How to Move from Sin-Management to Real Freedom

sin-management to true freedom

When it comes to addressing pornography use or other sexual sins in the church, we often need to work on our message. At best, the church tries to encourage people against these things, and at worst, it points merciless fingers of accusation without compassion or understanding. From even the best sources, I hear little more than sin-management advice, little more than a message of “fight against your urges,” little more practical help other than a message of “don’t” and “stop.”

Christians want to stop sinning. The Christians who come to our ministry don’t want to be porn addicts. They don’t want to be struggling with whatever they’re struggling with. We don’t need a message of “try harder.” The men who come to our ministry have tried harder. They’ve tried as hard as they know how to fight their urges. For a while they may succeed, only to then crash into demoralizing relapse time and again. We don’t need a pep talk that makes us get back up and try the same tactics really hard again. We know how that story ends–with eventual defeat while the sex culture around us continues to drift farther and farther from a Biblical standard of morality. Christianity needs real answers.

Jacob and Esau: An Example of the Power of Spiritual Agreements

In Genesis 25, we read a familiar Bible story of Esau “selling” his birthright to Jacob. This story illustrates a powerful truth about what I call “Spiritual Agreements.” Spiritual agreements happen more easily than we realize, more easily than Esau realized. He came back famished from hunting. Esau’s brother, Jacob, recognized a spiritual truth–that what is unseen is more powerful than what we feel. Unfortunately, he took advantage of this and  told his brother to sell him his birthright for a meal. Esau didn’t recognize the power of spiritual agreements. He lightly esteemed the power of his words and his agreements–and the story ends with him agreeing to trade his birthright for a bowl of stew.

Esau must have thought “logical” thoughts at this time, “Surely Mom and Dad would never let such a thing happen–I’m still the oldest.” He must have lived for years never losing sleep over this agreement, never giving this event another thought, always living in a false “reality,” and under the assumption that he didn’t actually give away his birthright that day. But when we see the events play out, we discover that his logic-based assumptions were actually the fantasy and not the other way around. The spiritual reality of that agreement superseded logic, reason, and willpower. Think about this: If Esau had gone to their father, Isaac, and said, “I told Jacob I’d sell my birthright for a pot of soup,” the father probably would have said, “Jacob is living in a fantasy if he thinks I’m going to honor that.” And we’d agree with him. But who was the one actually living in a fantasy? Esau.

I submit to you that Christians and the world at large are trapped in fantasy worlds made by “simple” spiritual agreements, not aware that they’ve made them, not aware of their power, not aware of their impact in life or the spiritual realm, and not aware of how to break them. What’s more, though the devil offers something that we want (or think we want), if we really knew what we were trading for what we get from these agreements, we, like Esau, would weep bitterly at the realization of what is actually lost.

Your Brain on Porn

The Real World, The Real Word

The Bible says that when we are saved we receive a completely new nature; the Holy Spirit resides with us; we become sons and daughters of God; we are freed from sin; the sin nature is crucified with Christ and dies. These truths should be the believer’s reality. We are supposed to live as though we are dead to sin. But most believers’ “reality” is that they are still slaves to sin and fighting desperately for freedom.

Spiritual agreements affect every area of life and faith, but Romans 1 paints a picture of where lust and perversity come from as it relates to spiritual agreements with lies. It tells us of people who “exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator […] they did not retain the knowledge (truth) of God, so God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting” (vs. 25, 28).

This passage talks about spiritual agreements and how abandoning the truth gives way to perversion and a debased mind. When a Christian person, born again, comes to our ministry for help, 100% of the time they see themselves as an addict or a pervert struggling to get free. This very mindset runs contrary to what the Bible says about them. I tell people all the time, “Your starting point will dictate how you finish.” If you fight for freedom, you will never find it, because Jesus can’t be crucified a second time. But if you fight from freedom, you will begin to unravel the string of agreements and lies that have caused your bondage and have debased you as a son or daughter of God to live as a mere man.

We don’t know the power that has been given to us in Christ. Over and over the Bible tells us that every curse, every power, every sting of the Law has been cancelled, fulfilled, done away with, nailed to the cross, and in doing so, Jesus disarmed the enemy and made a public spectacle of him. Yet we live as though the enemy still has power over us. How? Why?

Now the enemy only has the power that we–the ones created in God’s image and restored to our rightful place of power, dignity, and authority as sons and daughters of God– give him. He comes to us with lies and deceptions, hoping that we, with the power God gave us, will make a spiritual agreement that gives him authority over an area of our lives. Thus he comes with the lie and we, like it says in Romans, exchange the truth for the lie and exalt the natural–what we feel–over the truth of who and what we are in Christ.

The Natural Man Can’t Obtain Spirituality

We don’t have the space in a short blog article to go in depth of how agreements work, but Paul frames an interesting case that will serve as a rough outline for how spiritual agreements work in Romans 7 and 8. He minces no words that “we have been delivered from the law, having died to what we were held by, so that we should serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter” (vs. 7:6). He’s saying the same thing here as we read in Colossians 2:20-23,

“Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations, ‘Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle,’ which all concern things which perish with the using-according to the commandments and doctrines of men? These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh.”

