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Posts tagged ‘strongholds’

THE SEARCH FOR FREEDOM: Demolishing Strongholds

(Adapted from the The Search for Freedom by Robert McGee)

Strongholds are those things which control us –they are compulsions.  Compulsions are those behaviors that we regret doing, but continue doing.  No matter how negative these behaviors are to us and no matter how we hate them, we still do them.  When we were very young, we developed patterns of responding to two worlds: our inner world and the outer world.  For most of us, the inner world of our thoughts, dreams, feelings, fears, and imagination is even more powerful than the outer world of people, places, and things.  As we move through each world, we encounter pain and pleasure.  Although we gravitate toward that which gives us pleasure, pain is usually a much greater motivator.  This is especially true of emotional pain.  The way we respond to emotional pain creates the most important behavioral patterns we have.  It is, in fact, these patterns that create the core relationship problems in our lives.  I can tell what I really believe by how I respond to life, not what I say I believe.  Here’s how the process usually works:

1) We are born and know little if anything about truth;  2) As we’re growing up, the people around us teach us what life is all about – Who I am, Who to trust, What’s good or bad, What I’m worth, What life and this world is all about…and so forth;  3) The things we are told become a system of beliefs upon which we evaluate all new incoming information accepted or rejected as we compare it with our basic beliefs (i.e., Basic Beliefs vs. New Information); 4) Our definition of “truth” becomes whatever it is that we have been taught, and our beliefs begin to dictate our behavior.  Then, as other people respond to our behavior, their responses tend to reinforce what we believe to be true.

In John 8:32, Jesus says, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”  Is it possible to hear truth and not be free?  Sure it is!  It’s not enough to intellectually know truth.  We must know the truth experientially as well.  Intellectual knowledge can become dangerous if it is not put into practice.  Many people think their intellectual knowledge of Scripture makes them more spiritually mature than others.  Yet such people are not always better off for all their so-called knowledge.

God’s Word can be profitable only as the Holy Spirit provides understanding.  Scriptural principles that are learned and applied apart from direct interaction with God may be worthless and perhaps even destructive. But when we include God in the learning process, He helps us know and experience the truth.

God makes it clear that freedom is possible if we only put what we know into practice.  Although strongholds exist and hold power over people, they are problems that can be overcome.

In 2 Cor 10:3-5, God’s promise is:  “Though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does.  The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world.  On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.  We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”

Contrasted against the ineffective weapons of this world, God’s weapons wield His power.  And because His power is infinitely stronger than the power of the flesh, only His weapons are capable of destroying strongholds.  These strongholds are so named because they are stronger than the flesh.  It takes a higher power to destroy them. The flesh is no match for the power of any spirit – God’s or otherwise.  Strongholds exist because of the influence of ungodly supernatural forces.  They can only be destroyed by God’s Spirit, Who is not only infinitely powerful but also is motivated by love.  God is Truth.  Satan is a liar.  As long as we believe Satan’s deceptions, we will not experience the freedom God intends for our lives.  We will live instead as slaves to the strongholds that are built upon false beliefs.  So many of the false beliefs we suffer from are negative messages we learned as children that continue to control us.  That’s why it is so essential to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Cor 10:5).  This is a key step.  It is one of those specific truths that must be experienced – not simply absorbed intellectually.  Spiritual maturity means consistently conforming one’s own thought life to the thoughts of God.

THE C.R.O.P. PROCESS – CONFESSION,  REPENTANCE,  OBEDIENCE,  PRAISE

Confession. To confess literally means “to agree with God.”  We need to agree with God that our strongholds are evil.  We need to acknowledge our sinful behavior as a major obstacle on our road to freedom.  True confession of sin is more than agreeing with God about the actuality of sin.  It must go beyond and help us to realize the reality of sin’s destructiveness.  Until we see evil for what it is, we will never understand the full depth of God’s forgiveness.  In addition to helping us see the destructiveness of our sin, confession helps us by revealing the connective ness of our sins.  We may confess the sin of lying, and God may show how the lying is connected to pride or a need to keep everyone pleased with our performance.  Our sins are usually connected to other sins.  If we allow God to show us the connections, we can clear out a network of evil from our lives.

With confession we are dependent on the Holy Spirit to show us: (1) our surface sins, (2) how each sin might be connected to other sins, and (3) the extent of destructive evil in our lives due to our sins.  Attempting to discern these things apart from the Holy Spirit will only lead into morbid introspection and the unveiling of hurts that will not be comforted.  The Holy Spirit knows exactly what and how much we are capable of handing.

Repentance. The concept of repentance is one of “turning back.”  Through repentance we turn from our self-willed approach to life and reestablish a face-to-face relationship with Jesus.  We often think repentance involves promising to do something to become more worthwhile to God.  By focusing on our performance, we miss out on what it really means to be in a relationship. When we truly relate to God, we can do no less than relate to Him as LORD.  We must accept His leadership and lordship in our lives through the Holy Spirit. Some of us find it hard to accept a complete yielding to God, especially those who have lived with great hurt in their lives.

Ironically, the more we need to control this yielding process, the less control we have.  Fear begins to rule because we feel if we lose control something bad will happen to us, something hurtful, so we refuse to yield to anyone – including God.

