This article is based on an email that I sent to my Dad this year in January. The subject is not easy for me to share publicly but I think that it is healthy and biblical to do so (James 5:16)
In January I started waking up early in the mornings before work. In an attempt to become more disciplined and create better habits for personal and spiritual growth, my goals were to 1. spend more time reading the Bible and in prayer, 2. spend more time studying and learning things in general, and 3. work on the self-control aspect of the fruits of the spirit. I have made this type of resolution before when I actually tried following Benjamin Franklin’s 13 virtues. Needless to say, my discipline and self-control is still lacking.
My reason for making this type of effort time and time again is that I tend be very weak when it comes to self-control and I think that changing my habits will have practical and spiritual value. My biggest sin and vice is lust and the accompanying pornography. I was exposed to pornography at age 13 and have constantly struggled since then to rid it from my life. It is crazy to think that it has been nearly 17 years of life with porn. I hate it. So much. Porn warps the physical brain and steals my joy replacing it with guilt and shame. One does not need to be religious to understand the negative impacts of porn on both individuals and society at large. In fact, it is even being described as a Public Health Crisis as recognized by secular authorities and state legislation.
I have been praying that I start to live by the spirit and not by the flesh. Living by the flesh equals death and subservience to the Law (Romans 8). If normative ethical standards were to be evaluated based on what feels right or what comes naturally, then I would likely be doing nothing wrong. However, I do not base my standards on what feels right as this can be a subjective and dangerous way to live. I want to please the Lord of the universe. I want to live free in Christ but I have much guilt over my addiction to pornography.
I am baffled by my inability to exhibit self-control over my flesh on this specific issue. A regenerate and Holy Spirit filled Christian has all the faculties needed to break free of sin’s hold but I have not…
I often consider my failures in this area and wonder if I am allowing the Holy Spirit to do its work. Or if I have truly “repented” of my sin. Christ admonished his followers to forgive as we have been forgiven by him. In the parable of the unmerciful servant in Matthew chapter 18, he says to forgive our brother or sister 77 times when they sin against us. Unless I am mistaken, we should not take this language to mean that as soon as our brother sins against us 78 times we stop forgiving them. It means that we forgive with the expectation that they will not be perfect after they ask for forgiveness. This gives me the impression that God forgives us every time we repent which means that repentance is not complete perfection never to commit the same sin again but rather humility before God in admitting our failures while throwing ourselves upon his mercy. Yet, even as this gives me great hope, I am still not satisfied with my behavior. Maybe it should though. Maybe this is similar to Paul’s “thorn in my flesh”. He pleaded with God to take it away but he responded “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor. 12:9) I know that I have asked God to take away my lust time and time again to no avail. It is debatable whether Paul’s “thorn” was a physical ailment or something different but there is no denying that I am a weak and sinful person in constant need of his all sufficient grace.
I am striving for the kingdom of God and want to be like the tax collector in this Luke 18 parable by Jesus:
The Pharisee and the Tax Collector- 9 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Indeed, if I somehow defeated the power of pornography and lust through valiant effort and became prideful of my accomplishment and self-righteousness that whole endeavor would be vacant of any eternal value in God’s eyes according to Jesus. God hates the proud. (Proverbs 3:34; James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5) I do not believe the answer to this is to just give up on trying to get rid of this sin in my life. When I read Paul it becomes clear that Christ has a high calling in life for everyone who claims to follow him. We are to take up our cross and deny ourselves (Matthew 16:24).
I want victory and I believe that it is NOT God’s plan for me to continue living according the the flesh and sin. He does not want me to keep dishonoring my wife and women everywhere through my lustful thoughts. He has better things for me. I should be living in the power of Christ and that fact should be apparent to all. My faith is more than merely believing a set of tenets or doctrines. It has real and practical say in my behavior and demeanor toward life. It is sobering to me when Paul talks about those who are sexually immoral being excluded from the kingdom of God. I don’t want to be excluded! Paul was warning the Christian church not to be sexually immoral, not the heathens!
I am sick of serving myself. I am sick of being hypocritical. Lord please help me to change.
I will likely write more articles in the future related to this topic and my battle with it. In the meantime please pray for me and others who continue the battle privately.