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Breaking Sexual Idolatry (Part 2)
(Steve Gallagher of Purelife Ministries)
The Spiral of Degradation
If you are giving over to lust, fantasies, masturbation or pornography, you are on dangerous ground. The old adage is painfully true: Sin will take you further than you ever wanted to go, keep you longer than you ever wanted to stay and cost you more than you can ever pay. Sexual sin in particular can be very intoxicating. The wise man understood its power to seduce and ensnare when he asked, “Can a man walk on hot coals and his feet not be scorched?” (Proverbs 6:28)
All sin is extremely deceptive. It allows the person to feel as though he is in control, but this is merely an illusion. In reality, sin slowly and subtly, but surely, begins to master the person’s heart. The more it is indulged, the more its perspectives shroud the person’s thinking. It inflames and intensifies buried passions. It lures and tantalizes. Before the person realizes what has transpired, he is already sliding down a very slippery slope.
That slide is described in terrible detail in the first chapter of Romans. Nowhere else in Scripture is the vileness of sin more vividly contrasted with the glory of God. What a tragedy it is when someone comes to know God and yet remains in sexual sin. Some grow up in the church, but start dabbling in sin because they do not want to truly surrender to the Lord. Before long, they are falling headlong into the great abyss of perversion. Others have been in bondage to sexual sin for years before coming to the Lord. The tantalizing call comes forth and the person is quickly pursuing the sin again. Often they will go even deeper into sin than before their conversion.
Something happens spiritually to the person who turns away from the light. Peter said, “For if after they have escaped the defilements of the world by the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and are overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would be better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn away from the holy commandment delivered to them. It has happened to them according to the true proverb, ‘a dog returns to its own vomit,’ and, ‘a sow, after washing, returns to wallowing in the mire.’ ” (2 Peter 2:20–22) Whether the person grew up in the church and became involved in sin or came to the Lord but returned to his old habits, the pattern of sin presented in Romans 1:21–32 still occurs. There are seven steps downward into sexual bondage. Let us take a look.
Failure to Reverence and Give Gratitude to God
“Even though they knew God,
they did not honor Him as God or give Thanks.”
Losing a reverential, worshipful spirit is the first step down into the spiral of degradation. Most people fall in love with Jesus when they first become Christians. Jesus becomes their “first love.” Should the new believer retain that intimacy with the Lord, many fruitful years can be expected. However, Romans 1:21 describes a person who has begun to turn away from the Lord in his heart. He may still continue to go through the outward motions of a believer, but something within him is drying up. He is losing his sense of adoration for the God who has saved him. This waning of his first love is enough to allow an altar of sexual idolatry to be erected in his heart, and once established, he can easily turn from worshiping God to worshiping the perversion of sexual lust.
Another aspect is the old prideful nature which begins to re-emerge. Perhaps he had at one time been broken and repentant over his sin, but once he learns a few spiritual truths, he begins to exaggerate his level of spirituality. Before he realizes what is happening, he begins losing the awe (and the fear that accompanies it) he once had of God, and starts to develop a terrible pattern of self-glory. The honor and reverence that is due to God, and God alone, is soon lost as self becomes huge in his heart. Man’s love for self replaces love for God. Belief in self supplants belief in God. Self-glory substitutes the glory that belongs to the Lord. Thus, the wandering away from God begins.
As pride begins to re-emerge, an attitude of ungratefulness rises along with it. Paul is specifically targeting the spirit these people were in toward God. Ingratitude is what infuriated the Lord with the Israelites as He led them toward the Promised Land. They were dissatisfied with what God had given them. They “murmured” against the Lord. Even after He had miraculously delivered them out of the hands of their cruel oppressors, they still had the audacity to complain. Their lack of thankfulness almost brought God to the point of annihilating the Israelites.
It is this attitude which sneaks in very subtly once a person takes his eyes off of God. If God’s wonderful presence alone does not capture their devotion, how will they ever be satisfied with anything else? Such a sense of dissatisfaction leads people to seek other ways of satisfying perceived needs. It is a dangerous spirit to be in, for if God’s wonderful provisions are not enough to hold a person’s attention, what will it take?
The Darkening Heart
“Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man.”
The inevitable growing sense of inner emptiness unfortunately often leads a man to return to old, broken cisterns for satisfaction. Sexual fantasy begins to fill his mind. Before long he is indulging in masturbation. The law of diminishing returns begins to come into play. That spiritual maxim is based on the fact that sin does not satisfy. He can easily find himself plunging from one depth of darkness to the next until he is eventually saturated in despicable behavior. Sin is tightening its grip.
First, the sinner increasingly desires more of one specific activity. It may be fornication, adultery, masturbation, and so on. As the initial sex act begins to lose its thrill, the addict will attempt to maintain the high level of excitement he is accustomed to achieving by increasing the frequency of his behavior. Each time he goes back for more, the clutches of sin are strengthened. The more he does it, the more he wants it.
Eventually, however, repetition will not be enough to maintain his interest. He will begin to crave something darker, more degrading, more forbidden, and more evil. He becomes driven to recapture the exuberance he once felt in the beginning of his sin. Undaunted by any fear of consequences, his only aim is pleasure.