Did you catch what he’s saying? In essence: you can’t stop sinning by trying to stop sinning.

Thus the entire paradigm of “try harder,” “don’t look,” “don’t touch,” that the Church has been preaching about lust and sex stopped working when the Law was fulfilled (and it didn’t really work under the Law either). The church is losing this war for sexuality and purity within our walls and in the world and culture at large. So why do we try to curb sinful behavior with a message and tactics that the Bible says doesn’t work? Again, we need real answers. If we want to start living like saints, we need to start thinking like God–and He gave us the ability to do so when He placed His Spirit in us and told us that “we have the mind of Christ.”

Identifying Natural Thinking and Breaking Spiritual Agreements

Paul goes on to explain in Romans 7 why the Law combined with natural thinking actually empowers sin rather than helps us stop.

“But sin, taking opportunity by the commandment, produced in me all manner of evil desire. For apart from the law sin was dead. I was alive once without the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died… For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it killed me” (vs. 8, 9, 11).

What is he saying?  Here’s an illustration. When one sees a sign that says, “Keep Off the Grass,” what happens? We think a thought we never had before in our nature, “Why should I keep off that grass? What is so special about that grass? I think I want to walk on that grass. No, I will walk on that grass.”

Now the person in their nature, apart from that law “don’t walk on the grass,” had no desire to walk on the grass. But a thought is introduced: maybe you want to walk where you aren’t supposed to walk. Thus, as Paul says, sin deceived and killed us. What died? Who died? The knowledge of our spiritual nature died. We crucified our spiritual identity when we chose to make agreements with natural thinking and with the carnal man.

“For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spirituall minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God. Bur you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you” (Rom. 8:6-9).

Maybe you’ve never read these verses in this way before, but I encourage you to read Romans 6-8 with this understanding as it will change everything you know about yourself and struggles with sin once these truths really sink in.

The same carnal mindsets and natural thinking happens when we are faced with sexual temptations. The existence of the temptation and knowledge of the Law causes us to think naturally and question our true nature, empowering the lie. When faced with a sexual temptation such as pornography, etc., rather than recognizing that it is no longer in our nature to be tempted by it, we entertain the notion, are deceived, and die. Again, what dies? Our true self–the knowledge of God.

In the presence of temptation, carnal thinking looks like this: The devil comes with a lie and says, “This is desirable. This perversion is attractive. You like this.” Then rather than counting ourselves alive to God and dead to sin, we empower the lie and entertain it, “What if I do like that? What if I am attracted to that perverse thing? I must be a pervert. I must be ‘x.’”

Then the agreement empowers the enemy, and perversion sets in. We are given over to a debased mind because we didn’t retain the knowledge of the truth: It isn’t even in our nature to think that way any longer. We live by our feelings instead of by faith. We need to remember that we’ve been changed for the better and are free to think and act like God.

Breaking Sexual Agreements

There are three aspects that must be addressed when breaking agreements that lead to sinful actions:

  1. Recognizing the lie
  2. Breaking agreement with the lie
  3. Resolving with God the desire for the lie to be the truth (IMPORTANT)

The last part is probably the most important. You see, the power of any lie isn’t how convincing it is, but rather the desire of the person to want it to be true. For example, Esau believed a lie when his brother offered him the trade. His believed the lie that, “This won’t really cost me my inheritance.” Why did he believe that? Simple: His body compelled him, through hunger, to not want the agreement to be binding. So he made a choice to believe a lie and made a horrible agreement that set spiritual forces in motion–eventually resulting in the loss of his inheritance.

We do the same thing when we choose lust. We choose to put to death the glory of the new man and resurrect the old man and its lusts. The problem is that in the moment when it costs us something to make a good choice, we want the lie to be truth. We want to believe that we need this thing the devil offers. Many times we possess emotional needs and wounds that further compound our desire for the lies to be our truth.

We all have wounds that give power to the lies we want to believe. For example, we’ve noticed a correlation between abuses and their expression in sexual fantasy–people who have suffered active abuse (physical, sexual, emotional, verbal, etc.) most often tend to have fantasies where they play the sexually dominant role; whereas people who have suffered passive abuses (neglect, absent parents, etc.) tend to have a passive, submissive role in their sexual fantasies. When the wound is healed, the fantasy loses power and the lie can be broken, not just in thought and theory, but in the heart, resulting in real freedom.

So when the enemy lies to you, it isn’t enough to simply recognize that you are created in the image of God. You must also use that fact as a starting point in your quiet time so that you can properly relate to God without shame and ask Him why certain lies have power and space. You’ll be amazed as He reveals heart issues and wounds you were unaware of. As the wounds that empower the lies are healed, areas of bondage and perversion lose their power and sway so that we can marvel at how our nature really has been changed by the power of God’s love and grace.

Going Deeper

There is so much more I’d like to share about agreements and healing heart wounds that we simply don’t have time for in a not-so-short blog article. There are layers of agreements we’ve found that empower specific lust issues. So if you’d like more information about any of these topics or to go deeper in identifying heart wounds or breaking agreements, the Mighty Man Manual by Jon Snyder may be a wonderful resource and guide to help you find real and lasting freedom from lust and sexual bondage. Visit www.mightymanministries.com for more information.