This article is part of the Open Letters series.
What do you do when you are still struggling? What do you do when repeated failure, guilt, and shame weigh heavily on your conscience?
Let me begin with a story about a friend of mine. He had come to faith in Christ when he was in his late twenties. As they say, “He had history. He came with baggage.” I’ve never forgotten the way he described his life at the point when Jesus reached him. “If you divided my mental day into a thousand moments, nine hundred of those moments were immoral. I simply lived in a world of immoral images and desires and pursuits and behaviors.” His entire life was steeped in polyamorous, bisexual immorality.
Did his newfound faith immediately bring about a complete change? You know the answer: of course not. But his way of describing the process was particularly vivid. “It wasn’t as though I went from nine hundred immoral moments down to zero. But nine hundred went to seven hundred. And seven hundred became five hundred, and five hundred became two hundred, and so on. It was very hard to think that seven hundred out of a thousand meant progress! But it was. It was huge progress, and even though I was still failing, Christ was changing me.”
Jesus knows the kinds of people he has chosen to save.
He grew. Eventually, by the time I knew him, he was significantly changed—but still not perfect. And he lived with a daily awareness that, “I’m still vulnerable in the area of sexual temptations. I can never think I’m home free and will never struggle.” But he had entered into the long walk of discipleship, the patient, persistent obedience in the right direction, walking under the mercy of the Lord.
What sustained him for ups and downs of the long walk? I’ve never forgotten his words. “Early on I learned something that I’ve never forgotten. I had to presume that Christ loved me. Jesus knew the kind of person he had chosen to forgive and save. He who had begun a good work in me was committed to one day bring me to completion. I relied on the fact that his mercies for me truly are new every morning—I lived in that promise of Lamentations 3:22–24.” Christ’s love for him was the given on which his life depended. He could daily seek Christ’s mercies for what he needed that day: forgiveness from the Lamb, strength from the King, protection in the Refuge, guidance under the Shepherd’s hand.
Step by step by step by step he was moving toward the light. His long, hard fight was wrapped up in the mercy of Christ to him. It is the same for all of us, whatever our particular struggle—sexual immorality, anger and bitterness, fears, addictions, self-righteousness. Jesus knows the kinds of people he has chosen to save. We can seek him, and we will find him true and good for the long haul. My friend was honest, no secrets before God. He was honest to confess where and when he struggled. He was honest with friends, who helped him to seek and find the God who promises many mercies. He was honest in asking help from other people: accountability and prayer, counsel and conversation with brothers. He rebuilt a life that had good in it. He learned to treat both men and women as holy brothers and sisters, rather than as sexual objects.
Here’s an old metaphor about how a Christian fights against darkness. Envision your mind as a room. When sin reigns, that room is filled with dark thoughts, dark actions, and deceptive people who mean you no good. So how do you get darkness out of the room? There are two ways that you fight. First, you stand up to the darkness, expelling it from the room, learning to directly say no to evil. And second, you fight the darkness by filling the room with light. There’s no room for the darkness when the room is filled with worthy actions, true thoughts, and constructive people. When Christ enters the room, he is patiently committed to teach us to say no to what is wrong and yes to what is merciful and good. My friend began to care for other people, rather than using them as objects of his lust.
One of the actions that proved most helpful to him was getting involved in discipline teenage boys. (Pedophilia was not one of the sins he had indulged in.) They were entering adolescence and puberty in a hypersexualized world. At the same age that evil had trapped him, he could help to protect them from going down a self-destructive path. Serving others in need also helped him by filling the room with light so there was less room for darkness. In a sense, they were helping him as much as he was helping them.
Christ comes with mercy for people who know their sins. His mercy leads to doing simple things that consistently head in the right direction. Do you feel discouraged and defeated by your struggle? Don’t let anyone kid you that there’s some magic answer and somehow you missed it. There are no magic answers. But a Person full of light is willing to walk with you in the direction of the light. He is willing to walk with you the whole way home.
Written by Joe Dallas, Originally posted at joedallas.com Used with permission 
Day has begun and I’m already sinning Help me to change this heart that I have Lord, help me taste of the grace that You’re giving. I want to be a spiritual man. “Let the Old Man Die” lyrics by Chuck Butler
Every one of us struggles with something. Some of us relapse into that “something.” Afterwards, how we handle the relapse will have a lot to do with our future successes or failures.
To struggle is to have temptations, sometimes towards one particular life-dominating sin. You knew the type. It’s usually some bodily pleasure that we’ve discovered, then returned to, and then, after years of repetition, we’ve established as a pattern.
Overeating, porn, smoking, gambling, and drug abuse are all pretty good examples. What we discover we incorporate, and what we incorporate becomes predictable – a regular, often destructive part of our routine.
Predictable, that is, until God puts His finger on that part of your life. That’s when He calls you to repentance, and when that happens, a new standard gets birthed.
