Introduction: In the second part of this series I intended to outline some practical ways you can break free from the sin of self-gratification, particularly if this is a habitual problem for you. However, as I got to writing I felt God leading me back to the issue of the heart, for that is where it all begins and ends. Before we can even think about the “hows” of freedom we must reckon with the Why and the Way. Both are the same: Jesus. Thus, the “hows” will come in part III and IV. What follows here will sound harsh and heavy to some and salve and grace to others. I know that when I was in the depths of my sin, which I called an addiction, I took offense to those who shot straight with me. Looking back, I can see it was God’s mercy and the Holy Spirit drawing me. My pride blinded me to it all, however, until I lost it all. I don’t want you to have to lose everything before you wake up to real dangers of the fire you are playing with and the distance it has and will put between you and God. I pray that God would use my offering here to draw us all closer to Himself.
In the first part (read HERE) I attempted to explain that this is first and foremost a matter of the heart. If you are stuck in a cycle of self-gratification (masturbation) you won’t have real freedom until you lay down all your excuses and rationalizations for doing it and reckon it for what it is: sin. You must come to a similar place as King David in Psalm 51 who cried out,
Against you [God], you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment (51:4)
Without first repenting, the road towards holiness, which is God’s will for your life (1 Thess. 4:3), cannot begin. Let me say a word here about what repentance is NOT.
Repentance is not being sorry that your life is a mess because of your mistakes. For many years I cried out to God to help me stop doing the things I was doing but my motives were selfish. I was sorry that I got caught or sorry over how all this made me look to others or sorry that others were upset and disappointed in me. I was fearful that I might lose my family, my job, that someone “important” might find out, and even sorry that my work in ministry, which I took great pride in, might be hampered by my sinful choices made in secret.
I have found that many Christians, particularly those in some form of ministry (self included), want freedom from their addiction to pornography or self-gratification because they sense that it is preventing them from being all that they could be in their vocation. This is not repentance but spiritual pride. A great example of this is found in Acts 8 with the story of Simon the Magician. Simon became a Christian and desired to be great in the work of the church. When he saw the power the apostles had to impart the Holy Spirit he craved it for himself. He wanted to be used mightily by God! Who doesn’t, right? But Peter’s admonition is sobering to all of us who desire to be great in our ministries:
You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you (Acts 8:21-22).
Friends, if you desire freedom from your addictions or hang-ups so that you can be a better pastor, youth leader, worship leader, Sunday school teacher, husband, wife, parent, friend – whatever – then your heart is not right before God, nor are your intentions. Freedom comes only when we see ourselves in the pure light of God’s holiness and desire nothing more or less than to be in fellowship with him. When we realize that without holiness we will not see the Lord (Heb. 12:14) we are on the path of godly sorrow which leads to life rather than our selfish worldly sorrow which brings only death ( 2 Cor. 7:10).
When I realized this about myself it changed the way I pray. No longer do I pray as I once did, asking God to increase my ministry or make me useful or even great in His kingdom. Instead, my constant heart’s cry is that I might know Him more fully, intimately and truly. And not only that I would know Him, but that He would know me. That I would be counted among his friends. Jesus said his friends are those who obey him (John 15:14). I want to be Jesus’ friend! Do you?
God’s word declares that those who are “in Christ” have had their flesh crucified with Jesus and are raised again to walk in newness of life (Rom. 6:4). Paul goes on to say in that same chapter that those who have been united with Jesus in his death have been set free from sin. Therefore, “let not sin reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions” (Rom. 6:6,12). He concludes,
Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace (6:13-14)
Sin will have no dominion over you! This is GOOD NEWS! Jesus didn’t die on the cross for you and I just to make us better, more well-adjusted people in the midst of a fallen world. He died to destroy the works of the devil and to make you and I into NEW creations! (2 Cor. 5:17). The extent to which we are not walking in this newness of life and freedom from sin is not because God’s word has failed but because we refuse to die. Our pride tells us we are just fine with God and God is just fine with us. We sing “I Am a Friend of God,” convincing ourselves that if we sing it enough it must be true while lacking the self-control and the obedience that comes from being crucified with Christ and alive in His Spirit.
The reason I am spending so much time on this, even at the risk of coming across as harsh, is because I would still be dead in my sin if it weren’t for people speaking hard truth into my life. I assume most of my audience here are church-going people who have convinced themselves over time that their life with God is an 8 on a scale of 1-10 but would be a 10 if they could just rid themselves of this “one little problem.” I know this because I said the same thing for over 20 years! It wasn’t until God’s word pierced my heart and showed me that my so-called “righteousness” was nothing but filthy rags so long as I justified my lust as an addiction I was saddled with as opposed to sin which Christ died for.
But upon seeing it for what it truly is – sin – the remedy became a reality in my life. Not overnight. There is a phasing out period that many will experience. But the bondage will be gone. No longer will you feel as though you cannot say no when temptation strikes but you will find that you have a real choice in the matter: to obey or not. It is the Spirit of God at work within you, causing you to will and to do His good pleasure (Phil. 2:13). As we learn how to put off the “old man” and put on the “new” we will find that there is great joy in obedience and great freedom in holiness.
I hope you’ll join me for the next post as we examine practical ways we can put off the old and put on the new.