By Heath Lambert, forward by Joshua Harris
Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.--1 Thessalonians 5:23-24I have written before about my struggle against addiction to pornography and the ways in which God poured out a great deal of grace into my life as He matured me and led me onto His paths. The incredible mercy God showed me through all of that, the way He broke in to destroy strongholds of sinfulness while showing me His immense love and gentleness is the reason I have no problem accepting as true the idea of God saving those He wills by His call and not by anything they have done--because surely, I did nothing to deserve that mercy. That struggle, of course, is not completely absent from my life, but it is much smaller now; no longer is my life dominated by wicked desires that drive me between lust and despair. However, I still have times when its ugly head is reared, and I desired to sharpen my arsenal especially as we moved; I was temporarily without a group of close brothers to turn to and I desired to put my mind on something that would help me deal with this specific issue. When I read some reviews over at The Gospel Coalition, this book excited me a lot and from the first time I got my hands on it, its words have had a great impact on me and the way I deal with my struggles.
Finally Free is very well-done in its approach, for several reasons:
Firstly, it is not the typical guilting rant: there are so many books out there that attack the reader seeking a way out with "Do you know how horrible it is for women in porn? You're part of the problem, you need to stop!" To which the addict replies, "You're absolutely right and I want out. How do I get out?" But unfortunately that's not what those books are covering. Pointing out the evil of sin and its effects on our hearts is critical and we need to continue, but it is not the end; indeed, if that's all we do, then we have failed to preach the Gospel or truly call anyone to repentance.
Likewise, this is not a heady treatise, nor is it purely practical in nature. However, it absolutely is practical, in fact I would argue that its effect is most practical simply because the author spends so much time preaching the simple truths of Scripture and God's grace. It's not just "here's how to get away from looking at porn," though that certainly is an aspect of it; rather, it is a call to recognize that when we allow pornography into our lives, we are allowing another master besides Jesus to rule over us.
No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.--Matthew 6:24I've long contended here that Jesus' specific attack on one of man's most common idols, an idol that reveals how much (or little) man really trusts God to provide for him, can be extended to cover all of our idols. And truly, one cannot serve both God and wicked sexual desire at the same time. But that is the point that Lambert builds up to and makes very well: the point of this struggle is not, as I said, to simply cease looking at porn for its own sake, but rather to walk with Christ, to know Him deeply and have that relationship with Him that He has called us into. It is the very reason grace is extended, and it is why in the epistles to the churches Paul and the other apostles who we see writing spend so much time over and over again, speaking out clearly both against legalistic rule enforcement and against licentiousness--they're simply two sides of the same coin, and equally lead away from Christ.
Thirdly, it goes out of its way to not be graphic or vulgar in its approach to this issue. Since this is an issue that revolves a lot around a struggle with thought life, obviously a book that went into detail about what people are already struggling with could itself prove a trigger for further problems. It has a lot of specific examples of people dealing with this struggle drawn from Lambert's ministry, but it focuses on how they deal with it rather than what they deal with. The reader is able to see his struggles pictured and feel the gravity of the seriousness of these sins, without also being drawn into the downward spiral of thinking about the particulars. And that particular issue is a big one: when speaking to someone struggling with pornography, the issue is not getting a sinner to be ashamed of his sin and desire freedom. The issue is getting them move away from worldly grief that brings only death, to godly grief that brings life and inspires real transformation. This transformation, of course, is a work of the Spirit, but a work like this is a great motivation in that work to the struggling believer.
The book is not a long read, but I took my time with it. It's very straightforward, and anyone willing to find the time to sit down and read can easily make their way through it in a reasonable amount of time, but there are some study questions in the back and I think it could easily be used between accountability partners or in a small group. The first few chapters Lambert spends time writing about different weapons we can employ in the fight against sexual idolatry.
One chapter in particular that had a big impact on me was the one about using gratitude. It did give me a great weapon in my battle, but in addition it spurred me to think about gratitude, and to realize how much I really take what Christ has done for me for granted. By realizing this I found myself able to shine a light of truth onto those desires to look at porn when they came up, by remembering: this is not simply some random physical desire, this is an element of spiritual brokenness that is revealing an area of ingratitude, where instead of thinking "I wish I could do this but it's wrong" instead I can take the positive track of "I am grateful for the mercy and grace Christ has shown to me, not just to pay for my sin but to open my eyes to it and call me into relationship with him!" That made a huge difference to me--not to perfection, but in the striving for it.
The end of the book ties everything together with the point I mentioned earlier: the real purpose. We aren't simply trying to end porn addiction for its own sake, but because it is a roadblock in our walk with Christ. Sanctification is not about a single item but dealing with all the things in our lives that do not reflect the image of Christ, and as we walk with Him we see those things turn up--the anger, the impatience, the fear and anxiety in places where we don't trust Him like we should, and so on. Defeating pornography's hold on a generation of Christian men is crucial, but it is only step one, and that point is made clearly.
I highly recommend this book because it is both practical and Gospel-centered in its approach. It contains a great description of specific things Christians can do in going to battle against their sins, but also consistently reminds and calls Christians to an understanding of the fact that their relationship with Christ is not something offered reluctantly by a God who had no other choice--it was given freely, lovingly, and the freedom to accept it granted out of that love by our Heavenly Father. Know that truth, brothers, and run after it; this book is an excellent tool in that pursuit.