Many addiction specialists have declared that relapse is part of the recovery process. The graves of thousands have taken their advice, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Many have been set free for good, never to return to their ex-lover. The Holiday at Sea has become their eternal home. How can this be your reality? How can you have complete freedom forever? How can you have lasting joy?
In the previous blog, we began looking at a parable Jesus told in Luke 8 widely known as the Parable of the Sower. We looked at the first pitfall Jesus gives us to avoid falling away. In this one we will look at the other the other two.
Pitfall #2- Testing and Persecution
The second person in Jesus’ parable is one who receives Jesus with joy at first, but once they face opposition and persecution, they fall away. The Bible is clear that following Jesus will not be easy. “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33b). “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12). The Gospel doesn’t promise an easy life, but it does promise we will have God and He will be enough regardless of our circumstances.
A future blog series will be entirely devoted to difficult seasons, so this portion will only address persecution due to your Christianity. I know it’s hard to believe, but not everyone will like that you are a Jesus follower. Jesus said, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:18-20a). Jesus promises all types of people will despise you because you have decided to follow Jesus.
One of my closest friends was highly involved in the secular recovery world when Jesus saved him. He had been sober for eight years, spoke to thousands of people each year about recovery, and was one of the most respected voices in the state on the topic. To everyone else, he looked like he was thriving, but on the inside he was dying. He started rationalizing secret sin because he was still sober, but his soul was at complete unrest. After a series of God-ordained relationships, he turned his life over to Jesus and began pursuing full-time ministry. Much of the recovery community turned their backs on him, telling him he was going to get high because he had forgotten where he came from. The statewide recovery convention retracted their invitation for him to speak at their annual conference and he was slandered for his conversion. My friend is still a passionate follower of Jesus today, many years later, but this process was extremely painful.
I’ve found that not many people will criticize you for believing in “god” or becoming “spiritual,” but when you begin following Jesus you will be persecuted. In many other countries and in church history, people have even been killed for their faith in Jesus. We may not get our heads chopped off, but we should expect people to slander us and persecute us in one way or another.
One lady experienced this when she came to Jesus as he was eating at a religious leader’s house. As many pious priests were having a meal around a nice table with sanitary conversation, a sinful, dirty woman emerged. The woman, who was likely a prostitute or stripper, began ugly crying on Jesus’ feet. The religious men stared in utter disarray as the whore used her hair to clean his dirty feet. The host freaked out and questioned Jesus’ piety and slandered the woman.
Jesus responded with a story,
A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little. (Luke 7:41-47)
The persecution you face may not only come from outside the church, but also from religious people. I’ve observed that newly converted drug addicts who pour out their lives at the feet of Jesus in undignified worship are not always accepted by some church goers. Submit yourself to the authority of your local church, but be ready for persecution from religious people who don’t have a story like yours. Jesus affirmed the sinful woman and rebuked the religious accuser.
Testing is coming. Hard times are on the way. Persecution from the rebellious and the religious is around the corner. When it occurs, we can either turn away from God, shaking our fist at him because our lives aren’t perfect, or lean into His promises, trusting that He will sustain us through it all.
Pitfall #3- Earthly Pleasures
The last pitfall Jesus addresses has to do with “the cares and riches and pleasures of life.” This is likely the most common, dangerous and discrete pitfall of them all because the “choking” Jesus mentions isn’t instant. It’s a slow fade. We start out strong in our spiritual lives, bearing lots of healthy fruit, but we allow money, success, relationships, possessions, and other good things choke out the God things. We slowly drift into loving the stuff God gives, and away from loving God Himself.
John gives us clarity around what types of temptations are coming our way. “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:15-17). The three types of worldly temptations are the desires of the flesh, the desires of the eyes, and the pride of life. These are the three types of temptations people have struggled with since Adam and Eve in the Garden. It’s the same three that Jesus is tempted with in the wilderness before he began his itinerant ministry. It’s the same ones you and I will face every day of our lives.
