“My Grace is sufficient for you–“
Early on as I realized just how deeply I’d become entrenched in pornography and masturbation I stumbled across Paul’s story of his thorn in the flesh in 2 Corinthians 12 and I instantly connected.
And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. 8 Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. 9 And He said to me,“My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.”Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
-2 Cor 12:7-10
I’d grown up in church but so much of the Bible was completely new to me at this time, even though I’d read the entire New Testament out of what I thought was fervor but really was only an attempt to one-up my church peers. That’s another story. When I stumbled over this encounter of Paul’s it blew me away almost as much as reading Galatians for the first time (wait a minute, he can’t really mean we aren’t saved based on what we do!?). But I took it to heart and I held on to it, even though I couldn’t grasp how I could possibly be strong in my weakest moments; I felt like the most disgusting person in the entire universe of existence in those moments.
Eventually I began to look for resources to help me, even though I was loathe to. All the stigma surrounding my addiction actually warded me off of looking for help because I felt that no one really had my solution or knew what I actually needed. But it started with a short little quiz I found on xxxChurch that would tell me if I had a sexual addiction or not. My results came back positive, of course–not that the results mattered in the end, I already knew I was hooked. But the affirmation was somehow almost a comfort because my issue was now valid and legitimate.
Years later I finally signed up for a course called The Way of Purity from Setting Captives Free at the prompting of a friend I’d grown considerably close to at that time. There were daily lessons that would take anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour for me to complete, and at the end there were questions which would be forwarded on to the volunteer accountability partner the program assigned me. Grounded on replacing my addiction with a fulfilling relationship with God, I found the course was almost exactly what I’d been searching for, and I experienced considerable breakthrough during the time I spent with it.
However, I never completed the course. When the questions came at the end there would be one that would ask if you’d fed on the Word and in prayer since the previous lesson, then there would be a couple that would ask if you’d looked at pornography since the previous lesson. If you had, your accountability partner would reset you to day one and you’d have to start the course over again. I did well for a while; the course and my accountability challenged me to actively put up barriers between myself and any source of pornography. It was from one of these lessons that I finally was convinced to start using an internet filter called K9 Web Protection–because it was free and I couldn’t be convinced to spend money to help myself. But then I slipped up and it was back to day one. I made another attempt at it, failing again. I was ashamed every time, but I was also tired of taking the same first lessons over and over, the material was getting boring and I just wanted to keep going–I thought if I could just keep going instead of starting over all the time I could achieve complete freedom by the end. So I lied on my lessons when I had a little slip, and I gradually let myself go.
I ended up admitting what I was doing and repented to my accountability partners. I dropped out of the course with a shame that became bitterness as I blamed my failure on the repetitiveness of the course and being made to start over even though I’d pleaded with my accountability partner to let me keep going. It was an unfortunate ending to what was essentially a solid resource.
I went back to trying on my own. I phased in and out of believing that I could just ignore it and let it fade away. But it got so bad that I was experiencing demonic dreams and presences while I was away from home for a house-sitting job and it culminated to a point that I had to let my parents back in on what was going on.
They gave me a book called Every Young Man’s Battle by Fred Stoeker and Steven Arterburn, and I literally devoured it. It was primarily Fred’s story of sexual addiction, and it made me feel like I wasn’t alone anymore after all these years; these guys knew exactly what I was dealing with, and showed me how to fight. I enjoyed it so much that I went out and purchased both the sequels, Tactics by Stoeker and Arterburn, and Hero, written by Stoeker and his son Jasen. Even more than Every Young Man’s Battle, Tactics gave practical game-plans to being an over-comer, and Hero showed me the legacy I could create for my family. But as great and as encouraging as those books were, I still struggled.
Some time in the middle of all this I had an encounter that I didn’t grasp at the time, but still is changing me today. I had just slipped up and God spoke to me, much like he had to Paul about his thorn. He told me,
“It’s not about your purity…it’s about Mine.”
And I got it, but I couldn’t believe it. “You mean, it doesn’t matter that I’m dirty, it just matters that you’re clean?” it agreed fundamentally with what I knew was true about God’s love and grace, but it was too good–and it didn’t fix me.
But I get it now, I’ve learned a lot since then. The bottom line is, it’s not about me, or what I do. It’s about God’s grace for me. The New Covenant is all about finding our sufficiency in Christ–he is everything I am not. He wasn’t telling me that my sin was okay because he was perfect, He was telling me that because of His grace, I could dwell in his purity, and mine wouldn’t matter anymore because His is so much better, anyway.
The struggle is still real. But the more I focus on it instead of Jesus, the stronger it becomes in my life. And what I’ve learned–what I knew a long time ago but could never put into words–is that I don’t have to try to stop. I’ll fail every time. But when you look at Jesus, everything else disappears, and when you become rooted and grounded in Him, He becomes the only thing that captivates you. So here’s my answer from one sex addict to another–and what I believe to be true of any addiction: stop trying so hard. The more energy and attention you give it, the more energy it will take from you to fight back. You’re focusing on the wrong thing; your addiction is just a side-affect of your deeper heart issues, and only Jesus can heal those. That’s where your answer lies. That’s where this generation’s answer lies, in the grace and love of the person of Jesus. It’s not about your effort, your perfection or your purity, it’s about His. His grace is sufficient for you.