The Last Time I Looked At Porn

I looked at porn for the last time three years ago today. For over 10 years, I never thought I’d be free from the addiction that was destroying my life. This is my journey.

Like many other men, I was exposed to porn at an early age. I was introduced to pornographic videos and masturbation by some of my friends in middle school. I quickly became hooked on fantasizing about sexual acts, masturbation, and porn. Growing up in a family that attended church, I knew these actions were wrong and didn’t line up with God’s desire for my life. I felt immense shame whenever I acted out, and I made promises to God to stop time and time again. But no matter what I did, I just couldn’t stop my behavior. As a result, I fell deeper and deeper into sin and I began to live in a cycle of isolation, secrets, and shame.

In early high school, I got deeper into porn when high speed internet made it’s way into my home. I began regularly watching hardcore pornographic videos, which took up hours of my time on a monthly basis. I knew of all the popular porn stars, I knew the websites, and I knew where to go to find anything I wanted. As a result, I fell deeper and deeper into bondage to sin, shame, and isolation. I went through cycles of trying hard to stop and lasting up to a month without acting out, but soon returning to the place I promised myself and God that I would never go again. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t stop my behavior.

Life was a ticking time bomb of putting my willpower to the test.

When I came to college, I got involved in a campus ministry and started opening up about my sexual struggles. I began trying harder than ever to stop my behavior. Many individuals with good intentions advised me to get accountability, read the latest books on why porn is wrong, memorize scripture, say no to sin and look to Christ, and pray more. So I did all of those things, but it wasn’t long before I found myself right back at square one looking at porn. I felt horrible because I just couldn’t stop my behavior and I was doing all of the things people were telling me to do. I thought that if I just had more self control and loved Jesus more I’d be able to stop this behavior. As a result, I continued to live in a binge purge cycle, meaning I would go anywhere from a day to several months without porn or masturbation, but inevitably return. Life was a ticking time bomb of putting my willpower to the test.

As I prepared to graduate college, I applied to work for a campus ministry. But, rightly so, my application was deferred due to my struggle with porn. I was told that in a few months, they’d check in with me again and I may be accepted if there was more victory over my sexual struggles. With little resources to offer me for help, I put my willpower to the test once again and went several months without looking at porn. As a result, I was accepted for employment. During this time, I decided that I really needed to find lasting help with my struggle and I eventually wanted to see others in my position offered help as well.

Soon after, I found out about a sexual addiction recovery ministry called Pure Desire Ministries International. Sure enough, they had a recovery group in my area which I began attending. It was in this group that I realized for the first time that I had a serious sexual addiction, not just a moral problem.  I learned that I had developed this addiction as a way of medicating pain in life that I had experienced from friends and family. As we live in a fallen world, the hurtful actions and words of others, whether intentional or not, can leave lasting pain in our lives that must be healed. So I began to identify and understand this woundedness that had driven my behavior for over ten years of my life.

I realized the reason I struggled for so long to stop my behavior was not that I wasn’t morally upright enough or committed to Christ enough. I learned sexual sin starts out as an immoral decision but quickly becomes a brain problem. I learned much about the neurochemistry of addiction and how my brain had been physically rewired over time, which is a main reason I kept returning to porn and masturbation. I learned about the atrophy that had taken place in my frontal lobe (the judgment center of the brain) and the neurological freeways that had been developed as I made the same destructive choices over time. Of course, I was responsible for my choices, but this helped me understand why I had tried time and time again to stop my behavior but failed.

For the first time, I understood how healing could take place in my life…

Over the next few years, I worked my way through many sexual addiction recovery resources and was part of several recovery groups. I also went through Pure Desire’s 11 month clinical outpatient treatment program with the founder of the ministry, Dr. Ted Roberts. Through this process and meeting with Dr. Ted weekly, I worked through a lot of the pain in my life that had led to my addiction. For the first time, I understood how healing could take place in my life and I used the practical tools in front of me to see that happen. I began a new lifestyle of complete transparency, reaching out for help when I was tempted to revert back, calling guys from my recovery group throughout the week, and working through the pain that was driving my behavior.

I found healing as Christ and His view of me transformed the faulty core beliefs about myself I had developed due the painful experiences in life I had faced. I finally found the freedom through Christ that I had dreamed of for years.

