This weekend I ran into an old high school friend who I hadn’t seen in six or seven years. We were leaders in the same youth group and were pretty close for several years. We stood there and caught up for a few minutes, and of course the conversation largely stayed at the surface level. He told me about his career, showed me pictures of his incredibly cute kids, stuff like that. He’s doing really well.
Then out of the blue he said, "You know, I almost lost my marriage a few months ago."
I’m sure my eyes were the size of saucers. He explained: "It’s because I struggled with pornography for more than 10 years. It almost destroyed my life."
He told me the story of how he hit bottom about six months ago, and how since then God has been doing an incredible work in his life. You could see it in his eyes. They’re clear now. He looks relieved, like 10 tons have been lifted off of his back. He’s happy. He’s humble. And he’s completely in love with Jesus.
Recently it seems like a lot of people in my life have had similar stories, and it’s caused me to ask a lot of questions. How someone who was such a strong Christian, a leader, find himself in a situation where he’s living a double life for more than a decade? How can I keep myself from falling into the same trap? I know many people who have found themselves so wrapped up in sexual sin that they can’t even think straight. They slowly sink further and further into it.
It suffocates and blinds them. They begin to lose their lives without even realizing it. Next thing they know, it all comes to the surface—it always does—and many of them lose their marriages, their jobs, their ministries. But how did it get to that point? How can we keep ourselves from going the same path—not just with pornography, but with any sort of sin that slowly dulls us to the Lord? Pride, greed, deceit, apathy?
The first thing I’ve learned is that we must understand sin is a matter of the spirit, not just the mind. We were programmed to be drawn to things that will make us happy. God designed us for pleasure; He wants us to enjoy ourselves. But we were designed to find the ultimate pleasure in Him. Satan knows this and tries to lure us away from Him with pleasures of this world. And yes, they are nice … for a time. But ultimately, they will leave us empty, guilty and desperate, and with a massive void in our hearts that cannot be filled. The key is finding that ravishing pleasure in God and not in the sin. How do we do that? By realizing how God sees us—and extravagantly loves us.
Mike Bickle, author of Passion For Jesus and one of my heroes in the faith, teaches that our love of God can be sincere even if it is immature. The key is sincerely wanting to please the Lord and always living your life in that pursuit. You will fail. But the closer to God you draw, the more like Him you become.
I believe a weak lover of God can be a genuine lover of God. Look at David. Here is a man that was weak. There were times God told him to do something and he went the other direction. He gave into sexual desires. There are at least 10-15 times in the Bible that he majorly sinned. And you know that if that many were written, there had to be even more.
Yet, he was "a man after God’s own heart." More than almost anyone else, I believe he understood God’s incredible love for him, and he had confidence in that. Even in his weakness, he was pursuing God. In Psalm 27:4 David wrote, "One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple." (NIV)
Even in his weakness David was seeking God. When we sin, we must run to God rather than away from Him. Think about it: God made us and knows us completely. There is nothing about us—our strengths, weaknesses, personality—that He doesn’t know. If we struggle with lying, He knows it. And He extravagantly loves us in spite of it. If we lie, why would we hide ourselves in shame from Him? He already knew that the lie was in our hearts—what He wants is us to be near Him, because the closer we are to Him the more we know Him. And the more we know Him, the more like Him we become. And then the negative aspects of our nature are washed away with His new nature in us.
I believe that when we sin we have a tendency to run from God because we’re afraid we let Him down. But when we begin to understand just how much He truly loves us—and how that love will never waver—there is no fear of rejection in the relationship. We have no reason to hide. (Read 1 John 4:18.)
The other key I’ve learned to not falling prey to sin in your life is more of a practical nature. Stay away from the temptation. If it’s pornography, unplug the TV, throw the magazines away and get the computer out of the house. Break the cycle. (Or don’t allow yourself to take the first step.) If you know you have a weakness in something, don’t allow yourself the liberty of going near it. We’re human. Like a moth to the flame, we’re drawn to sin.
But when we understand that the flame of pleasure we’re drawn to is nothing more than a candle flicker in comparison to God’s roaring sun, our perspective begins to change. Instead of immersing ourselves with thoughts of our temptations, even trying to abstain from them, we begin to turn our focus on God. Rather than beating ourselves up to say "no" to the sin, we simply turn our attention to Him and say "yes."
We begin to think about Him all the time. We play worship music. We talk about Him. We read the Word. We surround ourselves with like-minded people who are passionately in love with Him. We pray. We realize we’re not alone.
No longer do we live in the shadows, having a secret double-life that no one knows about. Instead, we step out into the full light of God’s love for us and run to Him with open arms. And we never lose sight of Him.