Do you want to experience freedom from sin in your life? As we continue our series, “How He Built This,” John Elmore teaches us about authenticity and repentance. He shows us how to make war with sin by submitting to God and resisting the devil one day at a time.
Authenticity and Repentance
Focused on Ministry and Service
Speak the Truth in Love
Relentless Pursuit of Oneness
Committed To The Uncommitted
Discipling the Next Generation
Love Is a Verb
Biblical Not Big: A Commitment to Measure Our Success by Our Ability to Be and Make Disciples
Why Not Us? A Confidence That the Lord Wanted to Glorify His Name
The Foundation, Fabric, Mortar and Maintenance Program of Everything
Do you want to experience freedom from sin in your life? As we continue our series, “How He Built This,” John Elmore teaches us about authenticity and repentance. He shows us how to make war with sin by submitting to God and resisting the devil one day at a time.
Suggested Scripture study: Proverbs 28:13; Hebrews 3:13; 2 Timothy 2:22; James 4:7; 1 John 3:8; Zechariah 4:10
Sermon: Confessions from a Bathroom Stall: Lessons Learned in a Battle with Gluttony
Good morning, everybody. My name is John Elmore. I serve here on the Dallas Campus in both Community and re:generation. Love being here with you. This week we are continuing the How He Built This series. In two ways, in part, how he built this, both with authenticity and repentance. Authenticity (letting what is be known) and repentance (turning from sin by turning toward Christ).
As we talk about authenticity, you might think about a dollar bill or a currency. There are distinguishing marks of authenticity on every single piece of currency. It's how you know that it actually is, that it's not fraudulent, it's not a fake, but it is true in reality. As you look at it closely, hold it up to the light, you'll see those distinguishing marks of authenticity.
If you take a piece of fine china and flip it over to the back side, you will see distinguishing marks of authenticity to know that it is what it is. If you flipped me over to my backside, you would see a distinguishing mark of authenticity, because one time on Sixth Street in Austin, Texas, I thought it would be a great idea to get a tattoo.
If you're like, "What kind of tattoo does a pastor get on his rear end?" let me tell you. That's a great question. You get a cat paw. It's okay; you can laugh. Because that's a great idea. Tattoos are permanent, if you didn't realize that. So I have a cat paw on my backside. How's that for authenticity? That has stayed with me for the last 13 years. Did I mention I'm a recovering alcoholic? That wasn't a one-off bad decision. I made millions of bad decisions in that period of alcoholism.
The reason why we say "How he built this…" I don't mean this structure or building but this body of Christ, this body of believers, this kingdom advancing by some of what I just shared: authenticity, letting sin be known and then turning from it. This is seen in Proverbs 28:13. It says, "Whoever conceals his sin will not prosper." If you hide your sin, you won't advance. You won't progress. It will hinder you. It will harm you. It will ensnare you.
But God doesn't leave us there. He says, "Whoever confesses…" Authenticity, bringing it into the light. "…and renounces…" Repentance. There is authenticity and repentance. "Whoever confesses and renounces finds mercy," finds healing, finds growth, and moves along in the full abundant life God has given us. That is how he has built this: through authenticity and repentance.
Now I want to tell you something today. I want to give you a little bit of a secret God used in my life to free me from 12 years of alcoholism. From 18 to 30 I was an alcoholic, and I want to tell you today what he used to free me, not because I want to teach you how to be free from alcohol but because every single person in this room has some struggle with sin. We all wrestle with sin in various ways, and God has made a way for the sea to part and you to walk in freedom. We're going to unpack that today with authenticity and repentance.
As I said with the alcoholism, I began binge-drinking in junior high whenever my friends and I could find alcohol available. That progressed to more frequently in high school as we got some liberties and transportation, and then by college I was drinking almost on a daily basis. By the time I graduated school, I walked the stage half-drunk from the night before, and then in my years after, in my 20s down in Austin, Texas, I was drinking daily…multiple times a day, frankly.
I was what I would call a functional alcoholic. Like, "Oh, congrats. You can keep a job, but you're still an alcoholic. You don't deserve a pat on the back." I progressed in this alcoholism and got darker and darker and deeper and deeper, but I didn't know, because in my mind I had a good job and I was holding things together, even though that addiction was getting deeper and deeper and I was not living in authenticity or repentance, far from the Lord.