Whereas he was once gratified—even exhilarated—looking at Playboy, he now finds himself drawn to hard core pornography. Perhaps he may have even cringed at the thought of homosexuality, but he now finds himself attracted to it. The thought of his wife sleeping with another man repulsed him at one time, now he finds himself fantasizing about it. As the person crosses the barrier of fantasy and enters into actual behavior he discovers that he views things differently. He will eventually begin to have thoughts that are directly opposed to what he knows to be right. For instance, he might actually start thinking that most women really do want immoral sex but are just inhibited by the constraints of society. Once a person reaches this point, his life quickly begins to be governed almost exclusively by his sin. He no longer can be counted on to make sound decisions and his life is likely to quickly unravel. Sinful pleasure now dominates his mind. Consequently, he is getting paid within his soul the penalty he so richly deserves.
Many who pursue a course of sin convince themselves that they can simply repent and return to God afterwards. While it is true that genuine repentance does bring instantaneous forg
For instance, my wife once counseled a woman who was about 75 pounds overweight. Kathy helped her to develop a reasonable diet and an exercise regimen. Had she stuck to this plan, she would have gradually slimmed down, and in the process, become healthier and more energetic. Instead, she grew weary of the restraints and threw herself back into her gluttony. The last time my wife saw her she had gained an additional hundred pounds. The point is that it is much easier to lose 75 pounds than it is to lose 175 pounds. Although it isn’t as visible, the same fact holds true for those who give over to sexual sin. It is much easier to overcome a two-year masturbation habit than one that has been going on for five years.
Every time a man looks at pornography or gives over to some other form of sexual sin, his mind becomes more polluted, his heart more blackened and his perspectives more distorted. Sin corrupts the soul and its vile touch doesn’t simply disappear when a person stops the behavior. Every act of sin takes a person further away from God and leaves a stain upon the heart.
The Suppression of Truth
“They exchanged the truth of God for a lie.”
Paul says that these people “suppress the truth in unrighteousness.” (Romans 1:18) Literally, he means to hold the truth down, or hold it in check. The picture here is that God is trying desperately to break through the darkness of their thinking with the light of Jesus. However, something rises up inside the person which causes him to turn away from the truth. The Holy Spirit keeps introducing convicting thoughts into the man’s mind, but he turns a deaf ear to them. He does not want to hear the voice of the Lord because he knows it would mean giving up what he wants. It is just what Jesus said, “Men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.” (John 3:19–20)
Not only is truth ignored, but deception now enters the scene. The following statements are typical of what the deceived person tells himself in order to justify his sin or to keep from coming to grips with it.
“I’m walking with God. I just have this one little problem.“ This is the mentality of someone who wishes to minimize the evil of his sin so that he may hold on to it. Let us take the monstrous evil of pornography for example. Even the person who has gone no further than occasionally viewing pornography and masturbating, is still giving up his mind and heart to wickedness. No one who is looking at pornography is walking with God! The man may occasionally have experiences with the Lord, but as we shall see later in this book, he certainly is not walking with Him. He is simply flattering his own ego and deceiving himself.
“I’m going through a difficult period of my life right now. I’ll come out of it.” This is someone who is simply waiting to repent, imagining that he can shut his sin down whenever he wishes. Perhaps he does not realize that sexual sin is a beast that grows in direct proportion to how much it is fed. The more the man gives over to sin, the more it demands. With good reason Paul exclaimed, “…now is ‘the acceptable time,’ behold, now is ‘the day of salvation.’ ” (2 Corinthians 6:2) The longer a person puts off repentance, the less likely it will ever happen.
“I’ve tried to quit. I’ve tried to follow the steps this book outlines. Nothing changes. I’m just as addicted as I have ever been.” Many men who have vacillated between their love for God and their love of sin have sincerely believed that they have done everything they could to find freedom, but it just did not work. But those who are honest with themselves realize they have only made half-hearted attempts at changing. They might try to convince themselves that they really tried but the truth is that they did not.
Given Over to the Lusts of the Heart
“Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity.”
Those who have experienced the unquenchable flames of burning lust can understand why the fathers of the early church regarded the worst aspect of hell to be that a person is left to his own lusts with no possibility of satisfying them. To a small degree, this can be seen by holding a piece of meat just out of reach of a dog. His eyes concentrate only on the object in view. His mouth begins to salivate and his heartbeat increases. The sight and smell of the meat leads him into almost a trance—like state as he fixes his gaze upon it. This is a representation of the addict as he contemplates his routine. Solomon describes the hypnotic spell of sexual temptation: “With her many persuasions she entices him; with her flattering lips she seduces him. Suddenly he follows her, as an ox goes to the slaughter, or as one in fetters to the discipline of a fool, until an arrow pierces through his liver; as a bird hastens to the snare, so he does not know that it will cost him his life.” (Proverbs 7:21–23)
The man driven by lust loses all sense of reality. He completely forgets the costs involved with sin and will often find himself doing things in this altered state of mind that he would never otherwise consider. He experiences this in two different ways.
