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Moving From Guilt to Freedom

Written By Deborah Lee, Singapore

My heart was tense. I kept remembering the recent conversation with my former church leader. I had explained to her my decision to leave for a new church,* and apologized for letting her down.

But she was visibly upset, and directed hurtful, accusing words at me. After that conversation, I tried texting her once a week, but her reply was always short— “I’m fine. Thank you.” The last time I texted her, she stopped replying altogether.

This leader had been a great help to me during my discipleship journey. I remember when she first brought me to the church five years ago. I was facing some complex family issues then, and she was one of the persons who directed me to God and showered me with love.

I grew spiritually in that church. I was grateful for the comfort they provided, and I made a promise to stay faithful to the church and to eventually bring my family there for worship. But that never happened, and now with my departure, it won’t be happening at all.

I felt helpless, and God seemed so far away. I was so consumed by that feeling of helplessness that I woke up one Sunday morning, and didn’t feel like worshipping God. But I figured I should at least go to church and listen to the sermon, so I eventually dragged myself out of bed.

 

The Bondage That Held Me

As the worship leader led us to begin singing the song “No Longer Slaves,” I remember praying, “Lord, show me what is hindering me. I just want to worship you.”

God brought to light my guilt over leaving my previous church. While it was not necessarily wrong for me to leave, I felt guilty for not fulfilling my promise to my former church leader.

I had also raised my voice during the discussion with my church leader. I was defensive and somewhat bitter as I explained my reasons for leaving. Hence, I was guilty also for taking offense instead of seeking peace (1 Peter 3:11, Matthew 5:9). I should have answered with gentleness and respect (Proverbs 15:1), thus keeping a clear conscience. Instead, I sinned, and in turn, led my church leader further into sin also.

As we continued singing, I became immersed in the lyrics: I’m no longer a slave to fear, I am a child of God. . . We’ve been liberated from our bondage, we are the sons and daughters, let us sing our freedom. . .

I found myself lifting up my hands as we sang. Tears filled my eyes as I recalled how the Lord had rescued me again and again in the past. Though I have faced many tough situations, the Lord has always carried me and walked me through my darkest moments.

At the end of the song, I felt as if God were speaking into my heart, “Don’t hold onto the guilt of leaving anymore. Look at My redemptive work on the cross. Lay down your burden; I will carry it. You are no longer a slave. You are mine. Be set free.”

 

Where Freedom Is Found

As I shared my worship experience with a trusted friend, she pointed me to Romans 8:1-4. If we are in Christ, there is no condemnation; the Spirit is life-giving and sets us free from the power of sin and death. No matter what mistake we have made, Christ has died to set us free from condemnation. As long as we put our faith in Him, His sacrifice on the cross justifies us. No human work can do or undo this justification.

When we live according to the Spirit by faith, we can repent, experience Christ’s forgiveness, and move on by His grace even if the person we have wounded has not yet forgiven us. Our flesh is weak. We do things we should not. But there is power at the cross. At the same place where God freely offers forgiveness when we ask, there is a redemptive work that empowers us to live differently—to let go of guilt, and focus on leading a life worthy of the Lord, pleasing Him in every way and bearing fruit in His kingdom (Colossians 1:10-12).

Through the worship on Sunday morning, God taught me to focus on the power of His cross—even in our confusion and brokenness, it brings both healing and direction for a way forward.

Though my former church leader has yet to forgive me, I know that God already has. Because I am set free from the guilt, I can now pray without hindrance for my church leader to also find healing at the redemptive work on the cross. I continue to pray for the eventual reconciliation of our relationship.

 

* I do not encourage changing churches lightly. No church is perfect, and generally we should remain in our home church and seek to grow spiritually there, encouraging and supporting one another to grow in Christ. However, if you do feel led to move on to a new church, it should be done only after careful consideration, a period of prayer, seeking the Lord through reading His Word, and counsel from mature Christian mentors or church elders.

Pornography: You Can Break Free

October 3, 2012, is a day my husband Andrew and I will never forget. On the same day every year, we dress up, go out to a fancy restaurant, and celebrate a unique anniversary: Andrew’s freedom from the chains of almost two decades of addiction to pornography.

You heard that right—freedom is possible, friends. But breaking free from the enticement of pornography truly is a war. I’ve heard counselors say that it is harder to break free from pornography than cocaine.

Andrew’s complete break came after four years of struggle. He had turned to mentors for support, installed programs on his computer to block websites, and tried everything he could to end his addiction.

