Sixty-Eight Percent!

“Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Look to yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:1-2, NRSV).

Written by Steven Barto B.S., Psy.

IF I WERE TO TELL you there is a malady affecting sixty-eight percent of Christian men, would you not want to hear about it? Further, would you be concerned that this issue prevents Christians from being filled with the Holy Spirit? Without a Spirit-filled life, a Christian cannot flow in the peace and power of God; only the Holy Spirit can produce the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23). Essentially, the Holy Spirit is a flowing spring of pure, satisfying, and refreshing spiritual water. Impure thoughts and images cause this vital living water to be contaminated. Our thought life largely determines the kind of spiritual water flowing within our soul at any given moment.

68% of men and 30% of women who consider themselves Christian view pornography on a consistent basis!

Terry Cu-unjieng of Conquer Series says a national survey among churches conducted over the past five years revealed that 68 percent of Christian men and 50 percent of pastors view pornography regularly. Worse, boys age 11 to 17 reported being its greatest users (1). Morgan Lee of Christianity Today (2) says most pastors have struggled with pornography. A study including 432 pastors and 338 youth pastors commissioned by Josh McDowell’s Ministry and by Campus Crusade for Christ at the April 2016 Set Free summit reported that pastors (57%) and youth pastors (64%) admit they have struggled with porn, either currently or in the past. Overall, 21 percent of youth pastors and 14 percent of pastors admit they currently struggle with using porn. More than 1 in 10 youth pastors (12%) and 1 in 20 pastors (5%) said they’re addicted (Barna report.).

Steve Arterburn (3) believes porn is the greatest threat facing Christians today. He lists the following four reasons why:

  • Porn always gets worse. When a person gets involved in pornography, they are more likely to move into a genre they used to think was detestable or perverse.
  • Porn prevents sanctification. When a person is addicted to pornography, they have lost the desire to be sanctified.
  • Porn kills intimacy. Pornography destroys intimacy with God and one’s spouse.
  • Porn causes impotency. ED drugs are flourishing because of porn.

What’s Going On?

David Kinnaman spoke recently regarding pornography among teens. When they talk about pornography with friends, 89 percent of teens, and 95 percent of young adults say they do so in a neutral, accepting, or encouraging way. Accordingly, only 1 in 20 young adults and 1 in 10 teens say their friends think viewing pornography is a bad thing. Seventy-one percent of adults and 85 percent of teens and young adults who have viewed pornography did so using online videos. Magazines, graphic novels, on-demand videos and cable or rented/purchased DVDs are a very small part of the “market.” More than half of women age 25 and younger seek out porn (56% versus 27% among women 25-plus) and one-third seek it out at least monthly (33% versus just 12% among older men) (4).

The Christian church is in the sexual battle of its life. More than half of youth pastors have had at least one teen come to them for help in dealing with porn in the past 12 months. Ninety-three percent of pastors and 94 percent of youth pastors say it is a much bigger or somewhat bigger problem than it was in the past. At this rate, as young Christians become adults, the Church will be flooded with porn addicts. Pastor James Reeves of City On A Hill Church DFW has successfully tackled porn addiction in his church. He warns, “This problem is going to sweep through the Church like a tsunami wave of destruction and we’re not prepared for it.”

Donna Rice Hughes (5) says, “The continuous invasion of graphic, hard–core online pornography into cultures worldwide has been called the “largest unregulated social experiment in human history” and represents a hidden public health hazard we should not ignore” (6). Witherspoon Institute, in its release of “The Social Costs of Pornography: A Statement of Findings and Recommendations,” (a multifaceted, multidisciplinary, scholarly review) said pornography, especially via the Internet, harms men, women, and children, and fuels pornography addiction. Chronic viewing of pornography causes the breakdown of marriage and exacerbates sex trafficking. Other peer–reviewed studies have reached similar conclusions.

Remarkably, for over twenty years children have been spoon–fed a steady diet of hard–core pornography online, with little or no barriers to tens of thousands of websites. Any child with Internet access is just a click away from viewing, either intentionally or accidentally, sexually exploitative material. These images range from typical adult pornography to obscene fetishes depicting graphic sex acts, live sex shows, orgies, excretory functions, bestiality, and violence. Hughes writes, “The impact of Internet pornography on adolescents, including compulsive, addictive, and even criminal behavior, is a global trend not isolated to any particular culture or region” (7). Pornography has become one of the greatest global threats to children, marriages, families, and nations. It’s no secret that porn has become mainstream entertainment in our society.

Here are some key facts about online pornography that must be taken seriously (8):

  • Teenage girls are significantly more likely to actively seek out porn than women 25 years old and above.
  • A study of 14- to 19-year-olds found that females who consumed pornographic videos were at a significantly greater likelihood of being victims of sexual harassment or sexual assault.
  • A 2015 meta-analysis of 22 studies from seven countries found that internationally the consumption of pornography was significantly associated with increases in verbal and physical aggression, among males and females alike.
  • A recent UK survey found that 44 percent of males age 11 to 16 who consumed pornography reported that online pornography gave them ideas about the type of sex they wanted to try.
  • Porn sites receive more regular traffic than Netflix, Amazon, & Twitter combined each month
  • 35 percent of all internet downloads are porn-related.
  • 34 percent of internet users have been exposed to unwanted porn from ads, pop-ups. etc.
  • The teen porn category has topped porn site searches for the last six years.
  • At least 30 percent of all data transferred across the Internet is porn-related.
  • The most common female role stated in porn titles is that of women in their 20’s portraying teenagers.
  • Recorded child sexual exploitation (known as “child porn”) is one of the fastest-growing online businesses.
  • More than 624,000 child porn traders have been discovered online in the U.S.
  • Porn is estimated to be a $97 billion global industry, with about $12 billion of that coming from the U.S.
  • In 2018 alone, more than 5 billion 500 million hours of porn were consumed on the world’s largest porn site.
  • Eleven pornography sites are among the world’s top 300 most popular Internet sites. The most popular porn site outranks the likes of eBay, MSN, and Netflix.
  • “Lesbian” was the most-searched-for Internet porn in 2018.
  • The world’s largest free porn site received over 33 billion site visits during 2018.

Overcoming Sexual Strongholds

David, a man after God’s heart, fell to lust and adultery. Some Bible translations refer to this section of Scripture as “Bathsheba, David’s Greatest Sin” (2 Sam. 11). After viewing Bathsheba sunbathing on an adjacent rooftop, David was unable to cool his desire. Lust and sexual sin invariably lead to destruction. In David’s situation, he slept with Bathsheba, who was married to Uriah the Hittite, one of David’s foot soldiers. Bathsheba conceived a child out of this adulterous affair. Uriah returned from battle. David was quite obsessed with Bathsheba, and she was carrying his child. He sent Uriah back to the front lines, instructing Joab to take Uriah to the forefront of the fighting and abandon him that he might die in battle. A messenger returned to David saying, “Then the archers shot arrows at your servants from the wall, and some of the king’s men died. Moreover, your servant Uriah the Hittite is dead” (2 Sam. 11:24).