I remember I was on a trip to Manhattan with my college buddies. We're all having a good time or what we thought was a good time. The morning after, we're sitting there having breakfast, and as I'm drinking my beer or Bloody Mary or whatever it was, one of my drinking buddies turns to me and is like, "Hey, have you ever considered that you might have a drinking problem?" I'm like, "What are you talking about? You were there last night. You were with me. You bought a round. I have a drinking problem? What about you?" And just flipped the script on him.
He's like, "Yeah, but it's 9:00 a.m. and here you are drinking again." I used to drink scotch out of a black coffee mug. I had a black coffee mug, because you couldn't tell if it wasn't coffee when I would drink from it in the morning to keep the hangover at bay and to keep the buzz going from the night before. It would just progress on. One New Year's Eve, walking around with a glass of scotch in my hand, I bought a car and then woke up the next morning and was like, "Oh! I don't even like Isuzus. What am I doing?"
I would drink a fifth of scotch in a night and then drive home. I had three doctors tell me, "If you keep drinking like this, you're going to die." At that point in my life, having squandered and lost just about everything (I was living on a couch), I was like, "Great. I hope I die." I would take sleeping pills, NyQuil, while I was drinking, hoping I just wouldn't wake up, because I didn't want to live anymore. I was like a dog chasing my tail, and I was done. I was depressed, anxious, manic. I'd gone crazy, and I frankly wanted to die.
Then my family caught wind of this. My brother flew down to Austin, one-way flight, put me in my own car, drove me back to Dallas. My family was like, "Hey, you're hurting yourself and you're hurting us. This isn't going to go on anymore. You're either going to rehab or you're staying here with us, but you're not going back." I reasoned with them. "Hey, look. I'll go to A.A. Just get off my back." I didn't even know what A.A. was, nor did I think I was an alcoholic. I was like, "I'll go to A.A. Just let me alone."
So, I go back to Austin and still didn't think I was an alcoholic. Now, if your drinking friends tell you you're an alcoholic, your doctors tell you you're dying, and your family is doing interventions, you may tap the brakes and realize you might have a problem. I didn't. Instead, I Googled "How do you know you're an alcoholic?" It's like, "Well, if all of those people glaringly tell you, you are."
I took this little online assessment. It's A.A.'s 12 questions. There are 12 yes or no questions. It takes two minutes. I clicked "Submit." I aced the test, but it's the kind of test you don't want to ace. Two hours later I was in an A.A. meeting. I was like, "All right. Finally." I walk into that A.A. meeting, and I remember I'm sitting there. It was like worst first day of kindergarten ever. I mean, not the kind of place you want to be. I had squandered everything God had given me in my life, and here I am walking into an A.A. meeting at the age of 30.
I remember thinking, "What have I done to get to this point?" I'm sitting there and looking around at this meeting, and I'm hearing people talk about their old drinking stories and the pain it caused. I'm like, "What good is this going to do me?" Everything in me just wanted to go get drunk. "I just want to go get numb. I can make all this go away. Frankly, this isn't going to help. What? Sit around and hear people talk about how bad drinking was? It makes me want to drink more."
But then someone posed a question. The moderator said this, and time stopped. "Is there anyone here who would like to commit to staying sober for the next 24 hours?" It was like everything was just pointed to me. It was as if something (it was probably the Holy Spirit) was pushing me out of my seat, like, "Walk forward." So, heart pounding through my chest, I walk up in this room full of strangers, so embarrassed, so humiliated that I'm even in this meeting, and now I'm walking forward. I'm like, "I'm going to commit to staying sober for the next 24 hours."
So I received this. I get this 24-hour chip. It's the only thing I've ever kept on my key ring since. It's a commitment to staying sober for 24 hours. So I got the chip. I go back to my seat, but I'm still sitting there, and I'm like, "Man, how is this going to help? I've been drinking for 12 years. I need serious, serious help. Twenty-four hours? Is that really going to do me any good?"
