“What is your success rate at Pure Life Ministries?” the radio interviewer wanted to know. It was a question I had faced many times over the years. What he was really asking was, “How effective are your methods in helping men get free from sexual addiction?”
During my early years of ministry, I would hazard a guess (How could it be anything other than mere conjecture about something as secretive as sexual sin?) which usually ranged from 70% to 80%.
But this time I found myself offering an answer that astounded him, the audience and even me. “One hundred percent!”
“One hundred percent?” he asked, clearly skeptical.
“Yes. Every single man who acts upon the biblical practices we lay out for him and who comes to the Lord with a sincere desire for freedom is set utterly free from habitual sin.”
“And do you know what?” I continued, pressing my point. “If I didn’t believe that was true I would get out of this business. Scripture guarantees freedom for any who truly desire it. Men who are shown a clear-cut path to victory, who are allowed to live in an environment that supports and encourages a life of spiritual victory and who respond to the Lord’s dealings with them are going to receive the freedom they long for.”
“Let me ask you a question,” I said, turning the tables on the interviewer. “If a man goes through our program and never again returns to the sinful practices he was addicted to, and yet remains prideful, critical, resentful, lustful, in other words, he is still full of himself, would you place him in the victory column your equation offers?”
“No, I suppose I wouldn’t,” the host admitted.
“Christianity begins and ends in the heart,” I said earnestly. “A man may somehow find relief from an addiction, but if his heart hasn’t changed, what has really been accomplished?”
“Yeah, I see what you mean,” he added.
“I am a minister of the gospel; and as such my focus must be on the spiritual and eternal well-being of those who come to me for help,” I said, making a final point. “I am not in the business of helping people somehow attain a happier life on earth. I am called to lead them to Christ and into a life that is pleasing to God.”
That interview that day helped to define within me a conviction that had been growing for some time.
Embracing God’s Freedom, God’s Way
God’s idea of freedom is often much different than man’s shallow concepts. The Lord wants to see His children free from the underlying cause of habitual sin: the Self-life. The focus of the Lord’s dealings with a new believer is not so much the sin itself as it is the old sinful nature that provides it a safe haven in which to operate.
In my book, At the Altar of Sexual Idolatry, I made the point that sin flourishes within the Self-life:
“Dealing with sexual addiction in the Christian’s life can be compared to dealing with bedsores of those suffering from debilitating illnesses. You can treat these painful lesions with the latest ointments, creams, and bandages, but unless you cure the disease, the patient will stay bedridden and continue to suffer with such irritation. In the same way, sexual addiction is a by-product of a self-centered lifestyle. The person is addicted to illicit sex because he is consumed with SELF. You can ‘treat’ the sexual problem for the rest of your life, but until the selfish nature is dealt with, the propensity to sin will remain.”
And isn’t this the whole point of the sanctification process a believer experiences? The Lord will constantly do His utmost to help the Christian “mortify the deeds” of the flesh. As this is occurring, He is filling the person with His Spirit. That is why a believer who has been filled with the Spirit exhibits the fruit of love, joy, patience, self-control and so on.
The reason some become so Christlike, while others stagnate is that we have been given a free will. While we cannot change ourselves, we must respond to and cooperate with the activity of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
What does all of this have to do with the Cross? The Cross represents both the Holy Spirit’s initial work of regeneration and also His ongoing work of conforming us into the image of Christ. Sin and the Self-life that harbors it are both dealt with at the Cross.
This process of sanctification involves ongoing repentance, surrender, submission, obedience and Self-denial. To the degree a believer cooperates with the Lord’s leading in these various disciplines he will become increasingly free from the tyrant of Self and increasingly full of the Holy Spirit.
This—and only this—is true freedom in the Kingdom of God; and this kind of inward freedom is only found at the Cross.
Steve Gallagher is the Founder and President of Pure Life Ministries. He has dedicated his life to helping men find freedom from sexual sin and leading Christians into the abundant life in God that comes through deep repentance.
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