What do overcomers need to overcome in order to be an overcomer? Not sin according to many of today’s evangelicals…
First, let me raise a question. Is it even possible for a
mortal to “overcome”? And a second question: If it isn’t possible, why does God
speak about it? Is He presenting us with a tantalizing target that he knows we
will never hit?
Think back to the Old Testament for a little. Peter told the
crowds in Acts 15 that the church should not put a yoke on the neck of the
gentiles that neither the Christian Jews or their forefathers had been able to
bear. In other words, the Jews had never really accomplished what the Law
required. It was always a step beyond human capability. But Peter went on to
say that both the Christians and their forefathers would be saved through the
grace of Christ.
So, God’s people never were overcomers in the truest sense
of the word. But it’s different now. Or isn’t it? When you read the Sermon on
the Mount, it appears that the target has moved. And it seems to be as far out
of reach as it ever was.
But would God give us a target that was out of reach? Let’s
consider a few more thoughts. In 1 Cor.
9:27 Paul wrote, “I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when
I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.” He seems to be
taking the concept of overcoming literally. In fact, this passage is in the
context of running a race and running it with the assumption that he could win.
So, is the target out of reach? Paul didn’t seem to think
so, though he realized that he could miss it.
John also talked about overcoming. In 1 John 5:4 he wrote, “For
whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has
overcome the world—our faith.”
Does this mean that the idea of overcoming is just an
abstract concept? Is he saying that if you are a Christian you will overcome—
but you actually won’t? That your faith will bridge that gap between what you
should be, according to the target, and what you really are, in the human
To add to the dilemma, let’s go back to Revelation. John
used the word “overcomes” eight times in Revelation. Each case appears to be a
caveat. Let me list them…
Those who overcome will eat of the tree of life (2:7)
Those who overcome will not be hurt by the second death (2:17)
Those who overcome and keep God’s works will have power over the nations (2:26)
Those who overcome will wear white garments. Jesus will not blot their names out of the book of life. He will confess their names before the Father and the angels. (3:5)
Those who overcome will be a pillar in God’s temple, will receive the name of God and the New Jerusalem, and the new name of Jesus. (3:12
Those who overcome will get to sit with Jesus on his throne (3:21)
Those who overcome will inherit all things and be the sons of God.
Those who don’t… ???
God hates sin because He is holy. He hates sin even if one of His children commits sin. Isaiah 59:2 states this:
“But your iniquities have separated you from your God; And your sins have hidden His face from you, So that He will not hear.”
People have written entire books on this question. I haven’t
found anyone that gives an answer that seems satisfactory to me. I’m not
planning to write still another book about this, so let me summarize how I deal
with this in my own life.
First, I know that God loves me so deeply that I can’t even
comprehend it. He assures me in His word and by His Spirit that He absolutely
wants me to be an overcomer and join Him in eternity. He proved this to me by
sending His Son, Jesus, to die for me.
Second, I know that I can trust God. He knows my heart and I
believe that He will do His part in this whole scenario. He tells me to
overcome, so I believe that He will help me in the battle with sin and evil. He
has also promised me that His strength will be made perfect through weakness
and that His grace is sufficient to deal with my weakness (2 Cor 12:9).
Job put it this way: “Though He slay me, yet will I trust
Him.” Can I do any less?
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now 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 do for His good pleasure. Php 2:12, 13 (NKJV)
To summarize once again, to me this seems to be saying this.
I do my part by obeying Christ and He does his part by showing me what that
means. He also gives me the desire and the power to do so. I can safely trust
Him to make these reach together even though I can’t quite understand how they
Pornography when it has conceived gives birth to lust. And lust when it is fully grown brings forth death. (See James 1:15, ESV)
A few years ago, a young man sat down at his father’s computer to do some writing. But while he was looking for a document, he saw a file name that caught his attention. He clicked on it and was floored by the lewd picture that flashed up on the screen. He had never seen anything like it and the shock made him feel weak inside.
He quickly clicked on the little X and the picture vanished. But he noticed that the folder where he had found it was full of files. He hesitated, then reached slowly for the mouse…
Several hours later he reached the end of the folder and shut down the computer. He felt sick, literally sick, as he sat there staring with glazed eyes at the blank screen. Finally, he stumbled away from the computer, his face hot and burning.
He could hardly eat. He couldn’t sleep. He couldn’t read his Bible, and he couldn’t pray. The lewd pictures he had seen had seared themselves indelibly on the memory plates of his mind and they followed him everywhere he went. They danced in front of his eyes, despite his best attempts to forget. They raised desires within him that he couldn’t handle. Finally, in desperation, he went to talk with his pastor.
His pastor helped him to find peace again, and to regain his victory, though he would struggle with the aftermath for years. But one of the questions his pastor asked him was, “How did those pictures get on your father’s computer? You didn’t put them there, did you?” He hadn’t thought of that, and his pastor saw the shocked look that crossed his face. There was only one possible answer.
A Word to Women
Men are created differently from women. If you are a woman reading this, you need to realize this before you can understand the struggles your boy friend, your husband, or your sons might be going through. Or even your Christian brothers who go to church with you. And certainly, the ungodly man across the street.
