Temptation Does Not Equal Transgression

One of the most clever ploys of the enemy is blurring the lines between temptation and transgression.

Let me set up a scenario.  Say you have had an issue with lust.  You’re in the grocery store picking up a few things.  You walk past the magazine rack.  Inadvertently, a certain magazine cover catches your eye, and there staring back at you is one of the most beautiful bikini-clad ladies, or speedo-clad men, you have ever beheld.  Your eyes linger.  You feel that all-too-familiar stir within you as admiration quickly begins to turn to lust.  You want to pick up the magazine and see more, your mind wants to go racing to other images in your memory banks, or you want to go home and get online to find some ‘old haunts’.  But what you choose to do is lift it up to Jesus and ask Him to take it away.  You turn your eyes from the magazine cover, walk a little faster down the aisle, block out past images, douse the budding flames of fantasy, and vow to definitely not turn on the computer when you get home.

Yet you come away from this situation feeling dirty, wicked, sinful.  Why?  You did everything that you could have done to walk away from the temptation.  You had no control over what crossed your field of vision, and that initial lingering gaze was more automatic response than conscious choice.  Realistically, you reacted well.

But here’s the deal: Satan is very adept at convincing us that temptation is equivalent to transgression.  Especially when it comes to things we’ve struggled with in the past.  He has drawn more people back into sin patterns with this tactic than we’d care to count.  He leverages labels that we have assigned ourselves – pornography addict, drugee, alcoholic, relationally dysfunctional, sexually deviant, uncontrollably angry – and an in-the-moment urge toward that habit or lifestyle suddenly becomes a reason to say “this is the way I am.”

But this is not the way you are.  Paul says you are “beloved of God, called to be saints” (Romans 1:7).  Peter says you are a “His own special people” (1 Peter 2:9).  And John says whoever “is born of God overcomes the world” (1 John 5:4).  You are not destined to be defined by your weaknesses.  You are destined to be “more than conquerers through Him who loved us” (Romans 8:37).

From freedom’s perspective – being tempted is never the same as transgressing.  The determining factor regarding victory is what you do with the temptation, not that you were tempted in the first place!  Don’t let the lure become the lie that reinforces the label. Stand in His truth, and live free!

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Closer Than a Brother

“Now when he [David] had finished speaking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul” (1 Samuel 18:1).

    The bible holds many testimonials to the value of friendships. 

    In 1 Samuel, as the story of David’s young life unfolds, we find a lasting and deep friendship forming with Jonathan, son of King Saul.  This friendship would prove to be true and binding, as we see by the progression of events in 1 Samuel 20.  David felt free to speak with Jonathan concerning his reservations about Jonathan’s father (v. 1), and even worried that Jonathan was being excluded from Saul’s inner circle because of their friendship (v. 3).  Jonathan in turn reassured his friend of his allegiance (v. 9, 13), agreed to breech the subject with his father (vv. 12-13), incited Saul’s anger and jealousy by the mere question (vv. 30-33), and faithfully returned to give David the not-so-good news (v. 42). 

    That’s a valued friendship.  It is said that most of us have very few friends that close, if any at all.

    However, Proverbs 18:24 talks of a “friend that sticks closer than a brother,” and I think it is very important to have someone in your life that you consider ‘closer than a brother.’  As mentioned in another blog post, you were never intended to face life alone.  There are challenges and struggles and victories and failures that need to be shared in order to be properly dealt with, or celebrated as the case may be.

    Great to say, but how does it happen?  I would propose two personal actions toward that end.

    Invest in friendships.  Proverbs 18:24 begins “A man who has friends must himself be friendly” (NKJV).  Remember the old saying, “If you want to have friends, be a friend”? You probably first heard that in elementary school.  Well it turns out that’s a biblical concept!  Whenever you are first friendly to others, ‘friends’ are naturally attracted to you.

    Prayer.  Especially when we’re talking about someone who we can open up to about our personal struggles, we don’t want to just pick someone out of a lineup.  There are many – maybe even you – who have sworn they will never open up to anyone again because they opened up to the wrong person and it resulted in judgmentalism or gossip, or both.  This is why we need to be discerning about who to open up to.  And a big part of that discernment is prayer.  I firmly believe that if you are earnest in prayer and attentive to His voice, He will lead you to the person who can be that friend and confidant and accountability partner.

    Healing and life-changing transformations come at the hands of a trusted and safe friend.  Do you have a story about how you found that friend who was ‘closer than a brother’ (or sister)?  Leave a comment and tell me about it.

The Warrior’s Freedom

Galatians 5:1 – “It is for freedom that Christ set us free.”

That is the tagline of this ministry.  It is the core idea that everything in Freedom Rising Ministries is built around.