Since an early age, I had been to so many different counselors to find help for obsessive compulsive disorder, depression, anxiety, and tourettes. I had never seen so much understanding and growth until this process as I identified and faced the driving pain behind these issues. I learned healthier ways to deal with pain and stress in life as I moved toward trusting Christ rather than resorting to my coping mechanisms.

Going through the clinical outpatient program with Dr. Ted Roberts was one of the best but most difficult things I ever did. The program involved hard Spirit-filled work on a daily basis as I implemented recovery disciplines and faced the pain from my past head on. Like most, there were no quick fixes to finding healing and freedom. Sure, God could have healed me in an instant from this addiction, but His method is often a process. Sure, He could have physically removed my old neurological pathways that had been developed and instantly created new ones in my brain, but He didn’t do that because He had a better way.

We do not just let God and let go.

One thing to note is that the majority of the time the word “healing” occurs in the New Testament, the Greek word “therapeuō” is used. This is where we get the English word “therapy.” That’s no accident. Most of the time, I think God designed healing to be a process as it often draws us deeper into dependence and relationship with Him.

According to addiction experts, renewing the mind and healing from an addiction involves intentional work over time and is a 2-5 year process.(1) We are commanded in Romans 12:2 to “be transformed by the renewing of your mind”. God has given us an active role in participating in the healing work that the Holy Spirit wants to do in our lives. We do not just let God and let go. Philippians 2:12-13 says “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” As the Holy Spirit gave me the desire to change and the ability to carry that out, I saw growth through steps of obedience and discipline over time. The Holy Spirit worked as he changed my heart, desires, and rewired my brain which produced healing and lasting freedom.

Jesus didn’t pay the penalty for my sin on the cross so that I could be enslaved to my addiction for the rest of my life.

Today, I’ve been free from this addiction for three years. I praise Christ for this freedom and the healing work He has done and is doing in my life. During all of my years struggling with sexual sin I lived in such despair, self hatred, and secrecy. Having struggled with a sex addiction for over 10 years, feeling extreme despair and hopelessness, I never thought I’d see the freedom that I am seeing today. Several years ago, I couldn’t have imagined a life without porn. I’ve heard many people say “This is something you’ll struggle with until you die.” I can tell you today, that is not true. You can be set free from this addiction and never return to it again. Jesus didn’t pay the penalty for my sin on the cross so that I could be enslaved to my addiction for the rest of my life. He died and rose from the grave to set me free. He also didn’t set me free from this addiction so that I could keep this story of redemption to myself.

God is now using me to see other individuals restored to sexual and emotional health. A large portion of my job is helping campus ministry staff find freedom who would have otherwise been disqualified from employment due to sexual integrity issues. I also coach students and staff as they launch sexual addiction recovery groups on their campuses. I’ve been given the opportunity to develop Living Free, a sexual addiction recovery curriculum that I’ve have been writing in partnership with Dr. Ted Roberts and Pure Desire. Our prayer is that this resource will be part of the solution to the overwhelming need for an effective gospel-centered discipleship resource specifically geared toward college-age men. Formatted to be completed in two semesters, this workbook represents decades of combined experience training men to identify and understand the underlying factors that create and reinforce addictive sexual behavior. Living Free will take individuals beyond simply “trying harder” to methods and principles that produce lasting health and freedom. You can find more information using the following link: Living Free.

If you are struggling with a sexual addiction, you are not alone and there is hope. As an insight into how rampant sexual addiction is, here are some statistics from one study. Pure Desire Ministries International recently conducted 3,000 surveys throughout evangelical churches in the U.S. Their survey included a clinical Sexual Addiction Screening Test. The results they found were astounding. 66% of the men, 40% of the women, and 55% of the pastors qualified as having a sexual addiction.(2) Sexual addiction is one of the fastest growing addictions in our day. Many are experiencing hopelessness and a loss for answers when seeking lasting change. But greater hope is offered to us than we ever could have imagined.

Jesus offers us forgiveness for fraud, righteousness for rags, and transformation for treason.

