All scripture is from the ESV translation unless otherwise noted.
Friday, November 28, 2014
Note: I wrote this in June and it was posted on pureHOPE's website (purehope.net), the ministry I was working for this summer. I have decided to post it now here.
If you have attended church for any period of time, you have probably heard the concept of grace talked about and sung about, but more likely than not, you have never heard it explained with any depth.
Imagine you are in a courtroom. You have been indicted for a crime and are prepared to spend 20 years in prison serving out your sentence for, after all, that would be justice, and maintaining justice is the purpose of the legal system. But suppose an innocent man were to walk into the room and offer to take the penalty for your crime upon himself, free of charge. That would be grace. Grace is unmerited favor that one shows to another. It’s what God demonstrated on the cross, as depicted in Romans 5:8. “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Although we were spiritually dead and deserving of eternal separation from God because of our sin, God lavished us in grace by taking this penalty upon himself.
This is a beautiful truth, an understanding of which should strike awe and reverence, but does grasping the concept of grace matter beyond that? Certainly. When you look at Scripture, you actually see that the effect of not understanding this concept is polarizing. Let me explain.
A failure to understand grace can be drastic on two ends, depending on which boat you are in. If you are caught in sin, it will lead to shame. If you are walking in holiness, it will lead to pride.
Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
His grace is greater than your sin. The message of the gospel is that we have all messed up, but Jesus knew all your sins before you even committed them and still decided to give His life up for you. If you have trusted in Jesus for your salvation, you are a child of the one true King. Your Father desires intimacy with you. Refuse to believe the lie that He feels disdain towards you because of your sin. Be freed from shame.
1 Corinthians 15:10
But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.
If you are walking in the light and in holiness, praise Him. Remember where you were when He saved you, and praise Him for where you are now. “The ground is level at the foot of the cross.” We all come to Him dirty, so whatever cleanliness you wear is only His righteous garments covering you. A failure to understand that whatever likeness we bear to Him is a result of His grace will ultimately result in pride and self-worship, which stands in direct contrast to the worship of God in spirit and truth that He desires (see John 4:23-24).
Meditate on this truth. Think about it often. Press deeper into the character of God and pray that He would give you a deeper understanding of your need for Him in all seasons of life.
Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.”
Sunday, June 15, 2014
I graduated from Texas A&M a little over a month ago, and this September I will begin a yearlong residency at the Austin Stone, a church that started in Austin, Texas about 15 years ago. The road that got me here was a long one, but full of joy. For more information on how I got here, what my hopes for this job are, and how you can partner with me, click the "Where I Am Now: Austin Stone Institute" tab on the right side under "Pages", or click the link below. Thanks!
Where I Am Now: Austin Stone Institute
Where I Am Now: Austin Stone Institute
Sunday, February 23, 2014
Verses marked with a “ * “ can be found at the end of the blog.
God’s first command to humans occurs in Genesis 1:28 – “Be fruitful and multiply.” Sex is one of the most blessed gifts that God has given to us, yet it has been grotesquely twisted in so many ways. Why? One of the biggest reasons is that no one talks about it. We put a 10 year old in a car and say, “Go!” with no further instruction and are surprised when the kid hurts himself and others. As a result of our society’s instructional lapse people are left to figure out how to handle their sexuality on their own and of course, given how broken we are, it often gets completely distorted. I wrote this blog because I used to be a slave to pornography, one of the most potent distortions of sex that exists, and I want to elevate the name of God through the redemption he has brought me and encourage all my brothers and sisters in Christ by sharing what God has taught me through this about man’s struggle with pornography and also how that applies to our battle against sin in general.
Struggling vs. Practicing Defined
I had my first exposure to pornography in 4th grade and for the next six years Ipracticed the sin. Jesus saved me at the end of my sophomore year of high school and for the next three years this sin was something I struggled with. Before getting saved I would sin and if I cared at all it was only because I knew it would upset the people that cared about me. After getting saved I would sin and, because I now had a relationship with God, my sin would grieve me. I’d want to repent and turn back to my Father (godly grief leads to repentance – 2 Corinthians 7:10). It was a struggle.
