Peace if possible, truth at all costs—
— Martin Luther —
Annotated by the author.
While my experience of this story had to do with my 30+ year struggle with pornography, I intentionally wrote the story to have application to just about any area of sin bondage. The truth that “took off the collar” for me related to how I came to view our bodies as literally being in God’s image. For another person with a different bondage, it will be the truth that breaks that particular bondage.
I would like to present the story again, adding commentary to point out many of the truths that I just hinted at in the story, or to add insight into my own life’s struggle. It is my hope that after I finish, the meaning of the story will be richer for you.
I see something…. I can just make it out…
It seems to be a pit…
Yes, there is a shallow pit with slippery sloping sides. In the bottom of the pit there is a pool of… Oh, it’s a pit of putrid filth. On one side of the pit, I see something else… I see a dark and evil creature, and it is holding a strong chain.
I look and see that the chain extends down into the pit where I now see another creature… no—wait—it’s a man! Or at least, what used to be a man… but he’s not moving.
Looking closer, I notice that the chain is actually attached to the man, or rather to a collar that the man is wearing. The chain is hanging limp, and the man is not moving…. face down in the filth.
I look back at the dark creature and see that it is watching the man… and smiling a wicked smile… its eyes never leaving its captive who is motionless in the pit.
The pit is the sin. It is dirty and it is ugly. The creature is, of course, one of Satan’s servants. The creature takes its wicked pleasure in the sinful condition of the man.
Note that while the man is lying motionless in the pit, the chain is not what’s keeping him there… it is his absence of effort that keeps him there. So it is when we have succumbed to our sin; we make no effort at all to get out of it. We feel hopeless and helpless against it in that moment.
Eventually, however, the very repulsiveness of the filth drives us to move away from it.
As I look at the creature, I notice that the chain has begun to move. I return my gaze to the man in the pit. To my surprise, he is attempting to get up! The chain is too long to hold him in the pit. Slowly, he begins to rise out of the mire.
There is no chain that can hold us to our sin. We can ALWAYS choose to get back out of it. Some will say that the chain holds us actually IN the sin, but that is never true.
The man is covered in the filth but still he’s laboring to his knees. To my surprise, he begins to weep! I steal a glance at the creature and it is no longer smiling… and I can see it nervously handling the chain, as if preparing to take up the slack…
Satan’s grasp on us is always threatened by our efforts to leave sin behind. He can no longer relax and smile at our plight. While we—in frustration and near hopelessness—feebly pull away from our sin, Satan knows that his prey could escape. So he immediately and cruelly conspires to pull us back down again. If only we in our “helplessness” knew how seriously our enemy takes even our baby-steps towards the light—we should not feel so hopeless!
I look back at the man. Still on his knees, he turns his face to the distant Light on the opposite side of the pit. Suddenly he summons all his courage and strength and an anguished cry erupts from deep within his being. He keeps his face steadfast towards the Light, and cries out again… stronger this time.
I love this part. It means so much to me! God’s grace is greater than our sin! If we will simply look up at Him from out of our sin, and cry out to Him for mercy, we will find strength that will surprise us!
Now I hear another sound—a scream—coming instead from the creature. I turn to see that it has now dropped the chain and is using both hands to cover its ears so as not to be pained by the cries of the man!
“Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” Our cries of repentance and confession to the Lord must be unbearable to the enemy of our soul!
Once more the man cries out towards the Light. Once again, his voice is stronger. As he cries, he begins to stand up. I find myself cheering for the man as I watch!
Then, to my amazement, a burst of Light emanates from the distance and engulfs the man. Miraculously, the filth from the pit completely melts off his body and clothes! Although he was covered in it just a moment ago, now he stands up and I see that his clothes are pure white! No trace of the filth can be seen anywhere on him! … and the tears in his eyes have been wiped away.
Yes, grace is amazing! The blood of Jesus cleanses us from EVERY sin! A moment ago, the man was covered in filth. But by the grace of God, it is utterly washed away. Unfortunately, too often we have “better” memories than God does… We are completely clean, but we mope about as if we were still mired in the filth.
The man notices his clean clothes and is emboldened by what he sees! He begins to move towards the far slope of the pit… his face toward the Light and his jaw set.
If we really take God at His word, and recognize that we are truly clean in God’s eyes, we can and will stand with great boldness and pursue our gracious Lord!
He makes steady progress up the slope of the pit. I can hardly contain my joy! He is almost out!
It is still attached to the man’s collar!