A new identity lies at the core of this hope and healing. Not one of better self-esteem, but of better God-esteem. Not one of believing in a better you, but of something that doesn’t sway and can’t be taken away. Before a perfect and loving God, we all fall drastically short. We all have committed treason to the utmost degree by turning from Him and His perfect law. But the beauty of the gospel is that Jesus offers us an inconceivable exchange. We trade our enslavement for freedom, porn addiction for true love and satisfaction, and abandonment for adoption as sons and daughters of a better kingdom. Jesus offers us forgiveness for fraud, righteousness for rags, and transformation for treason.

Jesus lived the perfect life that we could never live, fully obeying a holy and perfect God, and took the punishment and eternal separation from God that we deserve. He freely offers us pardon for everything wrong we have done or ever will do. He freely offers us adoption as sons and daughters into His royal family. This changes everything. No matter what you truly believe about yourself as a result of your experiences in life or the actions or words of others, Jesus offers you an identity as a perfect and loved child of God that is permanent unlike any other source of identity that can be taken away. When understood and applied to our lives at a deep level, the gospel is our only answer from the enslaving bondage of sin. There is hope and healing, and I am one of the many who have experienced it.

To learn more about the sources of sexual addiction and how healing is attained, check out the article I wrote summarizing the most important things I’ve learned through my journey here: Understanding Sexual Addiction.

Footnotes
1 Patrick Carnes, ed., Clinical Management of Sex Addiction (New York: Brunner-Routledge, 2002) 14-18.
2 http://puredesire.org/images/resources/pure-desire-promo.mp4

Porn & Completing The Great Commission

(Download this article here.)

More so than ever before, we live in an oversexualized world. Globally, we are bombarded with sexual content from the media, video games, and movies. 40%(1) of the world is a click away from hardcore porn through tablets, computers, and smartphones. Due to the damaging effects porn has on the brain(2), many are developing addictions at a young age. On average, individuals are now exposed to porn by the age of 11.(3) Not only does porn reap devastating consequences on individuals’ minds and their relationships–porn is a key factor in fueling the global sex slave industry. Many of the performers are victims of sex trafficking themselves and are coerced into participation in sexual acts on film.(4)

Porn is not a male issue or a female issue. Porn is a global, everyone issue.

Traditionally, we may have thought of habitual porn use as an issue primarily faced by men in the western world. But porn is not a male issue or a female issue. Porn is a global, everyone issue impacting people from all backgrounds and demographics. With the ease of access to porn, there is no question that the number becoming addicted will continue to rise every year if we do not take action. I fear the impact this will have on the church’s witness when we look little different than the world in the next few years. Given this epidemic, the church is in the fight of her life. Pastors and ministry leaders are in place to shepherd their flocks (Eph. 4:11-12), but most are not equipped to deal with the extent of the sexual brokenness many are facing. In fact over half(5) of pastors in the U.S. are struggling with sexual addictions themselves.

I am convinced that addressing the global porn issue is the key to seeing the completion of the great commission in our lifetime.

Never in the history of the world have so many been facing one common issue as now with porn and sexual brokenness. Over 40% of women and 60% of men are dealing with sexual addictions.(6) For most, porn has moved past an occasional struggle and has led to an unwanted addiction. I am convinced that addressing the global porn issue is the key to seeing the completion of the great commission in our lifetime.I believe what the enemy intends for evil, God wants to turn around and use for good. In Matthew 28:19-30, Jesus tells us to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” As a global church, we are failing at making disciples if we do not disciple individuals toward obedience in sexual integrity. We are failing if we do not help our world deal adequately with its largest struggle and epidemic–porn and sexual brokenness.

The greatest hindrance to God moving through us is our self focus and idolatry. We are at a point in history with greater distractions than ever before. We are consumed with comfort, luxury, pursuing wealth and status, and the pinnacle of our idolatry–porn, which is the ultimate get it now fix. Now is the time to take action, we cannot wait. If we are proactive in dealing with this issue head on, I believe God will leverage our largest failure in discipleship into our greatest strength. What if we repented and truly turned from this globally as a church? What if this freed us up to be zealous once again to obey Jesus and make his name known, leading to a radical and global movement of God?

We don’t need behavior modification, we need soul transformation.

