Tag Archives: Augustine

So you went to the altar and your life didn’t change? Welcome to the club

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.

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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.

Satan Fans the Flame of Disordered Love

so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs (2 Cor. 2:11).

I suppose one advantage of being in bondage to sin for so long is it made me well aware of the enemy’s tactics.   I hung around him long enough to have some understanding of his “designs.”    There are many tactics of Satan,  but I’d say one of his favorites is making us think our actions are normal and natural and even reasonable.  Have you ever said to yourself or someone else, “Well this is just who I am” or “I can’t help it, I’m made this way” or perhaps, “It just felt right, how could it be wrong” or even, “Love wins“?

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This is because each of us “is tempted when lured and enticed by our own desire” (James 1:14).   Satan doesn’t really need to bring anything new to the battle for our hearts.  He just needs to fan the flame of what is already there.   

For every one of us that could be a different thing.  My desires won’t be the same as the next guy or gal.   For some it might be lust, for others it might be disordered sexual desires, for some it might be food, for others it might be control, for some it might be fame, or perhaps money or it could simply be a desire to devour any kind of impurity (Eph. 4:19).   In all of us is this desire which wants to disobey, to rebel, to reach for the forbidden fruit even though we know God said no and even though there are plenty of trees from which to pick from all around.   Our radar zeroes in on the one forbidden thing.

This is the curse of sin and it stains us all.  Satan doesn’t need to do anything more than to blow on the hot embers of our desire and when we act upon them, James says this desire then gives birth to sin (we act on that desire), and as we continue to act on this desire because we think it’s just natural, normal and reasonable, it brings forth death.   The death here is a spiritual death, one described by Paul in Romans 1:

For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened…Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator…God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done…Though they know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them (vs. 21-32).

The death is a spiritual death, by which we are slaves to our human desires.    The early church father, Augustine, called our plight one of “disordered loves.”    All of us, no matter who we are, love the wrong things.   None of us are without excuse.  All have these disordered loves and fall short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23).   If we do not “come to our senses” as the Prodigal Son did and say yes to the Spirit of God convicting us of our sin, we will continue to slide down this road where we are no longer able to hear or know truth, but instead we find ourselves doing what God says not to do and even give approval to those who do (Rom. 1:32).

Satan fans the embers of human desire which feel normal to us, and as we worship the creature (our desires) we fall prey to the delusion that we are fine, even justified, in our sin.

We need to be aware that Satan is a master at making our desires appear to be natural, even holy.   The prophet Jeremiah said we will dress the wounds of the people and say “peace, peace” when the reality is, there is no peace (Jer. 6:14).   Paul saw clearly what Jeremiah saw, that our hearts are deceitfully wicked and prone to love the wrong things (Jer. 17:9) and rather than justify love for loves sake he cried out, “Wretched man that I am!  Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Rom. 7:24).

Scripture repeatedly warns us to be vigilant and watchful over our hearts and the hearts of others.   The Puritans did this through daily introspection and examination, naming their desires and lining them up with God’s word to see if they were holy desires or fleshly ones.   We would do well, perhaps, to adopt some of their rigors.  But being rigorous without first repenting, without first coming to our senses and realizing Satan has used our desires against us, we will not know freedom.   The good news is this:   When we humble ourselves and cry out along with Paul our need to be delivered from this body of death which loves the wrong things, we are given a new heart.  The Holy Spirit recreates us as new creatures (2 Cor. 5:17) and instead of being a slave to our desires we become slaves of righteousness (Rom. 6:15-23).

A good practice is to ask yourself often whether or not the things or people you love are ordered after the wisdom of God or the wisdom of this world.   There is a way which seems right to humankind, but in the end it leads to death (Prov. 14:12).    Don’t be ignorant of Satan’s designs on your desires.   Take delight in the Lord, and discover that His word is true, you will be a new creation, with new desires (Psalm 37:4).

Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Rom. 7:25).

No Longer I

“For if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature.” For our Lord Jesus Christ came for this very reason, that he might change, and renew, and create afresh this soul that had been perverted by vile affections, tempering it with his own Divine Spirit. He came to work a new mind, a new soul, and new eyes, new ears, new spiritual tongue; yea, to make them that believe in him new men, that he might pour into them the new wine, which is his Spirit.

This is from Macarius in his Homilies, an Eastern Church Father whom John Wesley admired and employed often in his thinking.

It resonates with me because it expounds on one of my favorite Scriptures, 2 Cor. 5:17:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

In the margin of my Bible next to that verse I have written:

God does not want to make me better, but new.

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New!   The person who puts their entire self under the blood of Christ will not rise up a better version of their old self but a completely new one!    So radically, so fundamentally, does Christ make a change in our hearts that you are no longer you, but Christ in you, the hope of glory.

There is a story about Saint Augustine following his conversion where he passed by one of his former mistresses on the street.    Seeing him walk by she yelled after him, “Augustine, it is I!”    Without turning back Augustine replied, “Yes, but it is no longer I!”

Augustine had been made new.    Jesus said that for any of us to see the kingdom of God we must be born again (John 3).   Tragically, we have far too many people who have come to God to be made better but refuse to be born again!   They refuse to be made new.

If you are beset with sins and habits which you are convinced you cannot shake I have good news for you.   When you come to God broken and open for His cure, willing to obey His words before all others, willing to lay down your old life not to ever take it up again, you will walk away a new creation.   You will be born again.   His promise is sure and true.   The dead are still being raised by Jesus.   I know this to be true because I was once a dead man…..but God!   Thanks be to God I am no longer I.

God doesn’t want to make you better, but new!   Praise God!