First, he might perform degrading acts that would repulse or frighten him in a time of “sanity.” I have had men confess to me things they have done that actually left them nauseous afterwards. Some explained how their normal standards and morals flew right out the window as they entered that trance of lust. Men with a deep fear of arrest might solicit prostitutes while being driven by lust, while others expose themselves to women after their lust has been excited. Yet others will molest their own children while in this state of mind. The list goes on.
Lust and fantasy are both related to desire, which is the longing after something which appeals to a person. It is an expression of one’s will—the part of one’s inner self which dictates one’s own inclinations in life. Desire is one of the drives that God instilled in human beings to help them to function in life. People’s wants or desires are as diverse as the number of human beings on the planet. An individual’s temperament, background, and environment all contribute to what he may pursue in life. Included in this list are the natural appetites of the human body, which can become warped and/or get out of control, as in the case of sexual addicts. Appetites become corrupted by sin. Adam Clarke wrote:
If voluntary and deliberate looks and desires make adulterers and adulteresses, how many persons are there whose whole life is one continued crime! whose eyes being full of adultery, they cannot cease from sin. (2 Peter 2:14) Many would abhor to commit one external act before the eyes of men, in a temple of stone; and yet they are not afraid to commit a multitude of such acts in the temple of their hearts, and in the sight of God!2
Paul called them “lusts of the heart.” We should take note of the fact that the lust comes from one’s heart. Recently, I was speaking at a series of men’s meetings in the Boston area on the subject of overcoming the power of lust. After one particular meeting, a curious, yet sincere young man came up to me with a look of bewilderment on his face. “Now, help me to understand this, Brother Gallagher,” he said. “How is it that we get rid of the spirit of lust?” I knew right where he was headed. He, like many others, had been taught that lust came from demons which plagued the believer. Although demons do play a role in the bo
“Whose lust is it that he is enticed by?” I queried. As I asked the question, a look of utter amazement came across his face.
“It’s my own lust, isn’t it?” he asked in response to this new revelation.
I said to him, “Listen, the devil can dangle a carrot in front of your face, but there is something inside you that actually wants that carrot. You aren’t lustful because some demon comes on you. You are lustful because you have within you a desire for what isn’t right.” As we discovered in the last chapter, ‘For out of the heart come evil thoughts.…’ (Matthew 15:19) The devil can appeal to that lust, but he did not create it. It’s already in us.
“For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions.”
One of the terrifying realities about this being, Jehovah, that we serve, is that He will give people what they have shown they desire. This can be seen over and over again in Scripture. Consider the time the Hebrews were wandering in the wilderness. God was trying to reveal His marvelous ways to them, but instead they repeatedly demanded to have the carnal lifestyle of Egypt. They did not want to be delivered from the darkness of Egypt; they just wanted to be freed from physical slavery. When they left the land of the Nile, they quickly forgot the horrors of slavery and focused their memories on the scanty benefits they had occasionally enjoyed. They longed for the “flesh pots” of Egypt. “Oh that someone would give us meat to eat. For we were well-off in Egypt.… Why did we ever leave Egypt?” (Numbers 11: 18, 20)
After having endured this attitude for so long, God finally became angry and said, “You shall eat, not one day, nor two days, nor five days, nor ten days, nor twenty days, but a whole month, until it comes out of your nostrils and becomes loathsome to you; because you have rejected the LORD.…” (Numbers 11:19–20) They were given exactly what they wanted. God is extremely longsuffering with His people, but a time will come, if they continue to resist His promptings and insist on sinning, that He will give them over to what they desire. Three times in this chapter in Romans we find the words, “God gave them over.…”
This phrase is a translation of the Greek word paradidomai, which literally means to betray or give someone up. We find it used in the words Judas spoke to the high priest when he said, “What are you willing to give me to deliver Him up to you?” (Matthew 26:15) Jesus used the same word when describing the persecution of the last days, “Then they will deliver you to tribulation.…” (Matthew 24:9) The exact meaning of this word, as used in the context of Romans chapter one, is this: If you insist on having your sin, the time will come when God will surrender you up to the power of the enemy.
The picture being painted here is of a traitor being left to the enemy to fend for himself. The person having deserted the Lord, actually finds himself to be the deserted one. What the apostle is illustrating is not so much the action of one handing another over, but rather the withdrawing of one’s protection over another. In the case of the believer, God withdraws the grace to keep him from sin. More than most realize, the Lord keeps people restrained from plunging themselves into unfathomable evil by His grace. Rejected once too often, that protective grace is eventually withdrawn and the person is allowed to have what he has shown he truly wants. This does not mean that God has totally given up on him, but that the Holy Spirit’s conviction no longer affects him. His mind no longer thinks sanely; his thinking has become twisted. He finds himself doing things that are literally insane because his mind has become depraved.
The Reprobate Mind
“God gave them over to a reprobate mind.”