Rising into freedom means understanding that our freedom does not come from our win/loss record.  Our freedom comes from God’s declaration that we are free.  From there, the fight commences from a position of freedom, not from a position of trying to gain freedom.

We are never going to escape temptation in this life.  We will always deal with the weaknesses of our flesh, though Christ gives us renewed strength for the fight as believers.  There will be bad days, and there will be failures.  When we fight from a position of freedom, we can take them in stride and acknowledge that we are still free because our freedom is based on Jesus’ declaration and not our achievements.

But we must be cautious not to fall into the trap of resigning ourselves to failure.  That is not God’s intent.  There is no growth or fulfillment in that.  If we look further down in Galatians 5, verse 13 says “For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.”

In other words, don’t use your freedom as an excuse to indulge sin.

If you are actively indulging in sin patterns, address it.  Christ’s freedom is not a call to continue on in your sin with a prayer and a shoulder-shrug and a ‘that’s just the way I am’.  Because He replies “No, this is the way you are…free!”

After writing extensively on the subject of the free gift of God’s grace, Paul wrote in Romans 6:1-2: “What shall we say then?  Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?  Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?”

And later in Romans 6:14-15, we find:  “For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under the law but under grace.  What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace?  Certainly not!”

A warrior is free to fight on the battlefield.  The battle will not always be easy (even for the best of us…see Romans 7:15-23).  And the warrior will not always win.  But that doesn’t mean he hoists the white flag at the first sign of setback.  A good warrior, recognizing the position of freedom from which he fights, picks his sword up and charges back into the battle.  So pick up your sword and get back in there…every time!

Think of the particular temptations and struggles that you combat daily.  Are you just letting them win because you’ve resigned yourself to the fact that you can’t attain real freedom, or are you standing firm in the promise of Romans 6:14 and Galatians 5:1 and fighting from a position of freedom?  What battle techniques work for you?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Dealing with Ugly, Part 3

At the close of the last blog post, we left off with this thought:  No matter how ugly that thing that you are struggling with, as long as you are dealing with it, it is nothing to be ashamed of!   

    So what does ‘dealing with it’ look like?  Here are a few brief thoughts:

  1. Find someone you can confide in.  Someone honest and reliable and godly.  You can’t do this alone.  You were never intended to (see James 5:16), and as long as you are hiding and striving to overcome it in the dark, the Enemy has you exactly where he wants you.  Drag it into the light and find someone who you can confide in and who will commit to standing with you.  Not everyone is safe (see Proverbs 11:13), and so you should prayerfully seek out the right person.  I am confident God will show you the man or woman who can be an accountability partner and trusted confidant for you.
  2. You don’t need to confess publicly.  You don’t have to publish your sins and mistakes.  Some would argue that if you are truly dealing with something you must be open about it to everyone, but that is absolutely not biblical. James 5:16 says “Confess your sins to one another” but not “Confess your sins to every other”.  Widespread confession is simply not productive, and is often counter-productive not just to your own healing, but to others and to the body of Christ as a whole.
  3. Share at your pace.  Even when you have found someone who can help you lay down your burdens, you don’t need to spill your entire life story right out of the gate.  It’s okay to open up gradually.  In fact, it’s prudent to do so.  Often, as with my case, the things you’re opening up about are things that you have tried to keep buried for years.  You’re not going to have total and accurate recall the first time you sit down to talk about it.  The human mind can be very efficient at walling off things it doesn’t want to remember.  Just because you want to talk about it now, doesn’t mean it will all come back to you immediately and clearly.  And, regardless of what you remember, what you understand of it all is even more fragile.  Our psyches are elusive and deceptive and often clouded by emotion and deeply ingrained perceptions (see Jeremiah 17:9).  You have to work through the layers.
  4. Seek out pastoral or professional help where needed.  Sometimes just being able to unburden yourself to a brother or sister in Christ is all that’s needed, but sometimes you need more.  Especially if what you are dealing with is particularly traumatic, you may need professional help to work through it all.  There is no shame in seeking out professional counseling.  I know people who will likely go the rest of their lives broken and bleeding on the inside because they cannot bring themselves to admit to their need for professional counsel.  Don’t put yourself at such a disadvantage.  Seek the help you need.

    This is not an exhaustive action plan, just a few brief suggestions.  I’ll expand on these thoughts in future blog entries.  But the bottom line is, it all starts with coming out of the darkness.

    Pursue an action plan of dealing with whatever it is that is holding you down.  Pursue it today.  Your freedom is at stake.  The Enemy has kept you chained up for far too long.  And it is now time to break those chains and step out into freedom.

 

Dealing with Ugly, Part 2

    Isaiah said “We are all an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags” (64:6, NKJV).  

    If our righteousness is like filthy rags to God, imagine what our brokenness looks like!