Suddenly, what you used to allow is unacceptable, and abstaining from that “something” is a new mandate. New standards of what we do or don’t allow are sure to follow anytime we say “yes” when God says “this has to go.” That’s part of discipleship living.
But to say “God has called me to stop doing this” is also a way of saying “I’m committed to resisting the desire to keep on doing it.” Sometimes the desire is resisted successfully; sometimes not. And that opens up the possibility
Relapse happens when you return to a behavior you renounced. It’s often called “breaking sobriety” because it means you broke a commitment to abstain from something addictive; some would also call it a backslide. But whatever name the relapse rose goes by it smells just as bad, and is a thing to be avoided, guarded against, but also prepared for. It’s somewhat like John’s interesting statement about sin:
These things I write unto you that you sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, the righteous. I John 2:1
Clearly John wasn’t saying it’s OK to sin. But he was saying that if you do, you have an advocate. Likewise, when you commit to abstaining from porn, fornication, drunkenness or gluttony, you don’t by any means have to relapse. You can stay clean; there’s no reason to return to those behaviors.
But if you do, you have an advocate with the Father who will cleanse and restore you. In that vein, let me offer a few immediate steps to take if, God forbid, you should relapse.
Decide now who’d you’d call if you relapsed. In most cases an accountability partner is your best bet (and if you’re committed to abstaining from an addictive behavior, then an accountability partner really is a must!) since he works with you weekly and you’re probably in regular contact with him.
But a trusted friend or member of your church will also be a good choice, or perhaps a pastor or counselor. What matters is that you know who to call and what number to use, and that you call him immediately. Tell him you relapsed, and that you’ll need his prayers and support. If you have a severe crises situation, meet with him ASAP.
With the help of whoever you notify, figure out what went wrong. Usually people relapse because they slacked off on their prayer life, scripture reading, fellowship or accountability.
But there may be other reasons, so spend time exploring what you were doing before the relapse, what you could have done differently, and what you’ll do differently in the future to prevent this from happening again. Human error is a terrific textbook, so you may as well use it.
3. Move It!
Get back on the saddle immediately, because you’ll accomplish nothing by wallowing in grief over your relapse, and there’s no reason to delay beginning again. If you refuse to start over, you’re yielding to a more severe, deadlier sin than relapse: despair. Sin is something you can repent of, but despair? Yield to that, and you’re really finished.
Don’t be. Relapse is a temporary set-back; despair is the end.
You’re protecting a treasure when you guard your purity, so apply yourself to its longevity the way you’d protect a valuable antique or piece of jewelry. Recognizing its worth, you work both to keep it, and keep it in its best possible shape.
The freedom of godliness, likewise, is a purposeful, challenging, exciting way to live, and keeping the ball in play is worth all the blood, sweat and tears a committed athlete has to shed.
So move ahead today in the power of gratitude for God’s grace, and let it manifest in the smallest and largest areas of your life.
Written by Joe Dallas, 7/31/20 Originally posted at joedallas.com Used with permission 
About 20 years ago, I put together these “tips” in answer to the question of what steps a man should take to “keep it clean.”
Well, considering the amount of stimulation and temptation we’re confronted with daily, common sense tells us today, more than ever, to both be and stay prepared. Here are ten ways I think you can help make
One: Get REAL
Recognize that sexual temptation is unavoidable in our sex-obsessed culture. Erotic images on billboards, films, television and a thousand other stimulants are bombarding you daily. Being a Christian doesn’t exempt you from temptation – the godliest of men can fall prey to it. So the first step towards maintaining sexual integrity is to get real.
Admit to yourself that sexual temptation is a problem that you have to reckon with. Remember John’s warning: “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves.” (I John 1:8)
Two: Get SERIOUS
You should know by now that sexual sin ravages everyone connected with it. What you may not know is that every sexual fantasy you entertain, every flirtatious conversation you keep up, or every “second look” you indulge in is the seed for AIDS, adultery, a broken heart, a shattered life.
Get serious – if you’re entertaining lust, you’re dancing on a cliff. Take concrete action now while you can. “Lust, when it is conceived, brings forth sin, and sin brings forth death.” (James 1: 15)
Three: Get READY
If you really believe an earthquake is coming someday, you prepare for it by developing an emergency plan. If you really believe sexual temptation is both common and can become lethal, you’ll make an “emergency plan” for it, too. Decide in advance what to do when you’re tempted: how to distract yourself, who to call, how to escape close calls.
Even St. Paul admitted: “Like an athlete I train my body to do what it should, not what it wants to do. Otherwise, I fear that I myself might be declared unfit.” (I Corinthians 9:27)
Can you really afford to do less?
Four: Get CONNECTED
Sexual sin thrives in the dark. If you’re caught up in any sexual vice, one thing is certain: The secrecy surrounding your behavior is what strengthens its hold on you. However ashamed you may feel about admitting your problem to another person, the reality is this: You can’t overcome this on your own. If you could, wouldn’t you have done so by now?
