I just came back from a ministry retreat where we were challenged to embrace balance in our lives. In America, we don't know what that means. We have an epidemic of obesity, but also anorexia. We tend to be "all-or-nothing" about everything. We either grit our teeth and white-knuckle our way through, or we give up and completely indulge, even when we know it's destructive.
Why we do destructive things.
When we think of sin, it’s easy to come up with a list of self-indulgent behaviors that negatively affect ourselves and other people: lying, stealing, sexual immorality, addiction, etc. These actions are, no doubt, tactics of the sinful nature. One reason we give into these behaviors is to drown out the pain and problems in our lives. Another (bigger) reason is because we are selfish.
In the early church, Paul often had to teach new Christian congregations how to live the gospel. Some abused the grace of Christ in order to excuse themselves sinfully. Paul warns against this in Galatians:
“It is absolutely clear that God has called you to a free life. Just make sure that you don’t use this freedom as an excuse to do whatever you want to do and destroy your freedom” (Galatians 5:13, MSG).
This abuse of grace is called licentiousness, claiming that you have the license to sin. In reality, this is against God's desire for your transformation and life change. We have been saved by grace, but living out God's commands are for our own good. His commands aren't just barriers, but guardrails that keep us from going over the edge. They keep us from destroying our lives and hurting those around us.
The opposite extreme.
Sometimes, we become too obsessed with "doing the right thing." Even an earnest desire to serve God can get distracted by perfectionism. Adding extra standards and rules to grace is called legalism.
Legalism was also a problem in the early church. False teachers spread their influence over others in the church through fear and control. They taught that you couldn't be a true Christian unless you also held strictly to Old Testament laws. Paul warns against this other extreme, by stating:
“Rule-keeping does not naturally evolve into living by faith, but only perpetuates itself in more and more rule-keeping, a fact observed in Scripture: ‘The one who does these things [rule-keeping] continues to live by them’” (Galatians 3:12 MSG).
Giving into legalism and religiosity only perpetuates a cycle of shame and shuts true grace out. It is a desire to trust in your own ability to be righteous. This of course is impossible, and will only keep you on a treadmill to nowhere. If perfectionism goes unchecked, it starts bleeding into your relationships with other people. If you can't rest in grace, you won't be able to extend it to others. This controlling spirit can infect families and entire churches.
Examples of being too extreme.
Legalism and licentiousness are two extremes that are equally sinful, and both are tactics of Satan and our own sinful nature. They can negatively affect how you view yourself and how you interact with others. What are some examples of being too extreme on one side or the other? Here are some cases in point:
What is the solution? We are called to focus on Jesus and walk by the Spirit:
“My counsel is this: Live freely, animated and motivated by God’s Spirit. Then you won’t feed the compulsions of selfishness” (Galatians 5:16, MSG).
And that is the root of it all—self-centeredness, trying to serve ourselves, rather than love God and other people. Rest in Christ—He's the one who enables you to love and to live well in the first place.
Where are you on the spectrum? Do you struggle more with licentiousness or legalism?
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The Bullseye to Defeating Bad Habits
When I was a kid I used to eat whatever I wanted. I loved fried food and anything loaded with sugar. As I got older, my choices began to catch up with me. I gained a lot of weight when I hit my twenties and I knew I had to change. I learned how to eat healthier and lost the weight I needed to lose. One thing that surprised me in the process was the fact that I was not only addicted to the taste of food, but to the emotional comfort it gave me.
Why We Give into Bad Habits.
A bad habit can be any addictive action we use to numb pain—maybe it's overeating, smoking, or drinking too much. The reason people get sucked into unhealthy patterns of behavior is because they are using it to numb emotional pain.
Insecurity, fear, and shame lie at the root of all chronic addictions. Physical symptoms (such as being tired or hungry) bring root emotions more easily to the surface. Like a low tide, the bottom layers of the heart become exposed. No longer buried beneath the deep, these root emotions are much more tender and harder to ignore.
Hitting the Bullseye.
By identifying the underlying cause of pain, you can attack the addiction itself and shatter its illusion of comfort. Often, when we try to stop a bad habit, we focus on the action itself. We identify triggers and set boundaries so we don't repeat it. While this is a good start, it's much like throwing darts and only hitting the outer rings of the target. In order to win the game, you have to hit the bullseye. What is the bullseye? The underlying beliefs that keep you addicted.
Changing deeply held beliefs takes time. You must continually replace old beliefs with new ones that are positive, realistic, redemptive, and hope-filled. This can be done in a variety of ways: through counseling, reading, journaling, joining a support group, and opening up to safe people. Finally, fostering an authentic relationship with God is where you will find lasting change. Recovery takes time, but it is well worth it when you finally find freedom.
