The Power of the Gospel To Set An Addict Free

Below are some reflections I have been working on for some time now about the power of the Gospel to change a life.  I’m ashamed to say that for many years as a professing Christian I did not have faith in that power or give much respect to those who claimed it for themselves or others.  I know I’m not alone in that.   I know that much, if not most, of the church world today lives as what Stanley Hauerwas called in the opening convocation service at Duke Divinity, “practical atheists.”   We live as tough there is no God – a real Presence and Divine Power who is actively engaged in the affairs of this world and our lives.   

For me, that Power became intimate as I got lost in the Scriptures and read them with a determination to live.    Rather than reading them as a means to teach others, write a sermon, win an argument or publish a blog, I was reading them because my life depended on these words.  I desperately wanted them to be what they claimed to be!   

They did not disappoint.   In fact, it is because I am so thoroughly convinved that the Bible contains what we need for “life and godliness” I enrolled last month for a Masters in Biblical Counseling with Baptist Bible College.  I was accepted last week and begin in August.   I’m excited to learn more about how I can effectively use Scripture to help others like myself.   With school beginning soon and my primary ministry being at home, I don’t forsee spending much time blogging, but I want to be available to men who need a word of encouragement or prayer.    Amy will the primary voice here, and with good reason!  She has a powerful testimony of God’s healing power in her own life and I pray daily that God would be glorified through her desire to give back what she has received.   

I pray the following reflections gives you hope that you, too, can be free.

“[I] left Christianity behind as I rarely see transformed lives.”

I appreciated her honesty when she left that comment on my testimony.  It’s not only honest, it’s true.  When was the last time you, church person, saw a radically transformed life?   When was the last time you thought of yourself as radically transformed?   But I’m getting ahead of myself…

I was a hair’s breadth away from joining her exodus a year ago.   When I arrived at Pure Life in November I was at the end of my rope.  Having been through one divorce already (back in 2001) because of my addiction I was now facing another.   I had tried everything I knew to try.   I was an avid supporter and member of SAA (Sex Addicts Anonymous) for years, attending 1 to 3 meetings per week while working the steps.   I (and my wife, both together and separately) had gone to numerous counselors.   We even forked up over 6 grand to spend time in Houston (twice) with a therapist who specialized in sexual addiction having studied under Patrick Carnes.  

And I prayed.   A lot.  

Needless to say, when I showed up at Pure Life I was a hopeless wreck.  I knew nothing could fix me.   I knew I was destined to be forever tormented.  I knew that I would die an addict, and probably soon.    In fact, I had already made up my mind that after this 7 month stint (actually, truth be told, I didn’t think I’d last one month, let alone seven.  I was sure I’d quit or they’d kick me out), if I was still the same Chad who arrived I was done.

Forget about just walking away from Christianity.  I was prepared to walk away from life.

Perhaps you, friend, are reading this and can relate.  Perhaps you, friend, have spent more tears than you can count and have bruised hands from slamming the steering wheel while crying out to God, “Why!?!!  Why won’t you fix me!!   Where are you??!!”

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come:  the old has gone, the new is here!”  (2 Cor. 5:17)

Those are words I have heard countless times. I’ve even preached them.  But for reasons I can only chalk up to the mysteries of God, they went into me the night I heard them on my 3rd day at Pure Life.   The man who read them, who was sharing a bit of his own testimony, followed up with this statement: 

Men, God didn’t bring you here to make you better.  He brought you here to make you new.

Friend, do you believe that?  Do you believe God can make you new? Well, I didn’t.  But I wanted to.  I desperately wanted to believe that I could be transformed.   I desperately wanted to see God show up and be real in my life. 

But before God could do anything I needed to be humbled.   I needed to reckon with the reality that Paul’s promise of new creation is conditional.  It is a given fact so long as the first part is fulfilled:   If anyone is in Christ.  

If you are in Christ, you are a new creation.

Was I in Christ?  My lack of transformation presented me with a few options:

1)       Paul was wrong

2)     Jesus doesn’t really transform lives

3)     I was not as “in Christ” as I thought

The first 2 were easier to stomach than the 3rd.   After all, I had built a reputation on the proclamation that ALL were in Christ!   ALL are saved!   ALL are children of God!  My popularity was soaring (along with my pride) and I was convinced that God was behind the message because everything I wrote or said was being eaten up! Surely the number of blog hits or Facebook fans or Retweets one gets is a sign of God’s approval.  Right? 