We often mistakenly assume that being cleansed from our sin automatically frees us from the lies that keep us bound to that sin. If that were true, then there would be no need to grow in our faith, for we would be instantly mature as believers at the moment of salvation. Make no mistake, we are legally free from sin by the power of the cross, but we must continually grow in our knowledge of truth, for in whatever measure we live as if lies are true, to that measure we will continue to experience bondage to sin.
Here, the man is truly moving away from the sin. But something still remains which keeps him close to the pit. He is cleansed, but he is not yet free. In my life, every time I awoke from the filth and repented of the sin, I also knew that I was still drawn to it. Deep down, I knew I would fall again, even if I wouldn’t admit that “out loud.” I knew that I really was not yet completely free.
And as he makes his way up the slope, the slack in the chain is being taken up!
I had momentarily forgotten about the wicked little creature who was holding the other end of the chain. I look back at it and see its eyes blazing with anger, its hands desperately grasping the chain, little by little taking in the slack. My eyes follow the chain, now nearly taut, back to the man.
In the joy of experiencing God’s grace and cleansing, it is very easy to forget that the battle still rages and our enemy still conspires to tear us down. Sadly, since we still have the chain attached, he has a ready and effective weapon against us: the lie that still binds us.
The chain is beginning to slow the man’s progress as he climbs up the slope of the pit. One of his feet slips and he quickly puts a hand down to prevent his fall. I watch as he continues to struggle to get out of the pit against the pull of the chain.
Even as I turned away from pornography and promised the Lord I would never do it again, its allure in my heart still remained. Even as I would walk away from it, I still knew that somewhere deep in my heart, I still was drawn to it. After so many years of living with this, I eventually concluded that I always would be.
I notice that, to my surprise, the small creature is not strong enough to pull the man back into the pit! But its intermittent yanking on the chain has the effect of throwing the man off balance, causing him to halt his progress and stop his fall.
This is very important to acknowledge! We do NOT belong to Satan! He is NOT strong enough to force us to submit to him! He is the father of lies, and the lie is the only weapon he has against us! When he hits us with a barrage of lies (many that we’ve unwittingly believed for years!), its effect is that it throws us off balance, for we are no longer standing firm in God’s truth.
For a time, the man makes little or no progress due to the clever timing of the creature’s pulling on the chain.
Let us not underestimate the cleverness of our enemy. He knows us too well and he’s been practicing for WAY too long for us to be careless with truth. Paul said that “we are not ignorant of his [Satan’s] schemes,” but I fear that too often, we are.
I can sense the man’s frustration with the chain. Suddenly he whirls around to face his tormentor. I see rage in his eyes as he tries in vain to pull the chain from the creature’s hands. Failing that, he grabs the chain with both hands and summons all his strength in an attempt to pull the chain free of his collar. Again, to no avail.
Finally, with a cry of hopeless frustration, he grabs a length of the chain and brings it down in a powerful stroke against his uplifted knee.
The man is fighting the battle at the wrong point. The creature cannot hold the man, but if he can get the man to fight the battle at the wrong place, the frustration that follows the failure to break the chain will inevitably lead us back to a feeling of futility… And repeated failure.
The creature was waiting for this moment.
The man is standing on one foot on the slippery slope of the pit… his attention on the chain…
Let me tell you how this worked for me…
For years, I had thought that my admiration for and desire to view the natural beauty of the female form was a perversion. I thought it was an expression of my sinfulness. On the other hand, I also assumed that my natural response to seeing a woman’s body was to be sexually aroused and to lust after the woman I saw. Therefore, I found myself fruitlessly fighting how God designed me, and not even offering any resistance at the point where victory could be attained with relative ease.
Because the man was focused on an element of the bondage which he could never change, he completely neglected giving attention to the way that he could – with ease – overcome the temptation…. just removing the collar!
A cruelly timed tug…
A startled look…
A cry of fear and agony…
A tumultuous flailing of arms and legs…
A painful fall…
A slippery slope…
the awful sound of a heavy splash…
and then … stillness.
This is such a sad moment in the story. But even more sad is how true to life it is for each one of us when we struggle against our sin bondage.
except for a quiet and evil chuckle.
I turn back toward the creature. Once again, it is staring intently at the man. Smiling again. That wicked smile.
Satan’s lies have done their work again. When we live as if the lies are true, we will bear the fruit that lies bring. Thankfully, the converse is true, too. If we live as if the truth really is true, then we will bear the fruit of that truth, which is freedom.