Satan’s attacks regarding sexuality have become so outright and blatant that even the Christian church has become desensitized to it. Pastors are failing to address the matter from the pulpit. These heinous acts are being condoned in nearly every church in America. We hear utterances like, “At least I sleep only with my boyfriend,” or “I may not get to order the dish, but there’s no harm in checking out the menu!” This certainly flies in the face of Jesus’ teaching: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt. 5:27, NRSV).

Ruth Moore writes, “Satan has done a masterful job of shaming those who are caught in sexual strongholds into a continuous cycle of defeat” (9). The devil cannot take our salvation from us, but he does everything he can to steal, kill, and destroy our character, testimony, and effectiveness. One of the more egregious results of habitual sin is internal guilt and shame. Whenever a believer is tethered to immorality, he or she begins to doubt their salvation—their standing as a believer, clothed in the righteousness of Christ. The resulting downward spiral leads to establishment of a stronghold. Paul describes strongholds in 2 Corinthians 10:5: “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.”

Moore says, “A stronghold is anything that exalts itself in our minds, ‘pretending’ to be bigger or more powerful than our God. It steals much of our focus and causes us to feel overpowered. Controlled. Mastered” (10). Whether the stronghold is addiction, unforgiveness, fear, chronic lying, or deep despair over a tragic loss, it is something that consumes so much of our emotions and mental activity that we are cut off from the abundant life we’ve been promised through Jesus Christ. Indeed, pornography is one of the greatest strongholds experienced by Christians today.

An Addiction Like Every Other

Addiction to pornography is real. I know because I’ve been there. Repeated consumption of pornography causes the brain to literally rewire itself. It triggers the brain to pump out chemicals (serotonin, dopamine, endorphins, oxytocin), forming new nerve pathways, and leading to profound and lasting changes in the brain. Pornography triggers brain activity in people with compulsive sexual behavior—known commonly as sex addiction—similar to that triggered by drugs in the brains of drug addicts. Studies have shown that porn stimulates the same areas of the brain as addictive drugs, making the brain release the same chemicals. Like drugs, porn triggers pathways in the brain that cause craving, leading users back for more and more extreme “hits” to get high.

There is something deep inside the brain called our reward center. Even the family dog has one. For mammals, it comes as “standard equipment.” The reward center releases pleasure chemicals into our brains whenever we do something positive or healthy, like eating tasty food, doing a hard workout, or enjoying a kiss. The spike of euphoria resulting from this activity feels like a high (a chemical rush) that makes us want to repeat the behavior over and over. Our reward center aids in hard wiring our brains, motivating us to do things that will improve our physical and mental health, leading to an increased chance of survival.

Unfortunately, our brains can be tricked. I have experienced euphoric, pain-free, relaxed sensations through watching pornographic images. During times of severe physical pain, anxiety, or insomnia, I have used porn like a drug, which tends to set pathways in my brain that create addictive behavior. A growing number of sexual images surround us every day in America. Not only is sex used to sell many products, it has become a pervasive commodity in its own right. Countless websites sell sex toys and pornographic images and movies. Today’s teens rate the media as one of their leading sources of sex information (Strasburger, et al., 2010).  

“According to Dr. Victor Cline, a nationally renowned clinical psychologist who specializes in sexual addiction, pornography addiction is a process that undergoes four phases. First, addiction, resulting from early and repeated exposure accompanied by masturbation. Second, escalation, during which the addict requires more frequent porn exposure to achieve the same “highs” and may learn to prefer porn to sexual intercourse. Third, desensitization, during which the addict views as normal what was once considered repulsive or immoral. And finally, the acting-out phase, during which the addict runs an increased risk of making the leap from screen to real life.”

The True Nature of Repentance

As Christians, we already understand that faith and repentance are twin doctrines that cannot be separated. We must believe in Christ penitently. If we repent of habitual sin, we must do so with the intent to do a 180 and change our behavior. We cannot accept the saving grace of God through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus and continue in our old, sinful lifestyle. John Calvin defined repentance as, “The true turning of our life to God, a turning that arises from a pure and earnest fear of Him; and it consists in the mortification of our flesh and of the old man, and in the vivification of the Spirit” (11).

Repentance operates within the realm of several key elements. We must have a sense of shame, which leads to a genuine desire to give up habitual, sinful behavior. This should lead to humbling. It is imperative that we avoid attempting to break free from sin under our own power, or thinking we’re “getting it” better than others. Thusly humbled, sorrow and regret should fill our hearts. We must grieve and mourn over our offense, regretting all it has cost us and others. It is critical that our repentance lead to a distaste of sin for what it is. We must cry out as David did: “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against thee, and thee only, have I sinned, and done that which is evil in thy sight, so that thou art justified in thy sentence and blameless in thy judgment” (Psa. 51:3-4).

We must also fully recognize the pardon of God. It is the grace of God that teaches us healthy fear, and the Spirit also relieves our fears! Fully grounded in God’s pardoning grace, we turn to Him for forgiveness and the strength to remain repentant. We learn to see repentance as a gift of the gospel under the New Covenant. Paul says it is the kindness of God that leads us to repent (Rom. 2:4). True repentance is never merely a “sense of regret.” Regretting our sin is only a part of the act of repentance. To truly be repentant, we must turn from our sinful behavior and toward God, without looking back; without going back to the old behavior. Paul describes this as once being in darkness, but now being in the light of the Lord (Eph. 5:8).

Prayer for Overcoming Sexual Strongholds

LORD JESUS, I ____________________, have realized that I am hopelessly enslaved to the sexual stronghold of ____________________, and that I am powerless to save myself. I acknowledge that YOU are the Son of God and you have already paid the debt for my sin. All I need to do is claim it personally. I realize that YOU died for me. You bore every single one of my sins, past, present, and future, when You hung upon the cross. I cannot be good enough to work my way into heaven, nor can I stand against the wiles of the devil under my own power. Come dwell in me, Jesus, through Your Holy Spirit; set me free from this sexual stronghold and allow me to live through Your resurrection onto a new life. Thank You, God, in advance that You will never leave me or forsake me, especially during times of temptation. Amen.