Take a hint from James: “Confess your faults one to another, and pray for one another, that you might be healed.” (James 5:16) Find a trusted, mature Christian friend to confide in. Make that friend a partner in your recovery, and NEVER assume that you’ve reached a point where you no longer need accountability.
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Five: Get BRUTAL
I believe there’s an eleventh commandment somewhere that says “Thou Shalt Not Kid Thy Self.”
If you’re serious about sexual integrity, you’ll distance yourself not only from the particular sexual sin you’re most prone to (fantasizing, pornography, affairs, prostitution) but you’ll ALSO distance yourself from any person or thing that entices you towards that sin. Sometimes, even a legitimate activity (certain movies, music or clubs, for example) may be OK for other people to indulge in, but not for you.
Get brutally honest about your lifestyle: anything in it that makes you prone to sexual sin has to go. “All things are lawful for me”, Paul said, “but not all things are edifying. I will not be brought under the power of anything.”
(I Corinthians 6:12)
Six: Get HELP
Sexual sins are often symptomatic of deeper emotional needs that a man is trying to satisfy in all the wrong ways. Repenting of the sin itself is necessary first step, but recognizing the conflicts or needs that led you into that behavior may be the next step, requiring some specialized care from a Christian professional.
Don’t hesitate to seek Godly counsel if you’re trapped in cycles of ongoing, out-of-control behavior. The answer you need may be more than just “pray and get over it!”. King David (who was no stranger to sexual sin, by the way) found refuge in Samuel’s wise mentoring. (I Samuel 19:18) If you’re willing to seek professional help for taxes, medical care or career counseling, surely you’ll be willing to do the same to maintain your sexual integrity.
Seven: Get COMFORTABLE
The problem of sexual temptation isn’t going anywhere. It’s been with us since time immemorial, and no doubt it will plague us until Christ comes. So get comfortable with the idea that you’ll need to manage your sexual desires throughout life, always remembering that your sexual integrity is but a part of the general life-long sanctification process all Christians
“I count myself not to have attained perfection”, Paul told the Philippians. “I am still not all I should be.” (Philippians 3: 12-13) So learn to love the process of pressing on, not perfection.
Eight: Get LOVE
“I’ve been looking for love in all the wrong places”, an old song laments. The sexual sin you’re drawn towards may indeed be a cheap (though intense) substitute for love. You can repent of the sin, but not of the need the sin represents. So get love in your life: friendships, family, spouse,
A man who truly loves, and knows he’s truly loved, is far less likely to search for what he already has in places he’ll never find it. “Why do you spend your money on that which is not bread, or your labor on that which cannot satisfy?”, Isaiah asked. (Isaiah 55:2) Learn to be intimate and authentic. It’s one of the best ways to protect your heart and your integrity.
Nine: Get GRACE
It isn’t the sinless man who makes it to the end; rather, it’s the man who’s learned to pick himself up after he stumbles. If you’re struggle seems relentless, remember this: when you commit yourself to sexual integrity, you commit yourself to a direction, not to perfection. You may stumble along the way – that’s no justification for sin, just a realistic view of life in this fallen world.
What determines the success or failure of an imperfect man is his willingness to pick himself up, confess his fault, and continue in the direction he committed himself to. Remember Paul’s approach: “Forgetting those things that are behind, I press on towards the mark of the high calling.” (Philippians 3: 14)
Ten: Get a LIFE
What’s your passion? What’s your calling? How clear are your goals? And, by the way, do you have any fun? The man who doesn’t have a life – a passion, a sense of meaning, an ability to play as hard as he works – is a man with an emptiness tailor-made for sexual sin.
Life is about more than keeping yourself sexually pure, as important as purity is. It’s about knowing who and why you are, where your priorities lie, and where you’re headed. If you don’t know that much about yourself, you have some serious thinking to do.
Commit yourself to developing your life as a good steward of your gifts and opportunities, and make that the context in which you seek to maintain your sexual integrity.
Sexual integrity for it’s own sake is a good thing; sexual integrity for the sake of a higher calling is better. So by all means turn from your sin.
But as you do, turn towards a goal-oriented, passionate, meaningful life. That is repentance in its truest, finest sense.
Written by Joe Dallas, 7/16/20 Originally posted at joedallas.com Used with permission 
Day has begun and I’m already sinning
Help me to change this heart that I have
Lord, help me taste of the grace that You’re giving.
I want to be a spiritual man.
-from “Let the Old Man Die” by Chuck Butler
An unclean habit is crazy powerful, easily adopted, and miserably hard to walk away from.
Ask anyone who’s gotten hooked on porn and tried to stop. Ask a smoker, drug abuser, gambler, or compulsive over-eater. When we discover something pleasurable, we repeat the experience, and eventually incorporate it.