Trust is a precious commodity.  The Lord challenges us to: “Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him”  (Ps 34:8).  Through repentance we “turn back” the control of our lives to God.  He’s the only One capable of handling it without all the hurts and fears that would otherwise result.  Associated with repentance is reliance.  For too much of our lives, we have relied on the patterns of childhood.  We cannot be in a state where we are not reliant on something or someone.  We will rely either on the patterns of our flesh, or the guidance of the Spirit.  Scripture states this clearly in Galatians 5:16 when it says, “Walk by the Spirit and you will not carry out the desires of the flesh” (NAS).  Unfortunately, we often try to turn from something without turning to the God who can set us free.  Pray for the courage and exercise of faith that only God can give so that you can repent and rely on God.

Obedience. In the step of obedience, we need to turn our attention to God’s power.  By the time we discover strongholds in our lives, we also see that we are incapable of doing away with them using our own power.  If we are to discover what God can do through us, we must learn to respond to Him differently than we have in the past.  If we have failed to respond to Him, or have responded in wrong ways, we need to change how we relate to Him.  If our confession and repentance are genuine, we should see things from God’s perspective.  Obedience shouldn’t seem like an unpleasant alternative.  It’s a change of response that we should be more than willing to undertake.  If we have prepared through true confession and repentance, we have tapped into God’s power to confront the darkness of our souls.  Does this mean our battle against evil is won?  Not by a long shot!  That’s why obedience is such an important step.  Continued obedience results in continued victory.  But it’s easy to revert to our old, self-centered ways. When we seek to take back the control of our lives, we set ourselves up for failure.  Yet God is quick to forgive us when we see the error of our ways and turn back to Him.  When it comes to obedience, we can learn by trying even if we fail.  A far worse mistake is to refuse to change how we respond to God and fall back into the same patterns that have always controlled us.

Praise. We are commanded throughout Scripture to offer praise and give thanks to God.  Probably praise is the highest form of spiritual warfare.  After genuine confession, repentance, and obedience, praise is not optional – it’s automatic.  The first three steps will produce freedom from our strongholds and an overriding sense of freedom in our lives.  As we experience this freedom that only God can provide, our hearts will praise Him.

 

AN EXAMPLE OF HOW THE C R O P PROCESS WORKS  (With Bitterness) –

Confessing Bitterness. We need to pray that God will search our hearts and find anything that might be there which would trace back to bitterness.  As we yield to the illumination of the Holy Spirit, we might recall events we have not thought of in years.  Allow the Holy Spirit to bring the truth to light.  It’s also important not to argue with the Spirit when such things are revealed.  Our first instinct will be to defend our actions.  Often, we give ourselves permission to react in destructive ways – rebellion, drug use, sexual activity, withdrawal, self-will, or passivity.  Things such as these can be connected to bitterness, and we need to deal with each stronghold.  Ask the Holy Spirit to show you how these responses have destroyed or limited your life.  Take your time.  Unless you experience with God what these improper responses have done to your life, you will not be ready to go forward.  When God says you have seen enough and you have confessed these things, then you are ready to go to the next step.

Repenting of Bitterness. Bitterness and its related behaviors are the products of a self-willed life.  The thought of living any other way will be frightening.  You may have heard about, talked about, and sung about the lordship of Christ for most of your life.  But at this stage, when you actually begin to experience it, you may experience a sensation of death within your soul.  You are, in fact, putting to death your old ways of responding to life.  This will feel uncomfortable and frightening at first.  As we repent and turn back toward God, there will be an awesomeness about the experience.  We clearly see who we are only by first seeing clearly who He is.

Obedience as a Replacement for Bitterness. Much of our behavior is not what it should be due to the bitterness we have harbored for so long.  God has shown us the problem areas and we have repented of them by agreeing that they are wrong and seeing the extent of their destructive influence.  But now we have to replace each of those errant behaviors with obedience to God.  In some cases, we already know what we’re supposed to do.  In other instances, however, we might need to continue to search God’s Word and seek His will for how to stop being so bitter.  Again, take your time.  God does not reveal problems without also revealing solutions.  As we begin to conform to His will in the ways we know how, we will begin to see what we need to do in the other areas as well.  It is through obedience that you see God’s complete power over the stronghold of bitterness.

Praise for Victory over Bitterness. The struggle against bitterness has been a long and difficult one, even with God’s help.  It has taken time and energy to see the extent of the effects of bitterness in your life.  It has been painful to repent of each of these things.  Replacing improper behaviors with godly ones has taken a lot of effort as well.  When you experience release from the devastating weight of bitterness, joy will fill your soul.  Praise will flow from your lips.  This newfound feeling of freedom will affect everything you do.  You don’t have to understand it.  You can’t understand it.  Just enjoy it and appreciate it.  “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil 4:6-7).

PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER –

Going through the C.R.O.P. process will be difficult at first.  But as you begin to use the steps of Confession, Repentance, Obedience, and Praise on a regular basis, the process won’t seem nearly as cumbersome.  Since you are following the same pattern, you’ll quickly become accustomed to going through the steps.  When handled correctly, these steps are weapons.  No stronghold – not even Satan himself – can stand against them.  Strongholds can only be formed when you let a problem go unattended for a long period of time.  When you were younger, you didn’t know any better.  Your strongholds took advantage of your childhood patterns, your fears, and your desire to avoid pain at any price.  Now that you can see things a bit more clearly, you can eliminate those strongholds.  They will try to come back.  However, you will have destroyed the power of Satan in those stronghold areas.  So as long as you continue to draw on God’s power to face down your strongholds, they should never regain control.

