Breaking the CyclePastor Lutzer | November 24, 2002
You can be changed deep down at the heart level—but only God can do it. And He delights to do it.
Selected highlights from this sermon
Addictions pervade society—even our churches. We all have the potential for failure. But the cycle of addiction can be broken.
In this message, Pastor Lutzer gives us three things that will help break that seemingly never-ending spiral. Pastor will give us something to believe (the key to being released from sin), something to do, and something to share.
You can be changed at the heart level. That’s something that only God can do—and delights to do. And He can help you break that cycle.
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Many people today struggle with compulsive obsessive behaviors. Some people may be obsessed with cleanliness or money, some with drugs, some with gambling, some with alcohol, some with pornography.
Since about seventy percent of all pornography falls into the hands of children, it should not be surprising that a young man whom we shall call Matt got hooked at the age of 13 when he saw his father’s magazines. He continued this throughout college and into his marriage. And he said, “I lived like a double agent for the CIA. I led two lives. I thought I could never get caught, but God was on my trail.” In World A he was that man who could function very well in school, and in business, and even in his family. But World B had to be hidden.
Why is it that pornography is so serious in our society today? Well, according to James Dobson, at least fifty percent of Christian men struggle at some level with pornography. And the reason that the statistics are that high and maybe even higher is because we were not born with an innate love of gambling or alcohol. That’s acquired, but we are sexual beings with strong, unrelenting sexual desires, so naturally we will gravitate to that which seems to fulfill those desires. But there’s another reason, of course, and that is its availability today. We live in an era the likes of which we have never seen in history. We have movies. We have television. We have videotapes, and now we have the Internet.
Last night Rebecca and I were at a meeting with the Concerned Women for America, and we heard four brief lectures, and a woman gave a lecture as to what she is doing to try to produce legislation so that child pornography and obscenity might be prosecuted, which never happened during the Clinton era. But what she said was startling and frightening about the kind of stuff that is on the Internet today, some of the most degrading, some of the most perverted things, the names of which I will not mention to you this morning.
And my heart has been so heavy that I need to say to you that if you have the Internet in your home, you have a virtual sewer that is running through your house. And you know, every house we’ve ever had has a sewer, but we paid no attention to it. It was no problem until it backed up and then we knew all about it. And in the very same way, the Internet may not be a problem until children access it. Did you know that children are becoming pedophiles at the age of 10 and 11, getting on the Internet, seeing this terrible material, and then acting it out? Today in America, while we sit here, hundreds of children will discover new kinds of pornography on the Internet.
A woman wrote to me and said her 16-year old son began to access pornography, and within days tried to act out what it is that he saw, and he’s sitting in jail today. The story can be repeated thousands and thousands of times.
Now I want to say this to you parents if you have the Internet in your home. We here at The Moody Church have a blockage system for all of our Internets, for all of our computers here at the church. And we’re thinking of other ways to be able to use the Internet – yes, but also to have strict accountability. But listen to me. If you have children in your home, and you do not have a blocking system on your Internet, you are possibly exposing to those children something that will destroy them utterly, and eventually send them to hell. And if you don’t have enough money for a blocking system, would you come and talk to any member of the pastoral staff? And we’ll make sure that you get enough money to have a blockage system. You cannot allow this.
Did you know that City Hall, here in Chicago, has a blocking system for all of their employees because too many of them were accessing pornography? Did you also know that the libraries do not because of the ACLU saying, “Well, yes, everybody should be able to access kiddy-porn and whatever else is on the Internet.” We are living in a day and age when families need to wake up. They need to be able to put in place rules and guidance systems, because your children are targeted to be destroyed. Of course, there are other kinds of sexual difficulties and obsessions. There is voyeurism, serial relationships, prostitution, pedophilia, and the list goes on.
Before we go to the Scriptural answer (and thank God there is an answer, and we’re going to get to that answer), let’s just take a moment to tour the mind of an addict. Oftentimes the long torturous journey begins by curiosity and exploitation, often in a dysfunctional home. And so to cover the pain, to cover the emptiness, to cover that sense of destruction and loneliness there may be a turning to drink, to gambling, to cocaine, or to sexual relationships, or to pornography. And the person who begins always thinks, “I’ll just try it once, and I can control the consequences. I’ll just satisfy my curiosity.” The problem is that they trip a series of dominoes, like a person walking in the dark, not knowing that there’s a bucket of water on the floor. And they trip these dominoes, and pretty soon the one line of dominoes goes this way, and another that way, and suddenly they’re in a whole new world that they can’t get rid of. And the long, shameful torturous private journey has begun.