I can’t bear to look at the creature any longer, so I turn back to the man, wondering if he would… or could…
My heart leaps as I watch him begin to stir! Will he get up again?
Then, he rises to his knees and begins to weep. I am thrilled! I hear him cry out to the Light again. I watch him get up. I see the burst of Light and rejoice to see the filth again melt off his body. Once again, I watch him take steps toward the sloping edge of the pit. I watch him take step after step up the side. I watch him… I watch…
I watch the chain draw taut…
I watch the man fight against it…
And then I watch him fall.
How many times has this happened before? Will it happen again? The scene is horrifying. Has he no hope? It is more than I can bear.
There is not nearly as much hope watching the man fall again, is there?
Sadly, I have to confess to you that even though I was in the ministry, the son of a pastor, bible school graduate and life-long servant of the Lord, I had reached the point in my life that I no longer hoped for real freedom from my sin… I only hoped to “manage” it—not getting “too deep” nor “too often” mired.
But then, I hear another sound!
A voice… the voice of another man!
This is good news! We must realize the we are designed to live in community, and God wants us to encourage one another. We can help each other be stronger than we are alone.
It is coming from close by, where another man stands at the edge of his own pit… straining at his own chain. I wonder why I had not seen him there before!
“Brother!” he calls out… “Brother! Get up! You can do it!!”
The second man is also dressed in clean white clothes. And his attention is on the first man, trying to encourage him to get up again.
In time the man in the filth once again rises up and finds the strength to stand and try again, but this time spurred on by the constant encouragement of the second man.
God’s grace and strength has been experienced by both men. That grace is real. And it is shared. Together, the two men CAN stand more faithfully than either can alone. However… As we’ll see in the following paragraphs, it can also serve to keep people bound to the lies that keep them bound to the sin.
“Don’t fight the chain!” he says. “Just keep your eyes on the Light in the distance. That’s where your strength is found! And stay to the ends of the pit where the slope is not as slippery.”
There are strategies that we can employ to help us avoid slipping into the mire again, or at least not as frequently. To a point, they really do work, especially if we do keep our eyes on Jesus and seek to live by His strength.. But as you can see, there is implied in the second man’s words an acquiescence to the “fact” that the chain will always be with us… that a life completely free of the chain is more than we should expect. For those who believe that… it becomes true.
“Thank you,” the man replies. Then, taking his advice, he finds that he really can stand more firmly there, in spite of the little creature’s incessant yanking on the chain. He tries hard to ignore the creature’s efforts, looking instead to the Light.
The second man was, I’m sure, thrilled to see the first man experiencing much greater “success” in his struggle against the slope of the pit. His words of encouragement and experience made a difference for him. But to confuse such a state with real freedom is tragic, indeed. By in large, however, that’s what we have done.
After I came to a new understanding of our bodies from Scripture, for the first time in my life, the allure of pornography practically vanished in my life. It was unexpected, and I was certainly surprised by it. Before that time, I had given up on ever being that free!
One of the tragic realities regarding ministries to pornography addicts is that “freedom” is defined as “not giving in” and “not acting out.” There is a general consensus that “once an addict, always an addict” and that every man will battle this for the rest of his life.
When I learned that real “freedom” is “freedom from the desire to indulge in porn,” I searched the Internet for a website which helped men overcome sexual addictions. I laid low and asked questions—seeking to find out if anyone was offering any hope that even the desire to view porn could be conquered and eliminated from a man’s life. Sadly, I found none. What’s more, I was chided for suggesting that there was such hope.
In truth, it was my experience at that website which spawned the presence of the second man in my story. I know they mean well and I know that in some measure, they are truly helping people. But ultimately, they do not offer any real hope for the kind of freedom I have experienced.
“The Light is really beautiful if I can just keep standing my ground here where I can see it,” he tells his new friend.
“Yes, I know” says the second man. “With the strength I’ve received from the Light, I’ve been able to keep out of the pit for eight months now.”
“Wow. That’s great. I hope I can last that long.” He replies wistfully.
The truth is that people who struggle with pornography measure their “victory” in how long it has been since they last “fell.” I had a friend tell me recently of a young man who reported with some measure of excitement and hopefulness that he had avoided porn for a whole week! My friend’s heart broke for the guy, realizing that for him, one whole week was a long time.
Those who use that measure of “freedom” also know that it’s ALWAYS just a matter of time before they will fall again. “Been there… done that.” For the second man in the story, it comes all too soon…
Then, without warning, the second man looks away from Light for just a moment. There is an immediate tug on his chain, a sudden flailing of arms and an all too familiar fall and splash in the next pit.