AVOIDING COMMON FAILURES AND SETBACKS –

“I’ve tried this before, and it didn’t work for me.”

Some people don’t give it a chance.  These doubts are what Scripture calls “fiery darts” or “flaming arrows” (Eph 6:16, NAS).  Go back through the process and see where you may have gone about it in an ineffective manner.

“My case is worse than other people’s.  God can’t fix me.”

This excuse limits God’s power.  You will remain in bondage if you think God is not strong enough or willing enough to set you free.

I’m afraid.  What happens if I try and fail?”

Many people continue to do nothing because they fear the solution won’t work.  What do you have to lose?  It’s as if one has lost most hope of getting well and isn’t willing to risk the little that remains.  As long as you do nothing, you can hope your problem will go away by itself.  The thinking is if I try something else and fail, the little hope I have will be lost.  However, without overcoming this passivity by taking some kind of action in God’s power, the problem will never go away.  Indeed, it will only get stronger and harder to deal with.  If we direct the little bit of faith we have toward God, He will provide us with “immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” (Eph 3:20).

“I don’t want the responsibility of freedom.”

While some people are afraid of seeking freedom and not succeeding, others are reluctant to risk freedom because they fear they will succeed.  They realize their strongholds are a prison, yet they’ve learned to cope with them.  They now know their way around. The pain is intense, but they are managing it…so far, at lease.  They may even realize that it’s a fairly sick way to operate, but it’s gotten them this far, hasn’t it?  It scares them to consider change.  If they become free of this stronghold, what will happen? The thought of freedom is just too scary.

“I gave it a shot, but forget it.  I quit!”

Some people simply quit too soon.  The pain generated by trying to break free seems too much for them.  Jut when they get to a breakthrough point, they give up.  Quitting before acquiring freedom makes it very difficult for a person to attempt the C.R.O.P. process again.  Patience and perseverance are required to get all the way through.

The Process of Developing a Life-Controlling Problem

SOURCE:  Living Free

John and Becky are 50-year-olds who attend church every Sunday and on Wednesday evenings. To look at them on Sunday morning, it would seem they are a happy Christian couple; however, the police know their address very well. During the last two years, they have become regular visitors to this home.

There are two life-controlling problems in this home.

John has uncontrolled anger, and Becky, though frequently physically and verbally abused, covers for his violent behavior because she believes it is the Christian thing to do. This violent behavior and unhealthy cover-up have gradually worsened over the years. John, who was abused by his father when he was a child, has been abusing his wife for years, but it has escalated to the point where her wounds can no longer be covered up.

These mastering problems have not only trapped John and Becky, but because they have been covered up and not dealt with, their children have also been caught in this web of pain.

A life-controlling problem is anything that masters (or controls) a person’s life. Many terms have been used to describe life-controlling problems. Someone may speak of a dependency, a compulsive behavior, or an addiction. In 2 Corinthians 10:4, the Apostle Paul uses the word stronghold to describe an area of sin that has become a part of our lifestyle when he writes that there is divine power to demolish strongholds.

The easiest life-controlling problems to identify are harmful habits like drug or alcohol use, eating disorders, sexual addictions, gambling, tobacco use, and the like. Life-controlling problems can also include harmful feelings like anger and fear. The word addiction or dependency can refer to the use of a substance (like food, alcohol, legal and/or illegal drugs, etc.,), or it can refer to the practice of a behavior (like shoplifting, gambling, use of pornography, compulsive spending, TV watching, etc.). It can also involve a relationship with another person. We call those relationships co-dependencies.

The Apostle Paul talks about life-controlling problems in terms of our being slaves to this behavior or dependency that masters us. He writes in Romans 6:14, Sin shall not be your master. In 1 Corinthians 6:12b, he says, Everything is permissible for me ‘ but I will not be mastered by anything [or anyone]. According to 2 Peter 2:19b, A man is a slave to whatever has mastered him. Anything that becomes the center of a person’s life if allowed to continue will become master of that life.

Because we live in a world today that can be described as an addictive society, most people are affected in some way by a life-controlling problem — their own or someone else’s. Everyone has the potential of being mastered by a life-controlling problem. No one plans for it to happen, but without warning, an individual (and those who care about him) can be pulled into the downward spiral of a stronghold.

Addictions and Idols

Idolatry leads to addiction. When we follow idols, a choice has been made to look to a substance, behavior, or relationship for solutions that can be provided only by God. We have a felt need to serve a supreme being; if we choose not to serve God, we will choose an idol to which we will become enslaved. Jeffrey VanVonderen says:

Anything besides God to which we turn, positive or negative, in order to find life, value, and meaning is idolatry: money, property, jewels, sex, clothes, church buildings, educational degrees, anything! Because of Christ’s performance on the cross, life, value, and purpose are available to us in gift form only. Anything we do, positive or negative, to earn that which is life by our own performance is idolatrous: robbing a bank, cheating on our spouse, people-pleasing, swindling our employer, attending church, giving 10 percent, playing the organ for twenty years, anything!

Following idols, which leads to addictions, prevents us from serving and loving God freely. All kinds of substance and behavioral dependencies lead to enslavement because everyone who makes sinful choices is a candidate for slavery to sin (see John 8:34). Jesus states in John 8:32 that the truth will set you free. God spoke to Moses in Exodus 20:3, You shall have no other gods before me. Sin, when unconfessed, strains the relationship with God that is meant to be enjoyed by the believer (see Proverbs 28:13; Jonah 2:8).