This begs the question, “Can I be a Christian and practice the sin of pornography (or any other sin, for that matter)?” No. You cannot. 1 John 3:9 says, ““No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God's seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God.” Can you commit the sin frequently and struggle with it deeply? YES. YES. YES. You will sin if you are following Jesus (1 John 1:8-10*), but if you have the Holy Spirit dwelling inside of you (all Christians do – John 14:16-17*) you will feel conviction about your sin and desire to repent and return to God. If you claim to be a Christian but practice sin unrepentantly, I beg you to ask if you’ve truly been saved.
For the three years that I struggled with the sin I struggled hard. At times I tried to leave but I always found myself back in front of the computer screen, giving me the feeling that this would be something that I would wrestle with for the rest of my life. But right before my sophomore year of college started, that all changed (more detail on this later in the blog). I boast in the grace and power of Jesus that it has been over two and a half years since I last indulged in the sin of pornography.
The Foundation: Know Christ
Before we go any further, I want to say this. If you are not a Christian, this post will be of no use to you. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says that if “anyone is in Christ he is a new creation. The old has passed away, behold, the new has come.” If you don’t know Christ you are a slave to sin (John 8:34*). No human effort can break these chains. I implore you to consider the truth of the good news of Jesus Christ.
You are a broken sinner, deserving of eternal separation from God because of your sin because he is holy. God became a man by sending his only Son in the flesh to live a perfect life and die on the cross to take the penalty for your sins. He died the death that you deserved! But it doesn’t end there – then he rose from the grave signifying that he had defeated death, and now those who believe in him and accept his death as payment for their sins have victory over death (eternal life in heaven) and will be adopted into his family and be able to serve him here on earth.
If you’re reading this and realized that you’ve never believed this but want to, please tell me or someone else you know who is following Jesus. We would love to talk to you about it. Through Christ is there freedom from sin and I want you to know him. If you have believed this, praise God! I hope this post will bless you and encourage you in your walk with Jesus.
For the rest of this post I want to break down biblically and experientially three things that I have learned that are absolutely necessary for you to have any hope at finding freedom from any sin that so greatly entangles you.
**Disclaimer - To be a Christian is to have a relationship with God. Please don’t look at this as a religious formula to take away the sin in your life. My desire is that these steps will guide you into deeper intimacy with him and help equip you in your walk.
The first thing is understanding and holding on to the implications that Jesus’ sinless life, death, and his resurrection have in regards to the warfare we engage in daily as Christians against sin.
15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6 We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. 7 For one who has died has been set free from sin.
These two passages, the former communicating the implications of Jesus’ sinless life and the latter doing likewise for his death and resurrection, give us strong theological grounds to have hope for victory in our battle against sin.
The passage from Hebrews 4 shows us that Jesus was indeed tempted greatly while on earth. Even the night before he was crucified he faced the temptation to not lay his life down for the sins of the world (see Matthew 26:36-46), but out of submission to the will of the Father he did so. Praise God. Some paint the picture that Jesus walked around with a holy bubble that sin couldn’t penetrate, which is false. Jesus wasn’t sinless because he was our Savior; he was our Savior because he was sinless.
The Romans 6 passage shows us that if Jesus wasn’t killed and then raised from the dead physically, then our “old self” can’t be killed and we can’t be raised spiritually to “walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4). Christianity is not a religion of moral improvement so our ultimate hope is not that by following Jesus we would just sin less frequently but that as we walk with him he cleanses us from all our sins (1 John 1:7*). He has broken your chains and enabled you to walk out of your jail cell and be free (Galatians 5:1*). You must understand this.
The second is that you must find your joy in Christ and Christ alone.
God makes this truth evident to us in his word in Psalm 51, which David wrote after he committed adultery with Bathsheba (please read Psalm 51 here - http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Psalm%2051&version=ESV). How many times does David mention sexual sin? Zero. Why? Because David understood a fundamental truth that you too must grasp – adultery isn’t the problem, it’s a symptom of it. The problem is the fact that we choose to find joy in ourselves and in our desires before God. In one of the most monumental verses in the Bible (vs. 12) David pleads, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.” He essentially says, “Allow me to experience the joy of knowing you and give me the ability and the will to serve you, because that’s the problem I have. My committing adultery with Bathsheba was a result of the fact that I don’t find my joy in you. If I had not tried to find my joy in her I simply would’ve found it in someone or something else not named ‘I AM.’” The key to leaving your sin is to desire God and find your joy in him above all else. There’s an old quote that says, “How do you dislodge something from the heart that the heart finds so beautiful? You replace it with something more beautiful.”