But the truth is, if I really believed the first two options than I have no reason to call myself a Christian.   Everything seemed to hang in the balance of option #3. 

If I was already in Christ, then Christ’s word is null and void for my reality proves that I am anything but new.

Or,

I was not in Christ, and did not yet know with my heart what I thought I knew with my head.

Let me pause here a moment.   Perhaps, friend, you are like me and weighing the extremes of those two options.  Perhaps you are like me and already thinking of other possibilities.   You, like me, are saying something like, “But wait! I’ve given my life for the cause of Christ!  I have been a pastor, gone to seminary, studied the Bible most of my life.   I was a pastor’s kid and was raised in the church.  I have a Christian blog and write lots of things about Jesus. I do this and that and this and….”  

Jesus warned that there will be plenty who present a biography just like mine, and yet, He will send them away as complete strangers.

All of this and much more was beginning to knead its way into my heart over the course of several months.   What made me break was something that from all appearances seemed a small thing.  It was the end of December and we were given a couple sheets of paper written by revivalist Charles Finney titled, “Breaking Up the Fallow Ground.”  We were challenged to take it seriously and spend some time writing out our own responses to each of the prompts in the letter.   Never being one to back down from a challenge, I took it, and spent the better part of a day in the chapel, alone, writing out page after page of stuff I never before considered.   20 pages later, the evidence of my wretchedness was written before me.   I saw how truly far from Christ I was and how easily seduced I was by pride. 

I was undone.  For the first time in my life I experienced what Paul calls “godly sorrow.”  It’s unlike any sorrow I have ever known.  I saw my sin and all its ugliness.   But I also saw God and all His holiness.  I saw a powerful God who died for me, for even me, while I was yet a sinner.   I saw Jesus on the cross, bearing my sin and shame.   I saw my Savior by whose stripes I am healed, who came to set captives free, who has the power to break the hold of the sin on my life and anyone who will seek Him.  

That was the day I know I became a child of God.   That was the day of my salvation.   I became new! 

I think it’s fair to say that the degree we do not experience transformation in our own lives is the same degree to which we are not in Christ.    If you are someone who self-identifies as a Christian, as I did, yet find your life is not all that different to what it was like before you became a Christian, like mine, then friend, perhaps you are not as “in Christ” as you like to think.    Which is not uncommon, as the comment I began this post points out.   Sadly, what constitutes for being “in Christ” among Christians these days, particularly in America, is little more than showing up to church for an hour on Sunday (isn’t God pleased with me!), saying thanks before eating dinner, and praying for a safe trip to the beach.  

 We are blind even though we claim to see.  Jesus’ indictment of the Laodiceans is apt for us today: 

For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind and naked  (Rev. 3:17).  

The Bible teaches us that there is divine power available to us, at work within us, to teach us all we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3).    Really Peter?   Well, yes.   But again, it’s conditioned upon the “knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence.”   We have to know Jesus.   Really know him! 

Peter seemed to have caught a glimpse of this early on in his walk with Jesus.   He was the one who, after Jesus told the crowds that He is the bread of life – very different from the bread of this world which only perishes – said, “Only you have the words of life, where else can we go?”   You’ll recall that many walked away from Jesus that day.  We would much rather depend on the bread and wisdom of man rather than the Bread of Heaven.  

“You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life”  (Jesus, in John 5:39-40). 

I spent a lot of time and a lot of money going to everyone and everything but Jesus for life.   Today, because of my time spent at Pure Life, the driving force in my life is to know Jesus.   Today I can say with Paul that I desire to know nothing apart from Christ and him crucified (1 Cor. 2:2). I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection (Phil. 3:10).     Knowing Jesus, and knowing that I am known by Him, and striving to nurture that relationship above all else, is the difference between living a life in victory over sin versus one fraught with addiction, strife and defeat.

My prayer today is that others would know Jesus.   I pray that we as a Church would once again believe in the supernatural regenerating work of the Spirit of God – the same Spirit that rose Christ from the dead is at work in us!– and believe that the Word of God is able to make us wise for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ, making us thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Tim. 3:15-17).

Do you believe that?   Will you echo Peter’s confession that we have no where else to turn for only Jesus holds the words of life?  Or will you continue to search for life through anyone or anything but the Author of it?  