Right about then the meeting breaks, and here comes the Big Lebowski. I mean, he has a goatee, tough but chill dude from Austin. He's like, "So, you want to do this thing? You're going to need some help." I was like, Oh, great. Of all the people to give me help it's you? Charlie P. down in Austin, Texas. He says, "Hey, will you commit to staying sober for the next 24 hours?" I'm like, Oh man. Have you even been listening? Have you been drinking? That's what he just asked me. He goes, "But by God's strength." I was like, "Hmm. Okay. Sure."
He was like, "Well, I want you to go pray then. I want you to go pray and ask God to keep you sober," and then he said, "And…what time is it? 6:00? I want you to follow up with me tomorrow at 6:00 p.m. and let me know how you did." Now Charlie just raised the stakes in two different ways. It wasn't just my own strength to keep me sober, my own decision of, "Fine. I'll stay sober for 24 hours." It was like, "Will you do it by God's strength? Will you ask him to help you stay sober for 24 hours? And I want you to call me tomorrow and let me know if you did." I'd never had that kind of accountability in my life.
As I leave that meeting, I start getting phone calls and texts. "Hey, we're at Fado down on 4th Street. Come join us. Come on. The usual. Let's go have some pints and drinks." I was like, "God, you've got to keep me sober." I knew in the back of my mind, "I've got to call the Big Lebowski tomorrow. I've got to call Charlie at 6:00 p.m., and he's going to ask me whether or not I have stayed sober." Those two things in tandem, both God's power and community in my life to help me, were working together to give me strength to stay sober for those 24 hours.
But here's the thing. I called him the next day. He was like, "Did you stay sober for 24 hours?" and I was like, "Yeah, Charlie. I stayed sober for 24 hours, but let me tell you, I need real help. I don't need 24 hours. I've gone a month before, Charlie. When my family and friends said I had a drinking problem, I actually went a month, so I don't need a day; I need, like, real help for a lifetime." He's like, "Yeah, don't worry about that, actually. Will you stay sober for another 24 hours?" I'm like, "Charlie!" He's like, "By God's strength."
"Okay. Okay. Yes."
"Call me tomorrow?"
"Okay. Are we going to do this the rest of our lives? I need help."
I didn't realize in that moment I wanted a lifetime of freedom and Charlie was saying a lifetime of freedom comes one day at a time. There's not some hocus-pocus magic moment…you walk the aisle, get knocked over, and the demon of drunkenness leaves you. Rather, as you walk one day at a time with your Lord and Savior, he will set you free. The freedom will be found in a daily, abiding relationship with your Creator. He's the one who will set you free.
"So, yeah, we're going to do this the rest of our lives," is what he was saying to me. This will happen one day at a time as you walk with him. What he taught me to do and what I still do to this day… I got on my knees that first day, December 22, 2005. I got on my knees. I was like, "God, you've got to keep me sober today. By your strength, by your power, keep me sober today." Then I'd call my buddy the next day.
Hebrews 3:13 says, "Encourage one another daily so you're not hardened by the deceitfulness of sin." We need God daily. We need others daily, our brothers and sisters in Christ. It wasn't just that, because God doesn't just want to set me free from alcoholism or you from porn or control or anxiety or fear, whatever your flavor of sin may be. He's looking to reconcile you to the Father through the Son, that you may live this full, abundant life. "In him we live and move and have our being."
See, for all of my life, I believed God existed. I could see it. I acknowledged it. There's order instead of non-order. There's life instead of… I just knew. Then at the age of 9, I heard the gospel for the very first time from Todd Wagner. How ironic is that? My camp counselor at Kanakuk was Todd Wagner when I was 9 years old. He shared the gospel with me. He didn't disciple me, so I ended up being an alcoholic, but he did share the gospel. It's his fault. No, he only had a week with me, and then I went home.
He shared the gospel with me at that time. He was like, "We've been separated from God because of our sin, so God sent Jesus to live a sinless life that we couldn't live, died on the cross, was buried and raised again, that you could be reconciled to the Father. If you place your faith in Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins, you could be made right with God in right relationship with your Creator and not just experience not going to hell when you die but not live in this hell while you live. He saved you, and he will keep you safe."
But it didn't click for me. In my childhood I'm like, "I don't want to go to hell when I die, so, okay, Jesus. Whatever." Then I thought I just had to follow his rules for the rest of my life. Like, "Well, he busted me out of the jail cell of hell, so now I have to follow all of his rules. Don't drink, smoke, mess around with girls, porn, all that stuff. I have to follow his rules." And I always messed up. Always.
