“Have you seen this? Have you looked at that? You should definitely give it a go!” Allowing these thoughts to enter and dwell in my heart was the biggest mistake of my life.
During secondary school, I only had a small group of friends. They would talk about pornography and other explicit things and, as time went by, my curiosity was piqued, and I made the fatal mistake of looking at explicit materials. During my nine years of indulging in pornography, my relationships with my family, brethren-in-Christ, and God deteriorated. I also developed a gaming addiction and depression.
We often look at sin from the perspective of our spiritual life—how Satan attacks us with the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life. We know its effects on our spirituality—how it leads us away from God. But the physical effects of sin are not often discussed. When sin dwells in our hearts for a long time, it bears fruits that are physically manifested (Gal 5:19).
Furthermore, sin affects not only the individual but also those around him. “A little leaven leavens the whole lump” (Gal 5:9). This does not just mean that sin can spread to others, but also that the whole lump can feel the effects of sin. If we do not get rid of the sin right away, those closest to us, our family, and the whole church will be impacted.
THE EFFECTS OF SIN
Our Relationship with Family
When sin entered my heart, the first thing my family noticed was that I spent more time alone in my room. I would stay out at the library most nights to do coursework and assignments. I would not tell my parents what I was doing or when I would be home because I did not want to hear their nagging. When I got home, I would watch pornography or YouTube further into the night, refusing to go to bed (Jas 1:14). When my parents asked me what I had been up to, I would give a lackluster response, hinting at my annoyance. When they asked me to do light chores around the house, I would consistently refuse. When they started pointing out my wrongs, I would get frustrated and spend more time in my bedroom, gratifying my flesh with pornography, gaming, and watching YouTube. Since I did not listen to my parents’ instructions, I was a fool (Prov 15:5).
There was a breakdown in communication between my parents and me. They wanted to know what was causing the change in my behavior to provide advice and support. But I thought my parents would not understand the peer pressure I had been through initially and would judge me by pointing out my wrongs and telling me that I was not good enough. So I decided it would be best not to tell anyone about what I was going through. As time went by, my hatred towards my parents increased, as did the feeling that they did not care for me.
This contributed to my depression as my feelings were being bottled up, with no outlet to relieve the pressure. Burying our feelings is dangerous as they can explode uncontrollably. Like a balloon filled with a steady stream of air, it will eventually burst.
Our Relationship with Brethren
Sin also had an impact on my relationships with fellow brethren-in-Christ. Seeing others serving faithfully in church and participating in church activities made me feel that I could not reach that same level of fervor. I thought they could not possibly empathize with me since they were so strong in faith; if I told them about my situation, they would only share the usual Bible verses and tell me to pray to God. The problem here was not with their potential advice but with the lack of empathy and connection between my fellow brethren and me.
As a result, I distanced myself from my brothers and sisters. I would sit alone in services, and I gradually attended fewer and fewer church activities. I started going to the gym instead of fellowships, thinking I did not need my brethren—the only thing that mattered was that I cared for myself. I had a similar response to the Israelites when they waited for Moses to descend from Mount Sinai. They grew impatient and turned to Aaron to make a golden calf for them to worship. Since I received no physical help, I decided to replace God with other methods to help me cope.
Again, this exacerbated my depression because my brothers and sisters did not seem to care about my situation. Although I was drawing away from them, I also hoped for one person to reach out and ask me what was wrong. But there was no one. This was when thoughts of suicide entered my mind. I felt that my fellow brethren had abandoned me, leaving me to drown in sin.
Our Relationship with God
Throughout this whole process, I was withdrawing further from God, and it grew harder to escape the bondage of sin. It was similar to what Paul experienced:
For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin. For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. (Rom 7:14–15)
I was ashamed of watching pornography and being addicted to gaming, and I felt that I was not good enough for God’s calling. Many teachings pricked my conscience, telling me to stop sinning—but since I could not stop myself, I thought it was impossible to become holy in the eyes of God again.
