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Setting Captives Free

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Setting Captives Free

The Western Ministerial Conference held last week in deRoche featured a number of speakers on various topics, revolving largely around preaching.  There was one topic that focused particularly on matters of pastoral care, and it’s this one I’d like to share with you today.


We listened to a presentation by a gentleman from Iowa named Shon.  He told us that in his teenage years he developed a craving to keep seeing pornography.  The craving –call it an addiction, if you will– led to wanting to see the real thing, and from there to a lifestyle of promiscuity.  The point he belabored was that behind the craving and the lifestyle was a force of evil from which he simply couldn’t escape; Satan had him in his snare, and the bondage was cruel, painful, destructive.

Shon hated his addiction, and hated himself because he collapsed repeatedly to his craving.  He was determined this would be the last time, prayed that God would keep him from falling again, denied himself other pleasures to placate his feelings of guilt, tried so hard to please God.  But no matter how hard he tried, he kept returning to his idol; just to see the forbidden once more gave him a relief, a hideously good feeling – till his conscience got the better of him again and he felt rotten, a failure, a nothing…, suicidal….  He ended up at a psychiatric clinic, depressed; perhaps pills would help….  But in hindsight it’s clear: Satan’s snare was simply tightening around him.


I’d like to think that there’s no one in the congregation who struggles with cravings to view pornography.  I’d also like to think that there’s no one in Yarrow who battles with cravings for alcohol, drugs, food (eg, binge eating), masturbation, licentiousness, gambling, smoking, etc.  But I know that that’s simply not the case.  If Paul could say, “what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing” (Romans 7:19), and if each of us confess that “I … am still inclined to all evil” (Lord’s Day 23), then it’s simply deception to think that cravings and addictions do not exist in the congregation.  To say it differently, we’re simply kidding ourselves and living in a dream world if we think that cravings simply can’t be obsessing loved ones in our own households and families – and the cravings are being satisfied too (with all the self-loathing and personal problems that come with that).


How, now, does one escape such bondage?  How does one overcome such cravings, and defeat them when they next arise?  Shon’s answer was fully Biblical: we can’t defeat them ourselves.  We do not have within ourselves the strength to escape Satan’s bondage and rise above the cravings.  Every effort on our part sinks us deeper into the quicksand of Satan’s slavery.

Is there, then, no escape?  Yes, there is.  The Word of God, His grace in Jesus Christ, is sufficient to deliver us from the cravings we experience.  As a tool to help people come to grips with the power of God’s Word in the face of addiction’s bondage, Shon drew our attention –and walked us through– a website entitled Setting Captives Free.  The website has a number of courses one can sign on to, covering sexual impurity, eating disorders, substance abuse, and more.  Each course sets before the ‘student’ firstly the need for radical amputation of every trigger for renewed sin in one’s life, secondly the need for radically embracing the gospel of free grace in Jesus Christ in the face of specific failures, and thirdly the need for radical accountability – being daily open and honest with someone about each day’s failures and triumphs.  You’ll recognize here in board outline the material of Lord’s Day 33, about what constitutes the true repentance or conversion of man.

I have not browsed through all the courses, but feel confident to draw the site to the congregation’s attention.  You’ll find it at www.settingcaptivesfree.com.


Having said all of this, I also take the opportunity to encourage us to help each other in the struggles we have.  You are not the only one who struggles with a craving and hence not less than another; just as you try to hide your weakness and fight it alone, so does another.  Similarly, I may prefer to think that I’m above giving in to cravings, or perhaps have grown old and strong enough to get past their lure, but if I’m honest I must admit that it’s just not so.  My point in saying this: none of us is better than the next, and none of us is worse than the next.  We may struggle with different cravings, and may struggle in different ways, but at the end of the day we’re all in the same boat – “so weak that we cannot stand even for a moment,” while “our sworn enemies –the devil, the world, and our own flesh– do not cease to attack us” (Lord’s Day 52.127).  For that reason let us stay in constant prayer for each other, and also dare to share our struggles with each other – both the failings and the triumphs, and especially the grace of the Lord to unworthy sinners.

C Bouwman
24 November 2006