With the chain still attached, and the man continuously standing at the edge of the pit, our enemy is ever vigilant to take advantage of the slightest weak moment. How well I know…
The first man gasps in horror as he watches his friend disappear into the pit of filth.
Full of fear the man waits, hoping that his friend will find his way back out of the filth. He calls to him, shouting the words of encouragement that he himself had heard only a short time ago.
This, of course, is the strength and benefit of accountability partners and groups; They do help people get back up… to try again. I suspect, however, that eventually, such groups disband before anyone in the group attains real and lasting freedom; they finally all get tired of admitting defeat to each other. Been there… done that, too.
In time, to his great relief, his friend stumbles up and out of his pit and once again stands gazing at the Light to renew his strength.
“I’m glad you’re back.” the man tells his friend.
“Yeah… Thanks. I’m really sorry, but it still happens to me, I’m afraid.” he replies, his voice betraying a deeper sadness than before.
They neither speak for a time… each one silently and stoically resisting the continual tugging on their chains.
And this is the weakness of accountability groups… Often those in the group do little more than commiserate with each other as they each continue to intermittently lose their own personal battles. Ultimately, such “support” tends to do little more than reinforce the lies that keep them bound—as we see in the upcoming dialog.
“Friend,” the first man presently says… a question hung in his throat. “I am wondering…”
“Yes?” his friend finally speaks.
“Can we ever be free of these chains?”
The question is a fair one… “Can we ever be free from the incessant allure of pornography?” But even asking such a question can elicit tremendous opposition.
At this question, both of the creatures begin to make a great ruckus and start pulling on their respective chains harder and faster. “NO!!” they cry! “You can never get rid of the chain!” one says. “The chain is mine and you can never break it!” cries the other.
As soon as someone starts asking questions that may lead them to the truth, our enemy will step up the effort to reiterate and reaffirm the lie. The very idea that we cannot be free from porn’s allure is one of the very lies which keep us bound to it. Questioning such a notion is the first step towards breaking free of it. And Satan knows that much better than we do.
That is why we often find that our efforts to pursue true freedom will often bring us greater temptation and even failure. We should recognize that as a GOOD sign rather than a reason to lose heart as we so often do.
It is all the two men can do to continue maintaining their balance against the sudden increase in activity from the creatures.
“I’m afraid they’re right,” the second man finally says when he had reestablished his footing and braced himself against the chain’s pull. “I’ve been at this for 38 years, and there’s no way to break this chain.”
How sad that the lie that keeps them bound is actually defended by one who is still bound by it… And all in the name of trying to help others be “free!”
The creatures settle down.
Once their dirty work is picked up by the second man, they can actually back down and let him do it.
This can also result in another tragic misdirection. When we affirm the lie as true, we just might find RELIEF from the temptation for a time! I fear that this is a very common ploy of the enemy, for then we have people who will profess with great fervor that when they acknowledged this “reality” in their lives, they immediately experienced greater “freedom” than before! Instead of turning to the truth when times get difficult, they return to the lie.
The first man sighs and relaxes just a little, thankful for the reprieve from the tugging. “That’s what I was afraid of,” he says finally. “I just wish….”
“You wish you could be free of the chain, right?”
The voice didn’t come from the second man. Both of the men look around to see who had spoken to them.
Then they see a third man. He, too, is dressed in white. But he is not standing in the sloping edge of a pit as they are. There is no chain anywhere to be seen. He looks at them with peace and compassion.
Now the third man enters the picture. He too knows the painful plight of being chained to the master of the pit. But he’s not there any more. And so he testifies…
“You can be free of the chain.”
The two creatures resume their clamoring and it rises to an even greater fevered pitch than before.
The lie is in danger again, this time even more significantly. They must do everything in their power to make the truth difficult to hear.
“No, you can’t! ” The second man declares. “It’s not possible. You’re just hiding your chain!”
Now the second man—who should be rejoicing that true freedom is possible—is so convinced by his own experience that such freedom is impossible, that he actively, though unwittingly, joins the enemy in direct opposition to the one who tells the truth!
“Wait, I want to hear this!” the first man shouts over the din coming from behind them.
The clamor of those who would defend the lie is great. Even the desire to listen will earn you the ire of those defending the lie—even if they are brothers!
