Does my struggle with porn disqualify me from Christian service?

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Does my struggle with porn disqualify me from Christian service?

May 17, 2010 |John Thomas
Question

I'm a guy in my mid 20s, and a few months ago I resigned from my work as director of a local evangelistic ministry because I just can't get over my struggle with pornography. I've been "clean" for weeks and sometimes months, but it seems that inevitably I fall again.

I really want to break this cycle of sin and live a life of sexual purity, both inwardly and outwardly. To do that I am seeking the Lord in His Word and through prayer (though not as consistently as I should). I have people who keep me accountable. I meet weekly with a few older men for a study on sexual purity.

At the same time, I want to serve the Lord in any way He wants me to serve.

But there is some confusion. I've been presented with many opportunities to serve God (leading worship, camp counselor, teaching Bible study, and doing part-time youth ministry at a local church), but I don't know if I should serve in these ways being that I haven't been able to break free of this sin.

So my questions: Which sins disqualify me from Christian service and/or leadership? And for which roles would those sins disqualify me? Thank you for your help.

Answer

I commend you for voluntarily stepping down, recognizing your need to address this area of your life. I hope I can enourage you and so many sincere believers who feel a mixture of shame, condemnation, paralyzation, and even self-hatred because of past and present sin, and have no idea where to go from here.

At one level, all believers would be disqualified from service or leadership positions if sinlessness were required. I know what you're getting at, but simply as a reminder, the only way we can stand before God as "qualified" for anything is because of Christ's sinlessness, not our own.

But to your question, yes, there are high standards for Christian leadership and ministry, and habitual, unrepentant sin would certainly be grounds for removal from leadership. Those standards are no higher, though, than what Jesus commands of every believer.

But let's not try to match a list of acceptable sins for certain "levels" of Christian service. With habitual sin, leadership is the least of your problems.

Forget leadership titles for a moment. The fact that you want to live before the Lord with hunger for Him and minister with a heart-throbbing vibrancy for Jesus is enough to go after your sin with violence, because sin disconnects that vibrancy.

Leadership and ministry are not titles; they are the outflow of going somewhere yourself. Habitual sin does its own work to keep us from leading, whether or not we keep or lose a title.

So you could accept these other roles, but where would you be taking people? The solution is not to lower your sights in terms of leadership, somehow making peace with your sin, but to root out all that would diminish an intimate walk with Christ.

Now, a bit about disqualification and restoration.

When it comes to sin, the Holy Spirit is about conviction, repentance, restoration and transformation. Satan is about shame, condemnation, self-hatred and paralyzation. If Satan can keep us trapped in shame and condemnation, causing us to feel dirty (which typically serves to keep us acting dirty) he can steal our ecstatic joy of knowing and loving Christ and can effectively shut us down from advancing the Kingdom of God.

I think Satan had hoped he could accomplish this with Peter. I think Peter must have thought he was disqualified at some level for having denied Christ, a tragic sin — and Peter knew it.

I've often wondered if Peter's decision to "go fishing" after all he'd seen and experienced was in some way a resignation of sorts from the position and calling he had as an apostle. "I denied the Lord. I'm sure I'm of no use to Him now. I guess I'll go back to the family business."

Peter had been so confident in his love for Jesus, but his failure brought everything into question, at least in his own mind. Jesus restores Peter in a powerful scene on the shoreline by asking him three times (the same number of times Peter had denied Jesus), "Do you love me?" Note that God does not ask questions because He does not know the answer. Jesus knew Peter loved Him. It was Peter who had doubts about his own love for Christ. It's as if Jesus is saying, "You see, Peter, you really do love me, so stop doubting and start feeding my sheep!"

Add to Peter Moses, David, Paul and a host of murderers, theives, extortionists, prostitutes, liars, gossipers (and the list goes on and on), down throughout the centuries who repented and discovered the power of God to lift them out of shame and restore them to wholeness time after time. When necessary, the Lord would pull them aside for some determined amount of time, be it hours, days or years, to discipline, train, equip and restore to vibrancy.

I was so impressed that leader-extraordiare John Piper recently started a self-imposed sabbatical to address heart issues that he recognized as yellow flags. It was both an offensive move and a defensive move — an effort to uproot junk and revitalize the heart. I hope other leaders will follow his lead.

That kind of "removal" is not a purgatory of punishment, but a pit-stop for a thorough tune-up so that the engine doesn't blow. The point is not to be in a holding pattern of shame, but to get the needed tune-up so that the engine doesn't eventually blow.