It was so frustrating to me, because I was like, "Blew it again, Jesus. Blew it again, Jesus. I'll try harder. Blew it again, Jesus." I was like, "You know what? Forget it! I guess it's not you; I guess it's me. I guess I'm just a colossal screwup. Everybody else seems to be doing fine, but I can't keep your stupid rules, and, frankly, your rules keep me from doing everything I actually want to do. Freedom in Christ? What a joke. It's not freedom."
So I just jettisoned the whole thing. It was like, "Maybe I won't go to hell when I die, but I'm going to be lord of my life." There, in my addiction, at the age of 30 I realized, "I am a slave. I am a slave to this thing alcohol, and not just that. My life has imploded upon me." So there at step three in A.A. that says "Surrender your life and will over to your higher power, whomever you deem him to be…" People are praying to doorknobs, Coke machine, Pacific Ocean. It's more sad than funny.
I remembered Todd telling me about Jesus. I realized for the first time, at the age of 30, in my brokenness, in my slavery to sin, "You have to be Lord of my life. I'm a really bad lord of my life. You can't just be my Savior. This isn't à la carte. If I'm going to trust in you, it's for eternity and for today and every day thereafter. You have to be my Savior and my Lord." So I surrendered everything to him.
I remember kneeling beside the couch I was living on. I was like, "Lord, I've squandered everything you've given me, but whatever I have left, it is yours. You have my life, my mind, my body, my money, my relationships, where I live, what I do, my career, my car, my computer, my phone. It's all yours. Be Lord of my life." And he rescued me. He gave me what the Bible promises. Not a better life…a new life. He set me free from slavery to Satan and sin and reconciled me to the Father, that I could have this relationship with God.
I always felt this ache in my soul. Alcohol wasn't my problem; it was my solution, but now God, Christ, had given me peace that alcohol never could. That was a fleeting, poisonous peace, and Jesus gave it to me without fail. He gave me a new life, born again, that I could walk with my God for the rest of my life, but I was still an addict. I'm 13-1/2 years sober, yet just a year ago I had this other addiction I was struggling with, and it was arguing with my wife.
We have small kids. They're 5, 3, and 1 right now, so they were less than that, which means the pressure was even higher a year ago. They weren't sleeping. They can't feed themselves, dress themselves. They go to the bathroom in their pants. They don't speak English. The pressure is relentless. So we were just at each other. We had such a short flashpoint. Any little thing would tip us over and we'd be in a fight, a little over a year ago.
We were on this date night. We take a weekly date night. We find that's more affordable and more fun than marriage counseling, so we take a weekly date night. When I say date night, I'm no slouch. We go big. I took her to Chili's and we split a meal. They have a $10 special. So there we are on our date night. We're driving. We're about a block away from the house. We hadn't even made it to the first stoplight. I can see in my mind, there at Campbell and Waterview, and we're already fighting, not a block from the house.
I don't even think she looked at me. I think she was just looking in defeat out the windshield and was like, "I just wish for the rest of our lives we wouldn't fight anymore." And I said, "Yeah, well, good luck with that because you're in this marriage, so that's not going to happen." No, I didn't say that. I thought it. I didn't say it, but I did think it. I do still have a remaining filter. You think I don't because of my tattoo story, but there's a little bit of a filter.
But I had another thought in that moment. The other thought I had was, "Hey, God saved you from alcoholism. He saved you from the addiction to alcohol. He could probably set you free from arguing with your wife. It's a cord of three strands, indwelt by the Spirit, one flesh, his daughter, my sister in Christ and bride. He could probably keep you from arguing with your wife one day at a time, just like he kept you from drinking one day at a time. I think if I brought God into the fight he could probably keep us from fighting."
I didn't even tell her what I was doing, but I purposed that day, every single day… Whereas before I was getting on my knees and asking him to keep me sober from alcohol or just surrendering my day to him, now I'm like, "God, this is your day" and specifically started to make war against that sin and bring God into the fight. "Lord, I don't want to fight with Laura anymore. I don't want to. I love her. You love her. So keep us from fighting."