    Some time ago, some sins of my past surfaced.  And with that, I chose to be honest about current issues that I continued to deal with.  Those past failures and current battles that I had worked my whole life to keep under wraps, the sins that I’d been determined to carry to my grave, the filthiest of my filthy rags, from which was woven this thick blanket of shame and regret – suddenly it was all out there, in the open.  It was the thing that I’d had waking nightmares about.

    Inwardly, the shame and guilt that had been lurking under the surface for decades was exposed. It was painful and humiliating. Outwardly, people I cared about were hurt and felt betrayed, which was also very painful.  I deeply regretted (and still do) the pain I caused them.      

    But in the midst of all of that, one thing I discovered was many people who reacted like Jesus – with grace and truth and Gospel-based compassion.  I didn’t deserve it.  I never qualified for it. I certainly wasn’t worthy of it.  But they put on Christ and showed it to me anyway.  I am ever grateful to them because it was because of those people that I am celebrating a life I thought was over and a freedom in Christ I never thought attainable.

    God is faithful indeed.  And His people are marvelous instruments of His faithfulness.

    One of the fundamental truths I learned through that experience is this: No matter how ugly that thing that you have done or are currently struggling with, as long as you are dealing with it, it is nothing to be ashamed of!  Don’t let the Enemy, or those he has manipulated to speak for him, convince you that you are too far gone, that you can’t be whole or useful.  Don’t let him convince you that you have to live imprisoned behind your shame and guilt; or that the cycle you appear to be stuck in, or the temptation you can’t seem to shake, is your lot in life and you can’t be anything else.  

    God offers freedom from those things.  Unmitigated, unconditional, Spirit-empowered, chain-shattering freedom!

    To be clear: this does not mean you can keep on indulging ungodly patterns or habits.  Dealing with it means turning away from it and pressing into Christ for your strength (more on this in a later post).

    So, step one is addressing the ugliness in your life, whatever it may be, however repulsive it may seem.  Then, step two is remembering that Jesus paid for that too, and as a result if you are doing something about it, you need not be ashamed of it.  That’s freedom!

    In the third and final installment of this series, I will bring some pointed recommendations for dealing with the ugly, whatever that is on your particular battlefield.   Stay tuned…

Dealing with Ugly, Part 1

Sin and temptation are ugly things.  Sometimes we try to dismiss or discount them.  For example:

  •      We shrug off lust by saying ‘it’s just the way I am’ or ‘doesn’t everybody struggle with some form of that?’
  •      We reclassify anger issues as justifiable or the other person’s fault.
  •      We excuse an addiction with ‘it helps me cope’ and ‘I can quit anytime I want.’
  •      We write off a proclivity toward gossip as ‘sharing a need’ or ‘something people have to know about.’

But in the end there is no valid way to ‘pretty up’ the temptation or dismiss the sin.  If it doesn’t honor God, it’s ugly – plain and simple.

I speak from experience.  I wouldn’t assume anything I write would be worth paying attention to otherwise.  My issues will not be the same as yours.  My perspective on certain issues will not be the same as yours.  We all travel different paths.  But rest assured my path has been littered with its share of mistakes and hurt.

I will not go into detail on what my sin is, any more than I would care to know the specifics of yours.  Details are often not productive to the general discussion.  Suffice it to say that my faults and failures are ugly and have left deep stains.  Where they began I do not know – and honestly that is irrelevant on today’s battlefield.  With so many things there are large debates of nurture vs. nature.  I don’t discount any side of those discussions, but one thing I do know is that when you’re in the heat of battle, you often don’t really care how the war began.  You are in survival mode.  If your struggle is with alcohol or drugs and you recognize their destructive power, how it got a hold on you is really not relevant – you want to defeat it.  If you deal with unwanted homosexual attractions, it doesn’t matter whether there is a ‘gay gene’ or your desires developed through environment or experiences – you just want victory.  And to different degrees the same can be said of countless other things – addictions, compulsive behavior, domestic violence, and on and on.  Granted, some of these have more proven theories regarding causation than do others.  Regardless, today’s battlefield is where the fight is fought.

So, where does that leave us?  It leaves us in the midst of a fierce battle for freedom, and in need of a battle strategy.  I propose a three-part strategy: (1) realizing the inherent ugliness of our struggles, (2) realizing that we need to deal with that ugliness appropriately, and (3) how to deal with it.

This post has intended to deal with (1).  The next two posts will delve into (2) and (3).  Together, this will hopefully form a solid groundwork for recognizing, acknowledging, and dealing with whatever ugliness haunts you.

Whether it is something in your past that you carry deep-seated guilt about, something recent that has left an open gaping wound, or an ongoing struggle…that ugly thing is being leveraged by the Enemy to hold you down.  It’s time to get the upper hand.