To repent, or to turn from our sin, we must deal with the underlying factors driving the behavior. We don’t need behavior modification, we need soul transformation. To make disciples of all nation who obey Jesus, we cannot simply focus on the behavior. It’s not just a sin issue or a behavior issue, it’s a brokenness and painful life experience issue. We experience brokenness from our own sin but also from the hands of others. According to many addiction professionals, trauma from painful life experiences is one of the key factors that lead to addictions.(7)

For many of us, these painful life experiences can be difficult to identify because we have no other life to compare ours to. What we know is normal. Often, this pain can be caused unintentionally by those that are closest to us, like our friends and families. Often, family dysfunction or other painful experiences in life can actually cause trauma in our lives, which can be defined as severe stress that leaves deep emotional scars requiring special coping techniques.(8)

When we hear the word trauma, we can think of the most extreme cases like intense physical or sexual abuse, but in reality, subtle emotional pain or neglect over time has been found to also cause severe trauma.(9) This can easily happen in childhood, skewing our view of God, ourselves, and others leading us to find ways to cope in life. This trauma comes in the form of two extremes. The first being big T trauma, or events of extreme impact. For example, you may have faced an infrequent painful event of high intensity that led into the extreme trauma zone. It could have been sexual or physical abuse, the loss of a parent, a life threatening situation, the divorce of parents, or other events of high intensity.(10)

The second form of trauma is little t trauma, or frequent painful events of low intensity.(11) For example, you may have had consistent experiences of someone communicating to you that you would never measure up in life. Maybe it was unintentionally communicated over and over that you had to perform to to get the approval of others. Maybe you were bullied consistently, controlled, or manipulated. Maybe a parent was physically or emotionally absent consistently. All of these situations can cause little t trauma leaving an intense impact on your soul and leading you into the extreme range of trauma.(12)

To deal with trauma that has led to our idolatry and coping through sin, we must walk through this pain in depth in the context of community with Jesus and others and experience a renewed view of ourselves, God and others. As we are wounded experientially in relationships, we must be healed experientially in relationships–tangibly experiencing the true acceptance, love, forgiveness, and healing of Jesus through the body of Christ. As we experience the transforming work of Jesus in the depths of our souls, we will experience personal revival or a “renewed zeal to obey God” as defined by Charles Finney.

We are overdue for revival.

As young people are the primary users of porn, dealing adequately with this issue is particularly strategic. Looking at the way God has worked throughout history–revivals, great awakenings, and missionary movements have so often started through young people and on college campuses. The twelve disciples of Jesus were thought to be teenagers. The Protestant Reformation, led by Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, and others began on college campuses in Germany and Switzerland. The revivals and great awakenings of the 18th and 19th centuries spread through college campuses leading to missionaries and organizations being raised up to go to the ends of the earth. And today, college students and young people are the future CEO’s, political leaders, and religious leaders of the world.

Traditionally speaking, global revivals have occurred every 40-50 years, the last being over 70 years ago. Given this timeline, we could have expected a global revival around the beginning of this century. We are overdue for revival. Could it be that this did not happen as the turn of the century was when hardcore porn made its way into so many of our homes through the internet? Could it be that in the past 70 years we have gotten so far away from following Jesus at all costs and are consumed with distractions and comforts?

What if we looked different than the world and truly turned from our sexual brokenness? What if we could offer the healing and freedom Jesus brings from porn and sexual brokenness after experiencing it ourselves? What if this freed us up to be zealous once again, to obey Jesus at all costs, and we saw a radical movement of God across the globe leading to revival, great awakening, and the completion of the great commission?  If we are proactive in dealing with this issue globally as a church, and as we help individuals experience Jesus transforming the depths of their soul that have been affected by shame, abuse, sexual sin, and trauma, I think they too will feel as if “we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard” as Acts 4:20 says.

Footnotes
1.http://www.internetlivestats.com/internet-users/
2.http://fightthenewdrug.org/why-watching-porn-is-an-escalating-behavior/
3.http://www.digitalkidsinitiative.com/files/2013/02/Parent_Primer_Internet_Pornography.pdf
4.http://www.huffingtonpost.com/johnhenry-westen/want-to-stop-sex-traffick_b_6563338.html
5.http://www.puredesire.org/images/resources/pure-desire-promo.mp4
6.http://www.puredesire.org/images/resources/pure-desire-promo.mp4
7.http://www.recovery.org/pro/articles/trauma-and-addiction-7-reasons-your-habit-makes-perfect-sense/
8.Patrick J. Carnes, “Abused Children Addicted Adults,” Changes, June 1993, p. 81.
9.Ted Roberts, Pure Desire (Regal, 2008), 66.
10.Ted Roberts, Seven Pillars of Freedom (Pure Desire Ministries International, 2015), 161.
11.Ted Roberts, Seven Pillars of Freedom (Pure Desire Ministries International, 2015), 161.
12.Ted Roberts, Pure Desire (Regal, 2008), 67.