Concluding Remarks

As an industry, pornography has surpassed the bottled water business. Much of what we see today mirrors the out-of-control lifestyle and Hedonism of Rome. Nearly 70 percent of active pastors in the Christian church admit to watching pornography on a regular basis. It is impossible to curb this troublesome trend when the shepherds of the flock are similarly distracted. Viewing pornographic images of women or men for sexual gratification is a sin. As Christ said, merely looking upon another with such prurient interest is the same as having sex with them. In addition, regular viewing of pornographic images prevents Christians from being filled with or guided by the Holy Spirit. Worse, as I’ve learned, it causes the user of porn to believe a false reality, and leads to objectification of people as sex objects.

Whenever a Christian becomes embroiled in pornography, he or she starts being weighed down with guilt and regret. The Holy Spirit convicts believers when they’re acting outside the will of God. Habitual sin dulls our spiritual “ears,” making it harder to break free. This eventually becomes a stronghold. The only way to defeat strongholds is to recognize the sin, then tear it down through the Word of God and prayer. I struggled with this particular issue for decades. It seems to have gone hand-in-hand with substance abuse. It becomes difficult to see the forest for the trees, leading to daily practice of sin. I typically felt “dirty” and weak after indulging in pornography. I’d vow to never do it again, only to fall to the temptation over and over. I found it shocking to learn that my brain chemistry was being affected by habitual porn in the same manner drugs had rewired my brain. 

If you or a loved one is having difficulty staying away from pornography, it’s likely a stronghold has developed. It is just as hard (sometimes) to quit pornography as it is stopping the abuse of drugs or alcohol. The chemical “rewards” are far too great. It is possible to make a conscious decision early on to stay away, but once the habit has become an addiction it can require professional or spiritual guidance to quit. Please consider talking to your pastor or a trusted member of your congregation. If you are having trouble trusting yourself to stop visiting untoward websites, there are several apps or services that can help. I highly recommend Covenant Eyes. In any event, the first step (as with any addiction) is to admit powerlessness over the habit. There is power in the Name of Jesus to break any chain of addiction.

For those of you who do not struggle with this issue, or those who have broken free, please take up the mantle and help other believers in your church or everyday life to achieve victory. Both they and the Body of Christ will be made stronger if you do. God bless and remember: Say No to Satan!

Footnotes

(1) Terry Cu-unjieng, “Why 68% of Christian Men Watch Porn,” Conquer Series (n.d.), URL: https://conquerseries.com/why-68-percent-of-christian-men-watch-porn/

(2) Morgan Lee, “Here’s How 770 Pastors Describe Their Struggle With Porn,” Christianity Today (Jan. 26, 2016), URL: https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2016/january/how-pastors-struggle-porn-phenomenon-josh-mcdowell-barna.html

(3) Steve Arterburn is the founder and chairman of New Life Ministries and host of the #1 nationally syndicated Christian counseling talk show New Life Live!

(4) David Kinnaman, “The Porn Phenomenon,” Barna Research (Fe. 5, 2016), URL: https://www.barna.com/the-porn-phenomenon/#.VqZoN_krIdU

(5) Donna Rice Hughes is a practicing Christian, author, speaker, and Executive Producer and host of the Emmy award–winning three-part TV series Internet Safety 101 on PBS.

(6) Hughes, “The Internet Pornography Pandemic,” in Christian Apologetics Journal, Vol. 12, No. 1 (Charlotte, NC: Southern Evangelical Seminary, 2014), 14.

(7) Hughes, Ibid.

(8) “Mind-Blowing Stats About the Porn Industry and Its Underage Consumers,” on Fight the New Drug (May 30, 2019), URL: https://fightthenewdrug.org/10-porn-stats-that-will-blow-your-mind/

(9) Ruth Moore, Praying God’s Word: Breaking Free from Spiritual Strongholds (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000), 273.

(10) Moore, 3.

(11) John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. J.T. McNeill, trans. F.L Battles (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1960), III.iii.5.

Breaking Free from Spiritual Strongholds

Written by Steven Barto, B.S., Psy.

I  lived in bondage for so long that I became convinced victory was simply unattainable. My situation was desperate long before I realized how dire it had become. If I were God, I would have given up on me long ago; I would have walked away from the me who couldn’t put together one week of sober living, selfless actions, acceptance, or surrender. I hid behind alcohol, drugs, and pornography. My life was a one-act play of misery and failure, and I was its sole writer, director, and actor. I can’t identify the exact moment when my train ran off the track. That’s okay! I eventually came to accept that my life had become derailed and, regardless of the cause(s), I needed help from a powerful source to lift the toppled engine and cars back on the track.

Today, I feel a sense of urgency to teach those lessons I learned the hard way. This was only possible after I admitted it was not I but my God and Savior who would be doing the teaching. Each of us faces a time in our lives when we must recognize where we’re at versus where we want to be; that we are nowhere near the “vicinity” of what God has called us to do. While in this strange land, we tend to miss the lessons learned. We see no reason for our troubles except to blame them on God or others; we especially miss the glaring evidence that we are causing our own failure! We hide our misery and failure—and our ridiculous attempts to control reality. It reminds me of the wizard: Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!

Sadly, it was not until I experienced endless failure that I threw my hands in the air, desperate for freedom, and cried out to God. Most of my prior attempts to let go and let God were fake. I had not truly surrendered. In general, surrender means “giving in,” “yielding” to something. Spiritually, it involves a believer completely giving up his own will, subjecting his thoughts, ideas, and deeds to the will and teachings of God.

Surrender means to yield ownership, to relinquish control over what we consider ours: our property, our time, our “rights.” When we surrender to God, we are simply acknowledging that what we “own” actually belongs to Him. He is the giver of all good things. We are responsible to care for what God has given us, as stewards of His property, but by surrendering to God, we admit that He is ultimately in control of everything, including our present circumstances. Surrendering to God helps us to let go of whatever has been holding us back from God’s best for our lives. By surrendering to God, we let go of whatever has kept us from wanting God’s ways first.

Two factors drastically sabotaged my victory again and again: self-centered fear and belief in a false reality. I was quite good at looking the part (well, most of the time). Just smile, praise Jesus, go to church, teach Bible study at the local prisons, and (when no one was looking) continue to do things my way. I hated the phrase, “Too smart for my own good.” And don’t you dare call me a hypocrite! I was deluding myself with a case of “terminal uniqueness.” I’m not like those other helpless saps! Surrender meant admitting defeat. Well, yeah. That’s the whole point of giving in. Denial, however, will keep us from surrendering. We tell ourselves we don’t have a problem. Worse, we see the problem before us but decide we can fix ourselves.

The Habitual Practice of Sin

The apostle Paul frequently wrote about struggling against his sinful nature. He said, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (Rom. 7:15, NRSV). From infancy, it appears, we struggle for control to get what we want, when we want it, and in the way we want it. This independent drive to be in charge lies behind every struggle for power, every prejudice, every conflict, and every abuse of relationship since the dawn of time. Paul recognized that the fault lay not with the commandments of God (the Law) but with sin itself (Rom. 7:17). His exhortation in chapter seven illustrates with increased intensity how living in deliberate sin causes our lives to be like a runaway freight train. Paul wrote, “I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin which dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (7:23-24).

