It’s strange looking back and realising just how much my Christian life was driven by my struggle with pornography. I can’t remember the number of times I would masturbate on a Saturday night, only to be filled with a sense of regret and shame that drove me to do my Quiet Time immediately after.
The next morning at Sunday service I’d hold my hands up a bit longer, tear a little more, close my eyes a little tighter – all so that God would see that I was really trying.
I thought that serving in church would pressure me into giving up pornography, but really it drove me further into it. I would get disappointed over my ministry failures, and in the anxiety of failing both my leaders’ and my own expectations, I would run back into the arms of pornography to relieve my emotional distress.
Then the regret and shame would return and speak to my heart: You better make up for your sin. Go serve in church. So the cycle of ministry failure, pornography and shame would continue.
I became well-versed in Scripture, a prominent leader in ministry, an articulate expounder of theology. On all accounts, I wasn’t just a good Christian, I was a great Christian. I thought that with this level of Christian service, surely God must be pleased with me, pleased enough to overlook my addiction to pornography.
HIDING IN THE GARDEN
The Bible has a term for the kind of service I was giving: fig leaves.
When Adam and Eve sinned, the Bible records that “the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked” (Genesis 3:7 ESV). Following this recognition of nakedness, “they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths”. Later, when they heard God walking in the garden, they hid themselves from His presence (Genesis 3:8).
Sin fills us with shame, and it is this shame that drives us to hide from God and from each other. No longer are we comfortable with anyone seeing our nakedness, for we know that we are filthy. The sinful heart is not something that desires itself exposed to anyone; it would rather hide and remain in darkness.
And how does it hide? It uses fig leaves.
We see the first picture of what must happen for sin to be covered up: something must die.
We grab onto all sorts of “covering” to hide ourselves: Bible reading, church service, leadership positions, evangelism, refraining from swearing, regular attendance, mentoring someone younger, reading more Christian books, praying more, singing louder…
These things in themselves are good things, wonderful fruit borne by the Holy Spirit as He works within our hearts. But they make for terrible clothing.
What did God do when He saw His people trying to dress themselves?
He killed an unnamed animal and made for them “garments of skins”. Then He clothed them with His own hands (Genesis 3:21). He stripped off their fig leaves and essentially told them: “You cannot clothe yourself, only I can provide the covering you desperately need.”
And so we see the first picture of what must happen for sin to be covered up: something must die.
AN ETERNAL SACRIFICE
For the next millennia since that day in the Garden of Eden, millions of things continued to die. Millions of sheep and cattle, to be precise.
Day after day, month after month, year after year, animals were slaughtered for the sake of sinful Israel, all so that the people might come before God and that He might dwell with them.
The author of Hebrews tells us that “in these sacrifices, there is a reminder of sins every year” (Hebrews 10:3).
“For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” (Hebrews 10:4)
Which is why there was a need for a continuous stream of animals – there was no one sacrifice that could take away their sins for good.
But then came a sacrifice that could, a sacrifice sufficient to take away our sins. And He came not just to take our sins away, but to bring us into true fellowship with God. He came to give us the confidence to enter the holy places, to be the new and living way through which we might draw near to God.
Jesus’ blood washes us clean, His single sacrifice sufficient to wipe away all our sins and make our hearts clean (Hebrews 10:19-21).
THE PERFECT COVERING
What gives you the confidence to draw near to God? Your knowledge of the Old Testament? Your understanding of Paul’s theology? Your weekly commitment to service? Your multiple ministry responsibilities?
Take off your fig leaves and come to Jesus! He has clothes far better than the ones you have, a righteousness not tainted by selfish ambition or human pride.
Flee your sin, but also flee your good works.
I don’t want to rush into practical application because so often we see these physical steps as a kind of Christian checklist, a list of things we need to do in order to earn our place before God. Indeed, that was how I often read articles like these, looking for more fig leaves I could cover myself with.
Instead, I present to you a call. It is an old call, an ancient call. The Scriptures say: “Everyone who believes in Him will not be put to shame.” (Romans 10:11)
Today, I call you to believe in God. Trust Him when He says that He has borne all your sins on His back (1 Peter 2:24). Trust Him when He says that He will make you new (Ezekiel 36:26). Trust Him when He says that in Himself, you are made righteous (2 Corinthians 5:21). Live your life around these truths.
Flee your sin, but also flee your good works. The wages of sin is death; you cannot make up for your sin with service in church, tithing, Bible study or any kind of Christian endeavour. No, there is only one way to salvation – believe in Jesus and trust His words.
You cannot make up for your sin with service in church, tithing, Bible study or any kind of Christian endeavour.
Do you know the kind of freedom that is found in His gospel? No longer will sin crush you, for you are in Him, and to Him you can flee. No longer will ministry failure defeat you, for your righteousness is given by Jesus.
No longer will the praise of man inflate your ego because your identity is found only in Christ. No longer will you fear the pride that sometimes comes with positions of high leadership because God’s grace and kindness will humble you.
When you go to church this Sunday, take the time to remember why you are there. Someone died so that you could be here, preparing to worship Him alongside His people.
Someone shed His very blood to make you clean, and sent His Spirit to help your heart feel and act as it should (John 14:16). Someone bore on His back all of your sins, did for you all the good work that needed to be done.
What more do you have to add to His work? Rest in Him. It is a rest that will stir you not to laziness but to good works, not in a spirit of striving that leads to death, but in a God-given humility that will glorify Jesus.
Let us consider Philippians 3:7-8: “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”
The author’s name has been changed for confidentiality.
- Are there areas of your life that you’re covering up in shame?
- What are some things you find difficult to take to God?
- How can we come confidently before Him, just as we are?