A very controversial question arises: Is an addiction a sin or a disease?

Those who believe addictions are sin point to the acts of the sinful nature which include a substance (drunkenness) and behavioral (sexual immorality) problem in Galatians 5:19-21. Another reference to the sinfulness of addictions is 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 which shows that a definite change occurred in the lives of the Corinthian Christians: And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

Those who believe addictions (particularly alcoholism and other chemical dependencies) are a disease state the characteristics are progressive, primary, chronic, and fatal. In the latter stages, the victims are incapable of helping themselves because there is a loss of control and choice. In the 1950s the American Medical Association voted approval of the disease concept of alcohol dependence. The term disease means deviation from a state of health (Minirth, 57).

When sin and addiction are compared, they show similar characteristics. Both are self-centered versus God-centered and cause people to live in a state of deception. Sin and addiction lead people to irresponsible behavior, including the use of various defenses to cover up their ungodly actions. Sin and addiction are progressive; people get worse if there is not an intervention. Jesus healed the man at the pool of Bethesda and later saw him at the temple. Jesus warned him about the progressiveness of sin: See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you (John 5:14). Sin is primary in that it is the root cause of evil. Sin produces sinners as alcohol causes alcoholism. Sin is also chronic if not dealt with effectively. Finally, sin is fatal with death being the end result.

Although addictions do have the characteristics of a disease, I must stand with the authority of God’s Word as it pronounces various addictions as being a part of the sinful nature (see 1 Corinthians 6:9-11; Galatians 5:19-21). They are sinful because God has been voided as the source of the solution to life’s needs, and these choices often develop into a disease. A noted Christian psychiatrist says:

Physiologically, of course, some people are more prone to alcoholism than others, even after one drink. And often guilt drives them to more and more drinking. But then some people also have more of a struggle with greed, lust, smoking, anger, or overeating than others. Failure to contend with all of these is still sin (Minirth, 57-58).

Anything that becomes the center of one’s life, if allowed to continue, will become the master of life. If God is not the center of a person’s life, that person will probably turn to a substance, behavior, or another person for focus and meaning. David describes his enemy in Psalm 52 as one who did not make God his stronghold but trusted in his great wealth and grew strong by destroying others (v7).

The young, rich ruler described in the gospels (see Matthew 19:16-29; Mark 10:17-30; Luke 18:18-30) came to Jesus asking how to receive eternal life. When Jesus told him he would have to sell everything he had, give it to the poor, and follow him, the young man went away sad. This rich man’s stronghold was the love of money. Everybody, not only the rich, must guard against this greater love of the rich young man. Paul writes: People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs (1 Timothy 6:9-10).

This stronghold, the love of money, is the root cause of most addictions that plague our society. Although alcohol is a major cause of deaths, sicknesses, broken families, and relationships, it continues to be advertised with marketing strategies which appeal even to America’s high school and elementary-aged children. The demand for cocaine and other substances would soon cease if there were no profits to be made. Sexual addictions are fed by an $8 billion industry of pornographic materials, appealing television commercials, and provocative movies. Compulsive gambling is fed by state-run lotteries. I wonder how much the love of money contributes to eating disorders. Many young women starve themselves to sickness and even death because of a greedy society that promotes an unhealthy thinness as beauty through media appeal and modeling agencies.

As the creation of God, each of us has a need to be dependent. There is a vacuum in the heart of every human since the fall of Adam and Eve that can be filled only by Christ. After our first parents disobeyed God, they immediately recognized their nakedness. Without God’s covering, they hid themselves from the Lord God among the trees of the garden (Genesis 3:8). They soon learned they could not escape from God.

Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there (Psalm 139:7-8).

It is interesting that Adam and Eve hid among the trees. They hid there because of guilt. Idols, which are false gods, can also become hiding places. Isaiah writes: for we have made a lie our refuge and falsehood [or false gods] our hiding place (28:15).

In a life where Christ is not the focus, a person is likely to center attention on a substance, behavior, or another person which will eventually become a god to them. David recognized the need to have God as his tower of strength.

The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation. He is my stronghold, my refuge and my savior from violent men you save me (2 Samuel 22:2-3).

The disease concept of addictions should be approached with caution. Assigning addictive substances and behaviors to the disease model tends to overlook the sinful nature of mankind. Although it is popular to label every stronghold as a disease, the Church must warmly care for those caught in the web of deception with ongoing support. It takes more than a pat on the back to cure them of their stronghold. Sinful choices develop into lifestyles that are self-centered and destructive. The fall of man puts us all in need of recovery.

How the Trap Works
Addictions and dependencies generally fall into three categories: substance addictions, behavior addictions, and relationship (interaction) addictions.

1. Substance addictions (the use of substances taking control of our lives)

  • Drugs/chemicals
  • Food (eating disorders)
  • Alcohol Other addictive substances

2. Behavior addictions (the practice of behaviors taking control of our lives)

  • Gambling
  • Compulsive spending
  • Use of pornography/other sexual addiction
  • Love of money
  • Sports
  • Other addictive behavior

3. Relationship (interaction) addictions (You may have heard a relationship problem like this referred to as co-dependency. )

Everyone has the potential of experiencing one or more of these life-controlling problems at some time. Maybe you find yourself already involved in an addiction or another problem behavior that has taken over your life. Sometimes it is hard to identify a life-controlling problem.