There have been countless treatises on the habitual practice of sin. We all are born with a nature that wants to do our own will. Typically, this is contrary to God’s will. The Bible calls this nature our “flesh”. When we follow the inclinations of the flesh (our lusts) we commit sin. This information should help us recognize and address habitual sin. For me, it had the opposite effect. It became a loophole for continuing to sin. Honestly, I was practicing premeditated, purposeful sin. Moreover, I was doing so in secret, making every attempt possible to hide my disobedience. I rationalized my habitual sin by saying, “Not even the apostle Paul, who had a miraculous encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus and wrote one-third of the New Testament, could resist sin so how could I?” (Please read my post Do You Look for Loopholes as Christian?)

Habitual sin leads to establishment of strongholds.

What is a Stronghold?

Paul was speaking of a “change in ownership in Romans 7. Certainly, grace is in control under the New Covenant. More importantly, however, a new Master has replaced sin. Union with Christ makes the new believer a servant of the Righteousness of Jesus Christ. As Christians, we move into a new mindset: One of obedience. Paul impresses upon us  that being under grace should not create in us a moral laxity. Sin was our master before we were redeemed. The righteousness of Christ that leads to eternal life calls us out from among the darkness of sin and disobedience. It is important, however, to note that our freedom as believers is limited. Contingent might be a better word. We either continue to put ourselves at the disposal of sin (remaining its servant), and eventually die; or we devote ourselves to Christlike obedience unto eternal life.

Paul teaches us about strongholds in 2 Corinthians 10:5: “We destroy arguments and every proud obstacle to the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.” He sets the stage by stating that although we live in the world we are not carrying on a worldly war with typical weapons. He says, “for the weapons of our warfare are not worldly but have divine power to destroy strongholds” (10:4). In her powerful book Praying God’s Word, Beth Moore writes, “Basically, a stronghold is any argument or pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God.”1 Habits (actually, anything that exalts itself against the knowledge of God) tend to look bigger or more powerful than God. Whatever we let overpower us becomes our master!

Strongholds consume so much of our emotional and mental energy that the abundant life we’re promised by Jesus is strangled. We are cut off from the sunlight of the Spirit. Rendered powerless, we stumble and fall. The resulting guilt keeps us from seeking forgiveness. Satan, the proverbial lion who roams the earth seeking whom he can destroy, whispers an endless stream of lies in our ears. Matthew West delivered this powerful message in his song “Hello, My Name Is.” 

Hello, my name is regret
I’m pretty sure we have met;
Every single day of your life
I’m the whisper inside
Won’t let you forget.
Hello, my name is defeat
I know you recognize me;
Just when you think you can win
I’ll drag you right back down again
‘Til you’ve lost all belief.
These are the voices,
these are the lies
And I have believed them,
for the very last time.

The primary  battlefield on which we wage war is the mind. Paul says, “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Col.3:2). Satan wages war in our minds because the most effective way to influence behavior is to influence thinking. This battle has already been won through Christ, but the devil plays make-believe. He lost the right to control those who believe in Jesus; however, through lies, he tricks us into thinking he’s still in charge. Don’t believe him: Jesus disarmed the principalities and powers of this earth, making a public example of them (Col. 2:15). Nothing is bigger or more powerful than God. Not even the strongest addiction or the most deeply-rooted feeling. We need only apply the proper weapons and we can defeat the devil at his deceptive practices.

Our weapons are not carnal; they are not of this world. They are grounded in divine power and associated with the knowledge of God. Their purpose is to take captive all our thoughts, allowing us to transform our minds. Paul said, “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand” (Eph. 10:11-13). Carnal is the exact opposite of spiritual. Because we wrestle against principalities, powers, and the world rulers of this present darkness, only a spiritual solution will suffice.

What do these weapons look like? “Stand therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the equipment of the gospel of peace; besides all these, taking the shield of faith, with which you can quench all the flaming darts of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. Pray at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication” (Eph. 6:13-18a). Beth Moore writes, “The sword of the Spirit, clearly identified as the Word of God, is the only offensive weapon listed in the whole armor of God.”In addition to the sword of the Word, we are to “pray at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.”

Matthew Henry writes, “Spiritual strength and courage are needed for our spiritual warfare and suffering… the Christian armour [sic] is made to be worn; and there is no putting off our armour till we have done our warfare and finished our course.”3 Incidentally, we are to remain clothed with the whole armor of God until the day we are called home to paradise. Paul is describing heavy armor typically worn in battle. Truth (or sincerity) is our girdle. There can be no spirituality without wholehearted trust. The righteousness of Christ is our breastplate, which protects our heart against attack. Our feet must be shod with the preparation of the gospel. This means our attitude and our motives must be grounded in a clear knowledge of the gospel. We must carry the shield of faith, which stops the arrows of the enemy. Lastly, we need perseverance: we must remain persistent in doing that which is required for victory despite difficulty or delay.

Mind Over Matter?

Paul wisely said, “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:2). Conversion and sanctification aid in the renewing of our minds. This involves a change of the heart, not of substance or circumstance. Clearly, the more we are equipped with God’s armor, the better we can withstand any circumstance or temptation. The process of sanctification—dying to sin more and more—is how this renewing is accomplished. The end-goal, of course, is spiritual perfection (maturity). The general definition for maturity is “the state, fact, or period of being mature.” Synonyms for mature include complete, cultivated, developed, prepared or fit for a purpose, ready.

Joyce Meyer wrote, “How can we express the importance of our thoughts sufficiently in order to convey the true meaning of Proverbs 23:7?”4 This verse says, “For as he thinks within himself, so he is” (NASB). Meyer says the mind is the leader, the driving force, of all actions. Paul tells us this. Romans 8:5 says, “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit” (NRSV) (emphasis mine). Truly, our behavior is a direct result of our thoughts. The first step in victory is thinking about what you’re thinking about. This is called metacognition in psychology. It is a worthwhile tool for identifying irrational or erroneous thought patterns that are producing the very problems we experience. In other words, we create our experiences through the power of our thoughts.

Some typical strongholds include the following:

  • Unbelief
  • Idolatry (worshiping our things)
  • Pride
  • Rejection
  • Depression
  • Addiction
  • Sexual Dysfunction
  • Unforgiveness

I will be presenting detailed lessons on the above strongholds over the next few weeks. Whether you are currently fighting a stronghold in your life, or desire to counsel and teach others who are stuck, I hope you will find the tools you need, based on sound biblical principles, to empower you in such work. I intend to start with unbelief. Many Christians believe, yet they wonder if they have enough faith. Jesus describes a situation in Mark 9 where a certain man sought healing for his son. Jesus said to the father, “If you can! All things are possible to him who believes” (9:23). The man replied, “I believe; help my unbelief” (9:24). The number one reason we do not receive what we ask of God is because we lack faith. Others have been deceived by the devil regarding the truth of the gospel. Satan’s only weapon is to attack our minds and cause uncertainly about what we hold to be true. Or, worse, he lies to us about who we are in Christ, causing condemnation.