The third necessity is that you make war against your sin. I list this last for a reason: you can commit all your energy to abstaining from sin but if you don’t believe that God is able and aren’t striving to find your joy in him alone, it is all for naught.
I said earlier that my deep struggle with pornography changed right before my sophomore year of college. To be more specific, it was at a retreat I went on at the beginning of August 2011. I was talking with a friend and asked him what God had been teaching him lately. He told me, “God doesn’t care about our earthy accomplishments here. He doesn’t care how much money we make or what kind of car we have. He cares about our relationship with him and how that relationship manifests itself in our relationship with others.” This broke me.
See, if ever there was a sin that ran more rampant through my life than pornography addiction it was video game addiction. I have spent countless hours laboring away on my Xbox, trying to find fulfillment and joy in something created. What God said to me through this was, “Jack, I don’t care what level you are in Call of Duty. I don’t care how good you are at FIFA. When you see me on judgment day that will not be the question I ask you. I will ask, ‘1) What did you do with the gifts I gave you and 2) how did you treat the people I put in your life?’ (see Matthew 25:14-30 and Matthew 25:31-46, respectively). I realized that I wanted to be able to tell him, “I strived to live my life for your glory by your grace. I made my utmost goal to glorify you and to love the people around me well.” And then I would hear from my Creator, “Well done, good and faithful servant (Matthew 25:23).” I came home from the retreat and sold all my video games, signifying that from that day on I wanted to put God first in my life - that I wanted to find my joy in him and him alone. It should come as no surprise that soon after making that decision my desire to look at porn began fading away.
Do you understand what I’m getting at here? The problem in my life was not porn. It was not even video games. For you, the problem isn’t your abuse of alcohol. The problem isn’t your love of money. The problem isn’t your desire for the praise of man. The problem is sin, the same problem that David had. Our fallen nature as humans leads us to naturally desire that which God hates not only more than what God loves, but also more than God himself. To get to the point where you desire God more than sin or to maintain that desire if you’re already there will require all out war that is fueled by the power of the Holy Spirit through repentant faith in Jesus Christ.
Making War in Scripture
While I have shared with you how making war with my sin has pruned me well, I also want to encourage you with some Scripture that speaks of the importance of this fight. Some peoples’ solution to sin is to pray for deliverance from the sin but then go on doing whatever they want throughout the day and think that they will just magically start hating their sin. I want to show you exactly how Scripture contradicts this mindset. Praying is absolutely necessary (as I will speak of later), but you must, by the grace of God, labor if you desire to see any real change in your life.
First set of verses: There is a war
Romans 7:22-23 – 22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.
James 4:1 - What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you?
Then the dragon became furious with the woman and went off to make war on the rest of her offspring, on those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus.
Second set of verses: We must fight in the war
Romans 6:12-14 – 12 Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. 13 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. 14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.
1 Timothy 6:12 - Fight the good fight of the faith.
Galatians 5:1 - For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
Romans 8:13 - For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.
The Christian life was never meant to be a passive one. Do not present your members to sin. Fight the good fight. Stand firm. Put to death the deeds of the body. Make war.
Making War in Practice
Now that I have shown you the fruit of one strategic move that I made in battle and presented scriptures that support why making war is necessary biblically, I want to expound on what this looks like practically on a day-to-day basis. When I speak of making war I mean actively doing things that will stir your affections for God and dwindle your affections for sin and eliminating activities that dwindle your affections for God and stir your affections for sin. Only by making war will you be able to maintain a greater desire for God than for sin. I see this incredibly clearly in my own story. I stepped on the battlefield the day I sold my Xbox. That was the day I said, “I’m ready to fight”, but that was merely the start. Because I had such a deep-seated love for gaming, the step that I took was very powerful. However, had I decided that one strategic advancement to be enough I would not be writing this blog. Shortly after, I tasted freedom from those desires but that freedom would have been temporary had I not began making war daily.