There is a wonderful word in the New Testament that I would like to take a moment to mention here. The word is dokimazo. It comes from another Greek word which means “to be tested.” In his first letter to Timothy, Paul uses this term to describe the kind of character a deacon should possess.
In Romans chapter one, he uses the term adokimos. The “a” in front of the word corresponds to the English “un-”: (e.g., unholy, unloving, ungodly, etc.). Thus, in this sense, it means that God has thrown up His hands, so to speak, and given them over to be men without character who are likely to say, do, act, and pursue anything or anyone under the sun in their burning lust.
Becoming reprobate means the person’s conscience has become hardened. Although he is likely to still have some comprehension for doctrinal truth, the Truth has been effectively shut out of his heart. Elsewhere Paul spoke of those who were “seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron” (1 Timothy 4:2), and those who “because of the hardness of their heart (have) become callous.” (Ephesians 4:18–19) Both metaphors—the seared conscience and the hardened, calloused heart—describe the same condition.
A good way to illustrate the conscience is to compare it to the human nervous system. When a person is wounded, he feels pain—the body’s inherent means of alerting him that something is wrong. Likewise, when a person sins, the human soul has a warning system that sounds an alarm because the person’s actions have wounded him spiritually. This soul-alarm trumpets, “Mayday! Mayday! Something is wrong!” He senses that his actions are not only wrong but will also result in destructive consequences.
The person who habitually gives himself over to sin loses the ability to feel the spiritual “pain” of sin. What happens to people who lose this sense? Consider lepers who experience a similar thing physically. Having lost sensation in their extremities, they are often terribly hurt and can even die because they are unaware of a bodily injury. In the spiritual realm, this is a picture of the hardening that takes place inside a person who remains in unrepentant sin. As his heart becomes increasingly calloused, the spiritual system God constructed within him slowly loses its ability to detect the damage being done to it. It’s little wonder that Christian men in habitual sexual sin can sit in church week after week, singing songs of worship to a God they continually defy. “Hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13), their entire beings are riddled with a leprosy of evil which they can no longer even detect!
In such cases, as their conscience undergoes a constant searing, these men are gradually desensitized to the guilt of sin. If left unabated, this process will eventually lead to the death of conscience. As one writer stated it, “Such men must have won that most disastrous of victories—the victory over conscience.”1
What does it mean to have one’s conscience seared? To answer that question, I consulted the godly writers of yesteryear. Adam Clarke described it thus: “One cauterized by repeated applications of sin, and resistings of the Holy Ghost.…”2 The Fausett Bible Dictionary explained it as, “…a hardened determination to resist every spiritual impression.…”3 The Pulpit Commentary said it is “the gradual deterioration of sensibility produced by (habitual sin).”4 John Wesley likened it to “drunkenness of soul, a fatal numbness of spirit.…”5
Filled with All Unrighteousness
“Being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil… and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them.”
Left to himself, the sinner hurls himself into darkness. Burning with an intense flame of lust, he finds himself no longer able to restrain himself. Deeper and deeper he sinks into the foul cesspool of depravity. Nothing is too gross, shameful, or forbidden. The cup of iniquity is now full. Sin has been given complete reign over the man’s mind. The only thing that keeps him in check is whatever fear he might still retain for God, the law, his personal safety or the possible loss of loved ones.
Having reached this place, he finds himself enjoying the company of others who live in the same degradation. They have their filthy desires in common. They not only enjoy each other’s company, but give hearty approval to the degrading acts of others. They all have found a way to rationalize their lifestyles. Swingers talk about how they have the courage to step out and have some fun, while the rest of society is too inhibited. Homosexuals convince each other that they were “born that way.” Pedophiles claim that children have minds of their own and have the right to decide whether or not they want to have sex. They surround themselves with others who will help them escape responsibility for their sin and support their ways of thinking. They have all gone over the edge. Their minds have become depraved and their consciences seared. They have allowed darkness to rule their lives; thus they are filled with all unrighteousness.
This entire section of Scripture is a giant arrow pointed downward. Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin.” (John 8:34) Paul said, “Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness?” (Romans 6:16) Solomon said, “His own iniquities will capture the wicked, and he will be held with the cords of his sin.” (Proverbs 5:22) And the Psalmist said, “There were those who dwelt in darkness and in the shadow of death, prisoners in misery and chains, because they had rebelled against the words of God, and spurned the counsel of the Most High.” (Psalms 107:10–11)
Could there be a more terrible picture of slavery than that of the believer who worships the idol of sensuality inwardly and serves its lusts outwardly? There is no slavery worse than that of lust. It is impossible to satisfy its demands. Sin is never satisfied.
The Need to Live in the Light
Tim had been the youth pastor of a thriving Baptist church for six years when allegations surfaced that he had been sexually involved with one of the high school girls in his youth group. When Pastor Thomas confronted him about such accusations, Tim admitted that they were true and tearfully asked the church leadership for forgiveness. The pastor went on to question him further about other possible incidents with girls in the church. Tim sincerely denied that there were any other relationships. The church board accepted his apology at face value and decided that exposing Tim’s sin to the congregation was unnecessary. It was dismissed as temporary weakness in the face of temptation, and Tim was allowed to remain as the youth pastor.