In closing, I need to share that I am so grateful for the time God granted me to seek Him at Pure Life.    There may be other places which allow for this, but I don’t know of any yet.   Given my pride, arrogance and very liberal leanings (cynicism) upon my arrival, I was looking for any reason to bolt, and would have had any of the staff or counselors given me enough reason.    Yet they consistently showed the love and humility of Jesus.  The stuff that I only wrote about, they modeled day in and day out.  While the world offered me all sorts of gimicks, models, therapies and programs, the men at Pure Life, who are themselves living testimonies of the transforming power of God, consistently pointed me to the Cross.    It is there that I found the answers I had been seeking.

Friend, if you are reading this with new bruises on your hands from the steering wheel, I hope you’ll find a glimmer of hope in these words, and salve for your soul by running to the only lover and maker of your soul – Jesus.

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5 thoughts on “The Power of the Gospel To Set An Addict Free

  1. Thank you for writing this, and for including Charles Finney’s “Breaking Up The Fallow Ground.” I think it all comes down to the choices we make every single day, whether we will heed what the Lord is saying to us, or ignore it. According to the sins of omission and commission, I know I have fallen so short in certain areas. I, too, have to repent, and put much more effort into these weak areas. God Bless you and Amy in your new ventures: you going back to college, and Amy continuing with the blog. You are both such a tremendous blessing.

  2. Chad, I one again stand with you and cheer with you for the transformation that you have experienced. I think it is an absolutely wonderful thing and I am so glad that your family has been healed of the brokenness that you were all experiencing. I too have experienced this type of brokenness and I too have, over the course of 2 years so far, been experiencing the amazing healing power of Christ. I think though we should be careful on how we label people and where they are at in their spiritual walk. Paul admits in Romans that he is still a sinner, still doing that which he does not want to do and yet no one would dare say that he was not as in Christ as he thought he was. Not everyone who believes in the possibility of everyone being saved does so out of pride. I’m the last person that Christ should save and yet he has chosen me and he has begun his work in me. I look forward to reading your blog and continuing our dialog. I’ve tried writing you personally a few times but I’ve yet to hear back.
    Mike

  3. Chad, I so much appreciate your honesty in sharing your testimony. I too was an exquisitely well-educated Methodist pastor (in the area from whence I come, “doctorate” rhymes with “idiot”) with universalist theology. My addiction was not to pornography but to meditation and eastern spiritual practices. All addictions are about craving an altered state of consciousness. My congregation encouraged me to teach the children how to chant mantras and read tarot cards. I was praised by my bishop during Lent for putting a duct-tape labyrinth in the social hall and decorating it with crystals. Etc. etc. etc.

    God broke through to me when I was teaching one of those Bible “studies” in which the members are encouraged by the textbook to spend all their time explaining away the plain meaning of scripture. I broke down in tears and told everyone that there was no way that I was going to Heaven, even if Hitler or Bin Laden did. I knew the condition of my heart, and it was too ugly to be in God’s presence. Right there in front of the room, I fell onto my face and asked God to save me. Luckily for me, several of the church wardens were present, and arranged for me to be fired within a few days.

    I was called to a district meeting for censure, in which I was given (under the table, if you will) an opportunity to fill in temporarily as a hospice chaplain by a VERY Christian woman, the centenarian widow of a deceased cleric, who had been trying unsuccessfully to find anyone interested in speaking to the sick and dying. I didn’t want to do it, but my mother (a CLM and pastoral assistant at the only evangelically-oriented UM Church in town) demanded that I do it.

    So there I was, officially on warning from my denomination, a wet-behind-the-ears baby Christian, talking with people who sometimes only had hours to live. I learned the value of the plain Gospel in bringing hope and peace of mind (never mind the eternal benefits).

    That was five years ago, and I’m still walking the halls of the hospice (after changing denominations and building a new support network).

    My dad had married twice, and when my stepmom (his widow) was in the hospital with her new husband as he lay dying of lung cancer, I got an emergency phone call from my Methodist mother saying “you’d better get in there, she just pinned back Chaplain So-and-So’s ears.”

    I found my stepmom standing over her husband’s dead body, holding off the nurses with her cane and screaming incoherently. The chaplain (a typical tweedy mainline UM retiree) was sitting at the nurses’ station looking shell-shocked. “I tried to talk to her,” he told me, “but she just won’t listen.”