What happened is that anytime there started to be a little bit of a tension… I imagine a tug-of-war where we're trying to win the argument. You'd rather be right than have a right relationship. I'm pulling on this. I want to be right. As soon as I would feel that tension as we would have what would normally become this explosive fight, I'd just drop the rope. Proverbs says, "Drop the quarrel before it breaks out." That was the verse the Lord gave me in that time as I was surrendering to him one day and was like, "I don't want to fight with my bride anymore."
I'd start to feel that tension and I'd just drop it. I'd move toward her and be like, "Babe, I love you. Let's not do this." Here's the thing. After like six months, she was like, "Hey, do you realize we're not fighting anymore?" I was like, "Yes!" She wasn't doing anything other than normal life. I was the only one who was actually trying to stop fighting, which put all the blame squarely on me. Great. If I would just change, then we wouldn't fight. That was pretty terrible.
Over the course of a one-year time, truly, I think we fought three times. Three times in one year. If you're single, you're like, "Ha! See? It didn't work." If you're married, you know that's a miracle. You're like, "What? How?" Because God. Because God parts the sea still and you can walk through on dry ground and he swallows up your enemies. That's what he does. There is victory over sin, but we have to bring him into the fight. We have to ask him to go to war against our sin.
It says if you live according to the flesh you will die. If you do what your flesh wants to do, if you want to be right in every argument, if you want to give yourself over to lust or the flesh or drinking or porn or same-sex attraction or food binging or lack thereof because you're so concerned about your body image… If you live according to the flesh, you will die. It will lead to death, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the flesh, by God's power you put them to death, you will live. He sets us free.
I want to show you this principle and give you a little bit of a visual. Laura is a stay-at-home mom, so she works a lot harder than I do right now. Hats off to moms and single moms. You all are incredible, like ridiculous. I have the kids for four hours and I'm at a breaking point, being sharp and biting, and all of the fruit of the Spirit is out the window. I've come apart at the seams. I'm getting owned by a 5-, 3-, and 1-year-old.
We're there one Saturday and I can see my wife. She has been with them all week. I was like, "Hey, let me take the kids. You're going to get a break." A break for a mom is really just you get to fold laundry and do dishes in silence rather than with the kids screaming. So I take the kids, and she's still actually working, but I take them to the grocery store. I have a 1-year-old strapped on, the other two in the cart.
She says, "Hey, at the grocery store here's what we need." It was October. "Pumpkins, chap stick, milk, almond milk, cereal, bananas," and something else. It was eight items. I was like, "Got it. I'm on it." So we go to the grocery store. Here's our grocery cart 30 minutes later. We get home and she's like, "What happened?"
I'm like, "You know what happened. They're relentless. They're at me like, 'Hey, how about the Twizzlers? What about the candy corn?' I don't know what happened, but I got your eight items." She's like, "Yeah, you got the eight items and you got 80 more after that." I'm like, "Hey, here are the kids. I'm going to go take a nap." Wanted to. Didn't.
That's what happens in our spiritual life. It's the same thing. We say, "Hey, God. I'll tell you what. I'll get your eight items. I'll get your quiet time. I'll get my prayer. I'll get the Word. I'll get my community. I'll get those things," but because we don't purpose to not get other things, other stuff ends up in our lives that we never wanted there. It's just junk and trash.
If I would have committed to Laura in advance, "I promise you I will only get those eight things," I would have gotten only those eight things. The temptation would have been out. I would have told the kids, "Sorry. We're only getting eight things."
"Can we have candy corn?"
"Can we have this?"
"No. Almond milk."
Just those eight things. Because we don't proactively do that in our spiritual lives we end up with a bunch of other junk in our basket that we never intended. We have our quiet time and our prayer, and then as we go through the day we're like, "Lust. A little bit of pride. A little bit of self-aggrandizing. A little bit of eating disorder. A little bit of body image. A little bit of flirting when I shouldn't." All this stuff ends up in there because we didn't purpose at the outset "I will not do those things. I will not put those things in my basket."
We don't make a proactive decision. We're not going to war against sin, so it ends up that we pray defense. Defense is to confess sin. We should. We should confess sin and pray for each other. It's why in community we're saying, "How have you fed the flesh this week?" and then praying for each other and taking steps of repentance. But there's an offense. We need to go on the offensive with our sin with God's help, that we would engage in war against our sin by God's power.
