WALK IN THE SPIRIT: What Does Freedom From Sin Mean?

“Walk in the Spirit and you will not fulfill the desires of the flesh.” Galatians 5:16.

From time to time people ask questions that remind me how deep the discouragement and how hard the battle with sinful impulses can be. One of those came from a friend last week who asked: “What is freedom from the chains of sin?  Freedom to never sin?  Freedom from the worst consequences of sin?  I’ve been pouring over Romans 6 (don’t have to sin), 7 (it’s not me that sins but sin in my flesh), 8 (there is no condemnation),” but he had reached no conclusions.

He is right, of course, about Romans 6, 7, and 8. We are free from slavery to sin and free from the eternal consequences of it, but as long as we live in these fallen bodies we will continue to struggle with the impulse to sin which is why the ministry of the Holy Spirit is so crucial.

Maybe a Star Wars illustration will help us think about it.

At the end of act one in the first movie, Luke, Han, and Leah are trying to regain the Millennium Falcon, fighting their way through. On the opposite side of the hangar, Darth Vader and Obi Wan Kenobi are in a duel to the death.

Darth Vader is overpowering and gloating. “Now I am the Master!”

“Only a master of evil,” says the old Jedi.

Then Obi Wan says: “If you strike me down I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.”

That scene illustrates two metaphors for the Christian life: First, it is about power, but not the kind of power most people imagine, and second, the power we seek comes to us in a counter-intuitive way; to live, to have real power, we must die.

Our lives before the Spirit comes are full of darkness (Titus 3:4-7). A dark life is a life that tries to get its own way all the time; to have its own power. It follows dark impulses. Paul defines that darkness in Galatians 5:19-21.

Hear it in Eugene Peterson’s brilliant paraphrase from THE MESSAGE:

“… repetitive, loveless, cheap sex; a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage; frenzied and joyless grabs for happiness; trinket gods; magic-show religion; paranoid loneliness; cutthroat competition; all-consuming-yet-never-satisfied wants; a brutal temper; an impotence to love or be loved; divided homes and divided lives; small-minded and lopsided pursuits; the vicious habit of depersonalizing everyone into a rival; uncontrolled and uncontrollable addictions; ugly parodies of community. I could go on.”

It is the worst of human behavior. And Paul is talking about Christians! When we live according to our ‘old man’ or ‘flesh’ or ‘sinful nature’ as it is variously translated we are capable of all such things. We look no different than the world.

But don’t get discouraged. Paul chooses his words very carefully. The original tense of the verb translated “those who live like this” (v.21) means “habitually practice”.

If your life is marked by this kind of behavior, day after day, week after week, year after year, you are kidding yourself about your salvation. The Spirit doesn’t reside in you.

But a life lived in the power of the Spirit is not like that at all.  It’s a life where the light grows stronger and stronger each day.  It’s outlined in Galatians 5: 22-23.

Here it is again in Peterson’s paraphrase.

“He brings gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard – things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely.”

How does all this come about?

God wants our lives to be full of His light, full of his power.  But it doesn’t happen automatically.  Like a Jedi Knight we have a part to play, we must learn how to, “Walk in the Spirit so that we won’t fulfill the desires of the flesh.” Otherwise we will fall back into the habits of darkness.

To walk in the Spirit, we must learn the difference between Spirit and Flesh, how the two operate in us. I’m doing some ministry traveling for the next two weeks and won’t be sure of my internet connection, but if I’m able I’ll write more about the differences between the two and how to walk in the Spirit next week.

THE PORN PANDEMIC And How to Escape

Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body. (1 Corinthians 6:18 NIV).

If you are a man or if you are married to or dating one who has learned the truth of that statement the hard way please read on, I have good news for you.

Decades before the Ashley Madison website hack and the very public falls of Josh Duggar and Jared Fogle we were hearing from men, Christian men, and their wives, about the havoc their pornography addictions were wreaking. But never have the words of Scripture been so thoroughly validated by a non-religious source as they have now been by the April 11, 2016 cover story in TIME.

First, a note to the men who are struggling with this: I do not condemn you and you are not alone. This post is not about making you feel bad. I’ve counseled enough of you to know that many of you feel terribly ashamed, and isolated, and helpless. I’m offering hope.

Let’s start by being real about the problem.