And then there’s the withdrawal from meaningful relationships. I don’t mean a withdrawal from relationships, because these people will function well. They will function in banks and hospitals and Sunday school classes. You say today, “Pastor Lutzer, who are you talking about? Are we talking about some addict who is on South State Street?” (chuckles) No, my friend! Just look around. This is whom I’m talking about. Look up here. This is whom we’re talking about potentially. All of us must recognize that the problem that we’re discussing here today is a problem that pervades society. It pervades our churches, and all of us have the potential for failure. Many of you know who you are as I’m speaking to you today with deep sense of shame and commitment. And we’re going to be talking about that, that is to say commitment to some particular obsession.
Then protecting and sustaining this pleasure becomes all consuming. Rationalizations kick in. A person who visits prostitutes says, “Well, I really do love my wife (he thinks).” Child molesters begin to say, “Well, it doesn’t really hurt the child. We’re just exploring various possibilities.” And all of this is rationalized. Pornographers say, “Well, everybody is doing it. I mean this is common. It can’t be bad.”
And then the cycle begins. And there’s that cycle of obsession with the euphoria, the rapid heart beat, the sense of elation, the feeling now that one is being carried along by a river, just like a piece of driftwood going along a stream, that something bigger is here. There’s a whole new world that continually opens up. And so you go through the cycle of saying, “Okay, I won’t,” and then doing it. “I won’t,” and then you do it until finally you give up and simply say, “It’s all hopeless. I’m just going to do whatever I have to do and protect it as best I can.” There’s no more fight left.
Isn’t it amazing? I grew up in a home where my parents warned me about the power of sin. All of us need to be warned again and again, because the thing that addictions teach us is this - that sin takes us farther than we intended to go, keeps us longer than we intended to stay, and costs us more than we thought we’d pay.
Well, where do we go from here? You know that this is a series of messages titled Restoring the Soul – Positive Healing in an Age of Brokenness. And today we come to this message, which is Breaking the Cycle – Hope and Help and Healing. But you know the way to do it is not just by condemnation and preaching against certain things, because if all that we were to do is to increase the guilt and the self-condemnation and the shame, if that’s all that we did, we probably would not help people at all, and I’ll tell you why. It’s because that does not get down to the level of the appetite, the level of the desire. You can preach, and you can hear, and you can go out unchanged.
I learn a lot from the letters that are sent to me, and many of you write to me. Some of you have written to me since this series began. One person said, “Pastor Lutzer (and he’s speaking as someone who struggled with pornography but, thank God, is coming out of that to a sense of victory), I want you to know that there are many of us here at The Moody Church who listen to your words, but we don’t hear what you say.” Wow! “We listen to the words, but we don’t hear what you say because we’re all in denial. What I’m doing isn’t so bad. I can handle it on my own. Where do we turn?”
Well, what I’d like to do today is to give you three steps, I’ll tell you where we are going and then we’ll begin the journey, and we’ll be with it until the end.
First of all, I’m going to give you something to believe. Secondly, I’m going to give you something to do, and thirdly, something to share. That’s simple enough and clear enough, is it not? Something to believe, something to do, and something to share!
First of all, something to believe! Now I want you to know that when I came to this, I struggled. What passages of Scripture do I use? It’s not because there aren’t passages on these kinds of topics but because the New Testament is full of them. I thought about Romans 6, but I chose the words of Jesus instead – two passages that Jesus, our blessed Savior, gave to us. The first one is John 8. You may turn to that. What is it I’m asking you to believe? It says in verse 31 of John 8: “So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, ‘If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’ They answered him, ‘We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, “You will become free? ”’ (They were talking about physical slavery as a nation.} Jesus answered them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.’”
When I ask you to believe something, I’m asking you, first of all, to believe something about slavery. Jesus said, “If you commit sin (that is, if you are constantly sinning and you are under sin’s dominion), you are really a slave to sin.” Slaves don’t wake up in the morning and tell their master what to do. They don’t say, “I want you to do this and that.” No, it’s the master who says, “I want you today to obey me.”
“What do you want me to do, sin?”
“I want you to buy that magazine. I want you to get that video. I want you to go cruising and find a prostitute – whatever it is.”
What happens is sin is in control, and all that a slave can do is say, “Yes, Master, here I am. I am here today to do your bidding. Whatever it is that you ask, I’ll do.”
I read a book on sexual addiction where it says that the addict really has no choice. Now, he does have a choice, but in this particular area he may not. I need to be clear here, because there is hope, as we’ll see in this message. But I’m simply saying that in terms of the commitment to sin, he is pushed along. I’ve given you the illustration in a different context of a little boy at Marshall Fields, who was in a little cart. And he was angry and crying and turning his little steering wheel to the right, but he was going to the left because his steering wheel was disconnected from anything that mattered. It was his mother who was controlling where he was going.