I'll leave it to you to ponder on these thoughts a while, and in part two of my answer I'm going to challenge you to a pit-stop, an experiment to get violent with the sin of pornography, which, by the way, is much more than a red flag; it's gulping poison.

Now I want to address the habitual sin of pornography and suggest at least one course of action to break that stronghold.

First, some disclaimers. This is not an attempt to offer the end-all solution to an addiction. I'm going to challenge you to make some choices — some simple, some radical — in order to create an environment for change. For the believer, sin is progressive. It starts with a choice, a simple act of the will, and over time can grow into a full-blown addiction and spiritual oppression with tentacles so deep that rooting it out takes much time, much prayer and sometimes counseling.

There are any number of ways to go after sin; what I am going to suggest is along the lines with what Jesus counsels in Matthew 18:9, "If your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than have two eyes and be thrown into the fires of hell."

Getting free from sin also starts with a choice. If God's Spirit lives in us, we are empowered to make right choices that glorify God — that's part of being a "new creation." In fact, making those choices is at least one way we show that we are children of God and love Him. Before Christ came into our lives we were powerless over sin, but when He comes and makes us His dwelling place, we can finally get free of the sin that entangles us.

Here's my challenge to you (and any believer struggling with pornography), if you are really serious about getting free. My 90-day experiment:

1. For the next 90 days, cut off the delivery system. I mean this absolutely. You can't view porn if there is no pipe bringing it into your life. I understand this is radical, and I'm not suggesting you do this for the rest of your life. But I am challenging you to take the next 90 days and strangle this problem at its source.

I'm always impressed when I meet someone who at one time struggled with say, alcohol, and simply won't go near a drink, or even a bar. They have taken their problem, and freedom, seriously enough that they have altered their lifestyle to support their victory. Their decisions have cut out some options for them. Why can't those who struggle with pornography be as aggressive with their fight?

Cutting off Internet is enormously inconvenient in our day; I get that. But I refer you to the above referenced Scripture: Which is better, a little inconvenience for the short-term and freedom, or convenience with a lifelong hellish price? Gouging is not pleasant, but remember, just 90 days for our experiment. Isn't God worth at least that?

I quite literally mean call the company that brings Internet to your home and cancel it. Call your phone service provider and have them take Internet off your phone. Cut it out of your personal life completely. Only use it for school or work, if required, and only in public. When work is done, you're off the Internet until you're back at work in public.

2. For those 90 days, go on a radically strict eyes and ears diet. Besides whatever is necessary for school or work, read, watch, listen to only that which feeds your spirit. Starve out your "flesh," that which wars against your spirit. Make a covenant with your eyes and ears that you will set nothing worthless before them. This includes cutting out not merely the obviously negative, but also that which is neutral or just plain trivial. Turn off talk radio (unless they're talking about God, of course). Cut off the news. If you don't absolutely have to have it, then don't consume it.

In the place of what you're cutting out, put in that which strengthens the spirit of God within you. Read Scripture, devotional writings, anything that points you to Christ. Listen to music that won't distract you from Jesus, but rather helps you "fix your eyes" on Christ. Radically change what goes "in" for 90 days.

3. Strive for 100 percent. You won't do it perfect; remember, it's an experiment to see what would happen if you did it. But strive for 100 percent.

4. Hold yourself accountable in two ways. First, keep a daily journal of your progress and what is happening to your heart and mind. Second, tell someone what you're doing and give him permission to ask you regularly how the experiment is going. You also might use this time to enroll in a Celebrate Recovery program or something similar, to add more fuel to being successful in your experiment.

I know I'm challenging you to a lot. But your future is worth it to me. Pornography is not a domesticated pet we can control; it's a violent beast that will turn on you and destroy you. This is at least one suggestion to getting violent back and getting it out of your life for good.

How about this for your first journal entry:

This guy on Boundless challenged me to a 90-day experiment of cutting out the Internet and all trivial consumption to help me break free from habitual sin that is killing my soul. He's crazy. But I've decided to accept his challenge. I called today and cancelled my Internet and had my phone provider take it off my service. I don't know how I'm going to manage this, but I'm striving for 100 percent. Lord, help me. It's with You in mind that I step into this battle.

Keep us posted.

Blessings,
JOHN THOMAS

Copyright 2010 John Thomas. All rights reserved.

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