I hope you will return next week for the first installment on attacking strongholds.

1 Beth Moore, Praying God’s Word: Breaking Free From Strongholds (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000), 3.

2 Beth Moore, 5.

3 Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1997), 1153.

4 Joyce Meyer, The Battlefield of the Mind (New York, NY: Warner Books, 1995), 11.

I’m an Overcomer

Who is it that overcomes the world but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? (1 John 5:5)

By Steven Barto, B.S., Psy.

I BELIEVE EACH OF US, regardless of our temperament, personality type, coping skills (or lack thereof), cultural background, upbringing, worldview, race, or nationality, come to a specific point in our lives when we decide everything is going to change. We’re done lying—covering up our hidden agenda, weaknesses, failures, bad habits, addictions, mistreatment of those we claim to love, or, maybe for some reading this, our criminal actions, aggression, hatred, manipulation, projecting blame, escaping consequences, and dwelling on our sin-ridden past. No one truly likes admitting complete defeat. But we cannot hold on to a false reality about who we are because of the terrible things we’ve done—we can’t say, “It is too horrible and painful to face.” This is not an option if we truly want to get unstuck.

Many of us decide on more than one occasion that this is the moment we are willing to admit every hidden crutch, falsehood, regression, fall from grace, relapse, slip, or harmful action. An addictions counselor told me years ago why we lie. It’s simple, really: To hide the truth about some feeling we’re having or something we’ve done. I faced a judge several years ago after yet another relapse that ended in criminal behavior and made the following statement: The definition of character is how we behave when we think no one is watching. I could tell by the look on the judge’s face that he was impressed. Unfortunately, I likely said this to avoid jail time and receive probation. I don’t mean this is not a truism for me, or something I don’t want to live by; it was not necessarily true when I said it in court. Not surprisingly, there was yet another relapse and a court appearance down the road.

Lately, I’ve been struggling with whether I ever meant anything I’ve said to family, my two ex-wives, friends, employers, judges, even God. How many times did I say what needed to be presented on the surface without meaning it inside my heart? Were there times when I said it and meant it at the time, only to slip months or years later? Probably, but those times were fewer than I care to admit. Of course, failing to confess this internal struggle and the masquerade I was putting on only served to put an ace wrap on my sprained soul. I continued to believe in something just because I said it out loud without looking within to see if it were true.

I just came off of a horrible weekend this Sunday. It started with extreme physical pain, which is pretty much chronic for me anymore. Severe low back pain due to a collapsed disc, bad neck pain and stiffness (same reason, unfortunately), headaches, severe arthritic pain in my right wrist and thumb, and unrelenting fibromyalgia. No, I am not looking for sympathy. Millions of Americans suffer from chronic pain every day. Nor am I trying to blame my bad choices on pain. I need to stay away from opiates, but it’s not easy. I get incredibly discouraged. My underlying mental illness (Bipolar Disorder, in remission; Depression, Anxiety) has caused added problems. This is what treatment professionals refer to as “double-trouble.” Co-occuring addiction and mental illness, coupled with chronic pain, makes it more likely I will decide to relapse and get high, especially on a narcotic painkiller.

Whenever I have a bad weekend like this one, I also tend to sink into a sad, self-pitying state of mind. If I stew in my “crap” long enough, I start yelling at God. I’ve been known to say to God, “Either cure me or kill me!” Interestingly, I don’t really want to die. I want to live. But here’s the rub: I want to live under my terms, which is happy, peppy, pain-free, a wive I am truly bonded to, plenty of friends, complete acceptance, total forgiveness, and a great job. Oh, and a car, which I have not been able to afford for over a year. I don’t want to feel stressed, unhappy, unloved, lonely, or “damaged.” I want the past to be gone from my memory. On really bad days, I want my past to completely disappear. I want social media and background checks to reveal nothing sordid from my past. I have wondered how to go about getting a new birth certificate, social security number, and a passport, and just go somewhere new and start completely over. (Thankfully, it’s been a number of years since I contemplated that nonsense!) Besides, there are no mulligans in life are there?

How Do We Overcome?

I finally watched the Christian film Overcomer. I don’t think I’ve cried as much during any movie I’ve watched. I have a number of favorite faith-based movies, including the God’s Not Dead trilogy, Breakthrough, Courageous, Fireproof, 90 Minutes in Heaven, War Room, and The Passion of the Christ. Each of these movies have meant a great deal to me. I usually end up watching a film just at the right moment in my life, and invariably take something away I can use. I always end up feeling guilty for how I’ve been living my life. I feel “damaged,” or “less than.” Not until Overcomer did a film hit on this very nerve and set in motion a complete acceptance of who I was, how I unfortunately behave at times, and who I am in God’s eyes. In a nutshell, this movie told my story, only with different names and circumstances.

Several characters in the film were struggling to varying depths with their walk with God and their individual commitment. When a blind man in a hospital bed asked the main character visiting patients, “Who are you John?” John answered, “I’m a basketball coach.” The bedridden patient asked who John would be if his basketball team was taken from him. He said he was a history teacher, a sort-of cross-country coach (you have to see the movie to get that reference), a husband, etc. The man then asked John, “No, John, I mean who are you? Who would you be if all that was stripped away?” John said, “Well, I am a Christian.” This intrigued the man in the bed. He said, “If you’re a Christian, John, why was that the last thing you listed?” He told John, “You are whoever you put at the top of your list.” John asked if the man was saying John was a bad Christian. Of course, that was for John to answer for himself. Thankfully, he was able to address the question and began to put God first.

No one likes to hear this, but we simply cannot “overcome” under our own power. Most people take offense at this. I did! But no matter what we’re doing and not doing according to our Christian walk, we’re not able to handle everything that comes along. We cannot overcome our sin nature. Addicts and alcoholics cannot stop using on their own. Sexual predators often re-offend years later. Christian men and women have fallen into the sinful practice of watching pornography. Jimmy Swaggart got caught having sex with prostitutes. Many people, including Christians, gossip incessantly. Many judge others. For me, this was a way to take the focus off my glaring defects of character and my habitual sin. It is simply not possible to stop sinning just because we believe in “a god,” or the God of Abraham and Isaac, or Jesus Christ . We can become “saved” and see Christ as our Messiah, but fail to make Him LORD of our lives. We can go to church every week yet continue sinning. This is what the Bible considers “practicing” sin. The initial step to overcoming is to honestly and willingly admitting to Christ that we are broken. If we don’t, there is virtually no chance of defeating the bondage over us. How can we ask for help if we cannot admit there is something broken and in need of fixing?