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3 Tactics for Overcoming Addiction
Have you been dealing with an addiction for years and haven't been able to change it? Maybe it's an addiction to smoking, alcohol, pornography or destructive relationships. Most of the advice we hear tells us to simply fight against it. Other sources simply shame readers into stopping. Ironically, shame is the very impetus that keeps people from changing.
The hardest part of struggling with sin is the struggle itself and the shame that results. If you are fighting your sin by your own power, you will fail. Using strict self-control will simply result in the flesh fighting against the flesh. It won’t work. The Apostle Paul talks about this power struggle in Romans 7. Paul does not do what he wants to do (good), but keeps on doing evil. What is the solution? Christ Jesus who delivers us from sin.
1. The first thing you can do is surrender it to Christ. Upon doing so, you surrender your belief in your ability to overcome your issue. All the willpower and self-condemnation in the world will never be enough to change yourself. In fact, it will do more harm than good. Trying to resist will only increase shame and make your addiction fight back harder.
2. The second tactic is to find healthy outlets where you can feed your soul through healthy outlets. You will be more effective in recovery by crowding out the bad with the good.
3. The third tactic you can implement is discover what you are trying to numb with your addiction. The reason why people use addiction is to numb negative emotions. It is entirely possible that a part of you is trapped in the past when something traumatic occurred around the time the addiction started. Bringing this part into the light and grieving any unfinished business will bring incredible healing. This can be done through counseling, support groups, and finding various resources and books that can lead you through the process.
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7 Tools for Fighting Lust
Lust is something that every man (and woman) must contend with. The struggle with lust doesn't end with marriage. In dealing with the lust issue, I've found that a combination of various approaches works synergistically in the battle. These are seven tools to implement in your life if you are having trouble with sexual temptation.
1. Set Up Boundaries
If you are struggling with pornography, set up a filter on your computer. If you are tempted to talk to others inappropriately, delete their numbers off your phone. Set up boundaries to help you think twice when you are at your weakest point. This one strategy is not enough to prevent you from acting out. Implementing these other tools will help you get to the emotional-spiritual root of your addiction.
2. Foster Accountable Friendships
How many other people really know you? Do you have friends that are like brothers (or sisters if you’re a woman) that you can turn to? A man needs more than just his wife for support. Your wife is primary, but you also need other godly men to open up to and be real with. The same is true for women. You need other sisters in Christ you can open up to. You can keep each other accountable and build one another up. If you don't have friends like this, ask God to help you find godly friends, and be willing to be the first one to reach out.
3. Spend Time with God
Yes, I know this one is touted over and over again. But we are so bombarded with work, internet, and cellphones, how often do you sit down to intentionally read scripture, pray, and meditate? I tell others to pray in a way that is honest, open and real. God is not afraid of your emotions. Much catharsis can be found in expressing how you feel to God and resting in his presence. Try doing absolutely nothing for ten minutes every day and simply listen and wait for God to speak. You may be surprised at what you hear. Spending time with God builds up your mind so that you can think positively and redemptively.
4. Engage Your Thoughts
Ignoring sexual thoughts works sometimes, but other times such thoughts can return with a vengeance. Just telling yourself 'no' can make your sinful nature fight back even harder. Try engaging with what you are tempted to think about. This doesn't mean indulging in your temptation, but ask yourself why you are thinking that way. A good way to process your thoughts is to start a journal. Make a practice of viewing others as daughters and sons of God. Also take note if there are parts of you that are afraid or resentful toward those of the opposite sex. Such unresolved issues may be the root of your addiction.
5. Notice Your Triggers
Recognizing a woman's beauty is unavoidable. But turning acknowledgment into ardent desire is lust. Notice when you are feeling B.L.A.S.T.'ed (Bored, Lonely, Angry, Stressed or Tired). Your physical wellbeing has more effect on your spiritual-emotional wellbeing than you realize. Maybe it's time to eat healthier, exercise or be intentional about getting enough rest at night.
6. Build Self-Esteem
Many who turn to pornography or other forms of sexual temptation have issues with their own self esteem. As a man, finding an attractive woman to validate your feelings of inferiority will only work temporarily. A woman cannot validate or affirm a man, only God can. Learning to accept yourself and finding your identity in Christ is key.
7. Embrace Intimacy
Your sexuality was not meant to be used irresponsibly or ignored all together. All that energy was intended by God to be funneled into a one-on-one intimate relationship with one other person. If you are married and struggling with sexual temptation, there is likely a part of you that is avoiding intimacy. Such parts can find healing through all the other tools mentioned above and can also be addressed in counseling.
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