Most women, especially Christian women, are disgusted when they see lewd sights, whether in pictures, or in real life. Women have their temptations, but they are based more on the sense of touch and their emotions. Men are attracted by these things as well, but they are especially attracted by what they see. You should consider this when you make or buy your clothing. While it is a sin for a man to lust after you, do you really want to be responsible for stirring up that lust in his heart? Isn’t that a sin too? It isn’t showing Christian love to your brothers in Christ to dress or act in a way that will cause them to struggle with sin.
Unfortunately, more and more women are getting sucked into the pornography trap as well. In some cases, these are gay, which opens a different door. But the same warnings apply to you as men, if you fall into the grips of pornography.
Meet the Octopus
Pornography has become North America’s 7th largest industry according to one source. The young man in our opening account didn’t intend to sin when he sat down at his father’s computer. And the first picture he saw probably didn’t make him sin. But once he clicked on that second picture, he rapidly became powerless. The pictures drew him right in, like an octopus wrapping its slimy and sticky tentacles about him. There was a moment or two that he could have fled. But when he gave in and opened that second picture, then the third one, then the fourth one, faster and faster in his feverish rush to see more and more—he was doomed. The octopus snapped its beak in glee. Another juicy, tasty victim to gloat over and devour slowly in the days and weeks to come.
Pornography is one of the devil’s most successful tools. If he can trip a father, he might be able to trip a son. And one son may induce another one, or a friend. Worse yet, if he can trip a pastor, he may be able to tear a whole congregation apart. Pornography effectively neuters a man’s manhood, especially if he is a Christian. He will not be able to look a woman in the eyes or face himself in the mirror. Deep inside, he knows that he is just a beast, living by his beastly desires. Slowly, but surely, the octopus sucks him in. By the time he gets his eyes off the bait and sees his doom, it is too late. His marriage has been destroyed, his children despise him, and worst of all, he has lost his relationship with his God.
You can find a lot of statistics about this epidemic that is slowly destroying the manhood in our nations. Various studies will give various statistics, but all of them are bad. According to a poll taken by Josh McDowell Ministry for a conference in 2016, 47 percent of men and 12 percent of women in general society seek out porn on a regular basis. We might expect that from today’s sinful society, and I’ve read worse statistics than that. But the same poll discovered that 27 percent of born again, practicing Christian men and 6 percent of born again, practising Christian women[i] also deliberately seek out porn at least once or twice a month.[ii]
It is not for nothing that King David vowed that he would not set any evil thing in front of his eyes. (see Psalms 101:3a) He knew from bitter experience what would happen if he did. (See 2 Sam 11) If you give in to the deathly influence of porn, you will learn it as well.
Victims of the Octopus?
Few people are victims of pornography from one perspective. Normally people fall into this trap by their own choices in life. In that sense, you can’t really call yourself a victim. But in another sense, every person falling prey to the octopus of pornography is a victim because once you get tangled in it’s tentacles, you are pretty well helpless. Without outside help of some sort, you doomed to a lifetime of misery.
But not everyone looks at it that way. Victims of the octopus fall into several categories. The first category is Christian men and boys who have fallen, for some reason or other. The boy in our opening account is an illustration of that. Normally, such victims will be tortured enough by their conscience that they will eventually go for help. They will hate the trap they are in. They will plead with God for deliverance, and ask for forgiveness when they fall. This essay is for people like you, if you fall into this category. Please read it carefully and allow God’s Spirit to direct you to the help you need. Thank Him for your conscience! It will drive you to find a way of escape.
But there is another category of “victims” today. These are the men and boys (along with some women) who don’t hate their bondage. Instead, they want more, and MORE. They get a thrill out of watching pornographic videos and looking at lewd pictures. They may joke about their addiction and shamelessly trade internet links with other people. They seldom go looking for help to escape their addiction because they don’t feel particularly guilty about it.
Unless such people fall at the feet of Jesus in repentance, they have no hope of escaping eternal judgment. Read Jude 12 – 16.
There is one final class of victims, and they are truly victims. A growing segment of teenagers were introduced to pornography at the age of 12 or younger. By the time they reach their upper teens, or before, pornography and immorality has become a daily habit. For such people, their normal desires soon grow into uncontrollable passions. It is important for parents to make sure that their children are not inadvertently placed in such a situation.
The power of God is sufficient to save and deliver any sinner, even from the obsessions of pornography and uncontrollable passions. But in some cases, it can be very long and difficult process.
From Innocence to Addiction
In a Christian setting porn addiction rarely starts with actual porn. It is more normal for teenagers to get started by reading romance novels that include a few borderline scenes that awaken their curiosity. Or, in some circles, it may start with YouTube videos containing a few somewhat raunchy scenes. The devil is very patient. He will stalk his victims for years, if necessary.
Adults for instance may get started by reading news sites on the internet. The article they are reading may be fine, but it may include sideline material that can draw you deeper and deeper, from one site to another. Before you realize it, you are looking at material that isn’t much different from some of the softer porn. In almost all cases, curiosity is the key word that starts the downhill trail. This is true for almost all ages.