Here are some questions that may help in that process:

Is my behavior practiced in secret?
Can it meet the test of openness or do I hide it from family and friends?
Does this behavior pull me away from my commitment to Christ?
Does it express Christian love?
Is this behavior used to escape feelings?
Does this behavior have a negative effect on myself or others?

These questions help us identify problems that have reached (or are in danger of reaching) the point of becoming life-controlling problems.

The next step is to look at the ways these behaviors and dependencies tend to progress in a person’s life. Researchers have identified a pattern that follows some very predictable steps. Most people get involved with an addiction to receive a feeling of euphoria. Alcohol or other drugs, sex, pornographic literature, gambling, and so forth, produce a temporary high or euphoria.

Vernon E. Johnson, the founder and president emeritus of the Johnson Institute in Minneapolis, has observed (without trying to prove any theory) literally thousands of alcoholics, their families, and other people surrounding them . . . we came up with the discovery that alcoholics showed certain specific conditions with a remarkable consistency. Dr. Johnson uses a feeling chart to illustrate how alcoholism follows an emotional pattern. He identifies four phases: (1) learns mood swing, (2) seeks mood swing, (3) harmful dependency, (4) using to feel normal. Many of the observations made by Dr. Johnson and others, including myself, can also be related to other types of dependencies although the terminology may differ.

We call it the “Trap” because it often snares its victims before they realize what is really happening.

Every person has the potential of experiencing a life-controlling problem. No one is automatically exempt. Even though no one plans to be trapped by such a problem, it can happen without a person’s even being aware.

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Material from Understanding the Times and Knowing What to Do
Copyright © 1991, 1997 by Turning Point Ministries
All Rights Reserved

Habitual Sins & Failures — The Ones That Won’t Go Away

SOURCE:  /Ligonier Ministries

How Should Christians Handle Besetting Sins?

One of the great Christian classics is a devotional booklet written by Saint Thomas à Kempis called  The Imitation of Christ.

In that book he talks about the struggle that so many Christians have with habits that are sinful.

He says that the struggle for sanctification is often so difficult and the victories that we achieve seem to be so few and far between, that even in the lives of the greatest saints, there were few who were able to overcome habitual patterns. We’re talking about people who overeat and have these kinds of temptations, not those who are enslaved to gross and heinous sin. Now Thomas à Kempis’s words are not sacred Scripture, but he gives us wisdom from the life of a great saint.

The author of Hebrews says that we are called to resist the sin that so easily besets us and that we are admonished and exhorted simply to try harder to overcome these sins. You say, How do we escape these pockets of sin that we have such great struggles with, that we have an honest and heartfelt desire not to commit? If the desire not to do it is really honest and penetrates the heart, we’re 90 percent home. In fact, we shouldn’t be locked into something.

The reason we continue with these pockets of repeated sins is because we have a heartfelt desire to continue them, not because we have a heartfelt desire to stop them. I wonder how honest our commitment is to quit. There’s a tendency for us to kid ourselves about this anytime we embrace a pet sin. We need to face the fact that we commit the sin because we want to do that sin more than we want to obey Christ at that moment. That doesn’t mean that we have no desire to escape from it, but the level of our desire vacillates. It’s easy to go on a diet after a banquet; it’s hard to stay on a diet if you haven’t eaten all day. That’s what happens particularly with habitual sins that involve physical or sensual appetites. The ebb and flow of the desire is augmented and diminished. It increases and fades. Our resolve to repent is great when our appetites have been satiated, but when they’re not, we have a growing attraction to practice whatever the particular sins may be.

I think what we have to do is first of all be honest about the fact that we really have a conflict of interest between what we want to do and what God wants us to do. I think we have to feed our souls with the Word of God so that we can get what God wants us to do clear in our mind and then build a strong desire to obey.

Temptation: Is There Any Way To NOT Fall?

SOURCE:  Charles F. Stanley/InTouch

WHEN TEMPTATION KNOCKS

What makes a person successful at resisting temptation?

I believe the best way to discover how to overcome temptation is to look to the One who dealt with every temptation successfully and consistently. The writer of Hebrews wrote of Christ: “For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15).

Since Jesus successfully overcame temptation, we would do well to study His strategy for dealing with it. Unfortunately, we have only one clear passage of Scripture describing Christ’s encounter with temptation. We know from the passage in Hebrews cited above that He was tempted more often than this, but the Holy Spirit chose not to include these in the gospels.

Strangely enough, Jesus’ approach is so straightforward and simple that many believers tend to overlook it entirely. Others, after hearing it, make the most ridiculous excuses as to why they can’t follow His example.

What was His strategy?

After 40 days of fasting in the desert, Jesus used Scripture—and only Scripture—to resist Satan’s temptation (Matt. 4:1-11). This is hard for me to comprehend. The Son of God—the One who knows all things and has the power to do all things, the One whose words we study, memorize, and meditate on—never made an original comment during the entire interaction.

He never drew on His own wit. He never relied on His own power. He simply responded with the truth of God’s Word. That’s all it took. Nothing fancy. Just the plain truth directed at the deception behind each of Satan’s requests. Jesus verbally confronted Satan with the truth, and eventually Satan gave up and left.

There are four primary reasons why a well-chosen passage or verse of Scripture is so effective against temptation.

First of all, God’s Word exposes the sinfulness of what you are being tempted to do. One of Satan’s subtle snares is to convince you that sin is really not so bad after all. God’s Word allows you to see things for what they really are.