Here are five explicit ways I made/make war on a regular basis.
1) Praying daily
Prayer is how we speak to the Creator and its importance cannot be understated! Developing a prayer life is crucial to deepening intimacy with God. I wake up in the morning and before I talk to anyone, check my phone, etc., I spend time talking to God. I praise him for who he is, thank him for his blessings, confess my sins to him and ask for forgiveness, intercede on behalf of others, and pray for my heart and other areas of my life.
2) Reading the Bible daily
Oh, that those who claim to follow Jesus would give a hoot about his revelation of himself! Why don’t you obey him? Because you don’t love him (John 14:15*). Why don’t you love him? Because you know so little about him. The Almighty and Living God has revealed himself to man through the Bible yet his words sit on our bedside table and gather dust while we grow in conformity to the rest of the world. Making a daily practice of reading the Bible is absolutely crucial for anyone who wants to remain set apart from the world for the glory of God.
Whenever a brother confesses to me that he has sinned by looking at pornography recently, the first question I ask him is, “Have you been spending much time reading, studying, and meditating on the Word?” The vast majority of the time the answer is no. Perhaps they were in a good habit, but as their time spent with the Lord began to decrease, their desire for sin began to increase. The quote, “This book will keep you from sin, or sin will keep you from this book,” comes to mind (referring to the Bible).
3) Intentionally memorizing scripture
I could write an entire blog post on this section alone. Chuck Swindoll wrote, “I know of no other single practice in the Christian life more rewarding, practically speaking, than memorizing Scripture. . . No other single exercise pays greater spiritual dividends! Your prayer life will be strengthened. Your witnessing will be sharper and much more effective. Your attitudes and outlook will begin to change. Your mind will become alert and observant. Your confidence and assurance will be enhanced. Your faith will be solidified.”
In this video, John Piper gives six reasons why we should memorize scripture. It’s incredibly powerful and only four minutes long so go check it out! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ww5Ko3byaKQ
In my personal life, I make habit of memorizing scripture regularly. I set goals every week. Some weeks it's a few random verses. Some weeks I’ll memorize sections of scripture (2 Corinthians 5:17-21*, for example, is one of my favorite “sections” that I’ve memorized). Sometimes I’ll block off a certain time period and strive to memorize entire chapters, or even a book (did 1 John this past summer!). I say this to be an encouragement to you all, not to glorify myself. This discipline has been of great profit to my walk with Jesus and my desire is to see you grow as well.
Another practical example of how this discipline along with the discipline of prayer have benefitted me is that I was struggling heavily with spiritual pride last semester and so I started to pray regularly against this and asked for prayer from many people. I also memorized 1 Corinthians 1:26-31* and began reciting that in my head to help keep me humble, and it has worked! Had I passively just hoped for healing in this area, I’d surely still be wrestling deeply with it.
If you are battling porn, memorization of this verse will behoove you greatly:
1 Corinthians 10:13
No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.
4) Have accountability
I want to correct a flaw about many people’s understanding of accountability, which is that you need to have someone who calls you on the regular simply to ask you, “When was the last time you looked at porn?”
Don’t picture a purple elephant in your head.
Did you just picture a purple elephant? Probably. When you are always dwelling so much on not looking at porn, those lustful thoughts will likely stay present in your head. Now, I am not saying that they should not ask you this question at all, but here is what the questions should look like: “Have you been seeking joy in the Lord regularly? What has that looked like? Are you reading your Bible daily? What have you been reading? What has God been teaching you through this?” Find someone of the same gender who will encourage you in your faith, not just discourage you away from sin.
The second part of this accountability is that you need people praying for you. 1 John 5:16 reads, “If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life.” Get others to pray for you in your battle against sin. It will prove to be instrumental in your deliverance.
5) Pursuing holiness and separation from the world
Or, as I phrased it earlier, “eliminating activities that dwindle your affections for God.” Observe your life. Do you listen to the music, watch the TV shows, and converse about the things that God hates? Since I decided to take care to what I expose myself to I have seen my love for God and the things of God grow exponentially. Why? Because I don’t have messages glorifying the distortion of sex, the abuse of alcohol, and the idolization of money running through my head (nearly as frequently) throughout the day. What the world deems good, God often hates.