Finally, God interrupts us, graciously, reminding us we’re not our own, but His. We repent, then commit ourselves to obedience to Him, and abstinence from habits that are outside His will.
That’s when the real fun starts.
New Sheriff In Town
If you’ve truly repented – “turned away from” – then what you used to allow is unacceptable, and abstaining from that “something” has become a new mandate.
But to say “God has called me to stop doing this” is also a way of saying “I’m committed to resist the desire to return to it.” Sometimes the desire is resisted successfully; sometimes not. When the desire is not resisted, and the person gives himself permission to indulge it, that’s when you’ve got a relapse. (Also known as “Blowing It.”)
Relapse happens when you return to a behavior you renounced. It’s often called “breaking sobriety” because it means you broke a commitment to abstain from something addictive. Some would also call it a backslide.
But whatever name the relapse rose goes by, it smells just as bad, and is a thing to be avoided, guarded against, but also prepared for. It’s somewhat like John’s interesting statement about sin:
These things I write unto you that you sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, the righteous.
–I John 2:1
Clearly John wasn’t saying it’s OK to sin. But he was saying that if you do, you have an advocate.
Likewise, when you commit to abstaining from porn, fornication, drunkenness or gluttony, you don’t by any means have to relapse. You can stay clean; there’s no reason to return to bondage.
But if you do return, you have an advocate with the Father who will cleanse and restore you.
Even so, you may wonder at such a time, “So what now?” So let me offer a few immediate steps to take if, God forbid, you do blow it again.
Decide now who’d you’d call if you relapsed,even if talking to anyone about it is the last thing you want to do.
After all, at a time like that you’re ashamed, frustrated with yourself, sick of this whole (expletive deleted) cycle of stops and starts.
I get it. Been there. That’s why I know that when you’ve just failed, you don’t want to talk about it. It will be embarrassing and a bit of a hassle.
But if you don’t, you’re likely to do what so many of us do after we mess up. We figure, “Oh, well, blew it again, might as well indulge a little more now that I’m dirty. Tomorrow I’ll get my act together.”
Tomorrow, always tomorrow. Which, of course, leads to more sin, more indulging, more wallowing in the mud.
Don’t go there. Let someone else in, quick, before your mind gets any more darkened and you (again) do something stupid.
Have you got an accountability partner or group? In most cases, that’s your best bet (By the way, if you’re committed to abstaining from an ongoing sexual sin in your life, accountability really is a must!)
But a trusted friend or member of your church is also be a good choice, or maybe a pastor or counselor. What matters is that you know who to call, and that you call him immediately. Tell him you relapsed, and that you’ll need his prayers and support. If you have a severe crises situation, meet with him ASAP.
A dark habit thrives in the dark. Don’t expect to get free from it unless you drag it into the light.
With the help of whoever you notify, figure out what went wrong.
Usually people relapse because they slacked off on their prayer life, scripture reading, fellowship or accountability. But there may be other reasons, so spend time exploring what you were doing before the relapse, what you could have done differently, and what you’ll do differently in the future to prevent this from happening again.
Human error is a terrific textbook. You may as well use it.
3. Move It!
Get back in the saddle immediately, because you’ll accomplish nothing by wallowing in grief.
Besides, if you don’t get started again, there’s a good chance you’ll yield to a deadlier sin than relapse: despair. Sin is something you can repent of, but despair? Yield to that, and you’re really in over your head.
Relapse is a temporary set-back; despair is the beginning of the end. I can’t count the number of men I’ve worked with got derailed, not by the power of sin in their life, but by the power of condemnation. Satan, in concert with their own sense of helplessness, convinced them there was a limit on God’s grace, and that walking in the light was an impossibility.
So rather than try and fail, they got sick of disappointment and opted instead to simply cave.
Don’t let that ever be said of you! Remember, the struggle between your flesh and your spirit (Galatians 5:17) difficult as it may get, is also proof of the new nature you have in Christ (II Corinthians 5:17) and of His ongoing work in you. (Philippians 1:6)
Let’s put this even more plainly: you struggle against sin not because you’re a filthy sinner who loves his sin, but because you’re a new creature in Christ who cannot be truly satisfied with his sin, so you keep struggling against it. (I John 3:9)
Please keep that in mind. Your struggle is not your curse, it’s your proof.
Watch Your Investment
You’re protecting a treasure when you guard your purity, so apply yourself to its longevity the way you’d protect a valuable antique or a piece of jewelry. Recognizing its worth, you work both to keep it, and to keep it in its best possible shape.
The freedom of godliness, likewise, is a purposeful, challenging, exciting way to live, and keeping the ball in play is worth all the blood, sweat and tears a committed athlete has to shed.