A second reason the Word of God is so effective against temptation is that you gain God’s viewpoint through it. Since many temptations carry a strong emotional punch, you tend to get caught up in your feelings. Once you identify with the feelings temptation evokes, it becomes increasingly difficult to respond correctly. The truth of Scripture allows you to separate yourself just far enough mentally to deal with it successfully.

Another reason for turning to God’s Word in times of temptation is what one pastor calls “the principle of displacement“.1 This principle is based on the premise that it is impossible not to think about a seductive topic unless you turn your attention elsewhere. When you turn your thoughts to the Word of God during temptation, you do just that (Phil. 4:8).

If you don’t shift your attention away from the temptation, you may begin some form of mental dialogue: I really shouldn’t. But I haven’t done this in a long time. I am really going to hate myself later. Why not? I’ve already blown it. I’ll do it just this once, and tomorrow I’ll start over. When you allow these little discussions to begin, you’re sunk. The longer you talk, the more time the temptation has to settle into your emotions and will.

The fourth reason the Word of God is so effective against temptation is that you are expressing faith when you turn your attention to His Word. You are saying, “I believe God is able to get me through this; I believe He is mightier than the power of sin, my flesh, and Satan himself.” Nothing moves God like the active faith of His people.

To effectively combat the onslaughts of the enemy, you need an arsenal of verses on the tip of your tongue—verses so familiar, they come to mind without any conscious effort on your part. If you have to dig them up from the caverns of your memory, they will do you no good. There isn’t time for that in the midst of temptation.

Begin memorizing Scriptures that address the area that troubles you the most. Quote them audibly when you are tempted. When you speak the truth out loud, it’s as if you have taken a stand with God against the enemy. When I do this, I often feel a sense of courage and conviction sweeping over me.

Remember, if the perfect, sinless, sovereign Son of God relied on Scripture to pull Him through, what hope do you have without it?

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Adapted from “Winning the War Within: Facing Trials, Temptations and Inner Struggles by Charles F. Stanley, 1988.

1. Bud Palmberg, “Private Sins of Public Ministry,” Leadership magazine (Winter 1988)

The Choice: Denial, Delusion, or Truth

SOURCE:  Living Free/Dan Strickland/Jimmy Ray Lee

“If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.” 1 John 1:8-10 NIV

When a life-controlling problem has trapped people, they become deluded by the lies they tell to cover up their problem.

Denial is the refusal to believe the truth about one’s own actions. People in denial know what they are doing is wrong, but they refuse to admit the truth. Instead, they choose to rationalize their behavior. Continued denial leads to delusion, a condition where people no longer recognize the truth about their actions. They believe their own excuses and become blind to the truth. They cannot see the destruction they are causing to themselves and those around them.

After a stronghold has developed, the delusion that blinds the person becomes difficult to penetrate. Dr. Jimmy Ray Lee puts it this way: “Delusion is not seeing, recognizing, or acting in truth.”

Is someone you care about living in delusion? It is important to lovingly and patiently continue to confront the person’s delusion and never give up—even when it seems the effort is not producing results.

Keep on loving him or her. Give them honest feedback about how their choices are hurting themselves and people who care about them. Pray that the Holy Spirit will reveal the truth and give them grace to face the truth about themselves and recognize their need for change.

Father, I pray that my loved one will see himself as he really is. Help him recognize his need for change. And I pray that the Holy Spirit will also reveal the truth to me about anything I am denying in my life. Give me the grace to face the truth about myself. In Jesus’ name . . .

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These thoughts were drawn from …

 Living Free by Jimmy Ray Lee, D. Min. and Dan Strickland, M. Div.

When looking for porn…begin in the heart

SOURCE:  Rick Thomas/Counseling Solutions

Where would you look to locate the primary problem with pornography?

In our culture?

Are you tempted to initially react to the sensual realities of our culture? You should react! You should be concerned! But when you address the porn problem, are you more inclined to begin the discussion with the prevalent, pervasive, cultural, immodesty issues?

Granted it should be part of the discussion. Certainly it is right to walk our wives and daughters through how to dress modestly. It is wise to teach them how to help guard the hearts of their male friends, by dressing in an appropriate manner.

However, the way they dress should not be the starting point in the pornography discussion.

Out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks. – Luke 6:45

Jesus began the discussion regarding behavioral sins like porn, not with the behavior, but with the heart. In the quote above Jesus tied the behavior (tongue speech) to the heart. He placed the source or the genesis of our sin problems in the heart rather than on the lip.

Matters of the heart

A man’s struggle with pornography does not begin in his culture, but in his mind. Paul appealed to us to make sure we “renew the spirit of our minds” before we put on a new behavior (Ephesians. 4:22-24).

If we do not first attack our physical sin issues at the level of our minds, we will set ourselves up for the very real possibility of that sin reappearing. If we do not put the axe to the root of the tree then there will be sprigs, then limbs, and possibly full-blown branches reappearing.

And along with the ongoing, recurring behavioral sin problem of porn, there will be the real possibility of compounded frustration, anger, hopelessness, and even less faith to attack the behavioral pornography problem.

Responding to sin primarily at the level of the behavior will not ultimately work and will lead a person toward despair. All sin, including pornography, must be rooted out where it began. Find the source and you have positioned yourself for God’s empowering grace to extract the sin.