The pride of life is the desire to make a name for yourself or to make yourself the center of the universe. This is a continual fight for many who have begun to have some clean time under their belts. They get a promotion at work. They are celebrated for helping people. People begin turning to them for spiritual advice. None of these are bad things, but they become bad when we begin to love the applause and begin to forget that God is the reason for it all. When we let the thorns of pride continue to grow without humbling ourselves before God and others, it will choke out the work God is doing in our hearts.
The desire of the eyes is the love of stuff. When we stop spending all our money on drugs and lawyer expenses, we sometimes begin to have the ability to own nice things. Again, there is nothing wrong with having nice things, but Jesus said, “the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.” A great way to cut down this deadly vine is through generosity. The more you make, the more you should give away for the good of others. I’m a believer in enjoying all the benefits of being a child of God, including enjoying the good material gifts God gives you, but we cannot let these material possessions choke out the work of God in our hearts. This is a sneaky one that has turned many away from their First Love.
Lastly, and most importantly, the desires of the flesh. This is the desire to feel pleasure from this world. It includes drugs and alcohol, but also sex and relationships. I have talked extensively about drugs and alcohol in other blogs, so I will address sex and relationships here. The AA book says, “resentments are the number one offender,” for relapse. I strongly disagree. In what I have seen, sex and relationships are the number one offender! Although resentments are deadly, nothing has wreaked havoc on more babies in the faith than ungodly and unhealthy relationships.
Sex is a beautiful thing; as is marriage. God designed them both, and they are some of the most amazing pleasures He has given us on this side of eternity, but they can also be very dangerous. It’s like a fire in a fireplace. When kept in their proper context, they’re so enjoyable, beautiful, and lifegiving. But when that fire gets out of the fireplace, it is extremely destructive. The carpet catches on fire and soon, life as we know it is completely destroyed.
So, what is God’s design for this area of our lives? How can we keep the fire in the fireplace? God’s design for sex and marriage is for one man and one woman to be together forever. Sex is to be enjoyed in the context of marriage between one man and one woman. This is very clearly stated throughout the bible. Most of us need this area of our lives with all of its past perversions to be crucified and resurrected into something brand new.
I will not unpack all of the intricacies of this in this short blog, but I would recommend a few things. First, if you are married to someone of the opposite sex, stay married, and love your spouse with Christ’s love, enjoying all the sexual pleasures marriage has to offer. Next, if you are not married, don’t start a relationship for at least a year after starting to follow Jesus. This timeline is not explicitly stated in the Bible, but I have observed that it takes at least that long for people to get their wits about them to be able to make wise lifelong decisions. Use these twelve precious months to focus solely on your relationship with Jesus. I promise you will not regret it! Lastly, once you are ready for a relationship, find someone who is also a fully devoted follower of Jesus. Many have jumped into a relationship with hopes of “helping them,” and have found that it’s much easier for them to pull you away from Christ, than for you to pull them towards Him.
My wife and I met a few years after I started following Jesus and started dating a few years later. We waited until we were married to have sex and it’s been one of the best decisions of my life. God has definitely blessed our obedience. She loves Jesus with all of her heart and makes my life and ministry so much better! My life is evidence God has the power to redeem this aspect of your life too, no matter how far you have strayed.
So far, Jesus has given us the three main pitfalls of our faith and freedom journey: the devil, difficult seasons, and the cares of the world. As we learn how to avoid these pitfalls and embrace what we talk about in the last blog of this series, we will learn to live in forever freedom. Relapse isn’t mandatory!
What hard seasons of testing and persecution have you been through in the past? How did you respond? What can you do in the future to be better equipped to continue to follow Jesus no matter what difficult things come your way?
What are the main temptations you are facing right now? Are you drifting away from your First Love? How can you kill these things and remain in intimacy with the God you love?
How is your sexual purity and relational life right now? How can you align this part of your life to be more in line with Jesus’ view of human flourishing?