaks (and Don’t Want to Be)
June 2012: Blazing Grace on a Sunday Morning
O God, You are my God; I shall seek You earnestly; my soul thirsts for You, my flesh yearns for You, in a dry and weary land where there is no water.