Are You A Worthless Sinner?

For most of my life, I believed I was simply a worthless sinner who God tolerated as a result of Jesus’ work on the cross. Sure, I “knew” that God loved me, but I believed that I was still a wretch with minimal value. Throughout years of working in ministry, I’ve known so many missionaries, college students, and Christians who also view themselves in this way, whether consciously or subconsciously.

Maybe your default is to view yourself this way. Maybe at a conscious level you think that you’re completely worthless, or have little to no value. Maybe you view yourself as a failure, without anything to offer this world. Maybe you believe that there’s something inherently wrong with who you are and that you’ll never fit in or will never measure up in life.

Or maybe you don’t consciously hold these views about yourself but they operate at a subconscious level. Throughout life, especially in early years, we look to people’s actions and words to find our value. Over time, we buy into what people say or communicate to us about our worth, which can so easily lead to a low view of ourselves. Maybe for you, it was being bullied or rejected by others. Maybe others approved of you when you performed well, but didn’t approve of you when you failed. Maybe you weren’t allowed to express your opinions, or your voice wasn’t valued growing up. Maybe a parent or sibling was constantly annoyed with you, or was physically or emotionally absent. All of these scenarios, intentional or not, can communicate a lack of value, leading us to develop negative core beliefs about our worth.

What we truly believe about ourselves is revealed daily through our circumstances.

As these negative core beliefs can so often operate at a subconscious level, they can be difficult to identify. But, what we truly believe about ourselves is revealed daily through our circumstances. Do your fears and interactions with others reveal that you often think you’re going to fail or be rejected? Do you find yourself procrastinating on tasks, or getting overwhelmed and dreading failure? Do you find yourself getting angry when someone disagrees with, or rejects or embarrasses you? Do you fear conflict, or find yourself trying to make others happy and doing whatever it takes to “keep the peace”?

All of these reactions reveal negative core beliefs about our worth, otherwise known as low self worth or low self-esteem. If we’re honest, I think most of us don’t have great self esteem. If we truly believed we were of great value, we would be steadfast in who we were created to be and wouldn’t deal so heavily with these scenarios that reveal our fears, anger, and ways of attempting to manage our value.

So, is the solution to just try to develop better self-esteem? Pop psychology will tell you to just believe in yourself, to essentially just try harder to think positively about who you are, that you need to have better self-esteem. But there’s a significant problem with this method. We need something outside of ourselves, as humans, to define our worth. We can’t just create a subjective standard of value. There has to be an objective standard of value from an outside source, greater than ourselves.

We don’t need better self-esteem, we need better God-esteem.

So we don’t need better self-esteem, we need better God-esteem. To truly believe in our core beliefs who we are as image bearers (imago dei) of God. To truly believe in who He specifically made each and every one of us with our specific personalities, gifts, and talents (Psalm 139:13-14). Christian or not, we are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27), meaning we, unlike animals or other aspects of creation are given distinct dignity and value. The entire earth was entrusted to us to rule and reign over (Genesis 1:28). The very breath of God breathed life into human beings, unlike animals or other created things (Genesis 2:7). God created humans and said “it is very good” (Genesis 1:31) not “it is very worthless”.

Sure, mankind fell into sin and turned away from God, which I don’t want to minimize (that’s an entire other blog post), but the first thing God did was come after them to seek reconciliation (Genesis 3:9). Turning away from God, choosing sin over Him, never changed our worth or God’s love for us. Once sin entered the world and we were born sinful by nature (Psalm 51:5), we never ceased to be created in the image of God (Genesis 9:6). Our inherent value never changed.

God doesn’t merely tolerate or love us as a result of Christ’s work on the cross.

