You Can't Have a Victorious Life

If Christians are more than their morality, then Christianity isn't just about temporal victories.

I battled pornography for nine years. And when I say battled, I don't mean I just felt a little guilty every now and then. I tried everything: I told friends, I blocked websites, I busied my schedule, and, believe me, I wept regularly before God on my knees for victory.

One time, I even told my parents. Imagine how awkward that was: "Mom, Dad? You know all of those websites you told me to avoid? I've been to all of them." My mother was in tears, and my computer-analyst father immediately went to put some filters on my computer. While he was snooping around, he commented, "You cleaned up pretty good after yourself, huh?" Yes, I did. And those filters didn't last long.

It wasn't until I met my wife that I suddenly found the resolve to never look at that stuff again (at least, intentionally). But another nine years later, I still wouldn't say that I've found victory.

Some Christians will disagree because, as they understand it, overcoming sin is the very definition of the victorious life. They're the ones ready to quote 1 John 5, "Everyone born of God overcomes the world." Thus, if the world is a cesspool of sinful desires, then the victorious life is one where the Christian overcomes these desires through the power of Jesus. Oddly enough, that's the very reason I believe I haven't found victory. Because I'm pretty sure that if my wife was no longer in my life, I'd go right back to looking at porn.

Just because our circumstances change, that doesn't mean our desires will. For all of those years, I couldn't give up porn because it only affected one person: me. No one knew my secret sin, and with the internet available in my bedroom, it was easy to keep it that way. Eventually, the false intimacy of fabricated caricatures was challenged by the true intimacy I found with a real woman--a person I cared about more than me. But that doesn't make my "victory" complete; it only makes it circumstantial.

So perhaps I'm not really saved. Circumstantial sanctification can't possibly be the result of true transformation, right? Yet if morality doesn't save us, then it can't sanctify us either.

When the apostle John said that we would overcome the world, he wasn't talking about personal sanctification (sorry, Mandisa). He was talking about Jesus' words to the disciples:
A time is coming and in fact has come when you will be scattered, each to your own home... in this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. (16:32-33)
Jesus is the one who has overcome the world by overcoming death. And in his first epistle, John is saying that the same will be true with those who believe in Jesus: we too will overcome death.

But just because our ultimate victory is secure, that doesn't mean our lives will be a series successful conquests. In fact, John wrote Revelation to inspire those who felt overcome to take courage. That's why he promised various rewards to the victors in his letters to the seven churches, because God has promised, "To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life. Those who are victorious will inherit all this" (21:6-7).

The victorious life is not about progressing beyond temptations, but persevering through them. And sanctification isn't a matter of progressing towards holiness as much as persevering unto godliness. Because if sinlessness isn't the only characteristic of God, then godliness is more than sinning less.

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