Close to three years later more incidents began to come to light. Once again, the pastor confronted Tim with the information he had received. And just as he had before, Tim admitted only to the specific allegations on which he was questioned. This time, Pastor Thomas asked him to resign his position. Upon his request, Tim was allowed to make a statement to the congregation at a church business meeting. Because the charming young minister painted such a wrenching, yet believable, picture of contrition, the church immediately voted to continue his salary as he went through a process of restoration and counseling. However, it was discovered later that even during this period of rehabilitation Tim continued having sexual encounters with other teenage girls.
Henry ran one of the most successful drug rehabilitation ministries in the country. He was very articulate and had a natural ability to conduct himself in a professional manner. Charismatic and brimming with confidence, he was a picture of the new leadership rising up in the Church of the nineties. Unbeknownst to those around him, he was regularly visiting prostitutes and having sexual relationships with women in his community.
Keith, a third generation Pentecostal minister, was one of the promising young preachers of his denomination. He had such an ability to touch people emotionally that he was constantly in demand as a speaker. Everyone loved Keith. Even the superintendent of his denominational district took him under his wing as his personal protégé. If he had been aware of Keith’s secret life, things would have been quite different. After most of his speaking engagements, Keith would “reward” himself at the local massage parlor. He had also begun to drink, carrying a flask around with him wherever he went. His wife knew of his secret life but covered for him, fearful of damaging their reputation within the denomination.
These stories represent a massive underworld that is currently thriving within the realm of American Christianity. Undoubtedly there is a problem of enormous proportions in the body of Christ. There are numerous reasons why these men keep their sin hidden.
First, sexual sin is shameful to admit. In our society, a single young man may be glorified for being a “Don Juan,” but just about any other sexual behavior that is out of control is looked upon with suspicion and even disdain. If a man admits his struggles to his pastor, from that day on he wonders what his pastor thinks of him: “Is he thinking I’m weird? Is he concerned about me being around the teenagers, or worse, the children? Was that sermon about lust aimed at me? Has he told others in the church about my problem?” These concerns make it difficult for the struggling believer to confide in his pastor, let alone others in the church.
Secondly, even though our society does not consider fornication or even adultery to be shameful, these sins are considered big “no-no’s” in the evangelical movement. A woman can have a terrible habit of spreading gossip in the church, a man can be obsessed with his work at the expense of his family, or someone can be extremely critical of those around them, but these, as well as many other sins, are overlooked in the Church. However, if a man admits to committing adultery, he is instantly judged as someone who is far from God. Although that is probably the truth, there is certainly a double standard within the body of Christ.
Another factor that contributes to a man keeping his sin covered is that it is fairly easy to live a double life of outward religion and secret sexual sin. Unlike alcohol or drug abuse, a man can maintain an outwardly normal life without being discovered. There is a lifestyle that goes with getting high. Drugs and alcohol affect a person’s ability to function. Few are able to keep this kind of a habit secret. But with sexual addiction, a man can be a president, a celebrity, even a famous evangelist, and still maintain an outward façade of respectability.
When the Inward and Outward Do Not Line Up
We all have an inside world that is made up of the different parts of our inner man: the heart, soul, mind, spirit, wi
The outward life stands in contrast to the inside world. This is how we speak and act in front of other people. We all have an image which we attempt to maintain—a way in which we want other people to view us. One person might want to be seen as someone who is intellectual and cultured. Another might want to portray himself as being tough, while yet another will want to be seen as sweet. The impressions we wish to project are woven into everything we say and do in the presence of other people.
The tendency to project ourselves the way we want others to view us also carries over into the spiritual life where we encounter the overwhelming temptation to make ourselves appear in a favorable light. If we are Christians surrounded by other Christians, we tend to project ourselves as being “spiritual.” Why? In Christian circles, looking “spiritual” is what causes others to admire and respect us. For someone to admit fault, defeat or (horror of horrors) flagrant sin, would be to admit to being a failure at Christianity.
Because Jesus understood the fears people wrestle with, He took the time to address this issue one day. Turning to His closest followers, He gave them this sober warning:
Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. But there is nothing covered up that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known. Accordingly, whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in the inner rooms shall be proclaimed upon the housetops. And I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear the One who after He has killed has authority to cast into hell; yes, I tell you, fear Him! (Luke 12:1–5)
The best present-day analogy to this admonition would be the warning signs one encounters along a highway: “CAUTION!” “WARNING!” “STOP!” “DANGER!” “WATCH OUT!” Jesus’ use of such a strong term as “beware” shows how extremely hazardous He considered hypocrisy to be.
We all have, to some degree, a fear of what other people think of us. I suppose it begins on the playground where kids can be so cruel to one another. The fear is deepened during the awkward teenage years and becomes embedded during adulthood. Jesus says that we must overcome these fears and instead concentrate our fears upon God, “the One who after He has killed has authority to cast into hell; yes, I tell you, fear Him!” In other words, we should be more concerned about the reality of our inward spiritual condition than how we look outwardly in the eyes of man.