    I told him to watch me, and I went into the room. This is what I said to my stepmom: “You know that I led him to Christ right here on this hospital bed. He is now in heaven. His suffering is now over. You will be with him someday. Let this old tired body go, because he’s not here.”

    She put down her cane and calmly walked out the door. As we left the hospital, I am embarrassed to admit that I hissed at the chaplain, “If you can’t say the things that I just said, you ought not call yourself a minister.” True, but not very winsome.

    After the funeral, which was held in a funeral home and not a church so that I could preach the gospel (my conservative Christian principles now prevent me from pastoring or preaching in a congregational building, which is why I am so delighted to have a chaplaincy with an informal Sunday “gathering” in the dayroom, because my doctorate is in homiletics), I asked my stepmom what the chaplain had told her, and apparently he was trying to fish for what she “wanted” to hear. He kept asking her about her “personal beliefs” and told her that there are many ways to think about the afterlife, etc. etc.

    All that she wanted to know was that her husband was in heaven. And not because some mealy-mouthed preacher with leather patches on his elbows wanted her to believe that heaven is for everyone.

    Anyways, keep up the good work and know that you’re not alone in standing behind a pulpit for years before becoming a Christian.

  4. Chad–if I have not told you yet—this is a powerful, beautiful testimony of what Christ has done in your life. It indeed is the truth of Jesus Christ who shows mercy when we least deserve it that sets the captive completely free! How could we ever again grieve Jesus once we get a glimpse of such a wondrous love like His?! Love you! Mom

  5. Hi Chad
    Hallelujah! I’ve finally caught up with you, after you went off air. I’m pleased at your new(s), and healing. Your appreciation of what God has done is seemingly immense. Gratitude is a key response.

    But I must be honest; I think you’ve entered a dualistic space. I’m not judging this, because deep trauma can cause it. I accept how deeply you feel about your past, your addictions and their effect on your loved ones, but I don’t think your new position should be deemed “final” in any way.

    I think in condemning your earlier theology you may be doing yourself a disservice. Specifically your “refutation of your refutation of Hell” needs some clarification. I thought your work at the time (based only on your blogging – you may have been a different person in real life) on the universal love of God exhibited real depth. To dismiss this work as mere egoism runs the risk of creating more pain than is necessary. I believe there is a way to reconcile your past more wholesomely than by an appeal to a damnable wretchedness.

    One way is by a more evolutionary approach to the problem of sin and addiction. People like Michael Dowd (himself a recovering sex addict) are pioneering this. http://soundandsilence.wordpress.com/2012/08/07/michael-dowd-on-tedx-why-we-struggle-now/
    Appealing to a more Calvinistic or Augustinian belief is not a way forward for me, either scientifically or spiritually speaking.

    While I know that there is a time to let go, reduce, thin out, and repent/change – and you should be given that space – our piety must not be at odds with Reality. And one needs to be careful with the equation “Jesus = the only Reality”. You don’t have to diminish your respect for Jesus by paying attention to how you came to be how you are, from an evolutionary as opposed to an Platonist point of view.

    If you are reinstating your belief in “hell”, please make that hell the hell of your own human experience and not the Hell of historical Augustinian/ Calvinist doctrine. You have every right to say you have been in hell, separate from God and miserable, but please Chad don’t undo the good work of those standing for the “Inescapable Love” and the “Great Hope”.

    I’m disturbed by the anti-liberal undertone of this post, equating liberal with cynical. In our interactions two and three years ago Chad, you were not cynical. You had a heart of love. That’s the same heart you now have, other than that you have gone through a further cleansing. Integrate!

    One last thing that stands out in this testimony is your mode of address:”Friends”. This is a preacher’s word, and is used in my experience from the pulpit. That pulpit is by definition an instrument of dualism separating the preacher from the people. The one behind the pulpit in my experience is usually blithely convinced of his rightness, or wallowing in his pitiable damnableness.

    In your case, you are a public repenter. My thought on this is it’s too early to address us from the pulpit. Actually, the model I imagine is that of Jesus. Every so often he spoke in a synagogue (did they have pulpits?), but almost every word of his comes from his rambling living, en route to a town, under a tree, noticing the natural world, on a boat, amongst the people, on the cross.

    BUT thanks for your depth of honesty, and being prepared to share your Darkest. I know I’m being a bit tough on you here, but it’s because I love you albeit from afar. I care for the integrity of our lives. I sincerely hope I don’t lose you as a friend.

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