1 John 2:15-17
15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. 17 And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.
It is my desire that you are encouraged by these five practical applications and adapt these into your own life, in hope that you too will be able to understand the pleasure of knowing God in a way that you haven’t before.
A wise man once told me, “One swipe at the root is worth 1,000 at the branches.” These five facets of making war are all focused on the root, but there still is something to be said about making war at the branches level.
In regards to porn:
In Matthew 5 when Jesus is talking about lust he says, “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away… If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away.” If he were to address us now about lust I have a feeling he’d say, “If your phone causes you to sin, disable the Internet!” or something to that end. Accountability software will be of great help to eliminate the greatest avenues for access (your phone and computer). I’d recommend Covenant Eyes (covenanteyes.com) or X3watch (x3watch.com).
In regards to other sin:
If you struggle with video game addiction, get rid of them (as I spoke of earlier).
If you struggle with alcoholism, don’t drink alcohol. At all.
If you struggle with love of money, maybe you need to give more away for the sake of the Kingdom.
I could go on and on, but the idea is this: do your best to eliminate the opportunity for sin. That’s making war at the branches level. I relate this to swiping at the branches because if your resolve to sin is strong enough, you can find porn (or alcohol, etc.). It is a heart issue. I will buy someone a Bible before I’d ever buy them web blockers.
Why Does it Matter?
Much of this blog has been focused on how to defeat pornography, but I recognize that many of you may not see why this is important. I’ll tell you why this is not just important as a follower of Christ, but absolutely necessary if you want to be effective in your ministry.
God created sex to be the most intimate interaction between humans, and when used in the right context it is beautiful. In the same vein, how potent is the ruin that comes with the misuse of sex! Pornography will distort your perception of beauty and your view of what sex is meant to be like, bring innumerable problems to any romantic relationship that you try to have with someone, and will surely hinder your ability to experience any depth of intimacy with God (Isaiah 59:2*). It follows that your ministry will be affected because with a lack of spiritual intimacy with God comes a lack of spiritual effectiveness in ministry (it’s hard to tell people about the power of Jesus when you yourself are living in rejection to his power).
I beg you to consider the ramifications of this sin and let them not discourage you because of your past failures, but encourage you towards holiness in the future.
Some of you are reading this and love the idea of being free from the weight of your sin but you have absolutely no hope. You have believed the lie that your sin (pornography, alcoholism, depression, anger, or love of money, to name a few possibilities) will be with you for the rest of your life. You are utterly convinced. I am writing this as a man who was addicted to pornography for nine years and thought exactly what you’re thinking. I was sure that I was going to bring it into my marriage. But God delivered me two and a half years ago. Hallelujah. I’m praying for your chains to be broken tonight by the power of God. Believe his promise in 1 John 1:7 – “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.”
The tomb is empty. He conquered sin and death and now reigns on the throne of grace. That victory is yours if you believe.
Final Note of Encouragement
Everything I have exhorted you to do in this blog is directly contrary to the flesh. That’s not a coincidence; there is nothing easy about pursuing intimacy with God. In fact, it would be impossible to run the race with endurance if not for the help of his Holy Spirit. God dwells inside of you, if you’re a believer, and he wants intimacy with you far more than you want it with him. These two truths should be of great comfort to you.
Lastly, know that whatever it costs you to fight in this war, the reward is far greater. Jesus is worthy.
Pray with me.
I love you, but I also love my sin. My passions are at war within me. I want to know you and serve you most of the time but too often I believe the false promises that sin offers me, and I forsake you. I can’t do this on my own. I need your help. I need look no further than the cross to know that you are for me. Do a work in me that only you can do. Give me grace to fight the good fight. Please. I pray this in faith and expectation, and in the name of your Son, Jesus Christ.
1 John 1:8-10
8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, 17 even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.
Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.
1 John 1:7
But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.”
For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
1 Corinthians 1:26-31
26 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 30 And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
If you love me, you will keep my commandments.
2 Corinthians 5:17-21
17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. 18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.