Jesus didn’t go to the cross to be tortured, die, and defeat death for the sake of trash. In love, He went to the cross to redeem and restore a relationship with that which was lost. One of the most well known verses in scripture says it plainly, “For God so loved the world, that He sent His only son…” (John 3:16). God doesn’t merely tolerate or love us as a result of Christ’s work on the cross. Rather, His love was the fuel for Christ’s work. So whether or not we follow Christ, God has radical love for us and we are of great value.

This doesn’t mean we are ok in our brokenness and sin. We need forgiveness and reconciliation with God drastically, which is why entering into a relationship with Christ is so necessary. How much more so are we loved by God when we are adopted into His family and become His children. How much more does a father love and care for those that are his own. As a result of Jesus’ work on the cross, we are adopted into His family (Ephesians 1:5), approved of and accepted (Romans 15:7), made right in God’s eyes and blameless (Romans 3:28), and an indispensable part of His kingdom work (1 Corinthians 12:22). God the Father’s love for His children is as great as His love for Jesus. We see this clearly when Jesus prayed to God the Father saying “you sent me and loved them even as you loved me” (John 17:23b).

So, our value, as defined by God, is absolutely essential for us to grasp. What we truly believe, not just intellectual but in our heart of hearts, will dictate how we live, love, and interact with God and others. There’s a direct correlation between our view of God and our view of ourselves.

A.W. Tozer once stated “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” Following that train of thought further…what we truly believe about God, and therefore ourselves and others, is the most important thing about us. Jesus summed up the old testament law by saying “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself'” (Luke 10:27). So the degree to which we love others is directly correlated to our ability to love ourselves. And our ability to love ourselves is directly correlated to our ability to love God and understand who He truly is. When we don’t have a right view of God, we won’t have a right view of ourselves and our value, which will lead us to seek worth in other ways.

If we could get identity from our performance, then Jesus died in vain.

Attempting to perform to get our worth from anyone, be it ourselves, God, or other people will always end in futility. Performance is the essence of man made religion, which teaches you to do good in an attempt to be loved by God. But Christianity teaches that since we are already loved by God, we do good as a result. We don’t do good in order to earn God’s love, we do good as a result of already receiving God’s love.

Think about this…if we could get identity from our performance, then Jesus died in vain. Jesus’ whole mission on earth was to live the perfect life that we could never live, fully obeying God the Father, and die taking the punishment and separation from God that we deserve as a result of our rebellion and sin. Jesus already performed for the approval of God for us. It’s done. Through Jesus, we can be fully loved and fully approved of by God.

So Christian, rest in your value as an image bearer and your new identity as a son, a daughter, who has been adopted into His family. Dwell on who God says you are and how much He values you. Meditate on times in life where you have felt His love and experienced His acceptance.

You’re not defined by what you’ve done to someone, you’re not defined by what you’ve done to yourself, you’re not defined by what’s been done to you, you’re defined by Jesus and the identity that He has given you as His beloved son or daughter.

And if you wouldn’t call yourself a follower of Jesus, know how much love God has for you and how much value you have as His image bearer. God desires to have a personal relationship with you. 1 Timothy 2:4 says that God “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” Seek Him. He is worth it. You were created to know Him.

 

RECOMMENDED NEXT STEP

Download the Working Through Pain document. This will help you identify and work through painful life experiences in life that have led to broken core beliefs about yourself, God, and others. It will give you practical steps to implement Biblical scripture meditation to fight lies and to renew your mind.

Healthy Accountability

“But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” -1 John 1:7 ESV

There’s a lot of confusion in Christendom as to what healthy accountability is and is not. Throughout years of fighting a porn addiction and a multitude of other habitual sins, I practiced reactive and unhealthy accountability as opposed to proactive and healthy accountability. Sure I had an Internet filtering software on my devices and an accountability partner, but this often just resulted in a weekly meeting with a friend to confess sin. The meeting often ended with a futile commitment to try harder next time to stay away from sin. These weekly confessional meetings were not a bad thing, they were a great start, but I was missing out on so much by limiting accountability to these interactions.

Maybe you’ve experienced reactive accountability in your own life. Or maybe you’ve experienced unhealthy accountability by hearing lots of truth from others and receiving little grace. Maybe you were encouraged to simply try harder next time, or to have more faith, resulting in immense shame in your life. Maybe penance or punishment was encouraged as a way to attempt to pay God or others back for the damage you had done.