The way we do that is not a reactive confession after we've sinned but, rather, a proactive decision, that we would proactively say, "By God's power, I'm not going to do X, Y, or Z. I'm not going to do that. I'm not going to put that in my basket. I have decided today, God, by your power I'm not going to drink. I'm not going to touch myself. I'm not going to look online at that thing. I'm not going to do that gambling, not going to take that pill." Proactively, we're going to make a decision at the outset and make war against sin.
Now, lest you think this is some A.A. thing that I'm trying to syncretize and rip off and bring into the church, let me tell you about three great theologians who employed this in their lives and called the church to it. We all know about Martin Luther, the great Reformer, who set the world on fire by bringing the gospel back into the church, giving the Scriptures back to the people. He wrote the Ninety-five Theses (we're familiar with this) and nailed it to the church in Wittenberg.
We don't familiarize ourselves with what the thesis actually was. The first four of Martin Luther's theses were all about repentance, daily repentance. We talked about how he built this is authenticity and repentance. His first four. Meaning, of utmost priority and urgency the church must repent, and it's not once and for all. Let's read the first and third theses.
"When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, 'Repent,' he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance. […] Yet it does not mean solely inner repentance; such inner repentance is worthless unless it produces various outward mortification of the flesh." Meaning, you start to see sin dying a death. You have to see sin dying. That's the mortification of the flesh by God's power.
John Owen, another theologian in the 1600s, wrote that timeless act, mortification of the flesh. He wrote, "Do you mortify [sin]?" Meaning, kill it. "Do you make it your daily work? Be always at it whilst you live; cease not a day from this work; be killing sin or it will be killing you." There's no neutral. Sin is either going to be killing you or you will be killing sin by the power of God. Romans 8:13: "If by the power of the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the flesh, you will live."
There's the mortification of the flesh from John Owen, and here's a third. Jonathan Edwards. These are too many to quote, but Jonathan Edwards had his grocery list. He had his resolutions. Edwards' resolutions. He wrote 70 resolutions of "This is what I will do, and this is what I will not do for the rest of my life. I will do this. I won't do this." He, different than me going to the grocery store, had determined, "This is going in the basket, and this is not."
He read those resolutions every single week to go on the offensive against sin, because though we have been saved eternally from hell by placing our faith in Jesus, we have to be kept safe from the hell of sin in this life as we walk with him one day at a time. The resolution, the resolve to be authentic and to repent. That is how he builds this, the body of Christ. The passage I want to walk us through as we get to the application of this, as you now think about personally appropriating this truth, is James 4:7.
In James 4:7, there are two commands and a promise. You're going to be told to do two things, and then God is going to give you a promise, a really powerful promise. The two commands: "Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil…" Here's the promise: "…and he will flee from you." Submit to God, resist the Devil, and he will flee from you. He will run from you. Who doesn't want that, to have Satan and his temptations and his trials and everything he's throwing at you to flee from you?
Here's how we do it: to submit ourselves, therefore, to God. I told you that for the last 13 years I get on my knees every single day. I did it today, but I didn't do it today for arguing with my wife. We still have conflict, by the way. It's just not to the degree and frequency it used to be because we've brought God into that fight of our fighting. Now what I'm on my knees for every day with my Community Group, with Mike and Shane, by God's power, is to keep me free from barking and biting and being sharp with my kids.
I love my kids, but the flesh is at war and I will be short and sharp with them. So I need to submit not only in that area but every area of my life. So I get on my knees every single morning and submit myself to God, and it's a glad submission. As I said earlier, I'm a bad lord of my life. He's a really good Lord of my life. He gives the full, abundant, easy yoke when I walk with him. So every morning I'm getting on my knees, and specifically, I'm asking him to go to war on my behalf.
We submit ourselves, glad submission, but then also it has to be to God. We can't do this on our own strength. You have no power over sin. The only power that is available to you is the power from the Spirit. He is the sanctifier. First Peter 1:2 says that the Holy Spirit is the sanctifier. He is the one who will shape you into the image of Christ for the glory of the Father whom you've been adopted by.