So come on, friend, it won’t be long now, just a few more laps. Then this mortal will put on immortality (I Corinthians 15:54) we’ll see Him face to face (I John 3:2) and you know what? We won’t even remember the misery of the struggle. Paul said it well:
Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared
for them that love him. (I Corinthians 2:9)
Written by Joe Dallas, 5/15/20 Originally posted at joedallas.com Used with permission 
Weird, isn’t it? You think you’ve got a good relationship, and suddenly you don’t. Worse, you’re also the bad guy, found guilty by a jury and sentenced by the Court, and you didn’t even know you were on trial.
Surprise! You were, and now you’ve been Baded.
That’s different than being Ghosted, which happens when someone vanishes from your life without explanation. But while Ghosting is usually about indifference, Bading is more about punishment, and passive punishment at that. When you’re Baded, someone doesn’t just bail on you. They also Bad you, pronouncing you Officially Bad without explanation.
Notice of your sentence doesn’t come quickly or clearly, but it comes. Your messages get blocked. Your texts aren’t returned. You leave voicemails in the Twilight Zone.
Finally, after you’ve knocked until your knuckles bleed, you’re coldly informed that you’ve done or said something which made someone uncomfortable, offended, appalled at your insensitivity, and needing to withdraw for their own health and safety.
“Wow. Can we talk about this?”
“Nope. Door’s closed. Depart from me, ye cursed.”
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Call it immaturity if you will, or gross entitlement, and you’re right on both counts. But I’d also call it the times. Armageddon and the mark of the Beast aren’t the only signs of the end, you know. Jesus also said in the last days love would grow cold. (Matthew 24:12) When that happens, Bading follows.
“Why’d You Bad Me?”
When someone wants affection and companionship, but isn’t willing to invest in the long-term give and take any healthy relationship requires, then he’ll Bad the other when things get rough. It’s a good excuse for bailing.
When someone doesn’t feel good about herself, and knows that when someone else gets close they may see the warts she’s so ashamed of, then she’ll Bad that person out of her life when authentic closeness is starting to happen. It’s a good excuse for hiding.
When someone isn’t sure he’s morally right, but chooses to ignore his own conscience, then he’ll Bad any friend or family member whose own life reminds him of the standards he’s trying to ignore. It’s a good excuse
That’s why lots of folks are breaking bad these days. Rather than work relationships through, they Bad someone when the relationship costs more than cuddles and laughs, moving on to someone else who’s good, until they, too, need to be Baded.
Please, Not Another “We’re All In This Together“
During this miserable shutdown, we’re constantly hearing we’re in it together and how it’s teaching us the value of our relationships. OK, fine. Let’s take that lesson to heart, then, by calling Bading bad, very bad.
Let’s agree that it’s bad to find more power in being offended than in showing grace.
Let’s agree that insisting we’re victimized every time someone disagrees with us is likewise bad, and childish to boot.
Let’s agree that taking a second look at ourselves before we impose a death sentence on a relationship is worth the discomfort. We may be seeing sins where they don’t exist; we may be inflating them beyond reason; we may even be seeing our own sins on someone else. So let’s agree that keeping our bonds intact makes it worthwhile to consider those
We’ve been shown grace, a fact which should make us all the more willing to show it. (Matthew 18:21-35) It pleases God when we do, and it’s in our own interest as well because, you’ll recall, He warned about this sort of thing:
“Bad not, that ye be not Baded. For with whatever measure you Bad others, you yourself will be Baded.”
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In the midst of addiction, our hope for freedom can be clouded by a loss of control, depression, and isolation. From personal experience, the light at the end of the tunnel becomes more and more dim as failure and shame build. While trapped in my addiction to pornography, I thought for years that freedom was unattainable.
My pride and desire for control lead me to think that I could fix myself. The harsh reality was that I couldn’t. But I sit here today, in this moment, with a new level of health and freedom. How did I finally get here?
“Freedom is not having the ability to do what you want to do, freedom is having the ability to do what you ought to do.” – Josh McDowell
First of all, let’s define “freedom,” specific to addiction. About a year and a half ago, when asked to define freedom by a few of the staff here at Josh McDowell Ministry, I thought a moment and replied, “Freedom is not struggling with temptation or sin.”
At the time, I really thought that was the goal I was supposed to be aiming for. It was certainly my personal goal in the first few months of my recovery. But I have come to realize that it’s not the right goal or definition, because it’s completely unrealistic.
Back then I expected that there would be a moment in my recovery where I would experience complete freedom — which would last the rest of my life. I thought freedom meant I would no longer struggle with lust, experience the temptation of sexual sin, or have to deal with the consequences of my sin. Now I understand that complete freedom isn’t possible here on earth, because of our inherent sinful nature. We still sin.
From my mindset of not struggling, I defined freedom through the lens of justification. Justification is a big theological term that means “to be declared righteous, or to be made right with God.”
5:18-19 tells us what Christ did for us: “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for fall men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.”