A few, a very few, of the statistics TIME reports are: 46% of men and 16% of women ages 18-39 intentionally view pornography in any given week. From February of 2006 to January 2016 monthly visits by U.S. citizens to porn websites increased from 58 million to 107 million, according to one web-tracking company. Yes, that’s 107 million visits per month.

Christians are not immune. Covenant Eyes website reports that about 64% of Christian men and 15% of women access porn every month. And as the Apostle Paul warned the Corinthians, it’s damaging their bodies.

TIME confirms that, citing a 2014 fMRI study from the Max Planck Institute which revealed that habitual porn use may have an effect on the brain. Repeated exposure to porn appeared to cause the brain’s reward center, called the striatum, to be less and less responsive. In other words, the brain becomes desensitized, requiring more and more stimulation to achieve the same level of pleasure. This is somewhat like the way cocaine and other drugs effect the brain. It’s no surprise then that porn addicts often progress from plain vanilla porn to harder, more violent, or simply more bizarre forms. Many also end up frequenting prostitutes and some become predators.

Scientists have long known that the brain is our primary sex organ, but it isn’t the only one suffering from the effects of porn. Young men, Christian and non-Christian alike, are increasingly reporting PIED, porn-induced erectile dysfunction. Their bodies have been so desensitized by porn that they cannot respond to normal sexual stimuli.

Enough of the bad news, I’ll provide links to more information at the end if you’re interested. Let’s talk about redeeming what’s been lost.

The Bible teaches that we are three-part beings, body, soul, and spirit. Dealing effectively with this or any other addiction requires addressing all three. Some of you who aren’t Christians, and even some who are, don’t have any problem with sex outside of marriage. But the Bible calls that sin and I encourage you to do the same. The first step to freedom is calling slavery what it is. Even if you can’t yet see it as a sin against God or your own body, an honest look at the underbelly of the porn industry will reveal that the whole thing is one massive assault on the dignity of women. That’s why businesses like Hilton Hotels have eliminated pornography channels in their hotel rooms in 85 countries. They have a company policy against participating in sexual exploitation and recognized the link between sex trafficking, prostitution and porn. Christ died to free us from slavery to sin. Agreeing with God that pornography is sin frees the Holy Spirit to help you do away with it.

Second, understand that your mind, will, and emotions, what we know as the soul, have been damaged by porn. You were created to be a thinking, choosing, feeling and relating being. Porn addiction, like others, pulls your soul into a spiral of sickness. Your thinking is clouded, your will is weakened, your feelings are misleading, and your ability to relate in healthy ways to other human beings, especially women, is damaged. You’re going to need some help sorting out your feelings, strengthening your will, straightening out your thinking, and reshaping the way you relate to others. Happily, there are many different kinds of help out there for this, from books to websites, to support groups. I’ll list some at the end.

Finally, your body is going to need rewiring. One of the most fascinating and hopeful things I’ve learned from counseling men with pornography addictions is the power of simple behavior-modification techniques. Pastors and counseling psychologists often assume that all problems stem from within the soul and can be effectively addressed by talking, teaching and prayer; correcting the wrongs of the psyche. I’m not discounting any of those, but the fact is that not everyone becomes addicted because they have issues with their upbringing. The neurology of our sexuality is incredibly important. Repeated exposure to porn trains the brain and the body to react a certain way by burning deep neural pathways. Think of it as a kind of sexual muscle memory that won’t go away just because you wish it would. The good news is that it is possible to burn new pathways and let the old ones die off. It takes time and training, but it is possible.

If you find yourself or a loved one a victim of the porn pandemic there is hope. Christ died to set you free from sin and give you full access to the redemptive power of his Spirit. God in his mercy has provided all kinds of aids, secular and spiritual, to help you break free. I’ve listed all the ones I’m aware of at the end of this post. May God bless you as you pursue freedom, forgiveness, and healing.

Resources for Recovery from Sexual Addiction.
Christian
https://www.faithfulandtrue.com/About-Us.aspx
http://restoringthesoul.com/we-specialize-in-healing-addictions-to-porn-and-sex/
http://www.purelifeministries.org/about#leadership
http://www.fredstoeker.com/book/everymansbattle.shtml
http://www.focusonthefamily.com/marriage/divorce-and-infidelity/dealing-with-pornography/maier-on-pornography-recovery
http://www.covenanteyes.com/
https://www.shelleylubben.com/home

Non-Christian
http://www.nofap.com/
http://www.yourbrainonporn.com/