In the very same way, sin says, “Do this,” and we say, “No, I’m not going to,” but you go in that direction anyway. But notice the contrast. Jesus said, picking up on this idea of slavery, “The slave doesn’t live in the house forever,” perhaps thinking of the Old Testament story of Hagar, you remember, who was put out as the slave woman. And Isaac, though, is the son. He gets to stay in the home, doesn’t he? Jesus said, “The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son (the Lord Jesus Christ) sets you free as a son or as a daughter, you will be free indeed.” Freedom plus! Jesus is saying that the key to no longer being a slave of sin is to be a son or a daughter.
Now today I am speaking to sons and daughters. I’m assuming that you are a son or a daughter (even though there are dozens, maybe even hundreds listening to this message who have never trusted Christ as Savior), because that’s the first step. But you see, the reason that sonship is so important is it gives us our dignity back. It gives us our dignity. It gives us also privileges. In other words, what we can do is we now have the authority to no longer be subject to the slavery of sin, because we are sons and daughters of the Almighty!
You say, “But Pastor Lutzer, I am a son or a daughter of the Almighty, and I am still living like a slave.” Yes, that certainly is possible, but my point is it is unnecessary. You’ve bought a lie if you think that there’s no hope, because the Son is stronger than the slavery.
What a wonderful passage of Scripture we read together today from Romans 6: “Sin need no longer have dominion over you. You are no longer slaves to sin.” Why did Paul say that? He said that when Jesus died on the cross, it isn’t just that Jesus died for us, blessed though that is, but that we died with Jesus, and he who is dead is freed from sin. The power of slavery, the obligation to slavery is over in Jesus. But so many people discover that they are still slaves, and do you know why? It’s because they go on unwilling to deal with their slavery. And do you know why? It’s because they lack desperation, because only desperate people are really delivered.
This past week we were discussing this message as a staff at our staff meeting. One of the staff members said that someone whom some of us know who is a professor in a leading evangelical seminary gives a testimony of being really addicted to pornography. And the thing that changed him (that woke him up) was when he began to realize that the next step in the domino system for him was to visit prostitutes. When he began thinking about doing that he finally said, “You know, I’d better do something.” Up until that time his sin was manageable. You know, he could handle it, but he wouldn’t allow himself to cross that line. And it wasn’t enough to simply say, “No, I’m going to draw a line here because I won’t do that.” No, because you are not in charge, thank you! Sin is! And if it’s the next domino, as you allow these dominoes in your life to fall, it’ll be the next thing you will end up doing, because you are already doing things you promised yourself that you would never do. And so he had to go back to the root and deal with it. And not only did God free him, but he has a marvelous ministry today, and at one time has preached from this pulpit in the last few years as a delivered man.
So, what do I want you to believe? I want you to believe that Jesus, the Son, is stronger than slavery. I want you to see yourself as a son and a daughter of the Almighty. I want you to know that you have a sense of dignity, that the thoughts that you have about yourself as being so unlovable are not God’s thoughts about you. They are your thoughts, not His. He loves you. He cares about you, and you’re fully and completely redeemable in the most thorough way imaginable. The Son makes us free indeed!
There’s a second thing that I want you to do, and that is I want you to do something, to believe something! To do something! Now for this I do ask you to turn to Matthew 5. We’re going to use a different passage - Matthew 5 - where Jesus, in a familiar passage on the Sermon on the Mount says these words in verses 27 and 28. (By the way, it is so wonderful to hear you turning in your Bibles to the passages that we indicate, and I hope that you always bring your Bible to church.)
Matthew 5:27 and 28 says: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Jesus here is making a statement of universal indictment. And then notice: “If your right eye causes you to sin (I like the translation that says stumble), tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.”
Jesus is talking about the battle that we are going to have with lust. And the whole imagery here is if your right eye (and He uses the eye because we as men particularly are easily stimulated by the eye in a way that perhaps women do not fully understand) and if your hand (which oftentimes is used in stimulation particularly in relationship to a woman) is causing you to fall into the pit (And the imagery there is a pit, you know, that has – what shall we say? It is dug into the ground and then it is covered with light branches and leaves, and the animal does not know that the pit is there, but he falls in)… “If it’s your eye or your hand,” Jesus said, “cut out your eye and cut off your hand.”
You say, “Well, Pastor Lutzer, He isn’t speaking literally, is He?” No, He isn’t obviously because it would be possible for you to cut out your right eye and still lust with your left, or to cut off your right hand and still be immoral. But what Jesus is saying in the strongest possible way is this: Whatever you need to do to separate yourself from that which is falling into a pit, from that which causes you to fall into a pit, do it – even if it is drastic.