My spiritual development had ceased. I did not pay attention during services, and I stopped serving God, thinking God would not want to use a dirty vessel. Personal cultivation did not happen because I would rather indulge in sin than read the Bible.
As my mental health deteriorated, I constantly thought I was a disappointment to the church and God. All that time and effort spent on planning various events for me to attend had been wasted. I thought I was the worst person alive and deserved to be in such a situation. I even doubted whether God truly loved me and whether His blood was able to cleanse me from my sins. Thoughts of suicide were powerful at this point. If no one I knew truly cared, not even God, then why carry on living?
THE TURNING POINT
Warning from Workers of God
Late one night, after watching pornography, I noticed I had not plugged in my headphones. Later that week, I received a message from a deacon to meet with him and a preacher. My sin had been exposed—one of my family members had heard the noise that night. I confessed to the ministers that I had sinned against God but did not open up about my mental well-being. I was determined not to sin, but I was not at peace. I still spent most of my time in my room, so pornography was within arm’s reach. Before long, I was back in the same cycle, although I would not watch for as long as I had when I first became addicted. I felt even worse because I had already resolved to stop.
God can use different people and different methods to tell us we are sinning. It could be through a sermon, a fellowship, or the words of a brother or sister. Christ has experienced every temptation and, though He is sinless, He can empathize with us (Heb 4:14–16). Therefore, after hearing a rebuke from a minister, or reminders through sermons or fellowships, I had to learn from my mistake and come before God to seek help.
Confession to Close Brethren
After the meeting with the ministers, I received a WhatsApp message from the youth visitation team. I ignored it for a while because I thought they would interrogate me about my regular absence from church. At the same time, another thought came into my head: What if I reveal everything? What if I pour my heart out and truly seek help? So I met with the visitation team and talked about my deteriorating relationships with my parents and the church brethren. Still, I did not feel comfortable talking about the issue of pornography. It was not until I requested an individual meeting with one of the youth visitation team members that I could open up.
We may all be in unique situations, but God has solutions for all our needs and problems. For me, one solution was to open up to the youths within the visitation group. Even though it was painful to talk about my mental health problems, I was glad that I did because the brethren could now intercede for me and help me on my spiritual journey (Jas 5:16). When the opportunity comes for us to confess our problems, feeling ashamed is normal, but we must put aside those feelings to gain the spiritual help we need.
Confession to Family Members
At this point, I was still unable to talk to my parents and communicate what was wrong. They would constantly ask me why I looked sad all the time and explained that if I did not speak up, they would not know how to help. So finally, I took the most challenging step and sent a WhatsApp message to my parents about everything on my mind. In a subsequent family service, we talked about my issues—how I felt constantly compared to others and deemed not good enough, and how they only focused on my mistakes. We concluded that we needed to repent before God, ask for forgiveness, and change. God had opened the third outlet for the rest of my feelings to gush out. I felt a sense of relief in my heart that my burden had truly been lifted, and I could finally run back to God.
Confessing to my family was the hardest thing for me to do since I did not speak to them often. I was ashamed to reveal the sin I had hidden from them while living under the same roof. But our family members are the ones who can physically help us the most. Even though it is hard, do not be afraid to gather the whole family for a talk. We may receive some rebuke, but our parents do this because they love us and do not want to see us in sin (Prov 13:24).
TAKING CARE OF THE STRAYING ONES
The act of saving souls is not only directed towards people who have yet to believe in God, but also towards brethren who may have gone astray. We save them from the fruit of sin, which is death (Jas 5:19–20). If we notice someone who is not being themselves or whose behavior has been changing for the worse for some time, here is some advice on how to help them.
Advice for Brethren
As members of the church, we need to be alert to any changes in the behavior of our fellow brethren. For example, we may notice a brother looking a bit down or becoming less engaged in church activities. If we see this, take the initiative to ask how he is doing and be consistent with establishing a spiritual bond and showing that you genuinely care about him. Of course, we cannot assume that a missed fellowship or a bout of fatigue is a sign of sin, but we can reach out to a fellow member if we sense some subtle and prolonged changes within him. If the brother feels someone cares, he may open up eventually. When he does open up, do not be rash and rebuke him. Instead, listen to what he has to say. He may be keeping many feelings bottled up, so you can become a mental outlet for him if you spend time listening.
