As soon as I moved away from home and got my own computer and an internet connection, I became addicted to pornography. Before that, my problems with lust were just as out of control. I just didn't have access to pornography.
Despite growing up in church and saying the sinner's prayer dozens of times, I never actually got saved. It was not until 2005, during my third year of college, that I truly came to know Jesus. My head knowledge of the Gospel became an experiential relationship with a living Savior, and I was born again through heartfelt faith in the Gospel. After becoming born again, I felt truly free for the first time. I had a whole new perspective on life, I didn't want to be watching pornography or doing a lot of the other things I had been doing, and I no longer felt the irresistible urge to watch pornography that I had once felt. Not only that, I had a real relationship with God for the first time. He would speak to my heart and let me know that He loved me and that He was with me. I had been an unhappy person for most of my life, but after I got saved, I felt true joy for the first time.
After about three months of freedom, I became very tempted to watch pornography, and not knowing how to deal with the temptation, I gave in to it. That failure was the beginning of a downward spiral that resulted in me falling back into drinking and doing all sorts of other ungodly things as well. It got to the point where I would be out at bars getting drunk and chasing women on Saturday night, and then hungover in church on Sunday. After awhile, the shame of the double life I was leading got to be too much, and eventually I quit going to church altogether. This continued until I graduated college and then for the first year or two afterwards.
Eventually, I simply got tired of being hungover all the time and my drinking slowed way down. Army life also had a huge effect on my drinking because driving drunk would have been a career killer and I got sick of paying for taxis and then going back to get my car. I also joined a group called Officers' Christian Fellowship (OCF) and started to learn to have fun on the weekends with other Christians without going out to bars. It was during this time that I became friends with my wife, and we started going to church together on Sundays. The church we were going to was a non-denominational church, but their doctrine was "word of faith." I really had no idea what that meant at the time. At one point, Megan and I went to a "New Believers" class put on by the church, and the teacher began to teach us the word of faith doctrine. It seemed like a great revelation to us. When the class was over, I asked the teacher for some book recommendations so I could learn more. He told me to look into some books written by Kenneth Hagin, who is considered the "father" of the word of faith movement.
I read a couple of Kenneth Hagin's books, and I thought I was learning a lot. I began to follow some other word of faith preachers on TV (mainly Creflo Dollar) and I also started to read a lot of books from other word of faith preachers. It didn't take long before I was fully indoctrinated into the word of faith mindset. I also read several John Bevere books and he became my favorite author. I don't know if I would say he is a word of faith preacher, but he follows a lot of the same doctrines. He also has some ideas of his own.
Even though my drinking problem had mostly become a thing of the past, I still could not seem to quit watching pornography. I tried my best to implement what I learned in those books to stop, but it never worked. I could go about two or three months without watching if I tried really hard, but eventually, in a moment of weakness, I would always fail and then fall headlong back into it. This vicious cycle of sinning and repenting, sinning and repenting, went on for years. I tried everything I could think of to quit, but nothing ever worked. My main strategy was to starve my flesh of worldly things (especially anything that would trigger my sexual urges) and fill my mind with the Word of God. I would spend almost all of my free time praying, reading the Bible, or watching some minister on TV. I had learned that if I would walk in the Spirit, I would not fulfill the lust of the flesh (Gal 5:16). I thought walking in Spirit meant doing a lot of spiritual things and filling my mind with spiritual things, so that's what I did. I had also read in the John Bevere books that if I would spend enough time building my relationship with God, I would come to love Him enough that I would lose the desire to continue in sin. So I spent time with God by praying, reading my Bible, and going to church. I also found a bunch of Scriptures that dealt with sexual immorality, and I would read them out loud every day.
In the middle of all of this, I fell in love with my Megan and proposed to her. After we got engaged, I decided instantly that I was not going to watch pornography anymore. I knew that in the eyes of God, that would be adultery, and I did not want to hurt my new fiancé. When I failed to stick to that decision, I decided that I would not do it anymore after we got married. However, I was not able to stick to that decision either. This vicious cycle continued for the first five years of our marriage (without her ever knowing). Over time, the constant failure really began to wear on me. I hated what I was doing, but I just couldn't stop. This habitual sin was destroying my relationship with God, straining my relationship with Megan, and eroding my faith. I began to wonder if I was really saved. I began to wonder why I didn't have a testimony of being set free like others I'd heard. I got to the point where I would put on a happy face on the outside, but on the inside, I was depressed, miserable, and my faith was hanging on by a thread. When I went to church, I couldn't even stand during the songs, and I definitely couldn't sing. I just sat there wondering what I was supposed to be happy about. The sermons just frustrated me because they weren't helping me. In my private life, I could barely pray. After awhile, I got to the point where all I could say was, "Lord, please don't leave me this way."
With the little faith I had left, that prayer became my heart's cry. I was desperate. The last thing I remember trying was buying a bracelet that said, "Man of God" on it. I decided that I was going to treat it like a wedding ring of sorts, to remind me that I was "married" to Jesus (2 Cor 11:2, Rom 7:4). The culmination of my shame and failure was watching pornography with that bracelet sitting on the desk next to my computer. After that, I had all but given up on ever getting free. All I had was that prayer. I couldn't do anything but cry out to God for help.