Rather than simply trying harder to stop sinning or picking up the pieces after returning to the place we swore we’d never go again, we have a much more Biblical and helpful option. God has given us an incredible gift through the body of Christ to do life together in a much deeper way. We have the option of proactive and healthy accountability, battling alongside others, and setting ourselves up well to prevent future destructive choices through the power of the Holy Spirit and a gracious and loving God who is for us.

We have been given an active role to play in fighting sin in our lives through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Several years ago, I began to learn about and implement healthy accountability in my life. I truly began to experience 1 John 1:7, which speaks of walking in the light and the progressive sanctifying and cleansing of sin that Jesus does in our lives. Walking in the light, or a daily lifestyle of being fully transparent with our emotional well-being and sin with Jesus and safe people, is a proactive choice. We do not just let go and let God. We have been given an active role to play in fighting sin in our lives through the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:13). As we confess our sin to God and one another, share our deepest sin and hurts, and ask for help, the Holy Spirit brings about growth and healing in our lives.

Healthy accountability incorporates assessing the precursors, stressors, emotions, and situations that tend to occur before you end up in sin patterns and creating a faith filled plan of action with safe people. It’s asking trusted friends to encourage you, support you with specific challenges you are facing, and to follow up with you throughout the week…knowing you won’t face condemnation and will be met with grace and truth from safe people.

We sin because we are sinful but we also sin because we have been sinned against.

Regardless of our particular sin struggles, we live in a broken and fallen world, so we all have ways of dealing with stress and pain in life. We all have areas of habitual sin, or coping mechanisms, that we run to for comfort and to escape. Whether it’s sexual sin, anger, anxiety/fear, bingeing on video games or Netflix, drinking alcohol excessively, control, performance, overeating, body image issues, or a number of many other things. Through identifying our specific coping mechanisms and why we run to them, we can take steps towards surrendering to God, who always meets our needs (Psalm 14:16).

Healthy accountability is also not limited to simply talking about sin in our lives. Healthy accountability is a daily lifestyle of reaching out for help to process the pain and stress in life that often influences our decision to cope through sin. As we begin to identify habitual sin in our lives, immense growth can happen by looking at what pain from our past may be getting triggered in our current situations and working through this pain with Jesus and safe people. Yes, we sin because we are sinful, but we also sin because we have been sinned against and have developed ways to cope when that past pain gets triggered in life.

For example, I’ve struggle with habitual anger and fear throughout my life. Why? Obviously because I am sinful, but looking below the surface, I often felt rejected by friends and those closest to me as a kid. I learned to keep others away and to protect myself by becoming angry. This deep fear of rejection carried on into adulthood, influencing my desire to power up and compensate when I felt rejected.

In recent years, God has done a lot of healing in my life as I worked through the pain from my past in light of my identity in Christ and forgave those who hurt me. Whenever anger would show up again, I’d try to be proactive by repenting, addressing the fear of rejection that was leading me to compensate, and meditate on the full acceptance and approval I have as a son of God. As I took these faith-filled steps, and as God brought close friends into my life who showed immense grace, acceptance, and a desire to battle alongside me, these fears of rejection lessened drastically resulting in less anger in my life. Through being proactive and implementing healthy accountability, the Holy Spirit brought immense growth, healing, and greater intimacy with Jesus and others to my life.

Recommended Next Steps

The following are some of the most crucial and practical resources that I have found helpful in implementing healthy accountability to battle habitual sin and emotional health issues.

1. Begin using the FASTER Scale regularly. Developed by a Christian counselor, this is an incredible emotional and behavioral assessment tool that helps you identify the patterns in your life that lead you down the path toward sin. Check it out at fasterscaleapp.com.

2. Download the Healthy Accountability article. This will give you practical steps to set up healthy accountability. 

3. Download the Working Through Pain document. This will help you identify and work through painful life experiences. It gives practical steps to implement Biblical scripture meditation to fight lies and renew your mind.

4. Download the free app rTribe through your app store. Through the app, you can connect with friends, complete a daily check in about how you’re doing, and alert friends when you’re in need. More info at rtribe.org.

5. If you’re struggling with habitual sexual sin, read the Understanding Sexual Addiction article.