When Christ died on the cross, He took our sins upon himself. In His resurrection, He conquered that sin. Because of His gift of grace, we believers are justified, or declared righteous, when we surrender our lives to Him. Christ paid the price that we could never pay; we are fully forgiven, if we choose to accept it.
I think a much better definition of freedom is found in terms of sanctification. To be sanctified is “to be brought into the presence of God and to share in the life of His Son through the Holy Spirit.” That sounds intimidating, so let me break it down.
You and I have been brought into God’s presence by Christ’s death and resurrection on the cross. This is called adoption. With this adoption, we gain the gift of the Holy Spirit working in our lives. The Holy Spirit helps us in many ways, including convicting us and leading us toward repentance. When we repent and turn away from our sin, we become more like Christ. So sanctification is our growth toward a life that imitates Christ; a life of holiness.
In the same way, finding freedom is growth toward health. We find freedom in health. 1 Thessalonians 5:23 says, “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Full freedom isn’t possible because of our sinful nature, but we can gain health.
If we look at Josh’s definition — that “freedom is having the ability to do what you ought to do” — we get a better grasp of how to view freedom. If we are free to do what we ought to do, we remove the barriers that keep us from doing what we ought to do.
Freedom, or health, looks a lot like being connected to the life of God.
Christian counselor Michael Dye created an addiction recovery tool called the FASTER Scale. The scale identifies the stages people move through toward relapse, so they can see it coming and get proactive. The FASTER acronym stands for Forgetting Priorities, Anxiety, Speeding Up, Ticked Off, Exhausted, and Relapse.
The FASTER Scale focuses on restoration (accepting life on God’s terms, with trust, vulnerability, and gratitude). If we live in restoration, we live lives saturated with healthy relationships, vulnerability, intimacy, identifying and dealing with emotions, walking with the Spirit, and working through pain. These aspects create health, which produces freedom.
This freedom is based on connection with God and other people. No matter our state of health, we still experience temptation and sin. But if we are living in restoration and connection, our connectedness provides healthy ways of dealing with them.
Often, to gain health or freedom, we must go to what hurt us in the first place: people. We learn to cope as people closest to us hurt us. But this woundedness creates isolation and barriers that keep us from living in intimate connection with God and others. To break down those barriers and return to health, we must learn to trust others and experience the intimacy that God intends us to enjoy.
Can we really gain freedom and health? Yes!
Walking in Freedom
I have been finding freedom and health for the past two years. It is unbelievably fulfilling to walk in health, because it is how God created me to experience life. Has it been hard to find health? Yes, but incredibly worth it.
I found health primarily by returning to my identity in Christ. I had to identify the root of the problem — my belief that I was not enough — and to experience my worth in Christ. I have had to process the pain in my past, and experience who I am in Christ through relationships with others. I have learned how to trust others with my fears.
Freedom is found when we live in health. It is characterized by vulnerability, connected relationships, intimacy, walking with the spirit, identifying and dealing with emotions, working through pain, and experiencing our worth in Christ.
Freedom is returning to our identity in Christ. Freedom is being less bound to the sins that entrap us. It is not always constant; it fluctuates day-to-day as we walk with others and navigate our sin-soaked world. We won’t find full freedom from sin here on earth, but we can find freedom from addiction. This is the hope that I and other addicts have, that freedom and health are possible. Here. Now.
Christ came to redeem, and we cannot forget that. No matter the struggle, we have worth in and to Christ.
Your road to health may be hard, but take my word for it: your experiencing intimacy with the Lord and others, and being who you were created to be, will satisfy your soul. It has mine. That is God’s design. That is freedom.
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I love hearing the highlights of people’s lives, vacations, weekends, or even workdays. They are insights into people’s unique passions, joys, and personalities. In my two years traveling with Josh McDowell as his assistant, I experienced quite a few highlights.
But one event, in particular, still stands out to me: the Set Free Conference. There is an epidemic in the church today, and it all revolves around pornography.
Global Initiative to Expose Porn Addiction
Set Free, an initiative launched by Josh to educate, start conversation, and de-shame porn addiction, focused on a few major themes: What is pornography? What are its associated problems, consequences, and solutions? A global initiative, Set Free Conferences have been held in the U.S., Mexico, Argentina, Uruguay, and Singapore; attendees have heard from top speakers such as Dr. Donald Hilton, Jessica Harris, Ben Bennett, and Josh McDowell.
Why was Set Free the highlight of this two-year period? Because of the needed global conversation about the pornography epidemic — but also because of the response from attendees.
I’ve watched empowered pastors share excitement and become eager to teach what they’ve learned. I’ve seen moms and dads finally be able to understand their child’s struggle with porn. I’ve seen community leaders get fired up about starting recovery groups. And I’ve seen wounded, broken, humble people openly confess, through pouring tears, the porn addictions that have torn their lives apart.