Backing up a little bit, in 2014, my wife and I got out of the Army and moved up here to Western New York, where we currently live. After trying out a couple different churches, we started going to a word of faith church that was about a 30-minute drive from our house. In my desperation to break free from pornography and my lack of confidence in our pastor at the time, I eventually decided that we should try out a new church. We also wanted to find something closer to home. So we went to bed on a Saturday night planning to go to a Baptist church that was closer to us the next morning. I ended up staying up late, hoping to find a Pentecostal church, as I do not believe, as mosts Baptists do, that the Baptism with the Holy Spirit is received automatically at Salvation (see Acts 8, especially 15-17 and also Acts 19:2). Anyway, I ended up finding this church in Grand Island that was holding services in a hotel conference room. I had previously dismissed it because I was turned off by the apparent lack of success (there was n0 actual church building at the time and the website seemed like an afterthought). I was also turned off because I thought that the name (CrossRiver Church) sounded like one of those theme churches where the church is full of rich people who have nice houses on the river (silly, but that's what I thought). Something on the church website did catch my eye though. They had a section on how to live in freedom from sin. I was intrigued, and desperate, so we decided to try it out.
My wife and I instantly fell in love with the church. Everyone was really nice, the music was good, the pastor was all about Jesus, it was closer to home, and we liked the fact that we just so happened to have gotten married in the hotel conference room where they were having services. Well after going there for a couple of weeks, the pastor (Pastor Mike Chorey), said something about the church having some sort of affiliation with Jimmy Swaggart Ministries. When I heard that, I thought, "Great, another one of these churches that follows some corrupt televangelist." We had previously tried out a church that followed Joel Osteen and it was not a good experience. I really didn't know anything about Jimmy Swaggart at the time (I now know that he is nothing like Joel Osteen), so I looked him up and found out that back in the early 90s, he had a scandal where he was caught meeting a prostitute in a hotel room (or something like that). I was not happy to hear about that, but I also saw on his website that he had a testimony about how God had used the experience to cause him to seek a solution to his problem, and that the solution he found was "Jesus Christ and Him crucified." (1 Cor 2:2). I had questions about whether he should still be preaching, but at the end of the day, how could I judge him considering what I had been doing. I was willing to give him and the church a chance, especially since he claimed to have found the solution to a problem similar to the problem I was having.
A month or two later, on May 8th, 2016, on Mother's Day, God showed me the Solution to my problem. The subject of Pastor Mike's sermon that morning was "How to Have Victory Over Sin." My ears instantly perked up when I heard the title. At the time, I was still depressed, miserable, and barely hanging on. Two of the things Pastor Mike started talking about were "walking in the Spirit" (Gal 5:16) and living under grace (Rom 6:14). Part way into the sermon, I started to get very frustrated. I desperately wanted an answer to my problem, but he was not telling me anything I hadn't heard before. I knew that grace was the answer, and I knew that walking in the Spirit was the answer. However, I also knew that if I really knew what those things meant, I wouldn't be in bondage because Jesus said if you know the Truth, the Truth will make you free (John 8:32).
So in the beginning of the sermon, I just wasn't getting it. I got to the point where I started yelling at Pastor Mike in my head, saying, "But what do I DO!?!?" Right after I started "yelling" that, he put a chart up on the projector screen. One side depicted the mindset of someone living under law. The other side depicted the mindset of someone living under grace. On the law side, it was all about seeking victory, righteousness, and relationship with God through all the spiritual things I was doing. In short, it was all about what I do. On the grace side, however, there was only one answer listed on every row of the chart as the only means of victory, righteousness, and relationship. That answer was, "Jesus Christ and Him crucified." So law was all about what I do, but grace was all about what Jesus had DONE. In that moment, God the Holy Spirit showed up and opened my heart to the only Truth that has ever made anyone free. He showed me that I had left my Savior and begun to depend on myself. He showed me that everything I thought I knew, everything I had been telling other people for years, was wrong. I was ashamed that I had ever left the simple truth that had first made me free. I had left the Gospel. At the same time I felt that shame, I also felt overwhelming joy. I knew that I had found the Answer to my problem. I knew that "Jesus Christ and Him crucified" was sufficient to bring about the victory I needed. Tears began to roll down my face. I'm not one to show emotion in public, but I couldn't hold them back that day.
As he was explaining the chart, Pastor Mike said something that I had never considered before. He pointed out that living under law is not just about the Law of Moses. He explained that any time we look to our performance of some rule or routine as the means of victory over sin or means of having a relationship with God, we were putting ourselves under law. He explained that just as the Law of Moses is good and holy, we can take good biblical things like prayer and Bible reading and make them into a law. The difference between law and grace is that law rests on my performance, but grace rests on Jesus' finished work.
