"I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you." Ezekiel 36:26
by Steve Gallagher
In 1985, I was hanging on for dear life. My faith was threadbare, and God was miniscule in my mind's eye. All I could think about was getting free from the tentacles of sexual addiction that had gripped my life for 17 years. My addiction was an enormous mountain looming in front of me. I couldn't see the bigger picture beyond it.
As it turned out, my last sexual tryst outside of my marriage was in May of that year. But I didn't know this at the time, of course. For all I knew, I could plunge back into the depths of depravity at any given moment. This fearful possibility kept me crying out to God continually. In my zeal to have that mountain of addiction behind me, I couldn't understand why God allowed freedom to seem so elusive and victory so tenuous. I didn't realize that He was working something deeper-something very important-into my soul that would bear fruit for years to come.
When a person is struggling with an addiction to porn or some other form of sexual sin, victory is all he hopes for. Because his sin seems so huge, most addicts would be happy to settle for so little. But God has a much greater vision.
But what could be better than victory? The answer is faith-that intangible, elusive passion that ushers a person into the Kingdom, lays hold of God with reckless abandon, and dares to believe God to accomplish great exploits for His Kingdom.
I have become increasingly convinced that people who spend years in the nether world between spiritual victory and habitual sin have not yet crossed the border into the Kingdom of Light. They have been enlightened to spiritual realities but have not really embraced them. They want to live in the heavenly country but are unwilling to relinquish their lives in the world. They go to church and identify themselves with Christianity, but their lack of passion for Christ quickly reveals that they only know Him from afar.
Anyone who has truly been born-again has gained a degree of intimacy with the Savior and can hardly talk about Him without tears of gratitude coming to their eyes.
I propose that the greatest element of saving faith is dependence on God. This is the primary aim that the Lord has for those who truly know Him. He wants to save them and yes, He wants to set them free. But, make no mistake about it, to have saving faith means that a very real transfer is going on within the person's heart from trusting in self to trusting in God. Indeed, Vine's Expository Dictionary defines faith: "to be persuaded of, and hence, to place confidence in, to trust; signifies, in this sense of the word, reliance upon, not mere credence."
Jesus put it this way: "Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 18:3-4) This is not only the definition of conversion but also the blueprint of the Christian life. A young child lives completely by faith. Every need he has had in his young life has been provided for by his parents. He has perfect assurance in their love and faithfulness.
A spurious faith is one which expresses a certain mental confidence in the dogmas of Christianity, but true, saving faith is evidenced by a conviction within a person's heart that God can and must be trusted with all of life's decisions.
Once a person has experienced true conversion, victory over sin is certain. Through the process of deliverance, victory is imparted as the Lord begins destroying the new convert's trust in self. It is the self-life that loves the sin. Consequently, no one experiences spiritual victory who has not first been delivered from the prison of self. As long as self thrives within the person and he continues to trust in himself, he will live in spiritual defeat. This vital lesson is one that is taught and worked out over the course of the person's entire life.
Allow me to offer an example of what I am talking about. For many years, I could not understand what Paul meant when he told the Thessalonian believers to pray without ceasing. (I Thessalonians ) I have had a vibrant prayer life since the time of my deliverance, but I couldn't imagine praying like that! Pray without ceasing? Pray all the time? Pray over everything? At one point I actually tried to spend a moment in prayer every hour on the hour. I thought that if I could do that much, then I could work toward filling in the gaps. My best efforts eventually fizzled.
I didn't realize that the unceasing aspect of prayer does not come about through human effort but through human distrust. Over the years, the one great work God has done in my soul is to dismantle the trust I have always had in myself. As this self-trust has diminished, my dependence upon God has increased. As I have grown more aware of my lack, I have found myself crying out for His aid throughout the day. As I have become more cognizant of my inability, I have found that I must ask for His help with every endeavor. This is how one learns to pray without ceasing!
Those who imagine that they can live a life of victory and continue with self on the throne of their hearts are sadly mistaken. For some it is possible to break a sinful habit without God. A person can put an Internet filter on his computer. He can establish boundaries in his life. He can hold himself accountable to another person. And, with enough determination, it is possible these practices can help achieve freedom from habitual sin, at least for a season.
But how important is this victory if self maintains its reign over his heart? How valuable is he for the Master's use? What real fruit will there be to come from his life? And, most of all, what will it mean when he stands before the Lord and must face the fact that he never truly put his faith in Christ?
In the end, we cannot please God except by faith. And, by faith we CAN have the real prize, a prize that is far greater than victory over sexual sin...an unbroken, enduring, abiding, and eternal relationship with Jesus Christ.
Steve Gallagher is the founder of Pure Life Ministries. He has dedicated his life to helping men find freedom from sexual sin and the abundant life in God that comes through deep repentance.