Pornography begins in the heart. Awareness of this truth brings hope. If a man believed the root of his porn problem was in his culture then he would set himself up as a potential victim of his culture and possibly controlled by his culture.

He would be at the mercy of his culture. He would be a victim, always reacting to his culture-how women dressed or not dressed. His energy, time, and focus would be spent guarding the wrong door.

Granted, porn in our world should be guarded, but that’s not the main door. There is no hope in being a victim. However, if a man believed his wicked heart was the main problem, then there would be hope because he could apply God’s grace, repent of his sin, and live in the good of God’s Gospel.

At that point he would be positioned for strength in the battle against lust. He can’t repent of his culture. He can’t make the women of our world dress the way he thinks is right, but he can repent of the sin in his heart.

The real issue

Porn is not primarily about breasts and bottoms. There most certainly is a physical attraction for men regarding the opposite sex. God made us to desire women and in a biblical sense we should be attracted to the opposite sex. However, because of original sin what was intended as love can easily darken to lust.

I’m not downplaying or ignoring the temptations that come with immodest women and physical attraction. I’m not saying she has no responsibility in the matter. However, what I want you to see is that if you are experiencing lust, then the source of your lust does not begin with the lady’s breasts or backside.

It begins in your heart. If you are lusting after another woman then you need to address what is going on in your heart first.

I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. – Matthew 5:28 (ESV)

In my years of counseling, the overwhelming external sin issue among men has been pornography. It rarely matters what their reason is for seeking counsel.

If they come with marriage issues, financial problems, kid problems, depression, anger, alcohol, bitterness, or any other problem it is not unusual there is the complicating problem of porn.

Porn is pandemic in our Christian culture

Part of the reason it is so prevalent is due to the ubiquitous expansion of the Internet. But the primary reason for porn addiction is because we live in a world of weary, frustrated, insecure, and angry men who slip into pornography because it is easy for the mind to be lured away.

But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. – James 1:14 (ESV)

It is a private way of bringing temporary pleasure to oneself. Typically, it is despairing men looking for an escape and porn is a practical way to get away for a few minutes.

The theater of the mind

Though there is gratification in the behavioral experience of porn, it does go much deeper than the external benefit and instant gratification. Porn not only finds its source in the mind, but there is pleasure to be found there as well.

Porn is a private theater for the mind. Porn is motivating! It is where the insecure and frustrated man can beking for a day–in his own mind. The porn addict is in control when he enters his porn world, which is usually a far cry from the lack of control he has in his real world.

He can make the cyber ladies meet his desires. It is the one place in his life where he is in total control. He controls their speech. He controls their thoughts, particularly their thoughts about him. He controls their actions. He controls their responses to him.

He twists the script in such a way to be affirmed, applauded, and appreciated. The script writer enjoys his one-man show and when he is satisfied he closes the act with a brief moment of physical gratification.

In a real world where things don’t turn out as positive and where people don’t necessarily like him, the ladies of the Internet do like him–in the theater of his mind, where they fawn all over him. There is not only instant pleasure, but there is instant victory.

  • He wins.
  • He’s good.

And he feels good about himself–for a few minutes, just before he re-enters the real world where he lives with marital disappointment, disruptive kids, an over-bearing boss, an unforgiving world, and a host of other problems he can’t seem to control.

Porn becomes his quickie, self-made escape. Like the pot smoker of the 60′s–he takes a little trip, only to return to a hopeless world.

The controller is controlled

His continual foray into the cyber porn world creates another problem too. It is like a drug. It’s addictive.

Once upon a time in the theater of the mind, the addict was in control. He used to decide when he was going on his little escape adventure. But after several such adventures of lust, his heart began to have a “mind of its own.”

That which he used to control now controls him. He is now an addict and his addiction has its roots twisted around his heart.

There was a time when he determined when he wanted his fix, but now the fix wants him. It calls. It knocks. It crouches at the door, waiting to pounce. It blitzes his mind and overpowers him.

His wife runs an errand to the store. The temptation overtakes him. It comes before she’s out the door. He waits. She leaves. Now it’s his time!

Maybe he has some downtime in his frenetic, un-affirming world and he feels the heat rising in his mind. He’s being allured to the computer. The girls are calling. They want him. He gives in. It’s got him! He did it again, but this is the last time, he says.

Porn negates the Gospel

Porn-addictive-thinking is void of the Gospel. The Gospel is Jesus Christ going to His death in order to save people from themselves. This is God’s grandest expression of love and affection for any of us. Our sin needed to be satisfied and the satisfaction came when Christ paid the debt.

Yielding to porn negates this truth. A man’s porn pursuit begins when the Gospel no longer satisfies. He wants something else, something more. Living in God’s pleasure is not enough.

The Gospel is God’s clearest message of His affection, love, care, and concern for us. When we think about the cross of Christ, we are reminded there is no length God wouldn’t go in order to rescue our perishing souls.

Because the death of Christ is an infinite expression of His great love, if the Gospel is rightly applied to your life, then there is a lessening need to make yourself feel better about yourself through man-centered methods, like porn. The Gospel shrinks our cravings for man-centered affections, love, and affirmation.

Christ becomes the “escape” for the Gospelized man or woman.

  • Do you want to change your reality? Fling yourself on the cross.
  • Do you feel alone? Live in the daily realities of the cross.
  • Do you feel isolated? Abide hard by the cross of Christ.