After he took down the chart (you can see a modified version of it here) , Pastor Mike said something else that answered a question I had been struggling with for years: "What does it really mean to 'walk in the Spirit.'" Pastor Mike explained that the answer could be found in Colossians 2:6, which says, "As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in Him:". When he quoted that verse, it was like all those verses in Romans and Galatians that I had toiled over and struggled with for years all became clear. I saw instantly that it was not really Jesus that we receive. We actually receive the Spirit of Christ. So this verse was really telling me how to walk in Him (i.e. in the Spirit). The simple, obvious answer to the question of how to walk in the Spirit is: we walk in Him just as we received Him. That's what the verse says. Well I didn't receive Him by starving my mind of worldly things and filling it with spiritual things. I didn't receive the Spirit by making a habit of prayer, Bible reading, and church attendance. No! I received the Spirit by grace through faith, not of works, lest any man should boast in anything other than the cross (Eph 2:8-9, Gal 3:2-3, 6:14). Receiving the Spirit was a free gift.
So just as we receive the Holy Spirit as a free gift initially, we receive His help and power to live right in our daily walk as a free gift. I receive His help not as a result of all the things that I do, but as a result of faith in what Jesus has DONE. Just as I was having this revelation, Pastor Mike began to explain that if we would look to the cross, and rest in what Jesus had done for us, the Holy Spirit would help us to not be overcome by temptation. In that moment, I knew that if I would stop trying to fight sin, and simply fight to believe that what Jesus did on the cross was enough for me to have the help of the Holy Spirit, that the Holy Spirit would show up and the fight the battle for me.
The whole service, I could not stop crying tears of joy mixed with shame. The answer was so simple, and I knew deep down in my heart that it was right. I also knew that my days of watching pornography were over. I was ashamed that I had ever looked for Salvation from my problem in anything or anyone other than my Savior. At the end of the service, Pastor Mike gave an altar call for anyone to come and repent of living under law. Normally, I would never go up in front of a church, especially a small church like that. However, on that day, I did not hesitate. I walked up to the front with tears running down my face and stood by myself right at the front. I determined at that altar, just like Paul, that I would no longer live under law (Gal 2:19). Instead, I determined not to know anything, save Jesus Christ, and Him crucified (1 Cor 2:2, Gal 6:14). Never again would I look to anything other than my Savior and what He'd done for me as a means of overcoming sin. When I made that decision, I knew that I had found the Truth, and that the Truth had made me free.
On the way home from church, I could not stop crying. Megan had no idea what was going on with me. I just kept telling her, "I can't believe it's that simple." A couple days later, when the temptation to watch pornography came, I didn't try to fight it. I didn't quote a Bible verse, start to pray, open up my Bible, or try to distract myself. I knew from experience that no amount of any of those things would ever make that oppressive temptation that I felt go away. It was too much of a burden, and it would always win. So instead of trying to fight the temptation, I just began to fight the fight of faith. I simply closed my eyes, and believed that because I had been set free through the cross, the Holy Spirit would show up and fight the battle for me. I believed that, through His death on the cross, Jesus had paid for me to have the help of the Holy Spirit as a free gift. The temptation left almost instantly. Normally, nothing I ever did, except to give in, would ever make the temptation go away. That day, it just left. I only had a strong temptation a few times after that. I just continued to trust in Jesus, and He saved me every time. Now, any inkling of temptation in that area rolls off me like water off a duck's back. It has no real pull on me at all. I just tag in Jesus, so to speak, and the power of the cross, where He defeated that lust for pornography, brings me victory every time. Now I can proudly boast in my Savior that He has set me free indeed (John 8:36). It has been four years since that day in church, and I have not looked at pornography even one time since.
After seeing how easily the most addictive thing I've ever faced was overcome by the cross, I've begun to look to the cross as the answer to every temptation of the flesh, every attack of the enemy, and every pull of the world. The power of the cross has truly changed me into a new person. My anger used to be out of control, but now my outrageous temper tantrums have been eliminated and reduced to an occasional harsh word followed by a quick apology. While I have been borderline alcoholic at times in my life, I no longer have any desire to drink at all. I used to be somewhat addicted to gambling, but I haven't gambled even one time since that day in church. I used to cuss like a sailor, but now I just have an occasional slip.
Not only that, my depression has been turned into pure joy. It's like I've been born again-again. It's like the joy of my Salvation has returned, never to leave again. I just cannot get enough of Jesus. He is everything to me. I depend on Him daily, and He delivers daily. My love for Him in word only has turned into a deep, intense love for the One who shed His blood to deliver me not only from the penalty and shame of my sin, but also to deliver me daily from the power of sin to dominate my life and control me with evil desires. I'm not perfect, but I'm finally, by the grace of God, moving forward in my walk with God.
You can argue with me all you want, but you will never convince me that the answer is Jesus but, Jesus and, Jesus then, or Jesus plus anything. He is the Way. He is the Truth. He is the Life. The message of what He did at the cross is the power and wisdom of God (1 Cor 1:18-24). The message of the cross is not just an entrance. It is the Bread of Life that we must consume daily. It is the Truth, that if we obey it, makes us free. I don't need any other insight, any other message, or any other method. I have the Gospel of my Savior, and I'm convinced by the Word, by the Spirit, and by my testimony, that I don't need anything more than JESUS CHRIST AND HIM CRUCIFIED.
You can also watch a video of my testimony here.