The first two sections of the Set Free Conference were hard-hitters: the problem of porn, and its consequences. As attendees heard the mind-boggling stats and gut-wrenching repercussions, they were glued to the edge of their seats. As they learned that porn is the number one problem in the Church — globally — their reactions ranged from shock and anger to utter despair.
When we find the courage to talk about that which we deem to be dirty and uncomfortable, shame can be broken, movements can be started, and people can take the initial steps towards freedom.
The Problem of Porn
Our culture is so sexually saturated that porn is now included in top-selling books, advertising, and social media. We don’t even realize how many pornographic images we are exposed to daily, without our even trying to see them.
Christians are just as tempted as non-believers to view porn, which is why pastor Charles R. Swindoll has called pornography the greatest cancer in the history of the Church. As Josh adds, “It’s available, accessible, affordable, anonymous, appealing, aggressive, and addictive.” Porn is affecting the majority of families in every church around the globe. This epidemic is destroying families; it’s now the root cause of 56 percent of divorces.
So what is pornography? A general description is that it’s “that which is designed to arouse or sexually excite.” Porn is not juvenile and harmless, like too many people generally think. It is hardcore, graphic, and disgusting.
Porn addiction is biological, relational, and spiritual. Solutions must address each aspect for us to gain freedom.
Why is it an epidemic? I’ll share my personal experience. As I told readers in my last post, I have battled an addiction to porn that started well before my teens. I know how porn addiction distorts every part of a person’s life. I know the tangible consequences of the degradation of human life. I know the misery of living an isolated and disconnected life, and the hopelessness of addiction.
The reach of the porn industry is mind-boggling. One study found that porn sites receive more regular traffic than Netflix, Amazon, and Twitter combined each month. Porn now accounts for a third of all Internet traffic! More than 91 percent of men and 60 percent of women have reported consuming pornography in the past month.
But a lot of those viewers are young people, who got exposed to porn as early as eight years old! It’s just too easy to stumble on it on both cell phones and computers. In sharing my own story of woundedness, addiction, and journey toward freedom at the Set Free Conference, I’ve seen just how many young males — and increasingly young females — are struggling with addiction to porn.
This breaks Josh’s heart; this crippling addiction is not what God intends for us. Josh has spent the past decade researching the problem, consequences, and solutions to pornography. Here are just a few startling statistics:
- 79 percent of men and 76 percent of women, ages 18-30, view pornography at least once a month.
- 64 percent of young people, ages 13-24, actively seek out pornography.
- 57 percent of pastors admit they struggle with porn.
- 60-72 percent of men and 24-30 percent of women in the Church are sex addicts.
What these stats show is that our society has normalized porn. Research shows that teens and young adults consider failing to recycle more immoral than viewing pornography!
The Consequences of Porn
There’s a reason that sexual immorality is talked about so frequently in the Bible. 1 Corinthians 6:18 says, “Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.”
The consequences that pornography yields dismantle a person’s biological, spiritual, and relational self. Biologically, it rewires our brains, creating a lack of control, chemical dependency, and desensitization. Spiritually, it disconnects us from God. Isaiah 59:2 states that our iniquities have caused separation between us and God; that our sins have hidden His face from us. Viewing pornography is rooted in our lust and sexual immorality; it is adultery. It is sin, plain and simple.
In Ephesians 4:17-19, we can read that giving ourselves over to sensuality cuts us off from the life of God. Relationally, pornography causes guilt, shame, and isolation. When we isolate, we cut ourselves off from one of God’s greatest gifts, our brothers and sisters in Christ. One of the consequences of the epidemic of pornography is that it leads to a skewed perspective of how to treat others.
Pornography causes the belief that:
- It’s okay to use, abuse, or mistreat others for self-gratification.
- It’s okay to view and participate in the use, mistreatment, or abuse of a person.
- People can treat others with indifference.
- Pleasure guides principle, meaning sexual passion trumps moral objectives.
- A demonstrated lack of empathy toward others.
- Decreased interest in and/or declining performance in school and extracurricular activities.
- Sexual aggression, incest, and age-inappropriate relationships.
- Concentration problems, low motivation, depression, social anxiety, negative self-perceptions, and erectile dysfunction.
Sexual abuse is always a hot topic in the media. But it’s interesting to note how infrequently porn is cited as the source motivating that abuse. Check out the Porn Epidemic’s chapter on sexual harassment to learn more about sexual abuse and its tie to pornography.
Coming face-to-face with the reality of our sin should lead us not into isolation, but to the feet of our Heavenly Father. The weight of our sin is heavy, too heavy to bear alone. It is so easy to be caught up in the magnitude of this epidemic and lose hope. I have done so many times.
But the truth is, there is hope. 1 Peter 2:24 offers us good news: “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.”