The conflict between the way we present ourselves outwardly and the way we live our lives inwardly is a predominant theme in Scripture. Paul said, “For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly; neither is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God.” (Romans 2:28–29) Peter told the Christian women of his day, “Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.” (1 Peter 3:3–4 NIV) God said through the prophet Isaiah, “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men.” (Isaiah 29:13 NIV) And to the prophet Samuel He said, “God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7)
There are over two thousand direct references to the inner life in the Bible, but it is indirectly referred to on almost every page. It is clear that Scripture places an enormous emphasis on what goes on inside us. Many Christians today closely resemble the Pharisees addressed by Jesus in Luke 11:39, who “…clean the outside of the cup and of the platter; but inside of [them, they] are full of robbery and wickedness.” In essence, they ignore the importance of the inward life and choose to concentrate on presenting the most favorable outward appearance.
The Apostle John also observed this happening around him. In his first epistle, he said the following in regard to this dichotomy:
If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us. (1 John 1:6–10)
In the chart above, we can see a breakdown of those verses in John’s epistle. There are three categories. The first, what we say, is simply what we convey to those around us. The second classification is what we do. Our actions speak of our true condition, what we are really like. The third category describes the result, the consequence of what we say and what we do. When a person blameshifts, minimizes or conceals his sin, the message he sends to those around him is that he has no sin. Of course, he may never actually say the words, “I have no sin.” He simply tries to convince others of his innocence by masking it or minimizing it. When John wrote these words he was simply referring to all Christians. Everyone certainly has some degree of sin—no one is exempt. Those who are in unrepentant sexual sin are all the more guilty of hypocrisy because their sin is much deeper than that of the average believer.
John clearly shows us how vitally important it is to bring our sin into the “light” through open confession. The Greek word for confession, homologeo, literally means “to be of one mind, to bring oneself into agreement with another.” Whether or not we acknowledge (to ourselves or to others) that our sin is present, it still exists and God sees it. When we confess our sin, or “walk in the light,” the blood of Christ graciously cleanses us from guilt, and we come into fellowship with the believer we opened up to. It is not enough for a person to come to grips with his sin. He must come into the light with others. Darkness is the devil’s domain. Those who refuse to come into the light about their sin are choosing to remain in darkness.
The Christian who thinks he can continue hiding his sin will eventually discover that God loves him too much to allow him to remain bound to his secret sin. It may become evident in his speech (Proverbs 12:13), by his leering at girls (Matthew 6:23) or his mannerisms. At some point, his secret life will be exposed to those around him. Jesus promised this when He said, “For nothing is hidden that shall not become evident, nor anything secret that shall not be known and come to light.” (Luke 8:17)
Tom was a pastor of a small church in Iowa. He was also addicted to pornography and often frequented prostitutes in a nearby city. It became increasingly difficult for him to lead this double life. People respected him as their spiritual leader, and yet there were times when the filth of his mind was quite obvious to others. Because he was watching pornographic movies regularly, he was well accustomed to their sexual language. Once, while amongst some of the church women, he dropped a dish, which shattered when it hit the floor, and before he knew it, he had uttered a curse word. On another occasion, his eyes followed a scantily dressed girl as she walked by, and when he turned back around he discovered one of his deacons observing him.
The Christian who is involved in sexual sin will only be able to hide his true identity for so long. God has been known to bring public humiliation upon one of His children in order to get his attention. If He feels that He needs to do so, He will. He is very patient and gentle with us, but He loves us too much to leave us in our sin.
This was the case for a minister who was having an adulterous affair with one of the women in his church. One day he was talking to his girlfriend on his office telephone. They were having a sexual conversation when somehow he inadvertently flipped on the intercom button. The whole conversation ended up being broadcast throughout the church. Later, he was able to look back and see how God had repeatedly tried to get his attention, but to no avail.
Another man’s sin, who was a deacon in a large church, was discovered in an entirely unforeseeable way. His church was filming a short documentary on teenage runaways. As they filmed one of the girls posing as a prostitute for the movie, this man drove up to solicit her. Imagine his surprise and utter embarrassment when he found out that the entire youth group of his church saw that movie.
Needless to say, God will use any method to get one’s attention—even public humiliation. God will not strive with man forever!