One of his biggest motivating factors to end his addiction was our relationship. We were dating at the time and it dawned on him how much pornography already had and would continue to damage me as well as the marriage we were planning to pursue together. I know he truly hated all the pain it caused me: I was deeply concerned that my future spouse would compare me physically and sexually to the images he had ingrained in his mind for years, and his addiction had also planted seeds of distrust within me—I wasn’t sure if he would be able to keep his eyes from wandering when I was absent, or even when I was around. I sought much counsel on whether we should continue to pursue marriage or put the brakes on our relationship.

I praise God that Andrew was eventually able to stop—and it was only truly because the Lord enabled him to do so. There’s no other way to explain how he managed the seemingly impossible. He is now a pastor and has been able to speak into the lives of many surrounding us regarding his previous struggles, encouraging them that they, too, can have victory.

I know that Andrew’s story of struggle is not rare. The use of pornography is prolific. We may think that it affects adult men only, but it is in fact a struggle for both men and women—one-third of visitors to pornographic sites are women—and an even higher number are younger people. Studies show that the largest consumer base of online pornography is made up of 12 to 17-year olds.

Another heart-breaking reality is that Christians are no less susceptible: Nearly half of all Christian households face a severe problem with pornography.

As a pastor’s wife and counselor-in-training, I have counseled many people regarding their struggle with pornography; all of them, without exception, were exposed to it before the age of 10.

But am I being a bit too rigid? What’s so bad about pornography? you may be thinking. After all, sexuality is a beautiful gift that was fashioned by God himself. Isn’t it a part of His perfect creation that the Bible describes as a gift to be cherished? Yes, absolutely! But there are also many warnings in Scripture regarding the abuse of sexuality. Ephesians 5:3 warns us to not even have “a hint” of sexual immorality in our lives, while 1 Thessalonians 4:3 warns that sexual immorality will affect a believer’s sanctification, as it will hinder our ability to grow into the likeness of Jesus. Since we are to glorify God with our lives, we need to take the sin of pornography seriously.

As my husband and I counsel and meet with many couples and young adults, we’ve observed (and research confirms) that the use of pornography lies at the root of well over half of failed marriages. Some studies have also said that it increases the chances of infidelity by three times, and I would venture to guess that this is because of the insatiable desire that pornography creates. Users always want more—more options, more danger, more of the forbidden, more body types, etc. Having a lifelong partner in marriage is a gift from God, but pornography affects the ability of a person to see that gift as precious and “enough”.

How does one begin breaking the hold of pornography on his or her life? Any attempt to break this bondage has to begin with a heart fully surrendered to Christ, ready to obey no matter what the cost.

In an article about fighting the temptation of pornography, Christian counselor Ed Welch notes, “Power doesn’t come from mere knowledge; it comes as we grow in the knowledge of God and respond to him with obedient trust. It comes only as we discover that in God’s presence—not from what the world or fleshly pleasure can offer—do we find fullness of joy and pleasures that never lose their capacity to satisfy (Ps. 16:11).” We must trust God that what He has to offer is more glorious and fulfilling than anything the world has to offer—including pornography.

Another step we must take is to share our deepest struggles with someone we trust, for both accountability and support. Welch explains the importance of community in this battle: “We could easily argue our sin is private, it’s against God, and it should be handled privately. But if we easily confess to God yet refuse to confess to others, the authenticity of our confession is suspect. Openness is a way we can avoid being tricked by new justifications.”

If you’re struggling with some type of sexual addiction, find someone who will hold you accountable—not the type of person who pats you on the back because you “only looked twice this week instead of five times”, but someone who cares enough about you to ask you the hard questions.

I have talked to people I dearly love who speak of going to bed for years crying out to God to help, but hearing no answer. Their despair leads them deeper and deeper into depression, and they believe that they will never be able to have a fulfilling, God-glorifying marriage or life. By God’s grace, they have since broken free from the addiction and are now thriving in godly marriages and are intentionally helping others who struggle. Satan wants you to believe that deliverance is never going to be within your reach. Do not let the lies of the enemy win the battle of pornography in your life. Do not give up hope—for we serve the Almighty God, who created the Heavens and Earth, for whom nothing is impossible (Luke 1:37).

The beauty that could await you someday within your current marriage, in a future marriage if you are single, or in joy and peace within obedience as a single, is tangible and available. Having been married for almost four years now, I can honestly and happily say that we have never had a more content, fun and satisfying sex life. Praise to our God of redemption!

I pray that you too will soon have a day to look back on and celebrate, just as Andrew and I do. Be vigilant in this war and always remember that you can boldly come to Jesus’ throne of grace, knowing you will receive mercy and find grace in times of need (Heb 4:16).