First of all, amputation is painful, isn’t it? Of course gouging out your eye with crude tools and no anesthetic hurts. I mean it hurts. And some of you have to give up relationships that hurt. You have to give up friendships that are causing you to sin. You have to break relationships. Some of you have to flee from temptation. You have to run from other people. You have to change jobs. You say, “That’s drastic.” Jesus says, “Do it!”
Some of you have to take your Blockbuster card, and you have to take an ax and smash it into a thousand pieces. Some of you have to end your cable television subscription. There are Christians who have HBO or Showtime (some of these stations that show pornography), and what you need to do is to just do it. Some of you have to unplug your television set.
There is a friend (and he knows that I use him as an illustration, so if he’s here today it’s fine as long as I don’t name him) who a year ago unplugged his television set. And he told us that not only is his mind a lot purer, but he said that when he was sick the other day he was tempted to plug it in. But he thought, “You know, I’ve done so long without it and I’ve done so well, why should I begin that now?”
Jesus is saying, “Whatever you need to do (if it means getting rid of your computer), do it.” “Oh, I need email,” you say. (laughter) Don’t give me that. We lived for years and years and years without email. (applause)
Some time ago I was on vacation and my secretary had to deal with 700 emails. Now emails we’re supposed to simplify our lives, I thought. We say, “I’ve got all these friends. Here’s a good article. Here’s a joke. Here’s this and here’s that. We need email.” Jesus is saying, “Whatever you need to do, do it even if it hurts.”
And then, of course, it is also thorough amputation – cutting out your eye, cutting off your hand. What would you think of a doctor who would say to a cancer patient, “Well, you know, we could have gotten it all, but we kept a little bit of the cancer because you know the time might come when you might want a little bit of cancer so we decided to manage it rather than get rid of it.” See, that’s our problem. We always leave a bridge to that sin. We confess it but there’s always that bridge there. The idea of going cold turkey is unthinkable, so we keep that in our minds and hearts and we keep the bridge.
One of the Puritan writers says that when it comes to sin, we should do like Paul did when he shook the viper into the fire, and when we leave sin it should not be with the intention of seeing it again. It is thorough. It is worthwhile. Jesus said it’s better.
You say, “Well, I wouldn’t want to have one eye or one hand only.” Yeah, I know. None of us would. We wouldn’t be able to fulfill all of our aspirations, but my goodness, if that’s what’s standing between me and heaven, my soul is worth so much more than my body. It is better for me to arrive in heaven with one eye than to be in hell with two eyes. It is better! It is better!
What is it that we lose when we submit to these obsessions that control us? Do you know what we lose? We lose the blessing and the friendship of God, because God is always at arm’s length. He’s always there in the distance. We may pray to Him in desperation, but there is no fellowship.
A few years ago a pastor who was really addicted to pornography wrote an article that appeared in Leadership Magazine. They got more responses from that article than any other article they had ever published until that time. But he said the thing that finally motivated him to come clean and to change was this: It was the absence of the presence of God. He said the thing that hurt him the most were the words of Jesus: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”
When we are impure in heart we can’t really see God, and we know that He is there but we keep putting Him off, and we keep saying, “I’m going to deal with this later at another time.” Why? It’s because we don’t want to just face the issue and say, you know, we’ve grieved God. And that’s why we know that dealing with this is worthwhile.
So, I’ve given you something to believe – that sonship is more powerful than slavery. I’ve given you something to do - namely to burn all the bridges that lead back to the same sin.
Now let me give you something to share, because many of you are listening to this and you are saying, “Pastor Lutzer, you are absolutely right, and I am going to deal with this issue this afternoon. God and I are going to have this little talk, and nobody is going to know about it except God and I.” Well, there are some things that it’s okay just for you and God to know about. There’s a lot in my life that is just between God and me. But I need to tell you that when it really comes to the issue of these obsessions, you cannot do it alone. It’s equivalent to a finger that is bleeding, saying, “I’m bleeding and I’m going to heal, but I’m going to do it independently of the body. Just cut me off and put me in a fridge, and God and I will get healed.”
No, the whole purpose of being linked to the body is for help. Let me give you two reasons. First of all, the Bible says, “Confess your faults one to another that you may be healed.” Normally we think of physical healing, but I believe in context, there are powerful reasons to believe that it is spiritual healing.