The Deception of Sexual Sin
People are prone to overlook their deeply embedded sin because it has an extremely deceptive nature. There exists an interesting correlation between a person’s involvement with sin and his awareness of it. The more a person becomes involved in sin, the less he sees it. Sin is a hideous disease that destroys a person’s ability to comprehend its existence. It could be compared to a computer virus that has the ability to hide its presence from the user while it systematically destroys the hard drive. Typically, those who are the most entangled in sin are the very ones who cannot see its presence at work inside them. Sin has the ability to mask itself so well that it can actually make the person who deals with it
On the other hand, the more a person overcomes sin in his life and draws closer to God, the more glaringly his nature of sin stands out. God “dwells in unapproachable light” (1 Timothy 6:16) and so consequently, every remnant of selfishness, pride, and sin is going to be exposed to the sincere seeker. The intense, brilliant light of God exposes what is in a person’s heart. Those who want to draw near to Him rejoice because of this. They love the Light and so they embrace it, even though it means their true selves will be unmasked. Jesus said, “And this is the judgment, that the light is come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who practices the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.” (John 3:19–21)
If an individual who is bound by sexual sin hopes to turn his life around, it is crucial that he comes into the light with “the sin which doth so easily beset” him, so that he may finally “lay aside every weight” and walk in victory through Jesus Christ. (Hebrews 12:1 KJV)
If it appears that I am promoting the idea that one should walk around berating himself or beating himself down, nothing could be further from the truth. I am however, advocating the need for a person to come into reality about where he is spiritually. His only hope is to have something real in God. Keeping himself hyped up in a false sense of security will only keep him buried under the burden of unconfessed sin, which in turn will further the delusion about his spirituality.
Men who come to us for help are often struggling with the deepest perversions imaginable. With this in mind, it would probably surprise you to see how they rate themselves spiritually. Typically, the applicants rate themselves fairly high on everything except self-discipline. It is not uncommon to see six’s, seven’s, and even eight’s across the board in their self-evaluation. How can this be? The majority of them come into the program thinking of themselves as being fairly godly people with only “one small problem.”
It takes months of patient work on the part of our counselors to help a man see that he is not as godly as he has thought he was and that there is much work to be done in his life. It is only then that his hardened heart begins to soften, and he finally sees his need for the Lord. The attitude he entered the program with, believing that he was fairly godly with only one small problem, gradually dissipates, and we can begin to help him. Why is it so important for him to come to this realization? If he believes that he is in fairly good shape spiritually, he will not see his need to change, grow, mature, or even repent. We have occasionally had to ask men who have come to the program with such an attitude, “If you’re so godly and have it so together, why are you here?” This question is not meant to insult them, but it quickly brings them into some sort of reality; humility is now produced so that we can begin to lead them onto the path of victory.
However, when a man is continually minimizing the sin in his life, he is only deceiving himself. J.C. Ryle wrote of the deceitfulness of sin:
You may see this deceitfulness in the wonderful proneness of men to regard sin as less sinful and dangerous than it is in the sight of God and in their readiness to extenuate it, make excuses for it and minimize its guilt.… You may see it in the long string of smooth words and phrases which men have coined in order to designate things which God calls downright wicked and ruinous to the soul.… Men try to cheat themselves into the belief that sin is not quite so sinful as God says it is, and that they are not so bad as they really are.1
Living in the Light
Being honest is an extremely important issue for the man struggling with sexual sin. Honesty begins with examining one’s own heart, thought life, and actions. In this process, the sincere man will humble and brace himself for the unavoidable conclusion: “I am not nearly as godly as I imagined myself to be. If I’m ever going to change, I must quit fooling myself and others. I am where I am, spiritually. Keeping an inflated perspective of my spirituality is only hindering any real growth. The truth is that my heart is full of wickedness. My thinking has become increasingly warped. I have hurt God and my family by my actions. I need to do whatever it takes to change.” Being brutally honest with oneself is crucial, but it is only the beginning. One man who had been convicted for attempted rape but later struggled his way out of sexual addiction said, “If you don’t want to get rid of the problem, confess it only to God. If you want to get rid of the problem, confess it to another person. And if you really want to get rid of the problem, keep yourself accountable!” Yet another man who is now living in victory said, “I confessed my sin to God for years. I mean I poured my heart out, begging for His forgiveness, but it was within weeks of starting to confess to another brother, that I obtained victory!”
A man who is struggling needs to be honest with himself and at least one other person. That person should be a godly Christian who is strong in the Word. He should also be the kind of man who is willing to lovingly confront the confessor about his sin as well as encourage him in his growth in righteousness. The pastor of a Bible believing, preaching, practicing church would be a good place to start.
There is great healing in confession (James 5:16), and it only benefits a person in his commitment to change. Just knowing that there is someone who is aware of his secret life and is exhorting him toward victory is a tremendous help. Solomon said, “He who conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will find compassion.” (Proverbs 28:13)
One thing that tends to exacerbate the problem further is that sexual addicts are very prone to isolating themselves from other people. As we discovered in the last chapter, fantasy plays a huge part in their daily lives. This keeps them in a closed—in world of extreme self-centeredness. Breaking out of that isolation is a key step toward coming out of the darkness of sexual sin.
The double life must be dismantled no matter what. Satan knows the power he has within secrecy. The man who wants to remain in his sin avoids exposure at all cost. However, the man who is serious about overcoming it, exposes his sin so that he is less likely to succumb to the temptations when they arise later. Living a double life prevents a solid foundation of godliness from being formed. James said that the double-minded man is “unstable in all of his ways.” (James 1:8) He will never experience real spiritual stability.
I have heard people tell me many times that they do not have anyone to confess to. What they were really saying is that they were not desperate enough to seek out someone that might be able to assist them. As mentioned earlier, if a man is determined to break free from the hold of sexual sin, he will do whatever it takes. Making oneself transparent to another person is one of the difficult things that must be done. A man may institute all of the other steps outlined in this book into his life, but if he hedges on this one, all other efforts might prove to have been in vain.
