I have heard it from others nearly as many times as I have lived it myself:
I went to the altar and asked God to take away my addiction to pornography (or insert any other compulsive behavior) but when I woke up Monday nothing changed. Why won’t God heal me?
For many, many years I walked that dusty road between the pews and knelt at the altar, confessing my sins from the past week and pleading with God to take my affliction away. And for many, many years I woke up Monday wondering why God hadn’t answered my prayer.
This cycle went on for nearly 2 decades until another godly man who had been down the same road I was on and was now living a victorious Christian life told me the hard truth I needed to hear. I’m not sure if I had heard this prior to his entrance into my life or not. Perhaps I had but simply was not ready to receive it. Sometimes truth falls like seeds onto rocky ground and just lays there. Sometimes it takes a great upheaval – like the loss of everything in my life – for that rocky, fallow ground to be broken up just enough for that seed to take root. In any event, I was finally ready to hear from this man what I’m about to share with you now. He said,
Your kneeling at the altar is not the end of the fight but the beginning. It is to say I am powerless to do this on my own but I am choosing to trust that Jesus will be fighting alongside me as I pass from death into life. And anytime you are being reborn it’s going to be painful. It’s going to be a fight. Welcome to the club.
The “club” is real, vital Christianity as opposed to the passive, vapid religion I had long been living. For far too long I had been under the delusion that if God really wanted me to be free from sexual sin He would set me free. It was as though I expected some magic wand to tap me on the heart and take away all the compulsive tendencies. That I would wake up Monday free from lustful thoughts and impulses.
But that never happened. At least not for me. I rejoice with those who experience such radical transformation overnight but my experience, and the experience of most people I meet, is that it’s not so instantaneous.
But it’s every bit as radical.
It’s radical if you understand the truth I shared above. It’s radical if you change from seeing yourself at the altar as some passive consumer coming to be magically delivered and see yourself instead as a broken man or woman kneeling before your king to be knighted, and rising thereafter to enter the war from which you have long been absent or oblivious to.
Monday is not the day to wake up expecting to be free from impure thoughts but the day to rise up and don your helmet and go to war, fighting for the first time on the right side of the battle, knowing you have beside you the one who already conquered sin and death.
Turning your life over to God doesn’t mean you wake up the next day and your addiction is gone. It just means you pass from being dead to waking up in a UFC cage match. It means you finally enter the fight. It’s going to be a battle but one you don’t fight alone.
One of the first and greatest Christian thinkers in history, Augustine, is also known as the patron saint of sex addicts. He struggled mightily with lust as he was coming to know Jesus. In his book, Confessions, he describes well this battle to which our trip to the alter enlists us:
The enemy held fast my will, making it a chain with which he bound me tight. Out of my perverse will came lust, and the service of lust ended in habit, and habit, not resisted, became necessity. By these links, which is why I called it “a chain,” hard bondage held me in slavery. My new will, which had begun to spring up in me freely to worship You and to enjoy You, O my God, the only certain Joy, was not yet able to overcome my former willfulness, made strong by long indulgence. Therefore, my two wills – the old and the new, the carnal and the spiritual – raged in conflict within me. They tore my soul apart by their dispute. (Confessions, Book 8).
In a few deft lines, Augustine brilliantly captures the hell of addiction. What we have for so long been indulging becomes our master, and when we kneel before a new Master, Jesus, our freedom from the former life will not come without great struggle and sacrifice. Being reborn is painful, and cannot be done alone.
So, when you went to the altar your life didn’t immediately change. I am by no means saying you should not continue to make that trek to kneel before your king. Do it daily, in fact. Do it until – and even beyond – the truth of what you’ve read here, and the grace of Almighty God, explodes the rocky ground of your heart and you rise up finally willing to enter the fight that many of us, and all of heaven, have been waiting for you to fight. Remember, you don’t fight alone.
Welcome to the club.