The Spirit sanctifies. You have no power. You have to submit yourselves, therefore, to God. Ask him to do the work. He's the one who has the power to fight and war against that sin. You have none on your own. Every single day you have to ask him to do it. If you fail, you fail forward. As the Proverbs say, the righteous fall seven times, but they rise again. You bring God into that fight. If and when you fall, you call upon God who restores you. Authenticity. Bring it into the light and then repent. Turn from sin by turning to God.
Then the other command: resist the Devil. Satan is going to lie to you, and he already has. He has you believing that you are in a jail cell, that whatever your sin struggle is, though Jesus may have set you free from an eternity separated from God in hell… He can't take your salvation, but he wants to take your freedom. He wants you to believe your sin struggle just is what it is. "That's just my ditch." You're just kind of an angry person. You just kind of have a short fuse. That's just kind of your controlling, anxious mind.
"That's my family of origin. We just kind of yelled at each other to resolve things. That's just who I am. That's just how I am bent." "Man, I just really like women. That's my thing. I just can't help it. I've tried. I've tried to get free from porn and masturbation. I can't. I've tried hard, man. Forty years. I was exposed to that when I was 12. I've tried quitting. I can't. I guess I won't be free until I'm at home with the Lord."
"Man, this body image thing has wrecked me since junior high, and here I am at 40 still trying to get the attention of men, even though I'm married, because I want others to give me a second glance, because that will give me some kind of fulfillment." Or "I just binge on food. That's my thing. That's my comfort. That's my functional savior that I go to in the moment when I'm celebrating or sad."
You know what it is. You know that ditch. Satan is saying, "That's it. That's just your thing. You're never going to be free. Sure, you're not going to go to hell when you die, but I will keep you living in that hell right now. You're in my jail cell and I'm not letting you out. That's your sin. That's your ditch. Good luck getting free." He lies to you. He will tell you that. He will embed it in your identity, but, friends, it's a three-sided jail cell, and all you need do is turn around and walk in the freedom Jesus has given you.
Jesus has unlocked the cell to your sin, that you would walk in freedom one day at a time. It says, "Resist the Devil," and the promise: "He will flee from you." He will flee from you if you resist him. The problem is we don't resist him, so he keeps knocking and he keeps coming and he keeps owning us, though we are not his to own. We've been set free from slavery to sin, but if you would resist him you'll walk in freedom.
The way I know that is because I started submitting myself to God one day at a time and resisting the Devil, and I have found that he has fled from me in that area of my life, alcoholism, for 13-1/2 years. It started one day at a time. A penny is the smallest monetary increment. You can't get smaller than that. What felt really insignificant…
When I was talking to Charlie, I was like, "Really? A day? Twenty-four hours? This is stupid. How long are we going to do this? Forty-eight hours? Are you kidding me? A week? A week is nothing. Charlie, I've gone a week before. Oh, you want to go a month? I've been a month before. I've even done a month, Charlie. I need serious help, Charlie."
He was saying, "No. It doesn't happen that way. God doesn't work that way. You come to him for daily bread. One day at a time is how you submit yourself to God. Not once and for all, but once every single day you live in glad submission to God, and you resist the Devil and he will flee from you." What happened is I started doing that, and then I went a quarter. I went three months without drinking. I hadn't been three months without drinking since high school.
I was 30 years old and I was like, "Oh my goodness! What is God doing? He's setting me free." I went a year, and I couldn't believe it that I had been a year. It wasn't always easy. There was this day. I was sitting in Europe in a bar, which is a bad place for an alcoholic, drinking coffee. I was like, "God, you've got to keep me sober. I need your help." It had been about six months at that point in time. And he did. He kept me sober.
Then there was this one when I had a close friend say, "Hey, look. You went through a hard time. Anybody would have drank the way you drank. You went through a hard time. You can drink now. You're not in a bad place anymore. Have a beer. It's just one beer. Have a beer." I prayed, "God, you've got to keep me sober." And he did.
Then there was this one on Laura's and my honeymoon. We went to an all-inclusive in Mexico. There were drinks everywhere, and they're free, at least I'd already bought them. So I guess I've bought drinks, I just haven't had drinks. They're everywhere. She goes back to the room, and I'm like, "Well, I don't even have to order one. There are all of these half drinks on the table. I could just grab one of those. God, you've got to keep me sober. You've got to keep me from alcohol and going back to my sin that I don't want to do."