We must ask the question (which we will discuss in detail in Chapter 8): “How much do you care?” When you get to the place that you are truly sick of the sin in your life, will you be willing to do anything, even making yourself vulnerable to another person? What could stop you? Only the desire to save face, to save reputation, and protect self. Real deliverance from sexual sin can never
Find someone in your church to open up to. If you do not know who would be best, go to your pastor and explain to him that you want to make yourself accountable to someone and ask him for guidance to identify who would be most trustworthy. You will find that ongoing accountability will prove to be a very important step in the overcoming process.
Secondly, if you are a married man it is important to open up to your wife. I have had men tell me that they could not bear to hurt their wives who are unaware of their problem. I can only reply, “If you were all that concerned about your wife, you wouldn’t have committed the sin in the first place. And not only that, but it’s your sin that is hurting your wife. She may not know about it, but you are destroying your home because of it.” Truthfully, the man is not concerned about hurting his wife as much as he is about making the painful confession to her of what he is really like. It is not the knowledge of the sin that is hurting the wife but the sin itself! In countless different ways, a person with illicit sex in his life hurts his loved ones. Yes, truth hurts, but the pain of the truth is far more preferable than the pain of sin when one compares the consequences of both. Hiding his sin is just another way that the self-centered lifestyle of a sexual addict manifests itself. In truth, he is far more concerned about the cost he will have to pay for his transparency than the possible harm done to his loved ones.
While it is important that a man opens up to his wife, she should not be his accountability partner. Such a responsibility of sharing the details of his failures is asking too much of her. Primarily, he needs to bring the essence of the sin out in the open to her so that she is aware of his secret life. She will then be able to hold him accountable with his time, money and computer usage. Once she is aware of his struggles, she will be much more alert to what he is up to. A godly wife, who will help her husband in this way, is priceless to the man who wants freedom.
True Biblical Accountability
As I mentioned before, bringing secret sin into the open is vital. But biblical accountability was never meant to be a group of men sitting in a circle discussing their failures. Such a setting may be somewhat helpful to men who need to bring their sin out into the open with others, but there is no power in such a situation to bring about their needed deliverance.
A person can only lead another spiritually as far as he has gone himself. Jesus said, “…if a blind man guides a blind man, both will fall into a pit.” (Matthew 15:14) It is helpful to a certain extent to open up with other people about one’s struggles. But there is a biblical principle that is far more powerful in its ability to change lives. What men greatly need is to be discipled. “What do you mean? I’ve read all the books on sexual addiction. I’ve heard the best sermons on Christian radio. I just need a little bit of accountability!”
It might surprise the reader to find out that the word “accountability” is not mentioned once in the Bible. The concept is in Scripture, but not in the weak way in which it is currently used today. Instead, the biblical concept is that of being discipled. I am not referring to receiving more information about Christianity. Listening to good sermons and reading interesting books can be helpful, but what the immature Christian needs most is for a mature saint to take him under his wing, so to speak, and bring godly instruction into his life. (This is what we do in the Pure Life Live-In Program.) The spiritual growth that is necessary for the man who is in the grip of sin will not come about by simply talking with other struggling men, nor will it come by acquiring more head knowledge on the subject. It only comes through true discipleship—Christ-centered discipleship.
Jesus had those occasions when He spoke to the multitudes, but He spent enormous amounts of time building spiritual character into the small group of men under His care. A man may hear sermons, but unless he is held accountable to respond to those words, he will probably receive little benefit from what was said. The man is lost in a crowd of listeners. He can ignore, disregard, even disagree with what he is hearing, and is never required to face the truth of what is being stated.
However, when a godly man dedicates himself to discipling the struggling Christian brother, something powerful happens. Truth is imparted. Sin is dealt with head on. The mentor expects change. Most importantly, the man experiences firsthand someone who is walking in the light and confronting him. This is the biblical pattern for accountability. It seems that in the busy lifestyle Americans live, pastors no longer have the time to mentor men as they once did. Sin is running rampant in the Church because Christians can now live out their lives without any true accountability for their actions.
2 Adam Clarke, Clarke’s Commentary on the Old Testament: Hebrews 13 as cited in AGES Digital Library (Rio, WI: AGES Software, Inc. 2001).
1 H. Melvill, The Biblical Illustrator as cited in AGES Digital Library (Rio, WI: AGES Software, Inc. 2001).
3 Fausset’s Bible Dictionary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984) as cited in AGES Digital Library (Rio, WI: AGES Software, Inc. 2001).
4 The Pulpit Commentary, Book of 2d Samuel, Chapter 18, as cited in AGES Digital Library (Rio, WI: AGES Software, Inc. 2001), p. 24.
5 The Works of John Wesley, Vol. 5, as cited in AGES Digital Library (Rio, WI: AGES Software, Inc. 2001).
1 J.C. Ryle, Holiness (Darlington, England: Evangelical Press, 1879) p. 7.
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