It is easy to become discouraged in the shadow of a giant, but we can’t forget that we know the end of the story. Christ, the Son of God, took the form of a man to take our sins upon Himself. He died, but triumphantly rose to reunite us with our Heavenly Father. He offers us forgiveness and healing, if we are willing to place our trust and faith in Him. With His help, we can conquer any sin.
Hope motivated all the Set Free attendees who confessed their addiction for the first time. And there is hope in the midst of your child’s addition, your personal addiction, or those of your friends.
Porn is currently an epidemic. But no problem is bigger than God. I have hope in the power of His healing the world. Because I’ve witnessed it and experienced it. Have hope!
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For two years I traveled with Josh McDowell, helping to wake people up to the fact that pornography has become an epidemic in America — despite the fact that few seem to recognize the problem.
I know first-hand the devastation it causes, and how easy it is to become addicted and enslaved by shame. Here’s a bit of my story.
My Early Intro to Porn
I remember the moment like it was yesterday. I walked into the room at our youth group’s winter camp, only to be greeted by the tears of a good friend. It was sixth grade and I was 12 years old. He blurted, “I need to tell you something.” Before I knew it, he was spilling out a story all too familiar to my own: his deep struggle with pornography. I sat, shocked, as guilt and an enormous conviction flooded my soul.
I was first exposed to porn at just nine years old, but curiosity led me to seek it out when I was eleven. That unwise decision birthed an 11-year addiction that devastated that period of my life. For almost a decade, pornography became my source of intimacy, gratification, and acceptance.
When I was lonely, porn was my comfort. When I felt like a failure, porn gratified. When I felt like I was worthless, porn gave me a sense of worth.
My desire to be fully known and loved began to be satisfied by this counterfeit source. Porn was an escape into a pleasure-soaked world. I soon became emotionally withdrawn from family and friends, as shame and isolation grew within me.
Hiding My Shame
At church I was the pastor’s son; I looked like I had it all together. I learned all the right answers and how to perform for others’ acceptance. Opportunities arose for me to lead worship, small groups in my youth group, and even speak. Mentors and friends encouraged and complimented me, but their uplifting words filtered through my shame, diving me deeper into desolation.
I lied, ran, and hid in moments of vulnerability. Honestly, my life looked good, but the unrest of my double life tore me apart.
I heard at church and Christian seminars that if I confessed my sin to Jesus, and developed accountability with the guys around me, I would find freedom from my addiction. I tried this for years, confessing my sins over and over again with accountability that failed. This traumatizing cycle of guilt, confession, short periods of change, and relapse continued throughout my addiction.
As I repeatedly failed, the guilt of my failure moved to shame when I viewed myself as the failure. Rock bottom was a rude awakening in my junior year of college.
I had lost hope and was deeply depressed. Failure, worthlessness, and shame consumed my thoughts as I tried to keep my act together. On the morning of March 28, 2017, I finally reached out to the two people that I knew loved and cared about me more than anyone else, my parents.
I called home and confessed. And in that moment I experienced pure grace.
My parents spoke worth into who I was as a child of God — and as their son. That morning launched my process of finding health: cutting the supply of pornography, true repentance, true accountability, and counseling.
Finding healing has been one of the hardest journeys of my life. I struggle to use the term “freedom” because I struggle to believe that we can find true freedom from sin here on earth. That full freedom is what we look forward to when we are reunited with our Creator.
But I can say that I have found a new level of health, which consists of a life of no secrets, intimacy with God, processing emotions, and reaching out in relationships.
Do I still watch porn? No. But am I truly free? No. Because porn is not just a problem, it is a medication for an underlying problem.
We all medicate with something when we have desires that go unmet. Instead of healthily going to God and the people around me to be loved and known, fear drove me to a counterfeit. Through counseling, I realized that I was not just dealing with an addiction to pornography, but wounds of my past. Porn addicts are not perverts; they are hurting and looking for love, acceptance, and gratification in the wrong place. As my friend Ben Bennett says, “Unmet desires lead to unwanted behaviors.”
Leaning on Christ
There is much pain in my story. But that pain is nothing compared to the deep love of Christ. I can sit here today with the strong conviction that I am a beloved child of God, with immense worth to my Creator. That is cause to celebrate! Nothing compares to my intimacy with the Lord and the people around me. I hold strong to these two verses that my parents shared with me the morning I confessed my addiction:
John 16:33: “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
Romans 8:1: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
Pornography is wrecking our nation, our churches, our families, and us as individuals. It is undermining the very groundwork God put in place for people to relate in healthy intimacy. The global stats of this struggle are overwhelming, but there is hope, starting with the Church choosing to deal with this struggle directly.
As the Church, the bride of Christ, let’s start talking. Let’s normalize the topic of sexual addiction, which has been taboo for too long in the Church. Until we are willing to talk about this openly and compassionately, porn addicts will continue to hide in their shame.
I ask you: Is it the purpose of the Church to condemn — or to help lead captives to freedom? I believe Jesus came to show us that it’s the latter.