The Battle Begins in Our Mind

Paul wrote, “We are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8:37, NRSV). The Greek word commonly translated “overcome” in Scripture carries no surprising meaning. It simply means “to win a victory,” or “to stand victorious over an enemy.” To overcome in the biblical sense means to live in the victory that Jesus Christ purchased for us through His atoning death. It means victory over our old nature and winning under our new nature. We cannot make the mistake that “salvation” means “overcoming.” It does not. Salvation does involve being set free, but salvation is the vehicle for our deliverance; the means through which we can become victorious; the power needed to defeat the enemy. The word most frequently used for “salvation” in the New Testament is Greek, sôtêria, meaning “deliverance.”

Overcoming, by definition, involves warfare. The battlefield for this warfare is, as Joyce Meyer notes, our mind. In her seminal book Battlefield of the Mind, Meyer explains the importance of thought. She writes, “The mind is the leader or forerunner of all actions. Romans 8:5 makes it clear: For those who are according to the flesh and are controlled by its unholy desires set their minds on and pursue those things which gratify the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit and are controlled by the desires of the Spirit set their minds on and seek those things which gratify the Holy Spirit.”[1] 

Our actions are a direct result of our thoughts. How important is this tenet? Consider the following axiom:

Watch your thoughts, they become your words; watch your words, they become your actions; watch your actions, they become your habits; watch your habits, they become your character; watch your character, it becomes your destiny.

Paul smartly describes this battle we face: “For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12). Satan begins each attack by bombarding our minds with a twisted false reality—nagging thoughts, suspicions, doubts, fears, and character assassination. This attack starts as a trickle. Satan knows us better than we’d like, and he knows where the chinks are in our armor. As this attack enters into overdrive, the devil causes “strongholds.” Second Corinthians 10:3-5 says, “For though we live in the world we are not carrying on a worldly war, for the weapons of our warfare are not worldly but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every proud obstacle to the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.”

Matthew Henry writes, “The work of the ministry is a spiritual warfare with spiritual enemies, and for spiritual purposes. Outward force is not the method of the gospel, but strong persuasions, by the power of truth and the meekness of wisdom.”[2] Some may argue that this passage specifically refers to the mission of effectively spreading the gospel. Consider, however, that as believers our theology must be a living one. Martin Luther said, “It is through living, indeed through dying and being damned, that one becomes a theologian, not through understanding, reading, or speculation.” Believers learn doctrine in order to participate more deeply, passionately, and truthfully in the drama of redemption. Intellectual apprehension of the gospel alone, without the appropriation of heart and hand—what we believe in our heart and what we do as a result of that belief—leads only to hypocrisy. This is what is meant by needing to get God out of our heads and into our hearts. Otherwise, our theological studies amount to nothing more than accumulation of “data.”

Truly, our theology must quicken the conscience and soften the heart, or it will surely harden them as we learn only a fraction of the truth or, worse, learn what we need in order to find loopholes and manipulate the gospel. (Read my post Do You Look for Loopholes as a Christian?) In subtle ways, we begin to confuse ourselves with God. We think our words, our understanding, our convictions, our conclusions, perfectly reflect the Word of God. This can eventually lead to a trip down the rabbit hole of self-will run riot. If we are compromising our Christian walk, and dare take a close, honest inventory, we just might see signs of a corrupted theology, marked with fits of anger, prideful debate, jealousy, division, and strife. Our witness becomes far less than what it must be in order for us to display Jesus. This is bad for us, for those we confuse or push away, and bad for Jesus. It develops subtly into hypocrisy. Genuine theology, inversely, contains marks of grace, humility, truth, gentleness, unity, peace, patience, and love (see Gal. 5:22-26). This comes only from putting Christ before us. Humility does not mean thinking less of ourselves, rather thinking of ourselves less often.

No matter the depth and quality of our walk with Christ, we have moments where we fall short. One minute we’re walking in the Spirit, basking in joy and peace, and the next we’re ambushed by some inner thought, a difficult situation, or the hurtful remarks of someone in our lives. Paul clearly expressed this critical difficulty. He said, “For we do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, of the affliction we experienced in Asia; for we were so utterly, unbearably crushed that we despaired of life itself. Why, we felt that we had received the sentence of death; but that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead; he delivered us from so deadly a peril, and he will deliver us; on him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again” (2 Cor. 1:8-10).

It is very important to catch these moments of negative ruminations as quickly as possible. If we fail at this, we miss the opportunity to recognize what should only be a fleeting thought, not the establishing of a stronghold. I learned a term in my undergraduate course in psychology that I try to use regularly. It is called metacognition: thinking about what we’re thinking about! Because the prime battlefield is in our mind, this concept dovetails with being vigilant. First Peter 5:8 says, “Be sober, be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking some one to devour.” We are waged in a war with our enemy, Satan, who is a liar and the father of them. He works subtly at first, then ramps up his attack. If we fail to “kick him out of our mind,” he will establish powerful strongholds. He is in no hurry. He’ll hang around, chipping away bit by bit, until he has convinced us of our “hopeless” situation. Worse, he may eventually get us to doubt our salvation.

Our “defense,” similar to football, soccer, or basketball, must be to see the “ball coming,” then reach out and swat it done before it lands in our mind. We cannot let the devil score. The Bible provides many weapons for our defense. Most importantly is hiding the Word of God in our hearts so that we might not sin. This is not memorizing Scriptures for the sake of “knowing them.” That is not a proper strategy for defense. It refers to knowing in our hearts what the Bible says about who we are in Christ, and what Jesus accomplished on the cross. The very next defense is to properly “suit up.” We need to put on the whole armor of God (see Ephesians 6:11-18). Many believers have heard this verse a thousand times. Few know what the “entire” armor entails. Worse, many Christians think we put it on to do battle—during each skirmish with Satan—then take it off. Funny how the imagination works; we consider “armor” to be heavy or restricting, so we take it off. We must “wear” this armor during our time in this world.

Praise and prayer are also effective for battle. Praise defeats Satan fairly quickly, and it tends to brighten our outlook and mood. Whenever we choose praise, which helps create in us a sense of gratitude no matter the situation, it’s as though we took off dirty, scratched, dark glasses and put on a clear pair. Prayer, of course, is the primary means of talking to God. We need to acknowledge our predicament (vigilance) and ask God to grant us courage, discernment, and wisdom. Further, if we practice continuous and diligent prayer, we spend time daily in the Father’s presence building a relationship; we find ourselves thanking Jesus for the horrific death he experienced as our proxy, and we start regularly tapping into the power in the Name of Jesus.