This past summer I spent an hour with a man who was addicted to pornography, and actually very immoral, and then God changed him. And now for the last 10 or 15 years he gives lectures in churches on how to overcome these addictions. You know, the name of his organization, which I forget is something like How to Have Healthy Relationships. And I thought that was strange for an organization that is helping people overcome these addictions. But he said no. He said, “What happens is you need a healthy relationship. Somebody needs to know your story, and yet affirm you. Somebody needs to be able to say, ‘Even though you have done that, you are part of the human family, and we’re all struggling together, and I affirm you as an individual who has worth and value and relationship.’” And also it is necessary for accountability, because you really can’t do it alone.
Let me tell you two separate stories, but because they are so parallel I will tell them as one story. One was a man who struggled with visiting prostitutes, and the other was a homosexual, coming out of the lifestyle, but falling again and again. Both of them independently (and these stories are totally independent) had friends who said, “When you are tempted, call me any time of the day or night.” So they would call any time of the day or night. So you know here’s somebody who would be cruising along, looking for a person with whom he could have this relationship, and saying to himself (One man explained it this way.), “Lord, if I see a phone booth, I’ll call my friend.”
Alright? So much to his displeasure he saw a phone booth, but he called his friend. His friend talked him out of what he was about to do and went over and blessed him, and stayed up all night with him, and ministered to him. And this happened a few times. And in both of these instances these men say that now as they look back over a period of time, they can hardly believe that they once did what they knew they once did because it’s almost as if it’s a different world. They’ve been changed at the level of the desire. And that’s why we need one another. That’s why accountability is so important. You say, “Well, is that all? Is there more to the story?”
The next message in this series is going to deal with the issue of the care of your soul, and how the disciplines of the Christian life become a part of it. None of these messages can stand alone. But I have given you something to believe, something to do, and something you must share with a friend. Somebody in this world needs to know who you are, and affirm you, and love you and hold you accountable.
And what happens as a result? The temptations lose their power. It’s been my experience I think that most of us overestimate our ability to handle temptation. We think we can take it on. No, we can’t!
Do you remember the story of Homer’s Odyssey – Ulysses? Ulysses was on his way home to be reunited with his wife. While Ulysses was gone, fighting in the Trojan War, he had a relationship with a goddess who warned him that on the way home there was an enchanted island that had sirens - beautiful women whose siren songs were so alluring that it was known that sailors often sailed to their death. Captains of ships, going one direction, overheard the siren song and were so seduced that they changed the course of their ships, not knowing that there were jagged rocks under the sparkling waters. And the men were so overcome by lust that they would hop into the water, even before the ship broke to pieces, and they were devoured by these sirens with their ravenous appetites.
Ulysses, bless him, knew how weak he was. So as they were sailing in the direction of the island, knowing that they had to go at least some miles past it, he asked all of the sailors to put wax in their ears. But he knew that that was not enough for him, with our without wax, so he asked the sailors to tie him to the mast of the ship – to tie him down. And then he said, “No matter how much I beg and plead and cajole, or manipulate or threaten, do not untie me until we are well past the island, and we cannot hear the song of the sirens anymore.”
My dear friend, I want you to know that there are many enchanted islands en route to the Holy City. And we look about and we see many people at various levels of pain and shame and devastation, brought about by the sirens that come to us from the world, from the temptations that allure us, and there are times when we must tie one another to the mast of the ship, and simply say, “In order for me to sail past these temptations, which I cannot handle, I need the Body of Christ. I need to experience, first of all, that sonship is more powerful than slavery. “He breaks the power of cancelled sin.” Sin has to be cancelled, but its power needs to be broken too. He breaks the power of cancelled sin.
And secondly, there’s something I have to do. I have to get rid of the thing that is constantly causing me to fail, no matter how drastic the action is. And number three, I have to connect with the Body. I have to be a part of a healing community because I need help. If the Son shall make you free, you’ll experience freedom plus.
Join me as we pray.
Father, we come to you today as those who stand in need of your matchless grace, and we ask today, Father, that you might grant us the ability to just do what the Holy Spirit has told us to do. Whatever there is in our lives that needs to be broken, come, Father. Oh Father, we are so bound by our own selves, our own images. We ask today, Father, Holy Spirit, that has been poured out to the church, come to us.
How many of you say today, “Pastor Lutzer, God has spoken to me and I intend to follow through with what you said?” Will you raise your hands please throughout the auditorium? God bless you. God bless you up in the balcony. I see those hands – several of you. Others of you here on the main floor – I see those hands – too many really to count.
Father, we ask in Jesus’ name, would You cause those who have heard this message today to follow through, those who were too ashamed to raise their hands, those who knew they should? But Lord, the power is so great. We resist Satan. We resist sin, and we stand in the liberty with which Jesus has purchased us. We ask this in His name, Amen.