Porn has been a problem ever since grocery stores started installing magazine racks. But the internet has increased the porn epidemic dramatically. Probably a third of internet traffic is porn related.
Smartphones have become one of the greater impetuses behind the porn epidemic. People can get porn on their smartphones and view it in secret. They can share it with friends. They can bookmark it for viewing later. Plus, not only can teenagers use their phones to view porn sites, but more and more they are using them to swap pornographic pictures of themselves with others.
And far to often these things infiltrate Christian churches and homes. So, what can we do?
Some churches react to today’s internet and technology threats by rejecting technology completely. That seldom works for long, because most people will be forced to rub shoulders with it somewhere or other. It is better to understand the dangers so that people can cope with them when they face them. But it is one way of dealing with it. And some men may need to do this to be victorious.
Other congregations ask that their people install filters and accountability support systems on their computers and phones. Accountability helps a lot when temptation comes along and you are only one click away from the octopus. But remember, when a man wants to sin, he will always find a way to do it. You must deal with the “want to” in your heart. Build up a relationship with your Savior that is so strong that you want to please Him more than you want to gratify your lusts and desires.
Don’t ever allow yourself to be fooled into thinking that these temptations are innocent and a normal part of life. Many a man has been pulled into the mire by the octopus and destroyed. You could be the next one. Read Proverbs 6:23 – 29.
Only One Solution
There is nothing wrong with using aids like I mentioned in the last section, but I only know of one solution that really works. That is for men to fall at the feet of Jesus and repent of their sin. Repent of the looks they sneak at women passing by. Repent of the pictures and videos they have viewed on their smartphones. Repent of their evil thoughts. Once they have done this, then the solutions in the last section can help to keep them pure.
Evil imaginations and inordinate affections (fantasies and illicit passions) make a lot of trouble for some very godly looking men and boys. Married men, and a lot who aren’t married, have a fairly good idea how every woman they meet would look if they didn’t have any clothing on. Many women would be horrified if they knew what thoughts some men struggle with about them. At its root, that has nothing to do with the internet or Playboy magazines. It comes from not letting God deal with our sinful hearts.
Secrecy militates against victory in these areas. I’m not saying that you need to confess every sinful thought or temptation to the church. But if you are having ongoing problems, you need to find someone who can and will help you find victory. Often just talking with someone will help. If that isn’t enough, then arrange for an accountability relationship.
Cultivate Your Marriage
Here are a few more thoughts. It has been proven that men and women who are in a good marriage relationship are far less likely to fall into this sin than those who aren’t. In fact, one study says that a happily married man is 61% less likely to fall into the porn trap. Quite a bit of the responsibility for this falls into the lap of the wife. She can ward off a lot of temptation for her husband by being willing and eager to build a strong intimate marriage that fulfills his needs (and hers). Every married couple should sit down and read 1 Corinthians 7:1-5 together. The word defraud, used in verse 5 of this passage, is often translated, deprive. Refusing intimate relationships with your spouse is cheating him or her of their rightful dues. Fulfilled husbands and wives are not nearly as likely to fall into the porn trap.
Note also that this passage makes it clear that intimate relationships should not be selfish. Husbands and wives have power over each other’s bodies to give them fulfillment in ways that they could not rightly give to themselves. Indulging in porn is totally selfish.
But What if I’m Single?
Single men and women are about twice as likely to fall into pornography and lust than their married counterparts. In many of these cases, the people involved would like to be married but haven’t had the opportunity. It is important that married people don’t push these people out of their lives, but are willing to provide the support and friendship they need. You can see the signs if you look for them. The young man who looks defeated in church, or who starts to distance himself, might need your help. Girls and young women aren’t immune to sexual sin either, so don’t discount that when someone seems strangely unhappy.
If you are single and struggling, keep in mind that fulfillment in life doesn’t come from marriage or sex. It comes from being in the will of God. God has not deprived you of finding fulfillment in life.
Flee from the Octopus
The octopus is out to get you. It will gladly wrap its slimy, sticky tentacles around you and draw you into its deadly embrace. Few creatures ever escape the embrace of an octopus. You won’t either unless you determine in your heart to avoid the bait that it will set for you. The bait will look so delicious, so enjoyable, and so innocent. You may yearn for it with all your bodily desires. But it is poison. Deadly poison. Once you are wrapped in its deadly embrace, the octopus will slowly dismember you with its beak, all the while gloating over you with its enormous yellow eyes. One of my worst nightmares would be to be entangled and devoured by an octopus. But the pornography trap is even deadlier because your eternal life is at stake.
And there shall in no wise enter into it [the holy city] any thing that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie: but they which are written in the Lamb’s book of life. (Revelation 21:27 KJV)
[ii] According to http://www.covenanteyes.com/pornstats/ 64% of Christian men, and 15% of Christian women admit to watching porn at least once a month. Part of the discrepancy in statistics could come from a difference in the definition of Christian.