Advice for Parents
If your child spends a lot of time in his room or refuses to do chores, do not focus on the child. Instead, focus on drawing the whole family nearer to God. Gather everyone for family service to sing hymns, study the word of God, and pray together. Through the continual worship of God as a whole family, we increase in spiritual wisdom, knowing how to walk worthy of the Lord in a manner pleasing to Him. We also remind ourselves that through the blood of Christ, God has made us worthy to become partakers in His kingdom (Col 1:9–14).
TAKING CARE OF OURSELVES
Filled with God’s Word
The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul;
The testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple;
The statutes of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart;
The commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes;
The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever;
The judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether.
More to be desired are they than gold,
Yea, than much fine gold;
Sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb. (Ps 19:7–10)
We should fill our hearts with God’s word and have the determination to read the Bible and put its teachings into practice. Meditate constantly on what we have read and apply these teachings in our lives. As we continue to walk in the word of God, we will find that it is trustworthy and true, strengthening our desire to seek for more.
Filled with Prayer
And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. (Jas 5:15)
When we stop indulging in sin, we may find ourselves with much free time. We should use this time to pray. Reflect on the matters of the church, the brothers and sisters who need our intercession, our family, and our own faith. Then spend the effort to mention each matter in prayer, asking God to guide.
Find a Spiritual Companion
Two are better than one,
Because they have a good reward for their labor.
For if they fall, one will lift up his companion.
But woe to him who is alone when he falls,
For he has no one to help him up.
Again, if two lie down together, they will keep warm;
But how can one be warm alone?
Though one may be overpowered by another, two can withstand him.
And a threefold cord is not quickly broken. (Eccl 4:9–12)
I had struggled to open up to brethren because of pride. I refused to let go of the image other church members had of me: a good Christian who attended services and fellowships and served in the church. But when the youth visitation team messaged me, I knew this was my opportunity to talk about all of my problems. Even though I had the misconception that others would not sympathize with me, I prayed to God to remove such thoughts and my pride, to have the courage to admit my sin.
We, too, may have this pride that stops us from establishing spiritual companionships, but we must look at the result. We can stay in our pride, which leads to destruction, or suffer a little shame for eternal life. Then, through prayer, ask God to remove the pride in our hearts and give us the willingness of heart to share.
On reflection, I should not have focused on being judged by my brethren. Yes, the judgment will be there, but it is all part of love—not just for me, but also for the entire church. It was only through love that the youth visitation team was willing to judge and, more importantly, to help me turn back to God. If we have already revealed the most shameful thing in our hearts, there will be nothing to hide from the other person, thus establishing a spiritual companionship. This bond can be strengthened by helping one another, using God's word as our foundation.
What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them goes astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine and go to the mountains to seek the one that is straying? And if he should find it, assuredly, I say to you, he rejoices more over that sheep than over the ninety-nine that did not go astray. Even so it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish. (Mt 18:12–14)
Thank God for His wonderful grace in saving me from the clutches of sin. Through His love and enduring patience, I can return to His fold and be united with brethren in fellowship and prayer. It is so true that God will do everything in His power to find that one sheep that has gone astray. Whether on the highest of mountains or in the deepest of valleys, God will search for and bring back the lost sheep. Even though from the sheep's point of view, the situation is impossible to escape, God will use His mighty power and love to return them to His bosom.
If you are in the depths of sin and are reading this today, you still have the chance to change. Do not be afraid to confess (Jas 5:16a). We may think it is futile because we expect stern rebuke or generic encouragements in return, but this is a misconception. Remember, God cares for you, and so do the brethren in church. But we must humble ourselves and admit our wrongs so that our fellow brethren can encourage and help us on our spiritual journey to heaven.
May all glory be given to God! Amen.