There was this one in Colorado. Everyone left the room. There was wine. I picked up the glass. I picked up a glass of wine when everyone left the room and smelled it. "God, you've got to keep me sober. I don't want to go back to that evil, evil addiction." And he did. For the last 4,861 days, he has been setting me free from my addiction that was too powerful for me. Every single hand clap is for my Lord and Savior Jesus who sets the slaves free. What he did for me he will do for you.
Do you know what I don't need? I don't need a bucket. I don't need a bucket of pennies. I don't need 13-1/2 years to hang my hat on and be like, "Look at me, 13-1/2 years!" That's dangerous. What will keep me safe is to say, "I'm going to walk with you one day at a time, Lord. One day at a time. Forget 13-1/2 years. It doesn't matter if I bark at my kids or I'm short with my wife or give myself over to binging on cereal," which I'm known to do. I have to kill the flesh by the Spirit one day at a time. That is a picture of what he does. He did it for me. He'll do it for you, no matter what the struggle, no matter what the sin, because Jesus came to set the captives free.
Now, friends, when you walked in, you received a penny. Right? Who's on that penny? The emancipator of the slaves, the one who set the slaves free, the one who wrote into legislation, "All men are free." Jesus is the emancipator of the slaves and has written in Romans 6 the emancipation proclamation for the believers. Whoever has trusted in Jesus, their old self that was a slave to sin has been crucified, dead, buried, raised again to walk in newness of life. The slaves are free in Christ.
There's another word written on that penny: liberty. It is for freedom he has set you free. Jesus came that you might be in right relationship with God and freed from the deadly relationship to sin and Satan. The third thing written on that penny on the very front is "In God we trust." I won't trust in my own strength, in my own self-control or lack thereof. I won't trust in my circumstances or my family of origin. I won't trust in how many decades I've been a slave to my sin struggle.
I will trust in God who releases the captives. His promises are true, and he will do it for you one day at a time as you walk with him. The other thing is may you never forget that penny is small but the penny is powerful. The richest man in the world… His wealth is made up of pennies. As the prophet Zechariah says, do not despise the day of small beginnings, but one day at a time walk with him.
Here's how I want you to do that: in authenticity, in community, with each other. Just like Charlie did with me, just like Mike and Shane do now, that you on a daily basis, if you're able, get in whatever position of humility you can. Surrender your day to God one day at a time. You say, "I've already surrendered my life to him." Surrender your day to him and say, "Jesus, I know you've saved me. Keep me safe. I want to walk with you today. Jesus, make war against this one particular sin."
You know what it is. The Spirit is revealing it to you now. Ask him. He will delight to set you free from that struggle. You alone know what that is. Maybe you don't. Maybe your community or your spouse or your roommates need to tell you, but they'll say, "Hey, how about we make war against that?" Get on your knees and say, "Lord, keep me free from that one thing today by your strength, by your power."
Then you call or text whoever it is you're in community with, doing community with, and you say, "I commit by God's strength to remain free from that thing for the next 24 hours. I'm going to call you. I'm going to follow up with you tomorrow and let you know how I did." Then you guys do it together, and you encourage one another, and one singular day at a time you will see Christ set you free. When he does, you just start making war against something else, because those things are warring against us, and God has set you free from that cell. You are free.
This is how he has built this: authenticity, bringing things into the light, calling sin what it is, and then repentance, to turn from sin by turning toward Christ in the context of community. We will see the kingdom advance in your life, in this community, and in this world. It's what Jesus lives to do. Let me pray.
Lord, we praise you and thank you for the freedom you have given us in Christ, for the reconciliation we have to the Father, that we are no longer slaves to sin. We're no longer dead in our sins. You've made us alive and new in Christ, indwelt by the Spirit, and the cell of our sin has been opened.
May we live there in complacency and complicity no longer but make war by the power of the Spirit, bringing it into the light with authenticity and daily repenting to walk in the freedom you have bought for us. Not by might, nor by power, but by your Spirit, says the Lord of Hosts. This isn't about pennies. It's not about coins. It's about the power of the Spirit setting free his people, and we are free. We love you, Jesus, amen.
As we approach Watermark’s 20th anniversary, the “How He Built This” series examines the ideas, decisions, and values that God has used to shape this community of faith.