Let me close with this key Scripture from the apostle Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians:

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your strength, but with the temptation will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it (1 Cor. 10:13).

I believe this is a critical topic worthy of consideration. I therefore encourage feedback from my blog readers in order to dialog on overcoming troubles and temptations in the Christian faith.  Please leave a comment or question in the box below. Thanks for reading. God bless.

Footnotes

[1] Henry, M., Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1997), p. 1129.

[2] Meyer, J., Battlefield of the Mind: Winning the Battle in Your Mind (Fenton, MO: Time Warner, 1995), p. 11.

Shame vs. Guilt

Shame Depends on How We Believe We are Viewed by Others Due to our Behavior; Guilt Involves the Awareness of Having Done Something Wrong.

YOU MAY HAVE NOTICED that many people use the words shame and guilt interchangeably. This is regrettable because, from a psychological perspective, they actually refer to different experiences. Guilt and shame sometimes go hand in hand; the same action may give rise to feelings of both shame and guilt, where the former reflects how we feel about ourselves and the latter involves an awareness that our actions have injured someone else. In other words, shame relates to self, guilt to others.

Looking first to the dictionary definitions, we see the following:

  • Guilt. A feeling of responsibility or remorse for some offense, crime, wrong, etc., whether real or imagined.
  • Shame. The painful feeling arising from the consciousness of something dishonorable, improper, ridiculous, hurtful, etc., done by oneself or another.

As noted before, in everyday language people tend to use these words more or less interchangeably. From a therapeutic perspective, the distinction can be most important and useful. Many people crippled by shame have very little capacity to feel guilt, for example. In order to feel guilt about the harm you may have done to somebody else, you must recognize him or her as a distinct individual. A person who struggles with interpersonal relationships, or who has a mental illness—such as attachment disorder, borderline personality disorder, or bipolar disorder—might not feel true guilt even if he or she were to use that word to describe a feeling.

Many people who display narcissistic behavior often suffer from profound feelings of shame, but have little authentic concern for other people; they don’t tend to feel genuine guilt. The lack of empathy found in narcissistic and other personality disorders makes real guilt unlikely since guilt depends upon the ability to intuit how someone else might feel.

When shame is especially pervasive, it usually precludes feelings of genuine concern and guilt from developing; the sense of being damaged is so powerful and painful that it crowds out one’s feelings for anyone else. In such cases, idealization often comes into play. Other people are then viewed as perfect, “the lucky ones” who have the ideal shame-free life we crave. Envy may be at the root of these thoughts.

SHAME

Shame says, “There’s something inherently wrong with me that isn’t wrong with everyone else.” It tells you that you’re worthless and incapable. Therefore, you must find some way to prove your own worth. At its worst, shame says, “I am outside the love of God.” A person with a shamed sense of identity reads the Scriptures and usually feels condemned. Unfortunately, far too many believers are feeling dirty, worthless, ashamed of themselves; convinced their offenses are beyond the reach of the cross. Having such a poisonous attitude about yourself can lead to belief that you are unclean and therefore unworthy to approach God and have the living and intimate relationship that He wants to have with you. Shame prevents us from intimacy with God because it makes us feel unworthy and distant from Him.

Shame causes us to make statements like this:

  • I often think about past failures or experiences of rejection.
  • There are certain things I cannot recall about my past without feeling guilt, shame.
  • I seem to make the same mistakes over and over again.
  • I feel inferior.
  • There are aspects of my appearance that I cannot except.
  • I am generally disgusted with myself.
  • I feel that certain experiences have basically ruined my life.
  • I perceive myself as an immoral person.
  • I feel that I have lost the opportunity to experience a wonderful life.

Healing from shame involves learning to get our sense of value and significance from God. We need to get out from behind the secrecy of this idea that we are unsalvageable because shame is grown in secrecy. Remember, we’re only as sick as our secrets. We have to start counting our blessings and develop a grateful spirit.

GUILT

There are some significant differences between guilt and shame. Guilt is what takes place when a person realizes their failure. The source of guilt—”conviction,” if you prefer— is the Holy Spirit. To be sure, true guilt is a good thing. It helps us judge our behavior against the laws, it allows for restitution, punishment, and making amends. It allows us to pay for what we have done. False guilt involves sin we’ve repented of and asked for God’s forgiveness, but where the devil still pushes us to feel unreedemed. He wants us to see ourselves as the sum of all our bad behaviors and nothing more.

With guilt, we are motivated to confess. Get it out in the open. Find a way to make amends for our actions. Shame, however, wants us to internalize. Stew in our complete badness. Feel horrible about who we’ve become, while forgetting who we now are in Christ. The goal of guilt is ultimately forgiveness. Shame would rather we feel pain and total condemnation. The end result of dealing effectively with guilt is freedom and growth. The point of shame is, quite simply, bondage. Someone who takes ownership of his or her guilt has the potential of giving their body over to God as a living sacrifice. We become open to doing good. Sharing our testimony. Preaching the Good News. On the other hand, shame owns and controls us. The cycle of shame leads to anger, bitterness, resentment, self-hatred, and depression. There is no peace with shame.

The Day Guilt Was Born

Shame and guilt did not exist initially in the Garden of Eden. But no sooner had Eve defied God and taken a bite of the forbidden fruit, these emotions fell over her like a dark shadow. Their silhouettes followed her until her dying day. She would be buried in their cold presence. And as Adam followed in his wife’s footsteps, two more shadows were born. Guilt and Shame are conceived in their rebellion. We are painfully acquainted with them today. We would love to part with them, but they won’t leave us alone. Although these two emotions are related, they aren’t identical. Guilt is typically linked to an event: I did something bad. Guilt says, “I made a mistake; please forgive me.” Shame is tied to a person: I am bad. Shame says, “Please forgive me, I am a mistake.” Guilt is the wound, whereas shame is the scar it leaves. While guilt is seeing what you’ve done, shame is seeing yourself as a complete failure because of what you’ve done. Guilt allows us to look at the sin (the offense). Shame involves focusing on a deep-seated sense of self-denigration.

Shame and False Guilt Create Strongholds

If we continue to ruminate on our past failures, it will wear us down spiritually. Satan takes over, aiming at getting us to see a distortion of who we are—especially who we have become through Christ. Satan wants us to look at our past failures so much that we begin to see ourselves as nothing but failures! He doesn’t want us to see who we truly are. He’d rather keep us thinking about all the bad behavior until all we see when we look in the mirror is a dirty sinner. The complete opposite of who and what we really are in Christ.

