As the invitations to speak dried up, I began to realize that I needed the break. I had to gather my thoughts and reconsider everything. It was brash of me to think that I was ready to talk publicly about something so new to me. There were dozens, maybe hundreds of questions that I needed to consider.
In the year that followed, I began to realize how disheveled my life had become. It was like coming out of the tornado shelter after a terrible storm to discover that everything is in shambles. I had allowed some horrible habits to take over my life. Thousands in credit card debt was hanging from my neck. All my spending habits were all about me. I was selfish with my money and my time. I was bitter at church and had stopped attending anywhere with regularity. I didn't pray anymore because I couldn't see the point. I was embarrassed to identify as a Christian publicly, and when the subject came up, I would dodge it with obtuse reclassifications that would hide my beliefs. I had become unforgiving and grumbled about people behind their backs. I hated anyone that wasn't like me. I felt defensive around anyone that was like me. I cussed like a dock worker, and I looked at porn all the time. Of course, I hid my habit from the audiences I spoke to in previous years, but now that I was no longer in ministry of any kind, I couldn't pretend that things were beautiful.
The legalistic bubble I had lived in had offered me no help in any of these areas. The legalistic view of the Gospel kept driving me deeper into the sins I was now drowning in. In a community of legalists, you have to pretend your sin doesn't exist, or at least that your failures are only an occasional exception to your otherwise glorious lifestyle. I had become convinced that there was no hope of ever escaping the icy grip of pornography, and could hardly recognize the other more subtle sins in which I was engaged.
Legalistic pastors like Chan, Piper, Washer, Chandler, and MacArthur, had taught me that everyone fails sometimes and that we are all sinners. Though if you get too deep into sin, then you're probably not saved, according to them. Since my sins were not as bad as many other people, according to the legalist's teaching, I was still saved. I didn't fear that I would be thrown into hell because I knew how much better I was than other people. It's embarrassing even to write that. I had unwittingly signed the legalist manifesto, and it turned me into an unmitigated judgmental jerk.
I didn't think I was in danger of hell, so I couldn't see any incentive to getting clean. If I have salvation, why should I stop using porn? I had rationalized pornography and created ingenious sounding reasonings that justified my disgusting habits. Blaming others for my bitterness and hatred was my method. I soothed the frustration with my selfish spending habits. I was in a mess. Until I came face to face with grace, I didn't even realize how much destruction I had caused in my own life.
It was the legalism of both Calvinism and Arminianism that had led me to the most unhealthy spiritual place I had ever been. It was Lordship salvation, the teaching that we must obey Jesus to get saved, that landed me in the cesspool of sins that I now sat. Trying to be good enough to be saved meant that I held the measuring stick up to other people, and I saw I was in better shape than them. That allowed me to happily retain a handful of sins in my life, thinking that I was doing pretty well comparatively. Once grace reentered my life, I knew I needed a fix, and I wasn't sure how to make it happen.
Despite all of this mess, Kristah loved me. She knew I had some problems that needed some work, but we had spoken often of my new understanding of the Gospel of grace. Having the assurance of someone's love does amazing things both in physical and spiritual life. I knew Christ had saved me on one condition: my faith in Him to do so. That offered me a rock-solid foundation on which I could begin to rebuild my life. I also knew Kristah loved me and would be patient with me as I worked through these debilitating issues.
The first thing I began to work on was my debt. I wanted to marry Kristah, but I didn't want to enter into the marriage with a bunch of credit card interest payments around my neck. I felt like I should pay it all off before we got married. I knew it wouldn't be fair to her to have to pay for my frivolous and selfish pre-marriage spending.
I also knew that living the life of a single man for so many years meant I had several habits that I needed to eradicate. Pornography was the obvious culprit. It had to stop, but I was confident it would not be easy.
“I look at porn sometimes,” I told Kristah one sunny afternoon as we sat behind my house. What better way to ruin a get together with your girlfriend than to talk about looking at other women naked? I was nervous for her to know, but I wanted to make things right. It wouldn’t be fair for us to continue our relationship with her in the dark about my hidden habit.
“Really?” she said. It was simple, but betrayed no emotion.
“You know how some people say, ‘I struggle with it,’ when in reality they are not struggling so much as deliberately swimming in it?” I said.
“Yeah,” she responded with a slight laugh.
"Well, there are certainly times I'm swimming in it," I said before pausing. I thought it was going to be harder to talk to her about this than it was. I had turned it into a monumental concern when, in reality, she handled it like everything else, with grace and poise.
“Are you swimming in it now?”
“I guess you could say, I’m looking for a path out of the pool,” I explained but then added. “I’ve had some success lately.”
"That's good. I'm proud of you!" she said enthusiastically. There was no scorn or condemnation. I knew she would continue to love me, whether I was winning or losing. With a smile, she added, "Let me know if I can help in any way."
It was as simple as that. We had had the porn talk, and it went surprisingly well. Unfortunately, I did not accept her help at that time. My pride and ego was still a thing of legend. It was yet another thing that needed work. The temporary victories I had over porn were enough to keep me hopeful that it would all go away on its own if we got married. I foolishly thought that from the wedding night onward, I would never struggle with porn again. What an idiot I was.