“He doesn’t know what he’s talking about!” the second man objects. “It’s unrealistic, what he’s suggesting. Just keep your eyes on the Light and you’ll have the strength you need to stand your ground!”
“Listen to your friend!” the creatures yell. “He’s the one who helped you! You don’t even know who that other guy is!!”
Yes, return to your accountability partners… So long as they keep believing and defending the lie, you’ll still be chained to the pit. The enemy would rather you “successfully” keep out of the pit that you remained chained to, than to have you listen to the truth that will set you truly free.
The first man looks back at the creature holding his chain, and very nearly loses his balance.
“Just take off the collar.” The third man can scarcely be heard.
It is much simpler than we think it could be. But it’s the one thing we simply haven’t tried.
“What did you say?”
Perhaps he couldn’t hear because of the noise made by all the detractors, or perhaps it was so simple that he had to confirm that he heard correctly.
“Take off the collar!”
“It’ll never come off!” screams one of the creatures. “That collar is part of you!” cries the other.
They are frantic now, for the man is hearing the truth that will ultimately and truly set him free from their influence.
“But how?” the first man asks.
“Don’t listen to him!” The second man warns. “He’s deluding himself and he’s trying to delude you! Looking toward the Light is your only hope!” This elicits a chorus of agreement from the creatures.
Tragically, the second man, formerly his encourager, now angrily opposes the man speaking the truth.
This is precisely the response I got on the website I mentioned before when I tried to suggest that real freedom from porn’s allure was possible and that I was experiencing it.
I am reminded of a quote attributed to Dresden James which says this: “When a well-packaged web of lies has been sold gradually to the masses over generations, the truth will seem utterly preposterous and its speaker a raving lunatic.”
“Just unbuckle it.”
“Yes. like that. It’s not really part of you.”
No, the response of lust to the sight of a nude body is not automatic. It is not the only response we can have. It is not how God made us nor intends for us to respond. Yet, in our culture and even in the church, this is what we have been told time and time again, to the point that it is beyond question: “Viewing nudity is wrong because lust is wrong. Period.” But that’s a lie from hell.
You see, if we never even question that, we will never even attempt anything different.
Then… astoundingly, the man’s chain falls to the ground behind him, the collar still attached. It takes a moment, but then he realizes that he really is free.
I can testify to you that I was amazed how easy it was to walk away from the pit when the allure of porn was gone. No fight. No struggle. I just got up and walked away.
He takes the final two steps out of his pit, then embraces the man who had shown him the way. Together, they begin to walk toward the Light.
“Wait,” the first man stops in his tracks, “what about my friend? He still has his collar on…”
“I know.” the third man says. “But he has found that he truly can stay out of the filth. And he’s right about the Light. It really does give him strength to resist the chain’s pull. But no one can force anyone to take off his collar. You can only remove your own collar. If someone still believes that the collar is a permanent part of who they are, they will never even try to remove it.”
This is one of the saddest points in the entire story for me: that someone might be exposed to the truth that would set him free and yet to have so vehemently rejected it that we can do nothing more than walk away. He has chosen bondage rather than freedom.
“But if they don’t, they’ll never know true freedom!”
They will continue to settle for a watered-down definition of “freedom.”
“That is true. But he has heard the truth. We can only hope that in time he will reconsider his response to it. Come with me. Let’s continue walking toward the Light. Along the way, perhaps we will find others who will hear the truth and embrace it as we did.
“The Light has revealed to us the secret of freedom. He said ‘You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’ And ‘If the Light sets you free, you will be free indeed.’ That is the message we must share.” [John 8:32, 36]
I cannot tell you how deeply I long to share with others about how I have been set free. It is so frustrating to realize that most people are so unready to hear the truth that I am obliged to hold my tongue. But I am ever alert to discern when God might be working in the heart of someone else so that they would be receptive.
With some sadness, yet with their own hearts free, the two men turn towards the Light and begin walking again.
Then from behind them…
“Hey, guys!!! Wait up!”
Even though I wrote the story and I know it’s coming, my eyes usually well up with tears when I read that line.
A moment later, all three men embrace, then walk on together…
…toward the Light.
Embracing truth is God’s will for us. It is the very definition of growth in Christ. In that truth, we will experience the freedom to pursue Jesus with greater purity than we’ve ever known before..
I pray that you will experience the true freedom from sin that truth brings, regardless of what your sin bondage is. I pray that you will have the opportunity to share with others how you became free when you rejected the lie and embraced the truth.
“Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
—1 Cor 15:57 (NASB)
© 2006/2008 by David Martin