In fact, shame is one of those things the Bible speaks of as an imagination that must be cast down. 2 Corinthians 10:4-5 says, “For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.” An imagination is an image in your mind that is inaccurate. If you see yourself as a failure, when you’re actually a washed-in-the-blood child of God, you’ve fallen victim to an imagination that must be dealt with.

Shame is very destructive to relationships—especially with God. There is a good reason Satan wants us to feel like failures and dirty sinners who cannot be redeemed. Feeling that way keeps us from confidently approaching God’s throne and having an intimate relationship with Him. Scripture tells us that God wants us to draw near to Him with a clean conscience that has been freed from dead works. We’re not expected to forget the wrongs we’ve done, especially if such behavior led to dire consequences, such as broken hearts and destruction of relationships. Hebrews 9:14 says, “How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God” (NIV). Timothy speaks of this “pure conscience” (see 2 Timothy 1:3).

Shame and false guilt are based upon deception, which is the opposite of truth. So how are we supposed to worship God in Spirit and truth if there are imaginations hanging around in our minds that are contrary to the truth? But how do we defeat or overcome these bear traps? First, we need to stop dwelling on our past failures. Are you ignoring them? Am I? Not really. When we dwell on them as if they’re not forgiven and forgotten by God, we are ignoring the lie that our sin has not been adequately dealt with and washed away. In other words, we are actually meditating on ghosts! Sins that no longer exist. Micah 7:19 tells us, “You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea” (NIV).

We must deal with our shame by reminding ourselves of how God has dealt with our guilt.

Disassociate, Don’t Disavow

Why do you think God wants us to be new creations? Because He wants us to no longer be in bondage to our past. We’re to disassociate ourselves with the people, places, and things that were a part of our sinful past. Paul succinctly writes, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here” (2 Corinthians 5:17, NIV). Psalm 103:12 says, “…as far as the east is from the west, so far he has removed our transgressions from us.” Not only are we to accept that our sins are forgiven, we need to leave them there and press forward toward the things God has for us. Philippians 3:13b-14 says, “…forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (NIV).  God has been merciful toward our unrighteousness, and says “…their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more” (Hebrews 8:12).

Coming from a past history of active addiction, and involvement in 12-step programs, I can’t help but refer to the following words contained in the Ninth Step Promises: “We don’t regret the past, nor wish to shut the door on it.” This is especially applicable in recovery. I recall hearing from an old timer at a meeting years ago, “…we have to get to the point where we stop seeing our past as a liability and start seeing it as an asset.” Whether we’re working with others in recovery or sharing our testimony with unbelievers, our past experiences—good or bad—are tools, indeed assets, for helping others. This is a practical application of the doctrinal concept that we have become a new creation through our faith in Christ Jesus.

CONCLUDING REMARKS

Because we were designed by God to feel guilt, we all should have the capacity for it. But sometimes we are not clear about its underlying motivation. If your fear of getting caught is greater than your desire to heal your relationships, then you are suffering from an unhealthy guilt and it is likely to be with you for a long time. Trust me, I’ve been there. Shame feels bad as well, but it is different from guilt. Shame is the painful feeling of disconnection from others that comes from feeling defective. You may think you feel bad because of things you have done, but shame is a bad feeling that you have about yourself, and you had that feeling long before you committed any of the things you think caused it.

Guilt and shame are strong emotions that we need to acknowledge and deal with before our relationships will go well. To manage guilt, we must do things differently. Being honest about wrongdoing, repenting of it, and seeking forgiveness are things we can do in response to guilt. To deal with shame, we must actually be different. That is, we must be vulnerable and experience what it is like to share our feelings honestly with others in ways that change us and help us be a better person.

All of us walk around with some degree of shame. We can’t talk ourselves out of it, or even have someone else explain to us why we shouldn’t feel it. No one can be cured of shame, but we all can experience healing. When we are courageous and vulnerable enough to open ourselves up to God’s grace, we will experience what it is like to feel complete acceptance down to our very core. Courage, vulnerability, and acceptance heal shame. And experiencing that with God heals it in the most powerful way.

God forgives you; you must learn to forgive yourself.

 

 

Overcoming the Stronghold of Addiction

The following is from Chapter 7, “Overcoming Addiction,” from Beth Moore’s book Praying God’s Word: Breaking Free from Spiritual Strongholds.

Addiction is one of the cruelest of all yokes because it deceives us unmercifully and ruthlessly. It comes to us like a friend, promising to bring comfort. It kisses us on the cheek like Judas, stealing from our treasury, then rents us for a cheap fee to the opposition. Addiction is a yoke that convinces us we must wear it to survive. Nothing makes us feel more powerless. No ungodly master is a more unyielding dictator. Countless people, even those in the Christian faith, have concluded that they are hopeless to overcome this relentless beast. After more failures than they can bear to count, many believers accept earthly defeat as compulsory and await a freedom that will only come in heaven. Satan, the accuser of the brethren, chides them constantly with his tally of failures, and convinces them that they are unable to derail the miserable cycle of self-loathing.

No matter whether your addictions are to substances or behaviors, God can set you free. What He requires from you is time, trust, and cooperation. The immense power of an addiction is rarely broken in a day. You see, God has as much to teach us as He has to show us. He could show us His power by instantaneously setting us free from all desire for our stronghold. Often, however, God chooses the process of teaching us to walk with Him and depend on Him daily. Few things (beyond our salvation) are “once and for all.” If He delivered us instantly, we would see His greatness once, but we would soon forget, and we’d risk going back to our addiction. On the other hand, if God teaches us victory in Christ Jesus day by day, we live in the constant awareness of His greatness and His sufficiency. Hard lessons are often long-lasting lessons. Never forget that God is far more interested in our getting to know the Deliverer than simply being delivered.

Realize that God’s unquestionable will is your freedom from this yoke, but also trust that He has written a personalized prescription for your release. Remember when King Saul offered young David his armor to wear as he opposed Goliath?  David was not able to walk around in Saul’s armor, so he took it off. Then he took his own staff in his hand, chose five smooth stones from the stream, put them in the pouch of his shepherd’s bag and, with his sling, approached the giant Philistine. (See 1 Samuel 17:38-40) God may have used a method to set someone else free that doesn’t work as effectively for you. Perhaps the success of others has done little more than increase your discouragement and self-hatred. Don’t let the enemy play mind games with you. God’s strength is tailor-made for weakness.

We are never stronger than the moment we admit we are weak. Seek God diligently and ask Him to show you the way to victory. Use Scripture-prayers in conjunction with any plan He sets forth for you. Ask Him how He wants you to use Scriptures in your journey to freedom. How God chooses to apply His truth is His call. Becoming legalistic and reciting a bunch of prayers as penitence, or as a magic elixir, will not work. Without a doubt, some of the people respected most in the faith are those who have allowed God to set them free from the strangling stronghold of addiction. That’s the key: Allowing God to work within you.