The cross is your escape. Living in the good of the Gospel is your victory. This must be your starting point. Remind yourself daily of what Christ did for you, how He went through death to save you (Hebrews 2:14-15). If your world is challenging and you are tempted to find a brief respite in the midst of the chaos, then let me suggest a respite.

It’s Christ. Preach the Gospel to yourself today. Right now! Ask your friends to push you toward Adam’s tree. Memorize Philippians 2:5-11. Study this text. Learn of your Savior and what He did for you. Express gratitude for His great affection for you. Learn it. Live it. Enjoy it.

While there is no magic or silver bullet in the Philippians text, the idea conveyed in that text can be life-changing. The problem with the person addicted to porn is his affections are drawn away from Christ.

The person addicted to porn has a worship disorder, to where his affections are under the control of someone else other than Christ. The solution for such a person is found in Philippians 2:5-11 as well as other texts.

While that text is made up of words, the idea of the text is life-changing. We must have the mind of Christ, not the mind of this world. Begin the heart cure at this moment.

The heart cure is reminding yourself no matter how difficult your situation is, God loves you. He cares for you. “How do you know that?” That’s easy. The cross of Christ informs your thinking here.

When I am reminded of what He did for me then I know I’m not alone. God is for me, not against me. This is Gospel-informed thinking that will have an effect on your behavior.

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? – Romans 8:31-32 (ESV)

Don’t fight the fight alone

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. –Galatians 6:1-2

As you repent of your self-focused heart cravings by informing your mind of the realities of the Gospel, as understood by the Word of God, another way you can keep from going at this alone is by adding external accountability into your life.

I have recommended through the years Covenant Eyes. Covenant Eyes is a very capable and non-cumbersome software program that allows another friend to have a report of all your Internet traffic for the week.

With Covenant Eyes you can fight the very real battle of being wooed to your computer to take a peek. Let others help you. Let others fulfill the law of Christ. Allow another person into your secret world of porn addiction. Once you do that then the battle is well on the way to defeat.

God gives grace to the humble (James 4:6).

Lastly, I exhort you to go to your local church. Talk to a trusted friend in the context of your local church. Let them into your world. Ask for their help. It would be their joy to come alongside you to help you walk through the entangling web of porn addiction.

How Can I Stay “Christian” in the Midst of Temptation?

SOURCE:  Jonathan Parnell/Desiring God

Joy Comes to the Rescue

Your heart matters. It really, really matters.

The heart, after all, is the “noble faculty of the soul,” as John Flavel explains in his 1668 publication now titled, Keeping the Heart. Most generally, the heart refers to the inner man, and most importantly, a person’s everlasting state depends upon its condition.

Writing in a style more practical than sliced bread, Flavel exhorts Christians to give their hearts upmost attention.

Be diligent in heart-work, he says, which eventually translates into two things: 1) preserve the soul from sin; and 2) maintain sweet communion with God (18). Said another way, repent and believe; or mortify and vivify; or put off and put on. This work is “one great business of a Christian’s life.”

The Hour of Temptation

After stating his case and laying a strong foundation, Flavel rolls up his sleeves to describe specific seasons in life that require our upmost care in this keeping labor. The ninth “season” is the hour of temptation, and this is where it gets wild.

How does Flavel urge Christians to stay Christian in the midst of temptation?

Answer: pleasure.

His advice begins with our understanding the nature of sin.

He writes, “Satan suggests that there is pleasure to be enjoyed; the temptation is presented with a smiling aspect and an enticing voice” (89). Flavel goes on to mimic this enticing voice that rebukes the Christian for being so dull. Temptation is full of name-calling, you know. Oh come on! You’re not like that, are you? Are you so boring that you can’t have a little fun? And a thousand other lies.

Reader, Be Rescued

As if placing his hands on our shoulders, Flavel writes: “Reader, you may be rescued from the danger of such temptations by repelling the proposal of pleasure.” See what Flavel did here: we avoid the danger of temptation by repelling its proposal of pleasure. And how we repel temptation’s proposal of pleasure is by clinging to the hope of a greater pleasure.

Flavel again:

But why should the pretended pleasure of sin allure you, when you know that unspeakably more real pleasure will arise from the mortification than can arise from the commission of sin? Will you prefer the gratification of some unhallowed passion, with the deadly poison which it will leave behind, to that sacred pleasure which arises from fearing and obeying God, complying with the dictates of conscience, and maintaining inward peace? (90)

For Maximum Joy

There is a greater pleasure than the empty-promise of sin.

It is “that sacred pleasure,” as Flavel calls it. It is the life of fearing and obeying God, of believing the truth that God himself is enough, satisfying our deepest desires. And the only way, John Piper explains, to defeat the power of sin’s promise is with the power of this superior promise. The crux of temptation, then, is the object of our faith: Do we trust in the lies of sin? Or in the sufficiency of Jesus? This is the fight of faith, as John Piper writes,

Faith is not content with “fleeting pleasures” [see Hebrews 11:24–26]. It is ravenous for joy. And the Word of God says, “In your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11). So faith will not be sidetracked into sin. It will not give up so easily in its quest for maximum joy. . . .

Our chief enemy is the lie that says sin will make our future happier. Our chief weapon is the truth that says God will make our future happier. And faith is the victory that overcomes the lie, because faith is satisfied with God. (Future Grace, 335, 336)

Keeping our hearts means giving ourselves over and over again to “that sacred pleasure.”

It’s when, in that moment of temptation, real joy comes to the rescue.

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