For much of my adult life I was striving for the wrong goal when it came to dealing with my addiction or my walk with God. My goal was victory. Freedom. My goal was to be free from the thing(s) wreaking havoc on my spiritual, emotional and physical life and that of others.
I can’t begin to count the number of times I prayed for victory over my addiction to pornography. I prayed, and prayed, and prayed, crying out to God to deliver me from my desires. I thought that being a good Christian meant that I am to have faith that God could heal me. I thought I was to “stop trying and start trusting” in God for the victory. If I did not wake up and feel “free” than it must be because I hadn’t prayed enough or had enough faith.
Maybe you are reading this and feel the same way today. You want freedom from whatever is controlling you. You long for – pray for – victory.
It’s not a bad goal. But I’m convinced it’s not the right goal.
It wasn’t until I learned that God had already answered my prayers and it was now my responsibility to live into those prayers that I began to get some traction in my daily walk with God. It was when I learned that my goal isn’t victory but obedience that I started to find the freedom for which I had been praying.
Victory is a by-product of obedience. We will never know the former without the latter.
Obedience isn’t a word we talk about much. It means “submission to another’s authority.” Obedience flies in the face of our natural inclination to put our desires – our flesh – first.
It’s surprising we do not talk about obedience much when Scripture talks about it all the time. Whether this is because the Reformation did such a bang up job at deterring us from anything that smells of “works righteousness” or because we naturally hate obeying is anyone’s guess. Whichever our reason, until we take responsibility and “work out our salvation with fear and trembling” we will continue to be lukewarm in our Christian walk.
Here are just a few of many directives Scripture gives us which place the onus on us to get to work. There is that which the Holy Spirit enables us to do (we don’t do this alone or by our own might) but there is much that we are responsible to do.
For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live (Rom. 8:13).
Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature (Col. 3:5)
Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us (Heb. 12:1)
Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you (James 4:7)
Make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him (2 Peter 3:14)
If you love me, obey my commandments (John 14:15)
Notice the action words/phrases giving us responsibility: put to death; throw off; run; submit yourselves; resist; make every effort; obey.
Whenever I feel defeated it is always a result of me being disobedient. Whenever I feel victorious is always a result of being obedient.
Perhaps it would do us well to stop counting days that we are sober and instead ask ourselves at the end of each day, “Was I obedient today? Where was I disobedient? How can I be more obedient tomorrow?” When we make our goal obedience, victory is sure to follow.
It is time for us Christians to face up to our responsibility for holiness. Too often we say we are “defeated” by this or that sin. No, we are not defeated, we are simply disobedient! It might be good if we stopped using the terms “victory” and “defeat” to describe our progress in holiness. rather we should use the terms “obedience” and “disobedience.” When I say I am defeated by some sin, I am unconsciously slipping out from under my responsibility. I am saying something outside of me has defeated me. But when I say I am disobedient, that places the responsibility for my sin squarely on me. We may, in fact, be defeated, but the reason we are defeated is because we have chosen to disobey. We have chosen to entertain lustful thoughts, or to harbor resentment, or to shade the truth a little.
We need to brace ourselves up and to realize that we are responsible for our thoughts, attitudes, and actions. We need to reckon on the fact that we died to sin’s reign, that it no longer has any dominion over us, that God has united us with the risen Christ in all His power, and has given us the Holy Spirit to work in us. Only as we accept our responsibility and appropriate God’s provisions will we make any progress in our pursuit of holiness (80-81).